10/31/2005

11-1-05 - 4

11-1-05

2000 US soldiers have died - that's nothing. 100,000 Iraqis have died, but no one cares !? I heard this terrifying sound bite on NPR the other day of a guardsman in Iraq basically saying "while I'm here I want to kill as many terrorists as possible; you can't tell who's a terrorist, so you have to target everyone".

The recent news on our WMD dumping is nothing new - the greatest danger to US citizens from WMD's has always been our own military. The only competition for poisoners of Americans are US corporations.

11-1-05 - 3

11-1-05

Poker Superstars is actually getting pretty interesting now that it's near the end. The semifinals and finals promise to be good, with heads up matches between some of the best players in the field. The total donkeys like Sklansky and Seed are gone and everyone left is pretty solid. I pick Todd Brunsen and Johny Chan for the final. The commentary is still moronic and the blinds get too big too fast, but heads up is still cool.

I'd love to play a heads-up tournament. I've never heard of such a thing online. They exist in the real world but they're pretty rare in the US, much more common in Europe. I think I'd be pretty good; you get to play every hand so it eliminates the flame-out boredom factor which kills me in typical big tourneys. Ooo, actually I just saw PokerStars does have heads up tournaments, I'll have to try one soon...

11-1-05 - 2

11-1-05

As gas prices begin to stifle the economy in the US and drive up inflation to almost 4%, the oil companies rake in record profits. Refineries were out of commision in the gulf of mexico region, oil shipping ports were closed, offshore platforms shut down, Iraq is still not at full production, China is buying more and more of the world's oil, Venezuela has reduced delivery to US oil companies, and yet their profits continue to grow. Something is amiss. Indeed crude oil prices are higher, but there's not such a shortage that above-market prices are reasonable. In fact, in a working smooth capitalist system, the prices should rise roughly inversely with the reduce supply, so that total profit is about the same. If one oil company raised prices above that amount, the others should be able to lower prices and get more customers.

Part of why this isn't happening is because of the service station franchise model. The stations are separate companies which receive franchises from the parent oil company. As part of the franchise deal they are not allowed to set their own prices. Part of the reason is that the parent company doesn't want competition between service stations in the same town - eg. the Shell in one part of town trying to undercut another Shell, which could lead to a price war which would cut gas prices down to the minimal profitable level. They also don't want price wars going on across intersections, say if the Chevron across the street sells gas at 2.99 , I could just set my Shell to 2.98 and get more customers, but then the Chevron would go to 2.97 and we'd get in a war and wind up at the lowest profitable price again. In fact, some stations might sell gas at no profit, or even at a loss, in order to make their profit in the convenience quicky marts.

This doesn't happen also because the franchises are required to buy their gas only from the one supplier. They can't look at different suppliers and choose the one with the cheapest gas, so there's no price competition. There's no motivation really for the major oil companies to compete on price, because the service stations won't switch to their gas if it's lower price - they're locked in to a certain supplier.

http://www.thememoryhole.org/corp/gas-prices.htm http://releases.usnewswire.com/GetRelease.asp?id=28449 http://www.consumerwatchdog.org/energy/pr/?postId=5110

11-1-05 - 1

11-1-05

"Children of Heaven" is a trite, amateurish morality tale, which is only interesting because of the glimpses of ordinary life in Iran. Real poverty and deprivation is always humbling and surprising to me, it reminds me how trivial all my problems are.

10/30/2005

10-31-05 - 3

10-31-05

I like eating candy on halloween, but these days I can't stand any of that corporate candy crap, not even the better stuff that I used to like such as snickers or kit-kat. So, I'm buying myself good chocolates, and of course my favorite candy - alcohol ! Happy Drunkard Gourmet's Halloween!

10-31-05 - 2

10-31-05

Made another 1st place at a two-table tourney. I've always thought these things weren't really profitable at the $20 and $30 level because it takes so long to play and your average return is pretty low. I thought you'd have to play $100 buy-in events to be profitable, which is a bit rich for my bankroll. If I keep making 1st place all the time, they are indeed profitable.

I keep doing well in the small tourneys, but pretty consistently wash out in the big ones. I just can't play well for 2+ hours, I get worn out and start making mistakes, getting impatient. I need something to help me - maybe just stop playing and rest for 5 minutes and let my chips get blinded away? If I could recover and really play well again, it would be worth it. Maybe go take a quick shower?

10-31-05 - 1

10-31-05

More playing with FireFox (finally). The tabs are nice and the popup blocking is nice. Other than that, it just seems horribly inferior to IE. Lots of pages don't format right or don't work. It does feel significantly slower, but I can't say for sure if that's true. I think part of that may be that FireFox seems to do less incremental layout, it seems to be waiting for more of the image data to load before it shows me anything, or something like that. IE certainly does this thing where the page loads & displays and then it fixes the formatting. FireFox seems to not do that, when the page displays, it's solid and the formatting doesn't change. That seems to tell me FireFox is waiting for the image headers to get image sizes and such.

OutFoxed seems to not actually provide anything useful.

10-30-05 - 1

10-30-05

Went to Santa Barbara last night to go out on the town in Halloween costume. Dan was a sexy cowgirl and I was her horse (or hung like one anyway). I'll try to put up some pictures, it was pretty fun. I like the James Joyce pub, they give free peanuts which are the superior drinking condiment, but the bartender was a real ass there last night.

Two more 1st places in two-table tourneys.

10/29/2005

10-29-05 - 4

10-29-05

Dave sent me this link to out foxed - it's basically a rough implementation of my NoT idea, and it's fully working as a FireFox plugin. Of course it's very rough, it doesn't actually do the whole trust network thing, it just shares reviews of pages basically, but it's still a nice beginning. Of course the most important things in the NoT are network-aware searches, which outfoxed can't do, and network-aware markups of existing pages (eg. comments on a given hotel on Orbitz, not just comments on Orbitz as a whole).

I also noticed epinions has this web of trust thing which is very similar to the NoT. The big problem there is just that it's limited to stuff on epinions, and you have to manually decide who you trust and make a simple binary yes/no decision on trusting them. (a better system is for you to mark which reviews you trust and have that correlate to trusting the people who wrote those reviews, that way you can have partial trust and also context-sensitive trust; eg. trust person X only on subject Y, etc.)

Anyhoo, I've been trying out FireFox to try the OutFoxed plugin, and it seems all okay, but it's noticably slower than IE. Even clicking links within the same page is slow. Now maybe this is OutFoxed doing something stupid, but it seems pretty unacceptable/ridiculous.

10-29-05 - 3

10-29-05

It's cool that Tivo has created an SDK at Sourceforge , but they haven't unlocked any scheduling or recording features, so I can't replace their godawful GUI yet.

10-29-05 - 2

10-29-05

One thing that we depressed liberals can take heart in during this administration : the career beaurocrats in Washington are showing that they're good people still trying to do their jobs. In fact, almost all of the incompetence and corruption has been in high level people from outside the department who don't know what they're doing. In recent years, starting roughly around the time of Nixon, there has been a great distrust of "Washington Insiders" who are accused of perpetuating "business as usual". The result is that most cabinet secretaries and other high posts are appointed from the outside world, not from within the organization they are to be in charge of. This has reached its most insane pitch in the GWB administration, where these people are typically cronies or friends or donors, and often (like John Bolton and others) people who distrust or dislike the very organization they are appointed to chair. While these people have over and over again demonstrated their incompetence to head organizations they know little about (see, for example, Rummy and Wolfy), the people inside the beaurocracy have demonstrated their competence (for example, the generals at DoD, Richard Clarke, many inside Treasury & Justice). Most recently I've been very impressed with Mr. Fitzgerald, who has shown great restraint and impartiality and respect for the rule of law and the limits of his job.

10-29-05 - 1

10-29-05

"Lilya 4-Ever" is a very good, touching, realistic movie with fun surreal/dream bits. It's also extremely disturbing, with painful scenes of prostitution and rape. I think things like that should be clearly indicated in the movie synopsis so you know what you're getting into. Personally I appreciate seeing the horrible things in the world, but many people don't.

10/28/2005

10-28-05 - 3

10-28-05

Ok, this is going to sound crazy, but bear with me. What if Osama bin Laden is a hero? Pretend for a second that we live in an alternative reality, sort of like 1984, where the United States is an evil super-power. The US controls the world media and power structures. We hate muslims and populism and we control it at home and abroad. We send Israelis the weapons and training to kill muslims in Palestine and in wars with neighbors; they regularly assasinate innocent people; we've also given the Israelis nuclear capabilities, and we support corrupt regimes in Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Iraq, etc. which oppress the freedom of the people there, regularly jailing and torturing dissidents. The evil US also controls the media, so that all of this is spun to make it look good, and the media control is so strong the its own citizens are semi-brainwashed into believing they are in the right (just like the fascism crazes of WW2 - patriotism is the greatest virtue!). What if you were a rich man in the Middle East who saw this injustice, this oppression, and realized there was nothing you could do about it other than violence. Is it not brave to take the greatest risk to try to change the world? Most of us who think the political system is so fucked up that we can't really do anything about it, we do nothing. Is it not a hero who tries to fight perceived injustice?

