Depth of Field

When I got my new TV, I mentioned that I hadn't yet found the console buttons, and wasn't able to test the 3D features.

Well, the buttons are there, they're just capacitance switches that are only visible in bright light or when the button backlights are on. It does make them very subtle, which is, I suppose, a good thing.

And the blu-ray player finally did arrive a couple of days ago. Fortunately, we already had the cables to hook it up, so I took care of that immediately.

How does it look? Well, in a word, fantastic. I got the new Sound of Music box set for Christmas, and popped it in when some relatives were over. Once again, my daughter was absolutely rapt for the puppet sequence. But it was absolutely amazing how good it looked.

It used to be possible to tell, within five to ten years, how old a movie was by seeing it on TV and looking at the transfer quality. Well, Sound of Music looked so clear, it could have been made yesterday. (Oddly, Wizard of Oz came on TV, and I compared that to my (previously unwatched) blu-ray. The odd part was that the version on TV looked way, way better. I still don't have any idea why. Like SoM, the version from TV looked like it could have been made yesterday.)

After looking at that, I finally wanted to look at the 3D performance. The only 3D movies I have are the Shrek titles that came with it, so I popped in the first one. How did it look? In a word, fabulous.

It actually looked better than Avatar did in the theater, although I have to wonder if that was because of the 3D technology (active glasses vs circular polarization), or because of differences between computer animation and "real" life. I guess I'll find out once I can actually buy Avatar in 3D; hopefully, that'll be soon. As much as I enjoyed the movie, it ain't worth what it would cost me to get today. I'll get some other ones soon, as well (likely Alice in Wonderland, if nothing else).

One unrelated note about the blu-ray player. Turning that on will turn on the TV at the same time. While this is generally good, it'll also switch the source over to the player, which might not be, if I'm watching something on TV. It'll also automagically switch the TV into 3D mode upon insertion of a 3D disk. In any event, it looks like some control signals are passing over the HDMI cable, and that's cool to see.

So the TV improves from conditionally excellent to all-around fantastic.


Kickin' 'Em When They're Down

Neither team in tonight's Caps game was exactly riding a wave. The Caps were one game removed from their eight-game losing streak, while the Devils were coming off an absolute beating at the hands of the Thrashers. So it was hard to guess what the game would look like.

It didn't help, from the Caps perspective, that one of the best players from the last game, Eric Fehr, was at home to deal with a death in the family. Our condolences, Eric.

But on the plus side, the Russian enigma, Sasha Minor, was coming back from a "lower body injury". (Incidentally, I really hate those uselessly-vague injury statements.)

The first period was pretty closely contested. Andrew Gordon got the Caps on the board with his first career goal off a very nice pass from MarJo. While the Caps looked good throughout the period, that was the only puck to make it past Brodeur.

The second looked for quite a while like it would be the same. The Devils scored first, on the power play to knot things back up. But then the Caps came roaring back, with goals from Beagle, Chimera, and Carlson.

The Chimera goal was a particularly nice one; he got a breakaway, drew a hooking call, and managed to plant the puck under the crossbar before hitting the ice. Man, if he could display hands like that with regularity, he'd be absolutely lethal.

By that point, the game was basically over. Knuble managed to pot another goal in the third to round out the scoring, but the outcome was never seriously in doubt.

To break things down a bit, MarJo had a fabulous game. He looked ready to be the long-term second center already (not that I think he is ready, but he did look it). Matty P also looked very good, despite not factoring into the scoring (Knuble's goal was scored on a deflection; Matty was right behind him, ready to deflect also, on that play). He was actually pretty effective along the boards tonight, as well.

Carlson also looked very good. He had an assist to go with the aforementioned goal, and is looking like a top-pairing defenseman already. With another year of seasoning, he'll be our second-best defenseman. Actually, he's damned close to it already.

The top line looked pretty good, but still isn't clicking. I hope they get it together soon, because we definitely need the scoring.

Next up? We finally get our first run-in with the Penguins for the season. The timing seems pretty good for the Caps, and I'm looking forward to it. Maybe this will give OV the motivation to break out of his slump this season.


Ask and Tell, Coming Soon to a Unit Near You

Just wanted to note that I am (shocked but) very pleased to see that the Senate approved the Don't Ask, Don't Tell repeal, finally.

No DREAM Act to go with it, alas, but it's a step in the right direction.

Now we can hopefully stop kicking out people who are highly qualified, but just happen to prefer to have sex with their own gender.

I wonder how bad McCain's conniption was, this weekend, when that passed.

Anyway, it's now been passed by both houses, so the President can sign it. I heard something about it taking quite a while to really take effect, but didn't get the details. But it shouldn't be too long.


Things did not start out looking well for the Caps tonight. In the first period, there were several questionable non-calls, some near-misses, whistles blew the play dead a couple of times when Elliot didn't have the puck covered, and the period was capped off by having a goal disallowed because it crossed the line half a second too late. They also allowed two goals, with the defense not looking very good. With the way things have been going, it was looking like a long night, indeed.

I went upstairs to put my daughter to bed during the intermission, failing to turn off the DVR so I could pick up from where I left off. I got back with half the period gone, and the score now 3-2. Apparently, I should watch less. What's more, my wife saw Ovechkin's disallowed goal that would have made it 4-2. Obviously, I rewound to see the goals.

Good effort by the Caps to get the scoring going right away. The first and third goal were both basically garbage goals where Perrault picked up the puck on a rebound, and put it past a sprawled Elliot. Am I dismissing those goals by calling them garbage goals? I am not. The Caps have never been very good about getting those sorts of goals (with the possible exception of when Ciccarelli was on the team), so I was thrilled to see them. I should also mention that the reason he was held out last night was that he had the flu, so nothing should be read into him not playing.

Fehr, I forgot to mention, stayed on the top line for this entire game, and looked really good. Maybe that will be a long-term change after all. If so, I'm not going to be upset. He had the second goal, an assist on Perrault's second goal (actually not sure how they ended up out there together, but there it was), plus had the twine tickler disallowed by the end of the first period.

OV looked pretty good; I think they've given him a sitting down, and told him he needs to change things up a bit to give himself more room. The result was that he only had two shots, both pretty late in the third period. But he was looking to pass when he brought the puck into the zone, rather than always looking to cut across the middle for the wrister from the top of the circles. I'm not really thrilled with the results for tonight, but I think it will help both him and the team, long-term. We do need to have him taking more shots, though, in general.

Neuvirth looked very good. He did not have a chance on either of the goals; the first he never saw and the second was deflected from a position he couldn't possibly cover. I do have wonder why he was playing, though. Having played last night, I definitely would have preferred to have Varly in.

But on the whole, the Caps looked good. They looked hungry, they were doing a better job of keeping the puck in the offensive end, and they played like a driven team. It was great to see.

Now that the streak is broken, there's a day off before the Devils come to town; hopefully, they'll keep that hunger and bring it again. And maybe they can not play from behind again? These instances of spotting the other team two and three goals are really getting old.


Chaotic Exploration

I got a recommendation, recently, to check out Burton Malkiel's A Random Walk Down Wall Street. While I'm reasonably familiar with the market, it sounded like an interesting read.

