Monday, October 31, 2011

Trick or treat!

I prepared for Halloween by buying enough candy for 280 trick-or-treaters. That's about how many we got last year, before we had to turn our lights off because we were out of treats. I also had over a hundred dimes as backup this year.

We actually got over 400 trick-or-treaters. Our street seems to have a reputation, and kids come from all over. Sometimes when I opened the door, I saw a dozen kids waiting for their treats. It seemed like they were bussing in, but I never saw their bus. When teenage girls, age seventeen to nineteen, held out their bags and say, "trick or treat," I always resisted the temptation to tell them that I couldn't afford to be their trick.

I thought that a dime was a nice substitute for candy. Indiviually-wrapped candies actually cost more than ten cents apiece around here. (Tiny twizzlers and Reese's Cups cost slightly less.) When I started handing out money ("Don't eat this, it's a dime"), I connected with a lot of passionate kids:
"Money! Awesome."
"He's giving away dimes!"
"A dime, I got a dime!"

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Did La Russa ‘Make a Mistake’ in Game 2 of the 2011 World Series?

The Cardinals lost game two of the world series in the last inning. Tony La Russa took his closer out, and the pitcher he brought in was tagged for the loss. In the press, La Russa’s move was widely described as a mistake. At the time, I thought that was silly, and this seems the ideal time to comment on it.

La Russa is an active manager. He makes moves. He makes decisions during that game that can greatly affect the outcome. Baseball is a game of probabilities. There’s no way to be certain what will happen on a given pitch, or a given at bat. A good tactical move is a decision that, at the moment, increases the chance of winning.

La Russa’s move in game two made sense to him. But even if he was right, and even if the chance of winning increased from say, 80% to 90%, there was always the chance that that other 10% would bite him, and it did.

La Russa made similar moves all season and throughout the playoffs, and his team won. It appears that, in general, he made good moves, and it is very hard to single some of them out as mistakes.

Let me illustrate my point another way: suppose you are trying to win a bet by rolling the same number twice on a die. You are given two dice. One is normal, but the other die has a six on four sides and a one on the other two sides. On your first roll, you are required to use the normal die, and you roll a six. For your second roll, you decide to use the special die. If you roll a one with that die, have you made a mistake?

Friday, October 28, 2011

Yes, he talked:

On my way home, I crossed the paved open area that surrounds the university's rectangular wading pool. It's a rather artsy place in my home town, and the pool is part of the air conditioning system for a nearby elegant building. It was warm enough for people to sun and wade, and one man, a performance artist, stood on a small platform. Utterly still, he held a pose, one hand held high. The other hand was partly open at waist level. I walked past him, marveling at his stolid patience.

What an opportunity. I've rarely talked to a statue. I have talked to runners. I like to say "Good afternoon" to them, expecting them to be frustrated that they have to keep up their breathing and won't be able to make a civil response.

What would the statue do? I walked back and stood before him.
"You should open your right hand more," I said.
"Why do you think so," he responded, speaking softly, rapidly, lips nearly motionless.
"Your gesture needs to be more inclusive," I said.
"I think it's right," he said, and he stood even more still. Our conversation was over.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Electric Razor Anxiety:

Do you shave with an electric razor? Suppose your razor stopped working in the middle of a shave. What would you look like?

My razor has never broken in the middle of a shave, but for some reason, I worry. In order to minimize the risk, I try to shave symmetrically. I shave my right cheek, then my left cheek; my moustache; my right jaw, my left jaw; my chin...

If my silly fear ever materializes, my face will look like I tried to do something intentional to it.


Tuesday, October 25, 2011

A Savemore Coupon adventure (think Groupon):

My wife gets offers from a company called Savemore that offers Groupon-style deals. She saw an offer to buy $24 worth of coffee from, for only $12; would I be interested?

