Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Nothing To Fear If You've Got the Gear

Soap: check.
Towels: check.
Hose: check.
Old clothes: check.
Running shoes: check.
Leash: check.
Escape routes blocked: check.
Reward treats: check.

If bathing the dog is this much fun, I can't wait for kids.

Thursday, December 6, 2007

We couldn't name the Seattle Seven, either

One of tonight's questions was, "what award is given to the winner of the Notre Dame - USC football game?" (See last week's similar question). Of course, no one on my team attended or cares about either of these schools, so we didn't know. We were prepared to submit something perfectly silly ("Rodney Peete's Appendix," if you cared), until the caller announced that they would be "lax about the spelling." We debated briefly about what could be both difficult to spell and related to football, or Irish, or Trojans, and decided that "The Golden Shillelagh" was a suitably hilarious answer. As you, my trivia-savvy readers, no doubt already know, we were exactly right. The moral of the story is to listen closely to everything the caller says.
We were in first place until the final question, but couldn't answer it. Serves us right for not watching enough TV. Sadly, Pirates vs. Ninjas trivia was postponed, so you get normal questions. Even more sadly, this was the last trivia night this year, so I'm missing my main source of content for a month. Guess I'll have to dredge up some new puzzles.

1. What is the economic term for a system in which a product has many suppliers, but only one buyer, who is then free to set the price (note that this is the opposite of a monopoly)?
2. Name all five members of the Jackson Five. (Without going through the previous trivia posts, I am fairly sure we've missed this before.)
3. Who is Woody Woodpecker's arch-nemesis?

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Why did Constantinople get the works?

An irritating fourth-place finish at trivia tonight. Irritating, because we were supposedly tied for first going into the final question, and we were told that only two teams got that question right, including the team that was tied with us. Turned out, someone claimed a score discrepancy, and was ahead of us all along. Not much to do about that, I guess.
There was a question about the original location of New Amsterdam. Thankfully, there were no questions about Chuck Norris, though there was a category that referred to him. Next week: Pirates vs. Ninjas trivia. Don't pinch yourself; you're not dreaming.

1. What "trophy" does the winner of the Colorado State - Wyoming football game receive? (as an example, the winner of the Stanford-Cal game receives The Axe.)
2. What Christmas present does Ralphie want in A Christmas Story?
3. What was the name of Pete's Dragon?
4. What nickname did Frank Sinatra and Whitey Ford share?
5. Each king in a standard deck of playing cards is based on an historical king. Who are the four kings? Extra credit for matching them with the suits, though this was, apparently, not required.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

The answer to every question is "turkey"

Obviously, trivia is off this week. I considered coming up with theme questions (What bird did Ben Franklin originally propose as the national bird of the U.S.? What do you call three consecutive strikes in bowling?), but you'll get enough of that soon; one of the next two weeks will be Pirates vs. Ninjas trivia.

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone.

You could even add cranberry sauce

I spent yesterday on the road, but today we get a very very special Thanksgiving Day ROTW. If you're coming here at 1:00 to get any recipes for today, you're in trouble, but what to do with all that leftover turkey? You could make soup. You could make sandwiches. Heck, you'll probably make soup and sandwiches, and still have leftovers. Here's another idea, which incorporates our second-favorite food here at the Preschool: risotto.
Thanksgiving Risotto

6 cups stock (turkey if you've got it, chicken if you don't)
2 T. butter or oil
1 medium onion, diced small
2 cups arborio rice
1/2 cup dry white wine
salt and pepper
1/2 pound or more cooked turkey, shredded
1/2 cup leftover vegetables (corn is great, carrots and cauliflower is okay, green bean casserole is risky)
1 4-8 oz. package mushroooms, sliced

heat the stock and hold at a simmer.
melt the butter (or heat the oil) in a large, heavy bottomed pan over the same heat level you're using on the stock. Add the onion and cook until translucent. Add the rice and stir until every grain is coated with oil and is slightly toasted. Add the wine; stir until the liquid is absorbed, then add salt and pepper to taste.
Add the stock by ladlefuls (about 1/2 cup at a time) and stir the rice constantly, adding more liquid whenever the stock is absorbed (this process will take 20-30 minutes). After ten minutes, add the mushrooms and continue stirring. When the mixture becomes creamy and the rice grains are no longer crunchy, stir in the turkey and vegetables. Cook five more minutes to heat the turkey and vegetables. Serves a whole lot of people.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Do the Truffle Shuffle

We're continuing a very special Thanksgiving Week here at BOAD (I'm trying the acronym thing here, maybe it will catch on) with multiple days of recipes. Today we're dipping into our favorite genre: the cookie. This year, we've got a five-hour drive on Wednesday, which gets us to Dad's place too late to have a proper supper, but too early to go to bed on an empty stomach. The solution, clearly, is snacks; and, as long as you're going to snack, you might as well have cookies. Dark brown sugar and dark chocolate give this cookie a deep, complex flavor. I've tried several strategies (the shortening, chilling the dough, etc.) to get (1) the cookies to bake high and (2) the chunks to hold their shape. I've met with limited success. One important point is to keep the chunks fairly large. Small pieces of chocolate melt quickly and blend into the dough - not that that's a terrible thing. You could also add pecans or walnuts to this recipe.

Cranberry Chocolate Chunk Cookies

2 cups flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened
1/2 cup shortening
1/2 cup sugar
1 1/2 cups brown sugar
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 teaspoon water
1 teaspoon grated orange zest (optional)
1 cup dried cranberries
4 - 6 oz. bittersweet chocolate (60% - 70% cacao), broken into pieces

Whisk together the flour, baking powder, and salt, and set aside.
Cream together the butter and sugars until light and fluffy. Mix in the eggs, vanilla, water, and orange zest, and mix until fully combined. Slowly stir in the dry ingredients, then add the cranberries and chocolate chunks and stir until incorporated. chill the dough in the refrigerator for at least 1 hour.
Preheat oven to 375°F. Form the dough into two-tablespoon balls, and arrange the cookies on a greased or lined baking sheet. Bake until cookies begin to brown at the edges, 12 to 14 minutes. Let the cookies cool on the baking sheet for two minutes, then move to racks and cool completely. Makes about 3 dozen cookies.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Be My Sweet Potato

The Recipe Of The Week fell by the wayside sometime over the summer, but with Thanksgiving looming, it's time to bring it back. This was inspired by a soup at a Southwestern restaurant in Winston-Salem.

Sweet Potato Soup

2 large sweet potatoes, peeled and cubed
1 small to medium onion, diced
1 small clove garlic, pureed (to do this, mince the garlic, sprinkle with a pinch of salt, then use the flat of a knife or back of a spoon to crush the minced garlic to a jelly-like consistency)
3 tablespoons unsalted butter or extra virgin olive oil
1/2 teaspoon chili powder
1/2 tablespoon (or less) brown sugar
salt and pepper
4 oz. mushrooms (any style you like; I use cremini), sliced or diced
1/4 teaspoon dried thyme
2 cups chicken or vegetable stock
1/2 cup whole milk or half & half (optional)

melt two tablespoons of butter in a large saucepan or stockpot over medium-high heat. Add the onion. When the onion becomes translucent but not browned yet (about 2 min), add the sweet potatoes, garlic, chili powder, and brown sugar. Cook, stirring, until the onion and potatoes are well-browned (10-15 minutes). In a second pan, sautee the mushrooms with the remaining tablespoon of butter and thyme over medium-low heat, until the mushrooms just begin to brown (8-10 min).
Transfer the onion-potato mixture to a blender or food processor and puree. Return the sweet potato puree to the saucepan and add the stock, milk and salt and pepper to taste. Stir in the mushrooms, and cook until the soup is heated through. Serves 2-3.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Watch This Space

We missed a total of six questions at trivia this week. Unfortunately, the Triviatrix did not have a hard copy of the questions, and I didn't write down the misses (because I was expecting her to have a hard copy). So, I'm working from memory here.

1. True or false: there is no complete video of Super Bowl I.
2. How many U.S. Presidents are NOT buried in the United States? (Yes, this question is as dumb as you think it is.)
3. The island of Corsica is a territory of which European nation?
4. What was the first song known to have been sung in outer space (i.e., on a NASA mission)?
5. The yo-yo is based on an ancient weapon from what Pacific island nation?
6. Which of the three Apollo 11 Astronauts did NOT walk on the moon?

Tuesday, November 13, 2007


I have managed to lose the last two sets of trivia questions between the time I left the restaurant and the time I got a free moment to blog. That's the reason for the lack of questions lately. They will return this week, along with another formerly regular feature.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Conan The Librarian would not be pleased

Won a tiebreaker to pull out second place at trivia night this week. I might have won, but for the first question coming out of halftime, which asked the first name of retired U.S. General Schwarzkopf. Norman, it turns out, is his middle name, which I probably should have remembered.

1. According to the Guinness Book of World Records, what book is most often stolen from libraries?
2. How many full-length Police Academy films have been made?
3. How many Astronauts have walked on the moon?
4. What Revolutionary War general was known as the "Swamp Fox?"
5. How many contestants begin each season of Survivor?
6. What category is classified by the numbers 900-999 in the Dewey Decimal System?

edited to add: Oh yeah, and:
7. What's Schwarzkopf's first name?

The DUE date vs. the DO date

Wednesday night was exam night for my precious snowflakes, and I should have been prepared for the horror. When three students asked me before the exam review, "Does the final replace our lowest exam grade?" (answer: Yes, just like the syllabus says, and like I have said in class after the first two exams ), and then another one asked the same question as soon as we began the review, and then another asked the same question at the end of the review, that should have been a red flag. But I still wasn't ready for the looks of sullen despair, the frequent heavy sighs, the people handing in the test and trudging out thirty minutes early with most of the answers still blank (an aside: leaving early without even attempting to answer all the questions astounds me, and not in a good way. If you are ever in a class I teach and pull this crap, pray that you are not on the borderline between two grades, because you WILL get the lower one). I also was not ready to have to wake a student from a mid-test nap, but that's another story.
After an hour of post-test grading, I couldn't take any more, and went home for a rest. That's when I made the mistake of checking my messages, two of which were from a student who was absolutely flabbergasted that there was an online homework assignment due that night, and was not at all in the mood to work on more material half an hour after the exam.
Now, I should mention that all the homework is online, there's instant feedback if you do something wrong, and if you do miss a question, you can try a "similar exercise" until you get it right. Basically, there's no excuse for getting a low homework score, which is fine by me, because I consider homework to be practice for the exam, and this particular setup is excellent practice. I don't happen to agree with our coursewide due dates, which delays the due dates for several sections until after the exam which includes that section (I think it defeats the purpose of using homework to prepare for the exam; see previous sentence), but it's not a battle I've felt like fighting. Besides, most students are doing the assignments as soon as we cover the material, and sometimes beforehand - the assignments have been available since the beginning of the term.
That's really the thing that wound me up about these messages. I didn't reply, of course - the student was obviously just venting some post-exam frustration - but when the assignment (with due date displayed) available the entire semester, and when we've covered this particular section a full week before the exam, how is one still surprised to find it's due that night?
The final sentence of the second message asked, "from now on, can we be assigned the homework problem sets on days that we don't take a test on?" After several days of mulling this over, I have decided that the student is right, the assignments shouldn't be due right after the exam. I will thus be going against the course policy (with the permission of the coordinator, of course) and changing the due dates for two of the sections.
To the day BEFORE the exam.

