Sunday, December 19, 2004


Well, now that the early games are over, I can more easily sketch the scenario under which the Redskins make the playoffs. I'm not sure if this is the only way they can make the playoffs (it may be), but this is what they need...

  • The Redskins win their remaining 2 games.
  • Either Seattle or St. Louis loses the rest of their games.
  • The Giants lose one of their remaining two games.
  • Whoever wins the Tampa Bay-New Orleans game today has to lose one of their remaining two games.
  • Carolina loses one of their two remaining games.

In an earlier version of this post, I left out Carolina, and computed the probability that the Skins would make the playoffs, assuming each game is a 50/50 proposition. The probability drops a little bit once I do this (ahem) correctly, but the fact remains that if the Skins win out, they have a 12.9% chance of making the playoffs. Not high, but not bad for a 5-9 team. That probability should go up after St. Louis loses to Arizona today.

Disclaimer: Of course, the Skins don't deserve to make the playoffs after the season they've had. Still, it amuses me to figure out the possibilities.

[Update: St. Louis did lose. New Orleans won. The scenario simplifies to:

  • The Redskins win their remaining 2 games.
  • Either Seattle or St. Louis loses the rest of their games.
  • The Giants lose one of their remaining two games.
  • The winner of the final week's Carolina-New Orleans game has to lose next week.

So in order for the Redskins to be eliminated next week, one of the following things has to happen.

  • The Redskins lose.
  • Both Seattle and St. Louis win.
  • Both Carolina and New Orleans win.]


OK, during the conference, I have wireless access to use during the...less interesting talks. It's my turn to have the laptop today, but don't feel bad for Christina -- she has the Town Car today.

Aside from researching video poker strategies, I'm using this time to follow NFL games. The Redskins, at 5-9, ridiculously have not been mathematically eliminated from the playoffs. What better to do during the mathematics conference than figure out what it takes to be mathematically eliminated?

Of the teams they might end up tied with (at 7-9) for a playoff spot, the Redskins would win the tiebreaker with Seattle, Minnesota, Carolina, Detroit, Chicago, Tampa Bay, and New Orleans. They would lose the tiebreaker with St. Louis, Dallas, and the Giants.

Therefore, if Seattle, Minnesota and St. Louis win today, the Redskins are eliminated. Seattle and Minnesota would have better records than the Skins, and St. Louis would win a tiebreaker. One of Seattle and St. Louis would win the division, and the other would beat out the Skins for the tiebreaker.

If any of these teams lose, the Redskins have their hopes alive for another week. (Though to be truthful, I don't know how many of them are actually thinking about this.) Seattle looks like it's going to lose, and Minnesota is in a close game, so we'll see.

Vegas, Baby!

Here are just a few of the pictures we've taken so far. I suspect Christina and I will have some more to post...

One of the reasons for staying at the Las Vegas Hilton is the Star Trek Experience and other themed Star Trek activity. I can't overly recommend the food at Quark's Bar, but the ambiance is entertaining...

One of the features of Las Vegas is the classic buffet. USA Today published some suggestions this week, and we thought we'd try a few out. This prompted road trips to a few of Vegas' newer casinos. (The road trips are a pleasure in and of themselves in the Lincoln Town Car I ended up renting.)

Christina has concerns with the constant objectification of women in Las Vegas.

But it's hard to object to the wide variety of entrees on offer at the Palms...

Sunday, December 12, 2004

Grantham Family Business

Apologies to readers who are not members of the Grantham family, for this post will be mostly of interest to us. I'm posting this from Bethlehem, PA, where my cousin Sean and his wife Jeannine got married yesterday.

I thought I'd post some pictures from the happy event, but unfortunately I'm still learning about how to use the digital camera. So some of the pictures aren't as good as I'd like, and some beloved family members will not be pictured because I only have dark and/or blurry pictures with them in it.

Here is the happy couple entering the reception.

Here are my cousins Ian and Sara entering the reception.

Here is Sara showing off her hair and jewelry.

Here is Jeannine feeding Sean wedding cake.

Here is Christina posing with some of the art from the gallery where the reception was held.

And me with some art.

Here are the wreaths Sara made for the wedding.

And here is my first cousin once removed, Casey. This is one of the pictures that didn't really turn out, but I figure a) everybody loves pictures of kids and b) it'll be years before I get an e-mail from him complaining about it.

Thursday, December 09, 2004

Good Idea

I'm posting this from Seoul's new Incheon International Airport. (I missed the chance to title my first post from Korea "Inchon Landing". As is often the case, I was asked to remove my shoes before heading through security. As is not often the case, I was offered sandals to use so I wouldn't have to walk through the metal detector in my socks. It was a nice touch, and I wish more airports would pick up on the idea. There's even a branding opportunity for the airports -- the sandals they gave us were FILA.