While I'm not sure I'm going to use anything I read in it, it certainly gave me a lot to think about.

It started out with some theory (which, given my complete lack of any theoretical background, was nice) about how prices are derived. It started with a pair of theories, the firm foundation theory (which essentially states that there is a fundamentally correct price for any given stock based on business and dividends) and the Castles in the Air theory (which says prices are arbitrary).

Perhaps in defense of the latter, it then goes on to detail a number of historical value bubbles, starting with Dutch tulips in the seventeenth century. It then talks about how well the pros do, so you don't feel like you're at as big a disadvantage as it might seem. To do that, it walks through much of the tail end of the twentieth century, and caps it off with the internet bubble.

It then goes through a number of gyrations to show how stock movements are largely chaotic, despite introducing the Efficient Market Theory. Frankly, I think those are fairly contradictory, but *shrug*. There are several versions of the EFM, the latter two of which are, to me, completely ludicrous. The former states that issues are priced efficiently, taking into account all information about a stock immediately. This version, I think, has a kernel of truth, although I'm not sure I'd really endorse it, regardless. I'll come back to this.

He then moves on to what he calls Modern Portfolio Theory, which is all about dealing with risk. This is another section that was informative for me, but I'm skeptical about whether it was really useful. The skepticism mostly derives from a build-up to a new way to structure portfolios, called the Capital Asset Pricing Model. I suspect that this was endorsed in an earlier edition of the book (this is the tenth edition, from 2007. Yes, that year will become important later), and gave the book its subtitle. However, whether that guess is right or not, he now comes out and admits that CAPM doesn't work in practice.

The part of that section I was most happy to read was the section on Beta, which I'd heard of, and which I knew referred to riskiness in some sense, but knew nothing more specific about.

From there, he moves on to a field called Behavioral Finance, which talks about how psychology plays into investing. And I was glad he got to that part when he did, because towards the end of the chapter before, I was saying in my head, "That's missing a broad swath of what drives short-term changes". The reason I was glad was that Behavioral Finance got to exactly what was bothering me before.

This might turn out to be the part of the book that is genuinely useful, though. It mentions several unhealthy tendencies that people have (and yeah, I've seen several of them in myself), and a little bit about ameliorating them. Good stuff for anyone serious about investing.

He then talks about several theories for undercutting the Efficient Market Theory, and shows flaws (or potential flaws) in them.

So, to get back to that to which I was alluding earlier, here's the thing about EMT (based on my experience). I think that, in the long-term, what EMT says about driving stock value is correct. But the reason I have trouble really buying it (as stated, at least) is that there is so much volatility in the short to medium term. Many stocks fluctuate by 3-5% in a day on a regular basis. And that's without news announcements either for that company, or for the market as a whole. Heck, just last Friday, I had a stock gain more than 2% just in the last twenty minutes of trading. And there's just no way that that can be considered efficient.

But I will agree that ignoring the short-term churn in trying for long-term benefits is a good thing. And that, therefore, playing the market as if EMT is correct is the way to go.

And I guess the last thing I found useful was the chapter on derivatives. I'm a little surprised he didn't talk a bit more about some more exotic option strategies (collars, straddles, bear-put and bull-call debits, bear-call and bull-put credits, etc), but perhaps exotic is the key word there.

So where did the book fall down? Some of it had to do with new editions: leading into CAPM, it felt like that was going to be the best thing ever. But then, after introducing it, he's like, "So, does it work?" When the answer was so quickly and succinctly no, it felt like a let-down.

The section on risk was also informative, as I mentioned, but it still ended up feeling a bit... unsatisfying, I guess. I'm not sure what else should be there, but I did feel like something should.

I also wish there'd been a bit more discussion about when to sell stocks that you're holding long-term. That's what has bitten me in the butt a number of times, both on the down side and on the up side. I either held it too long, or not long enough.

I would really like to see a modern update on the derivatives chapter, also. He talks a bit about how derivatives have gotten a bad name, and how it's a silly concern. He ends that discussion with this gem:
But a systematic undermining of world financial stability caused by derivatives trading does not deserve to be on the top of anyone's worry list.

It's a bit of a throwaway statement, and a reasonable one at that, but it was less than two years later when that, essentially, happened. Banks who held a lot of money from depositors (not investors, depositors), made heavily leveraged derivatives bets, and blew those bets. There was other mischief involved, but that's what brought down the house of cards and brought about the TARP.

So I'd like to see some reaction to that. And to clarify, I'm not saying that his argument that derivatives aren't the problem is entirely wrong. What really made the problem huge in this case wasn't the heavily leveraged derivatives themselves, it was that they were making these bets with other people's money.

Ok, enough about that.

I feel like I'm forgetting something, but I'm going to move on anyway.

In short, I think this book is a good one for anyone seriously thinking about doing significant stock market trading. If you don't want to read it, I suggest you follow his top-line advice, and just invest in wide-market index funds. There's a lot of good information in here.

Update: I knew there was something I was forgetting. It was about company dividends. When talking about Firm Foundation, the value to be set is largely based on dividends that the company issues. So what is to be done about those companies that don't issue dividends? Given how prevalent that has become, I'd really like to see that addressed.

Thomas Stands Tall

Caps tonight were totally Jekyll and Hyde. My DVR screwed up recording, somehow, so I missed about half of the first period, but Hyde was playing the first. They were just getting worked. Not a whole lot of shots against, but not too much possession for the team. And they still allowed a third goal in that second half of the first. Yeah, I missed two goals against. *sigh*

The second period went quite a bit better. They had slightly the better of the play, but were only able to put one in the net.

The third marked the return of Jekyll, and was perhaps the best period of hockey I've seen from the Caps. They set the team all-time record for shots in a period with twenty-six, but still only lit the lamp once. But at least we didn't have a second period with two shots allowed and two goals; neither of the two shots found the back of the net.

It was really amazing that the first and third periods were played by the same team. Really. They looked so bad after the first that with them down by three, I almost didn't bother to watch the last two periods.

There really wasn't much to say about special teams; the Caps had the only power play, but were unable to convert it.

Other than that? Once again, the Caps had a sizeable lead in giveaways for the night, but at least takeaways were even. They did have a ten percent advantage in faceoffs, which was a nice change.

They did stop sending MarJo to take faceoffs. I love the kid, but he does need to get better at that. Oddly, Perrault was a scratch, but Beagle was in. Not sure what to make of that, but it certainly doesn't bode well for Matty P.

Knuble was mostly on the second line in the third, with Fehr and A. Gordon taking turns in his spot on the top line. That actually didn't seem to work too badly, although I wouldn't expect it to continue too much.

Neuvy was pretty good for the portion of the game that I saw; in fact, he had at least three great saves in that time. Unfortunately, it appears that he wasn't too good before that.

Congrats to Bradley and Alzner on the goals; Bradley was player of the game for his goal.

You have to think they'll start finding the net soon; the Caps have been really peppering the nets without finding them. We knew there'd be some regression to the mean for their incredible scoring percentage last year, but this is just rude. They're still right around 4% scoring for the streak. Still no wins since the first of the month. Not just out of overall lead, and out of conference lead, but lost the Southeast lead as well, tonight.