Friday, October 19, 2007

There must be a "One Light" pun to be made here

U2 has a concert starting in 17 minutes, and they must cross a darkened catwalk to reach the stage. All four men begin on the same side of the catwalk, and at most two can cross at a time. The band has only one torch (you know, a flashlight), and whoever is crossing the bridge must have the torch with them. Each band member walks at a different speed, and any pair crossing must walk together at the slower man's pace.
Bono takes 1 minute to cross the catwalk.
Edge takes 2 minutes to cross the catwalk.
Adam takes 5 minutes to cross.
Larry takes 10 minutes to cross.
For example: if Bono and Adam cross together, they will take five minutes to cross. If Bono comes back with the torch, he takes only one more minute.

Without throwing the torch or using Bono's superpowers (which, as we all know, include bioluminescence) or any other weird tricks, can all four band members get to the stage in time to start the show?

Some of us had track meets on Saturdays!

I feel trivia night has de-volved over the last year. I loved Saved By The Bell as much as anyone (anyone who didn't really like SBTB, that is), but enough already. Of course, as much as I complain, you would think that, knowing that three or four questions will be about 80s and early 90s cartoons and teen shows, I could brush up. You'd be right, of course, but it doesn't mean that I'm going to take time out of my other activities to study up on Beast Wars and Chuck Norris.
Actually, there was some decent trivia this week, particularly in the second half. The misses:

1. If you saw the short "Mathnet," what show were you watching?
2. What planet did the Thundercats settle on?
3. On Saved By The Bell, what was the name of the beach club where the gang worked?
4. In Beast Wars, what is the name of the Maximal ship?
5. How many men in the U.S. are diagnosed with breast cancer each year?
6. How many U.S. Presidents were born British subjects?
7. What artist's 1997 album was the top selling album of the 1990s?
8. What is the dot over a lowercase i called?

Friday, October 12, 2007

This post has no title - the Duke of Cornwall took it

Mother is in town this week, and with her help, we cruised through the first half of trivia. Unfortunately, the halftime question was "list the exact scores of Clemson's first three home football games." Now, I enjoy football, and I do like that I attend a school with a decent football team, but once the game ends, I couldn't care less what the actual score was. Apparently, I am alone in this, because a large number of teams had scores which would indicate they knew the scores of these games. We could have placed if we knew the answer to the final question, but we didn't.

We got #3 right, but I liked the question.

1) Louis Braille invented a system of writing for the blind. Was Louis Braille blind?
2) How many Noble Truths does Buddhism recognize?
3) What is the better-known title of the man who is also Duke of Cornwall?
4) In what year did Mississippi ratify the Thirteenth Amendment to the Constitution, which abolishes slavery?

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

I told them to stop with the Chuck Norris questions, they didn't, I'm outta here.

If you were wondering where last week's trivia questions were, I chose to skip trivia night last week. I had already eaten, didn't feel like drinking, and while some people just drink water and eat the free rolls and don't spend a cent unless they win, I'm not one of them.
As it turns out, however, trivia night was cancelled anyway. I'm sure it had nothing to do with the fact that I didn't show up.
To tide you over until this week's installment, here are two bonus questions:

1) How many states border at least one of the Great Lakes?
2) How many Canadian provinces border at least one of the Great Lakes?

Saturday, September 29, 2007

A Question of Adaptation

Charlie loves orchids. How can he plant ten orchids so that he has five straight rows of four orchids each?

I blame Eileen Brennan

This week was a little too easy, apparently. Unfortunately, it wasn't easy for me, but after I missed two questions in the first round, I was out of the running for first; the winning team missed a total of one point. A miss at halftime cost me any shot at a prize. Considering the halftime questions were about Halo 3, and I've never owned, played, or seen anyone play any of the Halo series, the fact that I got any of them right is a coup.

1. In what state does the movie Beetlejuice take place?
2. In quidditch, what is the ball used for scoring called?
3. What was Chuck Norris's given first name at birth?
4. What original Halo weapon makes a comeback in Halo 3?
5. How many books by L. Frank Baum comprise the "Wizard of Oz" series?
6. Who was the last act at the original Woodstock music festival?
7. Name the six suspects in the original Clue boardgame.

Friday, September 28, 2007

So, Where Was I?

Ah yes, engaged.

The girl: we met two years ago, sometime during graduate student orientation. I was walking downtown to go to the bank, and passed another group of students in my department. As we all exchanged pleasantries, she mentioned that she liked my Death Cab For Cutie t-shirt. I replied that I knew several members of the band, and friendship was born.

(A note: the f claims this conversation took place in a math department hallway. I'm sticking to my story; I believe she's thinking of the time I asked her why her shirt said "British Sea Power" if it had a picture of a deer on it.)

I found her attractive, but thought she was out of my league. Plus, she had a boyfriend, and I was busy working my less-than-considerable charms elsewhere. The point is, I really didn't think of her as anything other than a friend, even when she lived with me for the summer. In fact, particularly that summer, as a) I was seeing someone else b) her boyfriend was in the process of moving back to Clemson c) she was paying me rent.

The first "date:" Last November, Death Cab played at Clemson. As it happened, both of our relationships had suddenly ended a few weeks earlier. She wanted to go to the show, but the now-ex-boyfriend had her ticket, and she didn't want to deal with him to get it back. I managed to get an extra ticket, and took her with me. We now talk about this as our first date, but at the time, it was just two friends going to a show together; when my mother heard about my "plus one," I made sure to point out that we were not dating, nor did we have any plans to do so.

The first kiss: I don't know what changed in the next three months, although we did end up hanging out together a lot. One day, though, she came over for dinner, we were watching a movie (Top Secret!, a movie which I will probably never get to watch again, because she hated it), and we kissed. She said it was a mistake and she wasn't ready for this, and left my house crying. That's right, the first time I kissed her, she cried and ran away.

That weekend, we were at a party, and the same thing happened, with the same result. Mercifully, the next week was Spring Break.

The next weekend, there was another get-together, and I promised to make pancakes for the entire drunken crew the next morning. Only one person came for breakfast.

For some reason, we decided to keep the relationship a secret. That lasted less than a week.

The proposal: She knew I was going to propose at some point, but had no idea that it would be this particular weekend; in fact, she had taken me to a jewelry store the previous weekend, unaware that I had already bought a ring.
We made plans to have dinner with some friends on Saturday. I was planning to propose during dessert, but I didn't have much of a plan beyond that. We were the first to arrive, and while we were waiting for everyone else, she mentioned that, on Friday night, one of our friends had commented on the sort of man she "was marrying." The friend had just slipped; neither one of us had said anything. Still, we were worried that one of us would let the cat out of the bag before we were actually ready. She said, "I wish we could just tell them." Sensing an opportunity, I replied, "well, why don't we tell them when they get here?" Before I knew it, I was out of the chair and on one knee. Our friends walked in just as I was getting up, to the applause of the surrounding tables.

And now you're caught up.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Mourning Becomes Electric

It was a musical weekend. Friday was Karaoke Night at a local watering hole, which was uneventful except for the extremely disturbing experience of three ten-year-old girls singing "Fergalicious." But, you know, they're not promiscuous.
Sunday, the f and I attended a concert. First up was Amos Lee. I didn't know his music; the f assured me that I was a cultural illiterate. We missed about half of his performance, but enjoyed what we heard.
The second act was Elvis Costello, who strolled onto the stage in silver shoes, and played a 45-minute acoustic set with no accompaniment. There is no ambiguity about Costello's politics, at least as they relate to the current Administration; but while a lesser showman would have ended by rolling "Scarlet Tide" into "(What's So Funny 'Bout) Peace, Love, and Understanding" and ridden the antiwar applause right off the stage, Costello put this duo in the middle of his set, then spent an additional 20 minutes rocking. His aim was true.
After Costello came the headliner, Bob Freakin' Dylan. After an introduction which rivaled that of Sir Ulrich Von Lichtenstein, Dylan took the stage with His Band, which, judging by their recycled swing riffs, was Big Bad Voodoo Daddy. It's nice that they're still finding work. The ensemble proceeded to work through almost two hours of lounge-band covers of Dylan songs, whilst the Great Man himself played the keyboard and channeled Tom Waits. While the f was less than enthusiastic about wholesale changes to the songs, I view it as a matter of practicality. Dylan had trouble hitting the high notes in his own songs forty years ago; now, with his vocal range reduced to about ten notes, it's necessary to turn them into mainly instrumental events, with the lyrics more spoken than sung. I can't say that it didn't work; the songs were energetic, and the crowd was definitely into the music (maybe the Pixies should take note). Still, watching a blues-rock spectacle, with not one song accompanied by fewer than six instruments, was not what we had in mind when we bought tickets to a Bob Dylan show.
I should point out that, while it wasn't everything I thought it would be, I did enjoy the show. However, I was disappointed by the encore, which was "All Along The Watchtower," arguably the one Dylan song which should be a rock song. I fault the backup band for this, as they turned it into a formulaic reproduction of the Jimi Hendrix version of the song. The bottom line on this show: if you mark the day that Dylan "went electric" as the end of the counterculture movement, or if you're hoping to hear all the songs off those old albums you have, you should stay away. If you just want to say that you saw Bob Dylan live, or if you're an Elvis Costello fan, go ahead and get a ticket; it's good music.
I guess that's about it for the news this weekend. Oh, except for the whole getting engaged thing. More on that after school.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Dropping the g

The gf is now just the f. As in, someday she'll be the w.
More later. Or not. For now, I'm going to bed; it's been a big day.

