Thursday, February 28, 2013


Sooner or later, most reality shows will have an ugly moment on their hands. Try as they might to prevent or delay it, someone will eventually leak information that the show is not entirely what it presents itself to be; that the reality show is not, shall we say, real. Some key moments will turn out to be staged or heavily prodded into turning out like they do, such as drama being fueled by the show providing copious amounts of alcohol, as done on, among others, The Bachelor/ette. A key premise of the show will be undercut, such as Man Vs. Wild's Bear Grylls having survival challenges set up and staying in hotels overnight. A show at least partially revolving around money, or the challenges behind only having a limited amount of it, will show the main cast to be paid enough money or given enough things to remove a lot of that drama, such as the revelation of the salary per episode paid to the main cast of Pawn Stars, including $25,000 an episode to Chumlee. A competition show will run low on quality applicants in the application process and devolve into casting an inordinate number of actors and models, as Survivor has done to the point of bringing us the word "mactors". For a talent-search show, it may be as simple as the realization of checking up on the former contestants and finding they're not panning out as well in their post-show careers as the show has been hoping for, particularly the winners, an accusation leveled at American Idol in recent years.

How common is it? Mike Fleiss, executive producer of The Bachelor/ette, claims that 70-80% of reality show content is fake in some way. (He exempts his own show, of course, despite all claims from within and without to the contrary.) The list can keep going on.

Usually, the moment comes and goes with a lot of fanfare, but not all that much immediate damage. Longer-term damage can result as people slowly drift to other shows that have not yet had their equivalent ugly moment, or in a few rare cases, are thought to be unlikely to ever have one (Deadliest Catch being a good example of the latter). We keep being surprised every time it happens. It recently happened again with Storage Wars, as bidder Dave Hester, in the midst of a long downward spiral in bidding success, accused the show of planting items in lockers. He was fired from the show soon after, though producers denied it was because of the accusation.

The same issue pops up all over the world, but in Japan, it's common enough that a word has long been around for it: yarase. In the linked piece, a Japan Times article from 2003, it actually is broken down even further, including a second word, shikomi:

Another producer, Mr. B, corroborates Mr. A’s assertions, but doesn’t apologize for them, stating that “many viewers don’t really understand yarase.” He distinguishes between yarase, preparation (shikomi) and direction. When he shoots videos of teenage girls soliciting sex, he likes to have his subjects weep on camera. According to Mr. B, yarase would be “telling the girl to cry.” If you give her onions to draw tears, that’s “preparation.” And if you tell her to imagine what her “dead grandmother in heaven would think” of her selling her body, that’s “direction.”
Or in American terms, seeding a Storage Wars locker would be yarase, wheeling in alcohol for Bachelor/ette contestants would be shikomi, and asking leading questions in any confessional anywhere would be direction. It should be noted that this particular quote has another level to it: yarase, and its companions, was employed in a much more insidious context: as part of a news report. This is part of how it got common enough to get a vocabulary for it. No less than National Geographic has been accused of yarase, in their case by Jake Adelstein concerning a documentary on the yakuza.

Oddly, in some cases yarase ends up slightly beneficial to some programs. Japanese game shows are notorious for being further over the top than anywhere else.

For example, take this clip from a show called All-Star Athletic Games in which contestants attempt to avoid getting flung off turntables. The idea here is that, if they fall off, they get flung into a pool of hot water and they have to immediately run off into a kiddie pool filled with snow to cool back down.

This kind of thing is pretty extreme and even the Japanese know it. They also know that if you want to get on TV, you're going to have to mug a bit for the cameras, as Todd Newton explored in 2009 when competing on the show Urakage for Travel Channel one-episode-wonder Are You Game? (Something I remember watching, but for which the Internet appears to have purged all video that I was going to use.) The more extreme elements will get written off as yarase in order to make viewing it a little more bearable.

Not that it always is. The most extreme example of Japanese television might be the ordeal of a man who went by the stage name Nasubi, who was locked in an empty apartment in 1998 for as long as it took to win one million yen (roughly $10,000) worth of magazine contests. He was given absolutely nothing beyond the materials needed to fill out the postcards. Anything else, he had to win, and that included food (which it took him two weeks to win; the producers are thought to have helped him out a bit until he won his first bag of rice), and toilet paper (which it took him ten months to win), and clothing (which he never won at all, unless you count the single pair of women's lingerie that didn't fit). It took him over a year of total isolation- punctuated by a shift in apartment when reporters were about to track down the one he was in, during which they forgot to bring his rice along- to reach the goal... after which he was sent to South Korea to win enough to pay for his flight home. And then enough for business class. And then enough for first class. And then he was sent into another empty box... which promptly fell away as soon as he stripped naked to reveal a live TV audience, the first real human contact he'd had in 15 months.

There wasn't any yarase. In fact, in order to prove it, the producers set up a live feed of the apartment so people could see for themselves. The only real fakery going on was some editing done for the show to make Nasubi seem happier than he really was. In reality, Nasubi contemplated escape several times, especially since he wasn't promised much of a prize: the stuff from the magazine contests and maybe some extra publicity. (The real prize: they made a soup commercial from footage of the producers handing him a bowl of ramen at the end of the Japanese segment of the task, they published the journal he'd been keeping, they sold ad space on the show website, and that all made Nasubi some hefty royalties. If Wikipedia's to be believed, he currently is a drama actor in his native Fukushima.)

Are reality shows faked? Quite often. Are the cast members willing participants? Again, quite often; as far back as the first season of Survivor, Kelly Wiglesworth stated, on-camera, "We're not bad people, we just play bad people on TV." Do we watch anyway? Usually.

But, in a sense, it may be worth asking what would you rather have in the end: the knowledge that some of the insanity and drama you see is staged and that people aren't really like that and would not really be so cruel, or the knowledge that it's not, they are, and they would?

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Break Out The Picket Signs

Commentators reporting from inside the Supreme Court are coming away largely certain that the Court, come June, is going to strike down the Voting Rights Act, 5-4, on a party-line vote. (To those who bristle at the phrase 'party-line vote' being used in conjunction with a Supreme Court vote, let me remind you how many people can tell exactly, to a man, how the vote breaks down just from those three words. The Supreme Court is nonpartisan in the same way March Madness bracket pools are illegal.) The only real question is how far the 5 are intending to go.

Gentlemen, start your taking to the streets. You do have until June, and given last year with the Obamacare ruling, Roberts at least is paying attention to how he'll look in the history books.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Animals Go In The Corner

Journeyman Pictures brings us today's video, produced by Kate Iles and Kamau Levitt. For this, we go to Kenya, where people... well... there's no easy way to put this...

...they poop in the street. They are not supposed to be pooping in the street, and local officials are trying to get them to stop pooping in the street, but when it's pooping time, people have poop, the village has a street, and they've never used a toilet in their lives and they figure they've been fine so far, so bombs away.

If you are offended by the word 'shit', this may not be the video for you.

Monday, February 25, 2013

Sequest, Out

So we're moving headlong towards our latest entirely self-inflicted economic disaster, the sequester: across-the-board automatic spending cuts set to start on Friday. (Here's a state-by-state report from the Pew Research enter; a lot of places are linking to the White House's reports, but even though I personally side with the White House here, I think I'd rather have a neutral party's take on them for article purposes.) The idea was supposed to be that the sequester cuts were so odious that surely- SURELY- Congress wouldn't be stupid enough to let them happen and would merely use them as an incentive to pass something better. The whole idea of the sequester cuts is that Congress considered them so bad that they would force themselves to do something to stop them.

Congress has, in the starkest possible fashion, overestimated itself.

This all leads to one big, important question., not 'why won't they nut up and deal'. Who wins, silly. Bill Schneider of the Huffington Post gives us a perfect example of this just in the title of his article: "Leveraging Likability: Why Obama Will Win The Sequester". The article itself is exactly what you'd expect an article with a title like that to be: horserace analysis of partisan brinksmanship, leverage, who's going to blink first, who the public's going to blame, and most importantly, who's going to come out the other side looking better in comparison to how they looked in the public's eyes beforehand.