Tuesday, December 07, 2004

Conference Excursion

Yesterday (today for you people back West) was the conference excursion. I took a bunch of pictures, which I now happily share with you. Apologies to those of you on dialup connections.

Our first stop was the Jeju Folk Village. Happily, this was not the same place as I had visited last time (where I learned about Cheju pork). Our tour guide commented about that place, which was nearby. She said because people were living there, it had a bunch of electronics and didn't look too authentic. That was my recollection.

As we arrived, we were greeted by Korean folk dancers. At least, that's what I assume they were. They could have been avant-garde Korean dancers, and I would have been none the wiser.

The village was comprised of many different types of huts. I couldn't really tell the difference, so you're just getting the picture of the one.

As with the previous folk village I had visited, there was an exhibit on traditional Korean bathrooms. I'm fairly glad this wasn't fully translated...

And then we turned, inevitably to the issue of Jeju pork. Our tour guide swears that it's no longer fed in the traditional way, but she says that until 1980, her "step-aunt" had this type of bathroom. Yes, the pigs are part of the bathroom, and if one of them decided to shake himself dry, run for cover.

Next, it was off to a Buddhist temple. No, not an ancient one, but a relatively new one. What it lacked in age, it made up for in size. I did manage to take quite a tumble on the temple steps, which I'm blaming on jetlag.

That's one big Buddha...

I can't decide whether my sweatshirt is clashing with my overcoat, or with the Buddha himself...

Monday, December 06, 2004

Korean Food, Part One

Before the last time I was in Korea, a friend had recommended the traditional Korean dish of bulgogi. It turned out that the conference was so intent on feeding us "Western" (mini-cheeseburgers) and "Japanese" (bento boxes) food that on my last day I had to make a special effort to go to the Korean restaurant in the hotel to get bulgogi.

I figured not to have the same problem this time around, since I am spending more time in Korea. (An extra day and half? I don't exactly remember how much time I was here last time.)

In preparation for the trip, Christina and I went to Yijo, a Korean restaurant in College Park. My plan was to introduce her to some Korean cuisine so she'd have a feel for what I was going to be experiencing this week. In reality, the meal served as a reminder to me of just how confusing traveling to Korea is (for me). Apparently, they start out every Korean meal by bringing you a bunch of appetizers in ramekins. Except they're really not what Americans think of as appetizers. Or necessarily edible-looking food. Then, I ended up ordering a raw beef and raw egg mixture, which was pretty good, but I didn't have the feeling I had food on the plate in front of me. Just some random ingredients. It reminded me of when Ben and I were kids and would make scrambled eggs with cookie sprinkles -- nothing wrong with it objectively, but subjectively...

Christina had a cold noodle soup that didn't thrill her. I should add, however, that the soups we had before our entrees were quite good. I think we'll go there again, but order more carefully.

On my first full day here, I had lunch on my own. Unfortunately, the Korean restaurant was only open for breakfast. That's weird. So I walked down to the Hyatt, where I figured to have more luck. Their menu had three Korean specialties. Two I eliminated for reasons of either price or a subjective opinion of what is edible. The third appeared, from the English description, to be spare ribs and soup. I had read that the Koreans prepare short ribs in a way that is similar to bulgogi. (I don't have my guidebook on me, so I can't recall the name.) This sounded promising. Unfortunately, it turned out to be spare ribs in soup. Good, but not what I was looking for. I also made a mistake of ordering a glass of wine, which turned out to be around $13. It was good enough wine, but I wouldn't pay $13 for a bottle of Beaujolais Nouveau.

The first evening featured a tasty reception with enough finger foods to constitute a meal.

The second day, we had lunch coupons which we were told we could use at either the Korean restaurant (which I guess opens for lunch during conferences) or the Western restaurant. Since I can eat in Western restaurants all the time, I chose the Korean one. We were offered a choice of two entrees, both of which were seafood and leek pancakes. The only difference was the soup offered with the two (I chose soybean). The pancakes weren't bad, but hard to eat with chopsticks. (I sat across from someone who I think was from China who complained that it was entirely different to eat with metal chopsticks versus wooden ones.)

At dinner, with the Korean restaurant closed (and myself way too jetlagged to consider leaving the hotel), I resigned myself to the western restaurant. It turned out, to my surprise, to have Korean food -- since the Korean restaurant was closed, it was explained to me. Unfortunately, the only entrees that looked appetizing came with Jeju pork. The last time I was here, the tour visited a traditional Korean village. They showed us some pigs and explained that until the last few decades, Jeju didn't have indoor plumbing. As I slowly made the connection, the guide said, "Jeju pork -- very tasty." So I can't really eat Jeju pork, not with that mental image.