Not long to wait to find out, though. Visiting the Senators tomorrow night; hopefully results will improve along with the play.


The Overlords

Tangentially related to what I was saying about income disparity earlier, here is what can easily happen when the bulk of the people involved in making policy are unaffected by that policy.

I really think most of the congresspeople think it's no big deal, and since a lot of them fly private jets (mostly loaned by lobbyists) or military (probably this is not widespread, but it does happen), they just aren't affected by it.

Separate rules.

Welcome to democratic society.

Millionaires in the Mist

I've finally gotten around to reading the classic book, The Millionaire Next Door. My timing certainly could have been better, because a new edition just came out last month. And that's significant, because there are a few things they mentioned, where I just had to say that it was out of date. I'll come back to that.

I should also mention that I haven't yet finished it (I'm about halfway through it), but still wanted to put a bunch of thoughts down.

While I'm not disputing any of the books' central theses, I have a number of issues around the edges.

But before I get to those, let's talk about the positives.

Most of the book is talking about good habits. In particular, living below your means (and especially not buying status symbols; I really like the phrase they mention, "Big Hat, No Cattle"), budgeting, and planning ahead. And these are all vital things for getting ahead.

I loved some of the facts and figures they were throwing out. Only about a fifth of millionaires inherited the wealth (note that the current destruction of the estate tax will likely increase this percentage), and only five percent of millionaires make over a $1M annually. Not many of them get the money via sports, entertainment, or lottery, too.

One, they push a number of times how self-employment correlates highly with bring a millionaire. The problem I have with that is one of selection bias. When you only talk to the rich, you only find the successful self-employed. It ignores the many people whose business failed. How much does that change things? I really don't know. The figures I've heard bandied about say something like 80% of small businesses fail within five years. So to say that self-employment correlates with being a millionaire, you need to account for all those people whose businesses failed. A good first step would be to ask those millionaires how many businesses they tried before succeeding. But even that would leave the question significantly unexplored.

Two, they mention education, particularly grad school, correlating negatively with wealth building, owing to starting later to accumulate money. This is another selection bias, as income correlates very highly with education, but not as much with wealth. Which leads me to believe that your best bet is to be highly educated, but not to spend profligately. It's a whole lot easier to save $1M if you're making $180k, rather than $90k. But as they point out with many examples, you can do it by making $90k.

And I think that's the most valuable part of the book; the wealth of examples of both good and bad.

Also, I should point out that technical disciplines in grad school churn out a lot of the people who found tech startups. And those are a major engine of growth over the last decade and a half. And many people got very rich off of them.

Three, they seem to discourage wealth building via home ownership. I'm not sure if that was their intention, but that's the way it sounded to me. The problem with doing things this way is that your assets aren't liquid, but you do generally earn good returns. They especially seemed to disparage buying in wealthy neighborhoods, but there's two reasons to be skeptical about that.

The first problem with avoiding those neighborhoods is that you end up having to pay for private education. Not that I'm entirely against private education; I mostly went to private schools growing up. But they are pretty expensive, and moving to a place with good public schools (if feasible; I realize that it isn't feasible everywhere) can easily pay for itself (especially if you have multiple children).

The second problem is that the expensive neighborhoods tend to go up in value better. My parents always told me that the best way to make money on real estate is to buy the cheapest house in the most expensive neighborhood you can afford. That way the more expensive, surrounding houses will pull the value of your house up. This problem could be seen, much more magnified than usual, in the recent housing crisis, as those neighborhoods have fewer foreclosures. This means that the value in those neighborhoods might drop 10-15%, rather than 30-50%.

So I disagree with them about avoiding expensive housing. I'd still stick with the advice I got from my parents. The only caveat I'd give, is to do your own calculations on how much you can afford. Don't believe the loan officer. Also, unless you have strong reason to believe you're going to sell or refinance pretty soon (or if interest rates are extremely high, I suppose; I haven't been in the housing market when that was the case), don't do ARMs. Just get a 15- or 30-year fixed loan. You might lose a tiny amount of money on a refi, but it isn't worth the possibility of losing lots of money if you don't (or can't) sell or refi.

So what was out of date about the old book? The single biggest thing was when they were talking about how easy it is to go from being poor to being rich in the US. They talked this up for a bit, but the simple fact of the matter is that that is no longer the case. In fact, it was already starting to not be the case when the original edition was written, but the tax changes since then have really cemented that. George Carlin called it.

Here's an interesting graphic about it from the NYT, using 1988 to 1998 data. Select 'Income Mobility' tab. Then hit 'NEXT' to see the change in mobility over the 70s, 80s, and 90s.

I mentioned in a previous post an OECD report, though I wasn't able to find it at the time. It is located here. See the title of Figure 5-10, in particular. And then note that income inequality is as large as it has ever been, with CEOs making, on average, more than 200x the amount of the lowest-paid worker. See more details here, here, and here.

Ok, I'm getting away from the point here. I'll get the newer edition and finish the book, then I'm sure I'll have a bit more to say about it.

A Whole New World

Ok, not really. Last night was barely a blip on the Caps season. And it didn't break the losing streak, even if the Caps did get a point.

The plus was that the team did look much better than the last few games, but that's certainly in the category of damning with faint praise.

Semin and MarJo were both out with the flu.

Brooksie had a pretty good game; a goal, quite a few shots (seven on net, plus six more). OV looked a bit better, although he's still trying to stick-handle through defenders too much. He was also unlucky with another shot hitting the crossbar.

Hannan had a pretty poor game, again. How did this guy get a $4.5M annual contract, again? He's been on the ice for ten goals against since coming over. He also passed straight to a Duck only a few feet from the goal early in this game. Fortunately, the Duck was behind the net and no damage was done, but it still looked pretty bad. At the rate he's going so far, no danger of us trying to re-sign him next year; hopefully, that'll change.

Varly had a decent game, average, I think, by his standards. I'm guessing that he started as a way for Bruce to show that he wasn't upset about last game; I assume Neuvy will start next game.

Other than that, not much to be said about it. Not another disaster, but certainly nothing to celebrate, either. Hopefully, things will go a bit better against Boston on Saturday.

Tax Deal Cruises Through Senate

The Post's headline on this article this morning. It just makes me sick.

All those bills that attempted to help the entire country get help up (to say nothing of the judicial appointment blockade that has gotten so bad that the (Republican-appointed) judiciary itself has requested that the Senate lift it), but if you promise a huge giveaway to the top two percent of the nation, no problem.

And the Post apparently has no trouble with this, as they comment
lawmakers rushed to prevent a New Year's tax hike from striking virtually every American household

Obama has now given up all pretense of being a liberal, or a progressive, and actually seems to go with the media's BS narrative of the US being a "center-right" nation. He certainly seems to be governing from the right. That point might be debatable, but it's unquestionably much further to the right than he campaigned on. And he wonders why his base is upset at him.

And I know conservatives who were telling me, before he was elected, that he was the most liberal member of the Senate. Which was, even then, an absurd thing to say, but has become more and more ridiculous as time has gone on.

He said that we needed to do this to keep from hosing the long-term unemployed, and certainly, something needed to be done for them. But how much are the 99ers being helped by this compromise?

