Thursday, February 25, 2010

Fargo Preparing For The Worst

Fargo mayor Dennis Walaker declared a state of emergency yesterday as the city gears up for another possible flood fight. It's considered a formality, a way to speed up the process of getting federal help if the worst happens.

Walaker is on record as saying he thinks all the dire spring predictions are premature and I agree with him. Bits and pieces of the area flood every spring. You put a city on a flat, open plain, situate it next to a river, and bombard it with snow and sub-freezing temperatures every winter and you're going to get a lot of water come springtime. That water has to go somewhere. Last year it went everywhere.

Last year, though, the National Weather Service downplayed the risk and gave overly rosy forecasts that they ramped up each week until we were underwater. I think this year they are desperate to avoid taking criticism for being too optimistic and so are compensating too far in the other direction. To read some of the reports this year, we're going to need an ark.

I think in the end it will be okay. We'll get some minor flooding (like we always do) and everything will return to normal. If not, well, I suppose I'll be out sandbagging again. The great thing about this prediction is everyone is hoping I'm right.

Board Games Used To Pass Intelligence, Oscar Buzz To Allied POWs

Snopes has an entry on a British game supplier smuggling maps and other items to allied POWs during WWII. I immediately imagined Colonel Hogan and Kinch and the guys pulling one over on Klink at Stalag 13. Maybe receiving the coordinates of a supply convoy stuffed in the shoe while Schultz was busy passing GO and shrieking that he landed on the damned Income Tax square again. It also got me wondering what other games could have been rigged up to fight the good fight against the Nazis.
  • Scrabble This one is easy. A few strategically-placed markers on the letter tiles and you could send all sorts of useful messages. Safe house, 1634 Rue Couilliard, St. Martin. There's a stash of grenades in the big tree by the guardhouse. "Going My Way" beats "Double Indemnity" for Best Picture -- WTF?!? The possibilites are endless.

  • Clue Professor Hitler did it in the theater with the rope. That he's cutting at the opening ceremony on June 18th at 8:00 pm in Berlin. Bring poison.

  • Mystery Date Very handy for passing in the identity of agents provocateur. Could backfire if a passing guard notices that the high school quarterback date looks a lot like Hans, the new liason officer. But he's so dreamy!

  • Chutes and Ladders Not such a great tool for espionage, but if you can get the guards to play you might be able to escape after they fall asleep from boredom.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Pennsylvania School Thinks Lack Of Student Privacy Extends To The Home

A Pennsylvania school thought it would be a boon to learning if they gave every student a free laptop. Naturally, there were some strings attached; the machines had to be used for school-related work, for example. But then the administration went all 1984 on the students and started using the installed spy software to see what was happening when the machines were off-campus. Oh, and looking at email and other personal items were also apparently part of the deal.

I understand the thinking behind throwing laptops at students. Hey, maybe having another six pounds to carry around in a backpack will stop the damn running in the halls. Your school looks all hip and computer savvy, and maybe Steve Jobs will tweet about you in between releasing pre-existing gadgets in fancy new casings with bloated price tags. Maybe all those kids who don't study were suffering from some rare form of dyslexia that only affects their abilty to read from books, while .pdf files remain remarkably clear.

And it certainly makes sense that if a school is going to hurl free laptops at people, they're going to want to ensure they're used for school-related functions. But even a teenager, the lowest form of life in America (at least as far as rights go -- have you ever tried to read an unborn child's email? The state would hammer you for that, my friend) has some expectation of privacy when it comes to personal correspondance.

This particular school district is denying any wrongdoing. Thinking it could give a laptop to a person and then pretending it retained all rights to it was where it went wrong.

Say Anything Roundup (2/15 - 2/21)

If you aren't reading Say Anything, you're missing a good number of my political rants. If that's what you intended, for the love of Jeebus don't click any of these links!

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Is There Room For Gays In The Conservative Movement?

When I take a position on a political issue, I try to approach it with one priniciple in mind: as long as an action doesn’t impinge on anyone else’s rights, they should be free to do it. In 99% of cases, I absolutely believe that. It would be nice if such a simple priniciple could be applied universally, but it can’t. Because other factors are always trying to creep in. The social effects of an action. The ambiguity inherent in defining “impinge”. The devil is in the details, and there are always details.

But generally, that principle serves me well. I like it because it’s easily defended. There aren’t a lot of ways to challenge it without looking like someone who likes to take away other people’s freedom. That’s not to say the priniciple wins arguments. Defense mechanisms spring into place when a person’s deeply held beliefs are challenged. But these usually take the form of non sequitirs, hypocrisy, name calling, and strawmen. That allows the challenged to tell their like-minded internet brethern that they won the “fight”, but I get the satisfaction from knowing they’re wrong. No, wait. It would be more accurate to say that they didn’t show themselves to be right, which is a subtle distinction but an important one.

One of the more contentious issues for conservatives is the role gays should play (if any) in the movement. Those of a more religious bent would say none. The less socially conservative might disagree. The divide strikes at the heart of a very important question: what does it mean to be “conservative”?

I can only provide my own definition, and it is a hazy one. This is because there is no single definition. For me, conservatism embodies the idea of maximizing freedom. Freedom to live the way one wants to live, guided by the principle above: as long as an action doesn’t impinge on anyone else’s rights, they should be free to do it. For me this means supporting gay marriage. The idea that two people should be able to create a life together and be happy comes naturally to me. I don’t see how it harms anyone else if those people share a gender.

Of course, for some, those devilish details come creeping in at this point. They might argue that there is harm; harm to society, to social mores, the moral fabric. Those arguments are white noise to me, because these arguments are always framed within the speakers ideas of what is moral, what makes for a strong social fabric, and those ideas may not be mine. For this reason, I try to factor out arbitrary constructs like these.

Does that mean I think anything goes? Of course not. That’s a strawman. Real harm can be demonstrated as proceeding from certain actions, and those actions should be restricted. Drunk driving, for example. Child pornography. These actions represent a real danger of impinging on the rights of others. Being gay and married doesn’t, unless one decides they are an affront to one’s morals. However, to support that argument one must project one’s morals onto others.