I ended up ordering a hamburger. It was pretty good, once I removed the mayo-soaked tomato. I'm sure its origins are just as questionable as the pork, but at least I don't have the direct association.

Sunday, December 05, 2004

Hail to the Redskins!

Well, I hope the eBay user who purchased my tickets enjoyed the most explosive Redskins offensive performance of the year. All I got on Korean TV was the most explosive Colts offensive performance of the year -- and the latter is saying something. Sometimes things got a little hard to follow, though...

Saturday, December 04, 2004

View from My Window

Well, I made it to my hotel. And I got about 5 hours of sleep before waking up and desparately waiting for my room service breakfast. The last time I was here, I discovered that ordering breakfast that way got me my most reliably edible meal of the day -- especially after I started ignoring the standard choices and writing "Coca-Cola" under the beverage section.

I am giving myself a leisurely morning. The conference registration doesn't start until 3 pm (It's currently 9:30 AM Sunday here, despite what the timestamp may say.) Since the conference hasn't started yet, I'm having to pay (gasp) for the Internet access. Actually, 1/2 an hour is free. (I wonder how many free half hours I could get?) But since I'm being leisurely, I paid the 5000 won for a full hour.

How much is 5000 won, you might ask? Around $5. The exchange rate is rougly 1000:1. This led to a certain amount of confusion last night when I was taking the taxi to the hotel. I asked the fare, and the taxi manager (or whoever he was) said, "three hundred". I'm thinking...that can't be in won (30 cents for an hour in a taxi), and it better not be in dollars. Eventually, after I repeated "three hundred?" enough times in a sufficiently incredulous voice, he realized his mistake and said "thirty thousand." That sounded about right.

I don't remember having a nice view from my window last time (it's not among the pictures I linked to here) -- maybe I was just too discombobulated to notice. Even though I'm in the less expensive "mountainview" room, I did enjoy the following views...

Back in Korea

I left home slightly over 25 hours ago. This is what I look like after that much time on the road...

Greetings from the Asiana lounge in the Gimpo Airport in Seoul. Since my last trip to Korea, they've opened a new airport -- Incheon Airport. But Incheon is (mainly) for international flights, and Gimpo is (mainly) for domestic flights, so after my 13 hour flight from San Francisco, I had to clear immigration and customs and hop a bus here. All has gone well so far. My flight for Jeju (formerly Cheju) leaves in 45 minutes, so I'm going to wrap up this post and head through security. More later!

Friday, November 26, 2004

Hanging out with the Nephews

This evening, we went to see Mia and KC and the boys.

Witt showed us his new scooter.

Luke isn't quite old enough to play Robo Rally, but he still gets his own cards.

Christina tries to find the exact card selection that will allow her to shoot my robot. Witt, cards already placed, watches Planes, Trains and Automobiles.

Thursday, November 25, 2004

Happy Thanksgiving!

Happy Thanksgiving from Winston-Salem! Here are some pictures of our lunch today at Christina's grandmother's residence.

Here's Christina's Dad, our nephew Luke, Christina's Mom and me at lunch.

Here's Christina's sister Mia, her grandmother, Mia's husband KC, our nephew Witt and Christina at lunch.

Posing for a family portrait is not always without risk.

I did it eBay.

Well, after buying a bunch of stuff on eBay over the years, I'm finally selling something. After unsuccessfully trying to give away my Redskins tickets for the Giants game, I'm putting them up for bid. Given the way they're playing this year, I just hope I get one bid.

Tuesday, November 23, 2004


I had a question answered in this week's Gene Weingarten chat on The question was:

University Park, Md.: About this week's poll:

Are you sure Thaves knows how to spell "Gupta"?

For context, see the weekly poll for the chat and the comic it references.

The answer?

Gene Weingarten: Well, no. That would be even more pathetic.

Thursday, November 18, 2004

Google Scholar

Google just introduced a new search engine called Google Scholar.
"The goal is to allow and enable users to search over scholarly content," said Anurag Acharya, a Google engineer leading the project.

Well, upon hearing this news, my natural instinct was to Google myself. Surprisingly, I found some interesting (to me) stuff.

One of my papers has been cited 10 times. OK, I knew about them, and a few may be duplicates, but I still found it cool.

More surprisingly, my first paper, which I was very down on at the time I wrote it, has been cited twice. I'm not quite sure why -- I can read one of them for the low, low price of $56.23. The other is someone's dissertation, where he says, "It is also known that..." then cites a simple fact I prove at the beginning of my paper.

Well, looks like I should get back to work putting more scholarly work out there for Google to index. I've been having fun lately doing research for a planned talk at a conference next month in Vegas.