And what is this going to do for seniors, long-term, when this deal is used as a precedent to cut funding to Social Security? That'll cause Social Security to become insolvent a heck of a lot sooner than 2037 (the current projected date for problems). It'll also drive a large number of Senior Citizens into poverty. Before Social Security, a large percentage of seniors were below the poverty line. If Social Security truly is bankrupted, by disrupting funding, we'll go back to that situation. Is that what we want, as a nation? Is that how our nation keeps its promises?

What was so difficult about putting a bill in front of Congress to extend Social Security benefits? Make them filibuster it. Make Republicans own their "principled stand". How well would that go over with the majority of the population? The Tea Party would certainly love it, but I think not too much more of the country would.

We Have Creole Turkey Injectors

Just saw that in a newspaper ad this morning, and thought it was hilarious. I'm pretty sure I know what they really mean, but it still puts me in mind of some kind of engine tuning product.

Update: I should have mentioned, this is the store that placed the ad.


No Individual Mandate

I'm not a lawyer, but I don't really understand this ruling. After all, Virginia already requires all drivers to get insurance (or pay a penalty of, IIRC, $500).

Would it be ok if the rule was limited to all people who are eligible to receive health care?

And how is this different from requiring people to pay into Social Security and Medicare? Actually, the only difference I see between this and Medicare is that you're paying for coverage that you're not eligible to receive right away (for most people, anyway).

Plus, I do have a legal question as well. If the mandate doesn't yet apply to anyone, how does anyone have standing to challenge it? If anyone has standing, then getting standing to challenge warrantless surveillance shouldn't be a challenge. And yet, somehow it has been.

The ruling is kind of interesting, though, in that it only strikes down the mandate. That certainly makes for an interesting situation, come 2014; it'd be awfully difficult for the insurance companies to make money. Would it make them stop offering individual coverage, entirely?

Update: I forgot to add this story. Even if you ignore the money angle (which I don't agree with), there's still the issue that he certainly doesn't sound like someone likely to be bringing an open mind to the decision-making process.

We Can't Discourage Working. Unless You're Rich.

I was just reading Jim DeMint's (R-SC) comments about reducing the deficit while permanently extending the Bush tax cuts. Leaving aside the fact that these two goals are completely inimical to each other, there was this lovely quote:
We can't just keep paying people to stay at home. We've got to create economic activity to allow businesses to grow so they can hire people.

(tip o' the cap: ThinkProgress)

Apparently, what he actually means is that you can't keep paying poor people to stay at home. But if you're rich, you should always be encouraged to do so, via taxing your capital gains (which generally don't require you to work outside the home) much less than taxes on labor (which usually does).

Granted, that's usually not a strict either/or option, but with those incentives, which is going to get more of your attention?

On the other hand, if you're poor and undereducated (remember, the unemployment rate, right now, for college grads is still less than five percent, which is generally considered "full employment"), it's too expensive to make sure you can keep your home and feed your family. No matter how long you've been working beforehand, and paying into unemployment insurance.

Because homeless people find it so much easier to find employment.

Does South Carolina have no poor people, or do they just not vote?


Buried in Snow on the Range

Not much of anything positive from either last night's game against the Avalanche or tonight's against the Rangers. The one positive I took from last night's game was that they showed some great pressure in the last eight minutes (ironically, except for the power play) to give some solace for an otherwise pretty lack-luster game.

Hendricks had a great back-to-the-goal, between-the-legs power play marker as well.

But tonight's game? Well, I'm writing this before the game's even over, which might give some clue. I turned it off, and even stopped it recording, after the fifth goal went in. And now that my daughter's asleep, I just checked to see that it's gotten even worse.

There was just nothing positive to say about tonight. The power play? Terrible. The penalty kill? Bad. Defense? Terrible. Goaltending? Horrendous. Offense? Two good shifts, I think. Maybe a third one by the fourth line (I have a vague recollection).

I don't think a single player looked good for more than a few seconds at a time. Really, it was the worst game I've seen from the Caps in years. And by far the worst I've seen from any Caps team I'd consider good.

I'm wondering if Boudreau has lost all ability to motivate the team. I'm leaning pretty strongly towards saying that he needs to go. And what the hell was that about calling out Varly at the beginning of the game? Varly had been fantastic up to this point. You call out the people who are not performing, not the ones who are. And you can see how well it turned out.

Man, I hope they're just outright embarassed. They damned well should be.

I'm not sure whether it's good or bad that they have a couple of days to regroup before the Ducks arrive. I guess we'll get a better measure of the team's character, but they were sure wanting tonight.


Keeping Current

Like a lot of people interested in Sabrenomics (and I'd put myself in the fringes of that crowd), I'm a big fan of the (former Kansas City Star, current Sports Illustrated) writer Joe Posnanski. I check out his blog a few times a week.

Anyway, today he was contemplating the discovery of new things. I've given this idea some thought on my own, when I realized I was never really listening to music on the radio anymore. Basically, I do all my music listening when I'm driving in my car, and nowadays I nearly always listen to NPR on my local station.

And this is both good and bad. The good part is that I rarely get bombarded by something I don't like, but the bad part is that I don't hear a lot of new stuff, either. Well, I didn't for quite a while.

As Joe says,
Of course, people talk about this all the time, about how technology has allowed us to retreat into ourselves. You can -- you do -- find yourself surrounded by opinions you share, shielded from things you find offensive or uninteresting, living in a world where everything you see or hear or read or touch is, like the prizes at the end of the Newlywed Game, "chosen just for you."

He mentions it as being progress, but I wonder. That is, in and of itself, it does seem to be progress, but the question I end up with is whether or not it leads to further progress. And I'm not sure what the answer there is, although the genius recommendations that he also mentions could prevent that being a problem.

That is, if you take several of those recommendations, you could end up pushing outside of your comfort zone, but still finding stuff you like. So I guess we'll see what happens.

But some of what he was talking about is definitely true. Like him, I don't browse book stores like I used to do (and never did, quite as freely as he did); in fact, I don't even go into stores all that often. The bulk of the books I buy, I get online. Movies? Ditto.

It's a strange world we live in.

Panting Hard

Not a bad game through two tonight for the Caps. They were down by a goal with that one allowed in the penultimate second, but generally looking good. And then they seemed to lose interest in the third. Just no energy.

Matty P had another good game, working hard all over the ice and doing especially well on the forecheck. Backstrom did not have a good game; I don't think I've seen a game where I noticed him less. Varly had a pretty good game, although he was a bit too aggressive trying to cut off the angle when he allowed the third goal. Lambo-greenie had a nice game, with some good hits and decent chances.

But overall, things were not working well for the team. Facing a team that had scored seven power play goals and allowed three short-handers, they allowed a goal on six attempts. The power play did a good job of generating traffic, but didn't actually shoot when they had that traffic. That certainly made things a lot easier on Vokoun, in particular. The team won the first eight or ten draws in a row, but was basically even the rest of the way.

Hendricks had a weird fight, where he charged after the guy he fought, but then just seemed content to sit back and hold the guy he was fighting. As I said, strange.

I'm really not sure what to make of the entire game. The Caps had large edges in both takeaways and giveaways, but just couldn't seem to put things together.

