Procrastination Nation

Things that Robert is thinking about that keep him from accomplishing anything.

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Tuesday, August 31, 2004
That Depends on What the Meaning of "Win" Is
Who's the flip-flopper in this campaign? When a Republican, say, the president corrects a statement, he is simply clarifying his statement's meaning. Democrats never misspeak; when they edit their statements, they're flip-floppers. Didn't anybody teach you this in political science or Bible school class?

Monday, August 30, 2004
A Standup Guy
For those who like to point to Iverson as the walking symbol of Team USA's failings in Greece, I point you to Gene Wojnarowski's excellent defense of Iverson's performance. Many of you will dismiss it as "loser talk," but I found Larry Brown's constant carping about his team to more clearly embody a loser's mentality. Were it not for this past season's NBA championship, Brown might have been the fall guy.

This is not to say that USA Basketball doesn't deserve the majority of the blame for its selections, leaving off the handful of basketball players who can shoot above 40% from the outside. But, once you've picked your team, you have to make the best you can of what you have rather than bitch about the state of basketball in this country or the failings of your players.

Opening Second Front Against Drunk Driving
I've seen some recent reports about declines in drunk driving, and Tennessee has a huge drunk driving campaign that emphasizes revocation of your driver's license and significant jail time. However, I'm not sure it's the driving that is a big of a problem as the drinking.

Suppose instead (or more usefully, additionally) we issued a new driver's license that includes a code (or some sort of marking whether a Scarlet Letter-esque graphic or just a letter) that says, "I may not purchase alcohol" for some length of time (60 days, 180 days, 2 years, 5 years, whatever).

Stores and servers already inspect licenses for age, now they'd have to check for this code. In bars, it might be a bit more complicated (e.g., could bars refuse access to the facility entirely?), but there are workarounds for most problems.

I know this wouldn't be 100% effective any more than restricting sales to 21 year olds has stopped under aged drinking. However, it seems like a relatively low cost effort for states to cut down on drinking (as well as drinking and driving) and raises the cost of drinking to the person convicted of DUI (e.g., they have to bargain with friends to get them alcohol, they have to get fake IDs). Also, the risk of not being able to purchase alcohol at all for some period of time might deter those at the margin from drinking over the threshold of legal intoxication and encourage them to use cabs or other alternatives: you might not take that extra drink if it means you can't (easily) drink again for another year).

I think the restriction might be an extra inducement to help friends exert peer pressure against the offender to stop his/her drinking because they can no longer say, "It's their choice. I can't stop them from buying alcohol." Now, they would have the power to say no.

Also, regardless of its effectiveness, I think it provides a powerfully symbolic policy against excessive drinking. Just an idea.

Friday, August 27, 2004
You Can't Describe How You Feel? How Shocking!
I can't complain too much about the Olympics coverage, mostly because I haven't watched a whole lot of it. Having a job, vacationing in a disaster area, and not having cable have interfered with my t.v. quota.

The one thing I have gotten tired of is post-race interviews which ask, "How does it feel to have (won/lost/finaled/finished/lost your limb)?" and other variations thereon, to which the response is always: "You know, I just can't really describe it." Why should we expect people that make their living doing something physical to demonstrate a similar verbal dexterity about their emotional state? Maybe someday we'll just be able to run them through a brain scanner and look at what emotional centers are activated. Then we'll know what they're feeling! Or, at least, where and how they are feeling it. Can we replace them with trained psychologists at least?

Olympic interviewers are no worse than the other journalistic disasters (e.g., local t.v. reporters, sports sideline reporters, me), but it's time we or the networks develop a penalty system, fining reporters who ask such ridiculously stupid, open-ended questions. Or make a drinking game out of it, whichever is easier.

New Article
Here's an article I wrote for the Tennessean previewing the new Cottage Living magazine. For comparison purposes, here is USAToday's version.

Wednesday, August 25, 2004
"I Invented That, But Then I Found Out They Had It Already"
The immortal words of Bill Blazejowski (Michael Keaton) in Night Shift have been the story of my creative life. Everytime I come up with the idea for something, within a few days or months I find out that thing already exists. The examples are too numerous to name, but this week presented two examples.

Exhibit A from this week is the idea of a postage-paid postcards. I know the post office sells them, but they're very generic. But, suppose when you bought a postcard your postage was already included on the card? That's always the biggest nuisance in buying a card in the first place. The only handicaps are that postage rates increase (which can be handled by better inventory management by suppliers and shops) and international rates will be higher and vary by location (which can be handled by making foreign-postage versions and tinkering with pricing strategies). In fact, I thought this would be an ideal ebusiness for somebody, especially for holidays and stuff as a substitute for greeting cards and such.

