Friday, August 31, 2012

Friday Mad Science: Just the Facts, Ma'am

Several media outlets have noted that VP Candidate Paul Ryan’s speech was factually inaccurate in many details.  Additional media outlets have noted that no one cares.  And I gotta say that it’s driving me crazy.

Sir Issac Newton, big fan of Physics.
I mean, it’s fine.  Believe what you want.  Truly.  I already know that I’m not going to change your mind.  What I’m telling you is that it’s driving me crazy the way that you ignore truths that you find inconvenient.  You need to learn to deal with them.  Find a way to assimilate them into your worldview, and *gasp* try keep an open mind to the idea that—it is at least possible—your pre-conceived ideas might be partially incorrect.

One of my favorite sayings is that “when the laws of physics and economics collide, physics wins.”  I’d further postulate that the laws of economics trump politics when faced with the real facts of life, leading to a kind of hierarchy of truth that I personally believe in:

Physics > Economics > Politics

That’s important because I’m an engineer with a degree in finance.  A lot of what I’ve done with my professional life has been figuring out what the reality is and then figuring out how that reality is going to change the economics involved.  And when you’re doing that, bottom line, the truth is important.  The guys asking the questions may want to hear a specific version of that truth, but the truth that they need to hear is the fulltruth.  And ultimately, regardless of the short term consequences, they always thank me for it.

Right now, I think America needs to hear the full truth about a lot of things, but as an electorate, we keep insisting that our public servants feed up a line of crap that’s easier to tolerate in the short term.  You personally keep insisting on that.  And that is why, ultimately, we’re both going to get exactly the leaders that we deserve.

You’re not buying any of this are you?  Heh.  As if I don’t know. 

So here’s proof, via ESPN.  In Blue States, people HATE the NFL’s replacement referees.  In Red States—with the notable exceptions of Texas and Louisiana (where I think I can safely say that football is more important than Jesus) people really don’t care.  Truth, accuracy, and fairness are simply less important in those places.

Or else they’re just more devoted to the college game than they are to the pros.


The journal Nature this week published the results of a study that surprised the scientific community.  Previously, scientists believed that eating a very low calorie diet would lead to better overall health, but the most recent study shows that actually, calorie count by itself doesn’t seem to matter much.  When the New York Times covered this story, they did so with a kind of shrug, essentially saying, “Eat what you want, because we’re all damned anyway.”  Thankfully, the writers at Slate dug a little deeper.

What actually appears to be the case is that it matters more what you eat than how much you eat.  This is not a surprise, is it?  And yet, it surprised researchers because, bottom line, they’d been feeding their monkeys a food mix that was basically all crap because that crap mix was easier to control from a total calorie standpoint than was a more natural, “whole foods” type of diet.  However, that led to a false conclusion that very nearly became accepted scientific fact—that eating less made one healthier.  In fact, it now appears that what makes one healthier is simply eating less crap.  However, if you are eating a basically healthy diet, then eating substantially less total food doesn’t provide significant additional benefit.  What’s more important is that you avoid excess sugar, preservatives, transfats, etc.

Of course, eating to the point of obesity is still bad for you, but bottom line, you don’t have to starve yourself to be healthy.  What you need to do is avoid eating crap.

It occurs to me that some of you are now thinking that the third story this week invalidates the first story because the third story proves that scientists don’t know everything.  I hope that you will take a minute to carefully consider why a few studies that confound scientists’ expectations actually prove that science itself is an unbiased actor.

Yes, it’s true that science cannot explain everything.  However, you’ll note that science also doesn’t get angry when its expectations and beliefs are challenged.  Instead, science goes to find a better solution, one that fits all of the available facts.


I can’t easily prove this at the moment, but I am pretty sure that Voodoo Economics would be impossible without an elastic money supply.

Finally, it’s a lot from Slate this week, I know, but here’s one more: Are you better off marrying your high school or college sweatheart, or should you wait and marry someone you meet later in life?  Oddly, the evidence—which does not appear to be rigorously tested as yet—seems to conclude that you’re better off if you wait, but that you should then marry your long-lost high school sweetheart.  What the Hell is that all about?

Here’s my theory for love: Find your mate in a place where you’re doing something that you really love to do.  That way, you’ll always have that thing in common. 

Sadly, it’s damned near impossible to find cute girls at RPG or Comic conventions.

Friday Hair Metal: Land of Confusion

Granted, it's not really hair metal.

But it is from the 80's.  Surely that's good for some points?

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Tri Training Video: Bike Hill Repeats

I did a variation of this last weekend, and it was awesome.

In other sports news, the Titans have their final pre-season game tonight, and the college football season officially starts, with UConn taking on Massachusetts.  That's on cable locally on SportsNY.

Hooray football!

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Photos from Sally in Arizona

I'll admit up front that I'm more than a little jealous.

And I sent this one in return. 

The Bachelor Life: Day 3

Hannah and Emma mug for the camera at a Rest Stop near
Sedona, AZ.
The girls are out in Arizona for a wedding, while I stayed behind for work and to look after our dog Dixie.  That might sound trivial, but with both my parents and grandparents gone, at this point Dixie is pretty much the only family I have left besides Sally and the girls.  And Dixie is twelve.  Needless to say, I haven't enjoyed leaving her alone all day in the house while I'm at work, but fortunately, we've got some terrific neighbors who've looked after her during the day this week.

On the other hand, it's been hard to stay motivated this week.  With just myself and the dog, the temptation to just lay on the couch and do nothing has been damn near irresistable.  But last night I finally managed to bestir myself and get out to the gym, and afterwards I felt better than I have pretty much all week.  Granted, I still haven't ironed or done some of the other things I'd hoped to get done, but it's a challenge, and with the house so unnaturally quiet, its like... What's the point?  Honestly, I'm lucky I'm eating, though to be fair, so far I've cooked every night.

