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Sunday, March 31, 2013

Handy Easter Egg Hunt Tips

1. Kids: The eggs are probably not in the swimming pool.
2. Parents: Keep the 3-year-olds away from the swimming pool.
3. Make sure the egg is not a porpoise.
4. But it can be a walleye.
5. Be sure to look up.
6. There are no easter eggs up here. Go away.
7. The one who finds an egg containing another egg wins Easter.
8. The one who finds the elephant bird egg wins all of the Easters.
9. Unless the elephant bird is still using it.
10. If the egg contains mealworms, it was meant for someone else.
11. If the egg contains pills, it was definitely meant for someone else.
12. If you cannot find any eggs, you can just buy one for a mere $1,000.

Saturday, March 30, 2013

It's Not Enough To Avoid Last Place, Charlie Brown!

Opening Day is tomorrow, with the Texas Rangers taking on their new division rivals, the Houston Astros. But really, today is significant too, as it's the 20th anniversary of one of the most improbable events in baseball history: on March 30, 1993, Charlie Brown, he of Peanuts, hit a walk-off home run against opposing pitcher Roxanne Hobbs. It was the first time Charlie's team won in the history of the strip while he was actually playing. (His team had won other games, but always with him not present.)


Hobbs surrendered another walk-off to Brown on June 29 that same year; an inside-the-park home run that ended in a play at the plate two strips later. She later admitted to Brown that she intentionally served up a couple of big, fat meatballs for him to hit. Brown couldn't care less.

(source: Peanuts, June 2, 1993;  http://www.gocomics.com/peanuts/1993/07/02)

A couple of TV specials also let Brown's team win, with him on the field ('It's Arbor Day, Charlie Brown' had them win in a rain-shortened game; 'It's Spring Training, Charlie Brown' has them win with a new player, to lose later on when he leaves), but that's it for wins in the strip.

Let this serve as inspiration to the Astros. You may have lost 107 games last year, but hey, that's less than 162.

Friday, March 29, 2013

This One Time At Witch Camp

It's back to the Journeyman Pictures well today, where we get a report from back in 2011 about a phenomenon unique to Ghana: witch camps. It's credited to the Southern Society Youth and Women's Empowerment Network, based out of Accra.

What's a witch camp? You know Salem, Massachusetts' old witch trials? Think of those and you've got the idea. Those accused of witchcraft are sometimes able to bolt out of town before the inevitable; they end up at witch camps. Witch camps are for all intents and purposes refugee camps for those accused of witchcraft, with the added note that even if they eventually declare you innocent (which can happen), you still have to live your life out there anyway in case someone back home begs to differ and decides to go after you.

For a more recent text equivalent, Kati Whitaker of the BBC has that for you from last August.


Thursday, March 28, 2013

Home-Nation Advantage

A huge factor in soccer is the location of a game. Simply by hearing where two teams are supposed to meet, you can tell a lot about what will transpire on the pitch. It's been shown that simply playing at home can result in somewhere between just over a third to just under half a goal a game. With soccer's low scores, that's often a tide-turner, significantly moreso than in the other four major North American sports. It's a reason that competitions often demand two-legged ties: one game in each team's house, total up the aggregate score, away goals count double.

It's something that nations worldwide have long known and use to maximum advantage. Mexico is famous for the home-field advantage they enjoy at the 105,000-seat Estadio Azteca, at high altitude, in Mexico City smog, and with hostile Mexican supporters right on top of the field. Bolivia lives and dies on the presence or absence of their even more extreme altitude, where even the greatest players are left struggling for breath high in the Andes, as Argentina most recently found out the hard way. In lower elevation, Lionel Messi and the gang would likely have romped to an easy victory. In La Paz, Messi was left vomiting as his teammates were putting on oxygen masks, and Bolivia kept them to a 1-1 draw. Northern nations rely on the cold. Tropical and desert nations rely on the heat. Many nations attempt to intimidate, with varying degrees of success. More established nations rely on the pressure brought on by an iconic stage- England's Wembley Stadium, Brazil's Maracana, Spain's Santiago Bernabeu.

And then you've got the United States.

The American national team has been slow in getting the home-field advantage thing down. They have it so not down that they've often been out-cheered on home soil by Mexico, by El Salvador, by Honduras, as they frequently have made the mistake of scheduling games in cities with large communities of the nationality of their opponent. Mexico, the United States' primary North American opponent, has been given some of the largest stadiums, but while the Rose Bowl is all well and good... it's in Los Angeles. There is a large Mexican community in Los Angeles, and Mexico itself isn't far away. Games in San Diego, Dallas and Houston aren't good ideas either. Slowly, the US has been learning its lesson and has gone from using the Rose Bowl as its go-to site for World Cup qualifiers against Mexico to using Columbus Crew Stadium in Ohio, a city with a much smaller Hispanic population, and has gotten much better results for it.

The idea, though, was well and truly driven home against Costa Rica.

Last Friday, beleaguered American coach Jurgen Klinsmann marched Costa Rica into Dick's Sporting Goods Park in Commerce City, Colorado, a suburb of Denver. At home against Costa Rica, the United States has previously recorded:

*Wins in San Antonio, St. Louis, Los Angeles, Dallas, Palo Alto, Portland, Oakland, Kansas City, Pasadena, Miami, and Salt Lake City. The best result was a 3-0 win in Salt Lake City in June of 2005.
*Draws in Dallas, Columbus, and Washington DC.
*Losses in Chicago, Torrance (CA), Miami, Tampa, and Carson (CA). Miami gave the worst loss, a 2-0 defeat in 1990.

The first thing you take from this is to not host Costa Rica in Florida or the Los Angeles area. Costa Rica is hot and low-lying and that environment is more their speed. (The game in Torrance was a particularly big mistake, as Torrance was full of Costa Rican expatriates, and the game, a 1986 World Cup qualifier, was not only marketed to those same Costa Rican expats but had Costa Rican folk dancers as a halftime show. The loss, in hindsight, was not a surprise in the slightest.) The best result for the US came in the mountains of Utah, so sending Costa Rica to Colorado makes good sense. The added element, though, was that this was not June. This was March, when snow is still a strong possibility. Matches are scheduled before knowing what's in the forecast, but the day of the game, snow had found Commerce City. While some of the Costa Rican squad on that day came from clubs in Scandinavia, and forward Alvaro Saborio played for Real Salt Lake (though he had a bruised knee), about half of the team played domestically, leaving them completely unprepared for what turned out to be some four inches of snow on the ground by game's end. In the 55th minute, play was stopped to clear the lines. The US had already scored to go 1-0 up, and as the snow piled up, they dug in to bog down the game and preserve the win. (As an extra bit of knife-twisting, the US dressed in white. Camouflage. Costa Rica was dressed in more-visible red.)

During the stoppage, both teams had agreed to play on, but afterwards, Costa Rica lodged a protest ordering a rematch. FIFA denied the protest.

Four days later, the US entered Estadio Azteca and, as everyone expected, found themselves on the receiving end of a furious Mexican assault. As everyone did not expect, though, they somehow managed to hang on for a scoreless draw. It was a result that, despite Mexico clearly being the aggressor all night long, took Klinsmann well and truly off the hot seat... while in turn putting Mexican coach Manuel de la Torre on it. For Mexico is not supposed to draw at Estadio Azteca.

The lesson taken by American fans from the week has been that, whatever is done regarding America's injury-plagued squad, more should be done to maximize the United States' home-field advantage. The home-field advantage of the United States is that there is so much geographical diversity and such a wide selection of high-quality stadiums of every shape and size, surely far wider a selection than any other nation has available to them, that every opponent that treads American soil can be countered with their own personal worst nightmare. And it can be done without putting the United States out on away trips. Other nations, lacking as much diversity, can draw great strength from their home field, but away from that field, away from their familiar environment, they can quickly wilt.