Turns out that the post office is already in this business.

Exhibit B comes from the world of animation. I always thought it was surprising that as realistic as Pixar and Dreamworks draw characters that it would not be far-fetched to see somebody use Flash animation to make their own animated porn movies. I know such movies have existed in the past (Fritz the Cat, for example), and I figured there's probably a niche for this already, though I don't run in those circles. It's obviously only a small step from strip poker video games, not to mention characters like Jessica Rabbit, and video broads like Lara Croft. On top of that, it's disease-free and avoids diffident or drugged out starlets and stars. Heck, I could imagine there would be a time where actors/models would license their images to video game makers so that you could, as Dennis Miller used to say, fuck Claudia Schiffer in your barcalounger for $19.95.

Well, apparently Playboy is beating a path down this road with a new spread featuring animated characters from video games. It's not hard to imagine a sort of sexual Dungeons & Dragons emerging where you could design women on your computer, a la Weird Science, and play interactive "games" with your creations.

Yes, I'm procrastinating.

New Year's Day
Well, school is back in session. To celebrate, a new edition of the The Slant.

Tuesday, August 24, 2004
Comeback Kid
I know I've been gone a while. I caught the aftermath of Hurricane Charley from Tampa over to Daytona. I'll fill you in on that when I get a chance. Quick observation on Orlando though: when did it become a territory of the British Empire? I heard more varieties of British accents than Henry Higgins.

On the Olympic gymnastics controversies, my question is this: how can there be disagreement or uncertainty about start values? In diving, the diver writes out the list of dives with the degree of difficulty, signs it, and submits it to the officials, who review it and put it on the board. The dive announced is the dive written on the sheet and that's the dive you perform. You do a different dive, it's a failed dive.

Now, given the complexity of combinations, gymnasts need some flexibility (ha-ha) in terms of move choices (e.g., you know after your round off back handspring you won't be able to add the full twist to your double-back). That's fine, but they obviously have some process for determining a start value--it can't be that hard to submit the list correctly and get the start value posted correctly. Do they even post/display/announce the start values in the gym like they do in diving? Seriously, do we have to waith for Al Trautwig--a definite improvement over John Tesh--to ask Tim Daggett about the start value after the routine? Why is this not part of the information about the person's name and country of origin?

If it's posted incorrectly, that might be the time to raise hell, although it should really happen at the time the list is submitted: you hand in your routine with your presented start value, the official signs off on the start value or if you disagree, you figure out a start value that both can sign to (all of which is done x minutes before the start of competition for that day). This is not the most complicated thing in the world, and it is not unreasonable to expect the least subjective element of the gymnastics scoring process to be error free.

I'm not sure what you can do to fix the scoring biases. It seems inherent to any rating system, like the BCS in college football. The judges already have the deduction scales for each deficiency (just as in diving--in fact, in diving you could theoretically get a negative score with all the deductions). Reputational effects abound in most of these instances (favorite divers, favorite college football teams/conferences, favorite gymnasts, calling balls and strikes, calling pass interference) with each judge having her/his own tastes.

However, one option might be to review judges' ratings over time to identify patterns of variability in ratings. You should be able to identify judges who consistently score (one or two standard deviations) above the average, below the average, or above/below final scores for particular gymnasts or teams, and penalize judges who show problems. You could also work out models for trend effects within competitions (the tendency for later performers to be scored higher than later ones, or early performer to be judged more harshly than later ones--I think there's literature on these kinds of effects).

Now, this does little to address all problems like upward bias ("grade inflation") in scores (you can reduce variance at the top of the scale by scoring people closer to 10.o, or 6.o for skating) and this might penalize judges who preserve standards (e.g., most judges inflate somebody to 9.90 but you hold firm to the 9.70 they deserved and get penalized for being outside the norm), but I think there are workable solutions to all of this. The data certainly exist to evaluate these patterns, and based on the patterns we should be able to determine incentive structures that fix the problems.

Friday, August 13, 2004
That's How It Works...
I thought Comments were something you had to pay extra for, but I took a few moments to procrastinate and found where to turn them on. So now I can read all the insightful criticism from the lost souls who wander into this site.

