Tuesday, April 27, 2004

Whine Tasting: It snowed today. An unconscionably stupid act on the part of Mother Nature. Can you believe that? We've been cruisin' along in with 70s-ish weather, then we wake up to snow today. I take this as a personal insult.


I recently picked up two CDs on the cheap from Half.com, both of which served to remind me why I should not buy CDs. So Much For The City by The Thrills - a sort of under-produced alt-rock sound, with pop hooks and a dash of alt-country slide guitar. Got critical raves as a first class debut. If you say so, but there are only like 3 or 4 memorable songs and the rest I could live without ever having heard. Baby Monkey by Voodoo Child (which is the name Moby uses for his dance oriented mixes) is even less inspiring. A couple of interesting tracks but basically, the guy mailed it in.

Why do I not subscribe to Napster and just buy the tracks I want? It's not like it's a lot of trouble to do. It's like picking up the digital camera on my desk and taking a few pictures. Simple little things I should do and I just inexplicably never do them. I'm sure there's some kind of syndrome for that. Everything's a syndrome.


So I've been working on redesigning this site (more emphasis on the articles, less on the blog) and, like a good web designer I attempted to follow what are called "web standards" in structuring the underlying HTML. "Web standards" are guidelines for the use of the underlying language behind web pages which are suppose to assist in consistency and interoperability across browsers. Laudable. The problem I had was no matter how much I read or how many tutorials I followed I could never make it do what I wanted. Now, I am not an idiot (don't give me that look). My day job is as a manager in product development for a software company. That is to say, I know my way around technical concepts pretty well. Yet no matter what I did I could not find a way to structure the page like I wanted while adhering to "web standards" (strictly speaking in this case, avoiding the use of tables to format a page). I also discovered that a good deal of the "web standards" are not implemented properly in Internet Explorer (meaning for 95% of the universe) or work differently in different browsers, which really defeats the purpose. So I suspect even if I was able to follow "web standards" I would still be turning back flips trying to get everything right. What an enormous waste of my time. I went back to not following "web standards" and, sure enough, actually got a good skeleton working that looked and worked just fine in the matter of a couple of hours. I have resolved that all "web standards" advocates can bite me.


I an involved in the mother of all battles against a cold virus. The dastardly critter has a solid foothold in my throat and is making forays into my sinuses but has been consistently beaten back so far. I really need my immune system to launch a decisive counter-attack but that remains an involuntary biological function. If the eggheads who spend so much of their time working on cures for limp willys would devote their time to the broader problem of re-engineering people so they have willful controls over some of these involuntary processes not only would Viagra be obsolete, but I could bring an anti-viral hammer down on this cold. I truly believe human beings evolved in this manner just to piss me off.


I saw the movie Identity, starring John Cusack and Ray Liotta, on HBO. It was awful. It started out as a mildly interesting thriller, in the vein of Ten Little Indians, and then it goes swiftly and surely down the toilet. I like John Cusack and Ray Liotta and they were very good, but I can only assume they were being blackmailed. HBO promises a new first time on cable movie every Saturday, but they only serve to remind me why I don't go to the movies or rent DVDs. An extraordinarily high percentage of them suck beyond the event horizon (astronomy reference, never mind). The following week featured Solaris which I don't really have an opinion on because I couldn't gut it out beyond the halfway point. A sedated snail could blow the doors off this film. People whose opinion I respect have told me that it is a thoughtful movie, about the nature of memory and grief. Wrong vehicle guys. A movie is not for deliberate extended meditation. That's what those four-inch thick novels that they study in graduate school are for.


Here's something to look forward to: One of the very worst aspects of the '70s is about to make a comeback. Disasters. First we have an earthquake miniseries called 10.5 which should be bloody awful. And then there's The Day After Tomorrow, wherein global warming causes massive floods and ice ages and droughts and dogs and cats living together, which should be bloody awful. Apparently this is what happens to the unfortunate folks who survive the nukular holocaust of The Day After, which was bloody awful. The day after the day after tomorrow, the beleaguered human race will suffer mass suicides rather than see another bloody awful disaster film.

Is there someone somewhere who decides when inane fads are supposed to make a comeback? If so, I will pay real folding money to have him killed rather than suffer the second coming of leg-warmers.


My car rattles. My shoes squeak. And contrary to popular opinion it is not in my head.