Now, I certainly don't believe that this alternative reality is the same as the real world, but I can see how it would be possible to believe it, and if you really did believe it, it could be possible to support that cause.

10-28-05 - 2

10-28-05

In recent weeks, the mafia-like intimidation into silence of this administration seems to have broken down. Lawrence B. Wilkerson (was chief of staff to Secretary of State Colin Powell) and Col. Janis Karpinski (was commander of prisons in Iraq) have both spoken out somewhat effectively. In the past when someone tried to raise the alarm, they were viciously personally attacked and smeared, partly to destroy their credibility, but mainly to distract from the main story and put media attention on the smear charges. This happened to Paul O'Neil, Richard Clarke, Joe Wilson, Yee (the chaplain in Guantanamo), the generals who disagreed with Rummy - Shinseki and Zinni, etc. etc. Perhaps the recent walks these people are getting is because of Rove's distraction or overall administration distraction due to Katrina, and the supremes, etc. Hopefully the whistle blowing will continue and the truth will get out.

10-28-05 - 1

10-28-05

"A History of Violence" was really disappointing. It was actually pretty decent, but you have to go in just expecting a grizzly action movie. It was made out to be this intellectual movie about the effects of casual violence on families in America, etc. and it's certainly not that. It does wrap its violence in the veneer of social examination, but that's only the onion in the hamburger.

Have you noticed that all the semi-unknown stars of Lord of the Rings now have major movies? Hollywood is certainly a bunch of bandwagon-jumping morons. Fortunately these guys all seem to be legitimately pretty good. Even Gimli has an awesome movie , and he's going to be in the Dungeon Siege movie!

10/27/2005

10-27-05 - 5

10-27-05

What's the real difference between John Roberts and Harriet Miers? Why did Roberts get a "walk" into his seat, with little questioning or protest from the Senate or the media, while Miers is being widely disparaged and ridiculed from all sides? I can't really see much difference in their qualifications. Both have very little background in constitutional law, and both have not revealed their opinions on anything, nor released the records from their most important jobs as lawyers for the executive. Perhaps Roberts is more intelligent, but that's a questionable value judgement in any case which is not a very reasonable way to pick a supreme court justice (real evidence of intelligence would be a valid decision criterion). Some feminists have suggested Miers is being discriminated against because she's a woman, but I think that's pure nonsense. In this case with Sandra Day O'Connor retiring, choosing a woman is almost required to fill a quota, so a female nominee is perhaps subject to less thorough examination than a male.

The real difference seems to me to be that Roberts is a good politician and Miers is not. That is, Roberts is handsome, well spoken, a family man with cute kids, he smiles, dresses well, looks good on camera. Miers on the other hand is a hideous old spinster who looks creepy when she smiles and professes an inexplicable strange love for the president. As usual, America is judging people on the most valid of criteria.

Now, don't get me wrong, I think Miers is a joke of a nominee, I just don't see how Roberts was any more deserving of his quick unchallenged pass into one of the most powerful positions in the country.

10-27-05 - 4

10-27-05

We wandered into two really rotten movies last week - "Domino" and "Elizabethtown". I don't usually go see movies without some idea of whether they'll be good or not, and I got punished. It sucks that if you're just spontaneous and trusting, 99% of the time you get shit.

"Domino" (Tony Scott) was by the far the worse of the two. It's done in this trying-to-be-modern-edgy-MTV style which is pure bollocks. It's all fluff and no content, with these stupid gimicks like replaying fragments of dialog which is just annoying and gives it all a plastic music video feel. The story is so ridiculous and Domino's character is so over the top, I was just grimacing in pain the whole time. They keep trying to force it to be exciting with shots of helicopters and quick cuts and jumpy cameras. The sad thing is that a good version of the real life of Domino Harvey could be really interesting. You could make this movie about a spoiled rich girl who gets into drugs and partying, doesn't get enough thrills there so gets into lots of odd jobs, she hates the proper world of her parents, and she's quite androgenous, not a really pretty sexpot, more a tomboy, as a bounty hunter, her boys have to bail her out of trouble often, and of course bounty hunting is not really glamorous, but she gets to steal drugs from the perps; in the end she can never get the thrills she needs and she commits suicide overdosing on drugs. The only saving grace of the whole movie are two really hillarious moments - the Jerry Springer bit and the nymphomaniac lecture. Both of those are just grafted-on comedy bits, but they add much needed value.

"Elizabethtown" (Cameron Crowe) is not so revoltingly bad, it's just sort of a mildly stinky turd, which has a few moments of light. Orlando Bloom actually does a pretty decent job, but his character is such an inactive pussy it's impossible to like him. There are lots of moments that are just ridiculous and unbelievable; Susan Sarandon is just horrendous, so over the top playing herself, her huge speech scene made me wretch. Kirsten Dunst was also okay, but her character is just so inconsistent and unreal she seems like a ghost, and the things she does are impossible. The road trip sequence is very short and insignficant in the movie; I love road trips, but this was just too stupid, that she's mapped it out so exactly and he can see all these things in such a short time.

Capitalism doesnt work when the product choices are so limited. Movies are so expensive to make and so few are made, that the desired movie is not usually available. It leads movie producers to make the wrong decisions too, because they'll see that A did well and B did not, so they'll make more movies like A. But what about all the movies that didn't get made - C,D,E, F,G,... maybe those would have done better. In particular, we're almost always restricted to choose between cheezy, predictable, stupid, over the top big Hollywood movies, or low-budget indie movies without stars or excitement. What about the smart, action-packed, realistic, uncondescending big-budget movies? We almost never get that choice, so any capitalist selection of movies made can't function.

Many of you know Rockstar is making the video game remake of the old movie "The Warriors" , but did you also know that Tony Scott is making a remake of the movie? That sounds like some very well timed synergy if they actually pull it off.

10-27-05 - 3

10-27-05

A new way to set speed limits : measure the average speed actually travelled on a road, and set the legal limit 10% higher. The speed limit here then just prevents outliers. Perhaps you could also set a minimum speed, at 25% lower than the average. The goal is to keep people's speeds reasonably close. The idea is that over time, the average speed will determine how fast is actually reasonable to go on this road. Of course there are various cases where this doesn't work (eg. near schools), but these sort of "democratic" laws based on actual behavior are very interesting to me.

10-27-05 - 2

10-27-05

We brought back some estate-grown fresh roasted Kona coffee; it was ridiculously expensive, about $30/lb compared to the $5/lb you pay for good coffee at Trader Joe's. It was hard to do a taste test while there, because they make the coffee so shittilly. In fact, I never had one good cup of coffee in Hawaii. Most people don't understand preparation is 90% of coffee's flavor, the beans are only a very small factor. Now back at home in a controlled prep environment I can really compare the beans. The Kona beans produce a rich nutty brew with almost no bitterness, which is very good.

10-27-05 - 1

10-27-05

Last Sunday the NYT had a ridiculous sophomoric article about how "darts could be the next poker". This partly included quotes from ESPN people who'd worked on poker and were clearly morons (as you can tell from the ESPN coverage). This is one of those cases where they got lucky and don't even understand why poker TV is so popular. It reminded me that I wrote this article a while ago, but decided it was so rotten I didn't want to publish it, anyhoo I'll link it here - The Texas Hold'em Craze .

Anyhoo, the real key factor to poker being so popular is that anyone can play poker and feel like they're close to the level of the pros. Of course they're not anywhere near that, and they probably never will be (just like they will never golf against Tiger Woods), but unlike any other major game, they can really believe it, even if it's just for a minute. It's a unique aspect of poker that in any given hand, an amateur can make a pro look really really bad, and that makes them feel great. Because of this, amateurs can win major tournaments, as they have in the last few years, and win big money, which makes everyone at home feel like they could do it, which is very exciting. There are plenty of other factors, probably the biggest being that it's a game where people just sit and chat, so there's lots of great made for TV dialog.

Now, I actually quite enjoy watching darts, because it has plenty of entertainment, but it's lacking several key aspects of poker. For one thing, the guys don't chit-chat very much. For another, not many people play darts recreationally. But crucially - an amateur can never ever beat a pro. Darts is much more a traditional game of skill, and guys like "The Power" are just unbelievable skilled "athletes". The great things about darts are the crazy Brittish announcers (Brit announcers are the best!!) and the drunk audience.

10/26/2005

10-26-05 - 4

10-26-05

Dan and I have been playing a lot of gin lately. I now see gin as a lot like poker. Yes, there's a lot of randomness, but with correct play you can improve your chance of winning. Many of the decisions in gin are "no brainers", but in a typical match you encounter a few very difficult decisions (assuming that you find the basic decisions not difficult). I've never read about proper gin strategy, I'm sure it's an exactly solved game and you could learn to play perfectly, but I'm having fun trying to figure it out myself.

The most basic ideas are these : 1) you want to use your 10 cards in a 3-3-4 split if possible, because this is far more likely than any other way of using them up. 2) you want to at all times maximize your outs of improving. 3) for a set of 3 to become a set of 4, it's far better to have runs in sequence (2 outs) than sets of the same value (1 out).