And if you work in Washington, or spend all your time talking to those who work in Washington, I'm sure that seems important because it helps determine who you're going to be dealing with every day in the future or whether you get to keep working in Washington or not. For the vast majority of us, though, this is decidedly not the case. What has happened here- what happens to a lot of people when they get into the big leagues- is that they completely lose perspective. The people they used to deal with every day fade into numbers, statistics, points on a scoreboard, or more insidiously, pawns and bargaining chips.

That's how it can get to the point that articles like this are written. Sure. One side's going to get blamed more than the other, but that doesn't mean the other side 'won'. Obama end up with improved political capital, but he does not win. He loses as well. He loses because the countrymen whom he leads will be made to suffer despite his efforts. Conflicts do not always have a winner and a loser. This is not a zero-sum game, no matter how much Election Day may make it look like it is. It's not Election Day anymore anyway. Sometimes everyone wins. Sometimes everyone loses. If we reach sequester, everyone loses.

The public at large, no matter how much it gets drummed into their heads who's winning a certain news cycle and what side they should be on, ultimately really wants one thing: they want shit to get done. They want their lives to be as improved as possible, they want their futures as secure as possible, they want to know someone, anyone, has their back if something goes wrong. The fact that their anger over these things not being done has been met from their leadership not with a renewed effort to get them done, but rather with gamesmanship, and the fact that that gamesmanship is far too often not only not condemned by those journalists who cover them, and not focused and refocused on the constituents whom it would affect, but instead encouraged, cheered, and aided and abetted, serves only to further erode public confidence in all involved: the elected officials who finger-point, and the journalists who allow and engage in finger-pointing themselves.

People don't like having their concerns be ignored. They don't like writing to their elected officials and getting form letters back that either are only tangentically related to the issue at best, or thanking them for holding the opposite opinion from that which they said they had. They don't like it when a reporter shows up in town for an inadequate amount of time and completely misrepresents what's going on to make for a better-sounding story. They don't like feeling like their questions have gone unanswered. They don't like feeling like their leaders and the people who watch them seem to exist in some alternate universe where TV ratings and decibel levels have taken the place of votes.

I do not blame Schneider's side of the argument for causing the sequester, presuming that some last-minute deal does not come down the pike (like, admittedly, it has a tendency to do). I do, however, blame the mentality that he brings to the table and places on display.

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Imagine If It Had Been Storks

So I assume you're all familiar with the modern method of determining whether someone is pregnant, which is to basically pee on a stick and see what the stick says. There are things you look for in blood and urine that will say whether pregnancy's taken place, and the stick looks for those. Failing that, you can also have an ultrasound and see if there's a fetus rummaging around in there.

But that's now. What were we using before urine-detecting sticks? Because we were using something... well, at least since the 1920's. Before the 20's, you pretty much had to wing it and guess. The word 'hormones' didn't even come into play until the 1890's.

We used lab animals, of course.

The first pregnancy test that didn't involve random morning sickness and observing that the missus was getting quite fat for no particular reason involved mice. In 1928, German scientists Bernhard Zondek and Selmar Aschheim noticed that when you injected urine from an early-pregnancy female into an immature female mouse, the mouse's ovaries enlarged. (The full report in California and Western Medicine is here, if you want to try to figure out the chain of events that would lead to wondering what would happen if you injected urine from an early-pregnancy female into an immature female mouse.) The thing is, in order to find that out, you had to slice the mouse open and have a look at the ovaries. After finding that you got the same result from rabbits, rabbits became the animal du jour, so much so that the phrase 'rabbit test' entered the lexicon, and the phrase 'the rabbit died' became slang term for a positive test.

Though really, the rabbits died either way. They still had to cut them up to look at the ovaries. Ah, science back in the 1930's.

Then in 1939 came the toads. This may seem like a gigantic step in the wrong direction, but quite the opposite: you could test on the toad without killing it. The toad was the African clawed toad. (Also known as African clawed frog, because how many of you can really tell anyway?) This time, the urine needed to be injected into a dorsal lymph sac, notable for being something you can reach without a whole bunch of rest-of-the-toad standing between you and it. You waited to see if eggs formed in the sac; if so, you had a pregnancy. For both toad and woman, in fact. Because the toad not only lived, but could be used over and over again, the rabbits were let off the hook. The rabbit test became the toad test until 1960, when non-animal tests were introduced and things progressed towards something suitable for home use.

After all, the kids might not appreciate wondering where their pets keep going.

Friday, February 22, 2013

How To Campaign

Step 1: ...should this be 'don't campaign'? Because I think that there are quite a few of us who think Step 1 ought to be 'don't campaign'.
Step 2: If you must campaign, it's quite acceptable to 'straight talk' with voters. However, remember that ultimately, you must then ask for their vote, and in order to keep your job, they must agree to give it to you. So it helps to not talk down to people if at all possible.
Step 3: If you are contacted by the victim of a tragedy, such as the mother of someone killed in a mass shooting, be sympathetic. That's your job. In fact, that's your responsibility as a decent human being.
Step 4: Mothers of people killed in mass shootings do not appreciate it when, after expressing their concerns, they are told that they are in need of 'straight talk' while their concerns are dismissed out of hand.
Step 5: They particularly do not appreciate if your expressed need to supply straight talk is accompanied by applause from the crowd.
Step 6: If you must supply 'straight talk' to such a person, do not expect their vote in the future.

BONUS STEP: It also helps if you refrain from calling your constituents "jerks".

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Hot Asian Girls

...they're clothed. Sorry for any misunderstanding.

Two things we're covering today. First, out of Oddity Central, there's a piece concerning Japanese girls who are renting bare skin out as advertising space. This isn't quite on the level of some guy offering his forehead up to be tattooed with the logo of the highest bidder. It's not the forehead. It's down quite a bit further. See, a long-running fashion in Japan is miniskirts and high socks. That leaves some thigh skin showing, known as 'zettai ryouiki' or absolute territory. There is a TV Tropes page devoted just to that part of the flesh. The idea is, since guys are looking at that part of the girl's body so much anyway, why not put an ad down there?

This is a thing that the woman has to actively sign up for, through a PR company called, naturally, Absolute Territory, and according to Oddity Central, as of November, about 1,300 women had done so. They have to be at least 18. (As it looks from the company site, you can stick a Green Day label down there if you want.)

In China, women are working from a less advantageous position. There is, apparently, a tendency to call women unmarried going into age 27 'leftover women': the women still single after all the other women have gone paired off with men. In your mind, you might think of these women as ugly, but in fact the opposite is true. We're actually talking, chiefly, about the women considered to be most attractive. The thing is, Chinese men are regarded to have a tendency to trade down a grade, and not go after women they consider out of their league. They also tend to marry younger. So eventually, you're left with two types still on the market: really ugly guys, and really pretty, very well-educated girls who naturally want nothing to do with the really ugly guys.

By age 27, women come under increasing pressure to pick someone, marry them and give their parents a grandchild. The term 'leftover women' is used a shaming device, aggressively so in not only state-run media, but also the state-run All-China Women's Federation. It's a device the women labeled with it are now fighting. Under particular fire is a March 2011 article from the Federation entitled "Leftover Women Do Not Deserve Our Sympathy", and included lines such as this:

"These girls hope to further their education in order to increase their competitiveness. The tragedy is, they don't realize that as women age, they are worth less and less. So by the time they get their MA or PhD, they are already old - like yellowed pearls."
Shockingly, that didn't go over well with smart women. (Other articles noted that if the guy goes on to cheat on you, you're supposed to sit there and take it lest the guy lose face. Which pretty much any self-respecting woman would regard as the entire goal of not sitting there and taking it.) You won't find Leftover Women Do Not Deserve Our Sympathy online now, because in the face of righteous fury from the women, the Federation eventually- slowly, slowly eventually- backed down and took the 'leftover women' articles down. They now refer to unmarried women age 27 and over as merely 'old'. The phrase, however, remains otherwise widespread, to the women's chagrin. They will marry who they feel like, when they feel like it.

I'm sure there are plenty of American guys who will line right up.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Random News Generator- Swaziland

The Swazi police force is coming under fire for an incident on Saturday in which they broke up a prayer meeting without any apparent legal pretense. Reportedly carrying whips and batons, the police broke it up claiming that it was a front for a political gathering in advance of upcoming elections. Political parties and political activity are banned in Swaziland, with the current constitution giving absolute power to the king, Mswati III. The gatherers, though they are prodemocracy activists, denied that there was any political intent and the programs given to the attendees bore that out; when asked for cause to break up the meeting- evidence, a warrant, anything- the police repeatedly refused to give any.