Ultimately, where one falls on the argument of gay marriage is itself a strawman in the larger argument of the role of gays in the conservative movement. It seems difficult on the surface to be against gay marriage but embrace gays in the context of the larger movement. There’s definitely a bit of a disconnect there. But there’s a disconnect among conservatives who are pro-life and those who support abortion rights. There’s a disconnect between those who vote for anyone with a (R-) after their name and those who withold votes from RINOs. Conservatives don’t consist of a monolithic mass of people all thinking in lockstep. Those who think it should be so are sowing the seeds of their own political destruction.

Gays have always voted largely Democratic despite being betrayed time and again by politicians on the Left who promise them the moon and the stars and deliver nothing once the vote is cast. Slowly, gay conservatives are gaining traction with the realization that the Obama administration is no different. The gay conservative movement represents a great opportunity for the general movement if it is willing to take it. For some it will require reconciling the idea of maximizing freedom with the impulse to inject a personal moral code into the discussion.

(Crossposted from Say Anything)

Friday, February 19, 2010

Rights I Just Made Up: The Right To Keep My Job Even Though I Suck At It Because I Don't Have Anywhere Else I Can Go

In Australia, the economic prospects of an employee play a bigger role in firing him than his ability to do his job, his attitidue toward his bosses, or his safety record.
In the latest ruling to concern business, Fair Work Australia found the worker had engaged in "relatively serious misconduct", but ruled the sacking harsh due to his length of service and the fact he was a poorly educated middle-aged family man.

The tribunal accepted that his repeated failure to wear the safety glasses and his disdainful and abusive response to management amounted to serious misconduct.

It also acknowledged that the company's managers were required to give effect to safety policies and procedures.

But the tribunal said the sacking was a "disaster" for Mr Quinlivan, taking into account that he had worked at the mill for 20 years, was married with two daughters, aged nine and 11, and had a mortgage of about $70,000.
No word on whether the Australian government will cover any liability suits when this model employee gets someone injured or killed.

"Arrogant Americans" Need Not Apply

A job posting at an Illinois-based techonology staffing firm posted a job decription that would rule out most of the population, at least based on the nationality requirement.
Looking for someone with nuclear experience or experience with terms/expressions commonly used in the nuclaer industry... Exelon is looking to provide these proposals to Chinese businesses, so someone who is respectful and understands Chinese culture is preferred. An arrogant American will not work well in this role.
Does Homer Simpson count? He's more "idiot" than "arrogant", though all work and no play apparenly makes him something something.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Pilot Program Allows Kids To Skip Junior, Senior Years, Go Straight To College

Eight states are launching a program in 2011 that would allow high school sophomores to skip their junior and senior years and enroll in community college.
The new system of high school coursework with the accompanying board examinations is modeled largely on systems in high-performing nations including Denmark, Finland, England, France and Singapore.

The program is being organized by the National Center on Education and the Economy, and one of its goals is to reduce the numbers of high school graduates who need remedial courses when they enroll in college. More than a million college freshmen across America must take remedial courses each year, and many drop out before getting a degree.
I applaud the idea of merit-based scholarship. As long as the tests that make up the program accurately reflect the type of knowledge a college freshman needs, it would provide a big incentive to study and work hard. I see two major problems though.

First, I’m fuzzy on how the program will reduce the frequency of remedial courses needed. Those students that work hard and pass the tests are very likely the same students who would have worked hard and mastered the material in grades 11 and 12, and are less likely to have needed remedial education in the first place. The kids who need remedial classes are the ones who couldn’t master the coursework in high school. This program won’t weed those kids out; it will just promote sophomores who study ahead of them into college. Again, I don’t think this is a bad thing, I just don’t see how this will make those kids who can’t pick up the material any better off.

The other question I have goes to the social development of these kids. College is a different animal and I wonder how many 15- and 16-year olds are ready for it. The concern is mitigated somewhat by the fact that the program applies to enrollment in community colleges (the program would provide further college prep courses during 11th and 12th grade for kids who want to go to a “selective coleege”), but there’s still a jump to made in suddenly doing college-level work in an environment dominated by adults in many cases several years older.

What do you see as the plusses and minuses of such a program?

(Crossposted from Say Anything)

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

This Is Why I'm Not A Researcher

Secondary sexual characteristics convey information about reproductive potential. In the same way that facial symmetry and masculinity, and shoulder-to-hip ratio convey information about reproductive/genetic quality in males, waist-to-hip-ratio (WHR) is a phenotypic cue to fertility, fecundity, neurodevelopmental resources in offspring, and overall health, and is indicative of “good genes” in women. Here, using fMRI, we found that males show activation in brain reward centers in response to naked female bodies when surgically altered to express an optimal (~0.7) WHR with redistributed body fat, but relatively unaffected body mass index (BMI). Relative to presurgical bodies, brain activation to postsurgical bodies was observed in bilateral orbital frontal cortex. While changes in BMI only revealed activation in visual brain substrates, changes in WHR revealed activation in the anterior cingulate cortex, an area associated with reward processing and decision-making. When regressing ratings of attractiveness on brain activation, we observed activation in forebrain substrates, notably the nucleus accumbens, a forebrain nucleus highly involved in reward processes. These findings suggest that an hourglass figure (i.e., an optimal WHR) activates brain centers that drive appetitive sociality/attention toward females that represent the highest-quality reproductive partners. This is the first description of a neural correlate implicating WHR as a putative honest biological signal of female reproductive viability and its effects on men's neurological processing.
Translation: guys like curves.

Kids Do The Darndest Things Until They Realize The Cameras Are Rolling

For your entertainment, here are a couple of videos of kids dancing and then realizing they're being recorded. The kids in question are Donna's nephew Cole and niece Emily, who celebrated her tenth birthday on Sunday.

Indoor Soccer Videos

From the Worst Dad Ever files: there were thirty seconds left to go in the game last Friday when I put my video camera away. Of course, as soon as I zipped the bag shut, Macy stole the ball, dribbled 3/4 the length of the field and shot it past the goalie as time expired, beating the horn by milliseconds. I will never make that mistake again.

I do have these videos of a near miss and a great save. That's just as good, right? Right? Sigh.

Monday, February 15, 2010

It's Snow Fun Getting Stuck

Macy didn't have school today, it being President's Day and all. Of course. How can you expect third graders to concentrate on their studies when there are so many mattress sales going on?

