31 January 2005

Thank you for waiting.

I'm going to Vegas (Vegas, baby. Vegas.) next week. I bought my cheapo plane ticket via Travelocity, which was a mistake, because evidently you can just use them to find the cheapest fare and then book directly through the airline. Now I need to move my reservation (and pay God knows what fee) by a day and so I have been on hold for 35 minutes and 31 seconds (there's a little call timer on my ISDN phone).

So far I've spent my time reading bløgs and dreaming up clever remarks to make to the next available customer service representative that has been promised to me every 45 seconds for the past half an hour. Plus, they have absolutely awful hold music which consists of a tinny recording of these same two phrases of classical horns played on an endless loop. Jesus, can't they afford some muzak?

Also, I'm far too fucking polite to these people since I haven't been eating my croissant for the past 37 minutes and 44 seconds for fear that I'll have my mouth full when they finally do answer my call. Screw that. I'm stuffing my face.

Also do they think that a computer voice "apologizing" for the delay is really going to make me feel better? I hate it when people abuse language when they can't think of anything better to do. I've been listening to this infuriating music for 40 minutes and 33 seconds and they keep "apologizing" in the most insufferable manner imaginable. It's like when somebody tells you something awful and all you can do is say "I'm sorry" when it isn't even your fault.

[EDIT] After 1 hour and 6 minutes, Travelocity unceremoniously hung up on me and I lost their lovely hold music forever. I promptly issued a stream of cuss words and elected to call my airline (Song) to change my reservation directly. It took them two minutes 57 seconds to answer the phone with a real person, take my request, get my credit card info and execute the schedule change. I will never ever ever ever use those bastards at Travelocity again.

28 January 2005


Last night my Mom asked me to fix her VCR. The problem (as it always is) was that the channel on the VCR was set to 2 instead of 3, so it wasn't recording off the feed for the television. For some reason it always returns to this setting after a power cycle.

"Why does it change?" she asked.

"I guess channel 2 is the default for some reason," I replied.

"Default? What do you mean?"

"You know. Default. It's the default setting."

"Like defaulting on a loan?"

Now maybe I'm just stupid, but I had no idea that the usage of default meaning "the standard state" is a very recent definition attributed in the dictionary with the note computer science. I guess the word doesn't really apply to anything except electronic gizmos controlled by software instead of an actual person. If you had asked me to define default, however, I would've immediately given that definition and relegated the concept of failing to fulfill an obligation to secondary status.

The word default is a huge part of my lexicon: I use it literally almost every day. Amusing to think that my Mom didn't even know what I meant.

27 January 2005


You should all take a peek at QM's 1/26 post to see how sweet I once was. Another picture of my room (when I actually lived there) is here.

24 January 2005

Question for the Ladies

BradyIs Tom Brady still "hot" even though he's got a grim mullet and a scruffy auburn beard? I mean, can he actually get away with this look and still cause women across New England and the wider world to swoon? He needs a shave and a haircut like nobody's business, but at least he's a good football player.


A couple of grim dudes were recently discussing the NFL in the bløgosphere:

"Bottom line is that turnovers absolutely kill you in the playoffs."

"Take away those turnover pts and the steelers would have won."

I hate comments like this, especially after having read Moneyball. What does this have to do with baseball you ask? Well, I think that all pro sports suffer to some degree from old-hand-pundit disease: farty old dudes who used to play constantly holding forth on a bunch of unquantifiable nonsense which they purport explains sporting success or failure.

Michael Lewis discusses the effect this has on baseball scouting during the brief episodes of Moneyball when he does not have Billy Beane's genitals in his mouth. In essence, people believe false theories about sports teams because they enjoy the mystique and tradition more than the cold numbers. As kraken always says, "I'd be surprised if there weren't streaks."

But let's get back to the two points stated at the beginning of this post. First of all, three crippling turnovers will kill you in any football game! What does being in the playoffs have to do with it? If this had been a regular season game would Pittsburgh have had a much better chance of overcoming their mistakes? And as for the remark about taking away the points off of turnovers, that's like saying, "If the Patriots had failed to score any points the game would be different," or "Well if the city of Pittsburgh had imploded before the game, the Steelers wouldn't have lost." The game happened the way it did, including the turnovers, and there's nothing left after that but excuses. The rules of the game were set down, the two teams played by the rules and one team was much better than the other. It isn't like Pittsburgh was a different group of guys in the third quarter (when they outscored the Pats 14-7), they just happened to have tried a plan of attack that had more consistent success than in other times in the game. They weren't trying to lose in the first half or the last quarter, I'm sure.

