Saturday, November 30, 2013

Oh, Sure, Have My Nonexistent Traffic

As you may know, the byline for this blog is 'be less stupid'. I've had it for quite a while. So when Jon Hotchkiss of the Huffington Post shows up announcing a new regular feature he'll be doing that is straight-up called 'Be Less Stupid', I'm going to tend to notice.

But hey, I'm a sport. I'll even go ahead and take up Jon's opening topic today. To demonstrate the topic, have a look at this video.

When you're looking for one thing, you tend to miss other things or changes in the environment going on in the background even if they're also staring you in the face. That's called change blindness. When you see something familiar, you mentally reconstruct an image of what you're looking at even if that's a different image from what you're actually looking at, so subtle changes in it might not get picked up. That is called inattentional blindness. Which means pranks like this can get played on you.

After explaining this, Hotchkiss explains how you put that knowledge to good use. In this case, it's simply knowing your limitations and making decisions based on those limitations. This isn't to say don't make decisions with incomplete information, but it is saying try to leave yourself room to change direction if some contradictory information presents itself.

For example, if a guy uses the byline you've been using to title a feature on a much more popular site, you don't immediately go assume he stole it. You leave open the very large possibility that you're simply too small to get noticed and it's a total coincidence. At the same time, you do leave open the small possibility of nefariousness, because you don't 100% know. On balance, with the information available, you can be very, very confident that there's no harm done or meant, and you can go on based on that. But in the unlikely instance that there was harm meant...

...nah. Really, really not worth it even if there was. Best of luck to you, Jon.

Friday, November 29, 2013

Well, This Was Certainly Fast

So back in September, I wrote about e-cigarettes. Turns out, I'm not much of a fan. As I noted back then, the FDA attempted to ban them in 2009, but the ban was overturned due to lack of evidence, and so it is that you currently have ads about how "we're all adults here" and some rather indignant e-cigarette smokers adamant about how it's just water vapor, and things along those lines.

The thing is, when you call something an e-cigarette, you're practically inviting everyone within hearing range to pass whatever rules they need to pass to treat it like a regular cigarette. Even if the FDA couldn't get a ban enacted, that doesn't stop anyone else with smoking bans from telling e-cigarette smokers, 'it's close enough, now put that thing out'. For example, New York City, Chicago, a whole slew of college campuses, or the entire European Union, which are all in the process of putting legislation in place making cigarettes and e-cigarettes legally equivalent, or which have already done so. The FDA may have to go get more data, but they've seen enough.

Thursday, November 28, 2013

For Those Of You Not Napping

Eating. Football. Hopefully you are too unless you aren't American in which case go eat something. And then have a run through these four documentaries produced over the course of nine years about tourist incursion into Laos.

The too-long-didn't-watch version: it didn't go so great.

From 2004, produced by Martin Gronemeyer:

Also from 2004, produced by Xaisongkham Induangchanthy:

From 2009, via Journeyman Pictures:

From last year, also via Journeyman Pictures through SBS Australia:

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

A Friendly Reminder To Black Fri... Thur... Whatever Shoppers

Dear everyone who's going out shopping tomorrow or Friday in the so-called 'doorbuster' sales:

As enthused as you may be to grab the items being put on sale- which, by the way, solve for value of 'sale'- do remember that in your rush to buy said items, there are retail workers in the line of fire (which, thankfully, will not include me; I managed to somehow dodge getting scheduled tomorrow). Retail workers who, regardless of any statement the corporate office may have put out, have just about all been frog-marched into working that day at hours that basically destroy even the possibility of working around them so they can have a Thanksgiving. Hours like, say, noon-9. In the back of the mind of a large number of these people is the story of the guy who got trampled to death at a Walmart on Long Island on Black Friday 2008. Put simply, that store is the last place in the world that many of them want to be. They would much rather be at home giving thanks for what they have instead of attempting to corral a stampede blind to all but the pursuit of more.

(And those of you who are steered more towards the more mundane items? The socks, the waffle irons? Really? Is that really worth it, to you, to anyone involved in this madness? Is it really worth cutting Thanksgiving short for not only you but someone else and risking bodily harm so you can get a $3 pack of socks?)

The number one way to tick off one of these people is to tell them 'You really shouldn't be here today. Why are you open?' You know why the store is open? You know why they're there? Because of you. You are the one keeping them there because you couldn't be bothered to finish your Thanksgiving dinner before rushing out the door to run full-speed at a single model of a flat-screen that probably is inferior to your needs than some other model and which probably doesn't cost all that much less than you could get it for in, like, May. If you weren't so gung-ho on shopping right at that moment, the store wouldn't be open and the employees wouldn't have to be there either. And many of them fantasize about telling you this right to your face. A few of them might have already done so to someone who made that statement.

Don't let that person be you.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Continue? 10...9...8...

With the WiiU, Xbox One and Playstation 4 now all out and active in the gaming community, the eighth generation of gaming consoles is well and truly underway. But that's not quite the end of the seventh. Not everybody gets a new console at launch, and games for the old generation don't quite completely dry up at the outset of the new. There's a certain amount of lag while the old console winds down; sometimes the lag can be quite lengthy. But at some point, eventually, inevitably, the new games do dry up and the console's game library is what it is (homebrew, hacking and emulators excepted).