It's Something
Well, I finally heard a rationale for delaying his resignation until November: to avoid a special election. So, I guess the timing makes more sense than it at first appeared. Nevertheless, I still think it bodes ill for the K-E campaign: there's still an election, and voters will still want to make someone pay. A sort of, "Vengance is mine, sayeth the voter."

Thursday, August 12, 2004
Call me a pessimist, but I believe we can now call New Jersey "in play" for 2004 (and all the borderline southern states to boot), with Bush now likely to take it, and I believe Gov. McGreevey has assured us a second Bush term, barring some counter-revelation. I just think anti-gay bias in New Jersey--not to mention anti-over-sexed-politician and anti-sex-for-job-favoritism bias (where was McGreevey during the Clinton administration?)--will become anti-Democrat bias, which will all carry over onto the Kerry-Edwards ticket. (I'd be curious if there were any polls are in the field at the time of the announcement, and if they can split pre-post announcement results.) Also, I expect the Republicans will be able to turn this into a Willie Horton ad. And having his resignation for Nov. 15? Is he trying to fuck them up? If you're going to take a hit, get out fast for god's sake. At least get out before the convention.

Maybe I'm just over-reacting in the heat of the moment, but, then again, that's what blogging is for. Also, after seeing my first Bush ads in New York City, I have to give them props for production values and effectiveness of the message. Hell, if you didn't have an opinion on the guy beforehand, it'd sure push you his way.

Sunday, August 08, 2004
Escape to New York
I survived my journey to the center of the universe. It's amazing how long it took to get here. I flew Southwest out of Nashville, went to the airport about 8 a.m. flew to BWI, 1 hr layover, then onto Islip, Long Island, then 30 min waiting to ride over to the LIRR, then another 75 min into Penn Station, then a 25 min walk through Times Square to my hotel. Deep breath. Finally arrived at 4:45. That's about 9 hours, plus the time getting up in the morning, going to the office to print my borading pass (2 hrs early and still on 25th). I could drive to Baltimore in that time.

Some thoughts on the trip:
  • Flying on the east coast with the Jersey Shore to the left, you can see the wake of boats and jet skis on the surprisingly blue ocean. It looks like sperm viewed in a petrie dish under a microscope, moving chaotically in search of a river-cum-fallopian tube.
  • Judging from a brief aerial survey of central Long Island in the neighborhood of MacArthur Airport, I would have to say this is the above-ground swimming pool capital of the world. On one block 9 of 10 homes had a pool, 8 of which were above ground, with a couple that were "decked-out." Who knew?
  • Judging from a visual sampling from the LIRR, it appears Queens is trapped somewhere in the early 1980s, with a stray Starbucks thrown in. Passing by some of the homes, it looks like a reverse-angle shot of "All in the Family." The houses are so narrow and so close together.
  • As I looked at the trash strewn all along the streets, I thought, "Wasn't Giuliani supposed to have been the cleanliness mayor?" Either things have deteriorated in two-plus years, or he was simply the mayor of Manhattan (and maybe Brooklyn).
  • Apparently Sunday is trash day for midtown Manhattan. That explains most of the smell.
  • My hotel rocks. It's like it was designed for blogging. Cushy full/queen-ish bed, flat screen tv hanging off the wall over the desk, free wireless Internet. I was ready to move in. Ijust need to put a dresser in here, and I'd be set. I guess there's no kitchen, but I could figure something out.
  • I made it to Assscat 3000 at the Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre. Amy Poehler is my female improv crush of the year. (T.J. Jagodowski is my all-time male improv crush.) She just exudes positive attitude on stage, in addition to being incredibly smart and insightful as a player. In fact, I was really impressed with the overall pacing and sense of fun in the show compared to Monday's Armando Diaz in Chicago last Monday. It's probably a difference in the nature of the shows (plus the cast size), but Assscat was more consistently funny and found all manner of fun games in the scenes. However, when Armando found a solid scene, it really nailed it.
  • I wandered up from UCBT along Eighth Ave up to 54th St. and over to Brodway to visit the Ed Sullivan Theatre. Sadly, Dave is on one of his two week vacations. I also doubt I'll get to live out my mid-life dream of seeing Kelly Ripa...unless I get up early and just hang out around the building. Hmmm....
  • Strip clubs are nearly as popular here as in Austin, Tex. with plenty of t.v. and billboard advertising. Apparently Giuliani merely moved the adult bookstores over a block from Times Square.

Tomorrow I'll explore a bit of Central Park, the Upper East Side (for my job interview), and maybe drop by to see President Clinton in Harlem, before he heads over to tape The Daily Show.