So loyal readers, if you had a week to yourself, how would you spend it?

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

The Stone Priest's Wife, Part 1: Alaira's Date

For better or worse, I've realized I'm never going to get any further with Centurion 6.  Why?  Because my flash drive crashed, and I lost the draft.  Ugh.  I mean, not that I'd been working on it, but still.  So anyway...

* * *


“Well, how do I look?” Alaira asked.  She held her hands away from her sides and turned to show off her dress.  It was the red silk number she’d bought with the proceeds from their last job, and it hugged her waist nicely.  The slit up the side showed her legs to their best advantage. 
“You look great,” Belle replied.  “You always do.  Not that it’s going to matter.”
“Gods, Belle, do you have to be such a downer?” Alaira turned on her heel and started back towards the Trainer’s Area.  “Modor appreciates me.”
Belle hurried to catch up.  “Modor appreciates everyone with a nice set of legs.”
“Oh come on!”  Alaira said.  “That’s not fair.  Modor’s had it pretty rough.  But in his heart, he’s just like everybody else.  He wants to be loved.”
“By everyone.”
“No.  By someone who loves him back.  I’m his friend.  That means something to him.  He just hasn’t realized how much yet.”
“Maybe,” Belle said.  She sighed.  “I mean, yeah okay, you’re not just another one of his fight groupies.  I know that.  And I know he cares for you.  But that won’t change who he is.”
“That’s why we have to hurry!”  Alaira smiled at her friend and then pushed her way through the door into the Trainer’s Area.  Save for the occasional fighter packing up his gear, the room was deserted.  It was sad.  The night’s violence was over, and its place there was only the wreckage of men trying to pick up whatever pieces remained. 
Alaira was athletic more than beautiful, but she knew that what she’d told Belle was true.  Modor did appreciate her.  She just had to make him see how much.  To that end, she’d worn her hair combed over to one side and lightly curled—just the way he liked it.  Happily, the curl seemed to be holding despite the locker room’s humidity.  Of course, there wasn’t much she could do about the scar on her cheek, but then again, Modor had scars, too.  That was one of the reasons she liked him so much.
She took a moment to straighten her dress and to make sure that she was as presentable as she could be, and then she opened the door to Modor’s private room.  She frowned.  Her heart fell.  Modor was already in conversation with someone. 
Alaira shook her head. 
The hussy with Modor was barely more than a teenager.  She was also obviously rich.  Her translucent silk robe—and the rubies on her rings, bracelets, and earrings—made that abundantly clear.  And yet, despite her money, her clothes barely sufficed to hide her well-fed figure.  Her robe was so short that it was almost unfit for polite conversation.  Unfortunately, she was also young enough that her rich girl’s diet hadn’t yet gone to her hips.  Alaira hated her for that.  She might have taken the girl for little more than a provocative innocent were it not for the way that the girl’s fingers trailed down Modor’s bicep and across his chest when she spoke.  As it was, the girl’s eyes were just a little too large to be convincing. 
Alaira inhaled sharply.  She realized that she recognized the girl!  By the Gods, Alaira thought, what is Modor thinking?  Thankfully, at that moment he saw Alaira and cut his conversation short.  He touched the girl’s arm, and she turned.  She smiled and waved.  Despite herself, Alaira waved back.  A moment later, the hussy was gone. 
“You’re insane.  You know that, right?” Alaira asked when she and Modor were alone with Belle.
Modor sat down in his favorite wicker chair.  His smile told the world that he knew he was always right.  “Insane is such a strong word,” he mused.  “I am... aroused.”
Alaira pointed back towards the door.  “Do you know who that was?”
“Of course.  Don’t you?”
Belle interrupted.  “I thought that guy had you beat out there tonight.”
“Oh come on,” Modor replied.  He turned to face Belle.  “You know me better than that.”
“You keep dropping your left, and eventually somebody’s going to make you pay,” Belle said.  “Even the great Modor Ulgoth can be beaten, you know.”
“You just want to see me lose.  But it ain’t gonna happen.”
Despite herself, Alaira laughed.  It was indeed hard to imagine Modor losing a fight.  He stood nearly seven feet tall and was clearly more than human.  Bent, cornered ears and a single protruding incisor spoke clearly of an infernal heritage about which he himself rarely said anything.  Yet for all that, the man, if a person with a pure-blood demon in his ancestry could even be called a man, had a ready smile and chiseled musculature that made women swoon.  Plus, his long-standing success as a prize fighter gave him a notoriety that many found attractive.  Alaira knew that she shouldn’t have been surprised to find him already engaged in conversation when she arrived, especially given that he’d triumphed in the ring earlier that night, but knowing a thing and being emotionally prepared for it were different propositions.  Knowing that she should have been prepared didn’t make the actual discovery of a romantic rival any less disappointing. 
Still, as Belle had pointed out, Alaira was Modor’s friend—even when she wasn’t his lover. 
“You must know that Cindar Belam isn’t going to be happy when he learns you’ve been ogling his newest trophy wife,” Alaira said.
Modor leaned back and put both hands behind his head.  “By the time I’m through with her, my ogling will be the least of Belam’s concerns, trust me.  I dare say that he’ll be more than merely unhappy… if he ever finds out.”
Alaira shook her head.  “When are you meeting her?”
“Tonight.”  He shrugged.  “It’s a new moon, and she seemed anxious.” 
Alaira grunted.  Without thinking she said, “I should go with you.”
Modor sat up abruptly.  “Do you want to?”  He smiled again.  “I’d thought to make it a tête-à-tête, but the lady is a bit of a vixen.  I’m sure she’d be up for something more.”
Alaira blushed and looked away.  “That’s not what I meant.”
“Are you sure?”  Modor got up from his chair and cupped Alaira’s face in his hands.  She tried not to enjoy it.  “I think she would like you, and I know I would love sharing her with you.”  He paused for a moment.  “That’s a lovely dress, by the way.”
Alaira's blush deepened, and she pulled away.  But even as she did, she knew a part of her wanted to go with him.  Modor would need help getting into Belam’s compound, and that was help she could provide.  And more to the point, Alaira didn’t want Modor to forget about her while he was off playing with a newer, younger strumpet.  Alaira could well imagine the size of Modor’s ego after he’d had his way with half of Belam’s harem.  Despite his vow of celibacy, Cindar Belam, the High Priest of the Stone God in the City of Brega, was reputed to possess one of the finest collections of female flesh in the entire Empire.  Cuckolding such a man would please Modor to no end.
“Fine.  I’ll go,” Alaira said at last.
“You will?” 
Belle slapped her forehead.  “I can’t listen to this.  If either of you need me, I’ll be with Xarian.”
It was easier for Belle, Alaira knew.  Though Belle had been with Modor for years, she and Modor had never been intimate.  Modor had found Belle when she was still a teenager at a monastery at the base of the Alacian Moutains.  Alaira didn’t know why Belle had chosen to leave the cloister and follow a half-demon across the Empire to the port city of Brega, but she knew that their friendship was a central facet in each of their lives.  Still, it was difficult to imagine a more mismatched pair.  Where Modor was beautiful, Belle was bizarre.  She was whip-thin and bare-scalped except at the base of her skull.  There she wore a ponytail of dirty red hair tied closely in a knot.  Her eyes were almost unnaturally large. 
That made it no easier for Alaira to meet Belle’s gaze.
Modor came to Alaira’s rescue.  He wrapped an arm around her shoulders and said, “Buck up, kiddo.”  He pointed at Belle.  “This heathen doesn’t understand the value of a night of a thousand pleasures.  That’s not your fault.”
“Whatever you say, Boss,” Belle replied.  “At least Alaira can help keep you from getting caught.  If it’s all the same to you, I’d rather not find you hanging from the gallows tomorrow morning.”  Belle looked at Alaira.  “If you change your mind, you know where to find me.”
“Yeah,” Alaira replied, “Thanks.”