It shouldn't be a worry the United States should have, because of the diversity of environments available, but it has been inflicted on them, many times before. The Americans are used to, and expect to play on, top-quality, well-kept fields. Most of their opponents in Central America and the Caribbean do not have the infrastructure to build such places, and the Americans are often left to play- or sometimes are deliberately marched into- shoddy, rocky mud pits where the ball is guaranteed to take an odd hop or bog down in a poorly-drained area sooner or later. The home team, knowing what parts of the field have what deficiencies, has the edge. The thing is, if that's an issue, the United States has plenty of shoddy, unkempt fields itself. Find one and train on it.

Now, I've said that in the Olympics, the point is not who wins or loses, but rather the simple fact of participating. We all gather as a planet for a few weeks, ideally set aside our differences, celebrate human athletic achievement and walk away two and a half weeks later with, whatever the medal count says, no single winner.

Soccer? The World Cup? Not so much. The Olympics goes out of its way to make sure everyone gets represented and hundreds upon hundreds of medals to hand out. The World Cup has qualifying rounds to knock out most of the participating countries and only one trophy. You're here to win. And while violence and racism is never cool, stoking national pride, and giving those other nations a healthy amount of uneasiness about stepping onto your field, is perfectly in-bounds. After all, nations are being pitted against each other, and while you want everyone to walk away friends, you want a home-field advantage too. Because they're sure as hell going to try to create one against you.

With some nations, violence is a particular concern. The former Yugoslavian nations are legendary for going far over the line against each other on a regular basis, especially in the midst of the breakup. But nobody expects Americans to riot over a soccer match, or engage in any real amount of racism. (At least not at a sporting event. Politically, more generally, regrettably a different story.) Soccer fans in the United States especially worry about these things. MLS, for all its growth, is still part of a relatively fragile infrastructure, and growing the sport means families- soccer moms and their kids- have to be able to go to a game and feel perfectly safe in doing so. And the more hardcore fans know it. If the moms and kids don't show up, the league will die, and then they themselves will no longer have a team. So while bodily harm is a concern in the likes of Eastern Europe, and black players often have to deal with monkey noises and thrown bananas, the United States- which can ultimately deal with losing in soccer, and where black athletes litter the athletic spectrum- does not and will not engage in such antics and cracks down hard on anyone who does.

So knowing the limits beyond which American soccer fans will not go, and finding those limits to be perfectly within acceptable parameters, you know here that you can do simple things to make life uncomfortable for a visiting opponent. There are the obvious geographical things, such as scheduling tropical nations to play in the mountains in snowy months. You can play smaller nations with players based in smaller leagues in intimidatingly large venues to induce the pressure of a huge stage. But matches against the likes of Mexico have shown that local demographics are also important to note. You need to keep opponents out of cities with large populations of their own national heritage. You can place certain nations in certain cities where there's a significant population of the community of a traditional rival.

For example, while playing Mexico in Los Angeles means lots of Mexican fans in the crowd, playing them in Miami offers far better odds. Miami, as you know, has a large Cuban community, and Fidel Castro has historically had friendly ties with Mexico, although those ties became frosty for a time after then-Mexican president Vicente Fox endorsed a United Nations resolution condemning Cuba's human-rights record in 2002... until Fox was term-limited out for Felipe Calderon, who returned to friendly relations with Cuba. Miami's Cuban population, naturally, is virulently anti-Castro, and if Mexico supports Castro, they will be anti-Mexico as well.

The United States has played Mexico in Florida once, in Fort Lauderdale in 1980 as a World Cup qualifier for Spain 1982, a weak period for the United States. It was America's only win of the qualifiers, a 2-0 victory, and one of only two losses for Mexico (who didn't qualify either). In the Estadio Azteca two weeks earlier, the United States had lost 5-1.

This can be repeated with any country. There are communities from every nation in the United States. Find which ones are rivals, put the opponent there, get the seats filled in the US's favor, and trust that having the reputation of American soccer on the line every time out will keep those fans from doing anything too crazy. When England comes calling, as their traditional rival is France, it probably makes sense to put them somewhere with a large Franco-American population. Foxboro, Massachusetts works well for that. In turn, France is best placed among an English-American population, and that's heaviest in Utah.

As for Mexico, you could go and put them in Arizona- they've had one game there in 2007, and the United States won 2-0- but the limit of how much intimidation one invokes comes up here. Due to Arizona's laws regarding stopping anyone suspected of being an illegal immigrant and demanding to see their papers, and given that the Phoenix area- where any Arizona match is certain to take place- is sherriffed by Joe Arpaio, a man notorious for his department's habits of racial profiling, holding a game in Arizona goes against the earlier-stated racism principle. You can't send them there and sleep well that night.

Bristol, Tennessee, though? That's more like it.

Bristol Motor Speedway holds 160,000 people, way more than Estadio Azteca's 105,000. It can also be converted to a grass field, though it has never actually been done. As early as 1998, an idea was hatched by the speedway, upon finding out they could convert the infield to a football field, to try and lure Virginia Tech and Tennessee to play a game (Bristol sits on the Tennessee/Virginia border). It was attempted again in 2005. Accounts appear to differ on which of the two teams backed out, but the fact is someone did and the Bristol game never happened. The two ultimately met, but in Atlanta in the 2009 Chick-fil-A Bowl. Virginia Tech won 37-14.

But if you can host a football game, you can host a soccer game. While soccer pitches are wider than football fields, football sidelines are significantly wider, and that's where you make up the difference. When the United States bid to host the 2022 World Cup, the first thing they did was make a list of the stadiums they had that were suitable for soccer, and then cut from there until they had their official candidates. Bristol wasn't there, but odds are, nobody asked. 70 stadiums were, a fact in sharp contrast to when any other nation bids. When other nations bid, usually the cities are selected first, not the stadiums, and a significant number of the stadiums- often over half- must be built from scratch.

Naturally, it was all football stadiums. Every NFL stadium save Candlestick Park made the preliminary list. College stadiums used by Alabama, Arizona St., Arkansas, Auburn, BYU, Cal, Clemson, Florida, Florida St., Georgia, Illinois, Iowa, Kentucky, LSU, Michigan, Michigan St., Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, Notre Dame, Ohio St., Oklahoma, Penn St., Rice, South Carolina, Stanford, Tennessee, Texas, Texas A&M, UAB, UCLA, USC, Utah, Virginia Tech, Washington, Wisconsin and Yale were included, as well as several bowl-game sites.

That is what you can do with Mexico. If the World Cup is on the line, it's worth seeing what happens when Mexico is sent to SEC country to play in a NASCAR racetrack- NASCAR, a hallmark of southern Americana- in front of a crowd one-and-a-half times the size of Estadio Azteca, and with a local combined Hispanic population (remember, Hispanic doesn't mean any specific nationality) coming in at 1.9%. Bristol, Virginia- technically they're separate but are basically the same town- comes in at 1.2%. (Columbus, Ohio, by comparison, is 5.6% combined Hispanic. Still not a large number, but a larger percentage and a larger raw number of people for Mexico to potentially draw to the game.) It's my wager that the area, normally skeptical of any nation that isn't the United States, is not going to be amused by a Mexican soccer team invading a racetrack. Really, they won't be amused by any soccer team invading a racetrack, but given the consolation prize of cheering on their nation, I would hope the difference is made up.