Friday, September 21, 2007

Call me White Goodman

No place at trivia again, as we got the first difficult final question in weeks. I'm beginning to think the restaurant manager reads this blog, and put in an entire round of questions about Saturday morning cartoons just to wind me up. Seriously, I'm considering a different Thursday night activity at this point.

1. What is the life expectancy (in years) of an average human being?
2. Who was the last U.S. President who was left-handed?
3. How many muscles does it take to frown?
4. What school was home to the 2000 Heisman Trophy winner?
5. How many female Smurfs were there?
6. What action hero was bestowed the title of Honorary Marine, in March 2007?
7. What woman has the most appearances on the cover of Time magazine?
8. In the average human being, which lung can hold more air (left or right)?
9. What was the first state to abolish the death penalty?

Sunday, September 16, 2007

When Garmin Fails

This week's puzzle:
Four truckers were hauling loads to four different California cities. Along the way, each trucker was delayed by an unforeseen event. Determine the name of each trucker, his cargo, his destination, and the event that caused his delay.
Some hints to help you out:
  • The trucker headed for San Francisco was delayed by the car accident.
  • Dave's destination was not Los Angeles.
  • The town festival delayed the trucker hauling cashews.
  • Ron did not go to San Francisco.
  • Mr. Mason was not delayed by the rockslide.
  • Mr. Reinhold was delayed by a flooded bridge.
  • The trucker hauling paper was not headed for San Jose.
  • Dave, whose last name was not Reinhold, was hauling sporting goods.
  • Mike Anderson was not delayed by the car accident.
  • Paul, whose last name was not Reinhold, was traveling to San Diego.
  • Mr. Simpson was hauling oranges, but was not going to Los Angeles.

Mark-Paul Gosselaar Does Not Sleep. He Waits.

Trivia this week got off to a great start. Of course, when the category for the first question is "States that rhyme with Borida," most of the teams probably started well, but I was on fire. I missed two questions in the first half, and even nailed the halftime questions, which were based on Chuck Norris Facts (the chief export of Chuck Norris? Pain). I had a huge lead coming out of the half, but then disaster struck. I missed the entire fourth round, failed to properly manage my points in the last round, and wound up fifth.
Trivia night at this restaurant has always tended towards 80s pop culture, but it's gotten a bit silly lately, with multiple questions each week devoted to Saturday morning cartoons and the original TGIF lineup. The misses:

1. What was did the U.S. pay for the Louisiana Purchase in 1803?
2. Where did the Gummi Bears live?
3. On Saved By the Bell, what was Screech's girlfriend's name?
4. What was the original title of Saved By the Bell?
5. What newspaper does Carrie Bradshaw write for on Sex And the City?
6. What Atlantic pirate was known as "The Gentleman Pirate?"

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Perhaps he's a Robot In Disguise

Coming soon to a TV near you*: Detroit Lions receiver Calvin "Megatron" Johnson.

*assuming said TV is in the Detroit area, because no one else gets the Lions games

Sunday, September 9, 2007

A Group of Seagulls is a "Flock"

The first round of trivia established a pattern: I would write down the correct answer, think for a minute, cross out said correct answer, and write down something else. By the time my teammates showed up, I had missed every question in the first round. When the final question rolled around, we had finally gotten enough points to match the top teams' halftime scores. Needless to say, we did not take home a prize. Here are some selected misses:

1. Who was the first U.S. President to receive the Nobel Peace Prize?
2. Which planet is home to our solar system's largest volcano?
3. What is Hulk Hogan's real name?
4. What is the term for a group of kangaroos?
5. What was the first movie in which the soundtrack rights cost more than the rest of the production combined?
6. Who was the first man to be elected President despite finishing second in the popular vote AND the electoral college?

Catching Up

Updates on our top stories:

TV: The gf's brother was named as the alternate in the "American Ninja" competition. He is in Japan right now, watching the taping of the new season of Ninja Warrior. He might still be tapped to compete; we won't know until he gets back later this week.

Running: I mentioned a while back that I had to stop running six years ago because I hurt my foot. It turns out that never quite healed. It's odd that it's bothering me now, because I haven't been sedentary the last six years, but I'm trying to figure out how I can run at night and still walk again in the morning.

Trivia: I'll post some of this week's questions in a bit. Let's just say there are a lot to choose from.

Friday, August 31, 2007

We got a thing goin' on

Last night's final question:

During the lunch hour at school, five boys from Mrs. Jones's homeroom visited a nearby lunch wagon. One of the boys took a candy bar without paying for it. When the boys were questioned by the principal, they made the following statements, in order:

1. Rex: "Neither Earl nor I did it."
2. Jack: "It was either Rex or Abe."
3. Abe: "Both Rex and Jack are lying."
4. Dan: "Abe's statement is not true; one of them is lying and the other is speaking the truth."
5. Earl: "What Dan said is wrong."

When Mrs. Jones was consulted, she said, "Three of the boys are always truthful, but everything the other two say will be a lie." Assuming that Mrs. Jones is correct, who stole the candy bar?

Addtional questions:
Don't those boys have excellent grammar and speaking skills?
Where are they going to school that they have an open campus and nearby lunch trucks?
Couldn't Mrs. Jones be a bit more helpful in identifying the rascals in her class?

Thursday, August 30, 2007

But I did know how fast Han Solo made the Kessel Run

A word about team names:
Each team submits a name at the beginning of trivia night. We are asked to keep the name to three words, but they'll let longer names go (my all-time favorite was, "My other team name is a Porsche"). The only hard and fast rule is "keep it clean," although there's always some bunch of brain-dead juveniles who think it's funny and original to call themselves the "Sofa Kings." Anyway, this week, given a certain prominent South Carolina-related story, no fewer than four teams made reference to Lauren Caitlin Upton (including "South African Mapmakers" and "Like, Such As"). I couldn't think of a good map-related joke, so I was "Your Next American Idol." It got me a free drink, as I was asked to come up and sing a song.
On the surface, it would appear to be an easy week, as I only missed three questions. However, I made an inordinate number of good guesses on questions where I wasn't at all sure my answer was correct. Despite my solid showing, I wound up second, because I spent three points on one missed answer (worse, during the post-trivia call to the gf, she immediately came up with the name I couldn't remember. Darn that no-calls-during-the-game rule).
The first three were my misses. I liked the halftime questions, so those are 4 through 6. The final was a logic puzzle, which I'll post in a few minutes.

1. Name the twins on the TV show Thundercats.
2. How many different actors have played Batman (in movies and live-action TV shows, not cartoons)?
3. On the TV show Home Improvement, what are the names of Tim Taylor's three sons? (the characters, not the actors)
Halftime: which came first? The second two are based on movies, and refer to the time period shown in the movie (as opposed to the year a particular movie was released).
4. Which came first: the invention of the thimble, or the extinction of wild boars in England?
5. Which came first: Bill & Ted's kidnapping of Napoleon, or Don Diego de la Vega first donning the mask of Zorro?
6. Which came first: Michael Corleone's ascension to Don of the Corleone family, or Superman's (the Christopher Reeve version) arrival on Earth?

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

More Crazy Competitors! More Insane Obstacles!

Tune your channels to G4 this week. For the next four days, on Attack of the Show!, the gf's brother competes in the finals of the American Ninja Challenge. If he wins, he gets to go to Japan and compete on Ninja Warrior. Did I mention all of this already?
Anyway, watch tonight at 7 Eastern. If you miss it, it's on again at 11.

Friday, August 24, 2007

I thought that WAS his first name

Tough night at trivia: first, it was announced that there was a tie for first in the trivia league, and... I get the feeling it was a manufactured tie, but if I had been there last week, my team would have won easily, so I can't really fault anyone but myself. Then, I proceeded to stink up the joint, missing five-pointers in three rounds; even if I had gotten the final question right, it wouldn't have made a difference. I did get a free drink (management likes me) and a free milkshake (they accidentally made one too many for a table, and, well, management likes me), plus I picked up twenty bucks for guessing the number of beds at the local student farm that's been sponsoring trivia, so it certainly wasn't a bad night. I'll stick with "tough" as my adjective. The misses:

1. What athlete has the most appearances on the cover of Sports Illustrated, with 49?
2. What is the only continent without any deserts?
3. Who was the first U.S. President to visit China?
4. What was the name of the first airplane flown by the Wright Brothers at Kitty Hawk? (the category for this was "Damn Klingons.")
5. "Silent Night" was first played on what instrument?
6. Which country has the longest continuous coastline?
7. What is the longest word that can be typed (on a standard QWERTY keyboard) using only the left hand?
8. What "birthday" do all racehorses share?
9. What is MacGyver's first name?

Worship The Comic

Tomorrow is the tenth birthday of my favorite webcomic, Sluggy Freelance. The sci-fi strip is in the middle of an odd "dimensional portals gone awry" side-story, but it's really at its best during its frequent parodies - everything from Star Trek (obviously) to The Blair Witch Project to the brilliant Harry Potter sendups (their use of the time-turner in the Prisoner from Azkaban parody makes me wonder why Harry and Hermione didn't do the same thing).
If you start reading the archives rightnowthisminute, and forgo eating and sleeping, you might be caught up in time for tomorrow's anniversary. But it's not necessary to have read every comic to join in the fun. Happy Birthday, Sluggy!

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

What Not To Do

A few things I did today that perhaps I should have re-thought:

  1. Driving to campus on the first day of classes is a bad idea. Driving to campus at 10:30 any day of classes is a bad idea. Doing both contributes heavily to global warming. Did I say a while back that I wasn't going to complain about not getting employee parking?
  2. After telling the students that I wasn't going to discuss personal course policy (because, thanks to a departmental oddity, many of them will be in someone else's class come Monday), I proceeded to spend ten minutes doing so anyway. This made today's class take twenty-five minutes instead of just fifteen.
  3. Even though today's class was just going over administrative stuff (they have a skills test tomorrow, so there's no material to cover), I under-prepared, and stammered my way through said administrivia.
  4. Never go shopping the first day of class; the stores are out of everything, because all the new roommates go out shopping together, and even though they all drink the same kind of milk, they all feel the need to purchase their own half-gallon. Communism can work on a small scale, kids.

