Friday, January 13, 2006

A Flawless Scheme 

The other day I was thinking that one good way to get free vacation from work would be to fake a pregnancy. Now, there are a few caveats to this, but overall, I think it's a good plan. It presupposes a couple of criteria, one being that you are morally bankrupt, and the other that you don't work with people who you see with outside of work on a regular basis who would care that you lied to them.

Now, let's take the easiest case: You're a male. My company offers paternity leave, I think, of two weeks. I don't have any children, nor have I ever tried this scheme, but my guess is that they really don't check that you've actually had a kid. I don't know what steps they take to prevent people abusing the system, but I'm willing to bet they're not many. Now, if you're a promiscuous guy, it's certainly possible that you actually are having multiple children by many different women. Realistically, if you were fathering 2 kids a month, you could never work.

My guess is that to qualify for paternity leave, you don't just have to father a kid; you're supposed to be a father to a kid. That's harder to prove, of course, but it'd be pretty easy for HR to check that you're not adding dependents to your tax filings. It's possible that the mother is always getting custody (as would be likely if you're a chronic impregnator), so I think HR wouldn't know for sure that you're not really fathering the kids. Still, I'd think this scheme would likely work once every couple of years.

But if you're female, the situation's a little different. The task would be harder, but the reward of three months of maternity leave (or whatever is common these days) might be worth it. First of all, it's not 9 months of the pregnancy charade - it's more like 4 or 5. Hell, it's not likely you'd even tell a co-worker before the first 3 months. Then, you could start wearing a series of increasingly large apparati that made you look pregnant. You could search for something lightweight and not too hot, so that you'd be comfortable. On the other hand, pregnant women are rarely comfortable, so maybe you want a bowling ball or something to haul around, just to help with the ruse.

Just looking pregnant probably wouldn't be sufficient, unless you were so detached from the rest of your office that no one would really bother you about the details. But they'll probably want to know the name of the baby - this is your opportunity to pick something completely absurd. They'll probably also expect to see pictures of your child in your office, but those are easy to find and print online. Although, the baby won't look anything like you, but you don't need to indulge your nosy co-workers by responding to their accusations.

HR would never know, as I imagine most times the husband/father takes the deduction. Just make sure you go to the bathroom a lot, and come in looking really sleepy and ragged in the mornings after your leave is up. As you'd expect, this ruse can only be pulled once every 9 months, but I'd be willing to bet that you'd get no questions the first 3 or 4 times you tried it.

I think this plan bears further investigation. Faithful readers, please try it out and report back to me. I'll be happy to forge any doctor's notes your company requires.

Saturday, January 07, 2006


Making up for lost time:

Happy Thanksgiving!

Merry Christmas!

Happy Hannukah!

(I'd say Happy Kwanzaa, but I don't believe I know anyone who celebrates it. Does anyone actually celebrate Kwanzaa? Does anyone know someone who does?)


Happy New Year!

And, finally, Hail to the Redskins!

(Life's been crazy. I'll post more eventually. You can rest assured that there's always something out there I want to blather on about.)

Monday, November 21, 2005

Long Title Watch 

A couple posts ago, I mentioned the progressive lengthening of book titles, but provided no examples. Here's one I just ran across:

"Now I Can Die in Peace: How ESPN's Sports Guy Found Salvation with a Little Help from Nomar, Pedro, Shawshank and the 2004 Red Sox"

C'mon. That's ridiculous. It's wholly unnecessary. If you insist on a subtitle, how about "How ESPN's Sports Guy Found Salvation". Maybe the publishers thought that might be taken too seriously, but why not "How ESPN's Sports Guy Found Salvation with a Little Help from the 2004 Red Sox"? I feel like I've already read the whole book after just reading the subtitle.

Sunday, November 20, 2005

A Moment of Silence 

I think we need to observe a moment of silence for the passing of George Carlin. Well, not the actual man, but rather for the passing of his career as a revolutionary comedian and social commentator. In fact, not only should we all observe a moment of silence, but I wish he had observed 75 minutes of silence, instead of the drivel that I watched the other night on HBO.

George Carlin's had an amazing career. I discovered him when I was in middle school. At the time, I was likely drawn in by his expert us of expletives. Of course, I knew plenty of cuss words by then, but there was something masterful about how he punctuated his point perfectly with them. As I continued to listen to him, I found him engrossing on a more intellectual level. He was a master of dissecting the English language, and analyzing why people said what they said. He used that language skill in many different ways - he used it to entertain, but also to understand the meaning behind them meaning of what people said. Because of this, he was able to be brutally honest, cutting to the core of whatever it people's words were saying about them when they were talking about other things. He was brutally funny, and revolutionary, and had a big part in forming my sense of humor. If you read this blog, you can probably tell that I'm a stickler for semantics and meaning, and I do believe that what people say is critically important - I think a large part of that comes from listening to Carlin in my formative years.

The routine that cemented him in the pantheon of great comics is the "Seven Dirty Words". Not only does it stand the test of time, but because it caused such a legal stir at the time (he cursed on the air during the day), it resulted in a slew of court cases, in which the seven dirty words are quoted in legal documents. Now that's a triumph, and completely subversive. For instance, read this document, and note how the words are explicitly identified. They're now permanently written in the annals of American legal history. Brilliant! But the routine itself is excellent. For example (not for the squeamish):

"Now the word twat is an interesting word. Twat! Yeh, right in the twat. Twat is an interesting word because it's the only one I know of, the only slang word applying to the, a part of the sexual anatomy that doesn't have another meaning to it. Like, snatch, box and pussy all have other meanings. Even in a Walt Disney movie, you can say, We're going to snatch that pussy and put him in a box and bring him on the airplane. Everybody loves it. The twat stands alone, as it should."

Crude? Yes. Irreverent? You bet. But also intelligent. Now imagine a routine like that, except not intelligent at all, and you get his most recent garbage. I guess I shouldn't complain: He stayed good for quite a while - all the way from the 70's to probably the mid-90's. In the mid 90's, I started to notice a decline, but his still had moments of brilliance. For instance, on "Jammin' In New York", from 1992, he had one of my all-time favorite bits of his. It's regarding Airline Announcements (for the most part). Here are some highlights:

- People like to sound important. Weathermen on television talk about ‘shower activity.’ Sounds more important than ‘showers.’ I even heard one guy on CNN talk about a ‘rain event.’ Swear to God, he said, “Louisiana’s expecting a rain event,” I thought, “Holy shit, I hope I can get tickets to that!”

- That’s another complaint of mine: too much use of this prefix ‘pre-,’ it’s all over the language now, ‘pre-’ this, ‘pre-’ that. “Place the turkey in a pre-heated oven.” That’s ridiculous, there’s only two states an oven can possibly exist in, heated or un-heated! ‘Pre-heated’ is a meaningless fucking term.

The whole bit is here, although it's even better when you hear him perform it. Also, I'd like to note that for the most part, the routine is clean. When he does curse, it's because it's funny. For instance, above he says " 'Pre-heated' is a meaningless fucking term." Sure, he could have left out the "fucking", but it nicely punctuated the punch line. A good use of the word, and not egregious. It also emphasizes the absurdity of the whole thing. Good comics don't needto be crude to be funny - they use "dirty" words as an effective tool in their ample repertoire of language.

It was sad to watch him fade away. "Jammin' In New York" was probably his last great album, and even that album had a lot of unnecessary silliness on it at the end. Subsequent albums had moments of hilarity, but for the most part he ranted about how stupid everyone is, over and over again. And when his routines weren't funny, his cursing just seemed stupid. Furthermore, where he used to be subtle and subversive, he was just overly blunt.

The best stuff he's done in the past 10 years is probably his material related to religion. Now, partly I like it because it nicely sums up some of my beliefs about how religion originated, and partly because it's just funny. But it's interesting to note that he's forced to make overt points about religion, whereas in his more skilled days, he'd imply those points - more subversive, and funnier. (He has a lot of early material about being Roman Catholic and attending Catholic school. Nonetheless, here's one of my favorite recent bits:

"Religion easily has the greatest bullshit story ever told. Think about it, religion has actually convinced people that there's an INVISIBLE MAN...LIVING IN THE SKY...who watches every thing you do, every minute of every day. And the invisible man has a list of ten special things that he does not want you to do. And if you do any of these ten things, he has a special place full of fire and smoke and burning and torture and anguish where he will send to live and suffer and burn and choke and scream and cry for ever and ever 'til the end of time...but he loves you."

Good stuff. Not subtle, but still solid. He still does cut to the quick at times. He has another routine (here) about how we only need two Commandments, not ten. When discussing "Thou Shalt Not Covet Thy Neighbors' Goods", he says it's stupid because "Coveting your neighbor's goods is what keeps the economy going!" Funny! True! But then he keeps going: "Your neighbor gets a vibrator that plays 'O Come All Ye Faithful', and you want one too!" Why? Why keep going? It's so much less funny and unnecessary. *Sigh*

So, I think to me, it's much easier to pretend that George Carlin is dead. He lived a decent life, endured some hardship, and was a brilliant comedian. It's a shame he got hit by that truck in 1999. We'll miss you, George. Thanks for the memories.

Sunday, November 13, 2005


Whenever I have no big event that compels me to write a real post, but I feel I've been neglecting my blog, I put together a collection of random observations. I suppose most bloggers don't contrain themselves to only writing a lot at a time, but I'm not most bloggers. I like to have meaty posts. Mmm...meaty.

- Speaking of the Simpsons, while it may seem that I'm obsessed, I'd like to point out that I haven't watched a new episode of the Simpsons in a couple of years. I wanted to watch the Halloween episode that was just released, but forgot about it. Oh well. I don't think I've outgrown the show; rather, I think the show has gotten significantly crappier, which is sad.