These games, regardless of their quality, are never given any attention. It's easy to see why. Most of the time, the game is also available on a newer console, and those versions are the ones that get covered. Often the games are licensed properties, more recently it's sports titles, that hang around well after everybody else has abandoned the territory. Even if it's an original, the console is effectively dead anyway; who's paying attention anymore? In other cases, it may just be the random title that happened to be the last release before the company itself stopped making consoles.

Which leads to today's random trivia question: what, in fact, turned out to be the very last game commercially released for some of these deceased consoles?

Amazingly, Wikipedia actually has a page devoted to this question, and a guy from Chicago named Hughes Johnson has made a hobby of rounding up the others, though he sometimes isn't sure himself. I was getting all ready to settle in for a day of research that would slowly drive me up the wall until I finally declared that I'd had enough, but then Wikipedia and Hughes turned out to already have the work done, for handhelds as well. So, hey, there you go. Wikipedia has the more major consoles and handhelds; Hughes mops up the more obscure devices.

And as it happens, the question has seemingly been answered for the Playstation 2 a month or two ago, depending on whether you're talking worldwide release or just in North America. If you want to go by North American release, Pro Evolution Soccer 14 is the final PS2 game (released September 24); if you're going by worldwide release, the answer is FIFA 14 (released October 3 in South America). This, of course, assumes some other game does not come out in the future sometime, and Hughes isn't willing to concede the end of the PS2's lifespan. He also has the Nintendo DS and Sony PSP on death watch, but isn't ready to make a call.

For our purposes, we'll go with North America as our benchmark. There are still one or two where Wikipedia or Hughes haven't already done the work as properly as I'd like; those are separately linked. So... as best we can manage, here's what we've got.

Atari 2600: Secret Quest (1989)
Atari 5200: Gremlins (1986)
Atari 7200: Midnight Mutants (1990)
Atari Lynx: Super Asteroids & Missile Command (1995)
Atari Jaguar: Fight For Life (1996)

Bally Astrocade: Cosmic Raiders (1983)

Fairchild Channel F: Alien Invasion (1979)

Mattel Intellivision: either Stadium Mud Buggies or Spiker! Super Pro Volleyball (1989)

Microsoft Xbox: Madden 09 (August 12, 2008)

NEC Turbografx-16:  Bomberman '93 (1993)
NEX Turbografx-16 CD: Bonk 3 (December 1994)

Nintendo Entertainment System: Wario's Woods (December 10, 1994)
Super Nintendo: Frogger (1998)
Nintendo 64: Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 3 (August 20, 2002)
Nintendo Gamecube: Madden NFL 08 (August 14, 2007)
Virtual Boy: 3D Tetris (March 2, 1996)
Game Boy: Depends. If you want the last game that wasn't for the next-gen Game Boy Color, it's Pokemon Yellow (October 18, 1999). But there were Game Boy Color games still compatible with the original Game Boy. The last of those games was Dragon Warrior Monsters 2: Cobi's Journey & Sara's Adventure (September 15, 2001).
Game Boy Color: Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (November 15, 2002)
Game Boy Advance: Samurai Deeper Kyo (February 12, 2008)

Nokia N-Gage: Most places have it as Civilization (March 2, 2006); Hughes disagrees and opts for Warhammer 40,000: Glory In Death (March 2006)

Panasonic 3DO: Casper (May 1996)

Phillips Oddysey 2: Power Lords (1993)
Phillips CD-I: Solar Crusade (1999)

Sega Master System: Sonic the Hedgehog (October 25, 1991)
Sega Genesis: Frogger (1998)
Sega CD: The subject of some debate. Candidates include Lunar: Eternal Blue (September 15, 1995 and Surgical Strike (Hughes says December 1995, but IGN has it as November 6, 1993).
Sega 32X: Spiderman: Web of Fire (1996)
Sega Saturn: Magic Knight Rayearth (November 30, 1998)
Sega Dreamcast: NHL 2K2 (February 14, 2002)
Sega Game Gear: The Lost World: Jurassic Park (November 17, 1997)

SNK Neo Geo: Samurai Showdown V Special (April 22, 2004)

Sony Playstation 1: FIFA Soccer 2005 (October 12, 2004)
Sony Playstation 2: Pro Evolution Soccer 2014 (September 24, 2013)

Monday, November 25, 2013

16,000... Somethings

The Dow Jones Industrial Average is over 16,000 for the first time and on a pace of hitting regular all-time highs. Which is nice if you're in that line of work, but for a lot of people, if the economy is doing well, they're not seeing it in their own lives or neighborhoods. And besides, what does the Dow being at 16,000 actually mean? Not in terms of implications. Like, literally. 16,000 what?

The short answer is that it's an average of the 30 stocks in the index, taking the total price of those stocks and dividing it by what's known as the Dow Divisor, a number regularly changed (PDF) to reflect stock splits and spinoffs andsuch that have had an effect on things since the creation of the average in 1896 (the index itself has been around since 1885). Inflation, it should be noted, is not calculated in the divisor. You can find the current divisor at the Wall Street Journal website, among other places. As I post this, the divisor is 0.15571590501117, which at Friday's close of 16064.77 would basically mean it would cost you $2,501.54 to buy one share of stock in every company in the Dow.