Friday, November 12, 2004

951 Places Left To See

On a recent layover in the Denver airport, Christina and I picked up a book called 1,000 Places to See Before You Die. Here are the places on the list I've seen:

  • The Costwolds -- mentioned, for example, here.
  • Canterbury Cathedral -- some colleagues and I visited it on September 8, 2001.
  • London -- for example, here.
  • Hadrian's Wall -- I visited it with my parents in the summer of 1994 or 1995.
  • Bath -- Christina and I went there in 2003.
  • Stratford-upon-Avon -- I saw a play here in September 2003.
  • Stonehenge -- Christina and I visited here in April 2003.
  • York Minster -- I'm pretty sure I visited there in the 1993-95 time frame.
  • Scotch Whisky Trail -- We stopped here on a trip to Scotland I took with my parents in the summer of 1994.
  • Highland Games -- This was the highlight of the aforementioned trip. The Queen was there, too!
  • Edinburgh Castle -- for example, here.
  • Bruges -- I went there in May 2000.
  • The Blue Mountains -- Christina and I visited there in July 2002.
  • Sydney Opera House -- We visited there on that trip, too.
  • The Great Barrier Reef -- Ditto.
  • The Inside Passage -- I visited there in September 1996.
  • The Getty Center -- Christina and I visited there in June 2002.
  • Hollywood -- We visited there on the same trip.
  • Monterey Peninsula -- I visited there in December 1995.
  • The Pacific Coast Highway -- I first drove it in 1992.
  • Everglades National Park -- I visited there in January 2003.
  • Walt Disney World Resort -- I went there with my parents in 1976 and 1980.
  • Savannah -- I visited there around 1995.
  • Art Institute of Chicago -- I went there in November 2003.
  • The French Quarter -- Christina and I visited there in April 2001.
  • The New Orleans Restaurant Scene -- same trip.
  • New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival -- same trip.
  • Chesapeake Bay -- Right in my backyard.
  • Bellagio -- We went there in our August 2001 trip to Vegas for Martin and Jeanene's wedding.
  • The Las Vegas Strip -- same trip.
  • The Adirondacks -- I visited there in June 2004.
  • Finger Lakes -- I visited there in May 1998.
  • New York City -- I visited there on a 7th grade field trip.
  • Gettysburg -- I visited there on a 6th grade trip.
  • Pennsylvania Dutch Country -- I went to "math camp" there several summers in the mid-1980s.
  • Philly Food -- Christina and I sampled it on our trip in August 2003.
  • Independence National Park -- same trip.
  • Beaufort and the Low Country -- circa 1997.
  • The Heart of Charleston -- I first went there for a conference in 1994.
  • Low Country Cuisine -- circa 1997.
  • Monticello -- Christina and I went there right after our wedding in October 2002.
  • Colonial Williamsburg -- I visited there on an 8th grade field trip. Boy, they knew how to pick those field trips, I guess!
  • The National Mall -- in my backyard.
  • The Smithsonian -- also in my backyard.
  • Banff -- We visited there in May 2003.
  • Niagara Falls -- I first visited there in conjunction with a debate tournament in Buffalo in 1987. It's also the first time I ever left the US (albeit briefly).
  • Vieux Montreal -- I visited there on a trip in May 2002.
  • Chichen Itza -- We went there on our honeymoon in October 2003.

Wow, there were a lot of neat moments captured on that list. What amazes me is that 23 of them -- almost half -- are place I've only visited in the 4 1/2 years since I started this blog. I think it's partially because I've opened my eyes and tried to look for new opportunities to see the world. It's also partially because Christina has encouraged me to look around and see more of the world.

I don't think this is as good to use as a "checklist" as the World Heritage list -- there are far too many expensive hotels on the list. But it's interesting to see what I've managed to visit. I'll probably look around for things on the list that are possibilities for future visits, and I'll note it here when I visit them.

Wednesday, November 10, 2004

Hot Streaks

Here are the longest active NCAA Division I Men's Basketball winning streaks:

  • University of Connecticut: 9
  • University of Michigan: 5
  • McNeese State University: 4
  • Birmingham-Southern College: 3
  • Columbia University: 2
  • University of Tennessee at Martin: 2
  • Brown University: 1
  • Gardner-Webb University: 1
  • Qunnipiac University: 1

As Tony Kornheiser would say, "That's it. That's the list." All other teams lost their last game. Why? 63 teams lost in the NCAA tournament. 39 lost in the NIT. Most teams that didn't make those tournaments played in their conference tournaments. In general, if they didn't make the NCAA tournament, they must have lost in the conference tournament. That leaves the teams that didn't play in the conference tournament. Those teams are generally really bad, and thus unlikely to have won their last game. So how did the teams on the list make it?

