Saturday, October 16, 2021

Fairly Short and Hopefully Spoiler-Free Review: Shang-Chi and The Legend of The Ten Rings


Shang-Chi and The Legend of The Ten Rings never crept onto my "must see on the big screen" list. In fact, it barely appeared my radar at all. I went and saw it yesterday for two reasons:

  1. Now that I'm paying $22.xx per month for "all you can eat movies" at Regal Cinemas, I'm by God going to get my money's worth, so I hopped on the electric bicycle and hit the theater early yesterday afternoon for a double feature; and
  2. Free Guy was no longer playing. That one wasn't on my "must see on the big screen list" either, but it was next on my "might as well watch a movie since I'm not paying by the ticket anymore" list. And dammit, I just missed it.
That said, I'm glad I sat down in a real movie theater for this one.

TL;DR: Captain Obvious notes that Marvel Comics Universe completionists don't get to miss this one, but it's also just a pretty fun flick to pass a couple of hours with whether you're big into the MCU or not. Also, I'm in love.

Longer version:

Yeah, it's MCU, and there are the inevitable hints (references to Thanos's making half the population disappear and the Avengers undoing that; brief appearances by Wong; and a fun call-back to Iron Man 3) as well as a post-credit scene to tie the film's kinda-sorta maguffin into the bigger picture.

I'm not a huge MCU aficionado. I mean, I've seen most of the films and enjoyed most of the ones I've seen, but I don't usually catch them on the big screen and enjoy some (Doctor Strange; Thor: Ragnarok) more than others (the Iron Man flicks, even though I love Robert Downey, Jr.), and as far as MCU goes, I'm just way more an X-Men type than an Avengers type.

But as MCU films go, this one's a reasonably solid entry. Great fight scenes, great effects, story line that's pure Disney (yes, Mom died and now the orphans have to fend for themselves in the big wide world), funny funniness. Obviously it's an Asian-themed, martial-arts-heavy deal, and that's all the plot I'm going to hand you. I don't expect to find myself lying awake at night pondering any heavy implications. It was just a good time.

One big reason for it being such a good time is a gal named Nora. She's attractive. She's funny. She's smart. I want to have her babies. And I'm ashamed to say that I've barely noticed, and paid absolutely no attention to, her before because who the hell stage-names herself after a brand of bottled water? I didn't even know she was in this movie, and I didn't know it was her until the end credits.

Side note: The second half of my double feature day was a second viewing of No Time to Die. At least as good the second time as the first.

Tuesday, October 12, 2021

NFL Picks: My Decline Continues ...


Last week, I picked 8 of 16 NFL games correctly in FiveThirtyEight's NFL Forecasting Game. FiveThirtyEight's model also picked 8 of 16. But due to my "bet big" strategy, I under-performed the model, scoring -97.8 points to its -14.3. I was still out-performing the model long-term (127 points to its 58.9), but fell to 77th% percentile among players and 1,543rd place of 6,696 on the leaderboard.

This week, I picked 10 of 16 games correctly, and managed to get back into positive points territory. But FiveThirtyEight's model picked 11 of 16 games and, due to my "bet big" strategy racked up 96.7 points to my 24.6. The model is now ahead of me long-term, 155.6 points to 151.6 points, and I've fallen to 66th percentile and 2,385th place among 6,992 players.

My big point loss -- 75 points -- was giving the Chiefs 100% to beat the Bills (the model picked wrong, too, but only lost 11 points).

I also lost 37.4 points on two games, picking the Raiders to beat the Bears and the Panthers to beat the Eagles. FiveThirtyEight lost 24 points and 18.9 points respectively betting the same ways but with lower odds.

The games I got wrong that FiveThirtyEight got right: I picked the 49ers to beat the Cardinals (-3.1 points for me, 16 points for the model), and the Jaguars to beat the Titans (-3.1 points for me, 14.8 points for the model).

The only game I got right that the model got wrong was me betting on the Rams to beat the Seahawks. That gained me 14.1 points and lost the model 4.2 points.

Am I going to give up on my "bet big on games I'm pretty sure about or as required by the Chiefs religion" strategy? Nope. Not yet, anyway. Go big or go home, and I'm home anyway.


Monday, October 11, 2021

More on No Time to Die ... This Time with Significant Spoilers


Don't say I didn't warn you. If you read this post, there will be mentions of significant plot elements in No Time to Die that were left out of my Fairly Short and Hopefully Spoiler-Free Review. Proceed beyond the big font below only if you've already seen the film, or have already run into major spoilers elsewhere, or don't care about not being surprised when you do see it.

WARNING: SPOILERS AHEAD

This post isn't so much about the movie alone as it is about why Daniel Craig is the greatest of the James Bonds. Not because he's the greatest actor to have played 007, although I think a fair case could be made for that claim, but because his turn in the role accomplishes some things plot-wise and writing-wise that previous iterations don't.

First, the five Craig movies in the Bond franchise present a coherent story arc from his ascent to "double 0" rank in MI-6 at the beginning of Casino Royale, complete with pre-MI-6 character back-story elements in e.g. Skyfall, to his -- spoiler #1 -- death. Yes, he dies a fiery death at the end of the fifth movie. But not before discovering that Blofeld is "the author of all his pain" and dismantling SPECTRE.

Second, the arc plays Craig as what Ian Fleming (in the novels) and M (in Casino Royale) call Bond: "A blunt instrument." He can pull off the suave/debonair thing like Connery or Brosnan. He can throw off a casual dry one-liner like Roger Moore. But mostly he does what Dalton wanted to do, which is play the character as a vicious killer working in a vicious environment for a vicious agency. A vicious killer who's aware of, and damaged by, the amorality of what he does.

Third, the arc develops him as a person vis a vis personal romance, as opposed to "hook up with the sex pots and after your spouse is poisoned in You Only Live Twice move right along in On Her Majesty's Secret Service." This Bond falls in love, then forswears that idea seemingly permanently when Vesper Lynd dies having apparently betrayed him, then finally tries love again with Madeleine Swann, thinks he's been betrayed again, goes off to sulk and not be a vicious killer anymore for five years, returns when SPECTRE seems to raise its ugly head again, discovers Swann didn't betray him and -- spoiler #2 -- that they have a four-year-old daughter, and sacrifices his life when he finds that he can never, ever touch Madeleine or Mathilde (the daughter) again without killing them.

Craig's turn as Bond tells a single story, albeit it one with numerous sub-plots and spread over five films, and it tells that story pretty well (yes, Quantum of Solace drags a bit). The rest of the franchise doesn't hang together that way at all. It doesn't really try to.

Craig's a fine actor, but there's a lot more than acting skill going on here. I think Dalton might have been able to do something similar if the franchise owners hadn't been so intent on trying to keep the Moore era going that they couldn't get their heads around the idea of a troubled, conflicted "blunt instrument" version of 007.

And that's all I have to say about that. For now. I expect to see the movie at least one more time on the big screen, so I may come back with more thoughts later.


Sunday, October 10, 2021

I'm Already Thinking About the Next Electric Bike


I've had the Nakto cargo bike for about a year, and frankly there was about a six-month period when I barely used it. But I'm back to using it again (about 40 miles this last week -- two trips to the movie theater, one to a medical appointment, etc.). And I'm already thinking about passing it on to my son (who recently got his first "cruiser" style non-electric bike and seems to like it) and upgrading. Not necessarily very soon, but someday.

I had some big plans for longer trips on the Nakto but haven't gotten around to them yet. So far, a round trip of 30 miles or so (human-powered as much as was comfortable at all to preserve battery life) has been my maximum, but I still want to go to Fort White and back to visit a friend and/or take in a music festival and/or camp (that would be about 80 miles round trip, and I'm assuming a battery recharge at the far end). That kind of thing.

My normal use of the bike is to travel to either Gainesville (five miles to the east) or Archer (five miles to the west), or distances short of that to the grocery store or whatever. If I'm going somewhere downtown in Gainesville, perhaps ten miles or so one-way. I've never run out of battery power, but then I've never tried to make an entire trip on battery power. My rough guess is that I could get 8-10 miles out of the battery maximum.

So let's call my normal range ten miles one-way, five if I am really lazy and just use the throttle.

I'd really like to get that range up to at least 25 miles one-way if I'm willing to do a bit of the work. The longer the better.

I'm seeing some e-bikes with "integrated batteries" inside the frame. I think that's a bad idea, assuming (as seems to be the case) that removing/replacing the battery would be a pain in the ass. I'd either have to bring the whole bike inside to recharge the battery, or run an extension cord out of the house. I couldn't just bring along a spare battery to swap in for long trips. And when the battery finally gives up the ghost, I'd probably have to have a shop install the new one. So, I want an externally mounted battery.

I'm currently running a 36-volt system with a 10 amp-hour battery and a 250-watt motor. I don't know that I want to go to a 48-volt system with a more powerful motor. I'm already 25 pounds lighter than when I got the Nakto, one of my goals is to never get any fatter again than I am now, and hopefully to lose at least another 20-25 pounds, and so far the Nakto -- which is a heavy bike -- has carried me and my gear with no problems.

What I want is a lighter bike with a removable a battery that stores more energy -- as many amp-hours as possible without being too bulky.

I'm thinking a 700c-wheel, 57cm "commuter" rather than 26-inch-wheel "cruiser" frame, with thinner tires. Not as comfortable, but I've done a 60-mile ride on a non-electric commuter/road frame and it was OK.