Monday, August 27, 2012

The Bachelor Life: Day 1

Sally and the kids are out of town this week.  They went to Phoenix, AZ, for a wedding.  That leaves me and our dog Dixie in the house by ourselves this week.

Hannah and Emma hamming it up at the National Gallery
in Washington, DC.
Its not so much that I was excited about having a week to myself.  It's more that there's just always so much to do, but without the girls, that workload largely disappears.  So Sally and the girls left yesterday around 7:00am, and Ive been in my own ever since.

The first thing I did was to go for a long bike ride.  Usually it's hard to carve out more than about 90 minutes of riding time, even on a Saturday. Yesterday I stayed out for over two hours, and I rode hills.  It was kind of awesome.  Of course, when I got home, my Honey-Do list was waiting for me, but even with breakfast and dishes and whatnot, I was still done and back home by 1:00pm.  So then I took the dog for a walk, went to the grocery store to get myself some food for the week, and then sat down with a couple of beers--Sierra Nevada's Torpedo Extra IPA--and put on Netflix.  I've never seen the show Farscape, do that's what Dixie and I watched. Dinner last night was stuffed salmon and salad; I figured the beer was a decent stand-in for bread or pasta.

At this point, my biggest issue is the dog.  I took her for a walk this morning, but I still have to go to work, and the neighbor who was supposed to watch her has been MIA for the past three days.  I talked to my other neighbor, and so she's gonna check on Dixie today a couple of times--I hope--but this isn't much of a solution.  Poor Dixie isn't going to like being alone today.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Sunday Comics: The Adventures of Hiro Arturian, Samurai (Day 17)

The Adventures of Hiro Arturian, Samurai.  Page 17
To see the page at full size, click here.
Hiro has a war on two fronts.  He was victorious on the battlefield, but the battle on the Home Front is very much an open question.

As always, to read the story from the beginning, use the Sunday Comics tag.  That'll bring up all of the Sunday Comics entries.  Or you can use the Hiro tag if this particular story is the only one you care about.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

More Thoughts on D&D Next

Wizards of the Coast (WotC) released the second installment of their new iteration of the rules for Dungeons and Dragons (D&D), currently called D&D Next.  I wrote a little about this when WotC released the first installment of the Next rules, but seeing as how that was back in June, and we now have a new update to talk about, I figured it was time to finally update my thoughts on the new system here.

D&D Next is actually the fifth full ruleset in the game's history.  Insurance adjuster Gary Gygax invented D&D based largely on his work with insurance actuarial tables.  Actuarial tables use probability to enable insurance companies to gauge the risks of various events against which the companies provide financial guarantees.  Gygax took this idea--that in any given situation, there is a certain percentage chance that something will happen (X%) and a certain percentage chance that it won't happen (1-X%)--and used it to develop a basic combat simulator.  So, for example, if I am a barbarian battling an evil wizard with a sword, and I swing that sword in an attack, there is a chance that I'll hit (X%) and a chance I'll miss (1-X%).  I use dice to simulate the influence of random probability, and then add a random damage component in the event of a hit based on the size of the sword, i.e. it hurts more if the sword is bigger, so to model damage for a small sword, I roll a small die.  To model damage for a large sword, I roll a large die.  Again, this is an idea that comes straight out of the insurance industry--a given event will produce losses of a given size within a specific range of possibility.  Gygax simply used different size dice and different numerical modifiers to set the range and scope of the potential events in question, and then he defined the events in terms of combat simulator applications.
The classic cover to the original
Dungeon Master's Guide.