The more general strategy is to maximize your outs (the number of cards that help you), and to try to maximize the benefit of each action. Picking up a random card has some average benefit to your hand (which partly depends on what you have in your hand and what's been discarded). Think of it this way - every 10-card hand we give some value based on how good it is (fully matched up is maximum value). Your goal is to take the biggest value step with each move. The value of picking from the deck is simply the average of the value delta over all the unknown cards. What you do is compare this to the value of picking up the face up card in the discard pile.

The cases where this become difficult are in marginal cases. For example, I'll never pick up from the face up pile just to make a 2-set. That is, if you have 7c and the discard pile shows 7s, there's no need to pick that, picking from the deck will have a better average value. But, what if the discard pile shows 7s and you have the 7c and also 8s. Now picking that card would give you a 778, which is one of those nice things to have because it has 4 outs to become a triple. That's a tough decision that I'm not sure about and is partly dependent on the situation.

Obviously you must be aware of trivial things like avoiding straights with the ace because you lose an out that way, you have to watch what your opponent is collecting and try to guess what cards they have. You need to avoid having cards that take each others outs. For example if you have a TTT and a JQK , you only have 2 outs to quad those trips, rather than the 3 outs you would have with 777JQK or something like that where they don't run into each other.

Another thing people often get wrong is to think about their trips and quads as being "locked up", and also to think that all "junk" cards are equal. Any set can be broken up if it makes sense. For example, I'll usually have things like the 778. Now when you get a 7, you have a 7778, and you think "that 8 is junk" and you should drop it. Not so. If you have some other card which is even less useful, you should drop it instead. The 8 is not very useful, but what if you get the 9? Now you have a 77789 and you might discard a 7, because the 789 is better than the 777 (more outs to quad up). Even then if you have some other card which is even more useless, you might just keep that 77789 going, because it gives you 2 outs to make two trips (the last 7 or a T). Another interesting situation occurs if you get something like the 8c when you have the 7s7c7d8d9d. If you could keep that 8 you would have 6 outs to make two trips, which is mighty nice.

On some poker show once I heard that Stu Ungar was considered by many the best gin player alive (in his day, when not too high or hung over). At the time I wasn't thinking about gin, so I thought "what the fuck, gin is just luck, how can you be the best? it's like being the best War player". Now I know different; in addition to strategy, you have the aspect of trying to disguise your hand with your discards, reading your opponent's hand, and also remembering every card in the discard pile so you know the dead outs.

10-26-05 - 3

10-26-05

In the end, the only really big advantage of real estate investing is that you can get these great loans (mortgages) which you can use to put into investments. This allows you to get an asset which is appreciating faster than the interest rate, and the difference is pure profit. What's more, the asset can be very large compared to the capital needed to get in. If you could take out a big loan and put it in the stock market you could do similarly well, assuming you could find an investment that's as good.

Specifically, imagine you get a $100,000 interest only loan at 7% interest. Your monthly payment is $525. Now say the real estate market is going up by 10% each year. In 5 years you sell and pay off the load and get $61,051 . You invested $525*60 = $31,500, so your profit was $29,551 . Assuming you had to put up maybe $10,000 to get in, that's a very big profit - 300% - even though the market was doing 10%, because you were so heavily leveraged.

What if you just put your $525 monthly investment into stocks that return 10%? After 5 years you would have $40,354.91 , for a profit of $8,854.91 - much less. If you invest that $10,000 capital you had to start too it would return $6,105.1 profit, for a total of $14960, about 150%, half as much as the house.

In the real world, a lot of the reason why real estate investing is so good is because it forces people to save a much bigger percent of their savings than they otherwise would. If you have a big mortgage, you pay it and live frugally. If you don't, you could put the same amount in stocks, but instead you buy fancy things.

10-26-05 - 2

10-26-05

In "MMA" (aka pankration or ultimate fighting), you get all this bull shit Jiu-Jitsu in "the guard" (that's the position where one guy is on his back, the other between his legs, the lower guy wraps his legs around and also holds the upper guy's head close, the upper guy's hips are below the lower guy's). Almost every fight spends a lot of time in the guard or similar position. Jiu-Jitsu guys love to be on the bottom here and make a lot of moves from this position. I say it's a bullshit position because in a real fight with no rules, this position would never exist for more than a second. You have clear shots to gouge eyes, crush testicles and crush wind pipes. This is why striking arts consider grappling to be a semi-bullshit art. There are good things about it and it's a good technique in a mixed arsenal, but in real life or death street fighting there are very few grappling moves that can or should ever be used. If you get close enough to grapple, you're close enough to apply fight-ending moves to the soft spots of your opponent.

In fact, Jiu Jitsu was developed by and for Samurai in Japan during the feudal wars there. It was primarily intended as a technique for subduing enemies that the Samurai didn't wish to kill or severly injure, such as an unarmed enemy (it would be dishonorable to use your sword against an unarmed enemy).

Muay Thai ("Thai Boxing") bouts are kind of weird. They wear full size boxing gloves, so the ordinary punches are not very nasty, but they can elbow and knee and kick with bare shins, all of which are much more vicious than punches even without gloves. (of course the big gloves are useful for blocking, which is what they do with them primarily, but it's still weird).

10-26-05 - 1

10-26-05

The statutory rape laws are ridiculous. It's illegal for a 19 year old to fuck a 17 year old, but not for a 30 year old and 18 year old. A better rule would be something that scales more smoothly. Something like : hooking up with anyone 2/3 your age or less is illegal. So a 30 year old needs to get with a 20 year old or older. This would also make it illegal for a 60 year old to be with a 40 year old, which you might protest saying that 40 year old can make their own decisions. Clearly not. Most 40 year olds are still out of their minds, and seeing those couples is just gross.

10/25/2005

10-25-05 - 3

10-25-05

I want to be an Ultimate Fighter. I want to play Rugby. I want to base jump. That would be crazy, people tell me, you have so much to lose, why risk it. But what exactly do I have to lose? Intelligence or success or whatever I might have don't help you have a happy good life. I could do those things and be happy, and maybe be injured and maybe die, or I could live safely and get what exactly from all the shit I have?

10-25-05 - 2

10-25-05

I'm back in reality and sickened by it again already. Bill Kristol says G.W. Bush has been "a good president", and as an example he cites his "democratization" of the Middle East. I'm not even really going to get into the issue of whether or not the war in Iraq was a good idea or not, or how much (or little) GW can claim any success in the Middle East. Certainly that whole arena is full of dirty questionable actions and if it is a success it's a very marginal conditional hedged success which at this point could still easily turn into a massive failure, and in either case, the lead-up to war was so illegal and dishonest that it overshadows any success that resulted (not to mention the benefits lost from having so much money and manpower tied up in a red herring). Anyone with any sanity must agree that we are less safe than ever, terrorism is rampant around the world, and the US preparations (the Department of Homeland Security) is a facade and a shambles. So, what has this administration really accomplished? Well, it's passed massive pork and protection for its favorite industries - energy has received tax subsidies and contracts which haven't helped our energy problems at all, US lumber, coal, the gun industry, we've shut down worldwide programs against AIDs etc. in order to pander to the Christian right, we've severly cut taxes on the very rich (effectively raising taxes for the majority of Americans), and are building a huge budget and trade deficit, we've alienated most of the world, and I just can't go on. I can't think of anything you could possibly list as a great accomplishment to say this has been a successful presidency?

Who in the world thinks the Prescription Drug benefit was a good thing to do? Drugs are already plenty cheap under medicare and any decent insurance. If you truly can't afford to pay the already lost cost, there could be coverage for that under Medicaid, but the real problem with prescription drugs is the cost being charged to the insurance, the lack of incentive for doctors to use less and cheaper alternatives, and the lack of proportional cost to the user.

10-25-05 - 1

10-25-05

Well, I'm back from Hawaii, and my web site is down. Anyhoo, I put some photos on my yahoo photos site , as usual. This trip, to the big island, was one of my best vacations ever. It had it all - hiking, adventure, crazy sights, rainforests, markets, relaxing on the beach, drinking tropical drinks, eating great food. All my life I've been kind of a snob about going to Hawaii - it just seemed like a waste of a vacation to stay in the States, not exotic enough. I sort of looked down on people who loved Hawaii, I classified them with the people who went to Paris and ate at McDonalds. Now I'm a convert. It's exotic enough - the Big Island is anyway, I think the developed islands are too touristy and civilized for my vacation taste. The weather and the attitude there really do give it enough of a feel of being another land, and the conveniences of being in the good old USA really are nice (eg. reliable services, good roads & safe driving, etc.)

The most striking thing in the end about the Big Island is the incredible variety of landscapes. The rainfall goes from 140 inches a year around Hilo (the lush rainforest) to 10 inches a year around Kohala (a barren landscape of lava where the best sandy beaches are hidden). Literally if you're bored of where you are or don't like the weather, you can drive half an hour and been in a radically different climate.

We spent our first four days in Hilo, the very wet rainforest side of the Island, where we hiked and swam in waterfalls, explored, etc., then drove over to the Kona side for four days where we lay on the beach and snorkelled and did all that.

