Sunday, October 31, 2010

Parking: What to do, what to do.

Imagine that wherever you are, it's hard to find a parking space. You spot one just ahead and pull in, even though there's a medium-size, black, long-haired dog leashed to the parking meter.

When you get out of your car, it's between the dog and you. If you want to put money in the meter, it damn well better be a very good dog, because it will be between the meter and you. What do you do?

I'm a dog-lover. Most dogs like me. I figure that any owner who leaves a dog tied to a meter knows that it is trustworthy and safe with strangers. Well, at least that's what the owner thinks. Is the owner right? I'd just as soon not find out.

I called the local police, gave them the meter number and told them I was not going to feed the meter because of the dog, and I did not want to get a ticket. No problem! Judging from the way the policeman responded, I doubt I'm the first person to make such a call.

And now I feel sheepish about all the times I tied my own dog to a meter.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Illogical Baseball Commentators:

I’ve listened to many people commenting on the post-season series, and one bit of illogic, shared by most of them, really annoys me. Almost everyone agrees that the playoffs are won by pitching. And it’s clear that many fine pitchers are dominating these series.

The same commentators complained about the Yankees’ and Phillies’ poor hitting. They wanted to see these teams pull themselves together and raise their batting averages. They spoke of slumps. But poor hitting is caused by good pitching! When you expect pitching to dominate hitting, there’s nothing strange about batting averages taking a nose-dive. It’s the other side of the same coin.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Shelby Lyman Slips. Again.

Please correct me if I'm wrong! All chess players make mistakes.

A while ago, I discussed a defective chess problem from Shelby Lyman's Chess column. (Kate Gasser added a comment about another Lyman puzzle, in which he shows how White can win Black's queen; yet White has a mate in two.) I was thinking of waging a minor crusade against mistakes in his problems, but I've let a few go since then. A recent Sunday column spurred me to make this comment. Take a look at the position. Lyman's solution is 1. Bxf8. If ... Kxf8, 2. Rh8 mate. And if ... Qxf8, then 2. Rb7 winning black's queen (with the threat of Rb8). But this solution is wrong. After 2. Rb7, black has 2. ... Rb4, so White cannot play 3. Rb8. (Black's queen now protects the black rook.) White should still win, but White will have to work for it.
Let's go back to the problem position. White should play 1. Be5!! Black can delay Rh8 mate by letting white's rook gobble up his pieces on the seventh rank. That's the real solution to this problem.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

NFL Football: It's Not Fair!

My heart is with the downtrodden defensive players in the NFL, who have been threatened with suspensions and stupendous fines if they hit offensive players with their helmets. From their point of view, the league is spitting on them to protect its stars, the most expensive offensive players.

In the Eagles/Titans game today, late in the third quarter, an Eagle took the Titans' punt and accelerated through the pack in a fine runback. Soon he had only one offensive player to beat. He put his helmet down and crashed into that Titan, helmet to helmet. No foul was called! The announcers did not even notice that an offensive player had initiated a helmet hit.

Not fair.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

I might be more famous than I thought (but just a little bit):

Playing with our wonderful new WIFI radio, I tried a station in Switzerland called "Crazy Classical". To my amazement, Crazy Classical was broadcasting one of our classical announcers on WPRB, the local Princeton radio station where I "DJ" classical music. Crazy Classical samples other radio stations, giving them credit. I'm not sure that what they are doing is legal or fair, but, well, there it is. I'm wondering if they ever sample my program on WPRB, bringing me to the attention of a few more classical music fans. One can dream...

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

WIFI Internet Radio!

When we visited friends in Montreal, we listened to many radio stations on their Crane CC Wifi Internet Radio. Now we have our own Internet Radio and wow, wow, wow, it is incredibly wonderful. I really ought to use it for a week or two before I blog about it, but I can’t wait. You can get it for less than $150. It has a very clever radio user interface, and there’s a lot more you can do to set your radio up online. So far I can only comment on the basics.

Sitting at the radio, you can dial thousands of radio stations all over the world. If you know of a station they don’t broadcast, you go to their website, enter it, and the next day it’s on your radio.

They do more than FM. This radio can dial AM and Internet stations, too.

The radio has 99 presets. We are going to need them.