But beyond these quibbles are comments like, "Tom Brady is a great big-game quarterback." Do these people think he only gives a 75% effort when they're playing a regular season game against a non-division opponent? I'm pretty sure he brings his A-game every time he suits up. Sure there may be different levels of stress between some regular game and the Superbowl, but I'm fairly certain that being an NFL quarterback is a stressful job even if your team sucks. Put another way, Tom Brady is an amazing 8-0 in the playoffs; but he's 48-16 as a starter in the regular season. If you randomly picked 8 regular season games from his career, there is a nearly 10% chance you'd pull out 8 wins and zero losses. Throw out the anomalous 2002 season (when the team didn't make the playoffs anyway) and there's a nearly 25% chance that 8 random regular season games would all be wins. Brady doesn't do anything special in the post-season, he's just a good quarterback who's had a little luck!

21 January 2005

What You'll Wish You'd Known

The always controversial Paul Graham posted the text of a talk he was supposed to have given to some high school students. Interesting comments which are worth reading by those of us who have long since graduated high school.

The Freedom Speech

W's second inaugural address is the "freedom speech" according to William Safire. It's a really beautiful speech—one of the best modern political speeches I've ever read. Unfortunately, the President sounded like a rube when he gave it (video here). Can you imagine rehearsing a big speech like this with him? The speechwriters give you this wonderful piece of prose and you have to try to help W do justice to the text. I don't hate W, but he is a bad public speaker. I read that speech and I can hear the cadence in my mind, the rhythm that the writer intended. Then I listen to W's delivery and it sounds like a remedial reading class.

20 January 2005

Drunk Dialing

My parents were chatting the other day about "news" items each had seen recently. Mom was talking about the ways communications technologies have affected youth socialization, mostly focusing on email and IM. Dad was talking about some article in the Globe about how you should erase your ex's phone number from your mobile to make it more difficult to drunk dial him. Over at 2GD today, 0.5  talked about how sweet he is based on the people who drunk dial him.

The phenomenon of drunk dialing has been enabled recently by both the prevalence of mobile phones and the fact that most people keep their acquaintances' numbers stored in same. Scottoway the Luddite once commented that the ultimate evil of the mobile phone is to have to admit, "Shit, I got that girl's digits, but they didn't save properly in my phone." Interesting how I can remember all these numbers of people I knew in elementary school, but I couldn't tell you what any of the numbers are for my five closest friends right now.

0.5 also brought up a point about how he thinks people lose their societal inhibitions when they're drunk and thus their drunk persona more accurately represents their inner self. An interesting thought, but I think all inebriated behaviors are clouded by the additional effects of the state (e.g. increased sexual drive, depression, anger, lack of lucidity, poor brain function). In vino veritas, perhaps, but there's plenty of other grimness floating around in there, like the sulfites of society.

19 January 2005

Hunting a Hunt

My 2005 Mystery Hunt experience was unfortunately marred by the fact that I missed the majority of the action due to my heinous flu, which appeared on Thursday and rendered me immobile for all of Friday and fatigued for all of Saturday. I nonetheless got in several good hours of puzzling that went a little something like this:

I arrived in 56-154 at around 1PM on Saturday which was already 24 hours into the hunt. I was equipped with my drugs, tissues, gatorade and thermometer to try to prevent myself from getting any sicker than I already was. In retrospect we were already hopelessly behind to have any chance of winning, but I didn't know that then. I started setting up my laptop (it took a little while for MIT's wireless DHCP server to give me an IP address) and someone across the room asked if anybody knew how to play poker.

I quickly started working on a neat little puzzle which consisted of a lengthy description of a poker game and not much more. A girl named Liz (I think she was a tetazoo frosh) had been working on the puzzle, googling for the obscure poker terms but I jumped right in without even glancing at my laptop. At one point, I mumbled "San Francisco busboy...so the other dude has Queen-Three..." and she was like, "How the hell did you know that?!" I blushed and said something about playing a lot of poker.

Anyway, we cranked through the puzzle and got the answer, which was a good way to start the day.I next got involved in this taxonomy puzzle that Josh and a girl (maybe named Caroline?) had been tooling on for many hours. It was actually pretty neat, but ended up generating a bit of frustration. I was diverted to stare at the Green Meta (the first of many times I did this) and Josh and Caroline had the aha! breakthrough for the taxonomy puzzle.