All things considered, I'd prefer a single-speed bicycle. I've been that way for a little while even with non-electric bikes. No derailleur system is just one thing less to go wrong. And with an electric bike, I can just use the throttle or assist on uphill grades instead of down-shifting to make pedaling easier, solving the only real down side of single speed on a non-electric bike.

I'm torn on the subject of brakes. The Nakto has plain vanilla bicycle pads on the front but disc brakes on the rear. I really like the way the disc brakes work and feel, but I'm not sure how hard they are to replace when they wear out. Old-style brakes are easy to mess with.

On a quick look, I'm not seeing much that fits all those specs, especially in a sub-$1,000 price range. The sub-$1,000 candidates at Amazon all seem to want to give me 21-speed Shimano gear action.

The Co-op Cycles CTY e.21 at REI Co-Op (not an affiliate link) isn't terribly far off what I might like, but it's $2,000. And if I went insane and spent $2,000 on a bicycle, I'd think I should be getting exactly what I want.

So my long-term plan remains: Tear my old 57cm Trek down to the frame and re-build it exactly as I'd like it -- single speed, old-style brakes, etc. -- with an electric bike conversion kit in the mix. I paid $100 for the bike, used, and got a lot of miles out of it. I suspect that for less than $1,000 (including a second battery), I could turn it into something I'd find as satisfactory as a $5k high-end stock model.

Someday.


Is DC Trying to Goad Beijing Into Invading Taiwan?


Ever since Barack Obama announced a "pivot to Asia," tensions between DC and Beijing have been steadily ratcheting up on various issues, ranging from plain vanilla trade wars, to "national security" theatrics around Chinese influence on tech and academia, to the status of various contested islands, to the status of Hong Kong, to the status of Taiwan.

I think there's a reasonable case to be made that the DC foreign policy establishment is showing by its actions that it wants these tensions to come to their big head with a Chinese invasion/annexation of Taiwan, rather than with just a less dramatic "new Cold War."

The big question, of course, would be "why?"

An obvious answer would be that the US military-industrial complex just really, really, really needs the US to be constantly at war, and the more expensive the war the better. China's the obvious gold standard on that count. The required mmo/bomb provisioning, base maintenance, etc. would probably make Iraq and Afghanistan look like small beans. No need to "win" anything, just keep big bucks flowing to "defense" contractors via the "defense" budget.

But what if it's more complicated than that? What if there are actual political goals involved beyond shoveling money into the maws of Boeing, Raytheon et al?

Hypothesis: Remember the 1980s, when the US goal was to turn Afghanistan into the Soviet Union's Vietnam? I think DC would like to turn Taiwan into China's Afghanistan -- a long, draining, violently opposed occupation that would keep the People's Liberation Army occupied, making it and the Chinese Communist Party look incompetent, and opening up a couple of very real foreign and domestic areas for exploitation by DC.

In terms of trade and economics, we've been hearing for years about how the world (especially the US) is "dangerously dependent" on China for the manufacture of high-tech equipment. Guess who else we're "dangerously dependent" on for chips? Yep, Taiwan.

A Chinese invasion of Taiwan would probably seal the deal on calls for the US to be "chip independent" -- getting chip foundries back here.

One problem with that idea is that some of the components in our tech depend on rare earths and such. 

Those things tend to come from Africa.

And Beijing has been moving into and dominating the African sources of those things for years.

Did you notice that there were two US pivots as the war in Afghanistan drew down? One was toward Asia with e.g. the AUKUS submarine deal. But the other was re-booting and escalating the "war on terror" in Africa.

So, imagine something like this:

Beijing finally pulls the trigger on an invasion of Taiwan.

The US "defends Taiwan" mainly in the form of sinking some Chinese ships (slowing down Beijing's progress in building a competitive blue water navy) and perhaps bombing some mainland Chinese targets selected less for their military value than their economic value. Shenzhen, for example.

Then the US backs off for the most part -- except for "sanctioning," with military effect, Chinese vessels traveling between China and Africa -- and leans on African regimes to transfer those rare earth concessions from a China that can't use them, can't defend them, and has its hands full with Taiwan, to a US that can use them and can probably defend them.

And in the meantime, the US Navy probably lost a few vessels and aircraft, and went through a bunch of bombs and missiles, all of which will need replacement funding in future "defense" budgets, keeping the MIC's stomach full for the foreseeable future.

No, I'm not saying all that would work. I'm just saying I think it's what the US foreign policy establishment may have in mind.


Saturday, October 09, 2021

Nice Yard Sale Score


Tamara wants to (re-)watch the previous Daniel Craig films in the James Bond franchise before seeing No Time to Die.

I found a DVD box set of Casino Royale, Quantum of Solace, Skyfall, and Spectre at a yard sale this morning, in great shape, for two bucks.


Friday, October 08, 2021

Fairly Short and Hopefully Spoiler-Free Review: No Time to Die


No Time to Die was on my "should probably see on the big screen, but I'll live if I don't" list. Now that I've subscribed to Regal Cinemas' "all you can eat" plan, I'm making the most of it. Hopped on the bicycle this morning and rode the 5.9 miles to catch the 11am show. I'm glad I did.

TL;DR: This is the best movie I've seen in years. Not just the best James Bond movie, the best movie period.

The writing is great. The music fits (theme by Billie Eilish; I'm not a big fan, but good job). The action and effects are superb. The acting is spot-on. The plot includes all the essential Bond elements -- fast cars, beautiful women, gee-whiz weapons/tech, a villain aspiring to world-endangering skulduggery,  double-dealing on all sides, you name it. And in keeping with the Daniel Craig era ethos, the characters and their relationships are more than just cardboard cutout scenery for the action. They're characters worth caring about.

Warning: You won't have to be a James Bond super-fan to enjoy No Time to Die, but you're going to have to know the basic lay of the land to get much out of it. That is, you're going to have to know what Bond does / is, remember who Vesper Lynd was, and recognize M, Q, Moneypenny, Blofeld, SPECTRE, Madeleine Swann, and probably Felix Leiter. Otherwise you'll be pretty lost. At the absolute very least, I suggest seeing Spectre,  if you haven't already, before going out for No Time to Die.

If I have any complaint about the movie at all, it's that Rami Malek seems somewhat under-utilized in his role as Lyutsifer Safin, the villain. He's utterly convincing, but I wish he'd had a more convincing  back-story / motivation, and more screen time to develop and explore his character's sad creepiness.

It's a minor complaint, and I see why we didn't get more of Malek -- at two hours and 43 minutes, No Time to Die is the longest movie in the Bond franchise. It's tight as a drum at that length. I don't recall the franchise ever offering any "director's cuts," but if they want to start this is a prime candidate.

If you watch movies, watch No Time to Die. If you watch movies at the theater, get out for this one. If you don't watch movies at the theater, reconsider (unlike most releases lately, it is not available to stream, other than in bootleg format).


A Bit of a Price Puzzle ...


It's been a while since I had to buy a car battery, so I hit a couple of sites to refresh myself on pricing. The low end looks like $50+, average $100-150. There are "performance/sports" batteries that go way higher, of course, but if you're driving a normal car you can probably find a battery for it for around $100.

But when I go looking for a 36-volt, 10 amp-hour electric bike battery of an older, popular model (it's referred to as "silverfish" for some reason), the bottom end looks to run around $200.

Right now the "official"/brand replacement for my Nakto bike's battery is $319.99 (plus $49 shipping) on Amazon. The bike (with one battery and charger) was only $650! I could get another brand of "silverfish" for $210 or so, but apparently the model does have variations so I'd have to either be careful in finding one that fits my battery receptacle/plugs, or be able and willing to modify the battery case (I'd rather not).

Granted, the lithium-ion technology is newer than the old lead/acid car battery technology, but it's not exactly new, and it's used in a lot of stuff.

Given the increasing popularity of electric bikes, and the popularity of the "silverfish" configuration in the "budget e-bike" niche, I'm surprised I'm not seeing lower prices. It looks like a market opportunity. These batteries do have to be periodically replaced, and a lot of people would presumably like an extra for a couple of good reasons:

  1. To extend the bike's range by carrying an extra; and/or
  2. To have one battery charging while the other is being used, so that there's not a 4-6 hour wait time between trips.

Do I need a second battery for my bike? Not really. But I'd like one.

I've milked a single battery for better than 30 miles by being willing to do some un-assisted pedaling (supposedly the range of the bike is about 20 miles, but that supposition seems to assume not just using battery power the whole time), and even on shorter trips I generally do a little leg work just because.

On the other hand, I suspect (I've never tested the suspicion) that if I wanted or needed to go somewhere using only battery power, I'd get about 10 miles out of a battery. And I'd like to be able to get 20. It's about 10 miles from my house to downtown Gainesville. One of these days I might be tired or nursing an injury, but still want to go into town and back.

Also, the original battery will eventually die, and it makes sense to have a second one on hand so that I'm not bikeless while waiting for a replacement to arrive.

Next time I ride the bike into town, I may stop at a couple of brick and mortar battery stores to see what their prices look like.


Thursday, October 07, 2021

I Have to Admit, That's Pretty Efficient Government Activity


Earlier today, I got an email asking me to confirm my intent to attend tonight's meeting of the Gainesville / Alachua County Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Board, and offering three ways of doing so (phone, email, or online form). So I did (via the form).

Then, a few minutes ago, I got an email informing me the meeting has been canceled due to expected lack of quorum -- not enough members confirmed their attendance.