Our big impetus to get this radio was my wife’s problem: her favorite station is a public radio station in North Jersey, WNJS. We used to get this station with the volume almost all the way up, with lots of background noise, and every time a wire moved near the refrigerator, I had to retune it. On our conventional radio, that is. On the WIFI radio, it comes in loud and clear.

When I bought our current conventional radio, I bought a $150 antenna that enabled us to hear New York City radio stations, until 9/11. After that, I gave up on several of them. But now, WQXR and Columbia’s WKCR are back. On my business trips to Virginia and Florida, I developed a taste for Country Western music. I could not receive a country western radio station in New Jersey. Now I can. I put WSIG, which I blogged about last year, on a preset.

What about Pandora, MP3 files on our local LAN, Podcasts, Internet streams? Apparently I can get them, too. I’ll blog all about it when I do, but for now, I’m overwhelmed with the basics. There are too many good radio stations out there, and I sure am going to have to listen to some of them.

Monday, October 18, 2010

The disappointing “Spy” watch:

Dick DeBartolo reviewed a watch on the Daily GizWiz that records audio and video. It seems to cost a mere $45. Wow! Dick has a lot of bad things to say about the watch, right here. As a boat owner, he was particularly disappointed by its “tides” function, when he discovered that the “tides” capability was painted on the watch and is inoperative. So why am I mentioning all this? Well, I found one feature of the watch particularly amusing. According to Dick, when you play back the audio/video clip you recorded on your spy watch, the audio track will be dominated by the very loud sound of your watching TICKING.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

The U.S. Electrical Grid is too unreliable to attack, say Physicists:

This web page gives you the overview, and refers you back to the original scientific paper.

Don’t you believe it.

Our grid might be so unreliable that there’s no way to predict how an attack will affect it. Chances are, there are places where attacking the grid would have spectacular, hard-to-explain results. If it’s unreliable, how can scientists demonstrate what an attack won’t do to it? After all, electrical loading accidents in the past have produced dramatic, unexpected results.

But I think we can be happy that no analytical person can determine a good place to knock the grid over like so many dominoes. That’s good news.

Saturday, October 16, 2010


My excellent physical therapist has helped me to develop a physical routine that, I hope, is strengthening my worst weaknesses, and slowing the degeneration that comes with age. He started easy with about thirty minutes of exercises, and has gradually built up many challenges that I’m happy to face. I do my exercise routine almost every day.

I’m trapped.

The exercises take an hour. An hour a day! But I understand what every exercise is for, and knowing that, I don’t want to drop any of them. And there’s another little nuisance that I want to complain about.

My exercises do not require expensive machines. I don’t need to go to a fancy gym to perform them, so instead, I can shoehorn them into my daily home life. That’s good. Originally, my exercises required no equipment at all, so I could do them pretty much anywhere at any time. But gradually, equipment has crept into my routines. Some exercises require me to support my head with a pillow. Some require me to pull against resistance. Several require me to use a strap or ball to destabilize my posture.

Most of the equipment I need is inexpensive, but the list is getting awfully long. Here’s what I use:
  • Xerdisc
  • cane
  • pillow
  • yoga block
  • yellow Theraband
  • green Theraband
  • blue Theraband
  • black Theraband
  • Theraband strap handle
  • DKSA Stretchout strap
  • loop of plastic tubing
  • 3.25 lb ankle weight
  • 6" ball
  • 30" ball
  • an engineer's chair (a “high chair” for grownups).
That’s a whole box of junk!

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Your Password is:

Months ago, I read that our email accounts present a much greater security risk than we might assume. If someone gets access to your saved emails, they are likely to find many passwords to your other accounts. This is not exactly our fault; some companies will email us reminders of the password we selected. (A properly encrypted website should not even KNOW your password; they should only know how to verify it.)

When I read this advice, my heart sank. I searched my saved email for 'password' and got about 200 hits. I wanted to sanitize all those emails; how long would it take?

This morning I did the job, and it took over an hour. There are now NO current passwords in my saved email. The job was a bit tricky. I could not just delete all emails containing the word 'password'. Many of these emails contained no actual password, and some of them contained info I really needed to save. In a few rare cases, I needed to copy the password info somewhere else (I'm not saying where!) for safekeeping.