At this point I think I meandered among several puzzles, without much luck. I spent a few cursory minutes checking out cposs's progress on the pr0n puzzle and then went back to working on the evil Green Meta with Feldmeier. Within 15 minutes we had basically solved the goddamned thing but fell into the trap I remember from the Monopoly Hunt of trying to generalize aspects of one meta and force them onto the others. In this case everyone seemed convinced that we should order the puzzle solutions using the map, like the red and blue metas. Mark had the exactly correct idea (which had been previously examined by Anand and Zoz) but we just couldn't get the order to work. I could see the word "POWER" and since I knew we were looking for a super power I thought we might try anagramming the rest of the letters. The problem was that we had NILS plus one missing letter and the anagram server wouldn't take blanks. I had actually typed NILSA in and was about to search when I decided "Nah, I don't wanna bother doing this 26 times." Of course it turns out "A" was the missing letter and "SNAIL POWER" was the answer.

Eventually I wound up working on a really nice baseball puzzle with Erin and Amittai where we played a baseball game based off a scorecard using little slips of paper. It was fun and we did finally get the solution, which was satisfying. I wandered around for a little while more that night, but I was exhausted and still sick, so I went home around 11:30 PM.

The next day I drove back to Cambridge about 9AM and found a fairly small crowd awake and working. I tooled for a while with Amittai and a couple other people on this art-gallery logic puzzle. It would've been interesting but one dude had already been working on it for many hours and was convinced that the approach Amittai and I wanted to use was already exhausted. It was a shame because he was so insistent that we were wrong that I just gave up and left (not because I thought I was wrong, but because he insisted on standing there offering his critique). These things happen when people have been staring at the same pages for two days. Shortly after this it became evident that we had no shot of winning and I was suprised at how quickly that took the wind out of my sails. Besides, I had an appointment for some football later that day. I packed up my things and headed out.

It was a shame I missed so much, but I really enjoyed myself for the most part. I got to see a couple people I don't usually see, which was very nice. Plus the puzzles I worked on were nice in that they weren't obscenely difficult or obfuscated for the most part. Not to harp on this point, but it really underscored how far off we were last year in thinking everything was "too easy" and adding stupid extra levels to "fix" that "problem", which only left us with puzzles everyone hated. Now I will stop "using" these "quotation marks".

18 January 2005

Writing a Hunt

Wax wrote about his feelings on this year's Mystery Hunt. At one point he talks about how he hopes that somebody (Mayhem in his case) gets a chance to write a hunt that is somehow "different" from the current pattern. I might write about this year's hunt in detail somewhere, but right now I'm motivated to provide a perspective on this exact question of creating a novel hunt from someone who tried to do just that.

It's terribly difficult. We first set out with this idea of getting away from the way things had been done in recent memory (i.e. having puzzle rounds which build metapuzzles which meta-meta, which lead to a final runaround). We also wanted to give puzzles more MIT flavor and bring them away from the canonical puzzle types (crosswords, cryptics and so forth, as well as common encoding mechanisms such as sorting, letter-plucking and so forth) preferred by NPL types. Right away we realized two things:

  1. In order for 80 distinct puzzles to lead to a coin they must have structure of some kind, and it's pretty damned hard to create that structure in any way other than the rounds-with-meta system.

  2. Creating the Mystery Hunt is a huge responsibility which ultimately requires a product you hope will please everyone who wants to participate—thus you need to include at least some of those canonical puzzles that everyone expects. One of the reasons they are always used is that people tend to enjoy solving them.

In the end we had a mammoth hunt with what I think was a pretty cool structure. Unfortunately, all that most people saw was the island-by-island phase, with standard metas (although they all had the cool feature that the answers were "transforms" for the paper maps we handed out—e.g. one needed to be read under UV light, one needed to be folded into a pirate hat and read along the seams). We also had a whole secondary structure where some of those words were re-used in "Booty Metas" which were clued by the main map and yada yada. It was cool, believe me, but would've required a whole week for somebody to solve.

We were overambitious and inexperienced from start to finish. We ended up with too many puzzles which lacked polish. Writing the Hunt has been described as a full-time job, and it is even more daunting for a group of people with little experience doing this sort of thing. My advice to people from Random this year is fairly simple:

  1. Don't make it too long! The Hunt should end on Sunday, not Monday morning. People are just burned out by then—focus on better, not bigger.

  2. As first time writers, focus twice as much energy on writing and testing as you think you should.

Lotta Action.

Lotta action recently. Lotta. Action. As most of you know, I finally made some tangible progress on getting to Oxford. The upshot of last week's flurry of activity makes it look as if I might be in Boston until this October. Promptly after sending off the application I was bedridden with a disgusting flu bug, which caused me to miss the first day of the Mystery Hunt. The rest of the Hunt was pretty bangin' though. More on that later (maybe).