  • University of Connecticut: Won NCAA tournament.
  • University of Michigan: Won NIT tournament.
  • McNeese State University: Won last 4 games despite being really bad.
  • Birmingham-Southern College: Won conference tournament, ineligible for automatic bid to NCAA tournament.
  • Columbia University: No Conference Tournament in Ivy League.
  • University of Tennessee at Martin: Won last 2 games despite being really bad.
  • Brown University: No Conference Tournament in Ivy League.
  • Gardner-Webb University: Won last game despite being really bad.
  • Qunnipiac University: Won last game despite being really bad.

Why do I notice this? I just think it's funny that the University of Michigan (my alma mater) has the second longest winning streak despite being in the "others receiving votes" category of the AP Poll.

Tuesday, November 02, 2004

Last Minute Prediction

I'm going to make 3 last minute predictions for the record. Contrary to conventional wisdom,

  1. We will know the winner by 3 AM EST.
  2. The winner will win by a margin of more than 1.5% of the popular vote. (I almost went to 2, but I chickened out.)
  3. The winner will win by 50 electoral votes.

I'm not greatly confident of these, but it's my gut feeling, and I wanted to get it out there "in print" before the election.

Tuesday, October 26, 2004

The Mysterious Question F

In a previous post, I gave my election endorsements. I relied on this article from the Gazette to guide me as to the meaning of Question F. The article said
Question F...would prevent any council members who have served two terms from running for an at-large seat in the 2006 election, assuming at-large seats are added.

Now comes the Washington Post with their endorsement. They say,
We...urge a "yes" vote on...Question F, which would allow a district council member who has maxed out under Prince George County's two-term limit to run again for an at-large seat.

What? That would be the opposite of what the other paper said. Let's look at the text.
To provide that members of the County Council may not be elected to more than two consecutive terms...
So the Post recommended a yes vote based on a complete misreading of the Question.

You know, I was going to change my vote on Questions A-E, since the Post recommends a yes vote, but now I just feel like they're not really paying attention.

Monday, October 25, 2004

The Great War: American Front

Cover of The Great War: American Front

I recently finished listening to Harry Turtledove's the 21 CDs that comprise The Great War: American Front, the sequel to How Few Remain, which I mentioned here last month. As before, I may include spoilers, so if you're planning to read the book (let's face it; you're not), consider yourself forewarned.

First recall that we're talking about an alternate history where the South won the Civil War with the help of England and France. This book takes us to 1914, where World War I is starting. It's England, France, Russia and the Confederates (the "Quadruple Entente") versus the US, Germany, and presumably Austria and the Ottoman Empire. (If the latter two get a mention, it's very brief.) In North America, the war is primarily a struggle of the US versus the Confederates and Canada.

The book is, like How Few Remain, told from a variety of perspectives. Unlike HFR, however, TGWAF (are those acronyms annoying enough?) tells the story from the perspective of common people. There are some historical figures present -- I counted Teddy Roosevelt, Woodrow Wilson, George Custer, Eugene Debs and Marcel Duchamp, but I'm sure there were more. These characters, however, are secondary to the everyday folk -- the New England fisherman, the Confederate Army major with the unfortunate surname "Lincoln", the black butler in a South Carolina mansion...

There's less excitement in "I wonder what a New England fisherman would do in this timeline" than "I wonder what Abe Lincoln would do if he lost the war (and survived)." The book at times sounded like one of those histories where they try to convince you that the life of ordinary people is more worth studying than the life of kings and statesmen. Sounds fun, huh? Nevertheless, the book succeeded in making me think about World War I in different terms -- by hearing Virginia ripped apart by trench warfare, I could more readily imagine the psychological shock to Europeans. And I could more readily appreciate the benefit to America of not having a war on our home soil during the twentieth century.

One of the book's drawbacks is its large cast of characters that makes it hard to remember who's who. Sometimes I had to wait until a soldier cursed the other side to remember which side he was on. Another is that everything is very slow developing and telegraphed. In an early scene, Confederate President Woodrow Wilson is giving a speech in Richmond, and soldiers fire bullets into the air to scare away the crowd. Is it really necessary to have a character wonder to himself what will happen when the bullets come back down? It doesn't move the plot along, and it doesn't really provide any "flavor" to the story.

Nevertheless, the alternate history is fairly compelling. By the end of the book, the USA has advanced across most fronts, though the war is stalling. The USA has also pushed the CSA out of Pennsylvania and is trying to retake the parts of Maryland and DC that have fallen. The South is starting to be disrupted by a Marxist revolution led by blacks. That's one of Turtledove's cleverer ideas, and I'm waiting to see how this will play out.