I've heard that the Big Island is much friendlier than other Hawaiian islands, that it still has the "Aloha" spirit. In fact there were a lot of friendly people (more so in Hilo than the Kona side, which is more touristy), but there were also a lot of pissy rude people in the service industry. That's fucking lame. If you're in the service industry, you should be thankful that the tourists are providing you sustenance. If you don't like it, quit your job and live in poverty. There are plenty of times when it's perfectly reasonable for the locals to hate tourists. When you're trying to swim at your favorite beach and a bus full of tourists pulls up and they all pile out and start trashing the place - now you can be pissy and hate the tourists. When you are serving them a Mai Tai and they're being perfectly friendly, you have no right or reason to be pissy, so fuck you and you just cost yourself a generous tip.

10/16/2005

10-16-05 - 1

10-16-05

Sit back children, and let me tell you the tales of two acts of corporate malfeasance, in which executives get stinking rich, workers suffer, and the taxpayer inadvertently pays for the corporate profits.

A story from the past : In 1999 GM spun off Delphi, its auto parts manufacturing division, as you are surely aware. At that time, the GM executives must surely have known that Delphi was bound for bankruptcy. In the spin-off they put most of the health care and pension and wage liability of its large work force. As usual, the SEC and the government and large financial institutions were silent in this questionable shunting of responsibility. Basically GM was allowed to drop a multi- billion dollar poison pill off their balance sheet. (Imagine if I could take out a billion dollar loan from the bank, keep the billion dollars for myself and spin off a seperate company which owned the loan obligation). Now that Delphi has gone bankrupt as it inevitably had to, GM is only responsible for a part of their large liabilities, and the government pension insurance will pick up most, as well as federal unemployment and health care, etc. which GM would have been required to cover. The billions of dollars the Delphi owes will be written off to the taxpayers in the bankruptcy. Now, off course Delphi and ridiculous Republicans will scream that it's the union's fault. That's of course nonsense. High union pay and benefits may have in fact hastened the fall of Delphi, but they did not cause it - doing manufacturing like that in the U.S. is simply not a profitable business, and unprofitable business will fail. You can't compete with 3rd world wages; in order to come even close you'd have to pay your workers well below poverty levels, and skilled labor will simply not accept that wage, they'll find other jobs. ( more )

A story for the future : Countrywide is the nation's most profitable mortgage company, and they've done fantastically well with the recent housing boom. Their outsize success, at its core, is through giving very large mortgages on expensive houses to people who can barely afford them, largely at very low interest rates, often with interest-only and other dangerous loans (if you only made safe loans to good risks, you wouldn't have nearly so much growth). These loans are very profitable, but are risky and could lead to major losses if the market goes down in the next few years. Fortunately for Countrywide, they don't carry that risk. Instead, they sell their mortgages to Fanny Mae and Freddie Mac. The two FMs now carry the risk of these mortgages, and the FMs are semi-government organizations which would surely be bailed out by the taxpayers if anything bad happens. Basically Countrywide is able to make very risky financial investments with the government (taxpayers) covering the loss if/when it goes bad (very similar to the S&L scandal in the 80's). (Note that I'm not even counting the direct subsidy of taxpayers to the FMs, which is indirectly then transferred to people like Countrywide, more )

10/15/2005

10-15-05 - 6

10-15-05

"Head On" is a very good movie. The cinematography is beautiful and energetic; it really captures the frustration and restlessness of the characters. I love Turkish music!

I want to see "Crossing the Bridge: The Sound of Istanbul" , but it's not on Netflix, curse their tiny selection!

10-15-05 - 5

10-15-05

There's much hubbub (repeated again today in the NYT) about why academia skews liberal. The conservatives are quick to attack the liberal bias of academia. Many reasons have been suggested why academics tend to be liberal, but the most obvious is usually ignored - academics tend to be smart, reasonable people, and no thinking person can associate themselves with the Republican party these days. Many of the so-called Democrats out there are in fact ultra-conservative, they're just not insane.

10-15-05 - 4

10-15-05

The Party Poker Side Bet thing is kind of interesting - you're betting whether the flop will be all red or all black, so you'll be right 11.29% of the time (that's less than 1/8 because after one red card comes, it's more likely the next will be black; eg. (16/32)*(15/31)*(14/30) = 0.01129). It doesn't give details about the payouts, but it suggests they might pay 8:1, which is 0.125, so you're losing money on every bet. Now imagine that you get on a 6-max table and collude with some friends so all the seats are your buddies. Before the flop you can see 12 cards and you get a huge edge. This is like card counting in Black Jack but it's super easy and you get a much bigger margin. It looks like they're limiting the bet amount pretty low ($2 or $4 ?), but even so it should be pretty easy to make money, especially if you had a bot playing it.

Say for example you see 8 cards red and 4 cards black. There are 18 red left and 22 black. That means the chance of one black is 55% instead of 50%. The chance of all black is (22/40)*(21/39)*(20/38) = 15.587% , and they're paying at 12.5% , so you get a 3% edge on every bet. The number of ways to deal red/black for 12 cards is 2^12. The number of 8/4 splits is 2* (12!)/(8!*4!) (the 2* is because I don't care if it's red/black or black/red), so the chance of an 8/4 split is 24.16 % The chance of any split 8/4 or better (9/3, etc.) is 38.7 % (if you want less variance 9/3 or better happens 14% of the time). So, you certainly get enough hands to bet on. You can bet on about 25% of hands and get a 4% edge when you do, so each hand you get a 1% return. If you're all at a 6-way table and you all just limp the SB and fold the flop every hand, you'll break even on the poker (they don't rake the pot when the blinds just chop). You could play a hand every 15 seconds or so, 4 a minute, or about 200 an hour. So you get a 200% return per hour. If the bet size is capped at $4 that means you make $8/hour. Not very good. If the bet size could go bigger, you could make money.

Note that if you're just playing regular poker and see two red, the chance of all black is (26/50)*(25/49)*(24/48) = 13.265 % , so you get a tiny return by betting there at 8:1 (tiny = 0.7 %).

Stu fills me in : Side Bets are only available on 10-way tables. That means you'd have to actually play poker profitably because you couldn't easily fill up the table and just fold the flops (also, the flops would come a lot less often). The Side Bet amount scales with the table. On a 10/20 table you can bet a max of $10. That's not really a high enough max to make any money.

10-15-05 - 3

10-15-05

I want a hybrid apple that has the crunch of a Braeburn or Fuji, but the tartness of Granny Smith. Genetic engineering should give us a nice wide variety of new apple types.

10-15-05 - 2

10-15-05

Google maps only cover the US and the UK at the moment, it makes it impossible to look at the rest of the world! Taiwan is funny

10-15-05 - 1

10-15-05

Maximilian's Schell (in LA) looks super cool, I want to go. Apparently they have rotating architecture installations at this place, just open to the street so that random passersby will walk in and experience the space.

Also, the ecstasy exhibit at MOCA in LA looks worth checking out.

While you're in LA on your art tour, better go by the Getty before they're forced to give back the stolen artwork that they've illegally purchased through middle men.

10/14/2005

10-14-05 - 4

10-14-05

People who protest elections that they believe are corrupt by boycotting them are fools; it allows the opposition to win more thoroughly, and no one really notices or cares about the boycott. Similary people who resign their post in protest when they believe their office is being forced into positions they hate - it simply lets the opposition win much more easily.

I'm trying to decide whether to buy a nice "dry bag" (a waterproof backpack) ($100), or just take a garbage bag ($0.1).

SLO was on fire yesterday ( Tribune ). The little fire was on the hill in the middle of town, behind the Crossroads strip mall. I saw it burn, the fire helicopters swooping in and dropping water. Dry brush fires burn in this really cool way; the center is just flat black earth, and the fire burns all around the edges in a ring, only a few feet high, moving slowly into the dry grass around. It makes this perfect black circle in the middle with a flaming ring all around, the fire ring just one foot wide.

10-14-05 - 3

10-14-05

I like to type nude. I place the keyboard on my lap, with my cock dangling onto the space bar. Sometimes when my hands leave the keys to touch the mouse or grab a piece of paper, my cock will sneak in a few words, the head reaching out and pressing keys. The words are usually gibberish because the head is too big to press the keys it wants, it mashes several.

10-14-05 - 2

10-14-05

Anybody played the new Ico (Shadow of the Colossus) ? I hate video games and I hated Ico, but this game looks pretty sweet and the reviews are very good. Looks like Sly 3 got great reviews too, and I loved the first one.

10-14-05 - 1

10-14-05

So, I was thinking that I'd like to fly, and I thought maybe it would be easy with Helium balloons. You can get a Helium tank cheap enough, less than $100 for a standard "244" tank, which is 244 cubic feet of Helium. So, I did a little math. The lift from Helium is simply from buoyancy and gravity. A volume of helium weighs less than the air it's in, so it experiences a lift force equal to the gravity force on the mass difference. On its own, it would keep rising until the air becomes so thin that the density inside and outside is the same. A very rough approximation is that air weighs around 1 kg per cubic meter (it's about 1.2). To that approximation Helium is weightless (it's actually 0.017), so 1 cubic meter of Helium can lift 1 kg of weight. A 244 tank is about 7 cubic meters, so all the Helium in the tank can lift 7 kg, about 15 pounds. So, either I need to lose a lot of weight, or this is actually not so easy.

