Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Halloween Party Picture

A shot of Paul & Sarah, Zina, and me at the Halloween party.


It's really short, but I read an interesting piece by relief pitcher Todd Jones about how he pitches to Manny Ramirez and David Ortiz. It gives an intriguing insight into how major league pitchers think about hitters, and how to work them. I wish more major leaguers, on both sides of the ball, wrote things like this. It would add depth to the readers' understanding of the game.

Spookfest 2007

Ah, Halloween. Twenty years ago, my hometown had a yearly "Spookfest," where locals would donate instead of handing out candy. The donations went towards a central party, where you could go to get candy. One stop shopping - very convenient. We would usually hit the Spookfest first, then work over the rest of the town - Halloween was a big deal in Bristol. And in 1987, I won a contest for the Spookfest button design, so I also got a savings bond. So Halloween has always been good to me.

This past weekend, I went to a costume party for the first time in years. The hosts required group costumes, so I went with Sarah & Paul and Zina & John as Dog, Beth, etc. from Dog the Bounty Hunter. Sarah put up some pictures here. Hilarious and quite a lot of fun. We spent almost as much time getting ready and sitting around in costume watching football as we did at the party itself. More fun than it sounds like, I assure you.

The weather is pretty great today, so I expect to get more trick-or-treaters than last year. I was disappointed, especially by the high proportion of not-really-costumed no-good teens. I would break out the hose, but I think that would cause too much trouble. Even if it would be ridiculously fun. Get off my lawn, you meddling kids!

Tuesday, October 30, 2007


Like many companies, my employer limits the use of the internet over the corporate network. Some sites are blocked. Up until recently, it was fairly benign. Then they blocked YouTube, which was understandable. Not much work-related traffic going through that address.

Then they blocked the automatic feed for Dilbert comics. You can still get to them through the Washington Post site, for instance, but I appreciated the irony of the corporation blocking access to a comic that is essentially about the humorous drudgery of corporate life. Still, there's a workaround.

Today, they started blocking Slate, the online magazine. It's the company's prerogative, of course - they have an interest in keeping us on task, not distracted by the internet. Personally, I like to read on my lunch break, and Slate does a good news roundup in the mornings that I like to check as I start my day. I guess I'll start reading it before I leave the house.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Car Dance

We drove out for lunch at work today, as well as running some errands for Halloween. Earlier in the day Sarah and I had chatted about the show Pushing Daisies. The show is... unlike most anything else on tv. It is saccharine-sweet.... you could become diabetic watching it. But it is also visually stunning, the writing has layers and layers and layers of clever asides and references, and it tackles issues of morality and mortality with subtlety. Well, subtle for network tv. It's been called a "forensic fairy tale," since it has murder mystery, romantic, comic, and fabulist elements.

One particular element of the most recent episode caught my attention, and was the reason it came up at work. One line of dialog ran "You don't need a birdhouse. You can build a birdhouse in your soul" (trust me, it made sense in the context of the show). Fans of the band They Might Be Giants will immediately recognize this from the second song on the 1990 album Flood. So over the commercials, I can't help but hum the song. And when the show comes back, two of the characters (both played by talented Broadway songstresses) are singing that very song in the backseat of a car on the way to visit a windmill. Students of literature will find two more layers here: The name They Might Be Giants comes from a George C. Scott movie of the same name, about a man who thinks he's Sherlock Holmes and solves murders. But the term originally refers to Don Quixote, who tilted at windmills because "they might be giants."

The point, beyond the cleverness of the writing, is I've been a fan of They Might Be Giants for many years now. And as Sarah, Zina, and I drove to lunch, and the conversation continued, I mentioned I had all of their albums on my iPod there in the car. Naturally, the song was quickly queued up. And we ended up singing along with it. I never sing when other people are in the car... but I always sing when I drive alone (and with some songs, I do the car dance). So that was something interesting and new.