The big worry is, of course, can you fill the place. Empty seats are bad no matter where you go. This, you can ere are tricks you can use to put butts in the seats. You can drop ticket prices. You can make the atmosphere into that of a one-night-only event- as you're playing Mexico and the speedway is colloquially known as the 'Bristol Bullring', it's a short hop to call it the 'Battle in the Bullring'. For an extra kick, hire someone really popular to do a halftime concert, or a postgame concert. (In this case, the game is scheduled for September 10, and Taylor Swift, who can sell out arenas with ludicrous speed, has a gap in her currently-ongoing tour that day as she transitions from St. Paul, Minnesota on the 8th and Greensboro, North Carolina on the 12th. Also, she is from Tennessee. She seems a natural choice for that particular situation.) You know no matter what, nobody is going to cause any danger to the players. Besides what we've already outlined... who runs onto a racetrack?



...why do I tempt fate with questions like that?

Anyway. If you can fill the stadium, if you can pack 160,000 people in to create the largest possible home-field advantage, not only is Mexico going to be placed behind the eight ball, not only is soccer history going to be made, not only is the United States that much more likely to win... but Estadio Azteca isn't going to seem so big after that.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

中国,请停止使用过时的浏览器

So a long way back, I mentioned how Microsoft is trying to get people to dump Internet Explorer 6 so web developers won't have to deal with it anymore. In March 2011, I first mentioned it with 12% of the world still on IE6. By June, it had dropped to 10.9%; in January 2012, it was at 7.7%.

We've only dropped to 6.7% in the 14 months since then. It's not for lack of most of the world trying; the vast majority of nations have gotten under the 1.0% target. Norway's actually gotten all the way down to zero; Denmark, Finland, Sweden and Switzerland aren't far behind at 0.1%. The United States, among others, is at 0.2%. There are only a handful of nations still at or above 1%, and all but one of them aren't all that far above the mark: Chile (1.0%), Vietnam (1.2%), Hong Kong (1.4%) South Korea (1.4%), Taiwan (2.0%), Japan (2.1%), India (2.4%).

It's that last one that's causing all the problems here. The last one is China, and they're sitting at 25.8%. All by themselves they make up 4.4% of the global 6.7%.

Not that they come here much anyway, but... China? Get moving.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

We'll Make This Fast

Just a quick heads-up that the Supreme Court is now hearing an argument on gay marriage. Early indications suggest they're wary of making any sort of broad, sweeping ruling, but they're leaning in the direction of gay-marriage supporters.

Sometimes you elaborate. Sometimes you just say what needs to be said and get the hell out of the way. I'm doing the latter. You know, now I'm getting the hell out of your way.

Monday, March 25, 2013

Mind The Thigh Gap

There have been all sorts of body images for women to chase over the years. Get rail-thin. Have tiny feet. Hourglass figure. Big breasts. Botox. Western-style eyes. This year's Oscar swag bag included something called a vampire facelift, in which you have blood drawn from your arm and injected into your face (as demonstrated here by Kim Kardashian). Every celebrity magazine out there is guaranteed to have pages and pages devoted to what someone needs to go out and buy in order to 'steal someone's look' (and usually that's going to run at least a couple hundred bucks). Simply listing them all off would take days, and even if you do them all, it may still not be enough because the figure you're chasing may have been digitally enhanced to the point where it's simply impossible to reach.

We can now add 'thigh gap' to the list. Or at least the name 'thigh gap'; this is not the first time it's been a thing (it's previously been known as the 'horseshoe shape' or 'inner thigh clearance'.) Thigh gap is what you get if you've got your knees together and there's space between your thighs. The term 'thigh gap' is currently showing at 6,460,000 Google results. For comparison, 'Danube River' returns 3,290,000; 'Potala Palace', the Tibetan home of the exiled Dalai Lama, returns only 824,000. Towards the top of the search results are Tumblr blogs showing pictures of young women, some with visible hip bones. By the results of a bit of poking around, it appears that the catalyst here, and the goal, may be a British model named Cara Delevingne. At least, if the Twitter account 'Cara's Thigh Gap' is anything to go by.

There's been some relatively quick pushback on this. This has come for a couple reasons: first, women, with more influence in the body image wars than they've previously had (such as the other times this has been a thing), have been able to push back; and second... guys out there? Honestly? Show of hands, how many of you were actually looking for this specific thing in a woman without needing to be told that you were? Because I sure wasn't. Clearly someone is, or else this would have never gotten off the ground, but really, I agree with Bertie Brandes of VICE: this is little more than an excuse to get you to starve yourself thin, and besides, if you really want a gap between your thighs, stand with your legs apart.

And a third thing: thigh gap isn't the kind of thing you can attain. It's just a matter of how you're built and how wide your hips are. You've either got one or you don't. It's genetics. You could starve yourself to baby weight and not be able to get it. Seriously do not go chasing after something that your body may not even be able to physically do, whether it's this or anything else. Just get yourself a reasonably healthy body and if you were meant to ever have a thigh gap, it'll show up. If it doesn't, oh well.

And do try to stop looking at the Victoria's Secret runway as something you have to do. Guys generally give up on pro sports dreams after a while. The Victoria's Secret runway is the same basic thing. Only so many women are getting on that catwalk. That's one of the All-Star Games of modeldom. So you're not the equivalent of Justin Verlander. That's pretty much what you're chasing after. It's okay.

Nobody else around you got onto that catwalk either.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Reading Is Fun-da-Blank Spaces With A Time Limit

I think today is a Sporcle quiz kind of day.

How cultured do you think you are? Fairly? Well, fine. Let's test it. I'm going to give you a list of quotes, and you tell me whether each one is said by Shakespeare or Batman.

Once you're done there, the American Library Association keeps an annual list of the books most challenged for banning. This quiz gives you 12 minutes to name the most-challenged books from the period 2000-2007. Once you're done, you can go here and check a more up-to-date list.

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Make Benghazi A Scandal Or The Network Gets It

There's a right-leaning news network that's supposed to be launching in the summer, called the One America News Network, out of the ashes of what was once a channel called Wealth TV. If you've never heard of Wealth TV, well, that makes two of us, but the AV Club ran a profile on the network a few years back. Given what the AV Club had to say about it, it was primarily gawking at expensive stuff using really low production values and trophy-wife eye candy up to and including someone the Real Housewives people fired. According to Wikipedia, they've also been airing boxing pay-per-views of events that involve Don King. So it's not like we're losing a good channel or even one that used to be a noble enterprise at some point.

Granted, we're not going to be gaining one either. Case in point, One America is slated to be working with the Washington Times, using them as a Washington bureau. You know the Washington Times as the Washington Post's smaller, inferior, Unification Church-founded-and-funded-to-this-day crosstown rival. (Unification Church. You know, Sun Myung Moon. Remember back when people used to get annoyed in airports by religious types? Those guys.)

Anyway. With One America on the horizon, the right-wing Tea Party base that has made up much of the audience of also-right-leaning Fox News has begun to migrate in its direction even before it's begun airing, or failing that, one of the more established bastions of right-leaning media, such as Glenn Beck or the Drudge Report. The reason is that they see Fox News as no longer catering to them enough. The notion of 'Fair and Balanced' that people who weren't watching Fox News as it was find laughable is one that some viewers demand Fox News outright abandon in favor of becoming openly, unapologetically right-wing. In addition, they demand at least two prime-time segments per night devoted to the Benghazi embassy killings from last September. In the absence of such things, they have begun to boycott Fox News for days at a time. In fact, they are doing so in the presence of such things as well, as Fox News has already devoted substantial airtime to the topic, one largely dismissed by the left as nothing more than the latest in a long line of attacks on American diplomatic facilities (an incomplete list is here). A segment from Sean Hannity concerning Benghazi ran on the first night of boycotting, meaning the boycotters didn't see it, and in fact didn't care to see it, dismissing it as too little, too late.