According to police spokesman Khulani Mamba, "When we see a crime happening, we don't need a court order."

This is not the first time a religious gathering has been broken up on accusations of political activity, and as the allAfrica article states, it's not limited to religious activity either. Swazi police are liable to break up any gathering whatsoever on any charges they deem suitable. In 2011, they went so far as to attempt to break up, with shotguns and tear gas, a meeting of lawyers in the building of the Swazi High Court- naturally, the highest court in the land- in which the lawyers were discussing how they might be able to remove Chief Justice Michael Ramodibedi from office. Ramodibedi himself ordered the police action, The meeting was able to go ahead with the okay of the rest of the court, though Ramodibedi's order, the police intelligence unit had to be allowed to take part.

Human Rights Watch's World Report 2012 has a recap on the nation's restrictions on freedom of assembly, freedom of the press (it's illegal to run news articles critical of the ruling party), and civil rights over the course of 2011 alone.

This is in conjunction with Swaziland's kleptocratic economy, where extravagant spending by Mswati is juxtaposed with dire poverty elsewhere in the country leading to, among other things, difficulty in keeping school doors open, and the budget is, of course, not debated in parliament. When forced to choose, however- as, again, happened in 2011, when South Africa offered a $355 million loan to Swaziland in return for political and economic reform- power trumps money (the Swazi government refused the loan). It is also in conjunction with an ongoing AIDS epidemic that, alongside the poverty, has left Swaziland with the fourth-lowest life expectancy on Earth, a mere 49 years. They rank ahead of only South Africa, Guinea-Bissau and 222nd-and-last-place Chad. (The United States ranks 51st.)

By the way, King Mswati is the one to set the date of the elections. He has not yet done so, though they are scheduled for sometime during the year. Swaziland's lower house of parliament is the House of Assembly, containing 65 seats: 10 people picked by the king and 55 elected. The Senate has 30 seats, 20 of which are chosen by the king and 10 of which are chosen by the House of Assembly (which leaves none up for election and the king with a de facto permanent 2/3rds majority at bare minimum).

Long story short, America: it could be worse.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Election Day

Yes, Wisconsin, again. It's a state Supreme Court primary today. So.... go do that.

Monday, February 18, 2013

Car Doing A Backflip

Car doing a backflip, folks. Frenchman Guerlain Chicherit is the driver; he's in a Mini Countryman in Tignes, France.

Your move, Red Bull.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Happy Red Overtone Serpent Day!

Would you like to switch to a hopelessly complicated calendar today?

Yes. Yes, you would. You will see that I have locked all the doors in your house and you're not going anywhere until you do.

I direct you to the 13 Moon Calendar at the Foundation for the Law of Time. I'm going to be honest here; I can't slice through half the text being provided, but what I think is going on here is that it's inspired somewhat by the Mayan calendar. You know, the one we just got done end-of-the-worlding over. At its base, it switches from the current setup to one of 13 months containing 28 days each. A lot of alternative calendars do that. That makes for 364 days. The 365th day is allocated to none of the months, and is regarded as the 'Day Out of Time'.

The Day Out of Time is July 25th on the Gregorian calendar, as the 13 Moon Calendar begins on July 26th, which, according to the site, "was correlated to the conjunction of the sun with Sirius rising."

If only it were that simple. Oh, no.

Next comes the little matter of what to call each day. For that, we require a small tutorial. The tutorial is so easy to follow that I needed the homepage to straight-up tell me what we're calling today so that I could even make an attempt at following along.

Today is Galactic Moon Kali 11 Kin 5 Red Overtone Serpent.

No, I'm not kidding. Let's try and break this thing down.

*'Galactic Moon' is the name for the eighth month of the 13-month year. In sequence, the moons are magnetic, lunar, electric, self-existing, overtone, rhythmic, resonant, galactic, solar, planetary, spectral, crystal and cosmic. (This is not the full name of the moon; each has an animal attached to it as well. Respectively, the animals are bat, scorpion, deer, owl, peacock, lizard, monkey, hawk, jaguar, dog, serpent, rabbit and turtle. So this is actually the Galactic Hawk Moon.)
*'Kali' refers to the day of the week. Today, Sunday, is the 4th day of the week; the 13 Moon week starts on Thursday. Thursday is 'Dali', and then we go to Seli, Gamma, Kali, Alpha, Limi and Silio.
*'11' means that this is the 11th day of the 28-day month. This is the second week of the month, so it's a white week. Each of the four weeks of a month has a color to it: red, white, blue or yellow. Seeing as it's white week, humility refines meditation. On red week, knowledge initiates view. On blue week, patience transforms conduct, and on yellow week, power ripens fruit.
*'Kin 5' refers to a separate 260-day cycle overlaid on top of the 365-day cycle. This would be the 260 Galactic Gateways of the Galactic Module, which the site says is "the rough measure of the human gestation period, and is also a perfect fractal of the galactic 26,000-year cycle which we will be completing on December 21, 2012". (AKA, Mayan End-Of-The-World Day.) These days are mapped out on a 13-by-20 chart mapping out all the kins. It's 13 by 20 because we have 13 articulations and 20 fingers and toes. Cycles of 13 and 20 run parallel to each other on the chart.
*'Overtone' indicates the place in the cycle of 13, in this case the fifth position; the names are the same as those of the moons. This is the 'tone'.
*'Red' and 'Serpent' indicate the place in the cycle of 20, again the fifth position here. 'Serpent' indicates the 'seal'. In sequence, these are dragon, wind, night, seed, serpent, worldbridger, hand, star, moon, dog, monkey, human, skywalker, wizard, eagle, warrior, earth, mirror, storm and sun. Each seal is locked to a color. Dragon, serpent, moon, skywalker and earth are always red. Wind, worldbridger, dog, wizard and mirror are always white. Night, hand, monkey, eagle and storm are always blue. Seed, star, human, warrior and sun are always yellow. You give color first, then tone, then seal.

The seal and tone have keywords attached to them, an essence, a power and an action. Overtone's are radiance, power and command, respectively. Red Serpent's keywords are life force, survives, and instinct.

Not only that, but the time of day has been divided into six-hour segments, called NET or Neospheric Earth Time: midnight to 6 AM is the First Watch, 6 AM to noon is the Second Watch, noon to 6 PM is the Third Watch, and 6 PM to midnight is the Fourth Watch.

There is also an oracle board to worry about. You've got a cross arrangement, with the first four seals in the east (in a red box), the next four in the north (white), the next four in the west (blue), the next four in the south (yellow), and the last four in the center (green). Each seal in turn has four other seals surrounding it, again in the four cardinal directions.

Since today is Red Serpent, that's the center one, the 'Destiny Kin'. As it's the fifth seal, you'll find it in the northern white box. The seal to its east is the 'Analog Kin', the planetary support power. The one to the south is the 'Occult Kin', the hidden power. The one to the west is the 'Anipode Kin', the challenge/strengthening power. Those are all set based on today and, thus, what the Destiny Kin is. So for today, the Analog Kin is White Wizard, the Occult Kin is Yellow Warrior, and the Antipode Kin is Blue Eagle. Then you've got the one to the north, the 'Guide Kin', the fifth force outcome, and the color of the kin there is always going to be the same as the Destiny Kin. Which one it is specifically depends on where in the 13-tone sequence you sit; in this case, the case of tone number 5, we skip eight seals ahead of the destiny seal. So the Guide Kin here is Red Skywalker. You're supposed to meditate on all the keywords attached to the relevant kins, especially those of the Destiny Kin and Guide Kin.

So for today, in addition to Red Serpent's essence of 'life force', power of 'survives', and action of 'instinct', you're supposed to match that to Red Skywalker's keywords of space, explores, and wakefulness. You can also add in White Wizard's keywords of timelessness, enchants and receptivity; Yellow Warrior's keywords of intelligence, questions and fearlessness; and Blue Eagle's keywords of vision, creates and mind.