Too Hot in the Hot Tub

So we've had two straight weeks of 100-degree days here. My air conditioning has been broken for - you guessed it - two weeks. I cannot get the guys who fix it to come out and fix it, because, when you have this kind of heat wave, everyone's A/C breaks.

The last two days, we've had rain, which usually helps break things up. Unfortunately, when the rain lasts for five minutes, all it means is that it's 100 degrees and humid.

But it's all okay, because there's a new Ice Age coming!
I'm sorry; I mean, there's a new Ice Age coming!

Monday, August 20, 2007

An Error In Judgment

Last week, I made a claim that I was a reserve outfielder for the 1996 Boston Red Sox. I have since learned that this is not true. My initial excuse, that I drafted a Sox reserve for my fantasy baseball team, is also false; I did not begin playing fantasy baseball until 1998. It is also unlikely that my claim that the '96 Sox "couldn't have been any worse if I HAD been there" will hold up to scrutiny.

I regret misleading the public, and would like to thank my loved ones, and the readers of this blog, for sticking with me during this difficult time.

To further clear the air, it is also not the case that this site was featured on the Oprah Winfrey Show.

I am, however, married to Neve Campbell.

Friday, August 17, 2007

There Can Be Only One

I am in Michigan, in the last house in the U.S. that can receive neither DSL nor cable internet service, so this will be brief. I am told that, even without my help, my team has finished first in the trivia league. The hostess saved the questions for me, so I'll try to post some when I get home. In the meantime, I leave you with a baseball question:

The original American League, chartered in 1901, consisted of eight teams. Some teams have changed names, some teams have changed cities, some teams have done both. Only one team has done neither. Which team?

Friday, August 10, 2007

Finally, A Reason To Watch Nash Bridges

If a third-place finish at trivia can be called disastrous, this was it. We still lead the trivia league by a hefty margin, but we finished behind the two teams still able to catch us. I made things worse tonight by second-guessing three correct answers, thus costing us a shot at second place.
I'll be out of town next week, but I'm looking for surrogates to take my place, and I'll ask them to collect the questions. If they don't, I'll just make up some of my own.

1. What television series has won the most Emmy awards?
2. The mythological Cyclops is now believed to be based on the fossilized skull of what ancient mammal?
3. How many grievances against King George III of England are listed in the Declaration of Independence: 5, 18, 27, or 72?
4. Halftime: Give the real names (first and last) of X-Men Beast and Gambit.
5. According to a 1980 survey, what STD ranked among the top 10 most beautiful words in the English language?
6. Which of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World was built on the island of Pharos?
7. What was the name of Boba Fett's ship?
8. In which city does the television show Boy Meets World take place?
Final: Six Degrees
Connect Tommy Chong to Cobra Commander (yes, the arch-enemy of G.I. Joe) in six degrees or fewer. It can be done using only movies, but you can use TV as well, as long as it isn't reality TV or awards shows (I used the WWF, and apparently that was okay).

Thursday, August 9, 2007

A Running Commentary

Late in 2001, I started running, after several years of general inactivity. It was a frustrating process; my legs didn't have much of a problem (I had lost 30 pounds over six months, and carrying my suddenly-lighter frame was surprisingly easy), but I was nine months removed from a pack-a-day smoking habit, and I would have to cut runs short because I was gasping for air. I tried to stick to it, but the running program ended after three weeks, when I sprained my foot on some uneven pavement.
This attempt at running is meeting with similar results. I'm better at controlling my breathing; even when my chest sounds like a blast furnace, I can breathe evenly, and this encourages me to ignore my burning quads and push on. Unfortunately, the sure sign that I still lack the cardiovascular fitness for longer runs is the lightheadedness. Seeing spots = time to stop.
Tonight's run is scheduled for 11:00, when the temperature should only be in the low 80s. I just have to remind myself how much I love this place in the winter.

Monday, August 6, 2007

Back off the horse

Tonight's run, which was meant to be a little over two miles, included one stop for "sniffing," and ended just before the two-mile mark, when Ginny refused to run any further. I considered unhooking the leash and letting her trot home, but we were still a little too close to the highway, and I was feeling a little lightheaded myself, so we got a quarter-mile or so to cool down. "Cool," of course, is a relative term around here.
The running journal is a little light on entries. In my defense, I have been playing softball twice a week, and Frisbee once a week, so it's not like I'm sitting on my duff playing Halo all day. However, I said I'd be running, and here I am, showing off my lack of progress to the entire blogosphere (or, at least, the portion of said sphere that reads this blog, a number rumored to be in the low two digits). Well, softball season is over, and my high school reunion is in ten days, so it's time to wear out those Asics. If you don't see new entries in the journal this week, it means I've suffered a stroke or been hit by a car.

Friday, August 3, 2007

I may need less fiber in my diet

I've been waiting for the trivia manager to mail me last night's questions (usually, they have a hard copy available, but not last night), but they haven't arrived yet, so I'll see how good my memory is.
Despite some early struggles (saved the five-pointer for last in one round, only to run into a "guess a number" question; most teams got a five-point bonus at halftime, but not us), we pulled out a second-place finish. Better still, it turns out that we're in first place in the league. By quite a bit, too; a strong showing next week, and it may not matter that we'll miss the final week of league play.

1. In Louis Sachar's Wayside School series, which floor does not exist at Wayside School?
2. How many times does the average human being fart in one day?
3. "Kwispelbier" is a beer specifically brewed for what?
4. In what year did a woman first run for President of the United States?
5. Halftime bonus: Give the names (first and last) of the founders of each of the houses at Hogwart's School of Witchcraft and Wizardry.
6. What song was number one on the Billboard pop chart this week in 1994? (As a hint, the category announced for this question was "Victoria.")
7. The Twenty-seventh Amendment to the Constitution, affecting the salaries of members of Congress, was ratified on May 5, 1992. Prior to this, how many times had the Constitution been amended?
8. According to recent articles, who is believed to be the actual author of the play Hamlet, Prince of Denmark?

Thursday, August 2, 2007

He should just go to Sam's Club

Tonight's final question:
A butcher goes to market. The market sells cows for $15 each, geese for $1 each, and chickens for 25 cents each. The butcher buys exactly 100 animals, and spends exactly $100. If he bought at least one cow, one goose, and one chicken, how many of each animal did he buy?

He's running, vote for him!

Before I get to tonight's trivia questions, I'd like to take a moment to ask you to head to G4's Ninja Warrior page on Friday, and vote for Brett Sims in their "American Ninja Challenge." For those not familiar with this particular bit of awesome, Ninja Warrior is a Japanese game show in which contestants run a series of obstacle courses. Each "season" starts with 100 contestants, about half of whom are comedians, local celebrities, or novelty acts, and half of whom are are actually serious competitors. Usually, around 10 people finish the first course, and maybe four or five finish the second course. Occasionally, someone finishes the third course, which is brutal; there's no time limit, but it mostly involves supporting your entire body weight with your forearms for three or four minutes. Finishing the final stage earns you the title of "Ninja Warrior," which I'm guessing is sort of like being a Knight of the Realm; it gets you past the lines at all the tourist-y spots.
Anyway, Brett is one of the ten finalists in the "American Ninja Challenge," and if he wins, he'll go to Japan to compete on the next season of Ninja Warrior. I imagine they'll have his entry video on the page; it is also available here. Vote early, vote often (if you're allowed to, that is)!

Update: As of 4:30 P.M., G4 is still encouraging us to "check back on Friday, August 3." I'm still fairly certain that is today, so do keep checking. Perhaps the voting will begin at 6:00, when the first episode of the evening airs.

Update to the update: Voting is open! As this is America, you must first register to vote, which is apparently how G4 intends to lessen the effect of "voting often." You have until August 12 to vote.

Wednesday, August 1, 2007

Make it Work, People!

I've attended several dressy events lately, including a perfectly lovely wedding in Chapel Hill (ironically, the ceremony was not performed in a chapel), and been privy to some atrocious fashion crimes. Most of us know better than to mix stripes and plaids, but there is one choice in particular that I feel I must address. I realize this may be an unpopular fashion opinion, but here it is:

Wedge heels are tragic.

I realize they're comfortable. So are my skate shoes, but I don't wear those to a banquet. Most of the time, when I see a woman in wedge heels, I think that either she's trying to look much taller than she actually is, or she doesn't know how to walk in heels. And by that, I mean she looks off-balance; wedges actually look more difficult to walk in than regular heels, though I know they aren't.
Supermodels can pull off the wedge. Streetwalkers can pull off the wedge. If you are neither, go with flats, go with a low heel, but I urge you to ditch the training heels. In return, men of the world will promise to forgo the clip-on tie.

Sunday, July 29, 2007

And what are the extra four digits for, again?

Excerpt from the post-trivia phone call with the gf:
"Did you know that polar bears don't have white fur?"
"Yeah. It's transparent. Didn't you know that?"

Needless to say, flying solo at trivia has been a disaster so far. The other misses:

1. Before the invention of the modern basketball, the game of basketball was played with what sport's ball?
2. How many known species of poisonous bird are there: 0, 1, or 2?
3. What country sent out 15,000 census workers in 1990 to count the country's homeless population?
4. Which coin features Dwight D. Esienhower?
5. What is Bob Dylan's real name?
6. What does the ZIP in ZIP code stand for?

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Oh, foul accursed thing! What demon from the depths of hell created thee!

At my previous educational stop, one of the perks of being a graduate assistant was a "temporary faculty" parking sticker, which allowed us to park in employee spaces. Here, graduate assistants must purchase student parking permits. I'm willing to pay for my parking, but it has long rankled me that I have to compete with my students for a space.
Things have been different this week. When the gf moved, she left me her parking permit, so now I get to park in those coveted spaces right next to the buildings, instead of shlepping my bags in from the commuter lots. At least, that's the dream. The reality is that I've spent 15-20 minutes each day driving around looking for parking; those spots fill up fast. And the spots I end up with aren't that much closer.
So, getting what I wanted hasn't really worked out so far. I suppose I'll complain a little less about the commuter permit when fall classes start. But not much less. What fun would that be?