I weigh about 80 kg, and with gear it would be more like 100 kg. To get 100 cubic meters of volume, you need a sphere with a radius of about 2.88 meters, which doesn't sound huge, but it's a diameter of 18.9 feet. Grantend, that's a lot smaller than a typical hot air balloon, but still mighty large. The whole project seems feasible, but it's not a cheap little lark, it's more like $5000 for serious weather balloons and industrial size Helium tanks.

So, that's a no-go for the moment. Maybe I'll just jump off a cliff with something like a Kitewing .

Hmmm... maybe some kind of rocket jetpack is more feasible... A quick estimate - Gravity actin on me is about 800 Newtons of down-force. A big F model rocket produces maybe 40 Newtons, so I would need about 20 rocket engines to lift me. There are really big rockets available which would easily do the trick with one rocket - Aerotech PDF - but you need an explosives license from the ATF.

10/13/2005

10-13-05 [poker] - 1

10-13-05 [poker]

I'm going to post a poker hand once in a while and see if anyone complains. Here's one from my big tournament yesterday which I think I made an error on :

Table Multi-Table(486234) Table 10 (Real Money) -- Seat 1 is the button
Total number of players : 9
Seat 1: regan8 (7045)
Seat 2: TomSki (1370)
Seat 3: garlicring (5346)
Seat 4: Lordfarkwod (6731)
Seat 5: garcia922 (4945)
Seat 6: merlin185 (3989)
Seat 7: AIRD7 (5295)
Seat 8: Pedigree5 (8392)
Seat 9: chukb (9548)
TomSki  posts small blind (150)
garlicring  posts big blind (300)
** Dealing down cards **
Dealt to chukb [ 9d, 9c ] 
Lordfarkwod folds.
garcia922 folds.
merlin185 folds.
AIRD7 raises (900) to 900
Pedigree5 folds.
chukb calls (900)
regan8 folds.
TomSki calls (750)
garlicring folds.
** Dealing Flop ** :  [ 4h, 6d, 2d ] 
TomSki bets (470)
TomSki is all-In.
AIRD7 raises (4395) to 4395
AIRD7 is all-In.
chukb folds.

So, what did AIRD7 have? And should I have folded? I'll tell you what I was thinking, why I folded. When AIRD7 raises 3x preflop in early position, he either has a pocket pair or two good high cards. The 900 is a lot of his stack, he's probably not messing around. On the flop when he goes allin, he's saying he has a pair, he knows the short stack can't fold, so he's not bluffing, so we can rule out the two high cards, he must have a pocket pair. Now, if you look at all the pocket pairs from 22 to AA, there are very few I can beat - only 33,55,77, and 88 - all the other ones beat me, so I fold. (btw it's also possible he has a hand like AKd, but that's only one hand so the chance of it is very slim; there are six hands that make AA, so it's 6:1 more likely he has AA than AKd and we can just ignore it). I'm also thinking if I just fold here I still have the big stack at the table, while if I call and I'm wrong my stack is around average.

Answer below

By raising allin on the flop over the short stack, he's trying to isolate, he wants me out of the hand. This tells me he doesn't have a real monster, which might just smooth call and try to entice me into the hand. So, he thinks he can beat the short stack, but is scared of me. Maybe he thinks I'm on high cards and he doesn't want me to draw and hit one. We can rule out all the sets - 22,44,66, and also the very high pairs, AA, KK, QQ. Now the most likely hands for him are 33,55,77,88,TT,JJ. In fact, with this consideration it's possible he does just have high cards, like AK,AQ,AJ, and he thinks they're good against the desperate short stack and wants to get heads-up with him. Just looking at the pairs he could hold, I beat four of them and am beat by two - I should call!

He actually had 88, and I would have won to get a huge stack and be in a powerful position in the tournament. (TomSki had KQ - he was making a desperate move on a short stack; this was actually a poor move, he should have just folded preflop since there was a raiser and a caller - against just one raiser he should have moved allin preflop).

(we run a fancy web page around here at BloomCo)

10-13-05 [finance] - 1

10-13-05 [finance]

Real Estate and Oil have both done fantastically recently, but what's been even better over the past few years is Gold and more generally precious metals & mining. Why is gold doing so well? Basically it's because major people in financial institutions think our economy is about to tank. When you're scared of the economy in general, metals are a good hedge because their value is inherent, it doesn't go up & down with the stock market or currencies. Buying a lot of gold is a sign that financial institutions think our market (and our dollar) are risky or headed for the shitter.

Financial institutions on average skim 20% of the profits that their customers make. That's huge, and basically risk free!!! Clearly being an investor is for suckers - it's just like gambling, being a player is small potatoes and very risky - all the big money is in the House, and it's much safer. With the real estate boom, the most recent big players in this field are the mortgage industry. They've done fantastically well on the housing craze, and their exposure to housing price fluctuations is minimal (especially with the new bankruptcy laws, which means that even when they fuck up and make reckless bad loans, they still make money).

10-13-05 - 1

10-13-05

I have zero sympathy for the democrats who complain about the Republicans breach of process in the House of Representatives. Yeah, it's a breach of ethics, yeah it's a manipulation of the system, but the truth is it's small potatos in the scheme of immoral acts by the Republicans, and it's nothing compared to the dirty tricks and arm bending of Democratic heros like FDR and LBJ. The democrats are just appalled because the Republicans are getting their way - and their way is indeed rotten, just about everything this congress has done is just unbelievable. All post-Katrina actions are appaling.

10/12/2005

10-12-05 [poker] - 2

10-12-05 [poker]

Played a 600-player multi and made 41st place. I had a very nice stack, about 1.5X average, and lost it all in two consecutive hands at the end. It seems like in these things I always manage to run into some crazy monster hands at the very end. In this case it was a guy in the Big Blind with AK. It should be ILLEGAL to get good hands in the big blind, it's just not fair. Then it was my blind and this guy tried to steal with Q6 and made two pair on the flop when I made one pair. Again, no fair, especially because the guy was a douche; the software shouldn't let douches flop lucky hands. That's poker.

10-12-05 [poker] - 1

10-12-05 [poker]

An all-in decision near the end of a poker tournament is incredibly complicated. When you have some kind of mediocre hand and suddenly someone puts you allin, you have to run through a ton of things.

1. What are the pot odds?

2. What are the possible hands he can be playing; this requires going over the previous action and thinking about how he considers the situation - what's your stack, what's his stack, what are the blinds, are there other really short stacks - these things affect what hands he might have.

3. What are my odds of winning against the hands he could have? (weighted sum by probability) How does that compare to the pot odds?

4. If I fold, what will my chip stack be? If I call and lose, what will my stack be? How will my stack compare to others and the blinds if I fold? How well do I play a big stack or short stack? Are the other players better or worse than me?

5. What are the other stacks? Is anyone close to going out?

6. Are we in the money yet? How does the payout change for the next few places?

7. How will folding or calling affect others' view of me? (eg. if I call with a weak hand, will they lose respect? if I fold will they start attacking me every hand?).

8. What are the blinds? How do they compare to my stack if I fold or call and lose? Are the blinds going up soon? How close am I to having to pay the next big blind?

This is just the quick sampler, and that's assuming there's no one else in the hand.

10-12-05 [bicycling] - 1

10-12-05 [bicycling]

I've been riding the same route over and over recently. It's the only good ride I can do straight out of my house, all the other good rides here I have to load up my bike & drive a bit, then ride (I could do them straight from my house, but then they'd be too long for me). This ride is out the Edna Valley and back, a beautiful area between the hills, full of vineyards, wineries, and farm land. On the one hand, it's boring doing the same ride all the time, but on the other hand, it leads to a whole new experience : I've become very familiar with this land, and I can see all the little changes in it over time. I can watch the seasons pass - the wild flowers in the spring, the green hills turning grown, the grape vines exploding with leaves and then turning brown and losing their leaves, the grapes slowly growing and ripening and then suddenly all disappearing after harvest day, the different crops in the fields growing from seedlings into tomatos, zucchinis, peppers, and then disappearing, the left overs getting tilled back into the soil. Even the smells change all the time and speak to me of the seasons. The area is full of wild Salvias (relatives of Sage) which seem to almost bake on hot days and release their fragrant oils, there's a type of wild fennel which grows abundantly along the roads and gives off its anise/liquorice/fennel smell, and of course the smell of the ripe grapes in the vineyards, almost fermenting on the vine in the last few days before they're picked.

10-12-05 - 4

10-12-05

The White Sox win tonight was a travesty. A fucking travesty. I hope some crazed Angels fan kills that umpire.

Why is Joe Pesci considered a good actor? I think the Academy voters got confused between "most annoying" and "best actor" , they must have just checked the wrong box.

Bike shorts designers must all be women (eg. not have cocks). There's a big seam on the inside right down the middle of the front which rubs right on my pee hole when I ride.