If you'd like to fast-forward through all this and figure out your birthday, go here and punch it in Gregorian-style and they'll translate it for you. I was born on January 17, 1985 and for that, it spit out the following, none of which I have made up:

Your birthday on the 13 Moon Calendar is:
Resonant Moon day 8
Year of the Blue Overtone Storm

Your Galactic Signature is:

kin 154: White Spectral Wizard
I Dissolve in order to Enchant
Releasing Receptivity
I seal the Output of Timelessness
With the Spectral tone of Liberation
I am guided by my own power doubled
I am a galactic activation portal    enter me.
('Galactic activation portal' means that on the 13-by-20 chart, the day's place on the grid was colored green. I have no earthly clue what that's supposed to mean.)

 So then after that, you can go here and find who shares your birthday. It is not the same bunch of people who share your usual birthday.

The website states, "There is no comparison between this experience and saying: "Today is Sunday, February 17, 2013."

No. No, there is not.

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Who The Hell Are These Guys Who Have All The Money?

Have you ever seen one of those 'world's richest people' lists? They're pretty much the same people every year; the only thing that really changes from year to year is the order. You know you're going to see the likes of Carlos Slim, Bill Gates and Warren Buffet at the top; the question is who's ahead of who.

This ought to be the last world's-richest-people list you'll ever need. It's put together by Bloomberg, and the top 100 is updated daily- at this level, wild swings in fortune can easily occur from day to day. It's also a lot more detailed than what you're going to get in a magazine list: by clicking on any of the names, you'll get a graph and a briefing on where their money comes from, a biography, some recent news concerning them, a small slideshow of things they own, and a confidence rating of how far Bloomberg is willing to stick their neck out that the number given is the actual number. (They're very confident in Warren Buffet's net worth estimate. Aldi co-founders Theo and Karl Albrecht... they're not so confident.)

You'll also get a couple little factoids on each person, for example, how Theo Albrecht Sr., who died in 2010, was kidnapped in 1971, haggled over his own ransom price, and then wrote it off as a business expense. (Bloomberg says he failed to write it off; his Washington Post obituary says he succeeded.) Or, say, how Cyprus-by-way-of-Norway shipping magnate John Fredricksen keeps records of his businesses in 19 suitcases. (And you thought taking a shoebox to the tax assistant was a hassle.) Or how Azim Premji, head of Indian technology company Wipro, has been known to clock over seven hours conducting job interviews.

Occasionally, you might even get a new name in the top 100. Maybe it'll even be someone who didn't just drop out for a couple days and come right back.

Friday, February 15, 2013


We're in the middle of a rather hectic couple days in the house, running back and forth between Watertown and Madison so my dad can get detached-retina surgery. So I need to make this fast.

So here's a British store, Selfridges, that sold things without their logos. Some assorted brands were brave- or confident- enough to strip the logos off their products and put them on display as part of the store's No Noise Initiative. Some items have fared better than others. If you're Heinz or Levi's, you're very pleased, as people still knew it was you and bought your stuff anyway. If you're a cosmetics product, you're not too happy, because without the name, you turn out to just look generic and overpriced- particularly Creme de la Mer, one of the last items still on the shelf. And if you're Marmite... well, you're still Marmite.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

A Fun New Wrinkle To The Wrestling Matter

In a thread on Fark concerning wrestling's ouster from the Olympic program, I mentioned how MMA ought to be included as a sport. Someone responded that Olympic MMA would be rather toned down to the point of absurdity. I figured it would partially depend on MMA's governing body as recognized by the IOC, so I went to look up who that was.

As it turns out, that body is FILA, the same body that governs wrestling. Each activity that is classified as a single sport by the IOC is governed by a single body- for example, all aquatic events, be they swimming, diving, water polo or synchronized swimming, are governed by the International Aquatics Federation. Since 26 sports are currently in the program (golf and rugby aren't in yet), that means 26 governing bodies. What that means here is that whatever Olympic hopes that MMA might have are tied directly to the fate of wrestling. MMA could be added to the Olympics without adding a sport, as it would be classified under wrestling. Inversely, if wrestling is removed from the Olympics, any hope that MMA might have of being included will be gone. If wrestling is eliminated, everything FILA oversees is eliminated along with it.

Have fun, Dana White. You suddenly have a stake in this fight.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Bah Gawd, King, That Sport Has A Family

For some reason I cannot possibly fathom, and for that matter nobody else can either, the IOC today decided to drop wrestling from the Olympic program starting in 2020.

When baseball and softball were dropped, the voting on dropping them took the form of individual up-or-down votes on each sport, dropping anyone that came in under 50% approval, and those were the only sports that came in under 50%. In this case, it appears to be a case of them deciding to drop something from the outset and everything that followed taking the form of figuring out what. Field hockey, modern pentathlon and taekwondo were the other sports at risk in the final round of voting, with modern pentathlon being on the bubble for years.

If you asked me, considering how utterly corrupt and damaging to the movement the boxing competition was in London, that was what needed to go if we're voting something out of the Games. People would have understood if boxing were kicked out.

There is a chance for the IOC to fix their mistake, and really, we can all agree that it was a huge mistake. In May, they'll be picking from wrestling as well as karate, squash, roller sports, sport climbing, wakeboarding, wushu and a combined baseball/softball bid to consider for the opening created by dropping wrestling, and voting to include or not include whatever sport they pick in September. Wrestling, to my eyes, is infinitely more worthy of Olympic status than anything else on that list, and it should be noted that sport climbing and wakeboarding were previously dropped from the X-Games.

Hopefully enough of an outcry will convince them to put it back.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Pope Resigns

That's the first time since 1415 that it's become necessary to write that headline. As of the close of the month, Pope Benedict XVI, aka Joseph Ratzinger, will step down.

Thus continuing this blog's grand tradition of spectacularly wrong predictions.

It's a bizarre turn of events, but considering the state of the church, I'd say a welcome one. I'm not even going to attempt predicting who his replacement will be, as not only am I going to be wrong, but the list of candidates going into a papal conclave is notoriously wide-open. Dozens of names can easily be put forward without anyone really having any idea who the true front-runners are until someone's name gets called.

So on that, let's talk about the other popes who've resigned, because it's been quite a while. There are only three whose resignations are unquestioned. (There's longstanding question as to whether John XVIII resigned in 1009 shortly before his death. His reign is obscure, his possible resignation is obscure, and we're not really able to get into it much beyond this note.)

Gregory XII (Angelo Correr) was the last pope to resign. He did so in order to close out the Western Schism era of the papacy, when power was split between Rome and Avignon, France. From 1378 to 1415, there were two popes at the same time, and European leaders had to pick one or the other to align with. It wasn't anything religious. It was the same kind of political maneuvering that European history is known for. Gregory XI, who died in 1377, followed Urban V, who was from France and died in Avignon. Upon Gregory XI's death in Rome, there needed to be a conclave. Rome was rather keen on the papacy not returning to France. They were so keen on it that a mob busted into the conclave and forced the election of an Italian pope. Okay, fine, angry mob, we'll pick Bartolemeo Prignano, now Urban VI, who wasn't even from the College of Cardinals (and who would prove to be the last pope elected from outside the College).

Urban VI sucked. Probably he got on a massive power trip. It didn't take long for the French contingent to move against him, especially after he said he wouldn't travel to Avignon. The French cardinals met in Avignon and elected another pope, Clement VII (who would later be declared an antipope, meaning he doesn't count), who ruled from Avignon. Cue nearly 40 years of political divisiveness. At one point in 1409, in an attempt to resolve the schism, cardinals deposed both popes in place at the time and started fresh with a new pope in Pisa, Alexander V (now also an antipope). Neither pope stepped down, and Alexander claimed power as well. Wonderful. Now we've got three popes. The schism only ended when Gregory XII agreed to step down if the other two would. The Pisa pope, antipope John XXIII, did so before scampering off because he had scandals of his own to deal with. The Avignon pope, antipope Benedict XIII, didn't. So everyone just excommunicated him instead and called it a day.

There hasn't been a French pope since.