Anyway, I took the day off to spend with my daughter thinking we would have a leisurely day to spend wasting time on video games and other important tasks. We met Donna for lunch and, after dropping off my truck for some repairs to the airbag system, we took her Jeep and went on our way. After visiting everyone's favorite store (Fleet Farm, which is out of snowblowers by the way), we drove over to the Moorhead Soccer office to drop off a picture of Macy for her Summer travelling soccer ID badge.

The driveway at the new soccer complex is a big "U" with the offices at the base. We came in the south entrance and parked. After dropping off the picture and talking over some business (I serve on the Rec soccer committee) we headed out. That's when we got stuck.

Let me explain. The driveway was clear, three lanes wide with the exception of a small drift easily handled by Donna's mighty V-6. However, there is a small S-curve near the north entrance. As I came around this curve I noticed some drifting. I had just enough time to think to myself, "better power through it" before I realized that plan lacked, what do you call it? Oh yeah: "any chance of success". I threw it into 4WD low and tried to back up. No go.

So I walked back to the office and borrowed a shovel. It was then that the staff there told me not to go out the north road. "Oh yeah, you can't make it out that way," he said, seconds away from death. I trudged back to the Jeep. Still no go. Eventually I gave up and went to call a tow truck. One of the guys informed me he called a friend of his with a pickup and a tow rope who would be on the scene soon.

When I walked outside, I saw a red truck drive by heading toward the Jeep, so I headed that way. Eventually he backed up to me and rolled down the window. The interior of the truck smelled of death and tacos, along with myriad unidentifiable odors, possibly Lovecraftian in origin. What kind of people do these soccer folk hang out with, I thought. The driver, for whom daily showers fell far below collecting stray smells on his daily to-do list, asked me if I had a tow rope. I told him no. He didn't have one either, but he knew some people, etc.

I continued on to the Jeep and began digging. After twenty minutes of futility and anger I again walked back to the office. The guy who called for the truck had no idea who I was talking about when I regaled him with the tale of the truck of many smells. His friend drove a black truck he assured me.

Sure I had encountered some apparition from a parallel dimension (one where all the ghosts smelled bad), I walked for what would be the last time back to the Jeep. Eventually the black truck arrived, the Jeep was freed from its snowy prison, and I, $25 poorer, took Macy and went to do the grocery shopping. Not surprisingly, I was not bothered by Cashwise's typical musty smell.

Global Warming, RIP?

Rob at Say Anything beat me to the punch on this one, but I thought I would add a couple words here rather than doubling up on his blog. First, an excerpt from an interview with Dr. Phil Jones, who is at the center of the ClimateGate scandal.

The academic at the centre of the ‘Climategate’ affair, whose raw data is crucial to the theory of climate change, has admitted that he has trouble ‘keeping track’ of the information.

Professor Jones also conceded the possibility that the world was warmer in medieval times than now – suggesting global warming may not be a man-made phenomenon.

And he said that for the past 15 years there has been no ‘statistically significant’ warming.
And, from Rob:

Which means theories about human-caused global warming as they stand now cannot possibly be true. Which, in turn, means that all the government power grabs and exorbitant new taxes and regulations justified by the fear of human-caused global warming - regulations from everything on what light bulbs you can buy to what kind of car you can drive to subsidies for biofuels, etc. - are based on an illusion.
I've felt from the beginning that the global warming movement was little more than a power grab and a moneymaking scheme (through kickbacks and taxation) for politicians and a source of guaranteed funding for scientists who were more interested in politics and prestiege than actual science.

I won't go so far as to say that there is no such thing as global warming (the phenomenon obviously exists) or that human industrialization has no effect on climate. Instead I'll say what I've always said: attempting to measure the effect of humans on the climate is a worthy area of study. While I suspect that the Sun is by far the biggest actor on global climate, I'm willing to entertain the idea that humans can change things for the worse.

But any such research needs to be open and rigorous in the best spirit of scientific discovery. There needs to be an honesty in the discussion which to this point has not existed. In science, data is not supposed to be highlighted or thrown away based on a preordained outcome born from political or personal goals.

The global warming movement is what comes of political correctness run amok in the scientific community. It's time to start over, make all data public (at least the stuff that hasn't been "lost"), reexamine the models and rethink the economic impact out-of-control regulation will have on an already-groaning world economy.

In other words, I'm skeptical but I'm willing to be persuaded. Persuade me, but do it the right way.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Social Security Fund May Be Running A Deficit By 2011

When then-President Bush proposed allowing younger workers to place a percentage of their social security taxes into private investment accounts, it was argued that social security was not really in crisis, and that Bush’s plan would put it in one. Flashforward to today, where the recession and years of downplaying the effect of millions of baby boomers retiring en masse have put social security on the brink of insolvency.
Social Security has for years been the near-term bright spot in the federal budget. Each year the program has raised $50 billion to $100 billion more in payroll taxes than it paid out in benefits. Sure, deficits were expected far off in the future, but the current program was on sound financial footing.

Those days are, for the moment at least, behind us. According to the latest Congressional Budget Office estimate, the Social Security surplus will be only $3 billion in 2010. That number is almost surely too rosy, and the actual realization next year will be a big deficit. In February, according to data from the Social Security Office of the Actuary, the program paid out more in benefits than it collected in taxes and interest combined.
Social Security is for all intents and purposes a pyramid scheme. Younger workers pay into the system in order to fulfill the government’s obligations to the older generation. When the pyramid gets inverted, the problems start.

The number of retiring workers is outstripping the new wave entering the workforce because the baby boomers are hitting retirement age. Exacerbating the situation is the current recession, which causes many older workers who might not be ready to retire to start claiming benefits as they give up trying to find a job. The inverted pyramid also makes it virtually impossible to revisit the privatization idea, as every penny those younger workers are paying into the system are needed to stave off insolvency.

(Crossposted from Say Anything)

Friday, February 12, 2010

Valentine Haul

Pull Over Your Computer And Show Me Your License

At the Davos Conference in Switzerland, an interesting idea was put forward to "license" internet users. The purpose behind this is the usual reason for calls like this; combating crime in all its myriad guises, from identity theft down to slander and everything in between. The analogy drawn was to that of driving a car.
If you want to drive a car, you have to have a license (not to mention an inspection, insurance, etc). If you do something bad with that car, like break a law, there is the chance that you will lose your license and be prevented from driving in the future. In other words, there is a legal and social process for imposing discipline.
What makes it really interesting is the person who submitted this idea. It was Craig Mundie, the Chief Research and Technology Officer at Microsoft.