- I read a lot of book reviews (and have been trying to read more books in general), and I've come to one conclusion: Book titles are getting longer. It seems they try to summarize the entire book in the subtitle, especially non-fiction books. I don't have many examples at the ready, but the next time you are in a bookstore, stroll over to non-fiction, and take a look at the titles and subtitles. It's a bit strange.

- We had a housewarming party this past weekend. It was fun, but quite tiring. We finally decided to hunker down and get the house in shape, figuring that if we waited until after the holidays, all would be lost. So, we did a lot of cleaning over the past month, and a little furnishing. But we're finally completely unpacked, which I think is a major accomplishment. Our party was 5 hours long, because we wanted to have it open-house style. We had neighbors, friends, and family stop by, and all in all, I think it was a good time. But I was basically giving "house tours" nonstop, and didn't really get a chance to talk with people for more than 5 minutes at a time. Still, I'm glad we had it, because we're quite proud of our house, and wanted to share it with the people we care about. If you haven't yet visited, we have a whole guest room waiting!

- Now that the house is mostly set, we can refocus on wedding planning. Today is our negative six month anniversary. We've been registering for gifts over the past couple of weeks, because we sent out our save-the-date cards recently and wanted there to be stuff on the registry if people decided to start looking. I'm of two minds about all of these formalities. On one hand, I think it's a bit silly. But I can also see why it's practical. For instance, save-the-date cards have an obvious purpose, because if you wait until the designated invitation-sending time, people may have already made plans. I'm still not sure why you're not supposed to send out invitations until relatively near the wedding date. Maybe people will forget otherwise?

- The other formality is the whole registry thing. Of course, I realize that most wedding presents are for the bride anyways, which is fine. I've never been a fan of registrys, as I've always thought that the purpose of giving gifts is not just to give people stuff, but to put thought into it and make it a personal experience. It's the effort that matters, not the merchandise. So registering seems to take a lot of the personalization out of gift-giving. But then, for a big event, it kind of makes sense. Plus, if people are going to give you house/decorative stuff, most likely they're not going to be able to judge your taste, get everything to match, etc. So, we register. It's kind of fun, but also kind of tedious. Basically, you have to make a whole lot of design decisions at one time, so it's time consuming. And it's tough to remember what you have, and how it's all going to fit together. But we've tried to take it in stages, and register for some fun stuff.

- Santana and Clemens should have won the Cy Young. Pujols and Ortiz should win the MVP. Cox and Scioscia should be Managers of the Year. The voters are morons.

- I'm watching the Redskins beat the Buccaneers right now (28-21 w/ 5:19 left in the 3rd), and it's pretty impressive that they've become a force once again. It's been a long time. They brought back the legendary Joe Gibbs, and were unimpressive last year. Everyone thought we were just overhyping Gibbs, but his previous stint as the coach was quite magical. I kept saying that we needed to give him a year to get his stuff together, and apparently that's all it took. If they win this game, they'll be 6-3, tied for first in the division. The Skins ar efun to watch again. DC's definitely a football town, although maybe eventually the Nats will catch up. As long as the Orioles stink, the Skins being good is some solace.

- I can't remember the last time I went and saw a movie in the theaters. Let me ponder...The Wedding Crashers? Maybe that's it. What's sad about that fact is that I love movies, and really do enjoy going to the theaters. But I'm not going to just randomly go to theaters for no reason. And I have Netflix and a nice TV, so I'm not missing too much, I imagine. Anything good out there I'm missing? I don't think so.

- The one movie I am going to see soon after it comes out is Harry Potter. I've decided that it's gotten to the critical mass in pop culture that I'm neglectful if I don't catch up. I've read the first four books, and watched the first two movies. (Gotta watch the third movie before I see the fourth, although reading and seeing everything in such a short span can be a little confusing.) Maybe I'll write a post about them. They're about as good as I expected them to be, which is unusual. I figured they'd be pretty solid, and I was right. I don't love them, but think they're definitely worth reading. The first two movies were a bit underwhelming, though, but I've heard the third is the best.

That's all I've got for now. Randomly, during the week, I'll have thoughts about things I think I should add to my blog, but always seem to forget them. I figure if they're important enough, I'll eventually remember them.

Monday, October 31, 2005

The Collector 

Take a look at these pictures. They are clearly the work of someone not of sound mind. What kind of sociopath would spend so much time on such a seemingly worthless endeavor? The meticulousness reveals a disturbing attention to detail that is usually only found in mass murderers.

Ok, I admit it. The psycho responsible for this unsettling display is none other than myself. But my masterpiece is finally complete! I have acquired every single Simpsons Action Figure ever made. Well, that's not entirely true: I do not own the incredibly rare Save Blinky Bart, an oversight that gnaws at my soul each and every waking hour. But other than that, my masterpiece is done. Every figure in the 16 different series of action figures, I have. Every playset, I have. All of the special releases, including the ones you had to mail away for, I have. All the limited edition releases, I have. As I warned you, I am a dangerous, obsessive man, with a near pathological contempt for societal norms.

It was my so-called friend Dave Shear who started me down this dark, twisted road. Back in 2001, he purchased my first figure for me, one Ned Flanders. I was intrigued, and investigated this compelling line of toys. Much to my dismay, they had already released four waves of figures, many of which were sold out of the toy stores. Many of the special releases were no longer available. I tracked them down all over the state, voyaging from Toys 'R Us to Toys 'R Us, searching their shelves for old, rare figures. Often, I had to resort to eBay, as my urge would not abate.

Sadly, my obsession grew, continuing unchecked as new figures were released. Sometimes they were easy to fine, but often they were not. I was undeterred. I mailed away for special releases, and even called in a few favors from someone in the action figure business in order to obtain the rarest of the figures. Unlike the really, really crazy people, I did not leave the figures in their packaging. I opened them, allowing them to exhibit their "talking" feature in various playsets, revealing their true glory. My collection took up more and more space, both literally and metaphorically - I bought barrister bookcases (Actually, Sam gave me one as a gift one year) to properly display the little plastic effigies.

The Simpsons line was actually one of the longest-lived, most thorough line of action figures ever released. I like to believe that I am simply paying homage to a worthy recipient. The glorious line finally died out at Series 16, but I delayed obtaining the last 6 figures, possibly not wanting to believe that my life would no longer have a purpose once I had collected them all. The latest figures arrived today; the road ahead remains dark and unknown.

Yet I remain strong. Other opportunities will present themselves; indeed, they must. In the meantime, I present detailed photographs highlighting the passion of a true collector. I must warn you that these detailed figures are quite disturbing, as they reveal a truly disconcerting mindset. To merely gaze upon them may drive you into madness. Continue at your own risk!

And there you have it. A frightening look into the abyss. The implications are too numerous too outline here, and I fear that I have disturbed you enough with this look at my collection. Indeed, it is just a glimpse into dementia. And now, I remain an obssessive man without a target, a barely seaworthy boat adrift in a dark, dangerous sea. One day, I will once again find another mooring, but until then, I remain...


Sunday, October 23, 2005

Pain In The Back 

The title pretty much says it all. Ever since I returned from Vegas (and no, I wasn't lifting any boulders or paying strippers to dance on my spine), my back's been hurting. I've written before how I don't like getting old, and I'm starting to show more symptoms of actually being mortal, but this is definitely the most annoying it's been. At first, I thought it was just a crick in my neck from sleeping funny (and I've definitely started having that happen more often as I grow ancient and brittle), but this was different. The first couple of days, I was sore in the morning, and then the pain slowly subsided. However, at the beginning of last week, my soreness was persisting longer and longer into the day. Also, strangely enough, it was spreading to my back. On Wednesday, it lasted the whole day, and then on Thursday, when I got up it was as bad as its been. It's rarely excruciating, except if I turn in a "wrong" direction. And I define "wrong" as anything that hurts.

So, Thursday, I decided I needed to actually call a doctor. Those who know me realize that something usually has to be seriously wrong for me to call a doctor. I also decided to stay home from work, reasoning that sitting all day hunched over a keyboard was probably not a good idea. I figured if I spent the whole day lying down, I'd get better. So, I ended up sleeping until 1:30, and then laid on the couch for the rest of the day, with a heating pad on my back. I made a doctor's appointment, but the next time they had free was this coming Thursday, so I took it. I thought I'd be ok as long as things didn't get any worse.

So far, they haven't gotten worse, but they haven't gotten better. I went to work on Friday, and just basically took frequent breaks between typing. I also brought my heating pad to work. Because I've never had back problems (or, really, any serious pain-related problems), I have no idea what could be wrong. I've looked on the internet, and it doesn't really seem like I have something horrible. But at the same time, the discomfort (I hesitate to see pain) is pretty constant, and doesn't get much better. I've been taking Tylenol and Advil, but they don't do much. Sometimes it goes away for a bit, but it always seems to come back. Not having had anything like this before, and not being able to feel anyone else's pain, I can't really tell if I'm just being a big baby, or if I've really screwed something up. Also, the pain seems to jump around - it's pretty constant in the middle of the back, sometimes towards the right side, and often near the top, but them sometimes it's in the neck, and sometimes in the lower back. Maybe I'm compensating for one type of back pain without knowing it, and causing other back pain?

The other mystifying thing is that I can't put my finger on what touched this off. I hadn't played softball in two weeks, so it wasn't that. I really didn't lift anything or sleep really weirdly (that I could tell). I've stopped lifting weights for the time being, and I haven't been running either, for fear of exacerbating the situation. I suppose it could be years of hunching over a keyboard is finally catching up to me, but I kind of assumed that would come on gradually and get worse and worse and worse, and not go away. But, what the hell do I know? All I know is, it's pretty annoying. And the fact that I spent long enough over a keyboard to write this should leave you in awe of my dedication to this blog. Let it not be said that I didn't suffer for my craft!