And speaking of music, I want to recommend, again, the Avett Brothers album Four Thieves Gone. I especially like "Talk on Indolence," "Distraction #74" and "Matrimony." It's like a punk band that grew up in Appalachia. And if you like punk, can I interest you in some choir music? The Blue Ribbon Glee Club is a group in Chicago that does a Capella covers of Fugazi and The Clash. Check out the live version of the Pixies' "Where is My Mind."

Sunday, October 21, 2007


A pretty full day yesterday, and bittersweet. John & FilthyWife hosted a going-away party for Meg, who leaves for California early Monday afternoon. It's exciting, and I'll get to see her in January, hopefully. But it's never fun to watch your friends leave town.

It was a fun party, which John & FilthyWife are known for. Jane made cookies, which goes a long way with me. We watched the Michigan-Iowa State game, since John, Megan, her boyfriend Rich, and various others there were all Wolverines. Low key, good crowd. John is in a band, and very knowledgeable musically, and after the game he recommended a great band, the Avett Brothers. I went straight home and downloaded their song Talk on Indolence. Followed by the rest of the album. John called it "punk-folk." If that sounds intriguing, check it out.

Other folks got Meg nice going away gifts - Jane made her a scarf with a built-in pocket. I feel bad I didn't, but I don't like to think about it when my friends leave, so I rarely show the foresight to make those kind of nice gestures. Besides, I will see her again relatively soon.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

I can't breathe...

My brother, Ryan, is extremely creative. Actually, both of my brothers are. But just now you can enjoy one of the fruits of Ryan's creativity.

He likes to enter various online video contests. He recently won a Mac Book and a $2500 gift certificate to the Apple Store from Friendlys. He also won a free ice cream party from same. And he keeps knocking out more brilliant shorts. This one is in the form of a commercial, for Tiger Balm. I will be reminding everyone I know to vote for this one, starting early next month according to Ryan.

So, without further delay, enjoy Tiger Balm Attack.

Mind Grapes

When do you get your best ideas? Is there a pattern to when you are creative or insightful? I've been thinking about this some lately. I've noticed I have more ideas than usual - mostly related to my work.

It started when we reorganized in our division, and moved into a different Group in the company. Previously, we were the Advanced Technology Division, and now we are Survivability and Advanced Technology. This reflects a new focus on the brilliant work of Dr JAWS and everyone who has been involved in developing and applying the new MOTISS program. However, I have no experience with the elements of survivability we are currently working one, so I don't fit into the new schema particularly well. Once we dig into the first part of survivability, which is called susceptibility, I think I will have more to offer. But I don't have much to contribute right now.

However, as I moved towards the margins of the current efforts, more and more details of the next steps have come to me. Mostly regarding statistical principles that could be applied (that I stole from sabermetric circles like Baseball Prospectus), but also concept design for susceptibility using parametrics, and signal integration for detection of low-observable systems.

This is all pretty wonky. But while I'm not very good at what I am doing on the job right now, I am very excited in the ideas for future work. And I never seem to get those kind of ideas when I am busy and fully tasked. This time, I'm writing them all down - some of them could be useful. If I can muster the effort, I think some could make decent papers for submission to various journals. I've never done anything like that before, but I've started to consider it.

On an unrelated front, some congratulations are apparently in order. First, my brother Chris got a much deserved, long-awaited raise. A significant raise. It is crass to discuss money, but percentage-wise it was in the double-digits. It is about time.

Lastly, I found out that Heidi has a job working at a restaurant in New York City called P*ONG. She's a pastry chef, and by the look of it this place is a great fit. I wish I had time to drive up and buy some cake.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Fleet Week

Follow this link to see a cool video from the recent Fleet Week in San Francisco. It's an impressive piece of flying. But if you watch carefully in the first few seconds, you can see Steph's cutter, the ASPEN, in the background.

Sunday, October 14, 2007


I think there was something in the air on Saturday, because it seemed like everyone, on land and sea alike, had lost the ability to drive in a reasonable manner.

Sarah & Paul invited me to go sailing with them out of Annapolis for the day; one of Paul's coworkers has an O'Day 240, a nice little cruiser named No Problem. They had all gone sailing together, and the owner was impressed enough to let them borrow the boat for the day. I was thrilled to get invited along, since I haven't been sailing on anything over 16 feet for years, and I miss offshore sailing.