"I'm waiting to see how this will play out" will probably keep me reading through the next three books in the series. Yes, reading, because the next book is only available on cassettes for some reason. At least by reading the book, I can skip over some of the slow parts.

Saturday, October 23, 2004

Wine Update: 3 New Wines

It's been a while since my last update, but we've only tried 3 new wines at home in the interim. This is partially due to traveling, and partially due to enjoying another bottle of the Hardys Stamp Shiraz, previously reviewed here.

1998 Chateau Labarde (Bordeaux)

This is the first Bordeaux we've tried. Despite being the most expensive wine we've tried, it was not from a particularly prestigious Chateau. Some quick Googling turned up this article, which indicates that Labarde is the tertiary vineyard of a Chateau that had fallen on hard times, but is coming back. Still, it is a Bordeaux, and they do make good wine there. We enjoyed this wine, but I don't think it really whet our appetite to get deeper into French wines. We may stick with our apparent preference for Southern Hemisphere wines.

2002 Di Majo Norante Sangiovese

This wine was enjoyable -- fruity, with a medium body, but not too oaky or tannic. I think we'd try it again if we came across it, but we're willing to consider other Sangioveses.

2001 Hardys Nottage Hill Merlot

I picked up this wine at Franklin's after a recent trip. Franklin's is a restaurant and general store just over a mile from where we live, and it makes the best hamburger around. As a bonus, you don't have to fight the students for parking -- just the crowds of locals who show up for good food and the beer from their brewpub.

We both enjoyed this wine; it's the best Merlot we've had in a while. I wonder if the Hardys Stamp Merlot, which generally runs $2/bottle cheaper, would be of similar quality. Christina said she tends to prefer Cabernets to Merlots, so maybe we'll look for a good, reliable Cabernet, although we have several Merlots in the chiller to help us out in that direction.

Wednesday, October 20, 2004

The Android's Dungeon Endorses!

I have to fill out my absentee ballot, so I thought I'd share the research I did to come to my decisions. So long secret ballot -- take that, Australia!


I think Jon Stewart summed it up best: "If one guy drove me into a ditch and said, 'Don't worry, I know how to get us out of this,' I'd give the keys to a 7-year-old." The Android's Dungeon recommends a vote for John Kerry.

U.S. Senator

Let's take a look at an article about the Mikulski/Pipkin debate, since I, like 99% of Marylanders, didn't watch it. Let's see. Pipkin criticized Mikulski for voting to raise taxes "350 times", opposing the Medicare prescription drug bill, and opposing some of Bush's court nominees. On the first charge, if he's using the same math Bush uses to count how many times Kerry has voted to raise taxes, he's lying. Also, even if she has, we have a deficit spiraling out of control, so maybe we should send her back to keep trying. On the second charge, the prescription drug bill was a big waste. The Bush administration covered up the bill's true costs. Finally, the Constitution gives the Senate the task of approving judicial nominees. Inherent in that is the right to disapprove. If Mikulski says she voted for 95% of the Bush nominees, that seems a bit high. The Android's Dungeon recommends a vote for Barbara Mikulski.


We've got the second most powerful Democrat in the House representing us. Why mess up a good thing? The Android's Dungeon recommends a vote for Steny Hoyer.

Judge of the Circuit Court

"Vote for No More Than Three"? Conveniently, there are only three people on the ballot. I tend to think judges should stay in office unless they embarrass themselves significantly. In fact, I'm not sure we should be voting on them. So I Googled the candidates to see if I came up with anything embarrassing. I didn't find anything embarrassing -- well, not for them, but I think the State of Maryland should be embarrassed for misspelling "Judge". The Android's Dungeon doesn't really care how you vote on this one.

Judge, Court of Special Appeals

This one is a "for continuance in office" that passes the Google test.

Ballot Questions

Questions A-E are for approving bonds allowing the county to borrow money for roads, libraries, public safety, county buildings and community colleges. The League of Women Voters directs me to a web site where I can look up the text of these bills. Unfortunately, the text just gives a list of projects and refers me to the county "capital program" for details. I can't find the county capital program on-line. They're making this too difficult. In general, I'm going to vote no. But the roads need help, and I find it hard to believe that libraries can't use the money, so yes on A & B, no on C, D & E.

Questions F, G, H and I are a big mess, but it's basically explained here. The key here is Question H, which will add 2 at-large seats to the County Council. Seems reasonable enough. But it will also make the top vote-getter from the two at-large seats the Council Chair. That seems a little pointless. Question G will overturn that second provision. Question F will amend the term limits rules to prevent my council member from running for one of the at-large seats. I hate term limits, so no on that. Question I will make the at-large members non-voting members. This is just a big waste of time. So yes on G & H, no on F & I.