Which, of course, means way back at the start of the index, you needed to only average out the prices of the stocks in the index to get your number. Which was done, by hand, first by Charles Dow and then by Arthur 'Pop' Harris, until 1963, when computers finally took over the task. Harris worked out the math, every hour on the hour, by hand I remind you, and got some rather bloodied hands from pulling out the ticker tape.

This is the main goal of any stock market index: to measure itself against itself, and the Dow measures itself against, in essence, its original close of 62.76 on February 16, 1885. The Dow got its original index number organically, as did Japan's Nikkei index, but a lot of other indices, such as the NASDAQ, get their number by measuring against a preset par value. In NASDAQ's case, that par is 125, where it was set at the start of 1994. That's, in essence, what the number means: how the market is doing in relation to the time the index number was originally set.

Whatever relevance that original number may or may not have to today.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

A Bat Was In My Bed At 5 AM And I'm Tired And Sleepy So You Get This

Doctor Who is 50 years old, as you might have heard from such places as the Google doodle yesterday. So in note of that, I provide today's Sporcle quiz: name the Doctor's companions. The exact count varies from person to person as the idea of what constitutes a companion changes from person to person, but this particular quiz lists 42 characters as companions. The clock is set to 8 minutes.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

In Which Silica Gel Is Auctioned

I suppose I should close out the Desert Bus saga. Over 6 days, 11 hours, the Desert Bus crew managed to raise $521,500 for Child's Play, which is a record for them by a gigantic margin. But that isn't what I'd really like to pass along.

Through the course of the run, the Desert Bus chat room had, among other assorted ridiculousness, been getting inordinately excited over silica gel. Towards the end, as a gag, the crew decided, oh, why not, we'll put a silica gel packet up for auction just to see what happens. Maybe we'll make a couple bucks.

What happened? 'Notch', aka Markus Persson, creator of Minecraft, was what happened.

Oh, by the way, one thing to keep in mind: silica gel naturally goes for roundabout $3-5 per kilogram.

Friday, November 22, 2013

A Thing That Is Way Less Of A Thing Than It's Made Out To Be

The cotton-ball diet.

As it's being reported, someone out there has decided to go on a diet in which you dip cotton balls in orange juice or lemonade, and then you eat the cotton ball, and the cotton ball makes you feel full so you don't eat as much actual food. This article from CBS Atlanta links a YouTube clip where someone does it and everything.

The rub here is that cotton is of... questionable edibility. There isn't really a hard yes or no on it. Cotton balls are laden with chemicals in order to bleach them. There's a good chance they could just stay in there and gum up your digestive system and pretty soon you have to go into surgery to get the cotton out. So, not a thing you ought to do, if you were stupid enough to consider it.

That, of course, assumes that people are actually doing it in such quantities that it is some sort of 'trend'. Which I'm not seeing. At all.

If you're following the articles I'm seeing, such as this one from Time, you'd think this would be a 'trend' or something. They hauled out the medical experts and everything. But it looks seriously overblown from my perspective. In fact, I'm seeing more video clips from news outlets explaining how dangerous it is than I am seeing of people actually doing it. And the clip CBS Atlanta used is of someone who did it as a dare and only ever ate the one, according to the preview text, and later took the video down. So CBS Atlanta has a dead link on their hands. Many of the others are also dares or people who thought it would be funny.

Other people on YouTube eating cotton balls have lit them on fire first. Which is a parlor trick.

I'm actually having a hard time finding ANY cotton balls actually being eaten for actual dietary purposes. It's all dares and tricks and 'hey watch this' and a couple pets trying to eat them... and news organizations thinking it's all a big fad diet. If they're in there, they're hidden well enough that I certainly wouldn't call it a trend or anything that even threatened to become one.

I'm doing this as a HOBBY. You'd think the people that are being PAID for this would take five minutes to run a YouTube search and at least scan the preview texts.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Still Watching Desert Bus, Leave Me Alone

The Desert Bus telethon is still rolling, and slated to end at some indeterminate point tomorrow unless something outrageously wonderful happens with donations. They're at $336,386 as I type this, and recently passed $1.6 million lifetime. So my posts this week have been a bit skimpy; I've been over there watching the telethon.

What have I been watching? Basically, think things like this for a solid week. Please note that you are seeing Hour 111 of the run in this clip, after midnight local time:

This, in a nutshell, is Desert Bus. And you can see, as the clip ends, the start of a donation spike in response to that. Part of that spike might have been mine.

If you see this after the drive ends, consider donating to Child's Play directly.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

The Big History Project

So this is a thing you may want to bookmark. It's called the Big History Project. The aim of creators Bill Gates and David Christian is to provide an interdisciplinary course on the history of the world, Big Bang until now.