It's worth noting, by the way, that Gygax's company was not originally focused so completely on fantasy roleplay.  Tactical Studies Rules (TSR) actually published a variety of different tabletop combat strategy games.  D&D is simply the one that caught the public's attention.

So far, so good.

Over time, D&D developed into a whole thing.  In fact, Gygax's system of rules is not only the foundation of tabletop roleplaying games, it's also in large part the foundation of the computer game industry.  Gygax's ruleset is easily coded into computer languages, and folks have used his basic ideas as the engine that powers nearly all computer games that involve an element of random chance.  TSR meanwhile got big before struggling financially, and eventually it sold out to WotC, which is itself now a division on Hasbro.  Along the way D&D evolved, though its ruleset changes were much more evolutionary than revolutionary until WotC released the 3rd Edition of the game in 2000.  Then 2007's 4th Edition was an even more radical departure, so much so that lots of fans revolted, adopting either the Pathfinder system, which is itself basically just D&D 3.5, or giving up on the game altogether.

With that said, like any good re-boot D&D 4th Edition also found a lot of new fans, of which I was one.  I played a lot of D&D as a kid, but I let it go when I left middle school.  However, after I let Proletariat Comics, LLC go, I got back into D&D--played online via Internet forum--basically as an outlet for my creative writing.

A drow in the Underdark.
All of this art comes from the WotC fansite material.
So.  First and foremost, it seems to me that D&D Next is an attempt to return the game to its basic roots, the stuff that made Gary Gygax famous and which was largely done away with via the revolutionary changes of 2000 and 2007.  The brilliance of the 4th Edition was that you could build very specific types of characters in a huge variety of ways, and in combat, they would have a lot of different cool things that they could do.  From that standpoint, I'd say 4e was a huge success.  But it made combat encounters much longer, which in turn necessarily focused the game more on combat than on roleplaying, and that was a problem because, bottom line, D&D is supposed to be a lot more than a mere combat simulator, though to be sure, that part of the game is important.  

The new edition allows for the possibility of much more stripped-down combat encounters, and it also seems to have a built in bias towards shortening the basic adventuring day.  Which is to say that 4e worked best when you laid out four or five combat encounters in a row, all in the same game "day".  But that became problematic because encounters themselves could easily last an hour or an hour and a half of real time, meaning that if you did a game session with a combat encounter, that was pretty much all you were going to have time for in that session.  And that sucked.  And more to the point, that puts a give "day" of game time at four or even five actual sessions of D&D.  So your game "day" might easily last a month or more!  Argh.  It's way hard to build any sense of evolution in a game like that, which is again problematic because it's that sense of character evolution--of leveling up--that makes D&D addictive.

The other thing I really like about D&D Next is that it looks like it'll be simple enough that I'll be able to teach it to my kids.  With 4e, there were so many options that trying to explain them all and how they worked to a novice was really not an easy task.  Even getting the basics across was hard just based of the sheer complexity of even an entry-level character.  Complexity like that was fine for guys like me, engineers who grew up playing D&D as pre-teens, which maybe explains why my long-running game, The Sellswords Of Luskan, had a professional engineer, a computer technician, and TWO professional physicists in the gaming group.  But for my 7- and 9-year-old daughters, it was a non-starter.  We've played The Legend of Drizzt together and some of the other D&D board games, and the girls like those and understand the concepts easily enough, but those are decidedly stripped down versions of D&D.  Teaching them the full version of the game was... well, I'd been noodling for weeks on an approach to take with them when WotC announced the Next ruleset.  Having read through the basics, I'm content now to wait for the full version to come out before I try and get the girls started.  At this point, D&D Next is looking like our next big snow-day activity.
The girls and I like to play The Legend of Drizzt and some
of the other D&D board games.
From what I've seen so far, D&D Next is very similar to the 2nd Edition version of the game that used the Class-and-Kit system.  Back in 2e, you chose a class--for example, Fighter if you wanted to fight with a sword, Magic-User if you wanted to use magic--and then you further specialized your character by adding on "kits".  So maybe you were a Great Weapon Fighter.  Or maybe you were a Magic User specializing in Necromancy.  The new system is like that, and conceptually, it's something I think I can teach.  That makes me excited.

Final Thoughts

I wasn't real excited when WotC announced the Next ruleset.  But having read through some of the changes and the rationale for them, I can see what it is that they're trying to accomplish here.  In fact, I think that a lot of what they're doing is not only good, it's necessary.

For my gaming group, our game basically broke down because running the game got too complicated.  Just going through a round's worth of DM actions got to the point that it took me an hour or so at a sitting, and I just don't have that kind of time.  Plus, it was Hell trying to go through all the different status effects and modifiers and whatnot.  If the new system resolves some of that and makes it so that I can teach my kids to play the game, I'll be entirely happy.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Friday Mad Science: Mike Vick vs. QE3

“The man of great wealth owes a peculiar obligation to the State, because he derives special advantages from the mere existence of government. Not only should he recognize this obligation in the way he leads his daily life and in the way he earns and spends his money, but it should also be recognized by the way in which he pays for the protection the States gives him”.
 - Teddy Roosevelt, from a speech on the Estate Tax, April 14, 1906

We’ve been talking in the office this week about whether or not the Fed is gonna do another round of quantative easing (QE3) in the next few weeks.  Minutes from a recent meeting of the Fed suggested this was a distinct possibility, and that sent the markets on a rally early in the week.  According to the minutes of the meeting, which ended Aug. 1:

“Many members judged that additional monetary accommodation would likely be warranted fairly soon unless incoming information pointed to a substantial and sustainable strengthening in the pace of the economic recovery,”[1]

My favorite thing about the Fed Chairman is
his hair style, which I've tried to emulate.
To which my friend Z__ replied, “Bring it on.  If they do QE3, I bet we can get the S&P 500 to 1500 by the end of the year.”  He went on to note that Ben Bernanke is apparently trying to push people out of Treasuries and into stocks by reducing the yields on Treasuries to the point where investors basically have no choice but to invest in stocks.