If you're trying to make sense of that, maybe this will clear things up: according to the Daily Beast, boycott leader Kathy Amidon linked Daily Beast to this website. It is one page.

Pages on the Internet can be of unlimited length.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Taking Stock (Please Pay For It First)

Yesterday, the Dow Jones closed at 14,511.

Okay, great. 14,511 what? You've probably asked that at some point. I've seen Stephen Colbert ask it a couple times. What exactly are we measuring here? Let's cover that today.

It's actually pretty simple. Well, relatively simple. If you've got a calculator on hand that displays a whole lot of digits. The Dow Jones Industrial Average starts off by simply adding up the prices of the 30 stocks in its index. Then it applies a multiple, called the Dow Divisor. That's it. At the outset of the Dow, it was even simpler: there were 11 stocks in the index, so you added up their prices and divided by 11. The Dow Divisor changes regularly, to compensate for changes to each of the stocks such as splits, dividends, and whatnot. (After all, if a stock splits in half- thus halving the price of a stock- and that isn't reflected somehow, it's going to result in an erroneous Dow crash and panic on Wall Street for no good reason.) Currently, the Dow Divisor is 0.130216081. Translated, that means for every dollar change in a Dow stock's price, the index moves by 7.68 points. An index reading of 14,511 would mean that, added up, one share of each stock in the Dow would run you $1,889.45.

Well, that was simple. So why stop there? Let's keep going. Not like the Dow's the only index out there.

The Standard and Poor 500, like a lot of exchanges, works on the principle that the Dow misses something rather important: a dollar change in Company A's stock price may not mean the same thing as a dollar change in Company B's stock. A stock going from $1 to $2 means something different from one going from $37 to $38. The Dow doesn't account for that. What the S&P 500 measures is weighted total market value, again applied to a divisor- something all stock indices have- that's altered based on various factors. The weighting, as of 2005, is based on how many shares of each stock are made available for public trading. The more shares you put out there for trading, the more weight your stock has in the index. (Splits don't change the total value of the stocks on offer, so that's not calculated in the divisor.) So you can put away the calculator; that's not going to help you here. Also in play is a 'base period', which most indices use. A base period is a point in time that the index is measuring itself against. In the case of the S&P 500, the period of 1941-43 is used as the base, and the value of the index at that time has been set at 10. (For the Dow, the base period is May 26, 1896, and the base value is 40.94.)

Last, we'll do the NASDAQ exchange, which gets confused a bit. There are two indices that get followed. There's a limited index- the NASDAQ 100- and then there's the one you hear about on the news, the NASDAQ Composite, simply called 'the NASDAQ', which incorporates every stock on the exchange, which works out to somewhere in the neighborhood of 3,000 stocks. Both use a weighted-market-cap format, like the S&P 500. The NASDAQ 100 has a caveat that forces them to reweight the companies when domination takes hold. If a company ends up being worth over 24% of the index, the index is reweighted. If the companies with at least 4.5% weight find themselves in control of over 48% of the index, the index is reweighted. When the index is reweighted, all companies are given equal weight. As it stands, the base period is January 1, 1994, which is valued at 125 points.

The NASDAQ Composite has no reweighting mechanism. Since every company on the exchange is in the index, and since any company on the exchange can go bust at any time- the NASDAQ is a tech-heavy exchange, so this can happen even faster than it can in a normal index- the exchange has to play gatekeeper and have some standards implemented to even list a stock. The base here appears to be February 5, 1971, which is valued at 100 points. (The New York Stock Exchange also has a composite index which works the same way. It's based to January 2003 at 5,000 points.)

We'll leave it at the major American exchanges. You don't need to be sitting here reading about the exchanges in Chicago and Philadelphia. And Boston. And Phoenix.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Random News Generator- Liberia

It's always tough to hear about refugee camps. Not only are they filled with people driven from their homelands by threat on life of limb, not only are they filled with people who have no desire more than to go home and who really have nowhere more prosperous to go, but the camps themselves are usually in regions that are themselves pretty rough and the conditions are usually dire.

So one thing you'd think would be nice to hear about is the day a camp finally closes and the refugees go home. Which has happened at Liberia's Dougee Refugees Camp, near the border with Cote d'Ivoire, after the repatriation of 5,200 Ivorians. It's actually the second camp to close in the past year, as conditions in Cote d'Ivoire settle after a civil war that ended in April 2011. 114 refugees simply swapped camps, to the 62,000-strong PTP Refugee Camp, but given Cote d'Ivoire's penchant for violence over recent history, those refugees are electing to hold out at least a little longer.

After all, they are still in Liberia, which has its own refugee issues.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Bracketville, Population: Not Me, Soon

The NCAA men's basketball bracket is out, so as you do when you haven't paid one damn bit of attention all season, you immediately act as if you're some sort of expert and try to predict the outcome of 67 consecutive games. How hard could it be?

The only thing I really know about this season is that the season's been topsy-turvy enough, with top teams falling so often and so regularly, that the mystical 16-over-1 seems much more possible than usual. I'm not bold enough to put it on my bracket, but getting rudimentary reads on the teams, if I was to pick, Southern over Gonzaga appears to be the likeliest candidate of the group.

PLAY-IN ROUND
(11) St. Mary's over (11) Middle Tennessee St.
(13) Boise St. over (13) La Salle
(16) North Carolina A&T over (16) Liberty
(16) LIU-Brooklyn over (16) James Madison

ROUND OF 64

MIDWEST
(1) Louisville over (16) North Carolina A&T
(9) Missouri over (8) Colorado St.
(12) Oregon over (5) Oklahoma St.
(4) St. Louis over (13) New Mexico St.
(6) Memphis over (11) St. Mary's
(3) Michigan St. over (14) Valparaiso
(10) Cincinnati over (7) Creighton
(2) Duke over (15) Albany

WEST
(1) Gonzaga over (16) Southern
(9) Wichita St. over (8) Pittsburgh
(5) Wisconsin over (12) Mississippi
(13) Boise St. over (4) Kansas St.
(6) Arizona over (11) Belmont
(3) New Mexico over (14) Harvard
(10) Iowa St. over (7) Notre Dame
(2) Ohio St. over (15) Iona

SOUTH
(1) Kansas over (16) Western Kentucky
(8) North Carolina over (9) Villanova
(5) Virginia Commonwealth over (12) Akron
(4) Michigan over (13) South Dakota St.
(6) UCLA over (11) Minnesota
(3) Florida over (14) Northwestern St.
(7) San Diego St. over (10) Oklahona
(15) Florida Gulf Coast over (2) Georgetown

EAST
(1) Indiana over (16) LIU-Brooklyn
(8) North Carolina St. over (9) Temple
(5) UNLV over (12) California
(4) Syracuse over (13) Montana
(11) Bucknell over (6) Butler
(3) Marquette over (14) Davidson
(10) Colorado over (7) Illinois
(2) Miami (FL) over (15) Pacific

ROUND OF 32

MIDWEST
(1) Louisville over (9) Missouri
(12) Oregon over (4) St. Louis
(3) Michigan St. over (6) Memphis
(10) Cincinnati over (2) Duke

WEST
(1) Gonzaga over (9) Wichita St.
(5) Wisconsin over (13) Boise St.
(6) Arizona over (3) New Mexico
(2) Ohio St. over (10) Iowa St.