Sunday, October 16, 2005

What Happens In Vegas... 

...is going to be written about in this post. Gosh, what a stupid phrase. It used to be moderately amusing, but when a phrase is co-opted by the travel industry, you know it's jumped the shark.

At any rate, I'm still recovering, and not because I did anything crazy, aside from not getting a whole lot of sleep. (I know, that's craaaaazy.) Basically, I've had a lot of email writing to do since my return, and I just don't feel like typing all that much. Fortunately, I believe that almost all of the few people that actually read my blog probably already know about what I did in Vegas anyways, so I'm not going to feel too guilty about the brevity of this post. I'll think of it as a little diary for myself to remember about my exciting exploits when I'm old and crotchety.

Our annual Vegas trip is actually pretty much old hat by now. A bunch of us go to Vegas for a few days, and just have a good time. We stay up late, gamble a lot, and just have a good time seeing each other. I've gotten to be a pretty "good" gambler in the past few years, and by that I mean I know how to lose the least amount of money while still gambling. (The smartasses out there will say that the way to lose the least amount of money is not to play, which is why I qualified my statement.) I basically think of it as paying for entertainment, but I always set a limit for how much I'm willing to lose, and never go under that. I'd say the last ten times I've gambled, I've walked away up nine of them, so I must be doing something right. Also, I've been incredibly lucky.

So, what occurred that was novel on this trip? Well:

- I believe we spent the first 36 hours straight inside a casino. We gambled a ton, and went to the pool for about two hours, but that was it. There was some sleeping, but not a whole lot.

- I placed my first sports bet ever. It was on the Cardinals. I bet 50 bucks to win about 35. It was fun rooting for the Cards, and we won, so I considered that a good omen.

- Due to my sports betting luck, I placed five more bets the next day. The first one was on the Ravens - I bet 40 to win 38 or so. They lost. Also, because we were betting on football on a Sunday, the book dudes were pretty harried. As a result, I went to bet 20 bucks on the Titans to win, but the guy mistakenly entered it at 40 bucks, and I didn't notice until I was out of line. I won that bet, so I actually bet 20 to win 96. That was fortunately. Later, I bet 50 bucks on the Redskins to win 110, but they lost (by only 2!). I also bet 50 bucks on the Eagles to win by 3, and they lost by approximately 20 or so. My final sports bet was on the Angels to beat the Yankees in Game 4. I bet 60 to win 108. They basically gave the game away. So, that aspect was a little frustrating. But, it did mean we spent all day on Sunday in the sports book, which not only allowed us to watch all of the football games, but also all 18 innings of the Astros-Cardinals game. It was fun, in a slug-like way.

- The amusing part of being in the book for so long was when half of our group went to go gamble. It was the bottom of the 9th in the baseball game, so Dan told the guys that he'd join them as soon as the game ended. 3 hours later, they returned, as the second round of football games was finishing up, and the baseball game was still going. It was quite amusing.

- Speaking of Dan, he wore a Spider-Man outfit for part of the time we were in Vegas. One of our policies is that we're supposed to wear goofy clothes in Vegas, mostly because we can get away with it and no one minds. We wear ugly Hawaiian prints, or shiny ridiculous club shirts, but Dan upped the ante. We even went into a nice Steakhouse with Dan in Spidey mode, but he didn't wear the mask. Wuss.

- Why were we in a nice Steakhouse? Because I won a poker tournament at Binion's. It was pretty freakin' awesome. I've basically only played in small games with my friends, and I've done pretty well. Last year, three of us played in a 110-person tournament there (they have daily tournaments for about 100 bucks), and I finished somewhere in the middle. This time, three of us entered again, although there were only 68 entrants. One of us finished around 25, and then Justin and I made the final table, which was pretty crazy. At the time, Justin had a ton of chips, and I was definitely among the bottom three or four in chips. But I stuck it out, getting decent cards, while Justin had pretty bad cards. He ended up going out fourth, while I slowly amassed a stack, being aggressive at the right time, and ultimately making the final two. The other guy offered to split the 1st and 2nd place prize with me, but I said no, mostly for the glory, not the money. I played very well against him and won. The rest of the guys stuck around for the whole thing, which ended up being five hours long, which was very nice of them. Afterwards, I took them all out to dinner at the Binion's Steakhouse with my winnings.

- I actually won about 2000 dollars from the poker tournament, but between my previous sports betting and my subsequent blackjack losses, I ended up only 300 up from the trip. Now, I certainly don't want to look a gift horse in the mouth, but that meant I got hit as hard at blackjack as I ever had been. I lost 500 twice in two different sittings.

- Blackjack wasn't all bad. Justin and I seem to have started this ridiculous game in which we see who can bet more on a single hand of blackjack. A few years ago I bet 100 bucks on one hand and won at the Venetian. That was a lot for me then, but I was only betting 5-10 per hand normally. Last year, Justin and I each did a 100 dollar bet at the Venetian, and both lost. The thrill wasn't quite there as much. Then, in Atlantic City earlier this year, I was up around 600 bucks in Atlantic City. (I think I wrote about this previously - the details may be wrong.) I took that into the high roller's room, vowing to turn it into either 1000 or nothing. I turned it into 950 before losing it all. This time, we had to up the ante. Of course now, I'm regularly playing 25 dollar hands of blackjack, so 100 bucks isn't that scary. Furthermore, since I count at blackjack, there are often times where I'm better more because I have a greater chance of winning. So, a couple times I had a 100 dollars or more on the table. (The reason I lost so much is because even though the count was in my favor, I lost those big hands, which means I was quite unlucky.) But that's not as nerve-wracking - I know I'm making the smart play. This time, I was down to only 175 up, and Justin said "I dare you to bet it all", as a new shoe started. I threw it all down and was dealt a 5 and a 3 to the dealer's 10. I was doomed. I hit and got a 10, giving me 18, but the dealer was likely to have a 20. She flipped her hole card and had a 7! I won! It was quite exciting - much more exciting than those piddly 25 dollar hands. I think I'm an addict. I ended up turning it into almost 600 bucks before finishing around 300 up. Not too shabby. While I was doing that, Justin was winning as well. He had been down the whole trip, but was now making his way back into the black. He got up, and I told him that since I had bet 175, he had to bet 200. He went for it, and while I don't remember the exact situation, he also was dealt a hand that he wasn't supposed to win, but the dealer busted. It was pretty exciting. A little too exciting, actually. Next time...500 a hand?

Sunday, September 25, 2005

Winning Isn't Everything 

Why is it that sports broadcasting is dominated by former players? Honestly, it doesn't make any sense, at least not from the perspective of trying to give the best commentary to viewers. I've ranted and raved about the stupidity of the ESPN football broadcast team (and my Redskins fandom does not prevent me from seeing the Joe Theismann is an idiot, although Paul Maguire is worse. I do not know if Maguire is a formal player, but he's so unbelievably stupid that I can't imagine he's not. I just looked: He was.) but it's not just them. They're just one of the best examples of inept announcers.

I'm not saying that ex-players shouldn't announce at all. But it's pretty clear that they aren't employed due to their announcing skill. Rather, many former players seem to have been hired as announcers because of their names. Isn't it strange that most of the big market announcers are players that were really good, or at least moderately popular? In baseball, it's Joe Morgan, Rob Dibble, Jeff Brantley. In football, it's guys like Theismann. Of course, there are some relatively unknown players that become announcers, but that's because they're actually good announcers. Harold Reynolds is a good example of this. In general, it's pretty safe to say that the better the player, the worse announcer they make.

Why shouldn't players be announcers? Because most of them are delusional about their playing days. They're (usually) not delusional about how good they are, but rather WHY they were that good. One of the great things about the technology we have these days is how it's allowed us to store and analyze data. With the internet, it's become possible for many different people to access statistical data, and understand some of the details about these sports really work.

A fantastic example of this is the "Moneyball" phenomenon. "Moneyball" is an outstanding book that dissects how the Oakland A's, with their tightly constrained budget, are able to compete, year-in, year-out, with teams that have two or three times the money available. One of their tools is detailed statistical analysis. The book describes, in detail, how Billy Beane, the GM of the team, figured out how to beat an unfair game. He determined that data on college pitchers was more useful than high school pitchers. He determined the value of players that took a lot of pitcher per at-bat. And, of course, he popularized the use of on-base percentage as an important statistic. Billy Beane actually used to be a professional baseball player. (However, he wasn't that good, which might be a reason why he's an effective analyst.) But the central message of his book was that you need intelligent analysis to determine what qualities are undervalued in the market if you're on a constrained budget. Pretty simple concept, actually, but hard to execute.

"Moneyball" is a compelling book, but it doesn't have all the answers. The A's still haven't won the World Series, so clearly it's not perfect. (Beane chalks that up to the randomness inherent in playing a short playoff series.) But what's amusing to watch the backlash against "Moneyball". Many pundits claimed that Beane's success was really just due to him having three fantastic pitchers. This year, he traded two of them, and they're still in the playoff race. It's almost like people are itching to see him fail.

Why do some people detest "Moneyball" so much? Well, the other month I was listening to a baseball show on the radio, and Larry Bowa was on. He's a part-time analyst for Baseball Tonight, and also a former All-Star and, more recently, a former Phillies manager. He was ranting against "Moneyball", and was quite incoherent. He talked about how on-base percentage was B.S., and how winning in the playoffs wasn't randomness. He poo-poo'ed the importance of taking walks, and just generally sounded pissed off that such a thing was ever suggested. A caller then asked him if he had ever read the book, and he replied that no, he hadn't. He said that he would never waste his time reading a book that claimed all of the things it claimed. The caller tore Bowa apart, telling him how the book was really about determining which commodities were undervalued in the market and exploiting those inefficiencies. Bowa continued, saying "the playoffs aren't about luck", and "who cares about taking walks?" He basically sounded like a bitter idiot.

