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11.28.2005

Peanut allergies on the rise? 

Some peanut-allergic girl in Quebec died after kissing her boyfriend, who had traces of peanut butter in his mouth at the time.

(Hobo Scott, if you expect me to laugh at this turn of misfortune, you must have me mistaken for some cynical, insensitive clod.)

Does anybody know if severe peanut allergies really are on the rise in North America, and if so, why? The article says they are. I don't ever remember being warned about the severe and potentially lethal effects of peanuts on children when I was in elementary school, and my school was/is one of the more sensitive ones on the continent. But anecdotal evidence doesn't generalize very well.

11.16.2005

Who knew? 

One of these days I will have to read Maureen Dowd's new book, "Are Men Necessary?" (though I surely won't lay down a single penny for it).

I won't render an opinion on Dowd's thesis that men are scared off by educated women, or on the counter-thesis that well-educated women disrespect men who really are quite adequate. I do think I know what the problem is in Dowd's own case, though -- at least if her shrill, annoying writing voice is representative of her personality.

But what really blew my mind when I read this CNN article was the fact that Dowd is 53 years old. Yow. That picture of her in fishnets and high heels suggest late 30s, but her writing suggests somewhere between 19 and 24.

11.11.2005

Review: U2 at the Staples Center in Los Angeles, 11/2/05 

Meh. Not as exciting as the first night.

I was having dinner with some friends in Westwood and had to take the bus to the Staples Center again. Except this night, there was some lame-o Communist rally masquerading as an antiwar protest. (No, really. Somehow there was an original estimate of 5,000 protesters, but I'd be surprised if the actual turnout was much more than 1,000. They were waving around Bushitler signs, wearing Che Guevara t-shirts, etc.

Still, the planned protest caused the LAPD to block off a bunch of streets and reroute traffic. I finished dinner at about 6:45 but couldn't board a bus until about 7:20 or so. After getting off in downtown LA, and jogging 12 blocks to the Staples Center, I got into my seat at 8:55, a minute before U2 took the stage. I swear, if those stupid Communists had caused me to miss a second of the concert, I would have been forced to drop a daisy-cutter bomb on them the next time they congregated.

Bono didn't pull anybody up on stage, except for one chick during With Or Without You who he sent back to the floor a third of the way through the song.

Bono let the audience sing most of the first verse of I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For. Sweet.

The encore started off with acoustic versions of Walk On and Who's Gonna Ride Your Wild Horses. I don't understand why U2 dropped the full version of Walk On -- it was an excellent closer for the Elevation tour. The Gillette Stadium PA guy closed out the Patriots' 2003 playoff win over the Colts with Walk On as well.

The Edge snapped a couple strings on Wild Horses and continued playing, seemingly oblivious to the broken strings and the fact that his guitar tech was creeping up behind him with a spare guitar. Of course, this all happened during the bridge verse that goes "don't turn around, don't turn around again, don't turn around, your gypsy heart".

U2 closed the show out with Bad, and Bono hit the high notes in the chorus ("I'm wiiiiiiide awake"), something that he can't always do.

11.08.2005

Lies, damn lies, and... 

I used to be a fairly faithful reader of Tuesday Morning Quarterback, but it's definitely been slipping over the last couple years. He continually repeats the same football "theories", some of which misuse or misunderstand statistics and others of which completely collapse under scrutiny.

He starts off his latest column with a real howler:


Hooray for the Kansas City Chiefs! Trailing by three, ball on the Oakland 1 with five seconds remaining, the Chiefs went for the touchdown and victory rather than take the easy way out, kick a field goal and accept overtime. As Kansas City approached the line, yours truly said aloud, "Verily, the football gods will smile upon this show of courage." And yea, verily, they did. And, bless him, Dick Vermeil resisted the pass-wacky urge, telling offensive coordinator Al Saunders to call whatever was the team's best short-yardage run; blocking was fabulous.

For years, Tuesday Morning Quarterback has been contending that teams at the goal line on the last play should go for the win, not kick and proceed to a fifth quarter. A ticket to overtime is a 50/50 chance of victory, whereas there's maybe a 90 percent chance of scoring from the 1 and an 80 percent chance of scoring from the 2. Vermeil understood these percentages. Yet in almost every instance when an NFL coach must choose between likely victory on a last-second try from the goal line, and a kick that forces overtime, coaches choose overtime. The reason? Avoiding criticism. If the team goes for victory and the attempt fails, the coach is denounced; if the team plays it safe, proceeds to overtime and loses in the extra session, players get the blame. Avoiding criticism should not be an NFL coach's first concern. Victory should -- and fortune favors the bold.


For years, TMQ has also declared that going for two after a touchdown is a losing proposition on average, claiming that taking the extra point at 99% is better than taking the two-point conversion (an untimed play starting at the 2-yard line) at 40%. But here he claims that the success rate on final plays of games from the 2 is 80%. Surely there are statistics on these situations available, and I would be very surprised if there indeed was such a difference in conversion rates on identical plays. More to the point, it's supposed to be TMQ's job to dig up these statistics instead of making them up.

The other item that really annoys me is when TMQ declares that blitzing on 3rd and more than 6 is always a bad idea, given that the average NFL play nets less than 6 yards. While I agree that it should be done sparingly, there are a couple problems with his statement:

There are probably other examples of TMQ preaching that could be shot down, but these are a couple glaring examples.

11.04.2005

U2 playing at the MGM Grand in Vegas 

Yup, that's right. Tonight and tomorrow night. Unfortunately, I'm attending a conference in Toronto.

I can just imagine Bono playing blackjack at the Rio at 4 am, drunk off his ass, hitting on the cocktail waitresses. He'd get dealt two aces, hit twice, get two more aces, and scream "uno, dos, tres, catorce!" as the rest of the table gathers their chips and leaves.