And you are going to want to make it a bookmark, because this is intended for a high-school curriculum, which means this is like 6-8 hours of stuff, text, videos, slideshows, plus assignments and quizzes. This is not a passive 'watch and learn' thing; you will need to participate. Some of it, obviously, you already know, but skimming the material, there's definitely something you can pick up along the way even if you do. For instance, the Big Bang segment begins with a radio antenna experiment in New Jersey in 1964 you might not be aware of, in which the scientists noticed some hissing from the antenna and thought it was either due to pigeon poop or the pigeons themselves. Poop cleaned. Pigeons killed. Still hissing. They eventually found it to be microwave radiation that, as it turned out, was residual from the Big Bang.

So.... go. Go learn something.

Monday, November 18, 2013

How Could Winter Be Worse?

It is cold outside my window. It is cold and windy and icky and the cold is coming in through the cracks and my life is brrrrrr.

At least I'm not allergic.

Yes, there is actually an allergy to cold. Not a 'I don't like this weather, where's the plane to San Diego' "allergy". A literal allergy, called cold urticaria, that can cause hives, swelling and potentially anaphylactic shock. If you suffer from it, it's not only winter that will get you, a drink with ice cubes in it will get you too. Swimming in cold water can be deadly. For the person profiled in the linked article, anything under 50 degrees Fahrenheit will trigger the allergy.

It can generally be treated, though, with antihistamines and an epi-pen; however, the condition is rare enough that it doesn't attract very much attention from the medical community, which of course is more focused on things that affect a greater amount of people. So any fundraising and research would have to be on the grassroots level. When an official diagnosis is given, and it's a child that gets it, their teachers may very well have to be convinced that, yes, this is in fact a thing, and no, he's not just trying to get out of going to class.

There is an article about it at the Mayo Clinic website, so there is at least that.

Sunday, November 17, 2013


I've got a bit of work to do today on the soccer book; I had a little snippet taken in for some peer review and came out of it with some suggestions I'm going to try and spend the day acting upon.

So while I do that, have a TED talk. Say hello to Gregoire Courtine... and a rat.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Desert Bus 7

Desert Bus For Hope 7 has just gotten underway. Here's the idea, for those who've never heard of it:

The group here, Loading Ready Run, will play the world's most boring videogame, Desert Bus. You drive a virtual bus that doesn't go any faster than 45 mph from tuscon to Las Vegas. There is no scenery, just flat desert. It is an 8 hour drive. The bus constantly leans slightly to the right, so you always have to be at the controller. If you go off the dead-straight road, the bus slows to a stop, overheats, and you are towed back to Tuscon in real time. If you stop for too long, the bus overheats and you are also towed back. If you make it to Vegas, you score one point and then attempt another 8-hour drive back to Tuscon for a second point.

The live feed of that is here.

Needless to say, the rest of the group that isn't driving spices up the time with random hijinks and auctions and dares undertaken in exchange for donations.

The idea is, the more you donate, the longer they have to play. The first hour costs $1, and each additional hour costs 7% more than the previous hour. $4,044 was raised prior to the start of the run, good for 83 hours, but by that point, the cost of hour 84 had gone up into the hundreds of dollars.

Go. Give them money. Make them drive for all the hours.

Friday, November 15, 2013

Hey, We're Just Concerned

Today, I present a piece from Grantland by Brian Phillips. Phillips' article concerns the run-up to the World Cup in Brazil, but then again, it really kind of doesn't. The real point of the article is twofold: to highlight how various people in the journalism industry are reporting on the run-up to the World Cup: namely, through the use of fearmongering code words.

To be sure, Brazil has plenty of issues regarding their preparation for the World Cup, but the issues of major importance are mostly social issues questioning whether hosting the World Cup is a wise idea when the money can be spent on schools and hospitals and improving life in Brazil's shantytowns instead of engaging in the usual pre-World Cup/pre-Olympics practice of hustling the poor people off to somewhere the cameras aren't going to be so that the rich may party while the poor suffer.

The equivalent reporting on Qatar, plagued by corruption, concerns for the safety of players in the Middle Eastern summer, related concerns about the effects on the world soccer schedule should the World Cup need to be held in the fall or winter, and worries about the lack of rights for foreign guest workers who end up functionally enslaved, has been focused in the right place. Today, for instance, the major story concerns French player Zahir Belounis, who has been trapped in Qatar for two years, unable to obtain an exit visa over an argument with authorities that he has gone unpaid for those two years. While the rest of the world has called for action, FIFA has come out with a statement saying they are "unable to intervene", citing the excuse- and 'excuse' is the operative word here- that Belounis sought recompense in a local court instead of FIFA's in-house Dispute Resolution Chamber, and so they have decided to leave him to his fate. Taking Belounis' case and ruling in his favor, of course, would further damage Qatar's credibility to host the World Cup, which has been under fire ever since the original announcement, and anger some very rich interests who have given FIFA a lot of money.

