What we don’t know

January 31, 2007

An amusing and informative link from Wired magazine.

Blogger’s Block

January 30, 2007

I’m not sure why, but I haven’t had anything interesting to blog about. I’ve been traveling a lot, maybe that’s why.

Indiana University basketball broke into the top 25 for the first time in ages. And Bob Knight’s Texas Tech team beat two top ten opponents in a week. And Wisconsin (I didn’t go there, but I’ll root for Wisconsin as long as they aren’t playing Indiana) is now ranked #2. Not in hockey, in basketball. Go figure.

I’ve been debating putting Vista on our home laptop. If I do that, then I’ll definitely have something to blog about…

Thankfully, I can now watch the Super Bowl

January 22, 2007

There was a stretch on Sunday where I was pretty sure that I would be faced with a horrible situation. What does a football fan do if he completely hates both teams in the Super Bowl? If you had asked me at the beginning of the year what the worst possible Super Bowl would be for me, I would have said Patriots/Bears. I simply hate them both.

The Bears is obvious. I’m a Packers fan. I have to hate the Bears. It’s the law.

And perhaps this is because I’m a Packers fan, but really, what’s to like about the Bears? All defense teams with lame offenses are simply not fun to root for. Rex Grossman is terrifying to watch. You’ve basically got Brian Erlacher and a really good kick returner whose name I can’t remember.

Why I hate the Patriots isn’t exactly clear even to me. But sports loyalties aren’t supposed to make sense. You’d think it’s the whole New York/Boston thing, but that’s not really it (I’m not a native New Yorker, so I don’t hate Boston though I do hate the Red Sox). I really think it goes back to when the Packers played the Patriots in the Super Bowl and I knew several seriously trash talking Patriots fans (no, I’m not talking about Rob Myers). So ever since I’ve just hated them (and I got great pleasure out of that particular Super Bowl).

So anyway, the thought of watching a Super Bowl where I’d be rooting for the field to swallow up all the players just didn’t seem palatable. OK, sure, there’s always the commercials and the game is usually a big letdown, but I need to root for someone other than space aliens to incinerate the field.

So, go Colts. And hopefully the commercials will be good too…

What would you do if you won the lottery?

January 19, 2007

This is one of those topics that many people think about a lot. Frankly I don’t think about it much, mainly because I never play the lottery. I don’t have anything against gambling. It’s a vice like many others and I have my share, but most vices are acceptable in moderation.

Gambling doesn’t appeal to me for a few reasons. First of all, as a mathematically inclined person, I’m acutely aware of the odds. Long term, it’s a losing proposition. I also don’t get a big rush out of it. That’s what I see as the primary allure, but I don’t get nearly excited enough about winning money (perhaps because it’s mostly luck?) and I really don’t like to lose money (I worked hard for it). So it’s just not much fun to me.

I’m also philosophically opposed to the government running a gambling operation. Sure, it’s easy tax revenue (though a fairly regressive tax primarily on those who can least afford it) but I don’t think the government should be in the business of encouraging gambling just because it’s easy money.

But I understand that most people do enjoy gambling. And most people like the lottery fantasy (hey, someone has to win, why not me?). It’s especially appealing when you’re fed up with your job, which all of us are from time to time. And anyone who has looked at New York real estate prices has certainly thought, damn, if only I had a big chunk of money to buy a nice place.

So let’s fantasize. Say you won $10 million dollars (after taxes). I like using that amount because it’s a lot of money, but not “quit your job and buy an island” type money.

Let’s examine options. First, the quit your job option. Say you just invested that money and tried to live off of the interest. If you made a constant 10% you’d be living on $100K for the rest of your life. Not bad, depending on where you live. But then what do you do? Your money is tied up so it’s not like you can go see the world. Sleeping until noon gets old (not that I’d know – with a four year old sleeping until 8:00 is luxury). You could find some type of work that is really rewarding to you without caring how it pays. That would be one good approach.

Then there’s the “kick start your life” approach. This assumes that you could make a dramatic change in your life if you didn’t have to worry about money for a short period of time. For example, quit your job and start your own business. You don’t have the pressure of being successful right away. Or go back to school to work towards a totally different career. This, to me, is a very good strategy if you aren’t satisfied in your current career and you have some sort of idea. It’s dangerous if you don’t have a real plan. Then it becomes “blow your money randomly for a few years until it’s gone”.

If you generally like your life and your career, there’s the “subtle upgrade” strategy. Keep your job, live your life, but knowing that the money allows you to buy a slightly nicer house, take a slightly nicer vacation, etc. For this approach you don’t take the lump sum payment up front, you take the longer view. This becomes much less of a life changing event, so most people don’t go this route (the whole point of playing the lottery is to change your life, right?).