It was absolutely perfect on the water. Plenty of breeze, sunny but not hot. The wind did clock around some on us, and the tide was not entirely favorable. But if the weather was actually perfect, the sailing is less interesting - nothing to do. It's more fun if you have to work the sails, read the wind and the currents. So it was just fantastic; we ate lunch on the water, got the boat up to 7 knots (according to the GPS, at least), and put in some sea miles south of the Bay bridge. I had never been on the water before with Sarah or Paul, and they are a joy to sail with - sharp minds and easy manner, which I believe are critical crew characteristics if you want to enjoy your time on a boat. I just wish I was a little fresher with my sailing skills; there was a time when I would have had all sorts of handy tips and tricks for sail trim, boat speed, etc. But it's not like we were racing or anything.

But, our time on the water was wrapping up, since their dog Louie would soon need to be walked back in Virginia. So we headed back to the slip, and noticed that the wind was favorable for sailing right up the inlet. We set up, made the lay line, and headed in, just ahead of another, slightly larger sailboat. We head up the channel under sail, executing a pair of nice tacks. However, the channel turns pretty radically at the third and fourth sets of buoys, as you can see in this satellite view:

View Larger Map

We lost some speed coming out of the first tack into this hard turn. The other sailboat was motoring, and they didn't dump any speed when we started to stall, and were forced into another tack by the turn. We had very little speed, and they passed us on our starboard side. My rules of the road are rusty, but overtaking yields to overtaken, power yields to sail, and you err on the side of safety in a channel where vessels are restricted in their ability to maneuver. So I sleep easy, knowing we were in the right. But we ended up having to fend off with our bare hands, pushing on their boat, one of the pylons for the channel markers, all while Paul got the motor started and we brought the sails in so they would get damaged.

All in all, it was an ideal accident. No damage, everyone had some excitement before the letdown of cleaning up and leaving the boat. And it helped my confidence, oddly - a lot of things came back quickly, I like to think I was helpful. And I wouldn't hesitate to sail with those two again - I know if things go down, they'll be ready.

Oddly, it was like that all the way home, too. It seemed like everyone on the road was intent on cutting each other off, blasting across multiple lanes of traffic without hesitation. And there were other incidents of foolishness on the Bay, but it was just power boaters being their usual inconsiderate selves, so it isn't that remarkable.

In other news, go watch baseball. The Rockies have won something like 60 of their last 61 games, and it looks like the Indians and Red Sox might be in it for one hell of a slugging match over the next few games.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Is Windshield Wiper Fluid Flammable?

Earlier today, my friend Jesse responded to an email I sent on Monday. I had written to all of my old friends high school to congratulate our friend Aaron on his anniversary. I think Jesse responded to the same email since it was a quick way to use a ready-made distribution list.

Jesse's message was brief; Andrew Sayre, who we had all been good friends with up until about freshman year at Mount Abe, died. We've heard it was due to a heroin overdose.

I was good friends with Andrew in elementary school and junior high. We were identified as "gifted" children in those years, and we would often partner up for projects. I have very clear memories of competing in a balsa-wood bridge contest with a design we created together. But in high school, Andrew started getting into trouble some, at school and beyond. You could say we drifted apart, but it might be more accurate to say I chose to drift away from him. Not maliciously; I just stopped hanging out with someone who was gathering a reputation as a troublemaker.

As years wore on, I heard from time to time about Andrew. I got the impression he had not fulfilled the promise he once showed; truth be told, neither did I. But the few times I thought of him, I did not picture him doing particularly well. But this news exceeds even my worst imaginings. It is a tragedy, made even more so by how easily he could have been a success.

I am troubled; I knew 15 years ago that he was moving in a bad direction. He was my friend. And I did not do anything to help him. We are all responsible for our own lives and decisions, but that does not absolve us from failing to help those around us. I'm not here to rend my clothes and gnash my teeth, blaming myself for Andrew's tragic loss. But I can't help but wonder what portion of blame is rightfully mine.