Wednesday, April 21, 2004

You Got To Know When To Hold 'Em…: I have no idea why I get like this. I like to think its just intellectual curiosity, but it may be some slow acting form of ADD. Anyway, I get freakishly interested in certain topics for a brief while, learn about them, read everything I can about them, to the point of neglecting more practical or important pursuits, and then the feelings fade. The latest one is casino gambling. You might think that I am planning on breaking the bank, but no. I have no illusion that I have any influence -- psychic, mystic, or otherwise -- over the laws of probability. In fact, a serious investigation of casino gambling by a rational mind can yield no other conclusion except: you’re hosed any way you look at it.

So what's the point of my interest? We'll part of it is that I would like to be a smart gambler. That is to say, I'd like to know how to make the smartest plays possible, given that the odds will NEVER be in my favor. To me, the point of casino games is not to beat them, because you CANNOT in the long run. But since you presumably have a set a maximum loss, you can minimize the likelihood you'll reach it. And you will also maximize the chances of a good long run that will turn your trip into a winner, provided you can stop when you’re ahead and even though -- and I can’t stress this enough -- the odds are AGAINST this no matter what you do (does it sound like I’m trying to convince myself?). Plus, you won't look like some wet-eared rube.

Another thing that fascinates me about it is the psychological aspect of it. For instance, there are bets that are completely uncomplicated and require no understanding of strategy at all that are pretty darn close to even money, and yet they are also a good deal less popular than truly long-odds stuff like Keno. The way a quick fix, easy money bet can overwhelm rationality is not news to anyone. Casinos revel in these types of people. Are these the same sorts of people who respond to spam in the naive belief that if something too good to be true could be true?

I would guess more complicated motives are behind the players who play the more benevolent games -- Blackjack, Pai Gow, Craps (some bets) -- but play based on superstition; following trends and streaks, rather than probability based strategy. These folks are like mystics, believing in unseen forces affecting the outcome of all sorts of events. Are these the same sort of people who buy into conspiracy theories, unable to accept that strings are not being pulled by someone or something.

What prompted all this is my reading of Casino Gambling Secrets by Marten Jensen, a clearly written and comprehensive guide to casino gambling (not sports betting or poker). It explains rules odds and strategies for someone who wants to gamble as intelligently as possible without making a career out of it. I had a handle on Blackjack, now I'm thinking Pai Gow and Craps are good goals for my next trip, especially Pai Gow (although it's a bit scary). In both cases you can keep the house edge down to around 1% or less if you play it smart. Stay away from Keno. Keno is like a state lottery in miniature, and there’s a reason states like their lotteries.

I really wish I had read this book prior to my last trip, and it will be the first thing to go in my suitcase next time around.
Sheri Is So Very: I briefly lost track of Sheri, one of my longtime favorite bloggers, only to get an email from her putting me back in the loop. Funny thing about Sheri, she always seems to be a step (or six, or seven) ahead of me. She has just recently redesigned her site, and here I just spent a good portion of today on a false start in my redesign. And if you check in on her site regularly, you'll notice she has been posting photographic self-portraits. Really good ones, too; girl has mad skillz. And here, just the other day, I thought about picking up the digital camera I got for Christmas and haven't used yet.

Next thing you know she’ll be in Vegas playing Pai Gow.

Friday, April 16, 2004

Status Report: Yet another bit of TV criticism, this time about HBO's new Old West drama, Deadwood. Do check it out.

Amazingly, I think it was this morning until I completely got over the bio-terror attack from last week. I was able to make it to work every day, but by the time I got home I wanted to do nothing except go completely zombie. I think it was probably the longest period I have had ready access to a computer but not even turned it on.

As a result I have little to share with you. I probably could have scraped something up to write about but tonight but I kept getting sidetracked by this innocuous site, Travel Channel's Worlds Best, that gets me thinking about travel and all the places I 'd like to go and then I look ever at Frommers and maybe go to Trip Advisor to read opinions. Next thing you know, and hour has passed.

The good news is the weather is getting warm -- we must have been over 70 today because it's 67 right now. The cold sport, hockey, is in the playoffs, and the warm sport, baseball is just starting. I had the opportunity to go see the Red Wings first playoff game with a couple of friends and had a great time. Yes, I had a great time in Detroit. Will wonders never cease? (You can read my opinions on Detroit in this article.) We had everything well planned, we got down there early and things were pretty smooth exiting the city.

With due respect I must point out that hockey is undoubtedly the fastest and most exciting of sports to watch in person. We were in row four, you could seemingly reach out an touch the ice. I hope to get to see more of them in the future, but there's no way I could afford another playoff ticket (the cost is one major appendage with an option on a future minor one) and next season is in jeopardy because of labor disputes.

Next up is baseball. As I write this, Boston is hammering New York in their first match of the season and the Tigers have a winning record. More wonders.