Friday, July 20, 2007

A story you won't read this weekend

Last Friday, I was tabbed to help the gf move. She got a job in Winston-Salem, about three hours down the road. She was going to be reimbursed for moving expenses, so she shopped around and found a relocation service (recommended by the U.S. Postal Service in their MoversGuide®), scheduled the move, packed everything herself, even made sure that it would be no problem for the movers to pick up the new furniture she had bought at a store a few miles up the road. Meanwhile, my duties consisted mainly of scheduling her going-away get-togethers.
The trouble began Thursday. The gf arrived at trivia, smiled at the friends come to say farewell, and said, "I'm not moving tomorrow." She had called the relocation service to confirm the movers were coming on Friday. She was placed on hold, transferred to someone else, placed on hold, transferred to someone at the moving company that had been hired to actually move her stuff, placed on hold, transferred to someone else, placed on hold, and finally told that no, they would be arriving on Saturday. The remainder of the conversation:
"But I scheduled this for Friday."
"Well, we're very backed up, and we have a two-day window to arrive."
"Was anyone going to call me and inform me that you weren't coming?"
"We're very sorry, ma'am." (Translation: no)

Friday was spent calling Nationwide Relocation Services and Ben-Hur Moving (a "local mover," based in the Bronx. Yes, the one in New York.) to make sure that a) the movers would actually show up on Saturday and b) there wasn't some nasty hidden "weekend rate." Her suspicions rose when she started trying to give people directions relating to picking up the new furniture; every single person cut her off with "no, no, I don't need to know that, you'll have to tell [insert person who would be called next]." Still, she was assured, there would be no problem picking up the new furniture. When she asked what time the movers were coming, no one would commit to a time. When she asked if it could be narrowed to morning/afternoon, she was told only that the drivers would call, and they would give her sufficient warning before they arrived.
Saturday came, and by noon, she had recruited her father to the calling effort, because the movers still hadn't called, and she wanted to get out of the contract and just rent a U-Haul. Sadly, the service would not cancel the contract unless she agreed to forfeit the $900 deposit. Finally, at 1:30, the driver called.
"I'm confirming a pickup for 11:00."
"11:00? As in tonight?"

When asked how he planned to pick up the new furniture (remember that?), the response was, unsurprisingly, "what new furniture?"
Clearly, a midnight move was not an option, so after several more hours of increasingly angry phone calls, it was agreed that the movers would pick up the furniture at 9:00 Sunday morning, and then come to Clemson. My job was to keep the gf sane for 24 more hours.
Sunday came, and at 9:30 the driver called.
"We're on 385, we'll be in Clemson in an hour."
"You've already picked up the furniture?"
"What furniture?"

Ever had someone blathering at you, and you weren't sure what they were talking about, and you just kept saying "yeah, yeah, okay," just to get them to leave you alone? That's what happened here. They finally picked up the furniture at 11:00 (on a Sunday, recall; the store owner is a saint), got to Clemson at 1:00, and took four hours to load three small rooms. At 5:00, I went home to walk the dog and get ready for the drive to Winston-Salem. As soon as I walked in the door, the phone rang.
"Is my contract there?"
"Yep, right here on the kitchen counter."
"What does it say about who I have to pay when I have to pay them?"
"Payment On Delivery. There's nothing about who you pay, but I would assume you pay the relocation service. Why?"
"The movers say I have to pay them the balance now. And they don't take credit cards. And they won't leave until I sign a document saying that I understand this, and that I'm expected to tip them 10%. It's Sunday! Where am I going to get $800 in cash?"
I spent some time working for a moving company, and not once in that time did I hear it suggested that I, or any of my co-workers, or the OTR drivers we would help, receive a tip. Maybe it was just that company. Maybe this started when the coffeehouse tip jar started invading every store in creation. But that's sort of tangential to the point, which was that the tip, the cash-only policy, the demand for payment before delivery, were surprises. You would think, in several weeks worth of phone calls arranging this, someone would have mentioned that, oh, yes, you need to have cash or a cashier's check on hand to pay the movers before delivery. An hour later, she called back:
"I'm not moving tonight. I'll be there in a few minutes."
It took until Monday evening to get her moved in, almost 72 hours behind schedule.

Maybe this is exactly what one is supposed to expect when moving. Maybe we were being unreasonable, and everyone involved in both the moving company and the relocation service acted professionally at every turn. But, as I said, there were a lot of surprises in this move, and there seemed to be no effort made to keep us informed, and a lot of effort to avoid taking responsibility for anything. At any rate, there's your cautionary tale. Get things in writing, ask lots of questions, and then ask more questions, and expect the things you got in writing to be meaningless.

The Middle of the Film

This was last night's trivia final:
On a certain street, there are five houses in five different colors. In each house lives a person with a different nationality. Each owner drinks a certain type of beverage, smokes a certain brand of cigarette, and keeps a certain pet. No owners have the same pet, drink the same beverage, or smoke the same brand of cigarette. Also:
  • The Brit lives in the red house.
  • The Swede owns a dog.
  • The Dane drinks tea.
  • The green house is on the left and next to the white house.
  • The green homeowner drinks coffee.
  • The person who smokes Pall Mall raises birds.
  • The owner of the yellow house smokes Dunhill.
  • The man living in the center house drinks milk.
  • The Norwegian lives in the first house.
  • The man who smokes Blends lives next to the cat owner.
  • The man who keeps the horse lives next to the man who smokes Dunhill.
  • The man who smokes Bluemaster drinks beer.
  • The German smokes Prince.
  • The Norwegian lives next to the blue house.
  • The man who smokes Blends has a neighbor who drinks water.
  • One man owns a fish.

The question is: Who owns the fish?

The toenails never grow at all?

I've been trying to write a trivia week, and I've come to appreciate just how hard it is. Twenty-two questions (twenty, if you go with a "Six Degrees" halftime question), they have to be unambiguous, they have to be hard enough to make people think, but not so hard that no one in the restaurant will know them. I can see how the guess-the-number questions creep in so often.
This week, I'm afraid the creators fell down on the "unambiguous" part. While the Cajuns did indeed come from the Acadia region of what is now Canada, they are mainly of French descent, and were expelled from the region a good eighty years before Canada became a country (thanks Wikipedia!), so to say that they emigrated from Canada (and not France) is not entirely correct. The big controversy, though, was over the following question: "Name one of the two man-made structures visible from space." Nearly everyone submitted The Great Wall of China, and was surprised to find out that it was wrong! The correct answers given were the Pyramids of Giza and the Hoover Dam. The only place I can find this as an answer is here, but the Great Wall has been confirmed as visible, as has the Three Gorges Dam. The problem, as several articles mention, is defining "from space." If you're just in low earth orbit, you can see lots of man-made structures (I can't find the Hoover Dam in these photos of Lake Mead, but that sure looks like an airport in the lower left corner). If you're out near the moon (it was claimed that the Great Wall can be seen from the moon), you can't see anything man-made. So, not the best question.

Here are my other misses. I just found out I got number 5 right, so I continue to be unhappy. I'll post the final question as a puzzle.

1. What is the full name (first and last) of the principal on "Saved By The Bell?"
2. What is the only planet in our solar system to rotate clockwise?
3. How many verses in "The Star-Spangled Banner?"
4. Connect Christopher Walken to Jeremy Piven in two degrees.
5. What is the oldest soft drink in America?
6. Which grows faster, the floor of the Atlantic Ocean, or your toenails?
7. What was the name of the dog on "Fraggle Rock?"

Where'd You Go?

Okay, so I'm behind on a lot of things:
1) The running. As you can see, that went on hiatus after three days. I really do want to start up again, but I'm doing a lot of traveling, and I generally am not in the mood to run after long drives.
2) The posting. I will put up this week's trivia, as soon as I sort through what I actually got wrong, and I'll put the final question as a separate post, as it's another puzzle. I also have a story about the gf's move to Winston-Salem, which took approximately three days longer than it should have.
3) The research. The actual reason I'm in school, instead of sitting in a cubicle somewhere. I was hoping to come up with some publishable material this summer, but it's looking less likely now. There's always fall term.
4) The lawn. Not that you need to know about that.

I'm starting the catch-up effort today. Wish me luck.

Friday, July 13, 2007

Tim Taylor Would Have Cleaned Up

Trivia league drama: due to a laptop crash, The Powers That Be have lost the first two weeks' worth of scores. I remember our score from week one, I think I know our score from week two, but we finished way behind those weeks, whereas we've won the two weeks since. What to do, what to do....
Anywho, we did finish in first again this week, by a single point. It would have been more, but someone (i.e., me) overruled the four other people at the table who were "pretty sure" they knew how many stars were in the Little Dipper, thus costing us a 5-point question. Of course, if the first two questions of each of the first three rounds hadn't been "guess the number"-type questions, this wouldn't have occurred. Having thought about it for a week or so, those questions bother me a lot more than what I consider overly specific questions;. After all, in a team of 4-6 people of a certain age, someone is bound to have seen Gone In 60 Seconds; how many people are going to be able to guess the first year that Chevrolet made the Corvette?
Our misses, plus two lucky guesses, and the final, which fits into the puzzle content that I am so woefully behind on:

1. What was the first Japanese car produced in the United States?
2. How many glasses (8 oz.) of milk does the average cow produce in her lifetime?
3. How many stars make up the Little Dipper?
4. What was the maximum horsepower of the original Porsche 911, which was produced in 1964?
5. In what year was the first Corvette produced?
What is the next number in this sequence:
2, 10, 30, 68, 130, 222, ???

Sunday, July 8, 2007

More Sunday Randomness

As I was driving home last night, I heard a new (at least to me) installment of "Real Men of Genius." This one was a salute to "Mr. Taxicab Over-accessorizer - only you can proudly say, 'Yes! I have junk in my trunk!'"
What's your favorite RMoG spot? My top three:

3. Mr. Boneless Buffalo Wing Inventor - how do you improve upon a meat that's breaded, buttered, double fried, and dipped in bleu cheese dressing? Remove the only part that doesn't contain fat.
2. Mr. Really Bad Toupee Wearer - A classic. He's not fooling anyone.
1. Mr. Egg Nog Inventor - At least we've never been exposed to "the ill-advised pork nog."

Eventually, we all become parodies of ourselves

I'm watching the Pixies on Austin City Limits right now, and I don't think there's a word in the English language to describe how depressing it is. Frank Black has a range of about one octave these days. The crowd has some original fans in the back who are bouncing around, but the teenagers in the front are about as into this as they would be the opening act in the Corner at the Middle East. Crikey, if the Pixies can get old and fat, what hope do the rest of us have?