SOUTH
(8) North Carolina over (1) Kansas
(5) Virginia Commonwealth over (4) Michigan
(3) Florida over (6) UCLA
(7) San Diego St. over (15) Florida Gulf Coast

EAST
(1) Indiana over (8) North Carolina St.
(4) Syracuse over (5) UNLV
(11) Bucknell over (3) Marquette
(2) Miami (FL) over (10) Colorado

SWEET 16
(1) Louisville over (12) Oregon
(3) Michigan St. over (10) Cincinnati
(1) Gonzaga over (5) Wisconsin
(6) Arizona over (2) Ohio St.
(5) Virginia Commonwealth over (8) North Carolina
(3) Florida over (7) San Diego St.
(1) Indiana over (4) Syracuse
(2) Miami (FL) over (11) Bucknell

ELITE EIGHT
(3) Michigan St. over (1) Louisville
(1) Gonzaga over (6) Arizona
(5) Virginia Commonwealth over (3) Florida
(1) Indiana over (2) Miami (FL)

FINAL FOUR
(3) Michigan St. over (1) Gonzaga
(1) Indiana over (5) Virginia Commonwealth

FINAL
(1) Indiana 78, (3) Michigan St. 63

Sunday, March 17, 2013

French Flies

When people talk about cars being powered by electricity and hydrogen and other types of renewable energy, they forget one thing: cars, great, but what about planes? As much as we've been working on alternative energy to power cars- to whatever degree of success- we haven't even really started looking at what to do about powering planes with alternative fuel. Jet fuel needs to be denser with its energy output, so the problems there are different than with cars.

Well, until KLM, national airline of the Netherlands, stepped in, that is. They've been using a mixture of 75% jet fuel and 25% cooking oil imported from Louisiana to power some of their flights, though on a somewhat irregular basis starting in 2009. They'll be making their first regular usage, on their Thursday New York-Amsterdam flights. Cooking oil isn't ideal as alternative fuel, but it is energy-dense enough to where the planes are able to use it. So it's a good place to get the train of thought going. You will probably be paying to go green, though; cooking oil in the form seen here runs the airlines about three times what it costs to use jet fuel.

'But you can get cooking oil for free! The restaurants just want to be rid of it!' True for you, perhaps, but again, you're not flying an airplane. All you have to do to make cooking oil work in a diesel car is strain out the food residue. You have to refine the stuff to make it work in an airplane.

Like I said. Still a long way to go.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Can't Keep It From Leaking Forever

The Richard Nixon legacy has over the years been on the road to at least a partial recovery. From the ashes of the Watergate scandal and the resignation, talks about opening up China, the Clean Air Act and the Clean Water Act have rehabilitated him by some amount.

That recovery is likely to come to a screeching halt in the face of newly-declassified documents from the Lyndon B. Johnson Presidential library. I will leave you to dig through the details provided by the BBC and Middle East Online, but the gist is this:

*According to the tapes, Johnson had evidence that Nixon was sabotaging the Paris Peace Talks in 1968, an effort to end the Vietnam War. Evidence that Nixon had done so has actually already surfaced, though only in 2008, after nearly all the principal actors had died. Through senior campaign advisor Anna Chennault, the Nixon campaign communicated to the South Vietnamese that they should withdraw from the talks and refuse to deal with Johnson, because Nixon would offer them a better outcome should he be elected. When the talks failed, Nixon then went to the voters and crowed about how Johnson's peace talks were going down in flames, an action Johnson considered treason, but an argument the voters bought. (And then Nixon proceeded to expand the war and bomb Cambodia in an effort to give them that outcome... which, ultimately, he failed to do.)

*Johnson, with evidence in hand, considered entering the 1968 campaign- the one mentioned here two years ago that he didn't enter because the primary polls had him getting clobbered- and using his evidence as the lynchpin of that campaign. He was wavering, though, because releasing the evidence came from sources he didn't want the public- or the Vietnamese- to know were being bugged. Also, given that he had already pulled out of the race because of polls, he was only going to enter based on polls, because this was Lyndon Johnson we're talking about. Eventually, he was told that he would have the support to enter the race, but the Secret Service told him that his safety could not be guaranteed. Johnson ultimately stayed on the sidelines, the information was shelved, and Nixon won.

*After re-election, Nixon was informed by FBI head J. Edgar Hoover that those tapes existed. Nixon turned the White House upside down to find them, but Johnson had had them removed; they were in the hands of Walt Rostrow, one of Johnson's national security aides. Nixon- or rather, Henry Kissinger and J.R. Haldeman- were only able to recreate what exactly was on the tapes. Nixon never stopped looking for the originals, as he considered them to be even more of a blow to him than the Pentagon Papers released in 1971... and in 1972, his search turned to the Watergate Hotel.

Short story even shorter, Nixon had the Vietnam War dragged on six additional years for the sake of winning the 1968 Presidential election. The events from October 1968-April 1975 need not have happened.

Friday, March 15, 2013

Oh God, Michael Crichton Was Right

One thing we take for granted is that once a species has been driven to extinction, that's it. It's gone. No more, ever again.

Do not take this as any sort of sign that it's suddenly okay to drive animals to extinction. But according to Stewart Brand in today's TED talk, given last month in Long Beach, California, the damage may, in the future, be reversible. Which is a huge opportunity... assuming nature hasn't readapted to go on without them. And assuming people in fact don't start taking it as a sign that extinction is suddenly okay to cause. But anyway, yay for science.


Thursday, March 14, 2013

Scouting The Cardinals

So you might have heard about Jorge Bergoglio of Argentina's election as Pope Francis. It was news not only for the fact that we had a new pope, but also for the fact that, for all the speculation on who might be elected, that may have been the first time the name Jorge Bergoglio found its way onto any screen of yours. Bergoglio came as a shock not only for not being an expected or, largely, even acknowledged name (though USA Today, for one, got lucky, albeit with the most bare-bones of a bio), but also for being the first South American pope, the first Jesuit pope, having chosen a new regnal name (Francis, the first new, non-amalgamated name since Pope Lando in 913), being completely unconnected to any of the sex scandals surrounding the church...

...and as people started reading up on his bio, being allegedly connected to the death squads that plagued Argentina in the 1970's. There is a debate sure to rage as time goes on about whether Bergoglio (I don't know why, but I just prefer using the pre-papal name) played any part in it, but of course, whether he did or not, it's too late to do anything about it, because he's just been elected the new pope.

We all played into ignoring Bergoglio in the runup to the conclave. We all focused on the front-runners. I did too. But in hindsight, can't we do better than this? After all, in four of the last seven conclaves spanning the last 75 years, people have come away stunned at the selection and unprepared for the name that they're given. We're really not good at reading the College of Cardinals and anticipating who they're going to pick. They don't tell people much, and as such we're left to wildly speculate and the media left to put forward names that in reality may have no chance at all. (I'm confident in saying that Timothy Dolan, for instance, was only put forward because he's the Archbishop of New York, and much of the US media is based in New York and was rooting for their hometown cardinal regardless of his bio.) Given that the ballots are secret, it didn't really occur to anyone to consider who the runner-ups were last time out, something that would have flagged Bergoglio as he was reportedly the 2nd-place finisher in the 2005 conclave that elected the now-former Pope Benedict XVI, Joseph Ratzinger.

Can't we do better?

At the time of this conclave, there were 207 members of the College of Cardinals; Bergoglio's election takes him out of the College and drops it to 206; this is either an all-time high or pretty close to it. Since the 1300's, every pope has been elected from within the College, so we're pretty safe in assuming that any given pope in the future will come from within the College as well. We cover 535 members of the United States Congress and have scouting reports on every single one of them as well as anyone that launches a credible effort to take any of  their jobs. Can't we do the same with the College? I'm looking around, and there is nobody out there that's specially keeping tabs on the members of the College. The closest I see is from the Holy See Press Office, and their bios are dry to the point of worthlessness. This is a hole that needs filling.