Also needed to update the old bløgroll: a few non-updaters trimmed and a few new faces on the scene, including LBJ and a couple of Grim Dudes.

12 January 2005


I just saw the most ridiculously difficult Final Jeopardy! question ever.

Category: English Royalty

Answer: One of the three years in which three different kings reigned.

Question: What is 1066? || What is 1936? || What is 1483?

I mean, honestly, who could possibly know that? The only one vaguely possible is 1066, because evidently two kings had reigned prior to the Norman invasion. But that's a pretty trivial detail, given that nobody remembers (well at least I don't) who William conquered, let alone who had died to put that guy into his brief stint as HRH.

Turns out the winner was the dumb woman who wagered the least. Weird.

11 January 2005


Sometimes I feel guilty about not writing anything in my bløg for several days. After all, I think that the people on my bløgroll who don't update regularly are Class A Ass-Pirates. Anyway, between this discomfort and my earlier promise at the end of the NYE entry, I present my thoughts on the aforementioned play, by Michael Frayn, performed at the Brooks Atkinson in New York.

One might reasonably wonder how interesting a 3 hour play about Willy Brandt could possibly be, but they managed to pull it off. It was a little "talky" as one of my friends who saw it said; the show consisted almost entirely of guys in suits standing around talking to each other. This was never something that bothered me, though, and my own writing often suffered from a similarly recumbent attitude.

In fact, I don't have a hell of a lot to say about the play itself. It's well written, as is everything I've seen or read by Frayn. The acting was mostly very solid (one or two of the smaller roles were fairly bland, but I doubt there was much meat to work with). It was just nice to be in a theatre again. It's funny how powerful certain staged moments can be that would absolutely fall flat on film. Or maybe not; I should realize, after all, how vast the gulf is between film and theatre.

06 January 2005


A random act of kindness from a drunken stranger was all that kept my fairly sweet New Year's Eve trip to  New York from being an incredibly bad one. Several people have already written about the trip, so as usual I'm stuck trying to think of something clever to say that hasn't already been said. (N.B. this will be my last heavy dose of Phi-Speak until the next time I decide to grim it up with those jawns)

LBJ and I rolled down to New York on the RMFW on Friday morning and arrived at the Port Authority at about 1:45 that day. I called Lopez to make sure he was home (predictably he was still soiling from the previous night's bender). He gave me some typically useless advice on which subway lines to take to get to his joynt, but thankfully I had printed out the relevant section of the MTA map from the interwang before leaving Boston.

When we arrived at Lopez's apartment we found him, Steele and Rhéaume in various states of undress and soilage. While they composed themselves we hung out and checked out the surprisingly funny flick, Anchorman. After some tasty south-of-the-border fare cooked up by Lopez we headed downtown to Radio Perfecto, which Lopez et al had reserved for NYE in advance. There was open bar and hors d'oeuvres (after a $100, of course) and the scene was legit. Throughout the night the few other people there who knew me would recognize me and drunkenly shout, "Rigs!"

Things took a potentially disastrous turn around 1AM when it became evident that nobody knew what had happened to Lopez. All the other Phi's seemed to have other plans for sleeping arrangements: some people were kickin' it old school, some people were checking out girls with very large buttocks and some people were draped on complete strangers. LB and I eventually decided to just take a cab back to Lopez's apartment in the dim hope that somebody would be there to let us in.

When we arrived at his place there was nobody there to answer the buzzer. I spent the next 30 seconds thinking about how I was going to avoid sleeping on a park bench when 5 or 6 fairly drunk revelers went into Lopez's building.

"Are you trying to get in here?" they asked.

"Yeah," Laurie said, "Our friend lives here."

"It's a good thing you don't have a dishonest face!" replied our new best friend.

So at this point we were at least inside the building. We trudged up the stairs and lo and behold, the door was completely unlocked. Inside, Lopez was snoring on the couch in his boxers and socks. LB and I wearily crawled into bed where I said a silent prayer of gratitude that we weren't being accosted by pimps and crack dealers on the streets.

The next day we had a pretty money game of tag football in Central Park, where team B-Side outlasted team Q-Syyd in a spirited victory. Well it was spirited except for a couple jawns who spent most of their time chatting on their cell phones instead of focusing on their post routes. We all went to bed early (this time LB and I had a hotel room near Times Square).

On Sunday LB and I saw Democracy, which was a pretty solid show all around. I guess I'll save my in depth review for another entry, though. We kicked another BoW with the Phis and then took the bus back on Monday morning. All told, not a bad weekend.