I'm kind of disappointed that the meeting has been canceled -- this was my third scheduled meeting since being appointed to the board, and so far only one has taken place (I think the last cancellation probably had something to do with the "COVID-19 emergency" stuff the county's been pulling).

But it's pretty cool that I didn't end up taking a 20-mile round-trip bicycle ride during thunderstormy weather, only to find out at the far end of that trip that the activity I showed up for wasn't going to happen after all.

In my experience (which is mostly non-governmental), things get canceled for lack of quorum AFTER not enough people show up, not in advance on the basis of KNOWING not enough people are going to show up. This seems like an improvement.

The only down side is that the cancellation was close enough to the actual meeting time (two hours ahead) that any members of the public wishing to attend and/or comment might show up and be disappointed. And yes, members of the public DO show up and comment.


What's Wrong With This Picture?



Well, for one thing, it's after noon.

But my Morning Brew coffee mug just arrived, so it would be a shame not to have coffee.

While I was drinking it, I noticed that I'm just two referrals away from getting a Morning Brew t-shirt.

I like t-shirts, and if you're reading this, you like reading. Match made in heaven!

Morning Brew is a free morning email newsletter that catches you up on big overnight business developments, the price of Bitcoin, etc., and throws in some fun stuff like quizzes and puzzles. Plus the ability to score swag by sending them subscribers. Click here to start getting it (and to help me get that t-shirt).


Wednesday, October 06, 2021

I'll Take "Things I Have to Shower After Doing" for $500, Alex


The "Fair" Tax is such a transparently scammy and dishonest proposal that it makes the most bizarre get rich quick schemes look like honest P&L statements from plodding, risk-averse firms that produce small but real returns.

It pretends a monthly cradle to grave welfare check for every man, woman, and child in the country is an "advance rebate," even though the check is not conditioned on any tax being paid at all.

It pretends that the IRS will be eliminated, when actually it will merely be re-named (there WILL be an agency to investigate evasion of the tax, cut the welfare checks, investigate welfare fraud, etc.).

It pretends to be 23% when it's actually 30% (its supporters calculate it "inclusively" so that they can pretend the tax is part of, rather than above and beyond, the actual price of the product -- a $1 item would cost $1.30).

Scam after scam after scam.

What I hate most about it is that when I have to debate it, I'm left with only two plausible conclusions about my opponents:

They're either the kind of people who look up when you tell them the word "gullible" is written on the ceiling, or the kind of people who have no problem lying about what they advocate to make it not sound as bad as it is.

And it makes me feel bad to know, beyond a shadow of doubt, that someone is one of those two things and have to try to to figure out which. 


Fairly Short and Hopefully Spoiler-Free Review: The Many Saints of Newark


I was never going to miss this film, but if I hadn't just bought the "all you can eat movies" plan from Regal Cinemas, I might have waited to stream it at home. Since I finally decided to pull the trigger on that plan, I also decided to bicycle down to my local theater and enjoy it in a reclining seat with snacks and about five other people scattered around the auditorium.

TL;DR: If you're a fan of The Sopranos, you probably have to see The Many Saints of Newark, and you're probably going to enjoy it. If you've never seen (or didn't like) The Sopranos, you're probably not going to really get what the big deal is and consider it, apart perhaps from Ray Liotta's strongest performance since Goodfellas, a mediocre gangster flick.

As evidence for the latter proposition, I offer you Eileen Jones's review at Jacobin. I think she under-rates Alessandro Nivola's turn as Dickie Moltisanti, but other than that she pretty much captures what it's probably like to be someone who's never seen the television show and gets dropped into the movie. I can't imagine anyone seeing the film first and then deciding "wow, I've really got to watch the show."

As it happens, I'm a fan of The Sopranos and I liked it. A lot.

What I liked about, a lot, it was not the story as such, which was just so-so, but (or lack of a better two words) the "character verisimilitude."

They're all there -- Billy Magnussen as Paulie Walnuts, John Magaro as Silvio Dante, Samson Moeakiola as Pussy (later Big Pussy) Bonpensiero, etc. -- and they all obviously went "method actor" on their roles, mastering the body language, speaking rhythms, and so forth of their TV show counterparts. You're going to know who you're seeing as soon as you see them.

The two standouts in that respect are Vera Farmiga as Livia Soprano (Tony Soprano's mother) and Corey Stoll as Corrado John "Junior" Soprano (Tony Soprano's uncle).

We first met Livia as a mentally and physically failing senior citizen, but still a powerful and domineering mother, in the show. Farmiga captures Nancy Marchand's take on Livia's essential personality, and rolls it back 30 years, absolutely perfectly. The hair on my neck stood up.

Stoll's take on Junior comes in a close second. He also had big shoes to fill. Dominic Chianese was pitch-perfect as the older Junior in the series: A wiseguy who thought he was smarter than he really was, and had a short and ill-considered fuse versus any perceived insult. Stoll rolls back the age without losing those essential characteristics, which turn out to have a larger effect on later events than we ever knew, or the feeling that we're seeing the same guy.

Liotta is a special case. His characters (yes, plural) don't show up in The Sopranos, but they go a long way toward making this movie worth the watch. Liotta plays Dickie Moltisanti's father, "Hollywood Dick" Moltisanti, and Hollywood Dick's imprisoned brother Salvatore ("Sally"). They're twins, but they're also very different people. And Liotta nails both of them.

Here's the thing:

As a stand-alone movie, I just don't think I'd be a fan if I hadn't seen the series. It's no Goodfellas or Godfather. If the cast had been available back then, most plot elements of this movie could have been fit into the series as flashback (especially, but not only, the fourth season episode "For All Debts Public and Private"), and the show would have been even better as a result.

But as a fan of the series, I enjoyed it, and hope David Chase and company choose to fill in the period between the prequel and the series with even more back story movie stuff.



Tuesday, October 05, 2021

NFL Picks: Weekend Bloodbath!


After three straight weeks of picking 11 of 16 games correctly and remaining in the 97th percentile or above for players of FiveThirtyEight's NFL Forecasting Game, the bottom came out of my tub.

I only picked half the games -- 8 of 16 -- correctly. FiveThirtyEight's model also picked only 8 of 16 correctly.

But as I indicated I would do last week, I bet bigger than FiveThirtyEight did on the odds, with the result that I scored -97.8 points while FiveThirtyEight managed to come it at -14.3.

I'm still out-performing FiveThirtyEight's model overall (total score so far: Me, 127 points; FiveThirtyEight 58.9 points), but now I'm only ahead of 77% of players, falling from the top 100 to ranking 1,543rd of  6,696.

My religion (never bet against the Chiefs) and my scientific finding (think very carefully before betting against Tom Brady) stood me in good stead. I picked up 50 points on those two games, and another 25 points each on Green Bay to beat Pittsburgh and the Bills to beat the Texans.

But I lost nearly 150 points picking the Saints to beat the Giants, the Titans to beat the Jets, and the Falcons to beat The Team That Used To Be The Redskins. I also lost 37 points going against my gut and with FiveThirtyEight's model when I picked the Rams to beat the Cardinals (don't ask me why my gut told me Arizona would pull off that upset, but it did). And so on, and so forth.

I guess I have to redeem myself this coming weekend.


Monday, October 04, 2021

Fortuitous! Serendipitous! Movies!


I've been back and forth for months as to whether to join the Regal Unlimited program -- "all you can eat" movies for (with tax) $22.68 per month.

One of the early hangups was "will there be enough movies I want to see for it to be worth it?" That problems looks to be solved now that Hollywood is actually taking big films out of the can.

In fact, I nearly pulled the trigger just the other day when I realized that I'd want to see at least three films in October -- The Many Saints of Newark, No Time to Die, and Dune. That would be $37.50 plus tax in tickets alone, so a clear savings.

If I didn't buy the Unlimited plan, I'd probably only go out to see one of them (Dune -- it's on my "must see on the big screen" list) and end up waiting for the others to reach cheap streaming rental/purchase status (or to be included in one of the services I already pay for).

But then there's the other hangup: It's either "pay in advance for a year" (with a discount), or "commit to a year." What if I move, or the industry dies on the vine again due to some pandemic panic or whatever?

Then, an hour or so ago, I saw that they're running a promotion: "Try it for 90 days!" Not as nice as "month to month, cancel any time," but it works for my needs.

In addition to the three movies I'd like to see in October, I know of at least one in December (the new Matrix) flick that I am not going to miss on the big screen. So I'm up to $50 or so in tickets I'd like like to buy and $25 for tickets I'd buy no matter what, versus $68.04 for the Unlimited plan.

If I find two more movies to see in three months -- and there are several likely ones that I'd otherwise have just waited to stream but would enjoy on the big screen -- the plan will have "paid for itself."

Minimum commitment, maximum benefit. Damn right I snapped that deal up.

If you want the same deal, download the Regal app for your Android phone or iPhone (not referral links), then sign up. I'm not sure how long the deal will last, but it's a good idea to have the Regal app anyway if you watch movies at Regal Cinemas. Even without the Unlimited plan, you can buy your tickets online and wave your phone at the ticket checker instead of dealing with ticket windows or kiosks. And you rack up points that can be redeemed for concessions treats/discounts, free tickets, and swag.


Saturday, October 02, 2021

The Entertainment Industry Never Seems to Play it Very Straight with Asimov


I, Robot was a fun movie, but it wasn't really an adaptation of Isaac Asimov's work.