Christ, this is fun. I need to get a wireless, high speed Internet in my house. I think it might drive me sane to get this random crap out of my head. Or, maybe I just need to travel more so I have better material to draw from.

Oh yeah, with a weight loss commercial on t.v. now...I was down to 198.4 as of Saturday afternoon. Just shy of 55 lbs. We'll see how I do diet-wise while I'm gone. Maybe I'll sample the exercise room in the hotel Monday a.m.

Thursday, August 05, 2004
I Can Read Map, I Just Can't Add
I don't know what I was thinking, but I think I did enough math to get Kerry to 220, not 270. O.k., so he's got even more work to do than I said, but it only emphasizes that he really needs to try to compete in the OV-LMV states of Tennessee, Arkansas, West Virginia, and Kentucky, as well as Iowa, Missouri, and Ohio. It's interesting that although Kerry trails by a lot in Indiana, there's a huge undecided group there. It might be worth adding side visits to Gary, Ind. when in Chicago or dropping in on Indianapolis and some of the college towns.

Also, Edwards made a forray into Memphis this week (registration required). While tooling around their site, I found a link to research that rates cities in terms of reading, with Memphis far down the ratings.

Other Options?
I just saw this article about abstinence-only textbooks in Texas. I wonder if there's not an alternative strategy to reach teens though. Suppose private foundations sent junk-mail (e.g., Dear Resident postcards with condom messages instead of missing children) to teenagers' homes in Texas. There is no "do not junk mail" list residents can sign up for. A lot of it would end up in the trash, but not all of it. Of course, the reactions of conservatives in Texas to the distribution of sex-related materials might create the impetus for a "do not junk mail" list. That alone might be worthwhile. I wonder also about PSAs and getting billboards near schools, though to some degree those probably already happen.

6o Minutes did a story on undercover marketing in which firms paid actors to use a product around others to promote buzz. I wonder if you could plant fake students in high schools or teens at the mall or tanning salons or in the kitchen at restaurants and have them talk up safe sex. Or maybe form groups/clubs in the same way Christian teens promote their "true love waits" stuff. Maybe t-shirts with messages like, "If you want to get in my need one of these" with a picture of a condom. Or, "Laid, not played" (with pictures of a happy dude with his chick (or several chicks) next to the same guy with the girls and each has a baby). Alright, so I'm no marketing genius. But, you get the idea.

Tuesday, August 03, 2004
Running Behind
A hectic weekend. First, here is the Darrell Hammond link I promised. When it expires, I'll post the original version that corrects some odd editorial tweaks that were made.

Second, I eventually made it to Wrigley Field in order to see Maddux's first attempt at 300. After the two home runs, Maddux really settled into a great groove. Unfortunately, the Cubs managed to put their rally together an inning too late. Even more unfortunate, Sosa butchered an easy single to right into an unearned run which led to Maddux's exit after 6 innings. It's insane that he can make some decent diving and sliding catches yet has problems picking up the ball. I'm sure he was thinking too far ahead worrying about the throw to the plate than getting the ball. Just sickening to watch it happen. Almost as sickening as if I were a Phillies fan watching the team waste 6 great innings from Wolf and Bowa let Wolf implode in the 7th. (Lee Smith led the 7th Inning Stretch.)

Apparently I missed the real post-game excitement: three hours after the game, a 25-year-old guy fell onto the tracks at the Addison L stop and electrocuted himself.

A power outage of some type on the Orange line marred the trip into Chicago. CTA, to its credit, got us all on buses to a stop further up the line where we could resume the trip. The irksome thing is CTA announced the problem after we left the station and before the first (and now last) stop of the run. If I had known of the problem, I would have gotten off and trudge back through the garage to get a cab. The bad thing about those weird outer southwest suburb stops is that they're not exactly overrun with taxis. So, I rode the bus, finished the Orange line, went to transfer to the Red Line when I got irritated and finally decided to cab it the rest of the way since I was now looking at 60 minutes to game time and faced another Red Line trip up to Addison. I made it in time to see the first pitch, but I missed Rollins' home run on the second pitch as I found my seat.

The game was still memorable as the first with Nomar. The crowd stood and cheered for each at-bat, even after starting off 0-3, including a leadoff GIDP. I guess RBI singles after you're ahead 5-3 still count.

In addition to updates on the job search and a recap of my comedy adventures at The Second City and ImprovOlympic, I'll post a review of the new Millenium Park in the coming days, too.

Next up on the travels: NYC and a visit to the UCBTheatre.