So why was Bowa so pissed off? Why do Theismann and Maguire spout so much nonsense about "being tough", and blitzing all the time? Why does Tim McCarver rave about Derek Jeter during the playoffs every single chance he gets? Because it all feeds into this idea that great players have "something special" about them. This special thing is unquantifiable, and lives deep down in their souls. It can't be described by something as pedestrian as statistics. Really, it's self-aggrandizement, although I don't think it's on a conscious level.

With fantasy sports, a hobby that pretty much is based solely on statistical analysis, becoming more and more popular, the rift seems to be growing. But it's a tough line to tread. Lately, the NFL has been showing screens on its "top fantasy performer" during the games, and once in a while you'll hear an announcer snap and talk about how fantasy sports is completely unrelated to the real thing. (The particular example I saw today involved one announcer mentioning that fantasy owner had ranked a certain wide receiver pretty highly during their "drafts", and then he wondered if maybe that should have been a sign to the public that he was due to play well. The other announcer responded "no" in a quite disdainful manner.)

I'm certainly no professional, but I've played enough organized sports at various levels of competitiveness to understand the "code" that athletes seem to have. They like to believe that sports come down to willpower, spirit, and of course some talent. But the fact is that's it's some talent, and a significant amount of intelligence. Athletes don't want to believe that some nerd behind a keyboard might know a little more about the strategy of the game than they do, but it's slowly becoming that way. Teams that accept this, like the Boston Red Sox, who hired stat guru Bill James last year, will be able to succeed. Teams that hire Larry Bowa will not. (The Phillies canned him last year - lo and behold, they're making a playoff run this year. Of course, that might have nothing to do with stats, and more to do with the fact that he's an asshole.)

I guess ultimately, I'm not a big fan of those who delude themselves, but usually it's rather harmless. But announcer stupidity extends beyond just annoying me by stating stupid platitudes. In the case of the Cy Young award, deserving athletes get slighted because of moronic pundits. The Cy Young award is supposed to go the best pitcher in each league. There are a number of good statistics that can be used to determine who the best pitcher is: Earned Run Average (ERA), Walks and Hits Per Innings Pitched (WHIP), Strikeouts per 9 Innings (K/9), or what have you. But there's one statistic that's pretty poor for determining pitcher quality: Wins.

Seems pretty counter-intuitive, doesn't it? Shouldn't Wins measure how good a pitcher is at accomplishing his goal, namely, winning? Well, no. But it's that simplistic reasoning that leads Wins to be a huge factor in Cy Young voting, and it's a shame. The fact of the matter is that winning a baseball game depends on two things: How many runs your opponent scores, and how many runs your team scores. But here's the thing: Pitchers can only control how many runs the opponents score. (Let's ignore pitchers hitting for now.) That's what all these statistics measure.

This year is a good example of why the Wins argument is stupid. Chris Carpenter is having a fantastic season, and has a 2.71 ERA, with a 21-5 record. Roger Clemens is having an amazing season, with a 1.89 ERA, but only a 12-8 record. He's given up about 50 less hits than Carpenter. Is it his fault that his team is only scoring 3.57 runs per start, compared to St. Louis' 5.42 runs in Carpenter's starts? Of course not.

Why do people care about wins? Maybe it's just because the name of the stat is erroneous. It should be "Games Won In Pitcher's Starts". Good ol' GWIPS. Pundits wouldn't vote for a guy just because of something silly like GWIPS, would they? What kind of logic leads them to vote for the guy with more Wins, even though he clearly had the inferior pitching year? The same kind of logic that leads Larry Bowa to believe that "Moneyball" is crap. The common phrase is "good pitchers know how to win". How, exactly, does that work? Do the best pitchers somehow pitch better when the other team has scored more runs than their team is capable of scoring? Are they telepaths, so they know when to "bear down", because their team won't score any more? Maybe some pitchers are just such jackasses that their teammates refuse to score more runs for them to get them the win. Maybe the best pitchers are just so inspiring that they can guide a team to victory by sheer force of will. Of course, it's all crap, and that kind of thinking just feeds into the "superhuman athlete" mythos. And Poor Roger Clemens gets slighted. Of course, Clemens is precisely the kind of tough jock guy that wouldn't vote for himself in this situation anyways, so maybe it's all justified.

By the way, I do think that there's more to the analysis of sports and sports strategy than just armchair quarterbacking and managing. I do think that one can't quite understand the intricacies of certain sports unless one's played them. Furthermore, I'm confident that there are very deep sorts of analyses going on at the highest level, ones that I can't even understand. It's those details I'd like to hear about more from players. I want to know about the game within the game. I want to know what causes a shortstop to scoot two inches over to the right when a certain batter comes up to the plate. Those types of insights are valuable, and that's why you should have an ex-player sitting in the back of the broadcast booth, only offering little nuggets of wisdom when spoken to. And they should be wired up to electrodes and shocked whenever they utter some nonsense like "defense wins championships" or "he's a leader because he's a clutch hitter". (By the way, if the Yankees do manage to make the playoffs this year, expect to repeatedly hear about how Mariano Rivera is the greatest clutch closer ever, and ignoring him blowing the 2001 World Series Game 7, or the 2004 ALCS Game 4, or the first couple of games this year against the Red Sox. Here's the deal: He's a great pitcher. That's it. No better or worse in the clutch. Just like Jeter.)

Maybe the sports are worried about becoming too "wonky", and just want to appeal to the lowest common denominator intentionally: That wouldn't surprise me. At least, it allows me to be entertained by sites like Fire Joe Morgan and Tuesday Morning Quarterback, who basically exist to point out the stupidity of conventional sports wisdom. Eventually, we might go too far towards statistical analysis and lose the "soul" of the game", but as long as Cy Young voters still believe that Wins are everything, I think that's a long way off.

Sunday, September 18, 2005


In case any of you wonder why I was never quite the ladies' man (and I doubt any of you are wondering), it may not surprise you that I have uttered to women on more than one occasion, "I'm all about efficiency, baby." And while I don't apply that philosophy to all aspects of my life (certainly not the illicit subjects I'm sure you're snickering about right now) (and yes, I know how people might extrapolate that statement and apply it to those subjects, but suffice it to say that I don't think I've ever said that phrase within 10 minutes of any state of undress), for some reason, inefficiency seriously bothers me.

Of course, simple slowness bothers everyone. No one likes getting stuck in traffic, or being on hold, or waiting at the DMV, or talking to people who fall asleep in the middle of sentences. But for some reason, I'm always optimizing, and often get disproportionately frustrated when I see small things that could be easily made more efficient, but aren't. If you're a dedicated "In The Big Inning..." reader (and, honestly, I don't have enough readers to group into "dedicated" and "undedicated" classes at this point, so the fact that you're reading this means that I consider you sufficiently dedicated, so go back and read what I'm talking about if you missed it), you might recall me complaining about waiting to get off of airlines, or other inefficiencies. I probably could write a book on the topic of little inefficiencies that really bother me, but that would be a monumental waste of time. Instead, I'll just waste time, but less of it, by complaining here. See, I'm even optimizing my time wasting!

The latest inefficiency-related pet peeve of mine regards being on hold and talking to automated systems. And I realize that automated phone systems themselves are a common complaint, but bear with me. Although, I will say that I'm impatient enough that as soon as I get a machine, I start punching "0", or if it's one of those completely moronic systems that only listens to your voice, I say "help" and "operator" over and over again until I get a live human. Really, you should try this system; it's quite effective.

But, back to my particular complaint. So, I'm at work, and realize that I need to call some customer service line. I dial, and lean back in my seat, ready to sit on hold. Then, before they let me do anything, I have to enter my phone number. Fine, I can do that. I sit forward, enter it in, and then wait on hold. After some silly amount of time waiting, a person finally comes on the phone. I'm all excited about talking to a real person, and what's the first thing they ask? My phone number. What a waste of time! Maybe people wouldn't be on hold so long if they didn't have to enter in their numbers twice! I realize that the first time is probably just to authenticate me and make sure I'm a customer, but I'm confident that technology has progressed enough that they can track my call and know who has been waiting. Hell, I've seen it done before. Even worse is when it's a credit card company and I have to enter in my credit card number: That's 6 more digits! Plus, usually I've already put my credit card away after entering it the first time: That's wasted movement.

I know, this seems like a stupid thing to complain about, and you're right, it is. I don't know why it bugs me so much. I've asked an operator or two why I have to tell them my info when I already entered it, but they never seem to have the answer. The stupider thing is that I almost definitely would spend that extra 1.5 seconds (accumulated 600 times over the previous year - remember I just moved and have therefore spent a lot of time on the phone with customer service) on something completely stupid, like watching "Big Brother 6" on TiVo, but at least it would be MY 1.5 seconds. Hey, remember, I said I'm all about efficiency, baby, not logic. What, that doesn't turn you on?

Sunday, September 11, 2005

Flood Waters 

One thing that made OPNETWORK worse than it had to be was the fact that we had a minor flood in my house during the annual event, which was a couple weeks ago. I had never experienced the pleasure of flooding, but boy, was it a joy.

OPNETWORK is a grind. It's a week-long user conference that we put on for free for all of our customers. The entire company essentially shuts down for a month to put it on. Honestly, in the long run it's worth it to the company, but that doesn't make it any more fun to go through. For the few weeks before the actual event, we're all preparing classes and presentations. I swear, I've created more PowerPoint slides for OPNETWORK than I care to admit. Frankly, it's mind-numbing. We're also fixing up all the software, preparing demos and fixing bugs, since we usually try to release something interesting during or right after the conference.