With Brazil, although some of the reporting has been focused on the social issues, and it was in fact the main subplot of the Confederations Cup earlier this year, up to and including FIFA being so tone-deaf to the protests that they announced the official champagne of the World Cup in the midst of the Confederations Cup protests, other reporting has not been so focused. Phillips uses a pair of beheadings that have taken place in Brazil this year, one stemming from a low-level soccer league and one only tangentially related to soccer at all, and shows how the reporting of these events- rare as they are; beheadings always are- has caused some reporters- this piece from Anna Jean Kaiser of USA Today is presented as one example- to "raise concerns" about tourist safety at the World Cup. The train of thought from that phrase, "raise concerns", to what you are supposed to take from it is outlined, step by step. What you are supposed to take from it, specifically, is a primal fear that if you travel to Brazil for the World Cup, you will get beheaded yourself. Which will absolutely not happen, isn't getting listened to given the high ticket sales, and in the process of worrying about something as unlikely as that distracts from the real, legitimate issues Brazil has concerning the World Cup.

It would, for one, put local organizing committee CEO Ricardo Trade's request to the protesters with legitimate concerns not to hurt the tourists in a far more sinister light.

This is one more example, if you were not already aware, of the need, difficult though the task may be sometimes, to pay attention to what the word choices in articles mean. It's not always the political articles that will get you. Sometimes it's the stories in the rest of the paper that get you when your guard is down.

Brazil has enough issues surrounding this World Cup. Let's not go make more.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Is Andy Kaufman Still Alive?

No. No he is not and stop misquoting his brother. Kaufman is dead. Dead dead dead dead dead. Besides... the guy died in 1984. It's nearly 30 years later now. Why do people always seem to assume that a guy who supposedly faked his death years and years ago went on to live a full, long life into some extreme old age? 30 years of adulthood is a lot of time to get hit by a car or have a heart attack or get for real whatever it is you originally claimed to have in the first place. Faking a death at 35 and going into hiding, there is no guarantee that you make it to 65, which is what Kaufman would be nearing now. People still have Elvis sightings. He'd be 78 now. Plenty of people don't make it to 78.

And this isn't even the first 'is Kaufman still alive' thing we've gone through. Kaufman, as everybody knows, was something of a prankster. At one point before his death, he reportedly told people that if he were kidding, he'd return 20 years later to the day. People knew enough about Andy to believe he might do something like that. (I personally had chalked it up as Andy just trying to get people to think about him one more time after his death.) First off, the day came and went, and Andy made no public appearances. Second, someone did claim that he had returned, but only through some random blog, and the claim has been debunked by Snopes. And here we are nearing the 30-year anniversary, so here we go again, and it has also been debunked by Snopes, which can be very fast with this kind of thing. And we'll probably be doing this every 10 years now until Andy's age that he would have been climbs high enough that it stops being plausible to suggest he'd still be alive anyway.

Not that Andy would probably have much of an issue with that. He is, after all, still playing mind games with people from beyond the grave, even if he no longer has anything to do with it.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

The World's Largest Cheat Sheet

Ben Blatt of Slate has created a cheat sheet for The Price Is Right. This would normally go rather unremarked. You have no shortage of people who, when you say you're going to attend a Price Is Right taping, will immediately give you tips on Plinko and Cliffhangers. And ONLY Plinko and Cliffhangers, no matter how much you remind them that they do six pricing games a show and Plinko and Cliffhangers are only two games that don't even get played every day. What is notable here is that Ben has created a cheat sheet, based on game theory, for every pricing game. Even the 50/50 timesaver games nobody likes but everybody acknowledges have to be part of the show, like Double Prices or One Right Price. There are also segments on Contestant's Row, the Showcase Showdown and the Showcase.

Well, okay, almost every pricing game. The newest game, Do The Math, is too new to have gotten a spot on the sheet. But it's a 50/50 game in which you're asked which of two prizes is a given amount more expensive than the other, and the price difference is big enough that it shouldn't be too tough to do by yourself. Check Game, recently returned after a long hiatus, is also left off the list.

The first thing to note is that for some games, game theory can't help, offering no advantage over guessing randomly or just, you know, knowing your damn prices. The second thing to note is that for some games in which game theory is an assist, game theory is actually a worse option than whatever it is the contestants are doing now. Take, for example, Double Cross. Game theory suggests that, of the four possible options presented, you ought to randomly pick either the second or third option, giving a win percentage of 36.9%. The actual contestants, though, have a 73.9% win percentage. The third thing to note is that Plinko, despite all the advice you may get, is one of the games with no game-theory improvement on random guessing (players currently win an average of 3.88 chips out of a possible 4 anyway), and advice on placing the chip is a bit silly. The fourth thing to note is that even on a size small enough to fit on my screen, which is already too big to fit in anything you'd be able to get into the studio and actually use, it's too small to read. You'll basically need to just memorize it.

There are, though, games in which game theory is an improvement on current behavior, and three games for which game theory will present a 100% win percentage. Advice here is what you really need. And Cliffhangers is claimed to be one of those games, but the cheat sheet actually has an error here, listing the maximum allowable margin of error as $30 instead of the $25 it actually is. In any case, conventional wisdom says you ought to go $25/$35/$45, but the cheat sheet suggests that $19 is actually the optimal amount for the first prize, and then the other two prizes ought to be called at $11 higher than whatever the previous prize turned out to be. (The Spelling Bee section also seems a little unclear on the concept- you don't get to see what's behind one card before you pick the next- but the general principle that the R's and 'CAR' cards are most likely hiding in or beyond the mid-20's remains valid and usable.)