10-12-05 - 3

10-12-05

American TV needs more hot chicks. I know there are hot chicks on the soaps, and on E, and the rotten sitcoms - but those shows are so rotten I can't stand to watch them. I'm talking more like the gratuitous hot chicks you get in the rest of the world - particularly in South America, Italy & Russia. Things like the news with hot chicks, comedy shows, variety shows, eg. take a basic good show, like maybe Conan O'Brien or something, and just add lots of smoking hot chicks in skimpy outfits. It's like putting salt on an egg! It's the frosting on the cake!

10-12-05 - 2

10-12-05

I've always preferred playing female avatars in video games. You might think this is because I'm a nancy-boy who wants to be a girl, but it's quite the opposite. With typical 3rd person avatar control, you're staring at your avatar's ass the whole time you play; I'd much rather stare at a female ass for hours than some dude. (this was the genius of Tomb Raider - who cares about the rest of the character design and the art, don't you realize the star of the show is the ASS?).

10-12-05 - 1

10-12-05

I despise the Yankees, but I don't understand why A-Rod is taking so much of the blame. A-Rod is a phenomenal player, a big slugger who's also a versatile and skilled fielder - his adaptation from short to 3rd was fantastic. Among the Yankee's cast of Stooges on defense, A-Rod was one of the few bright spots. Yes, A-Rod was in a slump for the postseason series with the Angels. Guess what, that's what happens with power hitters - they're streaky. That in fact is the reason why it's dangerous to build your offense on power hitters; it may work to win enough games in the regular season, but it doesn't give you the consistency you need in the postseason. The real people deserving blame here are the morons Steinbrenner and Cashman who have spent massive fortunes building crappy teams loaded with too many sluggers and not enough good baseball players. Even while A-Rod is being dissed, Cashman is being lauded as this great GM. In what way is he great? At spending a fortune to get any player he wants in the league, and picking absolute turkeys? At letting go his best starting pitchers and consistently hiring people who peaked the year before at inflated salaries? Good job, Cashman.

10/11/2005

10-11-05 - 4

10-11-05

What the hell is a "person to person call" ? Isn't every call a person to person call? Hello, operator, I'd like to make a toaster to toe-jam call, please. ( Dave answers - the old operator days seem pretty cool)

10-11-05 - 3

10-11-05

"Clap your hands say yeah" would be pretty fucking cool if the fucking singer would just enunciate a little bit !!

Just heard the "democracy now" thing about Columbus Day - various indigenous people who think Columbus was a slave trader and genocidaire who want the holiday changed to "Indigenous People's Day" or some such nonsense. This is a horrible piece of PC revisionist history. Yes, by today's standards Columbus is an absolute bastard, but his behavior was completely within the moral norms of his time period, and to hold him to today's code is preposterous. Columbus was a brave explorer; I'm not sure he deserves to be honored with a national holiday (where's the Leif Erikson Day?), but neither does he deserve to be dragged through the mud. Don't you native peoples have more important things to do? Like running casinos, selling cigarettes, and getting drunk? (don't worry, they won't be offended by this, most of them are illiterate and certainly don't have computers).

Poker update : Took a 1st place, then a quick out, then another bubble, then a bubble+1 (just in the money), playing two & three table sit & go multis. After losing $200 yesterday I've almost made it back today. The bubble+1 really sucked - I was the big stack at bubble+1 and then ran into AK and QQ in consecutive hands, with huge blinds.

10-11-05 - 2

10-11-05

Go Angels! I'm quite sure the Angles will get destroyed by the White Sox in the ALCS, since the fact is their starting pitching is just too weak and they have no pop on offense. Still, I love the Angels. They're the ultimate old-school scrappy team. They play solid defense, they move runners, they're a lot of fun to watch, putting on a lot of good plays, bunting, stealing, all that.

10-11-05 - 1

10-11-05

Democracy - is it actually a good way to govern? Certainly it works well at times, but it also has horrific failures, particularly when the populace is split into strongly unified voting blocs. One of the classic failures of democracy is when a unified majority forms which can then pass laws which terrorize the minority. This was of course done in the U.S. to terrorize the slaves, women, etc. It's even now being done in the U.S. to terrorize convicts and immigrants. It was famously done in Nazi Germany, of course in Yugoslavia, etc. Most of these really bad cases are splits along ethnic lines, where the majority ethnic group persecutes the minority ethnic groups. And of course these type of problems are threatening to destroy Iraq.

Taken a bit further, democracy is a powerful system for the strong to extort from the weak. In practice you don't need to actually be a majority of the population to get a majority of the vote. Tools like propaganda are ways for smaller groups with more power to increase their share of the vote, and thereby pass laws which are bad for many and good for the few.

Now, you may say that the solution is a strong constitution with a strong guarantee of basic rights. That's worked pretty well in practice here in the U.S. - but isn't that really saying that democracy doesn't work? Basically we have this constitution which is handed to us by demigods - a select group of people smarter than the populace at large - and it binds the democracy so that it can't fuck up too bad. Left to its own, the democracy would pass laws which violate these basic rights, and the constitution is a constraint on that. Certainly a good constitution is a good way to start your government off, but isn't that just saying that un-elected conventions of smart men are better at governing than a democracy is?

Another interesting ideal is the fiction that larger groups make better decisions. This is sort of like a fluid mixing hypothesis. Let's pretend it's true and see what it says. Imagine all the different ethnic groups of the world all just have their own best interest in mind. If you draw up states or countries where one is a majority, they'll make laws which favor them and persecute others. But, the world populace as a whole could agree on basic rights which would make those things illegal. Now you don't actually want a whole-world democracy, because it would be impractical to acheive consensus on all the little things important to local government, but a heirarchical system would be ideal. You have a world body which makes the overall laws which everyone can agree on, protecting basic rights and such - setting rules for the lower levels of government. Then you have a heirarchy of smaller and smaller regions (what we call Nations, Provinces, Cities, etc.), each level setting rules for the lower levels. This is very similar to what we have in the US, with the Constitution taking the role of the world-wide body.

Why does this fail in practice? Basically because large groups are still jerks. Hmm.. I've lost my energy and train of thought for this rant.

I guess my points are these - 1) the demonstrated fact that a good constitution is crucial for democracy is in fact proof that democracy does not work well. If democracy worked, the laws enacted and the behavior of the government would not need to be constrained by a carefully architected constitution. 2) even with a strong constitution, democracies will fuck up anything they can. 3) the idea that majority votes lead to the overall best course for the population is preposterous (just like the contention that capitalism optimizes the market, which is ridiculous in the real world).

10/10/2005

10-10-05 [poker] - 1

10-10-05 [poker]

It continues to shock me how bad the pros are on Poker Superstars. Sklansky is just stupid tight - he folds AQ in the blind to a raise from the button !? WTF !? Huck Seed is just stupid aggressive (actually Huck Seed is a bit just stupid).

One thing that blows my mind a little bit is how I struggle to be just slightly proftable at poker. I'm a decent player and I work hard at it, and moreover 90% of the people I face online are just really really bad, and yet I only barely manage to eke out a long term profit, though there are big short term up & down swings.

10-10-05 - 2

10-10-05

I'm going to Hawaii next week. It's going to be rainy, it's not like a lying on the beach drinking fruity cocktails kind of trip. I do that every day. It's more like a hiking rainforest adventure kind of trip. We're going to the big island so we'll see lava and waterfalls and things like that. I'm looking forward to clambering around in rivers and shit like that. Hopefully I'll get to go cliff diving.

Another $30 three-table , I make it right near the money and go out. Fuck, these things are killing me. I was the big stack with 10 to go, and then just got raped by a series of hands where I was outplayed, wound up short stacked and got pot committed when I was beat. I just want to smash my head in with a hammer!

When we went camping I was splitting wood with a hammer and a wood splitting wedge. Portola doesn't let you collect twigs for kindling, which I'm used to doing, so splitting wood is a pretty rare activity for me, and I suck at it. Anyhoo, aside from smacking the hell out of my hands with the hammer, I BROKE the hammer. Granted it was a regular claw-hammer type of thing not a nice mallet like I should have used, but I was still quite shocked when the solid hammer head cracked and the big hunk of metal split in two. Must have been some of that super low grade Chinese steel that I always hear about. Don't build bridges out of that shit!

10-10-05 - 1

10-10-05

Three P's to rant on this morning : Prisons, Pensions & Pockets.