On the basis of watching the first episode*, I can at least report that Apple TV+'s Foundation seems to actually be an adaptation, but it throws in a bunch of elements that don't, to the best of my recollection, appear in the original novels and if there's a reason for those elements other than "we want to tell stories other than Asimov's," I can't tell what that reason might be.

Instead of an emperor, the Galactic Empire is ruled a rotating triumvirate of clones, "the genetic dynasty." There's always a young one, an adult one, and an old one.

Instead of being the uber-bureaucrat mayor of nuclear-powered Terminus City, in conflict with a publicly known Foundation Board of Trustees Salvor Hardin is apparently the "warden" of a hardscrabble planet with a population that stands in awe of, and may not approach, a monolith that's presumably the Time Vault (a central and known feature of publicly semi-understood work in the books).

I did like the first episode, but I was forlornly hoping for a more straight-line adaptation, even if such an adaptation would seem anachronistic given that Asimov was writing in the 1950s and it shows.

* I am not an Apple TV+ subscriber. I'm thinking I might become one, based in large part on Foundation. Fortunately, one can install the Apple TV+ app on Roku devices, and the service seems to allow non-payers to watch the first episodes of all or most of its series.


Friday, October 01, 2021

I'm Stuck ...


In various ways.

I got stuck this morning, at a lab.

My A1C is at 5.7. Which is exactly where it was three months ago.

That's not bad -- four years ago it was at 9.9, 18 months ago it was at 8.4, and IIRC, even six months ago it was at 7 or so. I am no longer diabetic (that's 6.5+), but still stuck at the bottom of the "pre-diabetic" range.

I'm also in my "weight rut." At my heaviest, I've hit about 250 pounds. When I start losing weight, I get stuck at 220-225 pounds and seem to not be able to break downward from that. I've been there for several months.

I have some theories about both sticking points.

One is that I no longer get much exercise in the summer. Back when I was an avid cyclist, I did, because the cycle movement kept a cooling "wind" on my body. Walking (or running, which I will try again if I can ever get below 200 pounds) in the summer in Florida sucks. As soon as you walk out the door, you're immediately soaked in sweat from the high humidity. It's just unpleasant and depressing. Now that it's starting to cool down, I plan to work on getting in a daily walk. Probably starting tomorrow morning.

Another is dietary.

I'm working toward becoming pretty much ovo-lacto-vegetarian, mainly because my wife is pretty much ovo-lacto-vegetarian and matching diet with her will create more opportunities to cook and eat together, find restaurants that sound good to both of us, etc. I've tried this before unsuccessfully, but now I'm taking a "lazier" approach. If I really happen to feel like eating something meaty, or if that's what's around the house, I just do it instead of agonizing about it. And after a few weeks, I'm now finding that when I get peckish think of food, I'm tending to think of non-meat food instead of immediately craving e.g. a burger.

The problem with that is that I've just never been big on green vegetables. When I'm not eating meat, I tend toward high-carb stuff like bread and pasta. Which is problematic for both weight and blood glucose. I certainly can't make myself eat a salad every day. That's what I've tried in the past, and after less than a week I'm just done with salad for a little while.

The solution, I guess, is to start working in a couple of salads a week at least. I'm also starting to dig egg rolls. They're not especially low-carb, but they have some green veggie (cabbage) in them, and the frozen ones come out pretty well in an air fryer. So I can satisfy my love for fried foods without drowning in oil, and get that green in. I don't know that I'll ever be able to make myself like peas and green beans, but I'm going to do some recipe research on that.

I think I can get un-stuck. And I'm glad to be stuck in a better position than usual.


Thanks For Asking! -- 10/01/21


Answers! Fresh, hot answers! Get yer answers here!

Ask me anything -- yes, anything -- in this post's comment thread, and I'll answer (in comments or linked elsewhere).

I must warn you, however: If I don't know the answer, I may just make something up.





Thursday, September 30, 2021

I'll Take "Things That Don't Actually Exist" for $500, Alex


What is a "must pass bill?"

This One Weird Trick for Getting Free Audio Editions of Your Favorite E-Books


"Alexa, read Cryptonomicon from my Kindle library."

It's not a hidden feature or anything, and it's far from perfect, but I hardly ever hear it mentioned. So I'm mentioning it.

Some of the down sides:

  • Depending on formatting (it doesn't seem to happen with every e-book), you may end up listening to Alexa read long tables of contents, etc.
  • Don't count on it to reproduce the proper meter/scansion/rhythm/emphasis in poetry.
  • Inline footnotes get read, which tends to interrupt the actual work (I have an e-edition of Dante's Divine Comedy which seems to be mostly footnotes).
  • There are going to be occasional mispronunciations, e.g. /laɪv/ when "lives" should be /lɪv/. But not as often as one might expect. It does a fair job.
  • I was disappointed when I said "Alexa, ask Samuel L. Jackson to read Moby Dick from my Kindle library," and Jackson's voice only introduced the book before it reverted to the default Alexa voice. I could really dig having Samuel L. Jackson read some of my favorites.
  • So far as I can tell, there's no way to navigate by voice command, e.g. "Alexa, go back one page," or "Alexa, start reading at page 43." Since I usually have Alexa read me to sleep when I have "her" read to me at all, I have to get on my Kindle or the computer app and navigate to the place I want her to re-start at.
  • Captain Obvious reminded me to tell you that you have to have the book in Amazon Kindle format. Alexa's not going to read a paperback to you.
The BIG up side is that if you have an Echo Dot (or other Alexa-enabled device), and if you've already bought the Kindle version of a book, you don't have to pay extra to get an audio version from Audible or Chirp.

For straight modern fiction without a bunch of footnotes, it works quite well. The default Alexa voice is pleasant, and the reading pace/speed is reasonable -- not so fast that you can't understand it, not so slow that things drag.

You're welcome.


Well, SOMEONE Should Be Prosecuted ...


... and his name is Mike Pompeo.

Pompeo is whining that sources for a Yahoo! News story should face criminal prosecution.

What's that story about? Pompeo's participation (definitely as a, if not the, ringleader) in a criminal  conspiracy to abduct and/or murder a journalist.

Pompeo "makes no apologies" for his crimes. That absence of remorse should be taken into account at sentencing when and if he's brought to justice.

Speaking of which, given that the abduction part has happened, and that it happened in the United Kingdom, which is party to the Rome Statute, that brings the matter (and the matter's participants, wherever they may hail from or be at the moment) under the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court. Assange's abduction, as a criminal conspiracy to conceal, and/or intimidate those who expose, war crimes, is itself a war crime.

Personally, I'd be happy to donate to a private bounty fund to finance the capture. and extradition to the Hague, of Pompeo and his co-conspirators.


Wednesday, September 29, 2021

How Much Do I Love and Appreciate My Readers?


A lot. Really. There are never as many of you as I wish there were, but there have always been enough to make it feel worth my time to bother posting here, for 17 years now, and y'all seem like pretty quality people. Thanks to all of you.

In fact, I love and appreciate all of you so much that I would never dream of pulling some kind of stupid stunt like putting up a "How Much Do I Love and Appreciate My Readers?" post just to make up for some earlier-in-the-month laziness that's got me close to missing my "one post per day" quota for the month. 

People who do things like that really bother me, and I wouldn't want to be one of them, mostly because of how much I truly love and appreciate my readers. And to prove it, here's some actual content:

MY MORNING BREW MUG IS ON THE WAY!


Thanks to some of you, I've made it past 15 referrals to the free Morning Brew newsletter, and now they're sending me a free mug so that I have something to drink coffee out of. I've always wanted to have something to drink coffee out of.

I also like pants, and I think I'm either one or two referrals away (that's a "just this week" thing) from getting a free pair of those (also, eight referrals away from a free t-shirt, 33 referrals away from a free pair of pint glasses, 83 referrals away from a free sweater, and 983 referrals away from a free "work from home makeover," whatever that is), so if you haven't signed up yet, please do.

THIS IS THE LINK TO CLICK TO DO THAT

Morning Brew is, as mentioned many times, free. It's a fun little morning email (only one message per day) with some business highlights (including the price of Bitcoin), fun-but-not-as-wild-as-Fark news items, games/puzzles, etc.. Like COVID-19, they have optional variants (for specific business sectors like Emerging Tech, Retail, Marketing, etc.), too.

I want those pants. I want that t-shirt. I want to find out what a "work from home makeover" is. So pretty please with sugar on top

CLICK THIS HERE LINK NOW

and help me get there.

Have a wonderful evening, basking in the certain knowledge that I would never waste your time with throwaway posts just to meet a quota or score free merch.


For a Minute There, I Thought Maybe They Got My Memo ...


The Hill: "Progressive Democrats seek to purge the term 'moderate'

As I've pointed out many times (most recently here), there's no such thing as a "moderate" in Congress, any more than in the Ku Klux Klan or the Weather Underground. Such organizations by definition select for extremism.

But no, that's not what's going on here. It's just so-called "progressives" calling out "centrists" as "conservatives."


NFL Picks: Holding My Own ... Sort Of


In week one of FiveThirtyEights's NFL forecasting game, I picked 11 of 16 NFL matches correctly, racking up 69.9 points and establishing myself at 62nd place (99th percentile) out of 4,764 players. FiveThirtyEight's own model picked six games correctly and scored -36.3 points.

Last week, I again picked 11 of 16 games correctly, but scored only 66.6 points and fell to 98th percentile and 93rd place out of 5,654 players. FiveThirtyEight picked nine games correctly and scored 40.8 points.