Hopefully, they can put things together a bit better against the Avalanche on Saturday. I'm sure Flash will be feeling he has something to prove, so maybe he'll play a bit better than usual.


Free 'Em All

I was reminded earlier today about the handling of free agents in MLB after the Flood decision opened the gates. The owner of the A's, Charly Finley, wanted to just make all of the players free agents every year.

Anyway, my wife was watching the Duke game earlier, and I noticed the ticker have its own heading about Cliff Lee. This jogged my memory about Finley, and made me think, "What would the Hot Stove Season look like if all players were free agents?"

It would just be insane. I can just imagine reporters' heads exploding, as they contemplate how much is going on each season.


This is a Compromise?

Man, if this tax deal is being accurately reported, I have to wonder what it would have taken for the White House to acknowledge that it had just bent over to the minority party.

This is absolutely horrible policy, as it continues on with the current "give everything to the rich" that we've suffered through for the past ten years. Actually, it's even worse, as the estate tax "compromise" puts the tax lower than it's been any year prior to this year.

If you want to guarantee a permanent, landed aristocracy, this tax package would be the number one way to go about it. The only thing missing is the formality of acknowledging that the (criminal) laws are different for the very rich. Oh, and maybe giving them formal title as, say, Lord Baltimore.

Doing nothing, and allowing all the tax cuts to expire, would be much better policy than this. While I dislike doing nothing about the AMT, allowing it to come back full-force is definitely worth it for the other problems allowed.

I'm just sick; this is full-scale capitulation to the Republicans who were holding tax benefits to 98% of the population hostage to tax benefits for the richest two percent.

Oh, and instead of working to get corporations to pay more of their fair share, they'll get even more tax breaks. As if them saving up over $1T already wasn't enough. How about we at least do something to force them to spend that money, so it gives the economy some stimulus. You know, hire some more people. It really isn't all that complicated.

Yes, some of the concessions gotten have minor salutary benefits, but they're piddling compared to the vast rapage that is being allowed in the name of "compromise".

Seriously, I really hope this whole deal falls apart. Maybe Feingold, or someone like him, will put a hold on this legislation to keep it from getting voted on. And then filibuster, when the hold isn't honored (Reid only honors holds by the other party, as we've seen). We can hope, at least.


is he Werth It?

I was surprised to pick up the paper this morning, and read that the Nats had signed Jayson Werth for seven years and $118M (actually, the way the headline read, I thought they were just saying they were trying to sign him, but apparently not. And for that amount of money, you can see why). I was even more surprised when I later read, online, that it was actually a $126M.

My initial thought, without looking at the numbers (most especially his age; he's a couple of years older than I remembered), was that it was possible the deal would not be a disaster for the team, at least for some of the years. Now, I'm thinking that, absent significant salary inflation, they're likely to get their money's worth for only a couple of seasons.

ALmost no matter how well he does next year, the near-zero chance of the team being competitive means he's overpaid. The next two to three years after that, I think there's a decent chance of him earning that entire paycheck (not great, but decent). But after that, it's not looking good.

We'll be keeping our fingers crossed. At least it's unlikely to be as bad a signing for the Nats as the Zito signing has been for the Giants. Of course, if it gets us a fluke World Series victory like the Giants managed, we'll take it. :)

Jumped by the Leaf-Pile

I was happy to see Matty P called up today; again, we saw an awesome initial performance by him, this time with a pair of goals instead of a pair of assists. OV added a pretty nice goal, and Knuble rounded out the Caps scoring on the night.

All that looks and sounds great. Unfortunately, that was the first two periods, and as you might be aware, they play three in the NHL. Even through most of the third period, it still looked like one of the Caps better games of the season, but man, did they fall apart at the end.

They allowed two goals in the last 2:27 of the game. The second one was due to a completely blown coverage by OV, who just parked himself in the high slot, not covering anyone. MacArthur snuck to the back door, where a nice feed from Grabovski gave him an easy tap-in goal.

In overtime, the Caps again played decently, but were slightly outplayed by Toronto. And the shoot-out was pretty uneventful. OV and Semin didn't seem to want to fake Gustavsson. Matty, a surprise in the shootout (presumably BB playing the hot hand), put a great couple of moves on Gustavsson, but dinged the shot off the inside of the post and across the goal mouth.

On the other side, Kadri also had a pretty lame faking attempt to lead off; Grabovski followed with a nice move, but given that that move involved stopping moving towards the goal, I'm not sure how the goal didn't get waived. Kessel took the last attempt for Toronto, and dinged it off the outside of the post.

All in all, it was another game where the Caps played great for quite a while, but just took their feet off the gas for long enough to allow the dead to rise. Extremely disappointing.

And I should point out that, despite appearances from the save percentage, Neuvy had a very nice game. Two of the goals he had no chance on (one the open put-in, the one before that a sharp-angle deflection, and he had some fantastic saves as well. Definitely nothing for him to be ashamed of.

And MarJo also had a pretty nice game, centering the third line for the night. But Matty P was definitely the star for the night with the Caps. Here's to hoping that he doesn't let it go to his head, and keeps playing the way he played tonight.

I hope they get this lackadaisical attitude out of their systems well before the playoffs come, because it'll be a long summer break if they don't.


Well, the Caps played a good game tonight against the Stars. Actually, they played a great game. But man, did they get hosed by the refs.

The Stars got three power play chances almost in a row in the second period; the latter two of which should've been power plays going on the other way. On one, Schultz had his stick broken by a slash, then slammed Burrish to the boards and got called for interference. Then Hannan got called for interference when there was something else going on that the Stars were doing; I don't remember exactly, but I think it might have been goaltender interference I was looking for. Finally, as the crowning insult, the Caps had a goal disallowed with eight seconds left in the game that would have tied it up. Apparently, OV's mere proximity was enough to make Skrastins' run-in with Raycroft into a goal-disallowing incident.

Other than that, Neuvy had a pretty good night, although I thought he should stopped the Stars' second goal. OV had a mixed night; good for running over people, and good for playing defense (to be honest, it's a bit disturbing to me how little he's asked to do that, though I'm sure that that's Gabby's fault). In the offensive end, it was ok, but not great.

Knuble got the Caps lone goal, on a beautiful feed from Green.

So, as I said, the team as a whole played very well, just not quite well enough. They stay out in front of the league in points, although Detroit is only four points behind with five games in hand (how have they ended up with so many fewer games this far in?).

Now, we'll just have to hope home cooking will get things back on track, with the Thrashers coming to visit on Saturday.

Bigger Window on the World

Got a new TV on a Cyber Monday deal. Hadn't actually compared it against the normal price of that model until just now (only compared against other deals).

Anyway, I thought there were a few interesting things about this TV. We got it to replace Sharp LCD from last year, and the picture quality just blows away the Sharp. I knew there'd be a difference, but I thought it'd be pretty similar. It isn't. I think a significant part of it is using an IPS panel instead of TFT; (at least, I think it's using that) if so, I wish the advertising had mentioned it. Maybe that's why the big price premium over what I expected.

I thought it was the combination of LED backlighting and 3D, the latter of which really shouldn't be a huge premium, but IPS would explain it quite well.