Prisons - after the French Revolution, one of the reforms that was instituted was that the prison guards were not allowed to torture prisoners quite as much (beatings and long solitary confinement were still fine, though). The guards quickly got around this. They'd find the dumbest, toughest prisoners, and give them various perks (more time outside, cigarettes, etc.) in exchange for doing the things they couldn't do to other prisoners. Then this was just prisoners fighting each other (as they are wont to do) and no one got in trouble, and the horrible mistreatment of inmates could continue. In the United States, something similar to this practice continues to this day. Most of our prisoners are very dangerous places to go, mainly because of violence among inmates. This is not simply a fact of prison life, rather it is intentionally allowed by prison guards who create an atmosphere of danger and rape and beatings in order to make prison a more unpleasant place, which they believe the inmates deserve. The horrible prison conditions which they aren't allowed to create themselves, they allow the inmates to create for each other. This should be stopped now. There are a few reasons why there's no action on this. 1) We keep convicts from voting (a huge violation of their constitutional rights), 2) most Americans really want to stick it to convicts, we figure they must be rotten and deserve to be stabbed and raped, it sort of makes us feel good to imagine it. (I'm not even going to talk about the way the Bush administration endorses torture, that's just preposterous, not even worth discussing, it's like "Intelligent Design" - you can't have a debate about it, it's too ludicrous) Though I will say something - you remember the Newsweek scandal about flushing the Koran down the toilet? then there were riots and the Bushies said "oh that's nonsense, shame on you, it's all the media's fault for stirring up this trouble" and Newsweek apologized? Well, of course the report was basically true. The exact details may not have been right, but interrogators at Guantanamo have infact used the Koran often as a tool to break the captives, desecrating it in various ways. This is not only a clear violation of the Geneva convention, it's just really fucking stupid - the way to soothe religious terrorism is not to embody the worst of what they say you do.

Pensions - the impending bankruptcy of Delphi reminds me of the nationwide pension scam that corporations have been exploiting for the past twenty years. Basically, most major US corporations have promised these great pensions and have underfunded their pension funds, which means they are all headed for short-falls. The federal government backs those pension funds, so that all of us taxpayers are picking up the difference. This is a way to artificially inflate corporate profit and to pump money from taxpayers to corporate directors. It's a completely corrupt practice. Also related in this case is the clever way big companies like GM can spin off subsidiaries that are in trouble and let them go bankrupt, so again the fed will pick up the tab of supporting the bankrupt mess. This leads me to the next one...

Pockets - in that corporate directors should have to pay their companies bills out of their own pockets. Imagine the most ridiculous example : I make a company and take out a loan for a billion dollars; I pay myself a salary of a billion dollars; my company declares bankruptcy. That debt should be paid by me, not taxpayers. Now, I know there already are laws on this which apply when directors tie their own funds to their companies, but they don't apply if you're just taking salary and dividends and stock profits and such from your company. Also, exactly codifying this principle into a good law is tricky, but that shouldn't stop us. It's absurd that with crooked companies like the old S&L scams, or Enron & WorldCom & etc. most of the people at the top get to keep their fortunes (unless they are sued and successfully made to pay something reasonable in damages). Instead they should be directly tied by law to the bankruptcy settlement of their company - eg. all salary over $500k/year counts as "corporate money" which must be repaid if the corporation goes bankrupt, or something. Also note that of course it's the job of the Board of Directors to make sure that this kind of nonsense doesn't happen. The board is supposed to act in the best interest of the stock-holders and keep the management from profiteering and raping the company, but of course that's a naive fantasy. In practice the directors are buddies of the management and they're all profiteering together.

10/09/2005

10-9-05 [poker] - 1

10-9-05 [poker]

I've been playing the $30 sit and go multis today. Twice I finished on the bubble, which is the most painful way to finish. Both times I may have been playing too aggressive. I was playing my basic attacking game, which I like. The caveat is the bubble - maybe I should have tightened up to make sure I made the bubble, then opened up again. On the other hand, I like attacking on the bubble because people tighten up to creep into the money, so it's a great time to steal. In both cases I ran into absolutely huge hands for short-handed end-games, AK in one case and QQ in the other.

10-9-05 - 2

10-9-05

Went camping in Portola Redwooks State Park over the weekend (near San Francisco). The long hike to Peter's Creek loop is well worth it. Near the end you come upon folds in the hills covered in clover and ferns, shaded by old redwoods, with colurful mushrooms sprouting from decaying fallen trees. The raccoons at Portola have learned how to open coolers. As soon as we pulled up to the camp site, a raccoon ran over and started climbing in my car. We had the cooler out on the picnic table already, and after shooing it away from the car it looped around to the table, climped up and lifted the lid off the cooler (!). Again a vigorous shooing ran it off.

The drive on Skyline (35) and Highway 9 is so fun and beautiful. It's a regular haunt for motorcycle enthusiasts, especially on the weekend when all the portly software developers put on their leather and play dress up, pretending to be real men on their Harleys. I almost went off the road on Alpine Drive. The road is too messed up to really be a fun speeding road, but I was just sort of cruising on it, having a little fun in the corners. In one of the really tight left-hand turns, I went into a slide and my rear wheels skidded out behind me. If I was a bad-ass I would have accelerated and it would have been no problem. Instead, like the pussy I am I braked and came to a stop with my right wheel off the road starting to go down the steep cliff. Luckily it was one of the spots with a bit of a dirt shoulder before the cliff plummeted down hundreds of feet to the valley below.

10-9-05 - 1

10-9-05

Health care in America is fucked up for many reasons.

1. Health care must be universal. Not providing health care to all is a very foolish way of "punishing" the poor. It only increases the total cost in the long run. If you don't provide preventive care to people who need it, you wind up paying much more for catastrophic care when their problems require treatment. Clearly we don't want to just let people die horrible deaths by not providing care - we're going to keep them alive, so it just makes sense to provide good care their whole life. Now, that doesn't mean they need optional care or unnecessarilly expensive care, but neither does anyone (unless they pay it 100% out of their pocket), which leads us to -

2. Health care purchasers and providers must be motivated to be efficient (aka effective and cheap). Currently this motivation doesn't exist at all, in fact the opposite motivation usually exists - doctors and hospitals make more money when they provide more expensive care, and patients usually pay a fixed cost which is not proportional to their care. We get situations where doctors prescribe very expensive drugs which are no more effective than the cheap generics that have long been available. We also get a lot of very expensive unnecessary surgery, partly because of a lack of preventive and lifestyle care, but also because of these improper motivations. You also have the problem that doctors are anti-motivated to transfer patients. If you wind up in the care of surgeon, you're likely to get surgery whether or not you should - he's antimotivated to transfer you to a physical therapist, or anyone else, he's motivated to keep you so he can do the work.

Making the patients pay proportional to cost is very simple. The percentage could also be scaled according to the patients wealth. A simple linear percent could work : you pay (your wealth/ $1 million) * 100% of the cost. Note that this is real wealth, not income. To go along with that, the health care providers would have to declare all costs up front. Furthermore, mistakes by the health care providers would have to be fixed at their expense, just as it is at any normal business. Making the providers incentivized to keep costs low is trickier. The first step is to make their base pay not proportional to costs. Then they need to be paid bonuses from the insurance company based on some estimate of the real benefit done, reduced by cost. eg. the more benefit they do for lower cost, the bigger bonus they get.

3. Doctors and hospitals (and all health care companies) should be held publicly accountable. Part of making this all work better must be information and accountability. Currently this hardly exists, partly because of doctor's fear of malpractice suits. Some sort of public database of doctors and hospitals records and patient reviews must exist for patients to be able to make decent free market health care decisions - without it the capitalist system is broken. Sort record of their costs and price scale must exist as well.

Capitalism is a very nice system, but one of the big classic problems with it is that it's very easy to push the real costs of your actions onto other people. In our system, that usually winds up being taxpayers somewhere down the road. If you make a car that's dangerous to others, you may save some money and make a bigger profit, but when it hurts others, a huge cost errupts for their health care and damages which is covered by others. When you make unsafe products, like asbestos, or vaccines laced with mercury, or foods full of all kinds of poisons, that can turn your company a nice profit; it may lead to massive health care costs down the road which are mostly covered by tax payers. (the only way to correct this incorrect charge is through our heros, the class-action lawyers, though even their huge suits rarely come close to matching the damages).

10/06/2005

10-6-05 - 1

10-6-05

"Junebug" was a nice movie. The acting's all good and it's pretty realistic and sweet and powerful. The soundtrack is by Yo La Tengo which got me excited but is very disappointing. The cameo by Bonnie 'Prince' Billy was a funny surprise. The outsider artist guy is just awesome.

I just found "Amalgamated Sons of Rest" , which is a collaboration between Jason Molina and Will Oldham, aka my two favorite artists in the whole world - Songs Ohia and Bonnie 'Prince' Billy.

10/05/2005

10-5-05 - 2

10-5-05

What exactly defines the Republican Party these days? Certainly not small government or balanced budgets. They get a lot of play from being the more "military" party - but only a few years ago they were the ones accusing democrats of fighting unnecessary preemptive wars and humanitarian missions abroad, and in reality both parties are roughly equally war-like. They are indeed the party of low taxes, which seems to get them excellent play even from people who suffer badly from those tax cuts (aka most Americans). But what really gets the Republican vote in? Family Values. And what, pray tell, are these Family Values? Basically it goes like this - anything that we're not allowed to do because of church and whatnot, we don't want anyone else to be allowed to do that either, even when it doesn't hurt us at all. People have abortions - doesn't affect us at all - my god, make it illegal. Men have sex in the privacy of their own homes - ban it!

10-5-05 - 1

10-5-05

We found a black widow right next to my computer last night. It was a big black female with the perfect red hourglass on her belly. She was back in a dark corner between the computer and the wall, right next to where I put my feet when I write this bullshit. I killed her and then sprayed a whole can of spider poison over here in case there were black widow babies. The poison cloud made my eyes burn and water - SPIDER POISON IS PEOPLE POISON ??!!