This week, I picked 11 of 16 games correctly for the third week in a row, scoring 88.3 points and maintaining my 98th percentile performance, but falling to 132nd place from among 6,231 players. FiveThirtyEight's model seems to be adapting well to whatever reality it measures. The model picked 10 games correctly and put up 68.7 points.

Naturally, the biggest hit I took was on the Kansas City Chiefs. I gave them a 93% chance of beating the San Diego Chargers. Their loss cost me 61.5 points. FiveThirtyEight also blew that pick, but only lost 31.2 points as they set KC's chance of winning at 75%. That was the model's worst outcome as well.

Of course, FiveThirtyEight is betting its data-driven model, while when it comes to the Chiefs I'm betting my religion. So I think I've got a better excuse where they're concerned.

The picks that I got right and FiveThirtyEight got wrong: I picked Green Bay to beat San Francisco and Cincinnati to beat Pittsburgh.

The single pick that FiveThirtyEight got right and I got wrong was the Washington Whatchamacallits to beat Buffalo.  But I bet small on Washington and only lost two points. FiveThirtyEight bet big on Buffalo and won 22.8 points.

I did change one pick last week, before the games were played. I initially followed my "never bet against Tom Brady unless he's playing against Patrick Mahomes" rule and picked the Tampa Bay Buccaneers to beat the Los Angeles Rams. Then I happened to notice a news article mentioning three positive COVID tests on the Tampa squad that might result in players missing the game. Adding that to the Rams beating Tampa Bay last year, I went for the Rams with a 53% chance of winning, and of course they did.

ADDENDUM: I'm changing my strategy this week, and that change is: BIG bets. A big bet wins more points if I'm right, but loses a LOT more points if I'm wrong. So far I'm right more often than I'm wrong, so I'm going big where I'm sure or where my religious beliefs mandate. Among the big ones, I've got four 100% bets in -- the Bills to beat the Texans, the Buccaneers to beat the Patriots, the Packers to beat the Steelers, and of course the Chiefs to beat the Eagles. Each of those bets will knock down 25 points if I'm right and lose me 75 points if I'm wrong. Wish me luck.


Tuesday, September 28, 2021

One of My Few Strengths is Also One of My Many Defects


I don't panic. At least, I don't recall panicking, ever, in my adult life.

As a kid, yes. I could get scared and freak out and get stupid quite easily. For example, I once ran into a strand of barbed wire, 1/8th of an inch below eye level, when it was getting dark and I didn't really know the terrain I was running across very well. I was maybe eight or nine, and I thought I was going to die. I screamed in panic all the way to the ER, although I did calm down for the 80-odd stitches required to sew my face and ear back together, because that was, well, interesting.

When I joined the Marine Corps, but before I went to boot camp, it occurred to me that there was one particular fear I was simply going to have conquer: Heights. Get me more than about 10 feet off the ground without walls around me, and I simply panicked and had to get the fuck down.

It also occurred to me that it would be better to conquer it before getting to boot camp instead of freezing up or freaking out on e.g. the "confidence course," where I'd be expected to go down the "slide for life," a diagonal rope, face first for a bit before kicking around, from 50 feet up (some recruits in my platoon did freeze up or freak out; I got an interesting story out of the deal, but it was a victorious one instead).

So, the spring before boot camp, I climbed a tower. It was one of those conservation "fire watch" towers in a nearby state forest.

I started going out to that tower almost every night and climbing the stairs, in the dark, as high as I could stand to go before I had to get the fuck down.

Over time, I managed to climb higher and higher, until one night I reached the top accessible part of the tower (there was a little cabin on top, but it was padlocked when the tower wasn't manned, which seemed to be all the time).

Then I started doing it during the daylight hours.

It probably took me a month of going out there nearly every day to get to where I could climb the stairs all the way to the top, in daylight, and look down without freaking out, hyperventilating, and having to get the fuck down. I was still scared. But I wasn't panicked any more.

And that ability to suppress panic took. For heights -- I've climbed and rappelled off 120-foot cliff faces, rappelled out of helicopters, etc. without losing my shit -- and for, so far as I can tell, everything else. 

I've been shot at, and kept my cool. I've had what I plausibly believed might be a suicide truck bomb driver coming directly toward me, and kept my cool. I've had stuff blow up near me that wasn't supposed to blow up near me, and kept my cool. I've accidentally sliced my leg wide open, requiring (IIRC) 17 staples to close, and kept my cool. And so on, and so forth.

I think not panicking is a strength.

But it's also a defect.

Why? Because somewhere along that line I lost a certain amount of capacity for understanding or empathizing with other people when they panic.

I have (literally) put out fires, etc. because I kept my head, acting while other people within a few feet of me were still milling around freaking out. And I've felt anger toward them, when I should have simply understood that not everyone has had experiences which required, or led to, mastery of panic.

As you may have noticed, there's been a lot of panic this last 18 months. And my response to that panic, where I've encountered it on an individual basis, has not always been helpful. Sorry about that. I'll try to do better in the future.


Because Really, Wouldn't You Rather I Wore Pants?


I woke up this morning thinking about inflation, which quickly led to me thinking about pants.

Why did I wake up thinking about inflation?

Well, because I think about inflation a lot lately. Prices seem to be going up faster than the "official inflation statistics" of "worrisome" rates of 5%-ish indicate. Unsurprising:

In the last 18 months, the US “M2” money supply (coin currency, physical paper, central bank reserves, demand deposits, travelers’ checks, savings deposits and money market shares) has increased from about $15.4 trillion to nearly $20.4 trillion.

That’s a 24% increase, annualizing to an inflation rate of about 16% — if production of goods and services kept up. But it didn’t. US Gross Domestic Product dropped from more than $21.4 trillion in 2019 to less than $20.1 trillion in 2020.

Why did this lead to thinking about pants?

Well, because on of the things I purchase on a fairly regular basis, online via Amazon (making it easy to go see what I paid for it and when), is Thai fisherman pants.

I own a pair of jeans, a couple of suits, a few pairs of shorts, and a pair of swim trunks, but mainly, on a daily basis, I wear Thai fisherman pants. They're light, they're comfortable, they accommodate my weight swings ... and when I first started buying them a few years ago, they were cheap.

The first pair I ordered, in 2017, came to $8.70. Those were plain black ones. Later, I started getting more gaily colored ones, but no real price difference seemed to obtain.

Last September, I purchased a pair of red RaanPahMuang brand pants. Price: $8.99.

This May, I purchased a pair of purple RaanPahMuang brand pants. Price: $8.99.

Current price for that brand in red (purple seems to be out of stock) (not an affiliate link): $26.79.

It's not just that brand or that color or that size. All Thai fisherman pants seem to have doubled or tripled in price over the last few months.

Of course, not all of the increase is necessarily due to monetary inflation. There could be supply chain problems, etc. keeping supply down, tariffs pushing prices up, etc.

But I'm starting to worry that I may have to abandon Thai fisherman pants for something cheaper. The one down side to those particular pants is that they tend to last maybe a year (given the frequency with which I wear them) before hems start to fray, pockets start to tear, and already thin fabric starts to become sheer. Basically, I order a new pair every 3-4 months and throw an old pair (one I've been wearing only around the house so as to avoid arrest) away when the new pair arrives. I try to keep seven wearable pairs on hand.

Why am I boring you with all this?

Well, because I'm two referrals (to a free daily email newsletter chock full of good information and fun stuff) away from getting a free Morning Brew coffee cup.

But more importantly, if I refer five new subscribers this week, I get ... you guessed it ... a free pair of ("jogger") pants!

You wouldn't want to see me wandering around without pants, would you? Please subscribe to Morning Brew (that is an affiliate link) today!


Monday, September 27, 2021

Yes, "Wokeness" is Compatible with Libertarianism ...


... just like, and to the same extent as, any other form of bigotry is.

Which is: Until and unless you use it to justify the initiation of force.

And whether "wokeness" or any other form of bigotry is compatible with libertarianism is a different question from whether "woke" bigots or other kinds of bigots are assets to a libertarian movement.


I'm Surprised There Are Any Left


"Social media influencers" -- including popular YouTubers, famous TikTokers, etc. -- that is.

Headlines-in-my-inbox-wise, it feels like at least four or five of them die -- fall off cliffs while taking selfies, get shot in theaters, crash their cars, etc. -- every day.

At this point, if they had all lived in Brooklyn, the borough would have been completely depopulated by now.

Not that I wish them gone, mind you. I'm just weirded out that there are so many of them.


Saturday, September 25, 2021

Yang, Key Doodle


As you may or may not have noticed, Andrew Yang's next big project is forming a new political party, the Forward Party. Announcement, of course, leaked from his forthcoming book, Forward (not an affiliate link).

The party's six planks (according to Dave Weigel) include one that I half-support and half-oppose (ranked-choice voting and open primaries), one that I oppose ("Universal Basic Income"), and four that are just gooey hints at kinder, gentler technocracy rather than actual policy positions.

It also sounds like the Forward Party will be set up to embrace non-exclusive membership and possibly endorse or cross-nominate candidates of other parties, like, say, the Working Families Party in New York, or the old Boston Tea Party, founded by some guy whose name escapes me at the moment.

As a long-time third party activist and founder of a third party, not to mention an ideologue, I expect to have some opinions on it.