All I can say to that is that I sure hope they wait a while before they push the Panic Button again over there at the Fed.  I mean, yeah, it’s been a long slow climb of a recovery, and lots of people are still out of work, but given that corporate profits are up, that seems more like a systemic problem than a problem of the economic cycle.  Or, to put it another way, Corporate America has decided to move as much of its production overseas as possible because, bottom line, hiring foreigners is way cheaper than hiring Americans.  And whether we like it or not, there is no amount of monetary stimulus that is gonna change that.  We need to either change our tax laws to strongly disincent offshoring of domestic jobs—and by the way, that could easily degrade national competitiveness over time—or as a people, we need to accept a radically lower standard of living in exchange for our labor.  Because while it’s still true that the American workforce is generally more productive than the overseas workforce, that’s only in absolute terms.  In nominal terms (i.e. adjusted for costs), it’s much, much cheaper to build it there and bring it here on a ship.  So at this point, that’s what companies are doing.

Granted, I suppose that enough quantative easing will eventually deflate the dollar against other currencies, leading to a cheapening of American labor in relation to its competitors.  And to the extent that we can survive without needing to import overseas commodities, that might not even be all bad.  But I say that as a guy whose main forms of transportation are the Train and the Bicycle.  I don’t exactly buy a lot of gas.

None of which means that I am necessarily against QE3.  In fact, I think Z__’s right.  It probably is going to happen.  But I also think that Congress isn’t gonna do anything else this session, which in turn is gonna push the country off the proverbial (but much talked about) Fiscal Cliff.  And while the Fiscal Cliff is a potentially serious problem, it’s also exactly the kind of problem that monetary policy can generally help address.  In other words, if we do hit the Cliff, and the Bush Tax Cuts expire at the same time that we cut domestic spending by three-quarters of a trillion dollars, well, at that point I think a little monetary easing will look like a necessary economic measure.  It is therefore my hope that the Fed will wait and keep its powder dry for the time when it really needs to get some serious bang for its buck.

* * *
I was shocked and maybe even a little dismayed when I read this week that chick-rocker Avril Lavigne has accepted a proposal of marriage from Nickelback frontman Chad Kroeger.  Because let’s face it, Lavigne is a super-hottie whereas Kroeger is a classic ugly-rock-dude in the tradition of Ozzie Osborn and the members of The Steve Miller Band.  I mean, the dude has a million hits, but he’s also got a distinct face-for-radio.

But then I read through Kroeger’s Wikipedia page, and I realized I’d been way too quick to judge.  Like it or not, the guy is a major talent.  His stuff for Nickelback is everywhere on the radio, and he’s been a hit-writing machine for other guys, too, for over a decade.  For example, he wrote about half of Chris Daughtry’s first album and quite a bit of other stuff in a variety of genres, including Country and Rap.  In fact, he and Lavigne met because he was helping her write her new album (Good choice there, Avril.  That last album wasn’t good at all.), and well…  Workplace romances can work.  Right?

Anyway, regardless of the success of their marriage, hopefully Mr. Kroeger can help Lavigne get back to the tops of the charts.  God knows we could use a stronger rock influence in my house’s increasingly tween-girl pop musical soundtrack.

* * *
Michael Strahan at the Giants' 2007 Super Bowl
parade (from Wikipedia).
While we’re talking pop stuff of no consequence, former Giants DE Michael Strahan has reportedly gotten the Live! co-hosting job opposite Kelly Ripa.  That’s the job that Regis Philbin famously left last year, and the fact that Strahan got it is not nearly as much of a shock as it might seem at first glance.  Strahan has done a ton of TV since he left the NFL, including a high profile gig with Fox Sports and headlining his own sitcom (Brothers).  In fact, it was medium-sized news in NYC a few months back when the folks at Live! leaked the news that Strahan was in the final three for the co-hosting job, though at the time he was considered a longshot.

* * *
Still on football, you might’ve heard that Philadelphia Eagles QB Michael Vick is already hurt.  I didn’t watch the game, but he apparently played all of six snaps in the Eagles’ second preseason contest before he got pounded by New England Patriots linebacker Jermaine Cunningham.  Supposedly, Vick’s not seriously hurt, and that’s good, but still...  If you’re an Eagles fan, this has got to be maddening.

I bring all this up because of the sheer number of news outlets I’ve heard picking the Eagles to represent the NFC in the Super Bowl this year.  Why?  How is this year different than last year, save that the Eagles (wisely) dumped backup QB Vince Young?  I grant you that the Eagles have a ton of talent on their roster.  But they also have an injury-prone QB whose style of play, while enjoyable for fans, is at best hazardous to his health.  It just seems like the Eagles win the offseason every year, that they’re always the darlings of the press before the games start, but sooner or later reality sets in, and they come crashing back to earth.  Meanwhile, the Giants have won the Super Bowl twice in recent memory, they have essentially the same team as last year, and still somehow they’re not even favored to win the NFC East?

I get it.  Write something controversial because that sells newspapers.  I do that plenty myself.  Plus, Vick is an exciting, dynamic player.  I like watching him.  But come on, the Eagles?  Seriously?  Their winning the East requires Vick to start and finish at least ten games.  If I’m betting my own money, that is not the way I bet.