In one way, this process was shocking. I got to see just how many websites I have registered at: wow... In many cases, I had forgotten all about them, and I even marveled that I had once been interested enough to register for them. Well, they're gone now, as far as I'm concerned.

"Don't take it in the a--"

A kudos to JetBlue and the Ad company that devised their newest ad slogan. JetBlue seems to be launching a viral campaign into every medium save TV. Its essence will be to remind us that they are not, like the other airlines, nickel-and-diming us to death with special charges and a lack of free amenities. The official slogan is "If you wouldn't take it on the ground, don't take it in the air." We can figure out what they really mean.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Acela train suicides:

I'm afraid I should not even write about this topic. There's a concern that publicizing it will give people ideas. We recently had what is probably an Acela suicide near the Hamilton, NJ train station on the Amtrak Main Line. Stepping in front of a high-speed train does the trick quite efficiently. Local officials are worrying about a cluster of these suicides near Hamilton. No motive for choosing that locale has been found.
An Acela-assisted suicide stops the trains for hours. The investigation and, most unfortunately, the cleanup, take time and money. There can be a horrible delay in identifying the victim.
The people who have brought us high-speed trains need to offer a dignified alternative. Something simple, private, and effective. I'm really sorry about this, because, if such an alternative could be offered, hardly anyone would approve.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

WPRB Pledge week: I am psyched!

The radio station that I broadcast classical music from, WPRB, is having its pledge week, raising money to keep this wonderfully independent station going. You can listen to them over the internet (choose among three different streams), or dial 103.3fm in Central Jersey and nearby PA or DEL.

My show was this morning, and I reeled in more pledge money than I’ve ever managed before. I even managed to give away two copies of my novel as pledge incentives. I am psyched.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Death in Children's Books:

When I sit in the enormous hot tub at the Fitness Center, I like to read. The incipient moisture will destroy any book, so my preference is to read paperback books that I obtained for free. Recently, from a box lying by the sidewalk near our home, I collected a batch of children's books aimed at the 9-to-14 set. I rarely read children's books, but these fit my hot tub requirements, and they were all written by prize-winning authors.

The first book I read was the highly aclaimed Bridge to Terabithia. This emotionally wrenching book features a horrible death. One comes away from it feeling deeply moved, hoping that the hero will grow up all right, and wondering why in the world the author had to work that awful death into the book.

The second book from this batch was framed by the deaths of the hero's father, grandfather, and other relatives.

The third book (which I'm now reading) is about a boy who is visited by many ghosts after his father dies.

At this point, I asked myself: do you have to write about death to be a fine author of children's books?

But there have to be other explanations. I'm not an expert on children's book authors, but perhaps there are lots of fine ones in which people close to the main characters don't die. So I got a new idea: the person who threw this collection of books away had carefully collected children's books that feature death.

And then I got a better idea, and I think this is the right one: the person who threw these books away was culling them out of a collection of children's books, getting rid of the gruesome ones.

Saturday, October 09, 2010

Addicted to Smoking:

After swimming my laps, I do a few exercises in the therapeutic (90 degree F) pool. Last Sunday, the deepest corner of the pool was occupied by two fellows in their seventies who had both quit smoking. One of them told me that his addiction had been severe. He tried everything: accupuncture, hypnosis, the Patch. Yet he went right on consuming two-and-a-half packs a day.

One morning he woke up, unable to breathe. He somehow drove himself to the local emergency room, where they diagnosed pneumonia and put him in the hospital.

"I had three cigarettes in a pack in my pocket," he said. "I stole moments in the stairwells to get a few puffs. Then I was out, and I started thinking about the full pack I had left in my car. I could see it exactly where it lay on the seat."

Desperate for his next smoke, he tried to bum cigs from anyone, but no one would oblige. He offered a nurse $25 to retrieve that pack from his car, but the nurse refused, explaining he could lose his job.

Three days later he was released, and he could not wait to open that pack. "I flicked my lighter, but it didn't work. No problem, the car had a lighter. I started the engine, pushed the cig into the lighter, and smelled the tobacco. 'What are you doing?' I asked myself. I went three days without a smoke and it didn't kill me.'"

He still has that pack, but now, fifty-plus months later, he has not smoked.

Thursday, October 07, 2010

Anonymous Apparel:

When I buy something and bring it home, I have a dreadful habit of ripping it out of its packaging and throwing the packaging away as fast as I can. The result of this habit is that if I like the thing and want to buy it again, I have made it as difficult as possible to know what to buy.