The weekend before, we're downtown at the conference site (The Reagan Center) for approximately 20-30 hours. Then, during the conference, we have to get up early (7:30-8, which is not a big deal unless you normally get up at 10, like I do), and stay until at least 6, but often longer. Furthermore, I had to give a couple presentations, including a 4-hour class on Monday. I knew what I was doing, but it sure was draining talking for 4 hours straight.

So, it was within that context that I came home on Tuesday completely drained. I had actually played softball at 8 and 9 PM on Monday, after a weekend of moving computers around and setting things up, as well as getting little sleep and being on my feet the whole day. Yeah, I'm old and crusty. I decided to do something I never do: Take a bath. I know it sounds girly. Tough. I was sore and tired. I figured I'd read a book in the bathtub. Seemed like a good idea at the time.

I head up and fill the bath around 10pm. At about 10:10, Sam knocks on the door. She tells me that she thinks the basement is flooding. I tell her that it's probably just something simple, like maybe she had left a washcloth in the basement sink while running the washing machine. She leaves, but then 5 minutes later comes back and says the water's rising. I figure this is not likely to go away by ignoring it, so I finish up my aborted (and none-too-relaxing) bath and run downstairs.

Sure enough, the basement's flooding. The drain in the basement supply closet floor is overflowing. The water doesn't look like sewer water, which is nice. In fact, as we step in it, we notice that it's warm. We realize that it's my bath water. Hmmm...this is strange.

At this point, I wasn't sure what to do. I had never really had to deal with plumbing problems more complicated than a stopped shower drain. (And, in fact, we had had that problem a couple weeks prior, and I had simply Drano-ed it out...but clearly the problem was bigger than we thought.) I figured the first step was probable to get rid of the water. Not yet owning a Shop-Vac, Sam and I picked up dustpans and started bailing water into pails. To be honest, the water wasn't that high, but it was spreading over much of the basement, and that didn't seem like a good thing.

We started bailing, and when I had a full bucket, I dumped it into the basement sink. Bad move. The water came right back up the floor drain. Ok, what next? Well, I bailed another bucket full, and this time, dumped it out back, where there was another drain. Surely, an outdoor drain wouldn't flow back into the house, right? That would be absurd. Well, welcome to absurd-land. That water came back up as well, although with the added bonus of the dirt and grass that was outside around the drain. Nice.

At this point (11 pm, mind you), we were out of options. We didn't really want to leave the water there overnight, and also be unable to run any water without exacerbating the problem. First, I called the Washington Sewer and Sanitary Commission, and described the problem. They told me it was a plumbing problem, and who was I to disagree. I looked up a 24-hour plumbing service, and called one. They told me that there would be a 130 dollar emergency fee if they sent someone out within the hour, and likely a 40 dollar charge for snaking the drain. At the time, it sounded like a deal to me.

They dispatched the plumber, and he showed up in about half an hour. He was a friendly fellow, considerate enough to put little plastic booties on over his shoes so as not to track water over the entire house. He asked a couple of questions, and within about five minutes he determined that it was a problem with the main drain form the house to the city's water lines. He said that the only solution in a house like ours (50 years old) was to snake it. And that was gonna cost money, because the only way to snake it properly was to pull up a toilet.

He looked in his little book, and adding in the emergency fees, the total cost was going to be 966 dollars. I was stunned! But I also didn't feel like I had a choice. I could have him come tomorrow morning for a couple hundred dollars less (because it wouldn't be the emergency rate), but given that it was OPNETWORK, I didn't quite have the time. Plus, he was already there. And it wasn't work that we could do ourselves, because we didn't own an industrial plumber's snake. (Although, I have to admit that I wondered how much one might cost.) We decided to bite the bullet and get it done. We didn't want the water sitting there overnight, and we didn't want to lose access to our water. Furthermore, we figured it would have to be done sooner or later anyways, and we knew the company was respectable.

So, our plumber went to work. He brought his snake in, and went to town. We tried to get other stuff done while he worked for about an hour. He pulled up the toilet, and ended up having to use about 45 feet of snake. In the end, he never found anything clogging the drain that he was able to pull back up, which was kind of frustrating. Still, he said he definitely detected a clog, but that it was actually in the drain, all the way out of the house. He guessed that it was something that had actually been there for months, and had just built up and built up until the drain was completely blocked.

In order to verify that the drain was working, we ran all the faucets in the house for what seemed like 15 minutes. I can only imagine what that did to our water bill. But it seemed to be draining, so we were happy that the problem was fixed. The plumber replaced the toilet, cleaned all of the walls and fixtures, and even gave us some complementary drain cleaner that we were supposed to use for preventative maintenance.

After all of that, we were left to bail water out of the basement. We spent the rest of the evening (there wasn't a whole lot of evening left, to be honest), bailing water with dustpans. Then, we moved all of the cardboard boxes that full of magazines that had been soaked through. The next day, we bought a couple mops and cleaned the entire basement.

Can you believe we only paid 966 dollars for the privilege of experiencing that much fun? I tell ya, we got quite a deal. Ah, the joys of homeownership. They pale compared to the fun of OPNETWORK.

Monday, September 05, 2005

Random Musing Of A Tired Man 

This past weekend, I went up to my old fraternity house at school to help them out with rush. More details on that later, but for now, suffice it to say that I only got about 12 hours of sleep total over the past three days, and spent about 16 hours in the car. It's generally not good when you've spent more time driving than sleeping in any significant time span. However, I figured I'd throw some random thoughts out there:

It's looking like the death toll from Hurricane Katrina will be at least 3,000, possibly as large as 10,000. Will anyone be placing magnets on their car in support of "hurricane preparedness"? Will there be special license plates made commemorating this horrendous even, labelled "Never Forget"? Will we start singing an additional song at sporting events? Of course not. Honestly, the stories from New Orleans are horrifying and mind-boggling. There's nothing I can say to do it justice, but I do think this is something we should never forget. The lack or preparation and support that allowed the problem to be as bad as it was deserves just as much attention as our attack preparedness did post-9/11.

On an utterly unrelated and much less significant note, my Outlook has started giving me problems whenever I try to delete a message. It says: "The message interfacing returned an unknown error." It's like a meta-error. But, about as useless as an error message saying "unknown error". Thanks Microsoft. In the meantime, my inbox will continue to grow until it destroys my entire computer, given that I can't clean anything out of it.

I bet you haven't noticed, but gas is expensive. I spent about $120 bucks getting to Boston and back. One might think that at some point, flying's gonna be cheaper than driving, but one's also gotta think that fuel costs will drive up flight costs a bit. Still, you're splitting those costs among a lot more people, right?

The Orioles are way out of the pennant race, but the Nationals still have a shot at the wild card. It would be quite a story if they made the playoffs their first year here. People are definitely excited about them. It's pretty cool. Hopefully one day they'll overtake the dismal Redskins, but I'm not holding my breath: D.C. is definitely a football town. But if you didn't have a baseball team, you'd follow football too. What are you gonna follow? Basketball? Don't be silly.

That's it. My brain is toast. Time to watch something insanely stupid on television. I have many exciting tales to tell when I can form a coherent sentence.

Sunday, August 28, 2005

Out With The Old, In With The New TV 

I suppose I could elaborate on last week's non-post, but really, do you all want to read a bunch of my whining about OPNETWORK? Likely not. I'm sure you'd much rather read about my whining about how hard it was to get my new TV hope. I do lead a rough life. But if you'd rather read about neither, well, there's a whole rest of the internet out there for you to peruse, so be my guest.

Given that you're still here, I imagine you're interested in the conclusion to my tale. So...where was I? Getting the TV home...right. I was ready to buy the TV. I called my realtor, Shelley Gold (she's very good - check her out at www.shelleygold.com if you're buying or selling in the DC area...but keep in mind that she's a realtor, not a web site designer), who has a pickup truck named Bertha that she allows her clients to use for no charge. It turned out Bertha was free that night, so we were set.

I discussed the whole matter over with Sam, and after work I paid for the TV, then headed home to pick up Sam. Circuit City's about 15 minutes from my office, and about 20 minutes from our new house. We then headed over to Shelley's which is about 15 minutes from our place. We picked up the truck with no problem, and drove over to Circuit City, figuring things would be a breeze. I parked the car outside the pick-up area (I have a hard time parking my little Honda Accord, so you can imagine how adept I was at maneuvering a pickup truck.

At any rate, Sam goes in and presents the receipt, and I stay with the car. Shortly thereafter the stockroom dude brought the TV out on a little dolly. I have to admit that I was a little overwhelmed by the size of the box - after all, a 50" plasma really isn't that big - that's exactly why we got the plasma in the first place! So, we go to lay the box down, and the stockroom guy freaks out. In broken English, he tells us that we can't lay a plasma down ever. Another guy who's on his way into the store tells us that he actually did lie a plasma down, and it damaged the TV and voided the warranty. And, sure enough, right on the box, it says not to lay the TV flat...we figure better safe than sorry. We certainly wouldn't want to void the extended warranty we paid for right outside of the store.

Well, that should be no problem, right? I neglected to mention that the pickup had a camper top on it. We look at the box and the size of the truck, and quickly determine that the box is too tall by about six inches. This seems kind of ridiculous to me, as the TV is actually only about three feet high, but the box is hugely oversized. It seems the only option is to remove the camper top. How hard can that be? I look at the bolts that keep the top attached, and they require a wrench. Ok, it's freakin' Circuit City. Certainly, they must have a wrench around, right?