Celestine V (Pietro da Morrone) resigned in 1294, after a papacy of only about five months. He never wanted it in the first place. Celestine's election came about at the end of a two-year interregnum. The conclave couldn't come up with a name, and unable to break a deadlock between their candidates, they eventually set their eyes on Morrone, a hermit. They set their eyes on Morrone because he had sent them a letter telling them that God could not possibly be pleased with how long they were taking and that he was likely to get very angry if they didn't pick up the pace and name a pope. Someone at the conclave decided, oh, why not, let's just pick the hermit. That sounded good to everyone else, and they quickly named Morrone the new pope. None of them had consulted Morrone about this, though, and Morrone was in tears over it. He had an order of his own to handle, was in his 80's besides, and did not need this. In fact, he tried to run away when told of his election, but eventually was convinced to go ahead with it.

Morrone, now Celestine, was in completely over his head and nobody knew it better than him. He leaned heavily on the King of Sicily to help him out, so much so that he ended up being viewed as a pawn of the Sicilian throne. Discontent with him grew as a result, and now seeing everyone else finally come around to his point of view, Celestine took the first opportunity to step down. He didn't get to go back to being a hermit, though; when the next pope in line, Boniface VII, took over, one of the first things he did was have Celestine chucked in prison as a display of power. Celestine died ten months later. Boniface went on to feature in Dante's eighth circle of hell as a soul destined for that circle.

The first pope to unquestionably resign was Benedict IX (Theophylactus III), the only man to have ever served more than one term as pope. In fact, he served three terms. He got in originally in 1032 the way a lot of popes did back then: he was from the right family. Also, he was 20 years old. He was what Time called in 2010 "controversial", which in media-speak is code for 'morally bankrupt rat-bastard'. He had sex with everyone and everything that moved, sold church offices, cursed God and toasted the Devil (this is the pope doing this), and was just generally what St. Peter Damian denounced as a "demon from hell in the disguise of a priest". He is a strong candidate for Worst Pope Ever (though back in 2010 I nominated John XII, who had ruled roughly 80 years earlier). At one point in 1036, the Roman mob stepped up and ran him clear out of town. He came back, but in 1044, he was run out of town again and Sylvester III elected in his place. Benedict managed to return and reclaim the papacy, but his hold on power was now tenuous enough that in 1045, he asked his godfather, John Gratian, whether it was possible to resign. Told that it was, he did so.

By selling the papacy to Gratian.

Gratian was a decent man and he would normally not have done such a thing, but Benedict was so awful a leader that if buying the office got Benedict to leave, it was worth it. He took the name Gregory VI.

Then Benedict changed his mind and wanted it back. And also Sylvester was still running around thinking he was pope.

Eventually, King Henry III, Holy Roman Emperor, called a council to try and sort everything out, held in Sutri, 44 km north of Rome. All three popes wound up deposed, with Sylvester confined to a monastery. Benedict sold the papacy, so he was out, and Gregory was out for buying it. Gregory took it a little hard but ultimately understood and took the resign-so-you-don't-get-fired option (he isn't really counted as a resigned pope, because really, would you count that as leaving of your own accord?) Benedict... not so much. A new pope was elected, Clement II, but he only lasted about ten months before dying in 1047. He agreed to a sale. He never agreed to being deposed. And he still wanted his stuff back. So to hell with an election, he just went and took it. This time it took German troops to drive him out, and he was ultimately excommunicated in 1049. His final years are obscure, but word is he checked into an abbey and spent the remainder of his life as a monk, with the excommunication lifted at some point along the line.

This is the company in which the man formerly known as Joseph Ratzinger now finds himself. He claims it's due to his health. His predecessors, and the controversy surrounding the church today, argue quite differently.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

TED Time?

TED time.

Today we'll toss it to Colin Stokes of the non-profit Citizen Schools, who spoke in November in Brookline, Massachusetts. His topic of choice: movie gender roles.

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Apparently, China Has A Lot Of People To Feed

I think this is going to be another stat day. What we're going to do is take a list of foods, and for each one, list off the country that is that food's largest producer. (In the case of the United States being the largest, we'll then follow it up by listing the highest-producing state.) We're sticking to things that would qualify as agriculture; we're not getting into the largest producer of pizza or cupcakes or anything.

Basically, this is where the world is most likely to be getting its food. FAOSTAT has supplied a lot of the numbers.

Almonds: United States (California the top-producing state)
Apples: China
Apricots: Turkey
Artichokes: Italy
Asparagus: China
Avocados: Mexico
Bananas: India
Barley: Russia
Beef: United States (Texas the top-producing state)
Bell pepper: China
Black pepper: Vietnam
Blueberries: United States (Michigan the top-producing state, PDF)
Buckwheat: Russia
Cacao: Cote d'Ivoire
Carrots: China 
Cashews: Nigeria
Cassava: Nigeria
Cauliflower: China
Cheese: United States (Wisconsin the top-producing state)
Cherries: Turkey
Chestnuts: China
Cinnamon: Indonesia
Cloves: Indonesia
Coconuts: Philippines
Coffee: Brazil
Corn: United States (Iowa the top-producing state)
Cranberries: United States (Wisconsin the top-producing state)
Cucumbers: China
Currants: Russia
Dates: Saudi Arabia 
Eggplant: China
Eggs: China 
Figs: Turkey 
Fish: China
Garlic: China
Ginger: India
Gooseberries: Russia 
Grapefruit: United States (Florida the top-producing state)
Grapes: China
Hops: Germany
Kiwifruit: Italy
Lemons/limes (they're grouped together statistically): India
Milk, buffalo: India
Milk, goat: India
Milk, cow: United States (California the top-producing state)
Millet: India
Nutmeg: Indonesia
Oats: Russia 
Olive oil: Spain
Onions: China
Oranges: Brazil
Papayas: India
Peanuts: China
Pears: China
Pineapples: Thailand
Pistachios: Iran
Plantains: Uganda
Plums: China
Poppy seeds: Turkey
Pork: China
Potatoes: China
Poultry: United States (Georgia the top-producing state)
Pulses (essentially a catchall term for beans and peas): India
Quinoa: Peru
Raspberries: Russia
Rice: China
Rye: Russia
Salt: China  
Sorghum: United States (Kansas the top-producing state)
Soybeans: United States (Iowa the top-producing state)
Spinach: China
Strawberries: United States (California the top-producing state)
Sugar beets: France
Sugar cane: Brazil
Sunflower: Russia
Tangerines: China
Tea: China
Tomatoes: China
Vanilla: Indonesia
Walnuts: China
Watermelons: China
Wheat: China
Wine: Italy
Yams: Nigeria

Friday, February 8, 2013

You Have 5 Seconds To Comply

Anyone out there watch I, Robot? You know the scene where Will Smith interrogates a robot?

...actually, scratch that. You know the tabletop game Paranoia, where you're prone to getting interrogated by an insane, murderous, malfunctioning robot named Friend Computer who doesn't know the Cold War ended?

...well, let's go ahead and scratch that as well, but what I'm trying to build up to here is that we now have an interrogator robot, as the result of an experiment at Mississippi State headed by Cindy Bethel. The finding of the experiment is that the robot was less likely to introduce false information in witnesses than a human interrogator. 100 subjects were shown a slideshow of a theft, and then asked questions about it, either by a robot or a human, and split into four groups. The robot and human asked identical questions, but two groups were just asked about what they saw in the slideshow, while the other two groups got questions that introduced false information about the theft. When given false information by the human, witness accuracy dropped by 40% when compared to those given false information by the robot.

According to the report from New Scientist, it wasn't just the questions. The robot and human used identical scripts. The humans were even instructed to act as robotic as possible while asking. The bias still showed up.

The Starkville PD has already taken an interest in the results and are looking to get a robot interviewer of their own. And there's a larger implication regarding the use of robots on children, who are particularly susceptible to bias.

Not sure what the bias is towards 'all-knowing robots', though.

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Well, They're Not Anonymous NOW

If you follow a sport, you can probably rattle off the best teams in the league, and the worst teams in the league. You can also rattle off the most high-profile teams in the league- which aren't necessarily the best, just the most iconic.

There's another end to it, though.

With most iconic must come least iconic. The worst teams in the league at least have that notoriety. The question at hand here, is who's the least iconic. The most anonymous. The team you're most likely to forget is even there.