While I agree that cybercrime is a problem and anonymity can be problematic, I'm not convinced that the automobile analogy is perfectly apt. While it's true that one needs a license to operate a motor vehicle, one is not needed to ride. Nor is one required to open the trunk, turn on the headlights, wear a seatbelt or change a tire.

Requiring everyone who logs onto the web to have a license would be overkill in the fight against cybercrime. The vast number of transaction across the internet are legitimate. This measure would punish the innocent along with the guilty. Furthermore, there are internet transactions which would be helped and even require anonymity. I'm thinking specifically of online debate.

When one talks about internet debate, what usually springs to mind is political arguments, but it encompasses myriad forms from sports to bottle-feeding-vs-breastfeeding to console gaming-vs-PC gaming and everything in between. People like to argue. While anonymity certainly encourages a less civil level of debate in some forums, it also serves to encourage honesty. That shouldn't be undersold.

Internet licenses can, I believe, have a place. That place is to ensure that internet transactions in which verifying the participants are who they say they are is vital -- online commerce, for example. Giving up anonymity in other areas, some where it's not important and some where it can be detrimental to take it away, would be like making me buy a license to ride in the car. I'm not putting anyone in danger without a license. I don't need to be able to read road signs or know what to do if the car skids. Likewise, on the internet I don't need to prove it's me when I post a comment at Amazon or look at someone's Facebook album. I'm not putting anyone's livelihood in danger.

Universal internet licensing comes with a tradeoff: the anonymity that has infused the web since its inception. Is it worth giving that up?

Thursday, February 11, 2010

At Work, So At Home

So I got swamped today at work. One of my work machines had to be wiped and rebuilt not once, but twice. Needless to say, I didn't have a lot of time to play blogger today. At the end of the day all was well so maybe tomorrow I'll get some real work done.

Once I got home, I had to set up my new home machine. Yep, I'm now a multi-machine guy at home. Or as I like to call it, I've "gone computer Mormon". I bought a Toshiba mini netbook and it arrived today. I bought it mainly as a travel machine since I have two blogs that require my attention. Also, it's nice to sit in my easy chair and type up a blog post while I watch 30 Rock. Hey, kinda like I'm doing right now!

I also managed to get both the wireless network and the workgroup set up and running, so it's like I'm an IT guy or something.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

So, You Want To Overthrow The Government? Please Fill Out This Form

Apparently South Carolina is trying to remake itself as the "Criminal Paperwork State". It already has laws on the books that levy additional punishments on drug dealers that don't report income from their illegal activities. Now they have passed a law that is equal parts headscratchingly laughable and heartbreakingly naive.

The state's "Subversive Activities Registration Act," passed last year and now officially on the books, states that "every member of a subversive organization, or an organization subject to foreign control, every foreign agent and every person who advocates, teaches, advises or practices the duty, necessity or propriety of controlling, conducting, seizing or overthrowing the government of the United States ... shall register with the Secretary of State."

There's even a $5 filing fee.
I have no idea what this law is supposed to accomplish. Groups that want to overthrow the government aren't going to announce the fact or respect said government enough to bother with a forms and filing fees. I'd love to find an interview with the author(s) of this legislation.

(Crossposted from Say Anything)

What Does A Suicide Note From A Newspaper Look Like?


Today we started removing items from our free Web site - comics, letters to the editor, puzzles, TV grid and letters to the editor.

The idea is to wean people off the free Web site and either get them to buy the print version or the e-edition, which is just a PDF of the paper.

Anyone have any experience doing this? What do you think of taking editorials off the free site?

We haven't figured out a way to charge for the whole Web site, so I think we're going with this piece-meal approach until we do.


Mark C. Mahoney
Editorial Page Editor
The Post-Star
Lawrence & Cooper Sts.
Glens Falls, NY 12801
Blog: Your Right to Know:


Tuesday, February 9, 2010

FBI Wants ISPs To Maintain Records Of Every Website You Visit

How far should law enforcement officals be allowed to encroach on your privacy in the fight against crime? What if the crime was child pornography? What if the measure being sought would force ISPs to maintain records of every site you’ve visited for two years?

The FBI is pressing Internet service providers to record which Web sites customers visit and retain those logs for two years, a requirement that law enforcement believes could help it in investigations of child pornography and other serious crimes.

As far back as a 2006 speech, Mueller had called for data retention on the part of Internet providers, and emphasized the point two years later when explicitly asking Congress to enact a law making it mandatory. But it had not been clear before that the FBI was asking companies to begin to keep logs of what Web sites are visited, which few if any currently do.
On the one hand, I think child pornographers are some of the lowest of the low. At the very least I think they should be locked away for a long, long time, and I’m more than willing to entertain notions of much worse punishment. I’m generally inclined to do whatever it takes to help law enforcement catch these people. But there’s another part of me that wonders if we should be so quick to let the FBI or any other law enforcement agency have so much access to our private lives. In cases like this, access can easily lead to control.

I know that some may argue that if one isn’t visting sites one shouldn’t be visiting, one’s got nothing to worry about. My problem with that argument has always been, who decides what sites one shouldn’t be visiting? Certainly, it’s easy to argue one shouldn’t be visiting child porn sites. That’s an easy one. But what happens when those in power push for other sites to be added to the list. Adult porn. Marijuana legalization sites. There are those here who would be okay with even that. But what about Christian sites? Couldn’t an argument be made to restrict religious websites in places where they might offend someone? Public college campuses, for example?

Perhaps you think my slope is less slippery and more fanciful. Maybe, but I don’t generally trust other people with my data easily. It’s far too easy for the controllers to change the rules of the game after I’ve surrendered my privacy. There’s no reason to believe that a law allowing law enforcement to look at a record of your website visits to see if you’ve been looking at child porn won’t one day be used in other ways. It may be too late to take it back by then.

What do you think? Is the measure being pushed by the FBI worth the tradeoff in privacy?

(Crossposted from Say Anything)

Macy Performing At Moorhead High

Macy and Just For Kix performed at Moorhead High School on Sunday. For some reason the music was turned way down, so is a little hard to hear. Anyway, let's go to the video.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Proof That Every Single Person On Australia's Classification Board Is A Man

Quick quiz: Which of the following is a requirement to appear in adult films or publications in Australia?