Friday, July 6, 2007

No MIT student would miss the last one

Here's the thing about being in the "trivia league:" the gf and I had planned a leisurely drive back from my ancestral home, figuring trivia night would not be held right after the holiday. When we were informed otherwise, we suddenly had a 6:30 departure time, breakfast in the car, and a comical scene in which I ran into the restaurant to sign in, while she drove home to drop off our pets. There's big money on the line here, folks.
A miss on the first question made me wonder if the effort had been worth it, but as it turned out, the rest of the night was question after question right in our wheelhouse - movies, geography, 80's pop culture. When the halftime category is questions about ALF, you know the team named "Gordon Shumway's Cat-sitting" is going to do well. We had two misses on the night; the first one, we'd have gotten right if one of our cohorts had been able to make it before halftime, and the second one, we missed by a year. We even corrected the hostess on a typo in the final question - who ever heard of "Wesley College?"
The first two are our actual misses; I added a few more that I liked, plus the final.

1. In the movie Gone In 60 Seconds, what is the name of Nicholas Cage's 1968 Shelby Mustang GT 500?
2. In what year did South Africa begin to dismantle the Apartheid political system?
3. What is the most abundant metal in the Earth's crust?
4. What do you call the offspring of a male tiger and a female lion?
5. What 2008 Presidential candidate was once president of the College Republicans at Wellesley College?

Edited to add: Actually, there are many, many Wesley Colleges; one is in Dublin, two are in Australia, and there are at least three in the U.S., including two in the fictional state of Delaware. Fortunately, no current U.S. Presidential candidates attended any of them.

Sunday, July 1, 2007

Sadly, there were no questions about Zork

I'm on vacation, so I'm a little behind on posting. It seems a lot of teams had a bad week; there was a lot of booing at answers, even more booing when we were told "we're also accepting [other answer]," and a somewhat acrimonious dispute over the actual dimensions of a two-by-four. I think I'm not a fan of league play so far, and it's not just because we've picked a bad time to go into a slump.
Lots of misses this week:

1. Which city in Missouri do you depart from in the classic computer game "Oregon Trail?"
2. In the game "Number Munchers," what are the names of the cannibalistic monsters who try to eat your character?
3. Where is the nine-foot statue which commemorates Balto and his Alaskan journey?
4. What is a female cat called?
5. What was the hourly rate of the first federally-mandated minimum wage, set in 1938?
6. How many mainland civilian casualties did the U.S. suffer in WWII?
7. What is the color of mourning in China?
8. Before the invention of jets or air travel, what was jet lag called?
9. The word "testify" is based upon men in Roman courts swearing to a statement as true upon... what?

Thursday, June 28, 2007

An Excerpt from "Steve Allen's Advice to Marty"

I have been asked how an "indoor" runner can make the transition to outdoor running. It's not an invalid question. After all, outdoors can be a scary place - it's bright, it's noisy, and (perhaps most importantly) it's not at all climate-controlled. If you're used to the treadmill or the elliptical, it might be best to ease into things. Here, then, is my advice:
  • For your first outdoor foray, pick a day (or at least a time) with weather you like. I happen to like running in the rain (though not hard rain), but you might not. If the temperature is in the upper 90s with 70% humidity, consider waiting until evening. Not everyone has the time flexibility that I do, but there's no reason to let a case of heat exhaustion sour you permanently on running.
  • Also, pick a place conducive to running. It can be around your neighborhood, but if you live on a street with a 55 mph speed limit and no sidewalks (as I used to), find a park. If there's a local school with a track that's open to the public, that's ideal.
  • If you're running from your house, plan a shorter route than you've been running indoors. On a treadmill, if you get tired, or start cramping, or your ankle hurts, you can just stop. If you run two miles away from your house, that's two miles you have to go back, so play it safe. There's nothing wrong with having to stop and walk, but it feels better to know you've run the whole way.
  • On a treadmill or (especially) elliptical machine, your stride length is limited. Not so outdoors; try to lengthen your strides. Longer strides = done sooner!
  • Watch out for traffic. They probably see you, but you are moving faster than a normal pedestrian, and that sometimes throws people off.
  • Watch out for bicycles; they're looking for cars, too, and are much more likely than cars to assume traffic laws (like stop signs) don't apply to them.
  • At some point, tell yourself you will run outside at least twice a week, and hold yourself to it. You can run outside more often, but don't skip it - remember, the first time you let yourself quit makes the second time that much easier. Eventually, increase the number of times you run outside, until you're only running inside when the weather is bad.

Next time, I'll be giving advice on how to play the ponies, just as soon as I find my copy of Metro.

Two observations I made last night

1) If you happen to be dining at the Blue Heron restaurant in Clemson, and they have the strip steak special with the truffle-laced macaroni & cheese, get that. It's fantastic, although the "blackened" shrimp that came with it were not so much shrimp as salt patties molded into a shrimp shape. Skip those.

2) Running two miles an hour or so after consuming ten ounces of steak and a half-liter of wine is not a great idea.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Pounding Down The Pavement

Day Two: 2 miles, about sixteen minutes, felt great. Great, that is, except for the pain: the burning in my upper chest because my lungs aren't used to this effort, the stiffness in my quadriceps because my legs aren't used to this particular motion, the headache I've gotten both days in the middle of the run, and whatever it is I did to my knee when I stood up earlier. It will go away, but I sure don't miss this stuff. On the plus side, walking the dog immediately afterwards does loosen things up a bit.
I will not be deterred, however. Back in college, I developed severe patellar tendonitis in both knees, which made it hard to straighten my legs. It didn't actually hurt to run, but stopping was excruciating. The official treatment was two ibuprofen with every meal, plus ultrasound before practice and ice afterwards. The unofficial treatment was 6-8 more ibuprofen a few hours after dinner, washed down with two beers. These days, if I'm a little sore after exercising, my motivation to not stop is that this pain is nothing, comparatively. Sort of like banging one's head against a wall, because it feels good to stop, eh?
Lest this blog just turn into "my running journal," I'll be moving the updates to the sidebar. Ooh, content!

Monday, June 25, 2007

"I run because, at any given moment, my life may depend on being faster than whoever is chasing me." - Henry Abshire

Four years ago, after finishing my first season as an assistant track coach at my former high school, I decided to get myself back into shape. When I was 22, I could run sub-five-minute miles, so at 29, I was still too young to have sixteen-year-old girls running circles around me. I bought some new running shoes, grabbed the stopwatch I had received as an end-of-season gift, and headed out of my driveway on what I knew from long experience to be a run of almost exactly two miles. My mistake was taking the watch; I glanced down at the mile mark, and was disheartened to learn that I had covered the first mile in just over nine minutes. I stopped running halfway through the second mile.
Recently, I found an excuse to begin running again, so this is the beginning of my running diary.
Day One - 1.5 miles. Maybe a little more. Didn't bring the stopwatch, but it felt like 8:30.
Tomorrow, I must remember to wear my actual running shoes, not the ones I use to walk the dog. Those shoes are worn out; I don't feel it when I walk, but it sure did hurt to run in them.
Speaking of Ginny, I had always suspected that she would be a bad running partner, because she is so easily distracted on our walks. It turns out that she has no problem following right along without stopping. The problem, however, is that she can't run the whole way. I had to let her off the leash a few hundred yards from home, so that I could finish running, and she could trot on in at her own pace. I'd hate to have tried this on a hot day. Maybe I can run first, and then use the walk as a cool-down.

Friday, June 22, 2007

This Post Property of Mike Jones

League play began last night, and it was not good for our team ("Gordon Shumway's Cat-sitting"). There was a round where we weren't sure of the first two questions, and the third category was "Detroit Lions suck," so we saved our five-pointer, assuming that the question would be about the Lions, or at least football. Nope, it was about Thanksgiving. So much for that. Still, if we had known the final question, we could have tied for first. I originally thought it was an overly specific question, but it turns out there are things that I just don't know. Plus, we probably got more points than we deserved (twice, the reader said "the answer is [correct answer], but we accepted [answer we gave]. It's not what you know, it's who you know).

1. What 20th-century gangster was nicknamed "Scarface?"
2. Besides French, what is the second national language of Belgium?
3. In what year was Thanksgiving officially declared a National holiday?
4. How many Secretaries General of the United Nations have there been?
5. Where does catgut come from (animal and organ)?
6. Who won the first Army/Navy football game, in 1890?
7. Who is the current Chief Justice of the Supreme Court?
8. What theme park has the 4th-largest navy in the world?
9. What is the name of the paragraph symbol (¶)?
10. How many time zones cover North America?
11. What is rapper Mike Jones's cell phone number?

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Technological Advances in Balancing Problems

This problem I got from a fellow named Johnny Card:
Our collector has three bags of silver ingots. Well, two bags of silver, and one bag of pyrite, which looks like silver, but isn't. A pyrite ingot weighs one-tenth (0.1) of a gram more than a silver ingot. Our collector has finally purchased a digital scale, one which can measure weight to the tenth of a gram, but it is barely working (thanks to a recent incident involving weighing a chili cheese dog). The scale will certainly work once, but after that it might short out, so the collector would like to determine the fake bag as quickly as possible. How can he determine the bag of pyrite in just one weighing?

Edited to Add: Oops! I should mention that a single ingot weighs a whole number of grams - say, 100 grams. Answer in the comments.

More Weight!

Let's try another balancing problem:
This time, the collector has twelve coins, the fake doesn't weigh the same as the others, but he can't remember if it's heavier or lighter. Now, how many weighings does it take to determine the fake coin?
A hint: The previous problem relied simply on reducing the number of coins which might be the counterfeit. In this problem, the coins you know are genuine are just as important.

Monday, June 18, 2007

Going Old School

If I'm going to do this puzzle thing, maybe I should start with the classics. You know, the puzzles that everyone has seen before, but maybe not everyone remembers how to solve. And then I can explain the solution. Heck, I can run off three or four of those this week, and maybe I'll be inspired to come up with better material.
So here goes: A coin collector has a case containing eight Spanish Doubloons, one of which is counterfeit. The coins look and feel identical, but the replica is slightly lighter than the other seven coins. The collector challenges you to find the fake coin, using only an old-fashioned balancing scale (the kind with two plates: you put something on one plate, you put something on the other, it tells you which is heavier), in as few weighings as possible. What is the minimum number of weighings needed to determine the fake?

Like you need an excuse to keep vodka around

I have no fewer than six recipes for penne alla vodka in various parts of my kitchen. Each one has some technique or ingredient that sets it apart from the others, but all of them are somehow lacking; not enough vodka, too much vodka (I know, I'm as surprised as you are that it's possible), too sweet, wrong consistency. As this is one of my favorite dishes, I've had plenty of opportunity to experiment, and create my own version, an amalgam of the other recipes. This is, I believe, the first time I've written it down.