Wrong. There's no wrench to be found, even in the car audio department. I'm growing increasingly frustrated, and running out of time. I don't want to have to come back on a different day, when the truck might not be available. It's around 8:30, and the store closes at 9:30. But we have no other choice, so we head on home.

We get home and I'm a whirling dervish of activity. I tell Sam to go and make dinner, because if she doesn't eat for a while, she gets migraines. I figured that fate was worse than not getting the TV home that night. I run to get a crescent wrench, and then back to the car. I unscrew all eight brackets, which are much more complicated to remove than I originally suspected. After removing the brackets, I try to just take the camper top off myself, but it's way too heavy. It's just a freakin' piece of Plexiglas! But I estimate it's about three hundred pounds.

I call Sam out to help me, but it's too bulky for us to handle. Fortunately, a sympathetic neighbor sees us struggling, and helps us put it on the lawn. Then I hightail it to Circuit City. I get there with about 15 minutes to spare, and easily load the TV into the car. But the fun's just begun. Since I can't lay the TV down, and don't have any bungee cords or rope, I just have to angle the TV across the back of the truck and hope it doesn't slide around or fall over. Fortunately, the oversized box helps a bit with that. But the road back that's under construction certainly doesn't. I swear, I must have picked the hilliest, bumpiest route possible. I'm going half the speed limit, sweating bullets with each hump I go over. Every divot feels like a speed bump at twenty miles an hour. It certainly doesn't help that the truck's a little old and loud and the suspension's not great.

I plod home, tired and exhausted. The return trip is a tense forty-five minutes, but the TV doesn't fall over. Sam and I unload the TV - that's the easy part. It's a nice change from moving a 323-pound TV to a 99-pound one (in about 50 pounds worth of cardboard). We get the TV inside the house, and then I go to work. I quickly figure out that there's no way Sam and I are going to get the camper top back on by ourselves. So, after a little deliberation (it is not 10pm, after all), we decide to knock on our next-door neighbor's house and ask for assistance. Hey, what are neighbors for, right? Fortunately, they're home and free, so a couple guys help me place the camper top back on the truck. It's disgustingly humid, and by now I'm dripping with sweat, but I fasten the bolts, and slide all of the weatherstripping back into place, and I'm finally ready to go.

I drive back to Shelley's, after filling the truck back up, of course. I pick my car up, and return home, finally eating dinner around 11:30. But I'm definitely not going to go through all that crap just to leave the TV in a box. I set it up in about an hour, about fifty minutes of which is devoted to removing the insane amount of packaging. By the end, I have enough cardboard on my floor to make myself a shanty town.

So, we turn the TV on, hook up the DirecTV, and...it looks like crap. It's really frustrating. The HD doesn't look any better. I switch to a DVD, and that looks minimally better. The old TV was far superior. What gives? Sam goes to bed, but I keep working, hooking up different cables (including a hundred-dollar HDMI cable), and just getting really frustrated. We don't have internet yet, so I can't do any research. I go to bed quite irritated, but at least satisfied that I got the TV in the house. I hope it was worth it.

The next day at work, I do some research on the internet. It turns out that by default, some TVs have their "sharpness" set to the maximum setting. You'd think that sharpness is a good thing, but at some point it just turns into pixellation. So, we set it to a reasonable value, and all is well.

We break the system in with "Finding Nemo", and I have to admit, it looks pretty fantastic. The picture's incredibly clear, and there's no distortion at all. The viewing angle's great, and the color is amazingly vibrant. After all that crap, I'm glad we didn't lay the darn thing down.

Sunday, August 21, 2005


I hate OPNETWORK. I'd have more time to tell you why, if not for OPNETWORK.

Sunday, August 14, 2005

Give Me TV or Give Me Death! 

Where was I? I'm too lazy to go back and check, but I believe I was talking about getting rid of my old TV and deciding we needed a new one.

So, given the dimensions of the room, it seemed to us that a flat-screen TV would be necessary. I wanted a sizeable, clean picture, and figured that plasmas and LCDs had come down enough in price to make them worth investigating.

We went to Best Buy on three consecutive weekends. Now, I realize that Best Buy is not the place to go to find advice from knowledgeable people, but it is a good place to go to judge the aesthetics of TVs and compare them in person. As it turned out, we ran into a woman who actually was moderately intelligent with regard to TVs, and didn't seem too saleswoman-like. She actually seemed eager to help, unlike most Best Buy employees, who appear burdened by having to deal with customers.

She, of course, pointed us to one of the most expensive TVs they had, a 50" Phillips. I was leaning towards a 50", while Sam wanted a 42", but I believe that was because she was traumatized by the size of my previous television. I figured I was willing to get a smaller screen, but not THAT much smaller. I asked her if they were willing to negotiate prices, and she said they probably would be willing to if we got some sort of a package deal.

We went home and I did some research. One of the best-reviewed TVs was a 50" Panasonic, and I did some comparison shopping. I had never really thought Panasonic was that good a brand, but it turned out that it had gotten rave reviews. Plus, I looked around, and it was pretty reasonably priced, at least compared to some of the other brands (Sony, Phillips, Pioneer, etc.)

So, on the second trip, we returned to Best Buy and hunted our salesgirl down. I told her that I had found the TV online for about $1000 less than they were advertising it in the store, and that if they could match the price, I'd consider getting it there. She went to her manager, and they said they could go about $500 less, with free delivery, but that was about it. And, I'd have to take it right then. Well, we weren't prepared to do that, so we thanked her and left.

We stopped at Circuit City, but it was basically the same selection. There were even less salespeople around to help, and the didn't seem to really be interested in keeping the store clean. Once again, we postponed our purchase, figuring we could always order it online.

Finally, we decided we were ready to make the purchase. I did some intense comparison shopping, as prices seemed to fluctuate from day to do. I also wanted to make sure we ordered from a reputable company that would give us a service plan. As it turned out, there were only a couple decent sites that would ship us the TV, and give us a service plan for less than the total cost at Best Buy. I selected one of them, and even with shipping, I would save a few hundred bucks over what Best Buy would do.

I went ahead and placed the order, and had a weird time checking out on the internet site. The instructions conflicted a bit, giving me one shipping option for free, but also having a disclaimer that certain types of TVs needed to be shipping by some other method. Of course, I figured that if the free shipping option wasn't available on the TV I had chosen, it wouldn't pop up as selectable. Silly me. And, by the way, when you're shipping a 50" TV (yes, I won that debate), we're talking at least a couple hundred dollars in shipping, so it was significant.

I placed the order, with the total cost around what I had planned. But then I got an email from the company, first asking me to call the credit card company so the charge would go through (that was easy - they're always eager to help you spend money as long as it's not going to bite them in the butt later because it's fraudulent), and then informing me that the shipping charge would be about three hundred dollars more than what I selected online. They were friendly about it, but it was frustrating, because the comparison shopping site had gotten things all wrong, and now it turned out that Best Buy was probably comparable. (Actually, Best Buy would still be a bit more expensive, because I'd have to pay tax, but there's something comforting about knowing there's always a Best Buy down the street to hold accountable, instead of some phantom store in New York City, despite their good CNET rating. I figure that comfort's worth around a hundred bucks, maybe more. Plus, I wouldn't have to wait.)

At that point, I gave up ordering online, and resigned myself to Best Buy. Over the weekend, we went to Best Buy, but it turned out the friendly salesgirl was on vacation (despite her saying that she "lived" at the store, and would be around), so we tracked someone else down. The fact that we had to go find someone that would allow us to spend our money there should have been a sign. Clearly, they weren't that interested in our business. We asked the guy we found if we could have a similar deal, and he went to ask his manager, but they would have none of it. I went to the manager directly, but the best they could do was 10% off, which really wasn't close to the price we found online. Furthermore, it wasn't like they were even doing anything special - you can find 10% off Best Buy coupons everywhere you look. We said "screw it" and walked out the door.

Later in the week, I stopped by Circuit City. This time, there was a salesman on hand. I told him the whole story, about the price I was able to get online, and asked if they could come close. He talked to his manager, and actually they were willing to come closer. After all was said and done, they'd give me a 5-year service plan and only be a total of two hundred bucks over the internet price I found, including tax. Not a bad deal. But the kicker was that if I signed up for a Circuit City credit card at the time, I could use it, and get 5% of the purchase price back in coupons to use later. Since we knew we'd want to buy a TV stand, this would work out well. We were sold.

I filled out the credit card application, and waited for it to go through. We had a deal! Now, all we had to do was get the darn thing home. We had moved a 65", 323-pound television. This was less than 100 pounds! How hard could it be?

To be continued...

Sunday, August 07, 2005

I Want My Big TV 

As promise, here's the first of an ongoing (and possibly endless, now that I'm a homeowner) series of (hopefully) amusing tales about our homeowning adventures. I'm kind of hoping that eventually it gets a little easier and less hectic, but I'm not convinced enough of that fact to classify these adventures as moving-related. They're definitely more homeownership-related. What can I say - I guess I'm a sucker.

So, a few years ago, I bought a huge television. I love movies, and I love the experience of watching a movie and immersing myself in it. Furthermore, I'm a sucker for new technology. Unfortunately, that sometimes conflicts with my innate practicality, and I have to admit that in this instance, the former urges won out over the latter.

I was relatively fresh out of college, and just got my first bonus at work. It was a really large bonus (like 15% of my salary), as it was just before the tech bubble completely burst. I haven't had a bonus close to that since, not that I'm complaining. So I decided to go out and spend some of it (less that half - don't worry, I'm not completely crazy) on a kick-ass television. Many of you have probably seen this TV. It was a 65" widescreen rear-projection Mitsubishi. (I also bought a Bose soundsystem.)