Question J reduces the number of hours the county can hire temporary employees for. If they want me to vote for this, they need to explain it better. No on J.

Friday, October 15, 2004

Hampton Comes Alive

I just finished a two night stay at the Hampton Inn in Woodbridge, NJ. This is enough, in theory, to bring me up to 36 nights and Gold VIP status. I say "in theory" because there is some debate on FlyerTalk about whether free nights count. But I'll make it next week either way.

I originally had a stay at an Embassy Suites, but when the new hotel per diem rates came out, the allowable rate had dropped by around $35, and I had to switch hotels.

The Hampton I ended up with is the first one I've stayed at that has implemented the brand's new "Make It Hampton" enhancements. So, how do the enhancements measure up? Let's take a look.

  • Complimentary High Speed Wireless Internet Access will be available in the hotel public areas. I don't spend time in the hotel public areas, so this wasn't too useful.
  • Complimentary High Speed Internet Access in all guestrooms. This was great, although I wish it were wireless instead of wired.
  • Enjoy our new complimentary hot breakfast items on rotating menus, so you're sure to enjoy a variety of flavorful meals, including sausage patties and scrambled eggs. The scrambled eggs were pretty good this morning.
  • A new blend of robust coffee awaits you in a unique presentation guaranteed to make you smile. I hate coffee. I didn't smile; do I get my money back?
  • If you are in a hurry, ask the breakfast hostess for the new On the Go Breakfast Bag™, complete with water, fruit, a muffin, and a breakfast bar. This was very useful yesterday morning, when I was in a hurry to get to the conference. I didn't even have to ask; they had the bag ready.
  • Curved shower rods for extended shower space. I didn't notice this, which probably means it's a plus.
  • A one-of-a-kind alarm clock making it easier to set your alarm time in three simple steps, as well as find your favorite music. I liked the feature on the alarm clock where it told you both the time and the time the alarm was set for. Three "simple" steps? I guess holding down one button for a long time because an hour button is too complicated is "simple". I was disappointed there was no indicator whether or not you had pressed the snooze button.
  • A portable lap desk that allows you to work in comfort from anywhere in the room. This is a neat idea that would be more useful if the Internet access were wireless.
  • Our new Hampton alarm clock and lap desk are also available for purchase! If you would like to enjoy these new products each retail for $29 plus tax, shipping and handling. Please call 1-888-224-7730 for more information. I won't be calling.

All in all, I enjoyed the experience. There were other nice little touches -- the plastic utensils were actually labeled at breakfast -- no more digging around to find out if you had spoons or forks. I just hope they don't raise prices past the per diem to pay for all these improvements...

Thursday, October 14, 2004

Primary Inversion

As I mentioned in a recent post, I am continuing to read Nebula-award winning novels. As I also mentioned, I will only read books in series order.

That caused me to read Catherine Asaro's Primary Inversion, which is the first book in the "Saga of the Skolian Empire." (The author corrected Michael Dirda at the National Book Festival when he referred to it as a series. Since she is not here to correct me, I will continue to refer to it as a series.)

Primary Inversion is what I'd call "Space Opera", which is unusual in "serious" science fiction these days. By "serious" I suppose I mean "award-winning". I think "faster than light" travel has gotten less popular because people finally got it in their heads that it's impossible, and thus more suited to fantasy than science fiction. Fortunately for the genre, Asaro's a physicist, so she's more than qualified to imagine an FTL drive that's just as plausible as most things found in SF books these days.

"Primary Inversion" was enjoyable, but I'd characterize it as a relatively light, fun read. I suppose I will have to wait until Book Six to get to the Nebula, so it's not fair to compare it to other such award winners. I found out during Asaro's talk that The Quantum Rose, which won the Nebula, is an allegory for quantum field theory. That sounded pretty cool, and I told her so when I went to get a book signed. I mentioned that my background was in mathematics, and she said that I should read Spherical Harmonic, which was about the spherical harmonic. I didn't have the heart to tell her that I was a number theorist, and thus had no clue what the spherical harmonic was.

I've started Catch the Lightning, the second book. It's set in an alternate history 1987, which is weird in and of itself. Most of the book so far has to do with a poor girl meeting a space pilot from the future. The "Are you really from space?" dynamic recalls almost every Star Trek time travel episode ever. I'm only mildly enthused, and have put the book aside for another book, which I thought would be more promising. But that's another post...

Wednesday, October 13, 2004

Fun With Gmail

So I'm reading my Michigan Sports News e-mail when I notice the ads that Gmail is displaying for me. "Eliminate Ground Moles"? "Effective Pest Control"? Where is this coming from?