I went through this with the wrist brace I bought for my carpal tunnel problem. I liked the brace, which I purchased at a local pharmacy. When my neurologist told me to buy a second brace for the other wrist, I went online and perused pictures of wrist braces until I lucked out, and the name for my brace popped up on-screen. The name was so memorable that I could not mistake it; I am now wearing two Cock Up Wrist Braces at night.

The soft, thick, heavy oversocks I wear in the mornings (over my regular socks) did not have a memorable name. I remembered the brand, but the manufacturer makes hundreds of different kinds of socks, so I have not found these particular ones on the Internet. I bought these thick socks because I don’t really like to wear shoes. In the morning, while I’m making breakfast and doddering around the ground floor, my feet need some cushioning and protection from the cold. The last time I bought shoes, I asked the salesman about heavy socks and he steered me to the ideal pair, socks that feel even more thick and cushiony than they look.

I don’t even remember where I bought the shoes that came with these socks, although I suppose I could figure that out by reviewing my credit card transactions. But the point is, I wanted to buy more of these socks, and I do not know how to find them, both on- and off-line.

Let me tell you a little more about these socks. The third day I wore them, one sock caught on a rough spot on the wood floor, and the sock tore a hole about two inches wide. After that, I was more careful with them, but my efforts were futile. Eight months after I bought them, they are riddled with holes such that they barely stay on my feet. They look so hideous that I’m embarrassed to wear them even when I’m alone. And yet they still feel cushiony and soft. Where can I buy another pair of these socks?

Did I mention that they are relatively expensive for socks? I came to my senses this week: I do not want to buy another pair of socks that will rip and tear right after I buy them. Winter approaches, and the stores will be full of socks. I’ll try something else.

Wednesday, October 06, 2010

Point of View:

I had a dream last night. It doesn't prove anything, but something happened during this dream that would never have happened if I hadn't spent so much time learning to write fiction: There was a lot of story in my dream, and as the action unfolded, I realized that I had to go back to the beginning of the dream and retell my story in the First Person point of view.

Tuesday, October 05, 2010

A new Dessert!

I may have invented a new dessert. I certainly feel very creative. You can gussie it up any way you want, but here are the recipe basics:
  • Sour cream
  • mix in maple syrup.

Monday, October 04, 2010

Random Promotions:

This year’s IgNobel award in the field of management went to a paper by Alessandro Pluchino, Andrea Rapisarda and Cesare Garofalo. The paper uses Game Theory-based simulations to show that promoting the best people is less efficient than promoting people at random. Their conclusion is a great relief to office drudges like me who always believed that promotions usually went to people who were mistakenly believed to be the best.

The paper, The Peter Principle Revisited: A Computational Study, assumes the validity of the Peter Principal, as the title suggests. The paper also recommends a promotion strategy that as efficient as random promotion: randomly promoting between the best and the worst people.

Game Theory being what it is – rather hung up on the idea of 'rational players' – I suspect that the paper's conclusions will apply particularly well in the real world, where most people who are managers are not very good, and not very rational, at what they do.

Sunday, October 03, 2010

Baseball Diplomacy:

I looked at the baseball standings this morning and realized that San Francisco, San Diego and Atlanta could end the season (today) in a three way tie. I would say the chances of this happening were about 20%. Atlanta did their bit, beating the Phillies, but San Diego lost. Thank goodness.

This tie would have required two one-game playoffs: first, between SD and SF to determine who won the division title. Then the loser would hurry 3,000 miles to Atlanta for another game to determine the National League Wild Card team. If the West Coast team won this game, they would be in the playoffs in the worst way, having traveled cross country and played two extra games when other teams are resting for the playoffs.

Before today's games were played, I came up with - I think - a much better way to settle these ties. Imagine that SD and SF must decide who is the division champion. They get together and negotiate. Why not? With equal records of 91-71, there's little to choose between them; a one-game playoff is almost a random way to decide the title. It would be better for each team to offer the other one inducements to cede the title. The offer of a very favorable trade (to take place after the world series, of course), would persuade one team to cede graciously to the other. The "winner" would be as well-rested as its post-season opponents, and that would be fair.