It seems like something that not only do we need for ourselves, but for the cardinals as well; many of them met for the first time at the conclave and needed to research each other before the vote. It shouldn't be all that difficult for someone that knows what they're doing, or a couple someones, to construct a website, construct a bio on each member of the College no matter how ridiculous their purported chances at future election, and then to keep tabs on them. This way, the next time the papacy comes up for grabs, we'll all be able to go there, easily run down all the names, and figure out not who's most likely to be named (which, again, we're bad at doing), but who the College might select if they want the Roman Catholic Church to go in any of a number of different directions- the cardinals who would most focus on the poor, on women, on gays, the ones least tolerant towards same, all their views, all their major skeletons in the closet. Each of the cardinals has a bio somewhere- they all have Wikipedia pages, after all- but Wikipedia is not a news organization and they are not a handicapper. And the pages of some of the cardinals are also bare-bones- say, Simon Pimenta of India, or Albert Vanhoye of France, or one of the newest cardinals, James Michael Harvey of the United States. Whatever your feelings on religion, these are still influential people and the papacy a position with spiritual influence on far more people than even the President. Knowing who they are, what they're up to, and who is more fit to lead is of critical importance.

This is 2013. We can do better than a blind guess.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Did Anyone Honestly Think Twinkies Were Dead Forever?

You moron. You stupid, stupid moron.

It's COMPANIES that die off. BRAND NAMES can and often are picked up by some other company. When a company dies, its assets and various brands and franchises get sold off and scattered to whoever wants them. Brand names that are turning profits, or that someone somewhere still thinks can turn a profit in the right hands, are snatched up, and often just about everything gets snatched up by someone. The brand names that truly die off in such instances are the ones you either hated with a passion or never heard of for probably good reason. Twinkies are not one of those brands.

Honestly, people.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Hop This

You hate ads, right? You download ad-blocking programs, you get DVR's that skip the commercials, you do pretty much everything in your power to remove as many ads from your life as possible. Understandable.

What if the ad made clean drinking water and you lived on the edge of the Atacama Desert? Because that's what a billboard in Lima, Peru, advertising the University of Engineering and Technology of Peru (UTEC) is doing. There may not be rain, but there is a high amount of humidity, often hitting 100%. That humidity is what students at UTEC figured out how to capture with the billboard. Through a process of reverse osmosis, the humidity goes from air filter to condenser to carbon filter to cooling tank to a faucet down at the base of the pole, where anyone who happens by can come along and fill up for free (itself a considerable draw; water from private sources is unregulated and expensive). There are five tanks in the billboard; each can hold 20 liters.

In the first three months, the ad agency that UTEC is working with, Mayo DraftFCB, has the production of the billboard at 9,450 liters. That's enough to accommodate a couple hundred families, but Lima's a big place and Peru's not a small country. One doesn't necessarily have to make new billboards, but the ones already present could certainly be looked at for a refurbishing.

People might be happier to see an ad then.

Monday, March 11, 2013

If She Had A Hammer

For all of Mario's adventures, the princess, be she called Peach or Toadstool, really hasn't tended to do too much unless it's as part of a party (Super Mario RPG) or as part of a larger group (such as in Mario Kart or Smash Bros.) She was placed into the Mario universe as the damsel in distress, there just to be rescued by the hero. This is not to say that Peach hasn't had her own adventures, but even the chronically-underappreciated Luigi has has more starring roles (Luigi's Mansion and Mario Is Missing) than she has.

She's had one. It's called Super Princess Peach. Here's a playthrough of the first world.


That's right, your abilities all revolve around wild mood swings. Those silly girls, and their girlish girling!

Well, Peach's predecessor was Pauline, the damsel in distress of Donkey Kong. This was back in an era when women as the main heroes were so out-of-step with conventions that when Metroid- made by the same company- made the fact that the hero was female hidden in the game's ending, the revelation was one of gaming's most legendary shocks to the system. Mike Mika, a game designer currently with Other Ocean Interactive, knows all this and has for decades... but his unnamed three-year-old daughter doesn't. She doesn't know much yet- she is, after all, three- but she knows enough to know that games have features to them. So it only seemed natural for her, after playing as member-of-a-party Toadstool in Super Mario Bros. 2, to ask Mike, "How can I play as the girl? I want to save Mario!"

You can't.

Unless you're the daughter of a game designer.

Mike had to tell her that Donkey Kong didn't have that functions, but the question nagged at him enough to where he set to work an evening or two later, recoding Donkey Kong to put Mario in Donkey Kong's clutches and Pauline in the position of climbing the girders to save him, and turning the 'M' in the score display to a 'P'. He had it ready for her daughter by morning, after an all-nighter. Her daughter is more into the game as Pauline than she is as Mario.

Here's what that looks like:



The remarks have been... more anti-feminist than Mike would have wanted to see. It's distressing, though far from rare in the gaming industry. There still aren't very many female game programmers, and the ones that are there are routinely harassed. This is to say nothing of the women actually depicted in the games themselves, notorious for their breast size. Lara Croft- revolutionary for being a female hero who you know is female right from the get-go- has as part of her development history a stray hit of the 1 key by creator Toby Gard that accidentally increased her breast size by 150% instead of the intended 50%. His team quickly approved the change before he could correct it.

The original game was in 1996. It's only now, in the 2013 release of a game revolving around her origin story, that the breasts have managed to get back down to the original size. Which says nothing of all the other games where the intended breast size puts Lara to shame. Dead or Alive: Xtreme Beach Volleyball, for example, is not really about the volleyball. Well, it is, but not the sports equipment.

But let's not tell Mike's daughter about that yet.

Sunday, March 10, 2013

This Is The Dispute That Never Ends

I presume you recall the Falklands War of 1982. Argentina has long thought of the Falklands Islands as theirs, mainly based on them being so close to Argentina never mind the fact that the British established sovereignty in 1833 and that the Falklanders themselves will tell anyone who stops to listen that they consider themselves British. No matter. Argentina still calls the islands theirs. They insist the islands be called the Malvinas, but nobody outside of Latin America does that because nobody outside Latin America considers them part of Argentina.

Oh, and they found oil nearby, so needless to say, Argentina has been particularly vocal about it lately.

In an effort to maybe get them to back off for five freaking minutes, the Falklands is holding a referendum to determine their sovereignty. Everyone expects them to say that they call themselves British. Nobody expects Argentina to listen to a word of it; in fact, they've already stated they won't listen to a word of it. They said it could only be resolved between the British and Argentine governments.

The British, for their part, have said they'll go along with whatever the Falklanders want. The Falklanders are going to say they're British and the only real question is by what margin. Argentina has said they won't listen to the Falklanders. And the circle of life is complete.

Saturday, March 9, 2013

Pens Where We Can See Them

If you blinked, you missed it. CBS's new reality show, The Job- and I say this as a friend of host Lisa Ling (hi, Lisa, congratulations on having Jett)- went down in a flaming, screeching explosion. That's the description you get when you get a Super Bowl ad, premiere the same week, and get cancelled in two episodes for failing to even crack 1.0 in the ratings.

I watched. Wasn't my fault. I wanted it to succeed. But now that the show has been cancelled, there's really nothing left to do but the autopsy.

There are several reasons cited as to what caused such a quick out- the perception of exploitation of the applicants, an incident in the first episode where the featured company, Palm Restaurants, asked questions deemed by some viewers to be illegal to ask (namely, asking one of the two finalists about the cancer he had mentioned early in the episode, and asking the other finalist if there would be willing to relocate her family from Alabama to New York), the applicants were often thought not to be up to the tasks asked of them, the rules were deemed by some to be hard to follow along with, the presence of a studio audience was seen as unnecessary, and even the job-search tips presented going into commercial breaks were perceived by some as condescending. But the most pervasive criticism was that of the prize itself, the eponymous Job.