Penne alla vodka

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 large shallot, minced
2 cloves garlic, minced
4 oz. prosciutto, diced (optional)
1/2 cup vodka (don't be afraid to use good stuff; maybe not your $60 bottle of Stoli Elit, but for pity's sake don't use the gasoline in the plastic bottles)
1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper
1 28-once can crushed tomatoes (or a 35-ounce can of whole tomatoes, with juice, run through a food mill)
1/4 teaspoon sugar
salt and pepper
1/2 cup half-and-half (heavy cream is better if you want to go all out)
4-6 basil leaves, torn into pieces (or 1 teaspoon dried basil)
1 pound penne or other tubular pasta
1/2 cup (or more) finely grated parmesan cheese

heat the oil over medium heat in a large heavy-bottomed pot (preferably large enough to hold the pasta and the sauce, but I guess it's not necessary). Add the shallot and cook until it begins to soften, about two minutes. Add the garlic and cook until the garlic and shallot become fragrant, about one minute more. Add the prosciutto, stir, and add the vodka and crushed red pepper. Allow the vodka to simmer for several minutes before stirring in the tomatoes, sugar, and salt and pepper to taste. Adjust the heat to maintain a bare simmer, and let the sauce cook for at least twenty minutes.
Meanwhile, cook the pasta in 4-6 quarts of boiling salted water. Drain the pasta, reserving 1/2 cup or so of the liquid.
Stir the half-and-half and basil into the sauce, and return to a simmer. Turn off the heat, and stir in the pasta and parmesan, plus cooking liquid if the pasta is dry. Serve with crusty bread, a nice romaine salad, and the rest of the vodka.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

An Algebra Problem

My second run at puzzling is a test of your ability to expand a polynomial. Sorry for being overly math-y; I'll keep working on ones that are more, well, puzzles.
How many terms are there in the polynomial

A question I thought of during breakfast

So, how do you like your hash browns?
Capped, chunked, diced, smothered? To the comments!

Friday, June 15, 2007

Someone should call those penguins, and tell them enough with the movies already

League play really, really starts next week, honest this time. Apparently, "trivia league" just means the status quo, but for a nominal fee, our scores for the next eight weeks will be totalled, plus bonus points for participation and purchases (they are in the restaurant business, after all), and the winners will receive an additional prize. It's worth it for those of us who go every single week, although I don't know what we'll do once the other half of my team moves.
Things looked bad this week when we blew our 5-pointer in the first round, and then missed the 3-pointer in the second round, but we recovered to nail the halftime category (which was not Six Degrees this week), only missed one question in the second half, and took home the victory when it turned out no one in the restaurant was all that religious. Our misses:

1. What is Wolverine's birth name (first and last)?
2. How long is the longest losing streak in NCAA football history? (hint: it belongs to Prairie View A&M)
3. What is the International Calling Code for Antarctica?
4. In what year was the first postage stamp introduced? (get within ten)
5. In what year was cigarette advertising on television officially banned?
6. Most people know the seven deadly sins, but what are the seven virtues?

Thursday, June 14, 2007

You Will Find Love on Flag Day

In my wallet - well, my old wallet, which I still have, but don't carry around anymore, because it's red and blue nylon, and the size of a small cat. I keep all my "secondary cards" in it; the rewards cards for various airlines, hotel chains, stores, my old student IDs, a Red Cross donor card from back when I was allowed to donate blood... oops, I've gotten away from the story.
Anyway, for the last sixteen years, one of the picture holders in said wallet has had a fortune I got from a Chinese restaurant in Otsego, Michigan (it also has a newspaper clipping from the first time I made the local track & field "honor roll." But I digress again). The fortune says "Discontent is the first step in the progress of a man or nation." I thought it was clever, and I've often used it as inspiration over the years.
Two weeks ago, I was enjoying $4 pizza night at a local watering hole. Said watering hole has one of those electronic message boards, which they use to occasionally announce drink specials or upcoming bands, but mostly to display pithy comments and Michael Jackson jokes. Suddenly, I saw my fortune flash across the screen! I immediately called my friends' attention to the board, and told them the story of my fortune, in much the same rambling fashion that I'm telling it now. They were unimpressed, but thought it was a neat quote all the same.
Last weekend, I was having dinner at the gf's place, and she brought out fortune cookies for dessert. This was odd, because she hadn't been to a Chinese restaurant; someone had just given her fortune cookies. Anyway, I break open my cookie, and what do you suppose my fortune was? "Discontent is the first step in the progress of a man or nation." So I showed her the fortune, and told her the story. She said, "I think it's great you've held on to that fortune so long. But don't you know where that quote comes from?"
I do now. But I'll still carry that fortune in my wallet.
So, readers, what are you discontented about? Oh, and happy Flag Day!

Saturday, June 9, 2007

Can the Holodeck be far behind?

Speaking of Technology Review, they currently feature a story about wirelessly supplied power. Sure, it's old technology, and it's inefficient. But it can power a lightbulb from two meters away!
Soon, they'll be able to harness the power of the Sun to generate enough energy to run a pinwheel.

Ramping Up the Content!

The other day, I put up a puzzle in a discussion of pirate economics. The response was just tepid enough that I decided to make this a new feature here at the Preschool. The first problem will be a variation on the earlier "pirates' council" problem. The original problem (which appeared in Technology Review a few months ago) has a neat solution - if you assume the other players are perfectly logical. In reality, I can't help thinking that pirate #5 would vote no if he were offered only two coins, thinking that, if he can just kill all the other pirates, he'd get twenty. The fact that he'll get fewer coins from the next two proposals is irrelevant - his greed overrides his decision. After eight years or so of playing and watching poker, I feel confident in saying there is no shortage of people who will give up a certain small win to try for a near-impossible big payoff. Anyway, here is the modified problem:

Five pirates are dividing a treasure of 100 gold coins. The pirates first draw lots to determine an order. The first pirate then submits a proposal for dividing the coins, and all of the pirates vote on the proposal. If the proposal does not receive a majority vote (a tie is not good enough), then the first pirate is killed, and 20 coins are paid to the executioner (who is not one of the pirates). The second pirate then submits a proposal to divide the remaining 80 coins. The process is repeated until a proposal is accepted, or there is only one pirate left. If a proposal maximizes a particular pirate’s share, in the sense that he gets MORE from this proposal then he'll get from ANY future proposal, that pirate votes “yes;” otherwise, he votes “no.”
For example, pirate #5 will vote “no” on any proposal which gives him fewer than 20 coins, because he can get 20 if he's the last one left. In fact, he'll vote against a proposal which gives him exactly 20 coins, because he can already get 20, plus the added bonus of (at least) one less pirate next time there's booty to be divvied up.
How should the first pirate propose to divide the coins in order to maximize his share?

If you read the first link, you'll see the solution to the original problem, which should make this one kind of easy. But I don't want to strain your brain just yet. I'll post the answer on Sunday; more and better problems are on their way, just as soon as I think of them.

Thursday, June 7, 2007

Tea Leoni Doesn't Have a Record Label?

We ran into Night of the Smart People at trivia tonight. Despite my extensive surfing of IMDB this week, we could not get full credit for the "six degrees" category, and we mis-interpreted another question. The end result: Despite missing a total of five questions, and not missing a single question after halftime, our team ("Katherine Heigl's Babydaddy") finished fifth. Our misses:

1. What European automaker offered car colors called Vapor and Reflex, for Internet buyers only?
2. Which Stooge was a cousin of brothers Moe and Curly Howard?
3. What bad boy started the Bad Boy record label?
4. What government outfit did Congressman James Traficant accuse of being "bankrolled by the mob," in 2000?
Connect Emilio Estevez (yes, again) to Sarah Michelle Gellar. Two degrees for full credit.

Answers this weekend. League play starts next week, for real this time.

Oh, Canada.

So in the past four years, Lord Stanley's Cup has resided in Tampa, Nashville, and now... Anaheim? If you knew anyone who actually watched hockey, they'd tell you that this just isn't right. What happened to the Original Six? Detroit still puts up playoff seasons, but when was the last time someone said, "Boy, the Blackhawks are sure looking strong this year?" When was the last time the Bruins were anything but a mess? And who watches these games when Anaheim and Ottawa are playing?
Something big needs to happen to the "fourth major sport." Soccer is catching up.

Sunday, June 3, 2007

Coke: It's Not Just For Breakfast Anymore

I've been almost as lazy about cooking my own meals as I have been posting recipes of late, so a slow-cooker recipe seems appropriate. Northerners are always surprised by the secret ingredient; Southerners, on the other hand, usually guess it right away.

Coca-Cola Pot Roast

one 3-5 lb. beef roast (sirloin or london broil both work well)
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
salt and pepper
1 onion, diced
1-2 medium carrots, diced
1-2 ribs celery, chopped
1 whole peeled garlic clove
2 boiling potatoes, quartered (optional; I often serve this with mashed potatoes, which make these kind of redundant)
1 28-oz. can whole peeled tomatoes
1 12-oz. can cola

Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Rub the meat with salt and pepper, then brown it in the skillet for 3 - 5 minutes (remember, you only want to sear the outside). As an optional step, once the meat is browned, remove it from the skillet and cook the onions, carrots, and celery in the juices for 2-3 minutes (no longer). Place the meat and all vegetables in a slow cooker, cover with the cola, and cook on low for at least 4 hours (8 is better).
You can serve the roast with the juices from the cooker, or you can thicken the juices in a saucepan with 1 tablespoon of flour. Serves 6-10.