Then I see the final link. "Get rid of those Gophers". Ah, yes, Michigan did that.

Thursday, October 07, 2004


I mentioned FlyerTalk in my previous post. It's frequent flyer discussion site. If anyone would be particularly amused by looking at my posts, you can see them here.

Flying the Ted Skies

For last week's trip to Arizona, we, as is our wont, flew United. For the BWI to Denver segments, I upgraded us into first class, which was a nice perk. For the Denver to Phoenix segments, we were on Ted, United's discount carrier. This was our first experience with Ted, but I thought it would be OK, especially since I didn't have enough upgrades for those segments anyway.

The Denver to Phoenix Ted flight was just like a regular United flight, without a first class cabin (which made getting on and off the plane easier), with orange headphones, where they would only give you half a can of soda (probably more than I need anyway), and where the overhead vent didn't really work. The last was annoying, but I'm not sure we can blame that on Ted.

The return trip was a different story. Apparently the original Ted aircraft wasn't available, so our plane was replaced by a non-Ted plane. And we got a complimentary upgrade! It was just like being in first class on a regular flight, except they would only give you half a can of soda...

Anyway, to prove I've actually flown in first class on Ted to the folks at FlyerTalk, here's my boarding pass... (Name and frequent flier number removed to protect my secret identity...)

Tuesday, October 05, 2004


As part of my Nebula reading project, I read Darwin's Radio in June. I also read the sequel, Darwin's Children. Not as good.

The latest (15th) book I've read in that project is Parable of the Talents. But first, I had to read Parable of the Sower, the first book in the series.

Yep, had to read it. I can't stand to pick up the middle book in a series and start there. When I was a kid, I read all of the Hardy Boys books in order, up until, I think, Number 33. I read them in order, even though the only connection each book had with others in the series was in the beginning, where the book would say something like, "The young detectives had recently broken a car theft ring...", or at the end, with, "The young detectives did not know that events were already occurring which would soon involve them in another challenging case, The Great Airport Mystery."

(I stopped reading when I thought I had lost Book 33. It turned out, I think, that I had forgotten returning the book to the library. Still, the experience spooked me enough to stop reading the series. Yes, I was the kind of child who was spooked by overdue library books.)

Where was I? Ah, yes, the Parable of the Sower. The book is set in a dystopian near-future in the US where climate change, something or other...fuel shortages, I think...have plunged the United States into something approaching Third World status. I found the whole scenario fairly implausible, but then I noticed the word "parable" in the title. Well, why was I taking things so literally? But then, after finishing the book, I read the author interview that was included with the "reading group" edition. Apparently, this book reflects the path that she feels the country is headed down if things continue as they are.

Huh. I sort of recognize this point of view from my days on college campuses --- it's a particular kind of leftist "things are doomed" worldview. I say this, please understand, as a registered Democrat who thinks we aren't taking climate change and alternate fuels seriously enough. But America doesn't rely on a good climate and oil supplies for its position in the world economy. If anything, Third World economies are more dependent on raw materials (oil, food) than the US. So I found the premise of the book (well, both books) hard to swallow.

That said, I found the narrative fairly compelling, if bleak. The characters were extremely nuanced and human --- unfortunately a rarer occurrence than it should be in science fiction. They were books I had a hard time putting down, but I was also happy to be done with them and to move onto lighter fare.

Saturday, October 02, 2004

Monday Night Football

OK, I think I'm finally done clearing off the digital camera. Behold, the pictures of Monday Night Football.

When you start tailgating 5 hours before the game, you'd better bring cards. And beer.

On our way to the stadium, we had to dodge a guy burning a Dallas jersey.

On the way to our gate, there was a contest where you could win a cap by throwing a football through a hole. Christina walked away with one.

And then there was the game. Sigh.

Visiting My Cousin

A couple of weeks ago, since I was in the UK on business, I went up to Sheffield (that's in South Yorkshire, which is in northern England) to see my cousin Diane. She had married Mark, an Englishman, in August, so I went to visit them.

They have a very nice house.

Isn't this a great window?

Here are Mark, me and Diane.

Friday, October 01, 2004

Visit to the Boneyard

Today my parents, Christina and I went to visit the Boneyard, where the Air Force mothballs planes. According to our guide, there are $27 billion worth of planes there. Pretty cool.

OK, here's my "picture of a stealth fighter" gag picture.

Here's an A-10 "Warthog".

After the tour, we went to the Pima Air & Space Museum. Here's Christina looking cute in a cockpit.

The museum had Kennedy and Johnson's Air Force One available for touring. This, of course, is the Presidential Potty.

Here are my parents in front of an SR-71 Blackbird. What a plane. Coast to coast in 68 minutes.