The other games where game theory claims a 100% win rate are Clock Game (though everybody knows that strategy), and Now or Then, which relies heavily on the fact that four of the prices are always listed as 'Now' and two as 'Then'. This strategy is shown in a flowchart in the article.

Various caveats aside, here's the flowchart.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Me Or Your Own Lying Neck

I'm sure a bunch of you have some sort of tattoo somewhere on your body. Your reasons are your own (although not always, in the case of some- for instance, women who have been trafficked in the sex industry have been essentially branded with a tattoo that indicates which trafficker they "belong" to. But we get away from the point here.) Assuming that is not the case with you, there are certain popular locations to get your tattoo. The arm, for instance, the lower back, the chest or gut, or if it's some tiny little thing you don't want to make a giant deal of, the heel of your foot. The more daring, some might say more unhinged, might opt for something on your face. Or your teeth. Or your eyeballs seriously what is wrong with you.

So knowing that little piece of horror, it should come as no surprise that there are throat tattoos as well. It will come as at least a little bit of a surprise, though, that Google has gotten into the throat-tattoo business. Motorola Mobility, a subsidiary, has filed a patent for a temporary electronic throat tattoo.

Let it be known that I get a tiny bit jittery even shaving in that area. I'd really rather nothing went wrong down there. There is just no way in hell.

Anyway, the tattoo is supposed to be able to communicate with various electronic devices, many of them Google products of course, with the intent that you would be able to just shout your commands to them without having the device or a headset or anything except the tattoo on hand. Given galvanic skin responses to those verbal commands- that's the way in which the skin conducts electricity- the patent also speculates about lie-detecting applications. How well that will work is rather questionable. It would be far from the first evolution of the lie detector machine, which in turn is still an improvement over the old trial by ordeal, where you'd have to grip a red-hot poker and let the wound sit for three days or eat rice powder or bread and then try to swallow it or pulling the tail on a donkey or all manner of other things they used to use at trials. Throughout all of these methods, there's a common thread of not being 100% accurate and unthwartable. As William Iacono of the University of Minnesota wrote in 2001, there is no one single physiological trait that will 100% distinguish a liar from a non-liar. You can come close, you can get things to the point where you're going to nail the vast, vast majority of liars, but there's always going to be something that can potentially thwart your method. A lot of methods depend, for example, on the guilty party realizing that they're guilty and being conscious of the fact that they are lying. A guilty party that truly believes in their innocence, or who has undergone enough practice in the skills required to pass a given test, can force a false negative. For example, one early trial by ordeal was to walk across hot plowshares. Someone who knows proper firewalking technique could pass this test with relative ease.

For the record, both the lie-detection and the firewalking aspects of that paragraph have been covered by the Mythbusters; Grant Imahara was able to defeat a lie detector based on an MRI by frightening himself across so many areas of the brain that the machine couldn't tell the difference between Grant lying and Grant just being scared.

So maybe Google should just stick to having you yell things into the air in the hope that other things somewhere else will hear you.

Monday, November 11, 2013

The Philippines Is Screwed

Typhoon Haiyan just got done ravaging the Philippines a few days ago, causing some 10,000 deaths as currently estimated, leveling entire cities, and leaving millions without basic supplies. A slideshow of the devastation can be seen here, along with the note that the initial first response has been lacking, partially because many of the first responders are victims themselves. Order has broken down enough that crowds have taken to looting what food and supplies they can find.

But we haven't said anything about the typhoon here yet. That changes now. But as is my routine for things like this, my way of informing is generally to pass you off to people who can show you better than I can what the hell just happened, let you take it in, and then I point you in the direction that lets you help out. A quarter of the Philippine GDP comes from remittances- relatives who've found decent lives overseas sending money back home- so they're no stranger to that. Luckily, this has already been done as well by CBS. So here is their list of places where you can help. The Red Cross, UNICEF, the like. So go help.

Sunday, November 10, 2013


I know, I know, I got your hopes up three years ago, but really, guy with a jetpack! Here! Flying around with the jetpack that he has!

...what? The catch? You're looking for some sort of impracticality with it? Oh, no no, not at all! It actually looks like a reasonable size! ...okay, fine, just two little sniggling issues.

1. You can't take off with it.
2. You can't land with it.

You have to drop out of a plane, turn it on in mid-air, and then parachute down after you're done. But surely that's not a hassle at all, right?

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Piece Of Debris To Fall Somewhere On The Earth's Surface

Also known as 'a saellite is falling to Earth'. Which one will be pretty much any time now, namely a European satellite, GOCE, meant to do gravity-mapping which has been out of fuel for two weeks now and whose orbit has now decayed to the point where it's going to fall out of the sky. The thing is, nobody's quite sure where exactly it'll be coming in for a landing. Somewhere between 25-45 chunks of debris are expected to survive to hit the surface; the estimated cluster is an area between 15-20 square yards.

To date, nobody has ever been injured by falling space debris, unless you count the main character in Dead Like Me. I'd place odds that we're not about to start now. If something does tag someone, though, it'll be coming in so fast I'd further bet they'd never even know what hit them.