I won another 1st place in a two table tourney, then played another and was on good track to win it. I was playing my usual style - aggressive, stealing, but then tight if the pot gets big. I had one of the guys with a big stack set up perfectly. He had seen me play T6 and J6 in big pots - what he hadn't seen was the situation, and he thought I was always playing junk. Getting someone set up like this is one of my big goals in poker - it gives me the best possible chance to double up through this guy. So, I changed gears and started playing tight when he was in the blinds. Then I made my move - I got AK in the cutoff and made my usual steal raise. He went all-in from the SB, just like I wanted. Most likely he has a weak ace here, and I'm golden. Then - fuck fuck fuck - the BB goes all in. Now, I know the BB has a hand here, but it's probably a pair below K's. I hate my hand now, I know the first douche probably has an ace, and this guy has something like JJ. Against those hands I'm about 33% to win, and I'm getting about 4:1 to call, so I have to call. Unfortunately the BB had KK and I lost almost all my stack and went out soon after. Very unlucky, I knew I was in prefect position to take 1st place again because everyone was playing so badly short handed.

10/04/2005

10-4-05 - 5

10-4-05

"Last Life in the Universe" is a brilliant movie; slow but engaging, sweet, tense; the music is so lush and wet and perfect, the look is so colorful and rich.

The cinematographer is Christopher Doyle, who does a ton of asian movies in between his black-out benders and his affairs with 15-year-old asian girls. Apparently the constant drinking and sex does not detract from his talents.

10-4-05 - 4

10-4-05

Republicans regularly roll out the cliche that American free markets and competition and entreprenuership are what make this country great, and the social safety net and high taxes are killing Europe. That sounds all well and good, but is there any real evidence of it? Perhaps the only time in history that America has succeeded beyond other nations was the Internet boom. That of course can be traced back to very good government funding for research which was our wise policy in the 50's and 60's. American success before that seems quite unrelated to a better capitalist system. We profited hugely from slave labor when most of the world wasn't using it. We benefited from massive amounts of fertile land, which could be easily taken from the weak Indians. Later we profited from great natural resources - including oil - in the 19th century when Europe was running dry and becoming crowded. Finally in the 20th century we had the great fortune to be away when the Europeans smashed each other up, making us rich by destroying each other. So far as I can tell, the only time our system has ever been "better" is in the very recent past, and as I said I attribute that primarily to the good education and research funding that was mainly going on in the 50s and 60s (and came to fruition with applications in the 70s and 80s and finally became massively productized in the 90s). And yet, we tout our system as this wonder that provides opportunity and success. And of course both the public and private sector have cut funding to research and education in order to pursue short term profit.

10-4-05 - 3

10-4-05

First place in a two table tourney feels so good. I made some brilliant moves and they all worked. My favorite was one hand where I made a flush, and just called his small bets the whole way; on the river I went all-in, a huge overbet on the pot, and he called me with middle pair. The idea is to look like you're a goofball trying to bluff by overbetting the pot and it worked to perfection.

"PRIDE" fighting is so much better than the UFC. The fighters are better (the Russian & Ukranian guys just kick unbelievable ass), the rules are better, and the ring is better. They use a regular boxing ring instead of the stupid fucking cage, so you don't get the stupid UFC-style fights with people just pinned up against the cage the whole time. The skills of the PRIDE guys are unbelievable - striking, kicking, knees, grappling. I don't just want to see people wailing on each other, that's boring and revolting, I like to see artists and masters at work.

10-4-05 - 2

10-4-05

Katrina is perhaps the worst natural disaster in American history, and it is turning into the biggest handout of taxpayer money to private corporations in our history.

10-4-05 - 1

10-4-05

I got cut on the razor wire yesterday and it's infected. Normally this wouldn't be anything unusual, but after my recent month-long battle with bacteria, I'm terrified.

Read a funny little stat today - 30% of paternity DNA tests find that the purported father is not the genetic father. Now, presumably people getting paternity tests are in a sub-group of the population which is more likely to have cheated, so this 30% would not apply to the general public, but of course paternity tests also exclude the poor and mothers who can't find the fathers at all. We could say something like - among upper/middle class people who are suspicious of child-origin impropriety, 30% of the time they're right! In other words, you girls are a bunch of hos and I'm not paying any damn child support.

Good ways to waste your time : kontraband , thatsfucked , mensix & skoopy

10/03/2005

10-3-05 [sports] - 1

10-3-05 [sports]

Well, all 3 of my bets went ridiculously wrong. Seattle lost in overtime after missing an easy field goal at the end of the game that would have won it. The Ravens had zero offense, as predicted, but the fucking Jets threw way more than they passed, cripling themselves by not using Curtis Martin, and lost 13-3, letting the Ravens cover the ridiculous spread. Dallas played badly and Oakland got some big plays, but the Cowboys had the ball on the 5 yard line at the end of the game with 4 downs and couldn't put in the end zone, losing the game. So, I'm out of NFL betting for the season. I feel like all of my bets this year have been solid, and yet I've been pissed on by god and anally raped by misfortune.

10-3-05 [politics] - 1

10-3-05 [politics]

This president just continues to be an absurd corrupt lying nepotist. Roberts was bad enough, but this new supreme court judge is just unbelievable. Here we have a nominee to a crucial position which will affect our country for decades to come, and the nominee is a crony insider of the Bush political machine who has ZERO experience as a judge. It's just reprehensible. This is in the long line of appointments like Brownie, Hughes, Bolton, etc. people who are insiders that will toe the Bush line and have no qualifications for the job.

10-3-05 [life] - 3

10-3-05 [life]

Trekked out to the secret cave at Montana de Oro. To get there you have to walk along the fence that borders the Diablo Canyon Nuclear Plant, then climb down the cliff (past the fence covered in razor wire). I sort of rapelled down the steef crumbly cliff, Dan climbed under the fence. The cave is only accessible at low tide; I've been watching the tides for a few days and this is the first time a good low tide was at a nice daytime hour. Today the sea was battered by wind, choppy and angry; the cave was full of sea weed that had been washed in and deposited there. The cave is illuminated by a shaft of light reflected from the sea, giving it an eeire glow; the walls are painted red and green by some mineral colors. Some photos at - Yahoo .

10-3-05 [life] - 2

10-3-05 [life]

I got the bill for my hospital visit for my infected spider bites. For a one minute visit to get a prescription of antibiotics (which I knew I needed), I'm being charged $290 (the insurance was billed a few thousand). That's on top of the charges for the actual antibiotics. Health care in this country is clearly fucked up. I need to go to Mexico and stock up on antibiotics so I can cut out the fuckers with the Rxes.

10-3-05 [life] - 1

10-3-05 [life]

Went to LA & San Diego for the weekend. The water in San Diego is so much nicer than up here, it's clear and warm. We went swimming at La Jolla Shores, which has amazing sea life right now. There's a pod of Leopard Sharks swimming around right along the beach, you can go out and swim among them, there are just a ton of them, and they're quite beautiful. The sharks are harmless, but the ocean floor there is just covered with Thornback Rays which bury in the sand and wait to sting you - I literally saw ten of them nearly on top of each other in one spot. They run into each other and get all flustered and come out of the sand, swim around a bit and then settle in again and bury themselves. Supposedly there are Bat Rays in the area as well, though I didn't see one, thank god, rays terrify me. To get out of the ocean I'd swim on the surface until I beached myself in the shallows, I didn't want to stand up.

San Diego has a surprisingly cool and active nightlife downtown in the "gaslamp" district. There are lots of really posh clubs and bars (alongside the horrible chains like Moose McGillicuty's and all the requisite fake "Irish" pubs). Blue Ginger (I think that's it) has this amazing wall of water. Some Italian place has barbacks than rappel up and down the multi-story wall of liquor. There were lots of places with velvet ropes and ten bouncers standing outside that we walked past; I used to want to get in those places ("I'm good enough, they can't keep me out") but now I just hate the fucking game, and I hate the snobby people that tend to be inside. I'd rather hit the open-access bar next door where the pregnant drunk young woman is being hit on by the fifty-year-old nerdy guy who just got divorced.

LA's Union Station is beautiful at night.

Lucky Baldwin's in Pasadena's crappy touristy "old town" is a legitimate British pub, complete with warm beer (cellar temperature, when appropriate) and the stick of piss, puke and beer which all Brits love. Why is it that an "Irish" pub is usually fake (decorated from the Irish Pub aisle at Wal Mart), which British pubs are usually full of real gap-toothed rugby-playing Queen-loving hyphenated-word-typing ex-pats ? Seems like a great place to watch soccer.

A little offensive joke for ya : when someone is acting really Jewy (ala Larry David or Richard Lewis or Mel Brooks with the "Hoyven Mayven, Oy" shtick), you say - "Hey buddy, this is the U.S.A. not the Jew-S.A. !" ; then when they get indignant in response you say "What are you gonna do, Jew-do?"

The political talk show "Left/Right/Center" on KCRW is decent. Even the representative of the "right" is semi-articulate (because he's British).

old rants