The other interesting bits are what they did to get the unit so thin (which, to be honest, wasn't a big deal for us). There don't seem to be any buttons on the unit at all (I did look, but not everywhere), so if we lose the remote, we're sunk. And it uses dongles for pretty much all connectivity except HDMI. I think there were six, total.

But it looks gorgeous, even when it isn't on.

Now we just need to wait for the blu-ray player to arrive, so we can test out how it looks in 3D mode. But that'll be a couple of weeks, it appears. And, hey Verizon, howzabout releasing a 3D-capable DVR? Y'know, maybe with a 1TB hard drive?


Definitely Not Singing the Blues

I was disappointed I didn't pay more attention to the Caps schedule last week. We were in the Raleigh area Thursday for Thanksgiving, but I didn't notice the Canes game there until way too late to go down a day early and catch the game live. Alas.

I recorded the two weekend games, but didn't end up watching them (accidentally saw the Monday newspaper for the Sunday result, and then caught a summary of the Friday one... arg).

Anyway, was glad to catch the game tonight; disappointed that Hannan sat and that it was one Comcast Sports-, but still glad to see it.

It got even better, as the team played very well from start to finish. Varly, in particular, had a fantastic game. He leaves more rebounds than Neuvy, but he did a good job of putting them to bad shooting locations. The one goal he allowed certainly wasn't his fault either, as it was a deflection that changed direction dramatically.

OV also had a very good game, as he really came out hitting. He also tried a backhand move again (once), and had some nice chances. Still no goal, although he probably could have had an empty netter, but he settled for setting up Backstrom.

The penalty kill looked very good all night, allowing no goals and only three or four shots on four tries.

Alzner had a very good game defensively; in particular, he managed to stop a 3-on-1 without a shot being fired.
Hopefully, they can keep up the momentum going into Dallas tomorrow night.


Get Thee to the Hellenic Center

Just watched Get Him to the Greek. I watched it because Russell Brand's character was hilarious in Forgetting Sarah Marshall.

But this one didn't have the same brilliance. It had a few moments of hilarity (seeing Ricky Shroder, who I hadn't seen since Silver Spoons, was one for me), but was mostly pretty dull.

I think Brand did a good job, and Hill was also pretty decent, but the script wasn't all that good. Also, I forgot to choose, so I think I saw the unrated version. I think I'm just going to make it a point to skip unrated versions in the future; the couple that I've seen just haven't added anything worthwhile.

Anyway, not really worth seeing, overall.


Righting the ship

After their worst game of the season a couple of nights ago, the Caps put things together better for a very nice game against the Hurricanes. The score was only 3-2, but the game was very well played outside of the first eight minutes of the third period.

I was really surprised by that, especially with Green out. In fact, the power play looked much better tonight than it did the last stretch in which Green was missing. The defense selection was very... mixed, I guess. Green being out was quite worrisome, but Poti in was good. Sloan out wasn't too bad, but exchanging him for Fahey was less encouraging. But they mostly held together quite well.

I was happy to see Varly back (though somewhat less so, given why he was back), although I didn't think he looked all that great. I guess I've gotten spoiled by watching Neuvy so much, but Varly seemed a bit out of position fairly frequently. And he certainly allowed a lot more rebounds. I'm hoping that is all because of rust. Having said that, there's no way at all to blame him for the first goal, and the second one would have also been tough.

OV had his best game in quite a while. Perhaps swinging him over to the other side threw the defense off more than it affected him. Plus, he cut to his backhand for only the second time I've seen all year (though I've only seen most of every game, not all of them). And he was really buzzing around. He didn't pot any, but did have three assists, and consistently looked like a threat. Ya-hoo!

Anyway, don't want to get too excited, but the team looked really good overall. Now, to head down to Tampa and try to take a couple of points from the Lightning.

Happy Thanksgiving, all!


A new Story

As I mentioned earlier, I finally caught Toy Story 3 last night. There was some initial disappointment, as it was a 3D movie being shown in a 3D theater, but wasn't shown in 3D. But it was shown on a real IMAX screen, as opposed to that crap screen on which I saw Avatar a while ago.

I guess I don't have a whole lot to say about it. I enjoyed it a whole lot (more than my wife did); she missed quite a few of the jokes. Actually, I think I and the guy who sat a couple of seats away were the only ones who got quite a few of them. And we also recognized most of the toys used. (I didn't own many of them, but my nursery school (hah! irony) had quite a few of them.)

It was probably the least original Pixar movie thus far, although that's only a very slight knock. As much as I'm hoping for an Incredibles sequel (to say nothing of a blu-ray disk), I hope they aren't going to keep making sequels. I know they're planning to start doing two movies a year, so maybe it'll be one original and one sequel each year. I guess that wouldn't be too bad.

Regardless, I did enjoy it quite a bit. The Spanish bit for Buzz was really funny, although the Jessie/Buzz part was a little odd. And I really liked how it ended, even if it was fairly predictable. Oh, and I loved the Totoro showing up, although I kept expecting it to do something more than just be there. Maybe give Woody a seed packet, or something. And I would have changed one line; after the crane, I would have changed the line to "The Claw chooses".

I did spot the pizza delivery truck. I thought I might have spotted Wall-E in there briefly as well (or maybe Wall-A); I guess when I get the disk, I'll check on that.

Anyway, if you haven't seen it yet, but you're thinking about getting it or just watching it... It's worth it. I wouldn't put it up as one of Pixar's best, but even their worst is still a lot better than most of what gets made.

That was Ugly!

Didn't get to watch the Caps game until pretty late last night (finally saw Toy Story 3, in IMAX, no less), and thank goodness for that. Why? Because it meant that I could skip all the breaks, and get through it much sooner. But I still was frustrated enough to turn it off with eight or nine minutes left in the third. And thank goodness that I did, as it seems to've gotten even uglier.

It was a pretty weird game, though. Overall, the Caps seemed to outplay the Thrashers, but couldn't put it past Pavelec, and couldn't do much to stop the Thrashers shots. The failure to put it past Pavelec was especially weird, though, as he was allowing some very good rebounds with Caps in the area, but they just weren't able to put their sticks on those rebounds. There was also some bad luck as at least two shots rung off the posts quite hard (Knuble and MarJo, maybe?).

Anyway, the A team better show up and play really hard tonight. I'm hoping Knuble will be able to play; he took a Fehr shot off the face and didn't return.

So how bad was it? Five goals allowed, and none scored. I really hope that gets the team angry, and they bring that Anger to the Flyers tonight. I guess we'll see how it goes.


Buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo.

Yes, that's a grammatically correct sentence.

Anyway, bit of a game of contrasts this evening. Good: could watch the game on TV. Bad: had to do it in low definition. Good: could still see the numbers of the players. Bad: mostly.

Good: the first period was probably the best first period the team has played this year. Bad: the second period was not the best second period this year. Good: Neuvy's goaltending in the third period was especially good. Bad: it needed to be. Good: the fourth line had an excellent game, with two goals and a lot of time in the offensive zone. Bad: they were the best line of the night. Good: the power play was very good. Bad: they were only on the ice for 2:13, all continuous.

But once you add all of that up, you get a 4-2 victory, keeping the Caps at the top of the standings, as well as tops in scoring. The power play continues to creep up the rankings, while the PK continues to drift downwards.