Hmm. Maybe I should just hop on the next plane to Vegas. I'm getting delirious just thinking about the possibilities -- Bono could possibly destroy the Unintentional Comedy Scale as we know it.

EDIT: I just checked my itinerary -- my America West flight to Toronto actually stops in Las Vegas. Oh boy. If for some reason my connecting flight to Toronto gets cancelled outright, I'm definitely going to be stalking Bono tonight.

Review: U2 at the Staples Center in Los Angeles, 11/1/05 

I was fortunate enough to have a floor ticket for this show. I arrived at the Staples Center at around 9 am and brought a copy of Silverman's elliptic curves book to pass the time. I managed to get a spot in the second row of people just outside the ramp (the main stage sits inside a oval-shaped ramp).

Opening act was Damian Marley, one of Bob's progeny. His band featured a couple of stiff backup singers/dancers and some guy who waved around a Rastafarian flag the entire set. Wonder what his salary is. His material is basically reggae with an urban/rap edge to the lyrics. Not too shabby, though his covers of "Exodus" and "Could You Be Loved" were the best items in the set.

U2's setlist was fairly standard -- the notable inclusions were Out Of Control (more on that later) and an acoustic set of The First Time, Stuck In A Moment and Fast Cars.

By way of introducing "Miracle Drug", Bono told the crowd that Edge arrived in Dublin in a spaceship from the future. I bet Edge never tires of hearing that bit.

The guy standing next to me was attending his first U2 show and lost his father and sister in the past year; he was breaking down when the band played "Sometimes You Can't Make It On Your Own".

It happened to be Larry Mullen's birthday that day; at one point the band came out wearing "The Larry Mullen Band" t-shirts, a reference to the band's origins, when Larry posted a note on a high school bulletin board.

For whatever reason, Bono really raised the audience participation factor in this concert. He pulled up a ~8-10 year old girl to start off the "no more" chorus of Sunday Bloody Sunday. Some lady inside the oval was holding up a sign that said "Professor For Hire". Bono eventually noticed the sign, and asked her, "what do you mean by that?" She gave Bono a verbal version of her CV and a book. Bono then said something to the effect of "great, I get the books, Larry gets the girls and Adam has the large penis". Only now do I realize what I should have done; I should have held up a sign saying "I'm a prof too -- so what?" and tossed Bono the book I was reading. Sigh.

I was standing behind four girls who play in a band. Turns out they play for the somewhat well-known U2 cover band Exit, though I didn't know it at the time. (To their credit, they have been working on original material for a while now.) One of the girls actually recognized me from the show we mutually attended in Dublin. Fans who follow their favorite band around the globe are creepy.

Anyway, they brought a couple signs. One said "It pays to advertise" and another said "The girls play rock and roll -- bass, guitar, drums, singer". The signs they brought in to the arena were pretty big, and one of the security guards told them they'd be confiscated if they brought them out, so they had to make a couple smaller signs during the downtime.

Towards the end of U2's main set, Bono noticed their signs and asked them, "What do you want to play?" There was some back and forth; I thought that either they were being indecisive or that they couldn't hear each other. Eventually one of the stage crew said "we'll get back to you." I thought they missed their chance there.

After the acoustic set in the encore, the crew pulled the girls up on stage. U2 gave them their instruments. The singer laughed nervously into Bono's mike, and then the girls ripped into Out Of Control. Edge and Bono sat on the drum stage for half the song, then joined in later. The LA Times has an article about the event here; apparently some music execs took notice. The crowd loved it, U2 loved it, and Exit caught the attention of some industry contacts. Three out of three isn't too bad.

A review of the second show will be posted soon.

11.03.2005

The Simpsons and civics 

After reading this Xanga entry, the following Simpsons lessons on civics came to mind:


Kent Brockman: And, like Icarus, the rocket foolishly soared too high, and lost control of its servo guidance mechanism, leaving us with some...[checks watch] six hours to live. So, let's go live now to the charred remains of the only bridge out of town with Arnie Pie and Arnie in the Sky!

Arnie: With the bridge gone and the airport unfortunately on the other side of the bridge, a number of citizens are attempting to jump the gorge with their cars. It's a silent testament to the never-give-up and never-think-things-out spirit of our citizens.

Kent: With our utter annihilation imminent, our federal government has snapped into action. We go live now via satellite to the floor of the United States congress.

Speaker: Then it is unanimous, we are going to approve the bill to evacuate the town of Springfield in the great state of --

Congressman: Wait a minute, I want to tack on a rider to that bill: $30 million of taxpayer money to support the perverted arts.

Speaker: All in favor of the amended Springfield-slash-pervert bill? [everyone boos]

Speaker: Bill defeated. [bangs gavel]

Kent: I've said it before and I'll say it again: democracy simply doesn't work.

-- The Simpsons, "Bart's Comet"


Ok, so representative democracy sucks. How about direct democracy?



Homer: Most of us here were born in America. We take this country for granted. But not immigrants like Apu. While the rest of us are drinking ourselves stupid, they're driving the cabs that get us home safely. They're writing the operas that entertain us every day. They're training our tigers and kicking our extra points. These people are the glue that holds together the gears of our society. If we pass Proposition 24, we'll be losing some of the truest Americans of all. [Cheers] When you go to the polls tomorrow, please vote No on Proposition on 24.
Crowd: No on 24, no on 24, no on 24, no on 24 --

[citizens vote]

Kent Brockman: It's a landslide -- Yes on 24! The proposition passed with a record 95 percent --
Homer: When are people going to learn? Democracy doesn't work!

-- The Simpsons, "Much Apu About Nothing"



Sigh.

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