A. You must be certified disease-free by a board-certified doctor.
B. You must be eighteen years of age or older.
C. You must be registered with the Australian Adult Actors Guild.
D. You must have big boobies.
I assume A. and B. are true, but who knows? Well the internet does, I'm sure. Why don't you go ask if you want to know so badly. Sheesh. Same with C. The only one I'm absolutely sure is true is D.

The [Australian Classification] Board has also started to ban depictions of small-breasted women in adult publications and films. This is in response to a campaign led by Kids Free 2 B Kids and promoted by Barnaby Joyce and Guy
It turns out that ladies with small boobs are pedophile magnets in Australia. Apparently, they (the pedophiles) don't care so much how old the funtime gal is or what she looks like as long as she doens't need a bra.

While I get that this Board really wants to put the kibosh on kiddie porn, it seems like the laws in Australia would already cover this. This particular ban doesn't confine itself to eighteen- and nineteen-year-olds who can pass for much younger. The ban is also affecting established stars in their late twenties who haven't made enough going down under (look it up) to have bean bags stuffed into their chests (or just like themselves for who they are. Those crazy Australians porn stars with their well-adjusted self images. Crazy!)

So in short...

Poker Diary: Too Clever By Half

(Note: read this post for background on the tournament in which this hand occurred.)

There's a mistake I've made so many times that it should probably be named after me. It's the result of me overthinking the end of a hand and trying to be clever instead of smart.

I'm going to illustrate this mistake by taking you through an actual hand from a Friday night tournament in Mahnomen. It was late in level 1, blinds at $25/$50. I was in late position (seat 8). Three players had called the big blind when it got to me. I looked down and saw this:

Me likey. I decide to raise to $150. The person to my left (seat 9) calls. He is one of the three players I indentified in my last diary as "dangerous". Everyone else folds.

I figure seat 9 has something fairly good, maybe Ax or low- to mid pocket pairs. Since he's one of the players I pegged as a real player, I think he would have re-raised if he had AA, KK or QQ, and maybe even AK. So now there's $400 in the pot. The flop comes out:

This just keeps getting better. I'm first to act the rest of the hand. What should I do?

A. Check. You don't want to scare him off.
B. Make a continuation bet. He's expecting it and it will build the pot.
C. Make a pot-sized bet. No sense in taking chances.
Checking here is a good move. You've got a made hand and you don't want to scare seat 9 off. It might even make him think you've got a small pair or a straight draw. The danger is that he might check as well and that isn't going to get any more money into the pot.

The continuation bet is the standard play after you raise pre-flop. It says to seat 9 that you've got something and now you want to build a pot, but you don't want him hanging around and catching something that can beat you. As I mentioned above, it may push him out of the hand, which we don't want in this case.

Making a pot-sized bet is high risk, high reward. If seat 9 calls, you're well on your way to building a huge pot. There's no flush possibility, so things look good. However, the chance he folds goes way up.

I go with A) and check. Thankfully, he bets $200, half the pot. I don't think he's sitting on AQ, since the smart play would be to check and get a free card. I put him on AJ or A10 or a small pair. I don't think he would have called the initial pre-flop raise with anything less and remember from the last entry that at this point in the tournament I had been playing very tight. I go into actor mode and contemplate if it's worth $200 to stay in this hand. After a half minute I call, building the pot to $800. The next card comes out, and the board looks like this:

I couldn't have laid out this hand better if I tried; this card doesn't help anybody. It's my turn to act. What should I do?

A. Check. He'll never believe that 2s helped you.
B. Make a medium- to large-sized bet, say, $600. It's time to take this pot.
C. Overbet the pot -- $1200. You need to build the pot up fast.
Checking has the same plusses and minuses as before, but it also has another advantage: Coupled with my deliberation after seat 9's post-flop bet, it's probably starting to look to him like I'm chasing a straight. I imagine he thinks I'm sitting on AQ.

Betting $600 here would be a bad play; as I mentioned, the 2s couldn't have helped me. Why would I bet as though it did. He might call it. He might also be confused enough to smell a rat.

Overbetting the pot would look even more suspicious. However, it might be looked at as a desperate move on my part, if seat 9 thinks I don't know what I'm doing. He might call it. He'd most likely fold though.

I check. He bets again, $700. He definitely thinks I'm chasing. With that read, his bet is the right move. I deliberate again, but only for a few moments this time. I call.

By now you must be thinking, didn't you mention a mistake three days ago when I started reading this? Relax: I'm getting there. First there's another card to come.

The pot is up to $2200, and it's all mine. I just need to get as much money into the pot as I can. How to do that?

A. Make a value bet, about $1000.
B. Make a pot-sized bet.
C. Check. He's fired twice. He'll do it again.
At this point, seat 9 has decided to either fold to any bet or call any bet (or raise). Remember, his read is that I was chasing a straight. Knowing that, a value bet doesn't make sense to me here. If it's all or nothing, might as well bet the pot. Note that if I'm wrong, and his read on me isn't that I was chasing, a value bet does make sense.

If you chose C, congratulations! You're me. I'll consider sharing naming rights for this mistake after you've committed it 1000 times like I have.

I always think to myself, "he's bet at it twice. He'll fire one more bullet then I'll check raise." Maybe this is a solid strategy, but it never works for me. Instead, he checks and we turn over cards. I turn first, so he mucks his hand without showing. I don't find out what he was holding. I rake in my $2200, happy but feeling it should have been more.

Here's the takeaway: When you've got the best hand on the river, bet.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Poker Diary: Playing In Enemy Territory

So I sat down at a tournament table in Mahnomen, Minnesota Friday night. There were ten tables with ten or eleven players at each table (mine had ten), so there were over 100 players. The starting stack was $6000 in chips.

There's a scene in the movie Rounders where all the principal characters end up at a poker table in Atlantic City together. Two guys in business suits sit down and a voiceover informs us that if you can't spot the "fish", that is, the inexperienced player, then it's probably you. Of course, the businessmen lose their money pretty quickly.