There's a way to measure that. Some might use size of fanbase. I use Sporcle.

As of this writing, 2,867,962 people have played a quiz in which they were asked to name the 32 members of the NFL (in 6 minutes). 1,264,070 people have done so for MLB (5 minutes), 1,169,813 people have done so for the NBA (6 minutes), 743,079 people have done so for the NHL (5 minutes), and 81,405 people have done so for MLS (3 minutes). All are substantial sample sizes. And not everyone names everybody. People leave teams on the table. Sporcle keeps statistics for how often each answer in their quizzes is named. From that statistic, we can find, at least to a somewhat reasonable degree, the most well-known and most anonymous teams in each league. I'll link to the full results- I'm not going to make you go through the quizzes- but I'll relay the top 5 and bottom 5 for each league. I wager a place like ESPN might come up with different numbers, but then, their results might be skewed by any piece of news that happens to be on the page at the time.

And it should be noted: New York is the largest city in America. And we're not asking popularity. We're just asking people to recite their name.

Let's start with MLS. The most well-known:
1. Los Angeles Galaxy (named by 91.8% of respondents)
2. New York Red Bulls (79.5%)
3. Chicago Fire (73.3%)
4. DC United (66.0%)
5. Columbus Crew (65.9%)

And the most anonymous:
15. Sporting Kansas City (42.5%)
16. Philadelphia Union (28.2%)
17. Portland Timbers (22.7%)
18. Vancouver Whitecaps (20.7%)
19. Montreal Impact (7.8%)

Moving to the NHL. The most well-known:
1. New York Rangers (92.5%)
2. Pittsburgh Penguins (91.2%)
3. Detroit Red Wings (90.4%)
4. Boston Bruins (89.9%)
5. New York Islanders (87.8%)

And the most anonymous:
26. Phoenix Coyotes (75.0%)
27. St. Louis Blues (74.9%)
28. Columbus Blue Jackets (72.9%)
29. Buffalo Sabres (72.1%)
30. Nashville Predators (68.4%)

Next, the NBA. The most well-known:
1. Los Angeles Lakers (97.1%)
2. Boston Celtics (95.0%)
3. Miami Heat (94.1%)
4. New York Knicks (92.1%)
5. Chicago Bulls (90.0%)

And the most anonymous:
26. Portland Trail Blazers (73.8%)
27. Toronto Raptors (72.9%)
28. Golden State Warriors (72.7%)
29. Milwaukee Bucks (68.7%)
30. Memphis Grizzlies (68.4%)

MLB's results. The most well-known:
1. New York Yankees (98.0%)
2. Boston Red Sox (97.3%)
3. Chicago White Sox (95.0%)
4. Cincinnati Reds (94.0%)
5. New York Mets (91.7%)

The Cubs came up 7th, the Giants 11th, the Dodgers 12th, the Cardinals 14th. Like I said, wonky. And the most anonymous:
26. Pittsburgh Pirates (77.9%)
27. Cleveland Indians (77.7%)
28. San Diego Padres (77.5%)
29. Milwaukee Brewers (76.3%)
30. Kansas City Royals (74.9%)

And finally, the NFL. The most well-known:
1. New England Patriots (94.8%)
2. New York Giants (94.8%)
3. New York Jets (94.4%)
4. Dallas Cowboys (92.2%)
5. Miami Dolphins (91.5%)

And the most anonymous:
28. Jacksonville Jaguars (80.4%)
29. Buffalo Bills (79.9%)
30. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (77.6%)
31. St. Louis Rams (77.1%)
32. Kansas City Chiefs (76.6%)

There is another quiz for the Big 4 in general, but I don't know that it's usable because some teams have the same nickname (Giants, Cardinals, Rangers, Panthers). But suffice to say the bottom eight in the quiz are all NHL teams.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Random News Generator- St. Pierre and Miquelon

St. Pierre and Miquelon is a tiny little archipelago off the southern coast of Newfoundland, existing under French control since 1763 when it was handed over from the British at the end of the French and Indian War (or for you purists, the Seven Years' War). You're forgiven if you were under the impression that Canada actually owned it, though show up on the islands and you'd be disabused of that notion in a hurry. You showing up on the islands is one of the few things of note going on, with the major news being a worry that a price hike of $14 on the ferry to the islands might result in a drop in tourism.

The only other real piece of news out of the area involves the drowning death this past Thursday of 55-year-old Henri Perrin, who fell overboard off a boat with no other passengers. The article states that he was hunting off the Burin Peninsula, which is part of Newfoundland.

That's pretty much it. It's quiet out there right now. So here's... well, not too much in the way of video either. It's mostly marine-based activities comprising the video spread. Okay, then, well, here's a guy whale-watching.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Or Just Say 'Quick Pick'

So you know those scam e-mails you get sometimes saying you won the Canadian lottery or the Irish lottery or the British lottery despite never entering them?

I figure it'd be a decent idea today to go over how some of these national lotteries actually operate. Let's go ahead and start with the United States- for the benefit of the international readers- and then we'll head overseas.

Although before we do that, there is one caveat: in order to win any of them, you have to actually buy a ticket first. So delete that e-mail.

UNITED STATES: There are two national lotteries, really: Powerball and Mega Millions. Each of the 50 states individually decides whether to join either of the two. Florida does not participate in Mega Millions; California does not participate in Powerball bul will beginning in April; Alabama, Alaska, Hawaii, Mississippi, Nevada, Utah and Wyoming do not participate in either.

Powerball is held every Wednesday and Saturday, and asks you to pick five numbers from 1-59, and then a sixth number from 1-35; that last number is for the Powerball. (The number spreads have changed somewhat over the years.) In order to win money, you either need to get three of the main numbers, or you can match the Powerball for an automatic win. The prize goes up the more you match; you win the jackpot if you get everything right. A ticket is $2, though for an extra $1, the 'Power Play' can be activated; that doubles all non-jackpot prizes (except for the 0+Powerball and 1+Powerball prizes, which are tripled).

Mega Millions, which draws on Tuesday and Friday, works pretty much the same way, but with different number spreads (pick five numbers from 56, and then one out of 46 as the Mega Ball), and the optional multiplier can be 2, 3 or 4 (this is drawn as well, and changes with each drawing).

CANADA: Canada also has two national lotteries, Lotto 6/49 and Lotto Max. As the name suggests, Lotto 6/49, drawing on Wednesday and Saturday, asks for six balls out of 49. (In the lottery community, games of this type are commonly referred to in "6/49" terms, using the appropriate numbers, as a form of shorthand.) You need to hit three of them to win, and all six for the jackpot. A seventh 'bonus' ball is drawn, which the player doesn't have to pick. The bonus ball ups the prize if the player's already matched five of the first six numbers drawn, and allows someone who's only matched two of the main six numbers to finish in the money.

Lotto Max asks for seven balls from 49. You need three to win, with an eighth bonus number helping out those who've drawn three or six of the main seven. It's called 'Lotto Max' because the prize caps at $50 million dollars Canadian. When the jackpot grows past $50 million, the extra money is burned off in 'Maxmillions' drawings. Additional sets of seven are drawn, one set for each extra million in the pot. A precise 7-number match wins you $1 million, anything short of that wins you squat.

IRELAND: The main game in Ireland is Lotto. They draw on Wednesday and Saturday. You're asked to pick six numbers from 1-45. They'll draw seven. If you match three of the first six, you win. If you match all of the first six, you win the jackpot. The seventh number drawn is a 'bonus' number. The bonus number doesn't help you if you haven't already won in the first six numbers (and if you've already matched all six, you don't need it), but it ups the prize if you hit the bonus along with three, four or five of the main numbers. In addition to the rolling jackpot, the prizes for 3+bonus, 4, 4+bonus and 5 numbers are based on how much money is in the prize pool.

UNITED KINGDOM: The main game is also named Lotto, and they also draw on Wednesday and Saturday. The format ought to be pretty familiar by now. Pick six numbers out of 49. They draw seven: six plus a bonus, just like Ireland. You need three of the main six to finish in the money. The bonus ball only comes into play if you've matched exactly five of the main six. All the prizes are related to each other: first, the 10-pound winners who matched three balls are paid out. Then, 22% of the remaining money is used to pay the 4-ball winners. 10% of the rest is used to pay the 5-ball winners. Then, 16% of the money still there is used to pay the 5+bonus winners. When that's all done, the 6-ball winners get 52% of the remaining money; the rest goes to the lottery.