Of course there’s always the “buy a bunch of really cool stuff” strategy. This is a common approach since there is tremendous immediate gratification and it is immediately life changing. But it’s also very common to find actual winners who took this approach five years later back to the same life they had before they won the lottery, often in worse shape. The primary fallacy here is thinking that having nicer things will make you happier.

What would I do? I would probably buy a very nice brownstone building in my neighborhood in Brooklyn. That would be my life changing event. Then I’d probably play the “subtle upgrade” strategy using return on investment money. Not that flashy, but I’m not a very flashy guy.

The other thing I would seriously consider would be coming up with an idea for a technology company, grabbing a few people I really respect and like working with and trying to run with it. But you need that truly inspirational idea. And frankly, if I ever get that, I might not wait to win the lottery…

Random thoughts

January 11, 2007
  • Barry Bonds may have tested positive for amphetimenes. Isn’t that like Ken Lay being busted for speeding?
  • New York Times editorial about the strange smell in NYC on Monday:

“…Has air quality improved so much in New York that we can actually notice an odd smell?”

  • Could Indiana University (my alma mater) basketball actually be on the upswing with new coach Kelvin Sampson? We played #5 Ohio State very close in Columbus, beat #24 Michigan State and totally stomped Purdue 85-58.
  • On a related note, had Bob Knight broke Dean Smith’s record while still at Indiana, the media would have made a much bigger deal of it.
  • Creator of Scooby-Doo (Iwao Takamoto) passed away this week at 81. Can anyone name the famous voice that has played the voice of Shaggy for longer than he’s been famous for what he’s really famous for? (ok, call the grammar police for that last sentence).
  • iPhone hasn’t even been released yet and Apple is already being sued by Cisco over the trademark of the name. Usually Steve Jobs is a marketing genius. Excuse me, nail down the trademark first perhaps?
  • And rumor has it that a world famous search engine firm is about to buy STARS Enterprise…
  • Cool things about raising a child in Brooklyn:
    • Children’s books are about places we actually go
    • Dan Zanes (Playhouse Disney channel, lots of children’s CDs) lives in our neighborhood and leads the annual Halloween parade
    • Our daughter has seen more live performances at four than I had at fourteen (and much better quality)
  • Bad things about raising a child in Brooklyn:
    • This condo is for sale on my block. It’s very nice (of course I checked it out), though not quite what we’re looking for (the garden in the back has a pond with actual carp – we’re thinking more like swings and a sand box). And it’s a bit smaller than the place we are renting (remind me not to mention what we are paying in rent). When $1.5 million doesn’t get you what you are looking for, it’s a tad depressing.

A Periodic Table of Visualization Methods

January 11, 2007

Chris Welch forwarded me this link. I don’t even understand all of it, but I found it fascinating…

Baseball Hall of Fame politics

January 10, 2007

Baseball seems to have the most interesting politics when it comes to the Hall of Fame voting. All kinds of strange things go on for a variety of amusing reasons. To me there were three stories this year:

  1. How high a percentage would Ripkin and Gwynn get?
  2. How low a percentage would McGuire get?
  3. Would Goose Gossage finally make it?

Each of the questions has some hilarious political overtones. I say hilarious, because they have little to do with the question of who actually belongs in the Hall, but more to do with the process itself.

First, let’s discuss #3. For those unfamiliar with the issue here, only recently have relievers begun to be voted into the Hall of Fame. For a while that was an underappreciated specialty. Goose Gossage was one of the most fears relievers of his day and his numbers totally should place him in the hall. To get inducted you need 75% of the voters to vote for you (each voter can vote for up to 10 players). Gossage’s percentage has been rising steady each year of voting so some thought he had a shot this year. But he fell short at 71.2%.

Why did he fall short? Many voters, when there are a couple of obvious first ballot Hall of Famers (this is Ripkin and Gwynn’s first year of eligibility and they were obvious locks to get in), do not like to vote in other candidates the same year. They feel that having Gossage on the podium the same year as Gwynn and Ripkin would “clutter” the stage and detract from Ripkin and Gwynn. Next year there are no obvious first time candidates, so everyone assumes that Gossage will make it next year. But is he any less worthy this year? No, it’s just politics.

Item #1 is also political. Some voters do not believe that anyone should get 100% of the votes, under the “Babe Ruth didn’t get 100%” logic. Some voters submitted completely blank votes to protest the “steroid era”. One voter just picked 10 other players besides Gwynn and Ripkin because he figured those guys would get enough other votes.

And item #2 is the one we’ll all be debating (well, all baseball fans). McGuire didn’t break any rules of baseball. He’s the 7th all time home run hitter. But virtually everyone believes he took steroids and his performance in front of Congress was horrible.

That’s the fun of baseball. Endless debates…