I haven't pre-ordered the book (it comes out on October 5), and probably won't spend the money on it at full price ($14.99 Kindle, $25.20 hardback). Like most political books, I figure that within six months it will be on frequent $1.99 (if not "free") sale in Kindle format, and crowding every other title off the shelves of Dollar Tree in hardback.

But just in case one of you would like to see it reviewed ASAP, I've put it on my Amazon Wish List. If someone grabs it for me, I'll move it to the top of my reading list and share my thoughts on it within a week or so of getting it. 

I've included both Kindle and hardcover editions on the wish list. I'd prefer the Kindle version, and not just because it's cheaper (I can keep it open on one monitor to consult while reviewing on the other, I'm trying to get rid of paper books rather than accruing more, etc.), but if someone has a religious objection to Kindle or something, they're covered.


Friday, September 24, 2021

Happy Birthday to KN@PPSTER


This post is scheduled to go up 17 years to the minute (although I'm not sure if time zone differentials are accounted for) from the time/date of my first post at this blog.

Fortunately, the blog is not old enough to vote. Yet.


Tuesday, September 21, 2021

One Word: Plastics


One day several years ago I got in the shower and noticed that someone in the household had purchased a new-fangled kind of body wash that was ... well, scrubby. It had tiny little beads made out of plastic in it.

The first thing I thought was that that sounded like it might be a pretty good exfoliating kind of thing.

The second thing I thought was "in what universe do those tiny little pieces of plastic not go down the drain, out through sewage treatment, etc., into the food chain and end up back in my intestinal tract?"

And then I pretty much forgot about it until something caught my attention the other day -- I don't remember exactly what -- and kept niggling at me until I did a little Googling, and voila:


[A 2019] study, "Human Consumption of Microplastics,” looked at the presence of microplastics in fish, shellfish, sugars, salt, honey, sugar, beer and bottled water, as well as air intake. Microplastics refers to tiny pieces of plastic that range from a single nanometer to about five millimeters. Sources include primary microplastics that are manufactured as microbes, capsules, fibers and pellets used in cosmetics, personal care products, abrasives and textiles. ... Researchers evaluated about 15 percent of American's caloric intake and estimated that annual microplastic consumption ranges from 29,000 to 52,000 particles, depending on age and sex. The estimates increased to 74,000 to 121,000 particles when inhalation was considered. Further, the researchers said individuals who meet their recommended water intake through bottled water alone could be ingesting an additional 90,000 microplastics annually, compared to 4,000 for those who drink only tap water.


And that's when a third thing occurred to me:

I'm not likely to ever make the short list for a Nobel in any of the sciences. If I understood what was going to happen within a minute of first noticing the damn things, is there any chance whatsoever that the people who created and deployed them hadn't figured it out long before they put those products on the market?

Anyone want to suggest an over/under on when we'll start seeing "if you have blah-blah-blah cancer-stuff that may have resulted from ingestion of microplastics, call 1-800-AMBULANCE-CHASERS -- you may be entitled to compensation!" ads on TV?


NFL Picks: Oh, How the Mighty Have Fallen ...


Last week, I picked 11 of 16 NFL matches correctly, racking up 69.9 points and establishing myself at 62nd place (99th percentile) out of 4,764 players in FiveThirtyEight's NFL forecasting game. FiveThirtyEight's own model failed miserably, weighing in at negative 36.3 points.

This week, the wheels came off --  I only scored 66.6 points, falling to 98th percentile and 93rd place out of 5,654 players.

I am humiliated and discredited.

Details:

Once again, I predicted 11 of 16 outcomes correctly. My big fail was going heavy on the Kansas City Chiefs, giving them an 83% chance of beating the Baltimore Ravens. Their one-point loss to the Ravens cost me 43.9 points. If I had picked the Ravens by even a little bit, I'd have stood a good chance of ascending into the top 10 predictors.

I did outperform FiveThirtyEight's model again, though, just not by nearly as much. That model only picked 9 games correctly. It picked six incorrectly, and set the odds for Buffalo vs. Miami at 50/50. On points, it did much better than last week's fiasco, with 40.8.


Thursday, September 16, 2021

I've Been NOTICING that THIS is a THING!!!


Putting a few words in ALL CAPS in, and dropping multiple exclamation marks at the end of, headlines, that is.

I guess it's supposed to make me think the story must be exciting so I'll mash the mouse button on that link.

But usually the story isn't especially exciting after I do.

Really, referencing totally nude olive oil wrestling, even if there's none in the story, seems like it might be more effective.

But hell, what do I know about that one weird trick, and then THIS happened?

Wednesday, September 15, 2021

Maybe I Have a Future as an NFL Odds Picker!


I'm playing FiveThirtyEight's NFL forecasting game.

In week #1 results, I racked up 69.9 points for my predictions (better than 99% of players -- 62nd place out of 4,764 players), while FiveThirtyEight's model came in at -36.3 points. I picked 11 of the 16 outcomes correctly. FiveThirtyEight picked six. Each of the games that I blew, FiveThirtyEight blew as well. But they blew twice as many as I did.

Unfortunately, I don't really have a model. I just went with my gut. But hey, if it keeps working, I'll stick with it!


A Couple of Matrix Theories


Matrix Theory #1: Christopher Nolan's sophomore outing, Memento (not an affiliate link), is a Matrix prequel. Trinity and Cypher are there (as is Hugo Carlaw, a Realist fighter from Existenz -- another cross-world tie-in!), presumably to help Leonard escape the Matrix (his inability to form new memories is obviously some sort of rejection phenomenon in which his brain can't accept and assimilate to the simulated reality).

Matrix Theory #2: The John Wick (not an affiliate link) films cover Neo during the time between the third and fourth Matrix films. After his duel with Agent Smith, he didn't die. He was plugged back in -- not into the Matrix, but into a new prototype Matrix, with his memory wiped, and used as an agent by the Source ... until his retirement and the subsequent triggering event that turned him back into Neo, only Neo without Neo's memories. Morpheus is there too, as the Bowery King, perhaps having undergone some similar type of experience.


Tuesday, September 14, 2021

I Don't Really Have a California Recall Prediction


The polls seem to say Gavin Newsom won't be recalled.

But, then, the polls have been moving for a little while to get where they are, and I'm pretty sure early voting started before the biggest shift.

And I'm not sure the polling captures the enthusiasm factor -- that is, how many Republicans are really motivated to vote to recall him versus how many Democrats are in "meh, not really for it, but maybe I'll bother to vote against it, or maybe I'll mow the yard and binge Portlandia again instead" territory.

I'll be mildly surprised if the recall succeeds. But not gobsmacked.

Here's the prediction I do have for you:

If the recall succeeds and Larry Elder becomes governor (he looks like a lock as replacement if the recall passes), he won't be re-elected and there will be an all-out and probably successful effort to get rid of the recall mechanism. He's neither as popular nor as "moderate" as Ahhhhhnold.


Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez IS "the Rich"


The AOC legend goes something like this: Working class Bronx native, bartender, elected to Congress on "progressive" values of aiding the poor, etc.

The legend always was a legend, mind you. She's actually the daughter of an architect, who grew up in suburban Yorktown Heights (median family income of $137,580 versus the US median family income of $68,703) and interned for US Senator Ted Kennedy while in college.

But she still tries to pull the "working class woman" schtick, even calling herself that in an interview at Monday night's Met Gala where she showed off a custom-designed white dress with "Tax The Rich" emblazoned in red across the back.

As a member of Congress, AOC knocks down a measly $174,000 a year (versus US median personal income of $35,977). Yet somehow she was able to spend an evening out with a ticket price of only slightly less than that median personal income -- $35,000.

Now, she either bought that ticket, or someone bought it for, or gave it to, her.

If she bought it, she either thinks an awful lot of that particular event to spend 20% of her annual pre-tax salary on it, or she has income sources that aren't general public knowledge.

If someone bought it for, or gave it to, her, what do they expect to get in return for the bribe?

And either way, she's clearly one of "the rich" whether her declared income indicates it or not. Lots of very wealthy CEOs take salaries of a dollar a year. You can tell they're wealthy because of the Met Gala tickets, yachts, etc.


Termination Shock, by Neal Stephenson: An Attempt to Do Justice with a Spoiler-Free Review


As mentioned in a recent post, I was one of the Very Special Important People who lucked into an advance reader's copy of Neal Stephenson's forthcoming novel (available November 16), Termination Shock (not an affiliate link -- I won't belabor that further, none of the Amazon links in this review are affiliate links).

So far as I can tell, there were no strings attached to the freebie. I wasn't required, for example, to commit to reviewing the book positively, or for that matter at all. Since you guys know that when I don't like something I either say I don't like it and why, or else just go with "if I have nothing nice to say, say nothing" (my usual practice with review copies of books), you should have already figured out that I like it. A lot.

A TL;DR for those of you who are going to read the book no matter what I say: If you loved Cryptonomicon, you are going to at least like, and probably love, Termination Shock. [Note: If you don't love Cryptonomicon, there's something wrong with you; if you haven't read it, I strongly suggest doing so between now and November 16).

The long version:

Stephenson's work covers a lot of ground (including, in Anathem, faraway planets, and in e.g. Snow Crash and Fall: or, Dodge in Hell, worlds located partly or entirely inside computers), and a lot of time (from the 13th century in the Mongoliad series to the 17th century in the multi-volume System of the World, to World War 2 and the late 20th century in Cryptonomicon, to futures ranging from the day after tomorrow to presumably far, far away as in e.g. The Diamond Age).