My coffee-buying habit is to order expensive, really great fair trade coffee from some fine artisanal coffee seller, for something in the neighborhood of $40 (including shipping). For that, I get less than two pounds of coffee. I’m always horrified at the high cost (and since the coffee crop is under attack from global weather changes, the prices always go up). In fact, buying coffee by the cup at Starbucks is more expensive, but I always compare the cost to cheap coffee, which costs six to ten dollars the pound.

I make up for my extravagance by buying the next few pounds at the supermarket, and then I’m ready to buy “fancy” coffee again. I looked into to see what they had.

Roaste is a new (to me) kind of online coffee seller. Their website features many fascinating coffee brands from what Amazon would call affiliates. At the Roaste site, you can buy from such well-known brands as Caribou and even Starbucks, but they feature many, many brands with intriguing names; if you’re not careful, your brain will tell you that you have fallen into coffee heaven.

I kept reminding myself that Roaste might not be coffee heaven; what counts is the quality of each affiliate that interests you, and you have to check these brands out for yourself.

I was also concerned about the price of shipping. Ever since coffee has become more expensive, the price of (coffee) shipping has risen even more. You have to wonder whether some of that “shipping” cost is extra profit for the coffee seller. I purchased the Savemore coupon while worrying that the cost of shipping might wipe out the $12 I was saving by buying the coupon. (Actually, I believe I am saving $10, because Savemore charged me two dollars for something.)


So here’s what happened when I went to the website, selected my coffees, entered my order and checked out the shipping cost. Here’s what I saw on the page (numbers approximate):
24.95 The two coffees I selected, types A and B.
49.95 UPS 3-day shipping.
74.90 Total.

$74.90!! Fifty dollars for shipping! I won’t tell you the thoughts that ran through my head, because this isn’t that kind of blog. Clearly my “pay $12 for $24” value had been completely wiped out by the outrageous shipping cost.

I called Roaste’s customer service and spoke to a helpful person named Tim.
“I see your problem,” he said. “There’s a typo. It says that Coffee A is twelve pounds of coffee, but it’s really twelve ounces.”

Problem fixed, here’s the bottom line: the Savemore coupon covered the cost of shipping, so my order will cost about 2/3 what I would normally have paid. And, I am hoping I’ve found a wonderful new coffee company, one of Roaste’s affiliates. I’ll blog about them if they’re real good.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

It's all Pink:

The movement to go pink against breast cancer has gone viral. Last week I saw a pro football team wearing pink footgear for the cause. Pretty soon nearly everything will be pink, inclusing these important products:
  • Cigarette packs
  • Submachine guns
  • Baby boy's and girl's diapers
  • Eggs
  • Chutes and Ladders
  • Starbucks Coffee
  • Top hats
  • Stop Signs
And have you seen the new pink chocolate? White chocolate is out...

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Don’t Let Mosquitoes Land on You:

I had to work outdoors in the late afternoon and early evening, prime time for mosquitoes in New Jersey. I was swatting them right and left until I remembered that I had found a way to keep them from landing on me: keep moving. Any time I stopped to think, I kept my whole body swaying and my arms in motion. Try it, this technique might work for you; although mosquitoes love some people so much, nothing will stop them.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Robison, not Robison!

When I was fifteen, my mother sat me down and told me that when I grew up, I should change my last name. From what it was, to, oh, anything else. I was horrified. I assured her that I would never change my last name. I have kept it ever since. But you know what? My mother had a point.

My last name is hard to pronounce, and hard even to imagine. It is: Robison. There’s no ‘n’ in the middle! It’s not Robinson. And it is not pronounced Rahbison, either. The first ‘o’ is long.

When my mother, in middle age, entered graduate school, the bursar looked at her name on her papers and said, “You do mean Robinson, don’t you?”

When I explained to my friends in teenage camp that there was only one n in my last name, they called me Robinso.

Today, I watched my doctor speak into a microphone to record the results of my visit. This is the 21st century, so he was talking to a speech-to-text system, not just making an audio recording. As you know, speech-to-text logic is not exactly perfect, and sometimes he had to stop, delete some words, and speak again. The first time he mentioned my name, he said, “Mr. Robison ... delete ... Rahbison...”
“It’s Robison!” I said.
He looked at me apologetically. “I have to say Rahbison or the computer will spell it wrong,” he said.