* * *
That’s all I’ve got.  I had some more crap about the Republican national political platform, but really, who cares?  Either Romney ignores that crap (likely), or he gets blasted in the general election by the country’s moderate voters.  Though to be fair, it seems like there aren’t all that many moderates left out there anymore, but still.  I have this theory that Mr. Romney added Congressman Paul Ryan to his ticket specifically to steal the guy’s voters while simultaneously neutering his influence within the Party, and that if Romney’s elected, he’ll use the opportunity to stab the right wing of the GOP in the back in a uniquely painful and lethal way.  But that’s just my theory, and it may well be motivated entirely by my simple hopes for the future of mankind.  It could just as easily turn out that Romney’s a rich guy who’s gonna run the country in the best interests of other rich guys, and if you don’t like it, you can kiss his rich white ass.  Personally, I’ll probably be fine either way, but my kids have to live here, too, and that whole class-warfare-from-the-right thing scares me on their behalf.

There.  You wanted a little polemic, so there it is.  You wanna know more, use Google.

Other than that, have a nice weekend.

[1] Annie Lowrey, “Many at Fed Ready to Act if Necessary,” The New York Times, August 22, 2012.

Bonus Friday Hair Metal: Photograph and more!

Taylor Swift & Def Leppard.  I can't decide if it's awesome or horrifying.

Friday Hair Metal: America

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Today's my Friday, so...

The New York Times yesterday called this song one of the "songs of summer".  I realized I never heard it, so here we go.

Eh.  I take that back.  I have heard it.  It just didn't register very deeply.  

Here, let's try again.


Offseason Training Update

The good thing about the offseason is that it’s a little looser and less regulated than my in-season triathlon training schedule tends to be.  Without any races on the schedule, I’ve got time to work on pretty much whatever I want, and I usually use that time to either rest up after a long season of racing or to focus on one discipline of tri, pretty much to the exclusion or near-exclusion of the others.  The downside of that, however, is that there’s less rigor in my training plan design.  As I’ve written here before, I usually work on a four-week schedule, going hard for three weeks and then cutting back in the fourth week, my so-called “Rest Week”.  However, during the offseason I’m much more inclined to just do whatever feels right on any given day, up to and including skipping workouts when I just don’t feel like working out.  This offseason, however, I’ve been feeling pretty good and pushing pretty hard, both because I’d gained weight during my involuntary layoff and because, bottom line, it’s still summer.  I’m into offseason training early this year exactly because I had to take a five-week break right in the middle of the year’s racing season.  That leaves me with plenty of daylight and good weather for training.

All of which is a long way of saying that I’m getting tired. 

That's me on my way into the finish of the
Milford, CT, Y-Tri.
It’s a problem I’ve never had before in the offseason.  But having jettisoned my regular four-week routine, it makes perfect sense.  I’m still working hard, I’m just not working with much of a plan.  So I’ve not built in any rest, and the result is predictable.

The solution, of course, is to develop a plan.  Basically, I just need to find a way to add some rest and some rest days into my basic offseason concept.  Unfortunately, the offseason concept is to ride as much as possible, add in running intervals, and do plenty of weights.  That’s a Hell of an ambitious program, and it doesn’t leave a lot of time for rest days.

* * *
I’m pretty much off my diet.  I got down to a low of 192 lbs, but having now been back in the gym for four full weeks now, I’m not losing weight any more.  I’m adding muscle mass.  I look trimmer, and my body fat percentage is still going down (I think), and that’s all good, but I happen to know that my cycling and running form is eventually going to suffer, at least marginally, especially when I’m climbing.  For the time being, that’s a sacrifice I’m willing to make.  That said, this spring is gonna be a bitch.  Getting to a leaner figure without sacrificing more strength than necessary is not easy.  On the other hand, building muscle mass now has the virtue of strengthening joints and ligaments, and that kind of thing pays HUGE dividends when the heavy demands of spring base training roll around.  Plus, I feel like I can climb with better pop right now than I could earlier in the season, and that’s awesome.  It’s not so good for sustained efforts, but I can explode out of the saddle right now like nobody’s business on a short, sharp climb.

While we’re talking about the diet thing, it’s also worth noting that my constant calorie counting was driving my wife Sally crazy.  On top of that, I started getting hunger headaches pretty consistently last weekend, so that, bottom line, it just wasn’t working for me any more.  I mean, I’m still trying hard to watch what I eat (and how much beer I drink, especially on the weekends), but I’ve had to reconsider the hard line approach I was using via Lose It!.  Instead, I’m trying to go more by feel and appetite.  It’s a more intuitive approach, obviously, but I think it can work, basically in the same way that going by feel also works in lieu of using a heart rate monitor.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Comic Review: Saga #s 1 through 6

I like comics, but one thing I've realized since I started getting back into the scene is that I'm not following them as closely as I did back when I used to review.  For example, I had no idea that Brian K. Vaughn had a new book out, called Saga, and that sucks because I really, really like his stuff.

Beware!  This book contains copious amounts of breastfeeding,
and an ever-present baby-sling!
You probably know Vaughn because he was a writer on the TV show Lost.  But before that, he wrote for Marvel and DC, doing both typical work-for-hire on established characters and breaking new ground on brand new stuff.  For example, he wrote Runaways for Marvel, Y: The Last Man for DC's Vertigo imprint, and Ex Machina for DC's Wildstorm imprint.  How awesome was that stuff?  Well, Runaways was so awesome that Joss Whedon actually demanded to write it after Vaughn finished up the initial 18-issue run that kicked off the series.  Meanwhile, Y: The Last Man was generally considered the best comic on the stands during its 60-issue run.  So yeah, it was good stuff.

The cover for Runaways #25.
But don't let it fool you;
the first 18-issues are set in California.
Saga is great, too.  It's an exploration of what it's like to be a new parent, but set in a sci fi/fantasy universe that, honestly, is the key to really capturing that, "Holy Shit, our baby just pooped!" experience that all new parents go through.  So yeah.  There's magic and ray guns and space ship-rocket trees, and there are bounty hunters and intergalactic brothels and even robot sex.  But there's also exhaustion and frustration and elation and all the other stuff that's actually important--when you're a new father or mother.  Really, it's a weird and delightful mix.