Why do I specifically class Termination Shock with Cryptonomicon? Two reasons:

  1. Although the events in the novel take place in one time setting as opposed to two, and although that time setting is not current day, it's close enough to current day for most of the setting to be very recognizable. Social media are still a phone/computer thing, not a cerebral implant thing. People are still hung up on memes and influencers. COVID has become basically an endemic inconvenience, but it's still around. And anthropogenic climate change -- which I understand some of my readers don't really buy into -- has continued on the current "consensus" course, raising temperatures, playing hob with weather, and most of all (key to the novel) raising sea level.
  2. The characters are not Waterhouses and Shaftoes and Hacklhebers and Kivistiks, but you can see all that literary DNA in various aspects of the dramatis personnae.
Let's start with the characters. Just a few of them, since you know Stephenson 

There's a reigning European monarch, from a country (the Netherlands) with a big stake in the rising sea level thing, who develops a relationship with a non-royal but very influential family from another place with a similar stake (Venice). 

There's a retired-US-Army African-American-Comanche dude, from a simultaneously very pragmatic and potentially hell-raising extended family and friend circle (in other words, Shaftoes in everything but name), who brings an Ahab-like obsession to his specialty, which happens to be wild pig mitigation (for tragic reasons).

There's a Dutch eurocrat/bureaucrat of cosmopolitan/colonial ancestry (pre-World-War-II Indonesia).

There's a Canadian son of immigrants who, for various reasons, decides to get very, very, very much in touch with his Sikh origins, especially on the martial arts count.

Those are the main viewpoint characters.

There's also a not exactly inscrutable, but definitely ubiquitous and involved, Chinese operative who, other than offering no evidence of being immortal, sports an unmistakable Enoch Root aura.

And there's a Texas oil billionaire with a big idea for cooling the planet and a ... let's say cavalier ... attitude toward political obstacles to implementing that idea, and the possible political consequences of doing so.

Plus a cast of dozens, all of them interesting but not interesting enough that I'm willing to turn this book review into a book to include them.

Speaking of Stephenson covering ground, this story plays out everywhere from Texas to Washington (state) to Canada to the Netherlands to Venice to Albania to Saudi Arabia to the Punjab to the Line of Actual Control (look that up if you want; it's interesting; I'll wait) to Indonesia and points in between.

There's intrigue. There's violence. There's science (duh). There's sex and romance (mostly less emphasized/problematic than in Cryptonomicon). There's political intrigue, of course, but of types that advance rather than bog down the story. There are wild hogs and rogue waves and meth gators and trained eagles and drones and one of the largest moving structures on Earth.

Most of all, there's story.

Stephenson delivers. Again. I mean, he always does, but Termination Shock weighs on the heavier end of the Stephenson scale in terms of carrying the reader along on a bumpy, but never boring and always believable in spite of its facial unbelievability, ride.

I'm not going to try to tell you that this is his best novel, because I don't know that it is. He's written so much that's so great that trying to rank his works is a fool's errand. And different readers like different plots, themes, and milieus. But I'd personally put it in his top five (along with Snow Crash, Cryptonomicon, the System of the World cycle, and maybe Anathem, a list which reflects absolutely nothing more than my personal "wowser!" reactions in chronological order of publication, not anything I'd try to pass off as an objective evaluation system).

Finis.


Monday, September 13, 2021

Hear That, Mr. Anderson? That is the Sound of Inevitability ...


The story of my life:

  1. I find an online service that works for me. It does what I need it to do. Maybe not perfectly, but at least passably and probably well, and it's either "free" or the price is right.
  2. I use it. I like it. I get used to it.
  3. I receive an email with EXCITING NEWS!!!
  4. Shortly thereafter, things start changing. They don't work as well as they used to.
  5. Shortly after that, the price goes up.
  6. After a bunch of tedious fucking around, see Step 1.


Friday, September 10, 2021

Well, That's Kind of Dumb ...


 

If Facebook is going to enforce its guidelines -- like, say, banning me for 24 hours for "inciting violence" by posting a YouTube clip from Harold and Kumar Go To White Castle* -- why doesn't it let everyone (or at least everyone who views my profile) know, not just me?

That way, they'd be giving other prospective evildoers a warning about the wages of Facebook sin, and letting my friends know why I'm not responding to their comments.


*



Thursday, September 09, 2021

It's Looking for You, and it Will Find You if You Want it to ...


'nuf said.




Wednesday, September 08, 2021

Late Adopter, Later Aficionado


My Twitter profile says that I joined in December of 2007, nine months after what Wikipedia characterizes as "the tipping point for Twitter's popularity" -- the 2007 South by Southwest Interactive conference. Even at that point, I confess that I expected it to be a flash in the pan and gone Real Soon Now.

Since then, I've mostly used it as a way to flog my blog posts and Garrison Center columns, run an automated real-time edition of Rational Review News Digest on the platform, etc. To start/participate in extended conversations, I've tended to stick with Facebook.

I'm not sure what triggered the recent change, but lately I'm making time at least once a day to dip into the Twitter river, find something interesting that's not necessarily from my "friends I know and follow closely anyway" circle, and maybe get in a conversation about it. And hey, it turns out to be pretty fun.

I have a feeling that the discipline imposed by the length constraint may also improve my op-ed writing chops, which would be a nice fringe benefit.

On the other hand, I may get tired of it and go back to paying little attention. I guess we'll see.


Tuesday, September 07, 2021

I was Kind of Expecting Things to Go in the Opposite Direction


Regarding the day's cryptocurrency "flash crash," I'm interested in what the cause was (apparently a bunch of "whales" decided to sell off?) and whether it was some kind of collusive market manipulation play ("our sell-off will ignite a bigger one and then we can buy the dip we caused"), or just a massively coincidental "it's at $50k, good time to sell some ... oh, shit, broke something there" moment. My Spidey sense says the former, but but my Spidey sense tends toward undue suspicion and I'm just not well-informed enough to say for sure.

On the up side, I'm not big on legal tender laws for obvious reasons. On the other hand:

Friday, September 03, 2021

Concerning SCOTUS and the Weird Texas Abortion Law


A whole lot of people have their undies in bunches over the Supreme Court not immediately quashing Texas's "anyone can sue anyone who has anything to do with an abortion" law in its handling of Whole Women's Health v. Jackson.

Those people should calm down. Or, rather, if they're concerned about the availability of abortion in Texas, they shouldn't necessarily calm down about that, but they should calm down on the idea that the court just overturned Roe v. Wade and needs to be packed to produce the "right" result or whatever.

The ruling was procedural.

Some high points of that ruling:

The applicants now before us have raised serious questions regarding the constitutionality of the Texas law at issue. But their application also presents complex and novel antecedent procedural questions on which they have not carried their burden. For example, federal courts enjoy the power to enjoin individuals tasked with enforcing laws, not the laws themselves. ...  it is unclear whether the named defendants in this lawsuit can or will seek to enforce the Texas law against the applicants in a manner that might permit our intervention. ... The State has represented that neither it nor its executive employees possess the authority to enforce the Texas law either directly or indirectly. Nor is it clear whether, under existing precedent, this Court can issue an injunction against state judges asked to decide a lawsuit under Texas’s law. ... Finally, the sole private-citizen respondent before us has filed an affidavit stating that he has no present intention to enforce the law.

How many times have you heard of a court rejecting a case over "standing" -- the idea that the plaintiff needs to be someone involved and subjected to, or threatened with, some harm that said plaintiff claims is unconstitutional?

This is the flip side of the "standing" coin. You can't just assert the harm, you have to name a defendant who is causing or threatening to cause the harm, so that SCOTUS can tell that defendant to knock it off (or not).

If I think the Constitution guarantees me free ice cream, I don't get to just go to the Supreme Court and expect them to serve me a hot fudge sundae. I have to assert that the counter person at Dairy Queen denied, or threatened to deny, me my free sundae and that they should order him to hand it over pronto.

Whole Women's Health, in the SCOTUS majority's view, didn't convincingly name anyone who was suing, or threatening to sue, them under the new Texas law. And even if they had, it also seems that the SCOTUS majority believes such a suit just might need to work its way through the Texas courts before even getting to SCOTUS on appeal.

More from the ruling:

[W]e stress that we do not purport to resolve definitively any jurisdictional or substantive claim in the applicants’ lawsuit. In particular, this order is not based on any conclusion about the constitutionality of Texas’s law, and in no way limits other procedurally proper challenges to the Texas law, including in Texas state courts.

Which doesn't mean that SCOTUS won't overturn Roe when a case with its procedural ducks in a row reaches them. That remains to be seen. This ruling was a matter of "you don't have your shit together, and the whole thing is weird enough that we're not even sure it's possible at this time for you to get your shit together. But feel free to try again later."




Thursday, September 02, 2021

That Sounds Like a LOT of Litigation ...


 Under the new Texas "fetal heartbeat law":

Any person, other than an officer or employee of a state or local governmental entity in this state, may bring a civil action against any person who .... knowingly engages in conduct that aids or abets the performance or inducement of an abortion.

If I sell cars or build roads (or, as a legislator, appropriate money for those roads), I can't help but know that some people are going to drive down those roads in those cars to get, or perform, abortions. And now I'm personally on the hook for $10k in civil damages for facilitating every abortion involving any car I sell or any road I build (or that is funded by a legislature I'm a member of).

Most appointments for abortions are presumably scheduled, or at least confirmed, via phone, email, or web interface. Doesn't look too good for ISPs and other telecommunications companies, does it?