WESTERN EUROPE: Yes, there is a pan-European lottery (or, in practice, pan-Western-European), called EuroMillions. It's available currently in Andorra, Austria, Belgium, France, Ireland, the Isle of Man, Liechtenstein, Luxembourg, Monaco, Portugal, Spain, Switzerland and the United Kingdom. Drawings are held on Tuesday and Friday; France handles the drawing. Because of the larger pool of entrants, things are a bit more difficult. You need to pick five main numbers from 1-50 and two bonus balls called 'lucky stars' from 1-11. Two main numbers are needed to cash, or one main number and both lucky stars. You need to nail all seven numbers for the jackpot.

CENTRAL EUROPE: Well, EuroMillions can't have all the transnational fun, can it? Croatia, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, Germany, Iceland, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, the Netherlands, Norway, Slovenia, Spain and Sweden are covered by Eurojackpot. Finland hosts the drawing every Friday. Like in EuroMillions, there are two bonus balls. You need to pick five numbers from 50, and then two from 8. Match them all for the jackpot, match any three of the seven to cash in.

NORTHERN EUROPE: More! More, I say! Viking Lotto, hosted by Norway on Wednesdays, is open to Denmark, Estonia, Finland, Iceland, Latvia, Lithuania, Norway and Sweden. You ought to have this more or less down by now. Pick six from 48, match three for the money. A seventh and eighth bonus ball are drawn to up the lesser prizes; those are figured out locally.

AUSTRALIA: Powerball's the name of Australia's main game, held on Wednesday and Saturday, and it works much like America's, except in Australia, the Powerball is not an instant win. You need three of the main five numbers whether you hit the Powerball or not. You're picking five from 45, and then the Powerball from 45. Heck, they even have the same logo and the $1 Power Play option.

SOUTH AFRICA: Lotto 6/49.  Wanna take a guess how this basically works? Yeah. 6 out of 49, and you need a bonus number which comes into play for the lesser prizes. Match three main numbers to win money.

CHINA: The China Welfare Lottery... six red balls from 1-33, one blue ball from 1-16, the blue ball's an instant-win Powerball, snore. Though we did talk back in May about how the winners disguise themselves at the photo-op to avoid becoming targets.

GERMANY: Okay, now we're getting into a little more unorthodox setups. There isn't a national German lottery; each region does their own local lotto on Wednesdays and Saturdays. But they're all the same, really, six numbers from 49. There's also a seventh bonus ball in play drawn from the main 49. In order to get the jackpot, though, unlike elsewhere, you have to call the bonus ball. It's not just a second chance for the lesser prizes.

ITALY: The game is SuperEnalotto, played on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday, and even by lottery standards the odds are terrible. You need to pick six numbers out of 90. Match three to finish in the money. (There's a bonus ball, but it only comes into play if you've hit exactly 5 of the main numbers.) Good freaking luck. The jackpot rolls over quite a lot. For an extra fee, you can play a single 'SuperStar' number, which will allow for instant wins.

BRAZIL:  In Mega-Sena, drawing on Wednesday and Saturday, you're asked to pick six numbers from 60. There are two separate drums from which the balls are picked: the first drum determines the tens digit; the second drum determines the ones digit. (If 00 is drawn, that's called 60.) They'll go until six unique numbers are drawn. You need four numbers to cash in and, of course, six for the jackpot. But you don't have to pick just six numbers. For 2 Brazilian reals, you will get six numbers, but if you wish, you may pay extra to select extra numbers, up to a maximum of 15. Picking 15 numbers, though, will run you 10,010 reals. You're paying 2 reals per possible winning jackpot combination. Some of the money bet over the course of the year is set aside for a marquee New Year's Eve drawing.

FRANCE: The game of choice is La Fran├žaise des Jeux, played on Wednesday and Saturday. It's six balls out of 49, they'll draw six and then a bonus seventh, with the bonus coming into play after you've matched three. You may also go Brazilian and play the Jeu Multiple option, allowing you to take up to four extra numbers.

SPAIN: Internationally, this is The Big One. The regular lottery is El Gordo de la Primitiva. This is a pretty standard-issue lottery, drawing on Sunday, asking for five numbers from 1-54 and one from 0-9. You can, like in Brazil, select extra numbers in the main set for a proportional fee, up to 11. Three numbers matched wins, or two matches plus the bonus ball.

But that's not the one that gets attention. The one that gets attention is the Spanish Christmas Lottery. And it works completely differently from everything we've mentioned so far.

100,000 tickets are printed up (as of 2012), ranging from 00000 to 99999. Well, 100,000 numbers are, anyway. Tickets are printed multiple times in different series. A ticket costs 200 Euros; however, if that's too rich for your blood, you can purchase tenths of a ticket for 20 Euros each, with the understanding that your jackpot will go down accordingly. Publicly, you can buy tenths; privately, tickets can get split up even further; those smaller portions are called 'participations'. Ticket numbers tend to all stay within the same area, so a big win for one person generally means big wins all over town.

On the day of the drawing, currently December 22nd, two hoppers are used. The first hopper contains 100,000 balls, one for each ticket number. The second contains 1,807 balls, for each of the 1,807 main prizes. A ticket number is drawn from Hopper 1, and then a ball is drawn from Hopper 2 to see how much it's worth.

*1,794 of the prizes are 'la Pedrea', which translates to the pebble avalanche. Those handed out 1,000 Euros apiece in the 2012 drawing.
*Eight of the tickets get Fifth Prize, worth 60,000 Euros.
*Two tickets are awarded Fourth Prize, worth 200,000 Euros. (The 198 tickets matching the first three numbers of a Fourth Prize winner take 1,000 Euros.)

So now we're down to three winning tickets left, and this is where the international media starts to go look for feel-good Christmas stories.

*Third Prize gets 500,000 Euros. The ticket numbers immediately before and after Third Prize- the 'approximations'- get 9,600 Euros. The 99 tickets matching the first three digits of Third Prize get 1,000 Euros, as do the 999 tickets that match the last two digits. (Prizes stack here, by the way, unlike most lotteries where you're only given the highest prize. Here, unless you win the jackpot, you win all the prizes your ticket gets you. So if you're one of the approximations, you not only get the approximation prize, but you also get the prize for matching the first three numbers.)
*Second Prize wins 1,250,000 Euros. The approximation numbers win 12,500 Euros. The 99 numbers matching the first three digits win 1,000 Euros, as do the 999 that match the last two.
*And then there's First Prize, aka "El Gordo". 4,000,000 Euros for the winning ticket- not that big by lottery standards, but that's probably good, because you're more likely to be able to comprehend the amount and not blow through it right away. 20,000 Euros to the approximations. 1,000 Euros to the 99 tickets matching the first three digits and the 999 tickets matching the last two. And just matching the last digit of El Gordo gets you 200 Euros, also known as 'your money back'. And remember, in 2012, 180 of each ticket was printed out, tickets can be split into 10 portions each- or more- and each ticket number is locally clustered. The town that hits El Gordo is a happy, happy town.

Children from the San Ildefonso school in Madrid are recruited every year to call out the numbers- or rather, sing the numbers. Winners traditionally gift a portion of the winnings back to the school.

JAPAN: The main lottery in Japan is the Takarakuji, considered the second-largest lottery after the Spanish Christmas Lottery. It works similar too, with a holiday drawing (winners are announced on New Year's Eve), people buying numbered tickets (six digits as opposed to Spain's five), tickets being split, and matches and partial matches cashing in. (The exact prize structure is in Japanese, somewhere on this site, and I'm not able to read Japanese or get it properly translated, so you're out of luck as far as that goes.) However, there are only so many tickets to go around, and they're all sold by one bank, Mizuho Bank. In Spain, everyone that wants a ticket is pretty much going to get a ticket, or a piece of one. In Japan, you're not so sure. So the second tickets go on sale, expect long lines to snap them up before they're gone. Being only the second-largest lottery, it gets a lot less press than Spain's and is largely unknown outside Japan; that's why the details are scarcer than I'd like them to be.