I'm not so inexperienced as to be a fish at a table in Mahnomen, but it became obvious as we waited for the call to begin dealing that I was the only stranger at the table. That put me at a severe disadvantage right at the start. Not because, like Mike D. and the others in the movie, the casino regulars were acting in concert, but because these people knew how their poker buddies played, their strengths and weaknesses. Normally I play a little tight at a table where I don't have any inside info on the other players; I like to take the time to watch a few hands and see if I can pick up tendencies. I decided right away to play very tight with this bunch.

Once the cards started coming, it turned out my strategy was more than supported by the terrible cards I was getting. Since I was playing tight it was hard to lose much money in the first level, but it's generally a good goal to double up your stack by the first break. It didn't look promising early.

Things picked up in level two and I started loosening up. While I don't expect most players at the table paid attention to such things, there were three players I pegged as dangerous. That is, they were smart and they looked for patterns. The danger of the ultratight strategy is that, by not seeing many hands, you miss out on the those times you luck into a great flop with terrible cards. The kind of hand other players never see coming. The other big drawback is that when you do have something worth playing, it can be difficult to get any action on your bets; you've spent so much time telling everyone you only play good cards that they start to believe you.

That is also the opportunity the ultratight strategy presents; once you've established you only play good cards, smart players will fold to your bets. This opens the door to bluffing. Your 8-7 offsuit looks like AK when you bet after a flop with an ace in it. You can steal a few pots this way with cards you would normally fold. Of course, you have to be careful. You also have to realize that your reputation will evolve. Bluff too much and you'll find yourself getting called more often.

As I started to get some playable cards and got at least a rudimentary read on the table, I started playing more hands. I won a couple big pots and lost some little ones. This is a recipe for success. My stack grew and I was feeling pretty good. When we got to the break I wasn't quite doubled up, but I was close enough.

I should have been better off but I made a mistake, one I make all the time even though I know I shouldn't. I outsmart myself and it costs me bigger pots. I'll illustrate this mistake in a later post by taking you through the hand. It's going to have pictures and everything!

Friday, February 5, 2010

Weekend Poker Tournament

Supposedly this blog involves, along with all the trenchant political commentary, computer advice, Macy life-chronicling and random hilarity, poker. In retrospect, I should have picked a different name for the blog, as I occasionally get emails from people who stumbled on this site literally looking for advice on playing pocket jacks in Texas Hold 'Em. Their critiques of what they found when they got here is a post for another day.

Well, there's finally going to be some poker talk in this space. I am leaving today for a weekend poker tournament at the Shooting Star casino in Mahnomen, Minnesota. When I get back I'll undoubtedly have at least a couple stories to tell, and they may have something to do with the game of poker. Usually in a tournament like this there are a few hands that play out in an interesting way, and (nerd alert) maybe I'll try diagramming them or something.

Anyway, wish me luck in what is being billed widely (okay, only by me) as a warm up to an upcoming trip to Vegas.

Recursion Explained

Have you ever heard the term "recursion"? In computer speak it involves logic which invokes itself. This is a very useful tool, but it can be dangerous if you don't supply the logic with an "out", that is, identifiying a condition or setting a limit that will allow the recursion to stop. Otherwise, you get stuck in an endless loop.

For a non-computer illustration of this, we can look at the Nashua Telegraph:

A story on Page 1 of Tuesday's Telegraph quoted a White House official explaining that a Q-and-A session with dozens of teenagers in Nashua High School North on Monday was "off the record." However, the explanation about the talk being "off the record" was, it turns out, also "off the record" and should not have been quoted.
Correction in the November 4th edition: "...The explanation about the explanation about the explanation about the explanation about the explanation..."

This is recursion error.

Hat tip: Boing Boing

What, No Watermelon?

NBC Studios is celebrating Black History Month. Wonder what's on the menu in the cafeteria?

Ah, of course. Honestly, this sounds pretty good to me, but then I'm from the South, so that shouldn't come as a surprise. Isn't Fox the sort of place that's supposed to do this sort of thing? Perhaps a Fox News agent put it up there? Not unless the NBC cafeteria chef is that plant.

"I don't understand at all. It's not trying to offend anybody and it's not trying to suggest that that's all that African-Americans eat. It's just a good meal," she said, adding, "I thought it would go over well."
This story first broke when Questlove, drummer for Jimmy Fallon's house band, sent the above image via Twitter with the comment "Hmm HR?".

The Old "Discount On Your Next Purchase" Scam

There's an investigation in New York right now into some shady companies that team up with legitimate websites and trick users into signing up for services they don't want under the guise of getting a discount on a future purchase.

The companies under investigation include Barnes & Noble, Orbitz, Expedia, Staples, FTD and Ticketmaster. None of these companies has been charged with anything.
It's called piggybacking and I fell for it once upon a time. It was sometime in 2008. I had just bought some flowers for my mother (awww) for either her birthday or Mother's Day. I had finished my purchase on a flower delivery website I'll call "FroPlowers". I was taken to a screen that congratulated me on my intelligence in buying a bouquet from such a renowned internet retailer. The text went on to compliment me on my stunning good looks and minty-fresh breath. Oh, and by the way, I was eligible for 10% off my next purchase.

I swear I knew this was a setup. To this day I don't know why I clicked on the button to get my coupon code. I never fall for this stuff. I assume everybody on the internet is out to trick me somehow, which is why I sent Jeff Bezos that one letter where I told him to quit shooting his mind rays at me to try and get me to sign up for Amazon Prime.

Anyway, the instant I clicked on the button of doom I noticed an asterisk.

As you well know, asterisks were created by Satan as a tool to allow all sorts of evil, like exempting certain states from honoring a legal ad and permitting the use of 1/2-point fonts at the bottom of contracts. This asterisk was no different. It was only after that button click sent my acquiescence to getting scammed (followed closely by an anguished cry of "noooooooooo") that I realized the page could be scrolled. And what do you think I found once I scrolled down the page to the horrifyingly evil, yet legally binding microfont text to which the other end of that asterisk was attached?

I had agreed to join a "saver's club", where for the low, low price of $14.95 a month I would get all sorts of electronic coupons! Who wouldn't want to be in that club! Me! And everyone else on Earth!

Luckily I was able to cancel immediately by calling the number (discerned after I broke out my electron microscope and found it amongst the demon-writing). I spoke to a surprisingly helpful lady who simply asked me why I wanted to cancel (I replied, "because I will never use this service ever", which didn't seem to faze her a bit -- I'm guessing she hears it a lot) and that was that. I carefully checked my credit card statement, which I do every month anyway, and there was never a charge.