And God help the people who sell those comfy shoes healthcare workers tend to buy so their feet don't ache after a whole day of standing up performing abortions.

I have to say, I'm not sure the legislature thought this through too well.


Wednesday, September 01, 2021

I Am Such a Very Special Important Person ...


... that a package arrived on my porch yesterday.

The package contained an "advance reader's copy" of Neal Stephenson's forthcoming novel, Termination Shock. Which you not so very special unimportant people can pre-order (not an affiliate link) if you like, and get on November 16.

Me and Neal, we're tight, see?

OK, so actually I just belong to an email list (I think I've mentioned this before) where I'm occasionally offered free books, if I get my name in quickly enough or win a drawing or whatever.

I'm experiencing a bit of trepidation. I've read most of Stephenson's novels, and I've loved every one of them I've read. He's definitely on my Top Five Favorite Authors of All Time list, which has a rotating membership of (probably) less than ten.

But this "sweeping, prescient new novel transports readers to a near-future world in which the greenhouse effect has inexorably resulted in a whirling-dervish troposphere of superstorms, rising sea levels, global flooding, merciless heat waves, and virulent, deadly pandemics."

Kim Stanley Robinson used to be a charter member of the rotating (probably) less than ten. Then came Antarctica (not an affiliate link) which I found ... underwhelming. Not bad, just ... meh. It also has an environmental theme.

Nothing against environmental themes. I'm just more of a The Monkey Wrench Gang / Hayduke Lives! (not affiliate links) type than a near-future enviro-novel type.

But then, I can think of one near-future enviro-novel that I liked a lot: Zodiac (not an affiliate link), by ... Neal Stephenson.

So maybe I shouldn't worry so much.

I'll try to get this thing read before November 16 and tell you what I think.


First World Problems ...


I usually leave my cell phone on the bedside table. That's where the charger is, and it also keeps the phone 50 feet or so from me while I'm at my desk working, so that I'm not distracted by every bing and bong the damn thing makes to let me know there's a sale at Amazon or someone replied to me on Twitter or sent me a Facebook message (Twitter and Facebook are almost always open on my desktop anyway).

The down sides:

  1. If it rings, and if I hear it ring, I have to dash 50 feet across the house to find out whether someone's really trying to call me, or whether it's just "the warranty center" calling to let me know that the warranty I don't have on the car I don't own is about to expire, etc.
  2. Some people insist on texting me at my actual phone number, rather than at the Google Voice number I usually give out. Texts to Google Voice come to my email, which is also always open and glanced at every few minutes. Texts to my actual number don't.
There are respects in which I miss the days when someone who wanted to get in touch with me had to hope that I was home and that my phone line wasn't busy, or else physically come over or put a stamp on an envelope.

Update: Got My Platform Boots On ...


With Chris Rose as chair (and workhorse), the Libertarian Party of Florida's 2022 platform committee (Chris, vice-chair Omar Recuero, myself, Jonathan Loesche, and Josh Hlavka) are working through the platform (not necessarily in plank order) to produce a good set of suggestions for the delegates at next year's convention.

I can't speak for anyone else on the committee, but my goals include:

  1. Getting similar subjects into the same planks;
  2. Imposing rational order within those planks (e.g. right to trial by jury would logically precede the right of juries to nullify bad laws in those trials);
  3. Reducing references to transient court rulings, statutes, etc. in favor of general principles;
  4.  Improving the writing and making the writing uniform with respect to spelling, grammar, and style;
  5. Brevity within reason (that is, not using 50 words where five words are sufficient).
LPF members can follow our deliberations in real time in a sub-channel of LPF's Discord channel.

Anyone who'd like to see the recommendations we've actually passed, in situ in the existing platform, can look at this Google Doc.

I'm always looking for advice, so fire away in the comments if you have any.


Thanks For Asking! -- 09/01/21


But enough about you -- ask me anything! In comments. I'll reply in comments or, if I reply elsewhere, I'll link the reply in comments.






Tuesday, August 31, 2021

Ah, Consequences ...


I can't find it now, but a few days ago I saw a Twitter thread involving an outraged father. He was looking for an apartment for his son, who was starting college ... and finding that landlords were demanding 6-12 months' rent up front.

Naturally, there was a lot of moaning about those greedy landlords ... but what did the "eviction moratorium" advocates expect to happen?

If I sell cars, and if I know that the government has been going back and forth for the last year or more on orders forbidding me to repossess when credit buyers stop making payments, it's going to be cash on the barrelhead or no sale. Especially if the contract and/or the law requires me to keep the car in good repair and the gas tank full whether I'm getting paid or not.


Monday, August 30, 2021

Why I'm Confident That Recreational Cannabis Will Become Legal in Florida Real Soon Now


We've had medical marijuana for a little while.

At first, the dispensaries were tucked out of the way and not necessarily in the parts of town highly trafficked by non-students, etc.

But lately they're snapping up busy shopping center and main drag locations and putting up prominent and attractive signage.

Which means they expect to be trying to attract walk-in / drive-by traffic, not just customers who pay a doctor $175 a year for a special card, at some point in the not too distant future.

Which means they expect recreational sales to be legalized in the not too distant future. And they're putting their money on that expectation.

My guess is two more years, max, before I can walk into a store and browse the marijuana products without having to prove anything more than that I'm over the age of 21.

And pay more for them than I would if I just found a friend. But the trade-off is the easy "one stop shopping" availability of specific strains and ingestion methods for specific things (sleeping better, knocking off the rotator cuff pain, etc.). That's not something I'll pay $175 a year for the privilege of being in a gummint database to get, but would like to have.


L. Neil Smith, 1946-2021


Prolific libertarian novelist and essayist L. Neil Smith died on August 27. Here's the memorial site.

I'm not even going to take a stab at an obituary. Although we diverged in a big way politically over the years, he always was, and remains, larger than life to me.

I considered him a mentor both in politics (he recruited me into the Libertarian Party in 1996 and I was HMFIC of a couple of "draft him for LP presidential nominee" campaigns) and writing (we "met" when I asked him for reprint permission on an essay he wrote). 

And I considered him a friend, though we only met in person once and often argued pretty brutally and bitterly, as befitted both our personal styles (I'm sure I learned a bit of that from him, but was predisposed to it anyway). I miss him already although we hadn't communicated in some time.

He's best known for his first novel, The Probability Broach, and if you haven't read it you should. Then move on to others. I don't think you'll be disappointed.


A Late Adopter Impulse and a Poll


When it comes to changing platforms, I'm a late adopter and tend to stick with what I pick. I didn't start a blog until 2004. When I did, I started it right here at Blogger, and it's been here ever since.

Over the last year or two, I see a lot of writers -- including writers previously known as bloggers -- moving to Substack.

I've been thinking about doing so myself, for a few reasons. An obvious one is that the monetization is built in -- although I expect most of the material, maybe even all of it, would remain free and paid subscriptions would be a way of showing support rather than of getting additional content. But it apparently has a good "newsletter"/notification function built in as well, which is a second reason.

Down sides: I haven't tried it out, so I have no idea how the editing/posting tools compare. And I've got other financial support mechanisms already set up and bringing in some money. I don't know if Substack allows hooks to be put in for e.g. Patreon, PayPal, crypto, etc.

Biggest down side: I just don't like moving very much.

What do you think?




Friday, August 27, 2021

Raspberry Pi 4, Week 4 Update


It's been more than three weeks since I made the switch from a Lenovo ThinkCentre with 16Gb of RAM and quad-core AMD CPU to a Raspberry Pi 4 with 8 Gb of RAM and a quad-core ARM CPU.

I'm still happy.

Since changing machines, I've switched from Chromium as my default browser to Vivaldi, a Chromium fork developed by some people formerly associated with Opera. I'm happy with that too.

I'm a little unhappy with my user interface at the moment. I was happy with the default Raspbian GUI, but my son convinced me to install and switch to XFCE. That happened this afternoon. I don't know if the feeling of motion sickness I have is XFCE, or me coming down with some kind of bug, or low blood sugar, or what. I'm going to give XFCE a day and if I don't like it better I'll switch back.

If I was doing heavier-duty work, the Pi would probably not be up to the job. In fact, I switched to the ThinkCentre from a 4Gb Intel Celeron Chromebox because that seemed to be getting slow, presumably from OS update bloat, web sites having more memory-hogging gizmos on them, etc.

But while the Pi is observably slower than the ThinkCentre at rendering web pages, so far as I can tell it isn't slowing down my work, for the simple reason that I usually have browser tabs loading in the background while I work with already loaded tabs. I'm not sitting there waiting for a tab to load, a Wordpress post to publish, schedule, or update, etc., because I'm out of there and on something else as soon as I press a button.

The only hardware change I've done since getting things all set up has been adding a sub-$10 USB hub. The Pi has 4 USB ports, but they're all on one side of the machine, close together, and kind of hard to get to. The hub makes it easier to plug/unplug a flash drive, hardware key, etc.

A little research tells me I may be under-utilizing the machine. Right now, it is running a 32-bit version of Raspbian. The 64-bit version is still in beta. And some sites seem to indicate that with a 32-bit CPU, the Pi can only really use 3-4Gb of its 8Gb RAM. I don't know that for sure, but when I've pulled up a system monitor, it never seems to be using more than 3.x Gb. So when a 64-bit version of Raspbian is ready, I think I may get a performance improvement.

So, that's the update: Still happy. If you wanted to know, now you know.


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