And here I sit rambling, when I should be writing fiction. Which reminds me, I think I'm very close to getting Apple Pie placed with a new publisher. Of course "very close" in these things could amount to many weeks.

And I really have to redesign this web site again.

And yet here I sit.

Monday, April 12, 2004

That's Just Sick: I have spent the last 48 hours in dire circumstances. Clearly I was fed something that was laced with some sort of bio-terror weapon. I will not repulse you with the details; let's just say that a tubercular slug in the midst of severe clinical depression would have been more positively disposed towards life than I have been in the past couple of days. A wet and soiled cleaning rag would have had a more substantial existence. Luckily things are getting back to normal, but I am left two days behind in every aspect of my life. Lousy terrorists.

Anyway, more when I get caught up mentally and physically.
Degenerate Gambler Update: In my last Vegas article I mentioned that I didn't understand betting on baseball because it isn't done via a point spread like football and basketball. In the midst of one cold sweat or another last weekend I managed to figure it out, I think, so here's the deal.

Betting lines are quoted something like this:

Yankees -120
Tigers +110

What that means is for a $1.20 bet on the Yankees you will win $1.00 if the Yankees win. It also means that for a $1.00 bet on the Tigers, you will win $1.10 if the Tigers win. Confusing, no?

Here's one way to think about it. Remember everything is relative to a dollar. Also remember the favorite gets a "-" and the underdog gets a "+". Lastly remember that to win a dollar on the favorite you have to bet more than a dollar. However, you only have to bet a dollar on the underdog to win more than a dollar. That may or may not have provided a systematic way of understanding it. Examples might help:

I bet $1.20 on the Yankees. Since they are the favorite (minus), if they win I get my $1.20 back + $1.00. I bet a dollar on the Tigers. Since they are the underdog (plus), if they win I get my $1.00 back + $1.10.

Now I suspect the way casinos make money on this is by adjusting the line so as to keep the same amount of money on both sides of the bet (just like football or basketball). With one bet one each side, the formulations for the casino would be as follows:

$1.20 bet on the Yankees + $1.00 bet on the Tigers brings in $2.20. If the Yankees win they have to pay out $2.20 to the winner (return the 1.20 bet plus 1.00 winnings) so they break even. If the Tigers win they pay out $2.10 (return the $1.00 bet + $1.10 winnings) for a gain of a dime. Put another way, with an equal amount of money on each side the average wager is $1.10 (($1.20 + $1.00)/2) and the average return is .05 (($1.00 +1.10)/2).

In fact, with well balanced wagers, the house's expected gain is always one half of the difference between the two quoted number -- in our example (120-110)/2 = 5. It stands to reason then, that if a casino wanted to increase their take, they would just increase the differential between the two. If they went to a Yankees -125, Tigers +105, their take doubles, provided they can keep the wagers balanced. In fact many casinos do just that, because baseball is not a common bet, they crank their take up as high as they can. They have a product such they can simply crank up the cost without much worry about losing business.

Of course, if they could make it simpler to get a grip on, baseball would probably be as popular a bet as football, but there are not enough points scored in a game to make a spread meaningful. I find the mechanics of all this fascinating.

Wednesday, April 07, 2004

Toob Notes: I must write some fiction. I must. For now, here are some TV stories I found interesting.

Slate has collected a couple of mob experts and is having them comment on each episode of the current Sopranos season (which has been quite good so far). You can catch up with them at these links: Episodes 1, 2, 3, 4, 5. Fun reading. Spoiler warning: Don't read these if you haven't seen the shows and don't want to know what happens.


The Iron Chef lives! The rumor I posted about this earlier has borne out (although it's not clear what role Alton Brown will play). FoodTV is bringing two of the original Japanese Iron Chefs over to battle some of their big names. Read all about it. This should be fun. I'm big on Wolfgang Puck after visiting a couple of his restaurants during my recent sojourn to Vegas. No idea why I fund this stuff interesting when my entire culinary experience consists of pressing the start button on the microwave.


"I have a vewy gweat fwiend in Wome." HBO is planning a new series on ancient Rome. Probably be good. However you can take this show about Rome and throw in the Passion and neither will hold a candle to the upcoming re-release of Monty Python's Life of Brian. "People called Romans go to their houses????"


I wrote a short article on one of the very best TV writers in history. This was prompted by seeing what was a probably a ten-year-old X-files episode of his on a late night re-run and it still absolutely blew me away.

Friday, April 02, 2004

A Long Time Coming: The glorious recap of my recent trip to Vegas. Grab a snack for this one, it ran a little long. Now I need a nap.