Doesn't it hurt to come up one number short like that?

Monday, February 4, 2013

It Doesn't Involve Hooking Beyonce's Hips Up To Anything

I think today, Hangover Awareness Day, would be a good day to throw things to Tom Harris of HowStuffWorks to learn about how circuit breakers work., no. No reason. It really shouldn't take any more than 34 minutes, anyway.

...also, Hangover Awareness Day should not be confused with National Hangover Day, January 1st.

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Now Go Watch The Game

Maybe we ought to have a Sporcle quiz for Super Bowl Sunday.

In seven minutes, I want you to name all of the NFL hometowns. Sound easy? Fine. Then we'll add in the caveat of 'past and present'. All the hometowns since 1920.

By the way: you'll note the Carolina Panthers show up twice in the quiz. That is not a mistake.

Now go watch the game.

Saturday, February 2, 2013

The Three-Year Anniversary

Technically, tomorrow is the blog's third anniversary, not today. (The first anniversary is here; the second is here.) But for what to any American reader would be obvious reasons, we're going to have the anniversary post today instead. This is the time each year when I try to figure out where, exactly, I stand in trying to make a career out of this, the whole reason this blog exists in the first place.

As with the first two years, there's been no luck so far in finding a journalism-related job. There have been applications sent out- not quite as many as I'd like, as so many of the openings have experience and college-degree requirements beyond what I have, and so many others are for beats in which I'm no expert, but when something pops up that I think I can handle, I've put it out- but so far, there has not been so much as a callback. Al Jazeera, the network that took over Current, is currently looking to staff up for the upcoming launch of Al Jazeera America, and I've made a play for a researcher opening. Applications are still open there for a few more days. In the event that they were to pick me (fingers crossed), it's a hell of a news organization to work for. Despite anything you may have heard from the Bush administration about them, if you take the time to watch them, you'll find that they're substantive, they're not afraid to shy away from uncomfortable topics (pretty much everybody in the Middle East gets mad at them sooner or later for not taking their respective side), they're much more interested in the third world than anyone else (the Random News Generator would be right at home), and most importantly, they're level-headed.

Here's a link to Al Jazeera English's livestream. The first thing you'll want to notice: nobody's screaming. It is so refreshing to see that, you don't even know.

Researcher would be a good spot for me. It's off-camera. I've found out during the year that being on-camera is probably one of my weakest traits. I have a webcam, but I'm no good at using it for anything but taking headshots for Facebook. It was originally thought when I bought it that maybe I could use it to make YouTube versions of some of my posts, but then I found out I have the on-camera nerve of a bowl of Jell-O. I simply could never bring myself to hit 'play' and start talking.

Then in the fall, it was announced that Lisa Ling would be hosting a reality competition called 'The Job' (which premieres this coming Friday). A, it's a job-search show and B, she's my friend, so it seemed natural to take a crack at applying. Therein lied the problem, though: she's my friend. She's also a job reference. Which means there's quite a bit of worry on my end about potential conflicts of interest. The last thing I wanted to do was get her in any kind of trouble. So I messaged her on Facebook and laid that situation out to her. Lisa responded that several people she knows had already applied to that point and to go for it.

So I did. Which led to the other big hangup: the application asked for a video, three minutes or less, explaining why they should pick me. Given my previous shyings-away from video creation, this was even scarier than the worry about conflicts of interest. But the hand had been forced. If I wanted on the show, I had to get on the webcam, hit play, and start talking.

It wasn't hard to get the webcam set up. At 9:30 AM on the day of the recording, all was set up and the only thing left to do was hit play.

Then I froze up.

All it is is a simple click of a mouse. And then all it is is talking. About myself. That's all I had to do. I've clicked mouses and buttons countless times; I've spoken countless words in my life. I wasn't even really going to be speaking to anyone I could see. Nobody else but me was even in the house at the time. As far as things appeared, all I had to do was brag about myself for a couple minutes. For many people this is the simplest thing in the world. It's second nature.

It's not second nature to me. Bragging about myself is not something I'm good at doing. I rarely think I have something to even brag about, which can be a problem when you're trying to tell someone that you're great and they need to hire you. So instead, I had to psyche myself up. I had to walk myself through what I was going to try to say, scrape up enough if-not-great-then-at-least-halfway-decent things about myself to fill up a couple minutes, tell myself it's just a button, tell myself nobody's in the room but me, count myself down to a button click, count myself down again, count myself down a third time, pause, bury my face in my hands, walk myself through the speech again, try to remember what I just walked through, forget half the things I was going to say to puff myself up, write them down, pause, find myself short of breath, close my eyes and breathe a couple times, count myself down again, chicken out again, and so on and so forth until finally, at 11 AM, after an hour and a half of trying to get myself to click a simple button, I clicked a simple button and started the video.

I choked on my words immediately. Four seconds into the video, I hit stop.

It took an additional 40 minutes before I completed Take 4. I couldn't bear to do Take 5. It was pretty obviously a disaster of a speech. I barely got out my words, I went way off my own script, I spent way too much time talking about the potential conflict of interest and that I understood if they wanted to disqualify me on that, and I spent virtually the entire video on the defensive.

At least I think I did. I couldn't even bear to watch it all. On top of everything else, I'm not used to the sound of my own voice, and my own voice grates on me quickly. I stopped the playback halfway through. After I went and found a video converter to get the file size down to specified limits (further ruining the video, severely dimming the light and pasting 'TRIAL CONVERTER PLEASE BUY FULL VERSION' right over my face), I sent it off, and messaged Lisa that it was sent and that I was "hoping for the best". I was lying to both of us. I was so relieved at the moment to be done with the application that it temporarily blinded me to how terrible the video was on every conceivable level.

Needless to say, I did not get a callback.

I'm more hopeful concerning the club-soccer book. There have been rejections- book proposals will rack up rejections like Jeanette Lee racks up balls- but the rejections have provided something of a lead. I haven't been told the book is bad. The reasons I'm getting rejected seem to be, basically, that it's not focused enough on England (which is kind of the point), and that it's too far away from the World Cup. Which leads me to believe the odds will go up as the World Cup draws nearer. I've been working alongside Lisa's husband, Paul Song, to try and hunt down a buyer. There's also a side project being pitched alongside the book now, so the problem can be attacked from more than one angle; however, I'll keep that close to the vest.

On the plus side, the wait does provide extra time to scrounge up extra information on the clubs I've included, time to add in clubs that didn't originally make the cut, and time to do other assorted sprucings-up where I notice they're needed. So, Racing Colombes 92 of France, consider yourself lucky.

That said, part of each year's self-assessment is to relink what I consider to be my best ten pieces of the past 12 months. They are as follows, in chronological order:

2/13/12- Jonathan's Card
3/11/12- Bonanza Farms
6/23/12- The Great American Taboo
7/7/12- I Sentence You To 212 Words
7/14/12- The Vulture Variety Hour
7/23/12- Analyzing Aurora
8/10/12- First, Except Actually Third
9/29/12- Why Sports Matter
12/11/12- Six White Flags
1/31/13- Taking A Gerrygander

Friday, February 1, 2013

Oh, And I Say Ravens 31, 49ers 16

So, the Big Game Named Such Because The Big Professional Football Company People Trademarked The Official Name Of The Game is a couple days away now. The 49ers probably can't wait for the game to hurry up and get here, because when you make an It Gets Better video, then deny you made one, then denounce yourself having made one because you didn't know that It Gets Better is an anti-gay-bullying organization, you want something that awful and strange out of the headlines as quickly as possible. And if you're the Ravens, well, Ray Lewis being accused of using deer antler spray as a steroid isn't an excellent thing to have in the news either.

But you're watching anyway, right? Bet you'll have food laid out too. Lots of it. And you're probably creating garbage too. In so doing, you're almost surely making more than the Shelley family in Portland, Oregon. They have one 35-gallon garbage can. They fill it at the rate of once a year. They separate out the bones and have a neighbor compost them once a month for cookies. They save some $400 a year cutting curbside garbage out of their budget. It wasn't an immediate thing or any part of a challenge- it came about gradually- so it may take a while for someone else to emulate, but it can be done.

Just so long as you start by not recycling yourself.