The takeaway here is, if a website wants to give you a discount on your next purchase and it doesn't take the form of an email with a code already in it, it's a scam. Don't fall for it. Don't let Satan win.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

The Most Powerful Force In The Universe

What is the most persistent force in the universe? Gravity? The T-1000? The fundraising arm of Minnesota State Univeristy - Moorhead? No, none of these things come close to the unstoppable puissance, the unwavering determinedness, the pure distilled Shaftness of sperm. From an ABC News blog:

In 1988, a 15-year-old girl living in the small southern African nation of Lesotho came to local doctors with all the symptoms of a woman in labor. But the doctors were quickly puzzled because, upon examination, she didn't have a vagina.

Yet by looking at her records the hospital staff realized the young woman was in the hospital 278 days earlier with a knife wound to her stomach.

The girl arrived at the hospital with an empty stomach -- and therefore with little stomach acid around -- and doctors found two holes from a stab wound that opened her stomach up to her abdominal cavity. The case report said doctors washed her stomach out with a salt solution and stitched her up.

"A plausible explanation for this pregnancy is that spermatozoa gained access to the reproductive organs via the injured gastrointestinal tract," the authors wrote.

Infertility experts note the story, which resurfaced on a Discovery magazine blog, is not only a testament to Murphy's Law but one to arguably nature's most impressive swimmers: sperm.
I didn't quote the part about how the woman got stabbed because this is nominally a family blog. Suffice to say that the woman got caught Clintoning a guy who wasn't her boyfriend. The boyfriend reacted as any loving and concerned boyfriend would; he whipped out a knife and went all cuisinarty on everybody in the room. Now, here's a pictorial representation of a partial of swimmers that sperm can outrace:

Okay, now that we've got that straight (figure of speech there, Greg), let's review:

  • Sperm is an unstoppable impregnating machine that doesn't require a vaginal opening to get a woman pregnant.

  • Don't date a guy in Lesotho who likes knives.

  • "Clintoning" is now a word, if it wasn't already.

  • Forget black; always bet on pearl.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Book Publishers Trying To Become The New Record Companies

There's a really interesting look behind the big Amazon vs MacMillan Publishing fight over at Pajamas Media. The condensed version of the dust up is that Apple's iPad and its new iBookstore has opened the door for publishers to push against Amazon's ebook pricing structure.

The key is the mainstream publishers’ worry that e-books will cannibalize the sales of physical books. Mainstream book publishers, along with mainstream music publishers and the legacy media newspapers, are actually primarily manufacturers. The costs of the content, in royalties to the authors, are only about 10 percent of the cover price of the book, and less than that for the record. It’s the costs of setting type or mastering, printing the books or pressing the disks, shipping, cataloging, and selling them that dominates the costs of publishing.

Now, along come e-books and readers, like the Kindle and the iPad. Suddenly the whole business of publishing has changed. You can sell a physical book or an e-book — but each copy of the e-book costs literally one one-millionth as much to produce.

What Apple and MacMillan and the others are doing is trying to preserve their existing business model by forcing the price of e-books to be high enough to not cut too badly into the physical book market. What Bezos and Amazon are doing is trying to cut the price of e-books to encourage adoption.
Where have I heard this sort of story before. Oh yeah! Record companies have been fighting this war with iTunes, Rhapsody, Amazon and the Zune store for a while now. How's that going for them?

It looks like book publishers are hellbent on repeating the mistakes of the record industry. By fighting to preserve a business model that ignores advances in the technology and the evolving preferences of its customer base, they are setting themselves up for years of pain. The death of the traditional paper book is coming. It might not seem as inevitable as the death of CDs, but it's coming.

Book publishers should do the same thing record companies should have done when the writing first appeared on the wall: open up their own online stores to sell eBook versions of their materials. Let the buyers decide what they're willing to pay for an electronic copy of a book. Gradually (as is practical) move more and more of their offerings to electronic form. Cut back on traditional printing runs. When eBook technology becomes ubiquitous (and thus cheap), the publishers would be well positioned to function in the new market landscape.

Instead, they're willing to let third parties like Amazon and now Apple set themselves up as middlemen. It's going to cost them in the long run.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Give Me $79 Or The Computer Gets It

There's a new virus scam out there, and it's called ransomware. Well, it's not exactly new, but it is a rapidly growing business for criminals, earning them over $150 million last year.

Put simply, ransomware is a trojan horse variety of malware that locks down all programs and files on your computer and doesn't let you access them until you pay money. For a more detailed explanation of the nuts and bolts, watch the video embedded in this story.

The malware looks like a legitimate application, borrowing the look and feel of a Windows app, including the "green shield" Windows uses in its security console. There are a couple of clues that this is a scam though:

  • The bane of scam artists everywhere: their weak grasp of English. This malware misspells "you're" as "your're". Bonus points for using the right form of the word though!

  • No legitimate virus software would lock an application or a file and not let you access them. Virus protection software will identify infected files. It will quarantine them for you. It will beg you not to access those files until you get them cleaned up. But if you choose to do it anyway, the software will let you. It's still your computer.

  • No virus yet invented can infect every application, every Word document, every spreadsheet, every picture file, every video, every music file, every everything on a computer at once. If your virus software ever tells you that every single thing on your computer (except the web browser, since you need that to pay) is infected, you're interacting with malware.
The linked article does a good job of explaining what to do if you suspect you are infected with such a virus, but it boils down to the following:

  • Disconnect the infected machine from the internet by unplugging the ethernet cable or shutting it down.

  • Use another computer to search for solutions using the name of the malware (as it appears on your infected computer's screen. You will probably need to find something that can be put onto a memory stick and transferred to the affected computer.

  • Use the information in this post to help safeguard against future infections.
You should probably do that last one regardless.

Long Way From Sputnik

This graphic shows how many satellites are currently orbiting the Earth. They are broken down by nation and divided into functioning and non-functioning classes. As you might expect, the United States has the most functioning satellites (USA! USA!). But the world leader in space debris (Dead Satellite Division) is Russia. Those guys have so many dead hunks of metal flying through space it's kind of ridiculous.

Th United States has the most overall debris floating around the planet, but most of that is the result of our successful attempts to stop rogue asteroids and fight off alien invasions, so it's perfectly understandable.