Most importantly, my sympathies go out to Andrew's family. Even if he was troubled, if he caught some bad breaks or made some mistakes, that does that change the fact he was a good man. His passing is a great loss, and I hope they can find some comfort in this trying time.

Saturday, October 06, 2007

Arts & Sciences

For the first time in a few years I went to Art on the Avenue and actually bought some art. Nothing fancy, mind you, but art nevertheless.

After doing my chores and getting my mop chopped, I joined Sarah & Paul for the biggest party in Del Ray. There was some really nice work for sale - I especially liked some handmade photo montages and a few Asian-styled silk screens. But after some encouragement, I bought a print of a still life by a local artist. The full size original was done for the owner of the Nationals. It is called "Still life with Baseball." I think I will hang it in my office at work, which could use some decoration.

Of course, afterwards we had no choice but to go to Poblano, followed by custard. Today's flavor was pumpkin, which is like eating creamy, frozen pumpkin pie. Extremely good.

I am very pleased, on the whole, but especially with the print. I've always had a very weak sense of aesthetics; matching colors can be a challenge for me. But I really think this print will work nicely in the office, particularly since it isn't a nautical picture like most folks have. Not that those are bad - I'm a big fan, I've got at least a dozen at home. Variety is good, though. And it helped that Sarah and Paul, who are much more aesthetically gifted, agreed.

In other news, I am jealous of Steph. Her boat will be out on San Francisco Bay, just for the day on Monday, to work 1 buoy and watch the Blue Angels. That sounds like a pretty great day at the office.

Friday, October 05, 2007

Programming Note

Just a reminder to anyone in the DC area, tomorrow is Art on the Avenue, easily the biggest yearly event in Del Ray. The whole of Mount Vernon Avenue in the neighborhood is shut down, and filled with booths selling food and various arts and crafts. There are also 3 stages of music and performances, and most of the businesses do something special (especially places like the Cheesetique and the Dairy Godmother). I highly recommend it.

Monday, October 01, 2007

Feats of Strength

All kinds of athletic achievement happening this past weekend. First up, Kirk took 7th overall in the Chesapeakeman Triathlon, an Ironman distance race in Cambridge. It is an incredible achievement, demanding months of training to even finish, let alone place so highly. He even won his age group, one of the most competitive. I am very glad he is done, too, since now he may be free from time to time, instead of training.

Second in our weekend review was Sarah and rest of the Capital Rowing Club at the Head of the Potomac regatta. For those unfamiliar with crew racing, head races are to other regattas as marathons are to a 100m dash. This course ran down the Potomac from Fletcher's boathouse to the Roosevelt Bridge. That's about 2.5-3 miles. In 15 minutes. I managed to see the start of one of their races by riding up the C&O Canal towpath, and caught the finish of the women's 4 from the Kennedy Center. Even though the starts are staggered, coming around the turn in the river at Georgetown, there were 9 boats all bunched together, and Sarah's passed at least one other team. It was pretty exciting, actually. Though a word of advice, if you go to a crew race - save your voice, don't bother cheering. Especially at the finish, or even as they row back to the dock, 'cause they are zombies in the boat at that point.

Lastly, and most dear to my heart, baseball. What an incredible finish to the regular season. My Reds did not do well, but I am a fan of the game as well. You can read elsewhere about the collapse of the Mets, but there is one measure that stands out in my mind. The sabermetricians at Baseball Prospectus do a Postseason Odds Report - the performance of the teams is quantified, and then they simulate the rest of the season 1 million times, measuring how many times each team qualifies for a playoff berth. By this measure, the Mets had the second highest Playoff Probability of any team, ever, that managed to not make the postseason. This was an epic choke, one for the history books, bigger than Philadelphia in 1964. And a the same time, the Rockies and Phillies both played extraordinary baseball for the past few weeks to earn their chances. Look up their stats since early September. Yes, the Mets choked and the Padres stumbled - but Colorado and Philadelphia both deserve to keep playing based on the quality of play they've shown, especially recently.