65 inches is huge. At the time, it actually fit nicely in the house that I was renting. It had quite a nice picture, and once I invested in an HD receiver and a component DVD player (those were still 300 bucks at the time), it was really quite the experience. The picture was pretty darn clear, the sound was nice, and all in all, it was a worthwhile investment.

Then, we had to move the darn thing, once we moved out of the house. It weighed 323 pounds, I believe. We hired movers, and they were cursing in Spanish all the way down the stairs. When we moved again, my friends and I moved it, but not before we figured out that it split into two pieces. Still, it was quite hefty. Furthermore, it didn't fit as well into either of my two new apartments, but they were still adequate. It did loom kind of large in those rooms, though.

So, as we were looking for houses, I kept the thought of where the TV would go in the back of my mind. There were some houses that would have fit it perfectly, but they had other critical flaws. When we found the house we ended up buying, I was concerned that there might not be a good location for my TV, but we liked the place so much that we were willing to overlook that minor problem.

Quickly, the problem because more than minor. The only room the TV would fit in was the basement, but it was kind of oddly shaped, and not optimal for TV viewing. We placed the TV down there just to get it out of the way. Now that I think about it, it didn't really give me pause, but it is kind of strange that we placed a quite expensive, nice TV set in the basement with the rest of the "junk" that we just wanted to get out of the way. My, how things change.

Our house has a room that was clearly intended to be a TV room. The previous owners had a standard 27" TV, and it worked fine, but as you can imagine, I wasn't going to be satisfied with a TV like that...

(To be continued...)

(If anyone's interested in buying a 65" Mitsubishi, please give me a call...)

Friday, July 29, 2005

Fine, fine 

After legions of my fans have been clamoring for my return to blogging, I am returning reluctantly. Well, ok, only one person posted a comment, but still, that's like 25% of my audience. At any rate, my absence has not been due to a lack of desire to expound upon random crap - I figure that urge is not going to subside any time soon. Once a blowhard, always a blowhard, they say. Well, someone should say. But at any rate, for the past month, I've been spending most of my free time unpacking.

Unpacking? Yes, unpacking. We moved all of our boxes and stuff over from our old house at the end of July, and that process wasn't too painful. But the unpacking has been incredibly time consuming. There's something liberating about not having many options. I know that sounds counterintuitive, but it's true. If you don't have many choices, it's pretty easy to decide what to do. But with a new house, the sky's the limit. Not only can any object go in a multitude of places, but any room can be used for almost any purpose. So we have to decide what each room will be, what it'll look like, what will go where, etc. We need to decide what to buy, what to keep, what to renovate, and, well, it's not easy to make those choices. Plus, buying stuff is kind of expensive.

You might say that we don't need to make all of those decisions at once, and you're right. But the fact of the matter is that you really only get to start from scratch once. If you buy a big, nice piece of furniture, and then later during unpacking you discover that it's not big enough, or it doesn't look right, you can't really return it. Furthermore, if you decide that one closet is going to be, say, your linen closet, and then a month later you find a few extra towels that mean the closet's not big enough, I think we both know that it's pretty unlikely we're going to move the entire contents of that closet to another closet, which also will most likely need to be emptied.

So, we're trying to be meticulous, and resourceful. But that takes time. We decide how we want a room to look, what we need there, and then we go out and buy what's necessary. Sometimes we need to do research. Sometimes we need to order something from the internet, or go out and buy it, and comparison shopping takes time as well. But we're making progress. Our house is shaping up well, and it's been worthwhile. I'm sorry you, my dear readers, have had to make such sacrifices, like going for 25 days without a post from me. I assure you, it won't happen again...unless we move...which damn well better not happen for a long, long time.

Also, as a side note, moving has resulted in me having quite a lot of stories, mostly about poor customer service, which I will be sure to share with you in coming posts.

Monday, July 04, 2005


I thought on July 4th it might be appropriate to opine a bit about patriotism and symbolism. I'll try to keep this relatively politics-free (I have another blog for politics), but no promises. Plus, it's my blog, so I can really write about whatever I want. Bwa ha ha!

Recently, the level of public discourse has become degraded, I think, by a perverse notion of patriotism. Maybe it's nothing new during wartime, but since I've been paying attention to politics (roughly 3-4 years), it seems only to have gotten worse. People who criticize the government are immediately lambasted for their patriotism, and are blamed for "not supporting the troops". Those who support the war are chided for not serving during a time of lagging military recruiting. Personally, I think it's all crap.

So what is true patriotism? And, is it important? Well, I think there's a difference between what passes for patriotism these days, and loving your country. First of all, I don't consider myself a huge patriot. I think true patriotism requires significant sacrifice for your country. People who haven't really sacrificed anything for their country (including myself) seem to me to be in a pretty poor position to judge others' patriotism. Of course, almost all politicians haven't had to sacrifice for most of their lives. Sure, some have (McCain, Kerry, etc.), but many have not only not sacrificed anything, but are successful because they've had others sacrifice in their stead. (Bush, Clinton, etc.)

However, I think one thing to recognize is that the country you're born in is pretty much completely arbitrary. That is, you have no control over where you're born. And for the most part, where you're born determined what country you're a citizen of. Most people didn't do anything to "earn" being an American. (And those who did, who immigrated here, and worked to obtain citizenship, are often treated like second-class citizens, quite literally.) I don't think enough people realize this. Being an American isn't necessarily anything special. You have to make it special. You have to earn the right to be proud of your country, and you have to keep it something to be proud of. Having American parents isn't enough. (And, by the way, I have similar arguments regarding religion, but that's for another time.)

So this blind, jingoist patriotism that's taking hold today (U-S-A! U-S-A!) doesn't impress me, nor do I think it's warranted. But that doesn't mean I don't love my country, or at least its values, and that doesn't mean I don't appreciate what it's offered me. On the flip side of the blind patriotism comes people who don't appreciate how lucky they are to live in a country that provides them so much opportunity. Much of what I have today is due to the opportunity America provides. My mother's mother escaped from the Holocaust and came here in the late 30's. My other grandparents were born here, but basically had blue-collar jobs and worked themselves to the bone to provide for their children. Because of their hard work, their children (my parents, obviously) went to good colleges, and were able to get the jobs they wanted, so they could lead comfortable, happy lives, and provide for me and my brother. Thanks to them, I was able to go to MIT and live what many (including myself) would consider a fairly easy, happy life. In many, many countries around the globe, that couldn't have happened. In fact, it's because America accepted my grandmother, and because we fought WWII that I'm even here today. I appreciate the sacrificed of those Americans who fought in that war, who truly sacrificed for our freedoms. Furthermore, I appreciate that America is (was) a place where hard work allowed my grandparents to succeed, and where good schools were available, and good jobs were available to educated people.

So, how can people show their appreciation for their country? Well, I think it's more than just waving a flag or blindly supporting their government. I think of America kind of like a child, who has to be raised properly. True patriotism is kind of like good parenting - keeping your country in line, letting it know when it's being irresponsible, and making sure it grows up to be the type of country that gave you the opportunities you have. It sounds like a silly analogy, and clearly one can have much more of a direct effect on one's children than one's country, but I actually think it's particularly apt.

Many people have different "parenting" philosophies, but I really think we're seeing way too many absentee parents. We hear accusations of torture by our government, and half the country prefers to pick its fingers in its ears and say "my little Johnny would NEVER do that!" than actually see if it's true. Our country gets in a fight, and instead of teaching our child that force should only be used as a last resort, we encourage him to be a bully and equate violence with legitimate toughness. And we snap at anyone who criticizes him, instead of being a real parent.

What happens when you are blinded by this fake patriotism? Well, what happens when you're like that with a child? Ultimately, he doesn't learn how to treat people properly. And I think that slowly, that's what's happening with this country. It's a slow process, but a dangerous slope. We bully other countries. We neglect those who are having trouble succeeding, telling them they just need to "be tougher" and "work harder". I truly fear that the country that accepted my grandmother, and that enabled my other grandparents to be able to build themselves into successes, is slowly diminishing.

Furthermore, I cringe at the thought that somehow my patriotism will be questioned for writing what I wrote. I understand that there's a danger of also being the type of parent that's excessively critical, and always chides the child first, but we're so far from that right now, it's not really a concern of mine. Instead, we're talking about flag-burning amendments (again), an idea that's so antithetical to everything that America stands for it makes me sick. The flag is a nice symbol, but it's not a sacred object. It's just not. Besides, when was the last time you actually saw a flag burned?

What really disturbs me now is that I have started questioning my own patriotism. I was at Nationals game today and a chant of "U-S-A!" broke out and it made me cringe. At the 7th inning stretch, as they've been doing since 9/11, they made everyone take off their hats for "God Bless America". Take off your hats? It's not the national anthem! Are they going to do that until the end of time now? What happened to "Take Me Out To The Ballgame" ? I see those pathetic little magnetic "Support Our Troops" and "God Bless America" ribbons and they really piss me off because they ring so hollow. I wonder if any of the money made off those ribbons went to, say, support disabled veterans. Somehow I doubt it. And, honestly, if you support the troops that much, why not show it by putting something a little more permanent on your car?

I don't want to feel this way. I want to see a display of patriotism and be proud. Instead, most of the time, it seems to hollow. True patriots make sacrifices. True patriots speak up when their government has gone off the rails. True patriots stand up for the rights and opportunities of those lesser off. True patriots even support the rights of those who want to burn the flag, no matter how offensive such an act may be. Trust me, America can take a little flag burning. It's a tough little kid. Sometimes, though, it needs a spanking.

P.S. I just saw this editorial after writing my post and thought it strangely appropriate.

Sunday, July 03, 2005

Still Alive 

I'm still alive, although mired hip-deep in moving, so sometimes I might wish I wasn't. Rest assured that once we're settled (and have broadband internet), I will have all sorts of moderately interesting stories to share with you.