Click here to see a large version.
Click here to read the article.

Blood Flows Red On The Highway

So, Macy got to witness her first car accident yesterday on the way home from school. No, we weren't involved. But this accident happened right in front of us as we were approaching the University Drive exit off I-94. It started when a minivan about fifty yards ahead of us and in the far left lane (we were in the rightmost lane with a center lane in between) appeared to lose control when it tried to slow down. From what I could tell, the minivan wasn't really speeding, but when the driver applied the brakes the van fishtailed.

The driver fought it admirably, and we watched as it simultaneously tried to stop, get facing the right direction, and avoid the cars that were stopped all around it. In the end, the driver did a pretty good job, only dinging one of the cars as it finally came to a stop.

Enter the Impatient Lady in the White Car. Just as the minivan was finally stopping, I noticed a fender bender had occurred on my side of the road and two cars were pulled partway onto the shoulder. The car ahead of me stopped. I stopped. Did I mention there was a large truck in the center lane that I had just passed by right before all this happened?

Anyway, I'm guessing here, but I think what happened was the ILitWC passed that truck, cutting in front of it either from my lane (behind me) or from the far left lane. All I know for sure is that while traffic everywhere else was either stopped or moving towards that end, a white sedan shot by me. I don't know excatly how fast she was going, but I if I had to guess I'd say somewhere between 30 and 40. By the time she realized her mistake, which was just as she passed my truck, it was too late. She hit the brakes, which did nothing. She took out the car that had stopped ahead of me and pieces of her car sprayed everywhere.

Macy was agog at the whole thing. She wasn't terrified or anything, but she was surprised. Her only comment at first was, "whoa". We were sitting about twenty feet from some fairly serious carnage.

The ILitWC by far took the most damage. I saw her pound her steering wheel in what I took to be frustration. I figured if she could get mad, she probably wasn't hurt that badly. The car she hit was spun around but didn't seem to take nearly as much damage, and the driver looked okay to me. The group involved in the fender bender had already been standing outside their cars at the time, so they were fine. Since no one appeared to need any immediate help, I decided to get out of there before another ILitWC came along and rearended me.

It turns out that what started the whole thing was another fender bender about 100 yards further down the road. All in all, one person was treated for a minor neck injury. Everyone else involved seems to be unhurt.

Thankfully, Macy won't be driving for another seven or eight years.

(+ 1,000,000,000 internet points if you know where the title of this post comes from without binging it or going here.)

Monday, February 1, 2010

Haiku Review: Paranormal Activity & District 9

Paranormal Activity

see, it's not that hard
to inspire nightmares though
boyfriend was a douche

District 9

action-doc explores
alternate history of
nigerian scams

Administration Moves (Slowly) Ahead On Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell Repeal

One of the promises President Obama made on the campaign trail and reiterated during his State of the Union Address was the repeal of the military's Don't Ask, Don't Tell policy. This policy was inacted under the Clinton administration as a "compromise" between the civil rights of gays and the concerns of military brass about the effect on morale of openly homosexual soldiers, sailors and airmen serving in the armed forces. It was bad policy then, and it hasn't gotten any fresher in the intervening years.

Gays have been searching largely in vain for some hint that the Obama administration was going to deliver on any of the promises he made on the campaign trail, so his reaffirmation on DADT was no doubt welcome news. Though some have called the State of the Union mention as a sop to gays rather than a concrete promise of action (something I myself feared at the time), the possibility existed that President Obama was ready to take action.

Now, however, it looks like the naysayers may have been correct after all. While the headline of the article hopefully states, "Pentagon starts process of lifting gay ban", the body of the article projects a different tone.

The Defense Department starts the clock next week on what is expected to be a several-year process in lifting its ban on gays from serving openly in the military.

A special investigation into how the ban can be repealed without hurting the morale or readiness of the troops was expected to be announced Tuesday by Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
A special investigation that sounds suspiciously like the process that led to DADT in the first place. A “several year process” belies the headline. When a politician says something is going to take several years to implement, it usually means it isn’t going to get implemented at all. The repeal of DADT is a big issue for gays, and one that is supposed to be a big issue for the President and Democrats in general. Reading this, it sounds more like it’s an issue they badly want to string out long enough that it becomes someone else’s problem.

Just as was the case in 1993, there’s no upside among the military brass to come out in favor of ending the ban. The military is a place where change is slow to manifest. Despite their image as bloodthirsty warmongers, the upper echelon of the military are largely a cautious bunch. “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” is an axiom held close to heart, at least as far as big ticket items like this are concerned. I have no doubt there are many officers in the upper ranks who support repeal of DADT, but there’s nothing to be gained in stating that fact publicly. It’s safer (and let’s face it, smarter) to remain silent and watchful.

If the President is serious about repealing DADT, it’s going to require a concerted effort on the part of Congress to get a bill on his desk. The military will have plenty of objections. That’s fine. There are legitimate questions about how openly gay soldiers will integrate. There will undoubtedly be incidents perpetrated by those not open to the idea. The key is for individual unit commanders to make it clear that such behavior won’t be tolerated. A Few Good Men was a only a movie, but it’s true that soldiers take their cues from their commander.

This, however, is for after a bill hits the President’s desk and that won’t happen until the dithering at the Congressional level ends. Investigations and panel discussions and the reports these things generate have their place. But if nothing new is forthcoming, nothing that wasn’t discovered in 1993, then this is just another stalling tactic on the part of the administration and Congress. A chance to talk about all the good things they’re going to do while not actually doing anything at all.

(Crossposted from Say Anything)

Macy Performs At Concordia's Fieldhouse

Macy and Just For Kix performed at halftime of the Concordia Men's basketball game on Sunday. The crowd was very supportive, though there was a marked lack of beanie throwing [*].

[*] Incoming freshmen at Concordia are required to wear an ugly yellow beanie for the first week of class. I assume this is part of some minor hazing ritual design to promote camaraderie and acceptance among the new students and thier upperclassmen overlords. All I know is, they made targeting that much easier. I picked many a beanie out of the grill of my car driving through the campus daily while going to Minnesota State.

Valentine's Bag

Macy's expecting a big haul this Valentine's Day, as the giant bag she has constructed for the purpose attests:

(Click on images to view in 800 x 600.)