In terms of the art, Saga is terrific.  Fiona Staples has, in six issues, proven that she can and will draw anything.  Moreover, the book makes extensive use of full-page layouts and large-scale spreads, making good use of the nature of the sequential medium in order to establish the story's weird new ideas in all their awesome grandeur.

Honestly, I don't know what else to say.  This book is totally unlike anything else I've ever seen.  It's a wacky genre mash-up, but it's also a small scale family story set amongst  desperate circumstances.  It'll make you laugh; it'll make you cry.  It's better than Cats.  Go check it out.

By the way, for checking it out, I highly recommend Comixology.  Back issues are $1.99.  New issues are day-and-date release at $2.99.  Or you can just do what I'm gonna do and tell your Local Comic Shop (LCS) guy to add Saga to your Pull List.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Daredevil Update: The Sizzle Reel

Two weeks ago, I wrote a bit about Daredevil reverting to Marvel/Disney and my almost-certainly-vain hope that Daredevil would somehow get made into a TV show.  Well, director Joe Carnahan (The A-Team, Smokin' Aces) made a last-ditch attempt to get a DD movie made at 20th Century Fox using the following as a "sizzle roll" in order to show his vision for the project.  Then, when the project went "tits up" (his words), Carnahan posted the sizzle roll to YouTube.  Which is how I came by  it.

Carnahan said this was a 70's, Frank Miller-style take on Daredevil.  And I like it okay, but it's not by any means my favorite take on the character, especially since the first Daredevil movie was also based around those old Frank Miller stories.  

I mean, I like all those Frank Miller stories, but to be very clear, there are plenty of other Daredevil stories that are worth telling.  If they're gonna make a new set of Daredevil movies--at this point, that's by no means a sure thing--I'd personally like to see them tackle some new ideas.

New to Daredevil?  Do yourself a favor and start here, DD #406 (aka Vol.2 #26).  The digital back issues are $1.99 each.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Lately I've Been Reading...

Dossey Expat Adventures
My friends Amber and Matt just moved to Malaysia.  I've known Amber since the day before R-Day, 1991.  Meanwhile, Matt and I were roommates during our Cow (Junior) year at the Academy--at least, I think that's when it was.  Anyway, they got married and lived happily ever after... and now they're in Malaysia.  And this is their story.

Major Spoilers
There are lots of comics news sites out there.  I like Major Spoilers because they put out a bunch of terrific podcasts every week.  What makes these podcasts good?  The crew all have experience working in broadcasting.  So they sound like professional radio guys rather than mere nerds sitting around a shared microphone talking comics.

Total Pro Sports.Com
There is no good reason to read TotalProSports.Com.  The site is a little like TMZ but dedicated to professional sports.  I fact, I mostly don't read Total Pro Sports.  I mostly just look at the pictures.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Sunday Comics: The Adventures of Hiro Arturian, Samurai (Day 16)

The Adventures of Hiro Arturian, Samurai, Page 16.
Click here to see the page at full size.
We're coming to the end of Chapter 1.  Hiro has chased off the monster, but the town is still a wreck, the wizard Arkanus is dead, and oh by the way, his wife is still at home with a newborn.  So really, this isn't the end.  It's just the beginning.

As always, to read this story from the beginning, you can use the new Hiro tag below.  That's why the tags are there.  Or, if you're new to this whole Sunday Comics thing, try the Sunday Comics tag.  You can use that to read the backstory on this project as well as all of the Sunday Comics entries.

Friday, August 17, 2012

Friday Mad Science: A Voice Lost in the Wilderness

Lot's of politics this week.  You have been warned...

You probably already know that former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney named Congressional Representative Paul Ryan as his vice-presidential running mate this past weekend.  You may also know that Ryan is famous for his budget, which promises lower taxes and lower government spending.  In fact, given his budget, I think it’s fair to say that Ryan is actually a Libertarian who lacks the courage to actually run on his true party’s ticket.  That said, I’m in no way eager to analyze his budget and prove what a terrible idea it is. 

I try not to let my distaste for Client 9's personal
life influence my judgement of his writing.
Thankfully, former New York governor Eliot Spitzer did it for me this week on Slate .  I’ll spare you the time that Spitzer spared me; the bottom line is this:

“Here is the number that is perhaps the key to his view of the future: 3.75 percent.

That number, according to Ryan’s own analysis, is the percentage of GDP that the government will spend by 2050 on everything other than Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security. In other words, as both the 
Atlantic’s Derek Thompson and the Washington Post’s Ezra Klein point out, the money spent on education, unemployment insurance, food stamps, environmental protection, infrastructure investment, the NIH, the FDA, the FAA, the FBI, veterans benefits, and most notably, defense—all of these expenditures together can cost no more than 3.75 percent of GDP.”

I point this out because I know that a lot of my friends—probably a majority of my friends—are pretty strong conservatives.  That’s fine.  But as you’re considering who to vote for, it’s worth learning what it is that these guys actually believe. 

Neither Romney nor Ryan have the least shred of either credibility or experience when it comes to security, national defense, or our nation’s military.  More to the point, these guys don’t seem to care.  As far as they’re concerned, you’re already in their pocket, so at this point, giving you anything you want is not a good return on investment.  And as business guys, return on investment is, bottom line, the only thing that they care about.

* * *
From the “All Politics Is Local” Department, Linda McMahon won the Connecticut GOP Senatorial primary this week, beating former U.S. Congressional Representative Christopher Shays.  For the record, yes, I am a registered Republican; yes, I voted for Shays. 

This is the shape of things to come in Washington.
McMahon won because she outspent Shays 12:1.  She also won because she ran as an Outside at a time when the Great American Public (GAP) is fed up with so-called career politicians, preferring instead newbies whom they believe will be more independent thanks to their owing less to corporate and special interests than those who’ve spent a career in Washington.  Unfortunately, this last is wrong-headed.