For reference, do remember that Earth's surface is about 71% water. For further reference, has a slideshow of the biggest satellites to fall to Earth uncontrollably. The places they landed are as follows:

6- Skylab: mainly over the Indian Ocean, though some came in southeast of Perth, Australia
5- Pegasus 2: in the mid-Atlantic Ocean
4- Salyut-7: over Capitan Bermudez, Argentina
3- Space Shuttle Columbia: over northeast Texas
2- Cosmos 954: northwestern Canada
1- Upper Atmosphere Research Satellite: in the Pacific Ocean
Reference point- Mir: in the Pacific Ocean, because it was a controlled landing

Friday, November 8, 2013

Deadbeat Point

As of today, the United States and Israel have lost their vote at UNESCO. This comes as part of standard procedure at the organization, stripping the vote of any nation that fails to pay its dues for two years. The US and Israel stopped paying dues two years ago in protest against the inclusion of Palestine as a member; the US has legislation (PDF), enacted in the 1990's, specifically preventing federal funding of any UN organization that recognizes Palestine.

I'm sure there's someone out there who wants to be all 'well, good, pull out of the UN entirely because screw the UN'. If you are one of those people, take a seat with the others in favor of this development, and let's go over what this actually, in practicality, means.

The first thing it means is that UNESCO's funding is slashed because the United States is the largest contributor (well, until two years ago, anyway). That, they're already dealing with. UNESCO's highest-profile task, as you've seen here if you're one of the two people who come here that aren't something called Vampirestat, is to maintain the list of World Heritage Sites and to contribute towards their upkeep. The most immediate effect the United States will see there is that two American sites most notably nominated for inclusion, the Alamo and Louisiana's Poverty Point (part of a larger tentative list), will see their odds of being named to the list all but eradicated. And no, being named to the list does not mean the UN takes it over. That rumor is completely idiotic. There are no UN peacekeeping soldiers patrolling the Statue of Liberty. The people that come up with this stuff, honestly.

UNESCO does have other tasks beyond that, though. Their Wikipedia page provides a quick rundown of what else they do, but among other things, they fund the International Council for Science; they fund the Free Software Directory; they do all manner of work promoting education; they run the International Programme for the Development of Communication, which deals with journalism and freedom of opinion and expression; and they and several other UN agencies designate Goodwill Ambassadors, which consists of taking celebrities who are on board with the concept and having them spread the word to the media about projects in need of attention. (UNICEF tends to draw the names you've heard of; the likes of Lionel Messi and Shakira and Orlando Bloom and Selena Gomez. UNESCO's list is here.) Those, among other things, get damaged as well.

The most important thing to take into account, though, is purely pragmatic. You want that vote back. You really, really want that vote back. Far beyond the Alamo and Poverty Point, the United States and Israel are a two-nation voting bloc of outsized power in UN agencies. Israel routinely gets ganged up on by the rest of the world, but American power and influence, as well as a Security Council veto, prevents a lot of votes from going against them. With the United States now out of the way, the other members of UNESCO are now free to vote at their leisure without having to care the slightest bit about what America thinks of it, on not only Israel but anything else the United States has an interest in. Which means a lot more votes, not just the Palestine vote, are about to go against American interests, and there is nothing the United States can do about it until it pays its dues.

UNESCO only deals in cultural matters, granted, but the prospect of a key vote falling silent has come up in higher stakes. In January 1950, in protest over the matter of whether the United Nations would recognize China or Taiwan, the Soviet representative to the Security Council, Jabob Malik (favoring China), walked out. There was, however, another matter on the table that the Soviet Union needed to be there for: namely, North Korea's invasion of South Korea. The Soviets were backing North Korea, even helping draw up their war plans. They naturally would have vetoed any attempt by the Security Council to provide assistance to South Korea. But the Soviets weren't around when, in June, the remaining members of the Security Council voted unanimously to provide that assistance, and thus, the Korean War got properly underway.

And this is a big worry among some members of Congress as well as President Obama, who favor passing a waiver to permit UNESCO funding to continue despite the official ban, and tried without success last year to do so. After all, if you're Palestine, you may very well have figured out the game. All you have to do is show up, just show up and have a seat, and your biggest rival just runs off and leaves you free to operate as you wish. And while the United States, a major world influence, is absent, it leaves other nations with designs on influence to flex their muscles and gain diplomatic ground that the United States, already considered to be in decline in that field, will be hard-pressed to reclaim.

The most immediate worry, from my readings of articles on the matter, is that Palestine will gain recognition at the World Health Organization, which as per current law would force the United States to stop paying dues and subsequently lose representation there as well, crippling their ability to handle outbreaks and reducing the possibility of eradicating diseases they currently have on the run, such as polio and guinea worm, and especially reducing their ability to do so within the United States. More long-term, if Palestine becomes a full member of the UN, the consequences would stack up high and fast. Even if people within the United States may not wish to abide by UN decisions, there are plenty of nations that do. Israel, as you may recall, was a creation of the UN. There's a sizable line of countries that wouldn't hesitate to try and take it back the first chance they get.

That becomes the issue at hand. Israel's global influence depends largely on the United States. But how much global influence is the United States willing to forfeit over this?