Wednesday, October 05, 2011

Style Over Everything: Steve Jobs.

I was planning to write this piece, or something like it, before I heard that Steve Jobs had died. Well, here goes...

Bill Gates appreciated what a marvelous sense of style Steve Jobs had. Gates admitted he envied Jobs for it, knowing he lacked the same. Nothing highlights the difference between those two men than the history of the tablet device.

For years,  Bill Gates championed the CD drive. At a time when the CD seemed good only for audio, Gates saw it as the savior of software. He pushed the CD when it was too expensive. He pushed it when too few people had drives to use CDs. And he saved us from software installations requiring twenty and more floppy disks.

For years, Bill Gates championed the tablet. He persuaded many companies to build tablets that flopped. Steve Jobs designed the tablet that succeeded.

The iPad is a not a success because of some brilliant insight, or because of changes in the cost and power of hardware. It is a success because Jobs envisioned every important aspect of the device, and planned the computing world it could live in. His comprehensive vision succeeded where one of the richest companies in the world had failed and failed again.

Bill Gates, and Microsoft, could have afforded to buy, or hire, the sense of style that Gates knew he lacked. There must be other geniuses out there who can painstakingly discover every opportunity a product requires in order to succeed, and who know how to design it into a world of success. But Microsoft, as far as I know, never hired that person; or perhaps they hired that person without the authority to move worlds into the ideal alignment a tablet needed to succeed.

Most reports suggest that Steve Jobs was a tyrannical leader. In business, employees can rebel against tyranny. But the directors and employees at Apple had the sense to let their leader and his vision lead them.

Steve Jobs changed the face of computing, and it may be many years before the computer world moves on to some paradigm other than his. Jobs dramatically improved the value of smart phones (good), lowered the cost of music (good, I think), and greatly lowered the price of computer software (bad, I think). He has also dragged us away from the lassez-faire computer environment that the IBM PC and Windows gave us, to a more walled-garden approach where approved software is most welcome. In the long run, this walled garden may stifle development and progress. But we are going to live with Steve Jobs’ vision for a long time.

Fool’s Golf (2):

Yesterday I told you about Gameloft’s Golf 3 game. This game always suggests where to hit the ball, and I’ve found that following its advice is a good way to try to make par. On one hole on the Egyptian course, there is an obstacle about 175 yards from the tee: a towering black rock, high and wide. I have tried hitting around this rock, into the rough, with poor results. So I decided to try the game’s suggested tee shot: 163 yards straight down the fairway, in front of the rock.

I made this shot, and now my ball was ten yards from what looked like an impassable obstacle. Black rock reached high over my head. Black rock prevented me from aiming 45 degrees to the left or the right.

I couldn’t imagine what the game would suggest for my second shot. Well, it suggested that I aim right through the rock to the pin, 180 yards away. (The game showed me a dotted line going through the rock.)
Who am I to argue with the game? Maybe the rock isn’t really there. Maybe it’s a test of faith. I hauled off and drove the ball hard.

The ball bounced off the rock, over my head, and rolled most of the way back to the tee.

Tuesday, October 04, 2011

Fool’s Golf (1):

I’m enjoying a golf game on my iPad by Gameloft, called Golf 3. The game is free or nearly so, but Gameloft makes its money by charging you to do things. You can play, free, about a dozen minutes a day. If you want to play more; if you want to play on more courses; if you want better clubs, or clothing  that miraculously makes you a better golfer; then you have to spend real money.

This game is for me, because I know I will not spend $$ on it. I can’t get addicted to it, because I can’t play it very much. Ideal.

The game experience is very nice. The graphics are pretty realistic. Animals wander around the courses, even unicorns, to watch me play. Tomorrow, I will tell you about one of the most bizarre holes on Golf 3’s courses.