While I get that folks want their politicians to be more independent, I question this idea that new politicians will be less beholden to corporate and special interests than those who are already established in their governmental careers.  Personally, I think that the thing that keeps us all in the pocket of the corporate and special interests is the endlessly revolving nature of the election cycle itself—and its attendant never-ending requirement for fund raising.  Moreover, I think it’s evident—both in logical terms and in terms of recent national experience—that the new kids are at least as far under their masters’ boot heels as the political incumbent class is.  After all, who has more independence?  The guy who’s been in the House for twenty years and with whom the public already has a reasonable degree of name recognition, or the guy who had to accept every campaign “gift” that was offered just to get his name and his message out there in the first place? 

Also, at what point did it become a good idea to replace a guy with twenty years of experience in his chosen profession with a guy who’s brand new to the job?  I mean, yeah, change happens, but this idea that new guys will automatically govern better is simply counter-factual.  Given the choice between two heart surgeons, you wouldn’t choose the newbie.  Ditto for defense lawyers, tax accountants… Hell, even handy-men.  In fact, if you can name any profession where experience is actually a detriment to performance in the comments below, I’ll name the next post on this blog in your honor. 

So why, then, is government different?

Well, it probably isn’t.

Now in Linda McMahon’s case, she’s already wealthy, so maybe her wealth will insulate her from some of the temptations of Washington.  Or maybe she views the acquisition of a Senate seat as a way for her to push the interests of her family’s business more directly in the halls of power.  The truth is, it’s hard to know.  It’s hard to know because the positions that she advocates are directly aligned with her own personal interests.  Bottom line, there’s plenty of room for cynicism.

Finally, it’s worth mentioning that McMahon is a quasi-Tea Partier running in a state that leans strongly Democratic.  A Centrist like Shays might’ve had a chance in the General Election, but I think McMahon is gonna get beat—again.  Because yes, this is her second time running for office.  So now, instead of being a professional business executive, she’s starting to look like a professional campaigner.

* * *
Did you ever have one of those days?  Y’know, when you feel like a lone voice lost in the wilderness?

Hellooooooooooooooooo?  Can anyone hear me?

* * *

How can you tell that Obama really wants to win this election?  He’s drinking light beer.  No one should have to do that.

* * *
The trial of Russian punk band Pussy Riot is coming to a close, and at this point, a verdict is expected any day.  The Western media has been following this story closely, with many outlets at least tacitly agreeing with the band’s defense team that the trial itself is a sham, that Russian President Vladimir Putin is using the opportunity of the trial to show the Russian people that he’s still in charge, and they better remember it or else. 

That may well be true.  Certainly, the trial has been a media circus, and the charges that the girls in the band face are very, very serious.  They could wind up in a Siberian gulag for the rest of their lives.  And so, yeah, this event serves as a reminder that Russia is still a tough place where the rule of law is a fungible commodity. 

Bosom buddies, if Wikileaks is to be believed.
With all of that said, it’s worth remembering that what these girls did would almost certainly land them some serious jail time here in the States, too.  I’m not defending Putin here—I mean, if you want to know what kind of man Putin is, consider that disgraced Italian President Silvio Berlusconi is perhaps his best friend outside of Russia (source: Wikileaks), and that’s just a character reference—but still…  These girls broke into one of the largest Orthodox churches in Russia in order to play a protest punk rock concert on top of the church’s very altar in the middle of a service!  That shocked Orthodox Russians everywhere—as it was no doubt meant to—and also led to charges of Hooliganism, which is how the girls came to face time in Siberia.  Next to that, the fact that the girls’ song roughly translated to “Please God, Take Away This Bastard Putin” is just icing on the cake. 

To put this into perspective, consider what folks in America would think if an unknown band of lesbian punk rockers broke into the Mormon Temple in Salt Lake City in order to play a song called “Please God, Fuck Mitt Romney in the Ass” right on the altar in the middle of Sunday service.  I mean, that’s in bad taste, right?  I think most folks would be outraged.  We’d be looking for some jail time there, I’m pretty sure.  And yeah, maybe some small group of Americans would say, “Well, the guy is against gay rights, so yeah, it’s no surprise that the gays are upset.  So yeah, this is their protest, and I get that.”  And yeah, the protest message itself might even represent a valid point of view for some, perhaps even a plurality of the population.  But it would still be a protest that was in extremely poor taste, and it would also be the kind of thing for which I think most folks would agree our would-be protesters would deserve quality jail time.  Maybe not a Siberian gulag but felony jail time nonetheless.

* * *
 By the way, I got that picture of Putin and Berlusconi off of Wikipedia, which is where I get most of my pictures thanks to their open-use policy.  With that in mind, if you've got the time, I highly recommend spending a few minutes perusing Putin's Wikipedia page.  The man is literally an evil genius.  They've got pictures of Putin piloting a fighter jet, piloting a submarine, and taking down wild animals with a sniper rifle.  Seriously, if the pictures are to be believed, Putin is literally twice the man that Barak Obama is and three times the man that Mitt Romney is.  In fact, the only recent American leaders who could even come close would be Eisenhower or George H.W. Bush.

Putin may be a Hell of a bloody-minded bastard, but he is also a renaissance man of the highest caliber.

* * *
Finally, the annual Jets-Giants pre-season game is tomorrow night (Saturday, August 18th), and despite the fact that the Giants won the freakin’ Super Bowl last year, all the talk lately has been about Rex Ryan, the Jets, and of course, Tim Tebow.  Even the guys in my office are interested in the game primarily as a gauge of what the Hell is going on over in Tebow-ville.

Me personally?  I want to see how the Giants’ new running back, first round selection David Wilson out of Virginia Tech, looks.

And that’s all I’ve got.  Have a great weekend!