Beyond that, I think I like MarJo on the top line. He looked good again tonight, showing speed and a little defense. Flash was a scratch; no complaints there. Semin looked very good again; I'm beginning to think there's no way the Caps afford to keep him next year (barring significant increase in salary cap). And Bradley had himself quite a night, matching Semin's goal and assist.

I wish I knew what was going on with Tom Poti. Sloan and Erskine have been playing much better of late, but I'd really feel a lot better if we didn't have to play both of them. And I hope Flash hasn't played himself out of a trade.

That's about it, I guess. We'll see if we can continue the excellent play going down to Atlanta on Friday. I'm assuming Holtby will be getting the start in goal.


Security Theater of the Absurd

Orwell would have been proud of this one. Or nauseated, I suppose. But we have another example of bureaucracy gone mad in the case of John Tyner. The short version is that he refused the invasive scanner, and then, when told he would be patted down, told them not to fondle his groin. They informed him that he could then leave. He got a refund for his ticket, and was about to leave the airport when told he would be fined for doing so.

Now the TSA has gotten its panties in such a twist over this that they held a press conference to say that they were, indeed, going to sue him. What's more, they would be suing him for even more money than originally (and absurdly) threatened.

The suit, of course, is a transparent threat to stop others from doing the same.

This would be a good time to give money to EFF, or EPIC, or the ACLU, to try to fight back against these government over-reaches. There's also a petition.

One useful thing that could (and should, but I'm skeptical) come out of the various Tea Partiers being elected is that they might provide some traction to preventing further abuses of power along these lines. We'll see.


Thrashing Aimlessly

Didn't get to watch the game until well after it ended, but it was an interesting one. First, I realized while watching that I forgot to point out one thing I alluded to when discussing the last game. I said that the Caps dominated play in the first and third, but didn't do at all well in the second. What I meant by dominating was, specifically, that they were keeping the play in the offensive zone.

Anyway, to get back to today's game... It was not a good night for Neuvirth. He got the win, but only saved 23 of 27. Y'know, thinking about it, they played much better in the first and third than in the second again today. They got the first goal again, and even tacked on an insurance goal before allowing Atlanta to narrow the gap.

But again, the second period was awful. They got a fourth goal of their own, but allowed three goals to the Thrashers. On one power play, they allowed Atlanta to get a shot from behind the defense three times. Not surprisingly, one of them scored. OV allowed the one that led to the score; not one of his better games (the goal he scored was a fluke, although he did have a very nice assist on Semin's goal).

To pick a couple of others: MarJo had a pretty good game, especially in the third. Erskine had a good game, with his second goal of the season and a butt-kicking of Boulton. Hendricks had a very nice game, with a pretty goal and a +3 rating. Steckel almost managed to get his second straight 20-faceoff win game, but had to settle for nineteen. He was also the only Capital to win over 50% of his faceoffs.

Overall, a pretty solid effort, although the team's third period of the season where they allowed three goals. Hopefully, the defense will do a better job, in general, on Wednesday against Buffalo.


Down in OT

Not a whole lot to say about the game tonight. The Caps played very well in the first and third periods, and pretty poorly in the second.

OV had a very blase game, not really doing much of anything.

MarJo had a very good game, buzzing around a lot and causing trouble for Buffalo. Alzner also did very well, getting a goal and playing good defense in his own end.

Boudreau used some interesting line combinations, moving MarJo up to the top line for a chunk of the game, dropping Backstrom down also.

Holtby had a fantastic game. The three goals he allowed; he was screened on the first, a bad bounce gave an unblockable shot on the second, and the third was... well, he got behind the defense. I was a little disappointed he missed that one, but he didn't misplay it, or anything like that. He just missed it. The only bad thing he did in the game was getting a little over-ambitious in playing the puck behind the net. That was the one time the defense bailed him out.

Otherwise? The officiating was not very even. There were several non-calls on Buffalo that were a bit suspect, and they seemed to come down harder on the Caps than I thought warranted. In particular, the penalty on Backstrom at the end of the game; I could not figure any way that that would be a four minute penalty. In fact, it looked marginal to me being a penalty at all. Overall, the penalty killing was quite good, allowing only one goal in the seven man-down situations.

Anyway, the six game win streak is over, but at least the team got a point out of it. That keeps them a point ahead of Philly, who squished the Panthers. It also gives some more room to catch up to the Western Conference teams who are slightly behind the Caps with games in hand. Ah well.

Back to the Phone Booth tomorrow to face the birds. Hopefully things will go a bit better.


Some more thoughts on the public option (and the deficit)

I was thinking of writing something more about the public option anyway when I ran across this article about the so-called Catfood Commission. The part about medical spending is dead-on, and this is why the public option was so important. The budget projections for it showed it putting some downward pressure on medical expenses.

In fact, it gives some possibility (not assurance, but at least hope) that medical care could be improved for everybody except the insurance companies. How would it help care providers? By simplifying and reducing paperwork.

Why would the paperwork be a big deal? Part of it is that there should be many fewer denials (as I alluded earlier, no profit motive for doing so), but the larger issue is standardization of paperwork (and digitizing medical records, which the insurance companies have been fighting for years because, being easier to search, it increases transparency). If that doesn't sound like a big deal, consider this: a friend of mine's dad is a doctor. He had a small practice, and his wife took care of the paperwork. Dad finally retired, handing the practice over (or selling, I really neither know nor care) to another doctor. My friend's mom worked full-time for more than a year afterwards, just taking care of the paperwork generated by the care my friend's dad did.

To get back to some of the other proposals of the commission, let's think about their suggested increase in Social Security full benefits retirement age. My first thought was that it wasn't too big a deal, given how small the age increases are, and how far away they are. But one thought gives me pause. The people most likely to be relying on Social Security for their retirement are those least likely to live those extra years. So I'm not sure whether it's problematic or not.

Reducing the mortgage deduction? I'm actually ok with this, even though it wouldn't be good for me, personally. In fact, I think it should be reduced slightly more, even, limited not only in dollars, but in number of houses. It doesn't make sense to me to get a deduction for a second home. It just seems to go against the rationale of the deduction.

Eliminating the charitable donation deduction? Given the uproar over having the deduction be a flat 28% rather than scaled to your tax bracket, it seems a non-starter. I don't have a strong opinion on it, though; it depends on how much it would reduce charitable giving.

Eliminating the Alternative Minimum Tax (AMT)? I've got mixed feelings about this. I like the idea of the AMT, but a) it should only be hit by people making a lot more money than currently happens and b) some things shouldn't count as deductions you're comparing the AMT against. For a), I think it should be people with income over $1M, indexed to inflation for the future. And with respect to b), some deductions, particularly state and local taxes, shouldn't really apply.

The thing that really torqued me, though, was hearing that they're talking about reducing the size of the government workforce. In a booming economy, I could actually get behind this idea, but talking about it when unemployment is already above 9% (and many more are already being forced to work part-time instead of full-time) just pisses me off. Did the people on this commission miss that the thing people want most is more jobs? Eliminating 200k jobs just isn't the way to respond to that.