Namely, the Job wasn't very impressive. The featured job in the first episode, assistant manager at the Palm in New York, did not have its salary mentioned on the show, but can be seen online to carry a salary of $42,000 a year. In network game show terms, that's really not very much. By the time a Price Is Right champion gets around to winning the Showcase, they've routinely made more than that. And that's daytime. Get into primetime, where The Job sat, and the money really starts flying, with six- and seven-figure jackpots all over the place. A million to winners of Survivor and the Amazing Race. Half a million to the winner of Big Brother. A quarter-million as the standard 'salary' for most of your job- or talent-search shows, such as Hell's Kitchen. The X Factor showers its winner with $5 million. No amount of calling your prize a "dream job", no matter how much Lisa really believed it (and I know she did; she was looking at the growth potential of the position rather than the position in the abstract), is going to puff up a $42,000 prize in that environment. Lisa and the viewers were thinking on two completely different wavelengths, and on prime-time network television, the viewers have the last word.

It's not an unprecedented incident. Back in the early days of the modern reality era (which I define as everything from Survivor forward), you had Fear Factor, which premiered in 2001. The draw of Fear Factor was more in its challenges than in its prizes, which to had to be, because the prize money was only $50,000. In 2001, nobody really noticed, because Fear Factor was part of the first wave of the era. In 2006, played out, the show went off the air. In 2011, it was given a revival, with the stunts bigger, more elaborate, and now with copious amounts of explosions.

But the price of poker had gone up in Fear Factor's absence. They were still offering $50,000, and it was no longer seen as enough of an enticement. Other shows were offering more money. Other shows were coming close enough to, or even surpassing, the stunts Fear Factor had devised, and the general sentiment was, 'why should I leap off that building for only $50,000 when The Amazing Race will give me a million bucks to do it?' Fear Factor was even pitted against its earlier self, falling victim to the golden rule of shock jocks: to survive, you must keep topping yourself, and when you can no longer do so, it's all over.

So, that's that, right? The Job didn't offer enough, end of story. Right?

Hang on a minute.

A week or two ago, the webcomic Penny Arcade, as the result of hitting a Kickstarter stretch goal last year, launched the online reality show Strip Search, a competition for webcomic artists. They're three episodes in (episodes last about 15-20 minutes), and the first elimination episode (they will happily go several episodes without an elimination) is set for Tuesday. Episode 1 is here, Episode 2 is here, Episode 3 is here. By all accounts, it has been very well-received so far. (Including by me. I'm watching this one too.)

What's the prize? $15,000 and one year working in the Penny Arcade office in Seattle. They won't be working for Penny Arcade, but rather, they'll have access to the Penny Arcade braintrust while they work on their already-existing comic. People have raved over the prize.

Now wait. The Job offered a new job worth $42,000 and got cancelled in two episodes for not offering enough, while Strip Search offers you your own job, in a new office, and a third of the money The Job did, and gets hailed for the offer they've made? How can that be?

I've already told you the answer. It's their respective platforms that makes the difference.

When a reality competition is placed on prime-time network television, like The Job was, it comes with expectations. It comes with expectations of big money and huge prizes to match the big budget commensurate with a major network. This is not about winning the tools to go find your rainbow, as The Job was trying to do. This is about straight-up awarding the rainbow. The show must ante up enough money to be taken seriously. In this day and age, $100,000 is the bare minimum to be taken seriously, and really anything under $250,000 is going to be seen as stingy.

But when you drop down even into cable, the monetary expectations drop severely. $100,000 becomes not the ante, but rather the high-rollers table, as evidenced by recently-renewed TBS competition King Of The Nerds, which offered exactly that, $100,000, as did the History Channel's Full Metal Jousting and Top Shot. The then-SciFi Channel's Who Wants To Be A Superhero? offered far less: each contestant dressed up as a superhero of their own creation, and the winner had their superhero featured in a comic written by host Stan Lee and a SciFi made-for-TV movie. The Canadian-produced Mantracker, in fact, offers no prize at all, only bragging rights. (The premise: A two-person team gets placed in some area of wilderness and is tasked with getting to a predetermined 'finish line' 20-25 miles away by sundown the next day; in so doing, they have to avoid getting captured by Mantracker, a search-and-rescue worker on horseback who has a local guide, also on horseback, who is without map, compass or knowledge of the finish line, and is tracking the contestants via footprints, signs of human disturbance, etc. About 30% of the contestants make it.)

When you get into the online realm, a prize like Mantracker's becomes the norm. It's not often that any prize is offered at all (when I was hosting online reality shows, I never offered a prize), and I personally have not seen a prize more lucrative than the one Strip Search is offering, or even anywhere close. When a prize is offered by a host, from my observation, it's usually in the range of maybe a hundred bucks at the most. A lot of the time online, many of the same players play a game together over and over again. While repeat contestants are becoming common on network shows, it's still rather rare for a contestant to be invited to play for a third time. In your third online game, you're still a relative rookie and not a major part of the metagame yet. Money is not the draw online. The game is the draw.

It's a matter of perception. The smaller the platform, the less money the audience expects you to be able to set aside for the prize budget, and the less money you need to pony up to be taken seriously. On the Internet, it's understood that absolutely anyone can host, and hosting duties are often traded off amongst the aforementioned core group. On cable, you have a smaller budget than the networks, and while you probably need to offer something decent-sized to stand out, huge prizes aren't absolutely necessary. But on a network, you had better bring the bling.

If The Job had been aired on some cable network- perhaps Lisa's other network, OWN- it wouldn't have wiped away all the criticisms. The bristling over the rules and the interview questions and the quality of the contestants would still have been present. But had the expectations simply been lowered- had it just aired on one of the upper cable tiers instead of on CBS- would the job on offer been as much of an issue?

Considering just how low the ratings were, we'll likely never get to find out with the remaining six unaired episodes. But clearly, offering someone nothing more than a better environment for the job they already have is viable in the right setting.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Americans For Real Vampires

So are you done with sparkly vampires now? I hope you are. Vampires are supposed to suck blood and turn their W's into V's and say 'bleh!' and get blown away by Bruce Campbell or, if he's not available, an airplane that conveniently runs them over. Twilight does not have real vampires.

And by the way, don't get me started on Monster High, which made their vampire vegan and hemophobic to the point where she can't even say the word 'blood' what the hell.

But just in case you haven't yet had your fill of vampires who are not really vampires, there is now Twi-line. Apparently, if you're sad that there are no more Twilight movies, if you're in the United Kingdom, you call a number, and for the next two weeks, random quotes from the Twilight movies will be continuously played back to you. This will tide you over until your DVD finishes rewinding so you can watch the Twilight movies again and get the same quotes with bonus context, plot and moving pictures depicting the characters saying them.

And, you know, pay more money for the privilege.

And then we can wait for a vampire to show up at the beach or something. ...what... DAMN YOU, MONSTER HIGH!

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Games You Didn't Think Were Solved

You know about nim games? You might have heard about them as a kid in school but probably haven't been acquainted with them in a while, because they're not really much of a game. They're more of a math problem disguised as a game. The object of a nim game is, you and one or more other players are trying to count to a target number, and when your turn comes up, you can count by a certain small amount- the next one, two or three numbers in line, perhaps. The object can be either to be the one to count the target number, or if you're looking for a loser, that can be the one who's stuck with the target number.

Nobody plays them outside of K-12 math classes, because these have been solved. In any given game, there are checkpoint numbers that, as long as you reach them, guarantee victory, and these checkpoint numbers can be reliably reached by either the first or second player right from the beginning. The entire game is who goes first or second.