Thursday, November 7, 2013

I Have No Words For This

For those of you who no longer use Internet Explorer- I myself have gone to Firefox- Microsoft has decided that they want you back.

The way they have chosen to do this is to anthropomorphize Internet Explorer as an anime magical girl named Inori Aizawa. There is a video of the thing that is happening which is happening because this is a thing that someone decided to make happen. The thing. Thing. All the things. Just.

That is for a web browser.

Inori has a Facebook page, because of course she does and seriously I just saw the thing that it is that I saw which I saw with my eyes that saw the thing I saw. Me brain breakage for trophy poultry.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Great Moments In Terrible Branding

Woody Woodpecker. Anyone here remember Woody Woodpecker? ...I'm seeing some hands, some of you with your hands down yet. All right. We might need to do a bit of a crash course then before we can get started. Woody Woodpecker was a cartoon character introduced in 1940 by Walter Lantz of Universal Studios. He was a mite more aggressive in his screwball nature than a lot of the other characters of the day, such as the Looney Tunes gang. Woody's heyday was from the World War 2 years until the late 1960's, when his aggressiveness was toned down. His studio was shuttered in 1972, and afterwards he was relegated to the odd guest spot and cameo, such as an appearance in Who Framed Roger Rabbit?. He hasn't appeared in anything since 2002, and one of his early cartoons, Pantry Panic (1941), has even fallen into the public domain.

Woody's basically fallen into the same 'old-timey has-been' realm occupied by the likes of Popeye, Felix the Cat, Mr. Magoo and anything drawn in a rubber-hose style that isn't the Animaniacs.

That established, let's talk the 1990's, the tail end of Woody's working life. Panasonic isn't now, but at the time they were a player in the PC business, and was attempting to make a home computer for the Japanese market. What they were intending to do was make the computer an approachable thing, because as some of you may remember, computers were still in the phase where a lot of people were trying to figure out what these newfangled contraptions were capable of and as a result were a bit apprehensive. 'User-friendly' was a big, big buzzword. In part of an effort to do that with this particular computer, Panasonic went and got the rights to use Woody Woodpecker for branding purposes, basically the same way you might see the Road Runner shilling high-speed Internet service today.

There's just one problem with this approach: his name is Woody Woodpecker. In Japan, where Panasonic is headquartered, that wouldn't mean anything, nor would most any other English name; Japan is rather famous for just liking how English words look instead of caring what they say. But Japan is not the only country interested in Japanese electronics. In fact, just about the entire world is interested in Japanese electronics, given that Japan is very often the first place new innovations take hold before the rest of the world gets a shot.

And so it was that things got all the way to the pre-release briefing before an American stepped in and let them know why the foreign media kept laughing: they had named the computer "The Woody". There was touch-screen capability. They had named that "Touch Woody".

In a little bit of a panic, that got quickly renamed to "Woody Touch Screen", and the marketing people decided to focus on something else, namely the online support system.

Unfortunately, the online support system had been named the "Internet Pecker".

The Woody, like Woody himself, was suddenly out of a job. Panasonic pulled the plug without a launch.

From then on, people had to go locate their own Internet peckers.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Election Day

Yesterday I ran a search on the text of my soccer book to look for the phrase "as of". As in, 'as of this date', 'as of late', 'as of this writing'. The idea was to check for parts of the book most likely to need some kind of update, as I attempt to keep it as current as I can while waiting for developments on other people's end of the project.

The search turned up 152 results. Even without posting here, I managed to get barely past halfway through the results yesterday and am facing another long slog today.

I'm not leaving this place two days fallow, though; not while I have access to a computer. Luckily, today's update is rather short:

It's Election Day for many of you. Go vote. Or at least try to vote in the face of those post-Voting Rights Act restrictions.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Still Have Halloween Candy?

Of course you do. You haven't eaten it all ALREADY, have you? Okay, wonderful.

Please do not tell me you've melted the chocolate and covered your potato chips in it. That is disgusting and a very good example of why we're so fat in this country and also Lay's is going to do it for you now because everything is the worst.

...what? There's an actual recipe for this? And a Wikipedia page? People have already been doing it? There's a candy store in Fargo that's been selling them for years? (sigh) Of course there is. Why wouldn't there be.

Saturday, November 2, 2013

Continuing To Fulfill Our 'African Misery' Quota

It's been a little while since Journeyman Pictures made an appearance here, but here they are today with a story out of Ethiopia, via Wild Angle Productions.

There are a lot of poor Ethiopian farmers. Farmers need land. Foreign agricultural interests are taking an interest in much of that same land. It doesn't take a crystal ball to figure out what the next step is. Below, the gory details.

Friday, November 1, 2013

Halloween Treats: A Primer

Good things to find in Halloween haul: Mike 'n Ikes, Milk Duds, Skittles, Tootsie Rolls, 3 Musketeers, Sprees, suckers.

I'm not entirely sure: there was this one year at our house when we had a bunch of spare sodas we weren't planning on drinking and decided to hand those out in addition to the regular candy.

Bad things to find in Halloween haul: Wax lips, Mary Janes, those things in plain black or plain orange wrappers, pennies, popcorn balls, anything dentistry-related, cocaine.