Sunday, June 12, 2005

Musings on Star Wars 

Simply put, George Lucas is a jackass. But I think we've already covered this. Still, that's pretty much what Episode III proved to me. And not because I think it was a horrible movie. But, rather, it confirms him as a raging egomaniac who knows how to create a compelling plot, with complex themes, but not how to tell a story. And, honestly, that's what movies are all about: Telling stories.

We were invited out to see Episode III, and decided to go for it. We originally had no intention of seeing it in the theaters - we laughed our asses off at Episode II at home, and were damn glad we didn't pay 10 bucks apiece for that piece of garbage. But the reviews for III weren't that bad, and we didn't want to be antisocial, so we went for it. Personally, I don't like to give Lucas any of my money, but it's tough to be morally consistent all the time.

And, for the first time in a long time, I actually enjoyed a Star Wars movie in the theater. (Probably the last time that happened was when the first 3 were re-released in the theaters, with the "new" footage.) But the positives of this one really just underscored the shortcomings of the previous two. Honestly, I don't think it was good moviemaking. He was just coasting off of the quality of the previously-developed characters. But still, those characters and their resonance gave important to all of the events that transpired in Episode III. And that's exactly what was missing from the first two - relevance.

The events of Episode I and II were so far removed from Episodes IV-VI that they just didn't matter. It didn't have to be that way. If Lucas had a smidgen of talent left, he would have figured out a way to create a compelling story line in the first trilogy. But he was so enamored of his little world that he thought the audience would care about minutiae. Think about what happens in Episode I. Pretty much nothing. Compare it to the grand significance of "saving the galaxy from evil", or the excitement of "a small rebellion fighting against a dominant galactic empire". Episode I is about some boring galactic politics and a small planet that we don't care about. Episode II is about some boring galactic politics and, well, something else that I don't remember.

I can tell you what happens in the Episodes IV-VI and why it's important. I saw Episode II less than two years ago, and honestly have no clue. Episode III was compelling. You could see how these events were important. How they led to the rise of the Empire. It gave the whole movie an ominous undertone, and made you care about the characters, which is something that Lucas has clearly proved that he is no longer capable of on his own. And you know, it was fine. It made for an entertaining movie.

So, why is Lucas a jackass? Because Episode III renders the first two completely unnecessary. This would have been entirely sufficient, and provided some nice "closure" (pre-closure?) to the whole series. I didn't need to know a whole movie to find out where Anakin came from, and another movie to see Anakin and Padme fall in love, or whatever emotion it was they were supposed to be expressing. Summarize that in 5 minutes of exposition at the beginning, and move on. As Keith Phipps of the Onion A.V. Club said, "And though Sith finally finds some life in the old saga, was it worth it in the end? Did we have to go through all that to get back where we began?"

Of course, there are other glaring flaws that I'd be remiss if I didn't mention. Much has been written about the dialogue, and most of it's dead-on. He never could write dialogue, and it's not that easy to overlook. The more laughable lines completely break off any suspension of disbelief I might have achieved. Reviewers just accept this as a given, but it's pretty unforgivable. He basically writes as though he takes the Star Wars world way too seriously. Han Solo was able to inject a sense of humor into the original trilogy. Here, Lucas is reduced to using R2D2 for comic relief.

Also, much has been made about Lucas's revolutionary special effects. But (and I'm not the first one to say this), he has basically taken the "special" out of the effects. There's way too much going on the screen to focus on any of it. He didn't used to do this, but now he seems to have something to prove. Also, in his efforts to use more and more effects, he's rendered the screen "flat". I don't know what it is, but even the best digital effects lack some "life". Compare Episode III to some of the battles in the original trilogy, and I think even though some of the effects may be look outdated, they'll also seem more visceral. Furthermore, for the most part, you can tell almost exactly what's going on. The end of Episode IV is a great example of this. Basically, he used to do a lot more with a lot less. Compare General Grievous to Boba Fett. Who was cooler?

So, that's about it. I had a good time at Episode III. It was interesting (although somewhat implausible at times) to see how Anakin became Darth Vader. Ewan MacGregor and Ian McDiarmid held the acting together enough to not make me completely fall over laughing. Although, I gotta say, that stupid squeaking beast the Obi-Wan rode looked and sounded terrible. Really, it was cringe-inducing.

We know why the first two were made: To fulfill Lucas's ego and to line his pockets. It was pretty savvy from a business standpoint. But imagine if Lucas had only made Episode III and that was it. What would your opinion of him be? I imagine it would be pretty high up there. But not, he's just an egomaniacal, greedy, two-bit hack. Was your reputation worth it, George?

Sunday, June 05, 2005

Wiffle Golf 

Last weekend, Sam and I visited her sister Tami, and brother-in-law Klaas. Before I launch into the main point of this post, I have an extended aside. Klaas and I were trying to determine if we were about to become brothers-in-law (brother-in-laws? eh, who cares?). I think we decided that we were, even though the relationship is Dave-married to Sam-sister of Tami-married to Klaas. That's three connections, two marriages, and one sibling. That's fine, I can live with that. Klaas is cool. But what about my brother Mike, and Sam's sister Tami? The relationship there is somewhat similar. Mike-brother of Dave-married to Sam-sister of Tami. Also three connections, but only one marriage, and two siblings. We decided that Mike and Tami are not brother/sister-in-law. But it seems kind of arbitrary. Don't get me started on "removed" cousins.

Back to the topic at hand. One of Klaas's good high school friends hosts an annual golf tournament. But it's not any type of golf tournament: As you might have gathered from the title of the post, it's a wiffle golf tournament. To this guy, whose name is Ray, Memorial Day Weekend is an annual event. Every year for the past ten, he has mowed an 18-hole golf course into his parents' lawn. It's not THAT big a yard, although it is sizeable, but placing 18 holes takes a lot of planning. He mows fairways, designates the driveways as "water hazards", and even had to have his mother yell at a neighbor NOT to mow his lawn, because the course spills over into his yard and Ray didn't want the course to be screwed up. He has custom-made flags, and carries a stick around with him to each flag because he doesn't actually dig holes into the ground. If you get the ball within the stick radius, it's in.

If this sounds moderately crazy to you, well, you're wrong. It's EXTREMELY crazy. This is a big deal to Ray, and it seems that Klaas and his other friends humor him each year. His parents were selling the house this year, so it was an even bigger to-do, as this would mark the last year that the tournament would be held at this location. (I think they're all counting on Ray to find a way to mow another course into whatever yard his parents have in their new location. God only knows what he'll do if they decide to purchase an apartment in Manhattan. Maybe he'll rent Central Park.) So, since we were visiting Klaas and Tami that weekend, and Klaas didn't want to let Ray down, we went along. Of course, it was a "guys only" event, so even though I'm not a golfer, I went with Klaas, and Tami and Sam went and did girlie things, I guess.

Actually, the "I'm not a golfer" sentence is an understatement. I've never really written a post about my dislike of golf, and I'm not going to do so right now, although I'm sure almost all of the people reading this are familiar with my feelings on the sport, or rather, the game. (That's yet another debate for another time.) I've been to a driving range a few times, and played a complete round once, and while I know I'm being close minded, it's just not my thing. Golf demands all sorts of skills that I don't have. I'm not patient, I'm not consistent, and I sunburn easily. I also don't own much plaid.

So, given all that, I was actually surprised how close wiffle golf was to the real golf I remember. We used real clubs (only two out of the set), and since Ray was so obsessive, he had estimated the pars and everything for the courses. The holes were about 200-300 feet, and had all sorts of obstacles. Most were par 4s, but there were some 5s and some 3s. He had ranked each hole in terms of difficulty, as well. We played "scramble", which I was a bit unfamiliar with. Basically, we had four teams of two, and after each shot, you got to choose the best one. Both players used the same placement to hit from, and then once again chose the best on to use. Ray had developed all sorts of rules about what you were allowed to do in terms of adjusting the placement of the ball, since there were no tees, and the ball doesn't always lie perfectly in grass, even when it's mowed. I was actually paired with Ray, since he was the best one (c'mon, you had to know that someone who was going to do this would be an avid golfer), and I was presumably the worst player. (Although only a few of the eight were regular golfers, I was the only one who hadn't played "Ray Golf" before, as he was wont to call it.)

I lived up to my billing: I was terrible. I did just as expected - about 1 in 10 I hit very well, about 2-3 I completely mis-hit, about 2-3 I hit decently, but too hard, too soft, too left, or too right, and then the other ones I'd hit OK, but nothing spectacular. Ray, however, did not live up to his billing: He was terrible as well. For sure, he was better than me, but he definitely wasn't even close to the best on there. As a result, we finished dead last. Did I say finished? Well, it took three freakin' hours (so it really was closer to real golf than you might expect), and I had had enough at around the 9th hole. I think we ended up around 6 over par - the three other teams all finished at or under par. So, we stunk.

We finished at around 4 (actually, they ended up playing 3 extra holes to determine second place), and Klaas and I headed home. Ray and some of the others stayed to play singles. I supposed if you're going to spend a day mowing a golf course into your parents' lawn, you might as well get a full day's use out of it.

After all that, I have to say, it opened up my eyes. Even wiffle golf required a significant amount of skill and patience, and a lot of endurance as well, with the sun beating down on you. It was quite a challenge to keep my stroke consistent over three hours, and even with two clubs, you had to make critical strategy decisions about when to go for the hole, and when to play it safe. So, I guess I was wrong all along. Actually, I'm just kidding - I was bored off my ass. It was a new experience, but golf still sucks. I'm glad it didn't last six hours. But at least I got a real nice sunburn.

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