This is not the only game to have been solved, or is on its way to being solved. You of course know about chess, for which computer programs are continually being developed to solve in increasingly distant lengths from the endgame. Tic-Tac-Toe has been solved, solved, and solved again, to the point where Hollywood Squares had to have a five-square-win scenario built in for when the random easily-excitable people they plucked off the street and placed in front of semi-minor celebrities were able to inevitably place the game into a draw.

As luke McKinney of Cracked points out today, Connect Four has also been solved. Namely, it was solved by James D. Allen in 1989, and then again two weeks later (PDF) by Victor Allis of Vrije University in the Netherlands. Assuming perfect play, the first player is supposed to win. A man named John Tromp gave a stronger solution in 1995, allowing the first player to make mistakes and still guarantee victory.

You can do this with any two-player game with a finite number of moves under complete control of the player (e.g. no dice or any other random element) and a finite board. Eventually, given enough time, you can solve it, and figure out whether the game is supposed to have a winner or end in a draw, and what kind of margin of error you have to work with while still guaranteeing the result. The largest game to have been completely solved to date? Checkers. A checkers game is supposed to end in a draw. As with chess, people are still working on Go and Reversi.

The difference between a solved game nobody plays and a solved game people still play often is whether you can reasonably memorize the solution. Which is why people still play chess, and nobody plays nim games.

If you want a game that is, to this point, effectively unsolvable, though? Get a third player. Introduce a third player and the move and strategic possibilities grow by such a large proportion that all but the simplest games are turned unpredictable. I'm sure that eventually someone will come up with a solution to games of more than two people, such as Chinese Checkers, but so far, all that's out there is a solution to solitaire Chinese Checkers.

You know. If any of you have ever thought to play that.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Scottish Family's 800-Year-Old Curse Finally Lifted

Assuming the curse reads something like, 'you and your descendants will suffer until water is tied in a knot'.

Because that's what scientists at the University of Chicago have managed to do. You ever make a water tornado in a soda bottle? That's about how a vortex is understood to work: single one, straight line, pretty stable. If you do it right, though, not necessarily. When a vortex breaks up, it can start going squirrely, flailing, colliding with itself perhaps, losing some connections in the chain and making new ones. (See also: your water tornado with a particularly thin vortex starting to do a bellydance.) So after about 30 attempts at making a proper hydrofoil, and one of those newfangled 3-D printers, the team managed to make a knot, which you can see in a video here. Bubbles make it so you can actually see what's going on.



This does have a larger purpose- they're hoping to put this towards better understanding plasmas and superfluids and various physics issues- but if I don't get to drive my car on a highway made of water, this has all gone to waste in my book.

Monday, March 4, 2013

Rapid-Fire Book Club, Pre-Snowzilla Edition

So I had a Barnes and Noble gift card from Christmas that needed burning. That happened today, in advance of a huge snowstorm we're supposed to be getting, and three books later, here we sit:

*Colbert, Stephen- America Again: Re-Becoming The Greatness We Never Weren't
*Hibbert, Christopher- The House of Medici: It's Rise And Fall
*Jacobs, A.J.- Drop Dead Healthy: One Man's Humble Quest For Bodily Perfection

Two of these, America Again and Drop Dead Healthy, I'd been meaning to get for a while and just now got around to it. The House Of Medici is more of my normal procedure of 'see book, buy book'.

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Well, At Least It's Kosher

Most people who utter the word 'Monsanto' are likely to do so with scorn. This Al Jazeera article by Charlotte Silver, commenting on a case involving Monsanto currently before the Supreme Court, should provide a decent primer on why that is. The concerns are, basically, that Monsanto's increasing power and influence- and the capability of their crops to inadvertently cross-pollinate neighboring farms- combined with the fact that Monsanto, in addition to crops, also makes herbicides such as Roundup, creates a sense of unease in not only how much of our food supply Monsanto controls, but what chemicals are in the food that they supply and what kind of damage those chemicals might do.

People are worried about eating stray bits of Roundup that Monsanto got mixed in the food and not knowing about it until they get sick is really the thing here.

Important, to be sure. Especially because I live in a farm state. But that's not really the reason we're here today.

The concern with Monsanto is that people may not know what they're really eating, but... they have an idea what to look for. Not so the case in Iceland. Icelandic officials recently learned that it's not just the things you're looking for that you have to look for. They were looking for horsemeat that had been getting into various meat products around Europe (Taco Bell and Burger King are among the companies hit), as a precaution to see that it wasn't happening in Iceland too.

When they checked one brand of domestic meat pies from a company called Gaedakokkar, the good news is they didn't find horsemeat.

The bad news is they didn't find meat. They found what the AP described as "some kind of vegetable matter". And now a whole new investigation has been launched.

On the plus side, if you wanted meatless meat pies, well, you're in luck.

Saturday, March 2, 2013

Total Carnage! IIIIIII Love It!

A year ago, I mentioned here a Chinese TV show called Interviews Before Execution, in which, as the title indicated, condemned prisoners were interviewed immediately prior to being hauled off to the execution chamber. It was cancelled soon after it caught international attention, though seemingly less due to the show's content and more due to the fact that people were trying to use it to extrapolate how many people China executes every year, a number China doesn't release, calling it a state secret.

We can pretty safely say it wasn't cancelled for the content. Because CCTV, Chinese state television, has caught fire from the global community for their actions concerning four foreign drug traffickers, convicted in the 2011 killing of 13 Chinese fishermen. One was Burmese, one Laotian, one Thai and one of "unknown nationality". A television special was constructed around their execution, including live footage running right up to just before the actual execution by lethal injection, which was just about the only thing CCTV didn't show. Although given the content of the program, one gets the idea that even that was strongly considered. The full fear of death from the condemned were placed on display and played to the hilt, while CCTV reporters talked at length about how humane the lethal-injection method was and what a fair trial the condemned received despite the original considerations to just kill them with a drone strike. It all smacked of brazen propaganda.

Nations that don't parade people around before executing them immediately went up in arms, asking what kind of civilized society China thinks it's running, because that kind of behavior is one normally associated with a bygone era and now associated with only the most draconian and repressive nations. China itself was more polarized than universally outraged: many were as outraged as everyone else- one lawyer even noted that it broke China's own criminal code stating that executions should be announced but not displayed- but there were some who not only cheered it on, but whose only complaint was that the method of execution was too humane. The Sydney Morning Herald quoted one blogger who stated, "These beasts should be pulled apart by vehicles.''

It's a throwback to China's previously-common practice of public executions, officially banned in 1979 but which in practice has never actually stopped. One set of public executions was reported by The Australian in advance of the 2008 Olympics. Another was reported by the Epoch Times as having occurred around the 2012 New Year period. Public executions have slowed down, but they've been replaced with 'execution vans', literally vans with blacked-out windows where the condemned is bundled into and executed on the spot.

The LA Times, by the way, ventured a guess of 4,000 executions a year. The BBC quotes a number of 8,000. For whatever that's worth. Second-place Iran is thought (PDF) to hover somewhere in the 300's. In any case, it shoots holes in the 'announce the executions' part of the criminal code as well. After all, if they announced them all, you'd be able to count them.

Friday, March 1, 2013

Egg... Egg... Egg-Ster-Min-Ate

I think it's time for another science experiment, don't you? Yes, you do. You are getting very sleepy.

You know those little fizzy eggs? You dump them in the bathtub or the sink or whatever and it fizzes away to reveal there's a little toy in the middle? Well, today we're going to learn how to make one. An Angry Birds figurine will be used as the toy. You need baking soda and water for this, and perhaps an oven (if using an oven, get a parent). They use vinegar to dissolve the egg.

And it's really very simple. Get a bowl, put some baking soda in it, add water to make the baking soda mushy and moldable, and then just mold it around the toy. Then dry it out.

Show them what that looks like, random cute kids.