Friday, June 1, 2007

I Studied Kevin's Filmography For Nothing

It looks like the Preschool has become trivia and the Recipe Of Every Other Week. I'm gonna have to work on that. For the moment, though, it's still trivia.
Victory for our team ("Four Degrees from Bacon") this week, as I made a couple of educated-but-still-very-lucky guesses, and the gf was there to correct my worst gaffes (like, say, my insistence that the Secretary of State was third in succession for the Presidency - you'd think I had never watched The West Wing) before the answers were collected. We missed a five-pointer, but apparently it didn't cost us much. I had the final answer so quickly ("What's the Canadian Football League version of the Super Bowl?"), I had it handed in before she finished reading the question. Our misses:

1. What major cable network squeezed out a polka festival for its first try at "original" programming?
2. In which nineteenth-century decade was the importation of slaves to the United States made illegal?
3. What 2000 presidential hopeful was aided at his Florida estate by a manservant named Tony?
4. To what profession did infamous mobster Al Capone claim to belong?
We got full credit for the "six degrees" halftime, but I like it, so I'll probably post these every week. As it turns out, it isn't always going to be Kevin Bacon:
5. Connect Emilio Estevez to Alec Baldwin. Two degrees or fewer for full credit.
6. Which U.S. state celebrates Will Rogers Day every November, on his birthday?
7. How many children does George Foreman have named after himself?
8. What WB show plugged the first-ever romantic kiss between two males in a prime-time TV entertainment series, in 2000?

Answers later. Yes, we really are four degrees from Kevin Bacon.

Friday, May 25, 2007

Serves Me Right for Skipping British Lit

A second-place finish for my trivia team ("The Curse of Rick Pitino") last night, as we missed a couple of easy ones, talked ourselves out of at least one correct answer, and couldn't remember a key film in Samuel L. Jackson's filmography. Next week, league play starts, and then I can really get my nerd on.

1. In the Canterbury Tales, how many husbands did the Wife of Bath have?
2. What legendary ballplayer was the last player-manager in Major League Baseball?
3. The Oval Office set used on The West Wing was originally constructed for what late-90's Hollywood film?
4. Which nation has bred the most Miss Universe winners?
5. In what year did Vanna White first appear on Wheel of Fortune?
6. The halftime category this week (and for the next several weeks, apparently) is "Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon." Connect Samuel L. Jackson to Kevin Bacon in six (or fewer) steps. Do it in at most two steps for full credit.
7. Where in the human body are the only nerves that continually regenerate?
8. Below what depth in the world's oceans does no sunlight reach?
9. What is the oldest city in the U.S. that serves as a state capital?
10. What is the most earthquake-prone U.S. state?
11. What famous 19th-century American was fired from his U.S. government job for "writing an immoral book?"
12. What regal name did Jermaine Jackson bestow on the son born to him in 2003?

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Vincent Van Lowe for Springfield Sanitation Commissioner

Okay, I've finished watching the end of VM, and for starters, the CW's streaming software... needs work. It took two hours to watch 45 minutes over a T1 connection, and there needs to be a better fix than "try waiting half an hour, because demand must be just so high." Crikey.
On to the show itself, and I have to give Rob Thomas & Co. credit for not slapping together a tidy, oops-we-though-we-had-another-season, wrap-everything-up ending (I'm looking in your direction, Deadwood). There are a lot of open questions that we're not likely to see wrapped up - How much trouble is Veronica in with "The Castle" in general, and Jake Kane and Clarence Weidman in particular? Whose lame idea was it to call Hearst's secret fraternity "The Castle?" Are we about to see a de-jerkifying of Dick? Will Veronica forgive Logan's latest transgression the next day, or will she need a whole week to cool off? And who wins the election? Okay, we probably know the answer to that one, but how long until Vinnie is caught with his hand in the cookie jar and is removed from office, giving Keith the Acting Sheriff job AGAIN?
On the whole, the episode was satisfying, although I did have two big questions, of the "you'll never get away with this" variety:
1) How is Weevil planning to keep the Magnetron or whatever it is a secret? The kids confessed, so they have nothing to lose by reporting that the third box isn't where they hid it, and Veronica's going to have a pretty good idea what happened to it.
2) How does Veronica think she'll keep a video which is currently being emailed to every male college student in America a secret from Keith? I'm surprised he hadn't already seen it by the end of the episode.
Speaking of which: If, as Wallace suspected, they were actually surveiling him, it would seem a bad idea for a society supposedly as secret as The Castle to essentially advertise that fact by distributing the video. But then, college boys don't always use their heads (the ones attached to their necks, anyway). Of greater concern to me was the fact that Wallace was such a sought-after member, given his near-expulsion for cheating during the fall semester.
As I said earlier, that "2400" kid did not look like a college freshman. But then, neither does Kristen Bell; she hasn't all year. What happened? She looked like a high schooler last year.
Anyway, that's the end of the show, unless something very strange happens. Hey, if Seventh Heaven can inexplicably get an extra season after its supposed series finale, why not VM?

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Lotteries Are a Tax on the Unlucky

Feeling bad for the Boston Celtics is sort of like feeling bad for the New York Yankees, but has any team been more hosed by the draft lottery than the Celtics? In 1997, they had two lottery picks, and wound up with the #3 and #6 picks, missing out on Tim Duncan (they probably should have hung on to that Billups kid, but hey). This year, they stink it up again, there are not one, but two 19-year-old studs to grab, and... they end up with the fifth pick, the worst they could possibly do.
The NBA draft lottery used to be a great idea. Every team got an equal shot at the top pick; there was no difference between being the worst team in the league and being the first team to miss the playoffs. The best part of this scheme was that it kept the league competitive the whole season - it didn't matter if you finished one game or twenty-one games behind the eighth-place team, so if you still busted tail to win games until you were officially out, and even then you'd play hard, just to keep spectators in the seats. The point is, teams didn't tank.
Then, a couple of good teams had down years and wound up winning the lottery at key times - the Lakers got Magic Johnson, the Knicks got Patrick Ewing, a not-that-bad Spurs team got David Robinson - and the really bad teams cried foul, and we started the ping-pong-ball system. The first try at weighting the lottery was admirable - the best lottery team got one ball, the second-best got two, and so on. Unfortunately, the first time the system was tried, the one-ball Magic won their second straight lottery, and everyone decided to change the system again. Now, there's a weighting formula that gives the worst teams a much better chance at the top pick, and you get teams like the the 2007 Celtics, teams that could do a whole lot better, but who basically pack it in once they realize they're not playoff bound, in an effort to get more ping-pong balls. Or you get a team like the 1997 Celtics (come to think of it, there are more reasons not to feel bad for the C's), where the management fills a team with cheap stiffs while they wait for a couple of bad contracts to expire, because why bother to try fielding a competitive team? All it will do is reduce your chance of getting a good draft pick, keeping you mediocre longer.
Today, there is news that the NBA might re-examine the lottery system. Well, that's nice, and all, but who do they want to appease? The major issue with the current lottery (or no lottery) is that it provides weaker teams with a disincentive to compete, and that's a problem in the NBA the way it isn't in baseball (where the longer season weakens the effect of one team tanking) or football (where the short season keeps teams in the playoff race longer anyway). The original lottery system avoids this, but has the pitfall of often giving a high pick to a team that just missed the playoffs. As a fan, one might debate whether this is really a bad thing, but executives sure don't like it.
Here's my suggestion: go back to the original system, giving every team an equal shot at the top pick... but ONLY the top pick. If the worst team misses out, they get pick #2. You keep the excitement of the lottery, teams out of the playoffs have less incentive to lose late in the season, but the worst teams don't end up with the fourth pick in a league with a generally shallow draft.

And there's a... 30% chance it's raining right now!

Amanda Seyfried was Lilly Kane? I really should have watched the first season of this show.
Anyway, that's probably the end of Veronica Mars, and... hang on, that was it? She casts her vote, and that's the end? And wasn't this supposed to be a 2-hour finale? Crud, this show started at 8, didn't it? I guess I'll have more to say when the full episode is up on the network site.
Although, seriously, that "2400" dude was a freshman?

Sunday, May 20, 2007

By Popular Demand

When I posted the recipe for oatmeal chocolate chip cookies a while back, it was suggested that I post my peanut butter cookie recipe as well. Since I'm low on original recipes these days (I am beset by frequent cravings for macaroni & cheese - it's a darn good recipe, but not mine), this seems like a good time to put up a new dessert. Plus, it's got peanut butter in it, so I know it will be popular with a certain portion of my demographic.
The key to the peanut butter cookie is a) lots of salt and b) lots of peanuts - thus, it is recommended to use salted butter AND salted peanuts AND extra crunchy peanut butter. I also prefer dark brown sugar to light brown, but use what you've got.

Peanut Butter Cookies

2 1/2 cups flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup salted peanuts
1 cup (2 sticks) salted butter, softened
1 cup light brown sugar
1 cup white sugar
1 cup extra-crunchy peanut butter
2 eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Sift together flour, baking powder and salt in a medium bowl. Set aside.
In a food processor, chop the peanuts until they are approximately the consistency of bread crumbs (about 15 seconds on the closest setting you have to "grind"). Set aside.
Mix together the butter and sugars until creamy. Beat in the peanut butter, then mix in the eggs (one at a time) and vanilla. Fold in the dry ingredients. Finally, stir in the ground peanuts until well combined.
Line cookie sheets with parchment paper (or use a silpat). Taking approximately 2 tablespoons of dough at a time, roll dough into balls and place on the cookie sheet. Use a fork to make a cross-hatch pattern on the top of each cookie (tip: rinse the fork with warm water every 3-4 cookies). Bake 11-12 minutes, until the cookies are brown on the edges - they won't look done, but they'll finish cooking out of the oven. Let the cookies cool on the sheet about 4 minutes, then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely. Makes 3 dozen cookies.

My New Favorite

I'm going to take a moment to direct you to Rate Your Students, the blog that lets teachers vent about the behavior of lazy, disrespectful, uninterested students. While it lacks the radio-button numeric ranking system that so many institutions believe accuarately measures the quality of their faculty, it is generally more articulate than some of the complaints I've received on evaluations in the past.
While several of the posts do strike a chord, and I recognize the behavior of several of my own students in the descriptions (in particular, the ones who suddenly become very concerned about their grades just before/after the final exam, and assume that this last-second effort should automatically entitle them to a better grade), one thing this drives home to me is that I'm actually quite fortunate as an instructor. I teach a subject in which the students are fairly easily and objectively evaluated (I don't enjoy grading 300 calculus problems, but it beats 20 book reports any day). I've never taught more than 40 students in a term (and only that many when I have two sections), so I can learn all of my students' names before the first test - I consider this very important; a student who knows he/she is not anonymous is more likely to come to class, and less likely to be rude to the instructor. I teach an intermediate course; one where the students are often (but not always) more mature, both in terms of knowing the subject beforehand and understanding their role as students. And I don't teach at a public high school, where I would be little more than a babysitter.
I still plan on teaching when I'm done with this school thing. But stories like these will make me a little more open to those cushy private sector jobs.