Prince of Peace

I finally finished Princeps' Fury last night. I must admit, this one did not grip me nearly as much as the earlier books in the series (let alone as much as his Dresden novels); I read the last one or two hundred pages a chapter or two at a time.

The big problem I had was that a number of things happened, or were talked about, that just didn't make sense to me, so I'd put the book down to think about why when that happened. The first of those was the description of the population, especially the size, and size of cities, of Canea. I just can't see how a society driven by "might makes right" can possibly get anywhere near that size. It just won't have the necessary stability.

And that's doubly so when they are so bellicose, as a society. Add into that that, given body size, Canes won't breed very quickly, and you have a formula for small villages run by absolute leaders who will never accomplish anything as a society. It makes me think of Sparta: excellent fighters, but neither broad, nor lasting, influence.

And actually, I can even point to the book itself for evidence of the speed of breeding (additional evidence can come from how much longer gestation is for larger breeds, as well as how tiny the litters are). When we meet Varg's family, it sounds like about a dozen. He's six hundred years old. That's 30-40 human generations (I'm assuming human generations are a bit smaller than the currently rough estimate of twenty years), so we'd expect at least several hundred offspring. In fact, I'd say that several hundred just in the last generation would be pretty likely; that would only be 10-20% increase per generation (2.2-2.4 kids per family, on average).

Anyway, enough about breeding. There were several more issues with the Vord. The biggest of these is keeping them fed; how do you capture enough energy for them to breed at that speed, let alone do anything more constructive? Next, there was only one breeding queen on the Aleran continent. It was estimated that a queen could breed 100 per day. That'll never allow them to expand to the millions required to conquer Canea, especially given a) their profligate fighting strategies, b) the number of non-combatants required to maintain the croach, c) the amount of time given (4-6 years), and d) the extra time involved in creating the bigger creatures (to say nothing of the armored ones), and e) the number of fronts they would need to fight along at the start. And that isn't even accounting for the head queen going back to Alera, and doing stuff there.

It also ignores the time involved in the Vord evolving. That takes time, because even with intelligence driving it, there'll be false starts along the way.

Anyway, at 100 per day, with three queens for five years, you're only talking half a million. That isn't a small number, by any stretch of the imagination, but it isn't anywhere near enough for what was described. It might be within an order of magnitude. Maybe.

Plus, do you want to try to fight a war where your troops must be within 20 miles of "headquarters" at all times? Especially one where you're trying to take over entire continents? The only way that might be feasible is if you can move several times as fast as your opposition, but that's obviously not the case. Plus, if you were trying to move that fast, where would that leave each day's offspring? That's right, out of range of control and (more importantly) out of range of protection.

Plus, how helpful is the queen's telepathy? She's already busy controlling all of her offspring, how does she have any left to sift through the thoughts of the people around her. And how close does she need to be to use it? Certainly within line of sight, so you're looking at a practical limit (in a battle situation) of half a mile. And, likely, a whole lot less than that.

It really won't be helpful.

Plus consider that there's going to be a limit to how many Vord-lings she can control at once. I don't know what that limit is, but there would have to be one, and I've got to think that it's a whole lot less than 100k.

Another of the issues that bothered me (though I should have noticed it way back in Academ's Fury, it's true) is that the queen has all these physical abilities. Now, in and of itself, that's fine, but now we know that they're a hive mind. Given that, what possible reason is there for her to have any physical ability at all, beyond breeding and controlling the others? It just serves no purpose. To put it another way, there's no reason for it to evolve. Also, we haven't seen any indication of gestation to allow all of that reproduction. The genes need to be passed on somehow. It certainly isn't parthenogenesis, since they aren't clones.

Ok, enough of that. A more minor, but still significant, issue is with Varg getting involved in the fight with the queen. I don't understand how he was fast enough to be able to contribute there. The Canim seem to be on par with humans for hand-to-hand fighting speed (otherwise they would have destroyed the Alerans when fighting the legions. Not beaten, but annihilated), Tavi was sped up to several times normal human speed (and was probably above average in speed to begin with), and was still having trouble keeping up. So how was Varg able to even threaten her? It just doesn't follow.

And finally, there was the survival of Invidia. Explaining it by having the Vord get rid of the poison for her was really only a tiny part of an explanation. The bigger part of it was how they got her out of the camp. She was already thought dead by the medics (who rely on more than just feeling for breath, don't forget), plus she was in the middle of the camp. So the Vord would have needed to have snuck in to the middle of the camp, undetected, and taken a person (meaning that it wasn't just a mouse-sized being doing the sneaking) out. Plus known how to handle the poison, which sounds less likely the more I think about it. After all, there's a reason medical researchers don't use lizards for preliminary drug testing.

Anyway, enough about why it took so much longer. What did I like?

I thought it was very interesting, having the queens look like Kitai. I kind of assumed, the first time, that it was due to finding her face in Tavi's mind, and matching that. But then when the second one did, as well, that went out the window, as it obviously wasn't a temporary thing. So I think it has something to do with Kitai and Tavi sneaking into the tree back in the first book, although I don't know what the connection is. That does beg the question, though; the healing mushroom (or whatever it was; I've forgotten already) would seem to need to come back to some significance at some point.

If nothing else, that would be a reason to not kill off all of the Vord, given the chance. Hmm... slave collar on the Vord queen? That would certainly make for an interesting solution, though not one I think is likely.

One thing about this book is that it left me feeling like I was reading Ender's Game in a fantasy setting. Well, at least the second half of it, on Phobos (or was it Deimos?). Try to ignore the foot soldiers, and go for the queen.

The backstory intrigue was rather interesting, particularly with Invidia removed from the political picture. It seemed a bit glib to have Invidia and Attis be merely political allies who happened to be married, although I'd have to re-read the earlier books to see if that's really supported by what we saw. My vague memories say that it's a bit of a stretch. I did like the idea of Invidia being a spurned potential wife of Septimus.

Raucus and Attis do seem like interesting characters. We'll have to see how things play out with them.

I was a bit surprised with how the slavery was dealt with. They cut it off at the source, but didn't do anything about the people already enslaved. That surprised me quite a bit. I had figured they'd need to get their own collar on Brencis to get him to put the others back on the path to serving Gaius. Just killing him seemed a bit... off, I guess. The other thing that irked me about it was making such a big deal about how tough it was to deal with him. If we hadn't seen Tavi hand him his ass using nothing but his fists, I wouldn't have thought anything of it, but...

And it seems that there isn't really a ceremony to transfer furies from one person to another, as I'd speculated about after the last book. I was pretty surprised there seems to've only been one fury transferred, although what a fury. I suppose that fury is the supernatural manifestation of being the First Lord. Nifty. I guess we'll see if there were other, lesser, ones as well. Maybe she'll show Tavi why he hasn't been able to manifest a fury yet, although I do wonder why that didn't even come up in this volume.

Overall, I guess this one wasn't too bad, although I'd easily rate it the weakest of the series. Hopefully, First Lord's Fury is much better. We'll see, soon.

Update: I forgot about a couple of other issues I had. One was feeding the army when they left Alera Imperia; I can't see how they had a chance to carry much food with them. Plus, they were running for their lives, and getting all those stores would certainly slow them down.

Another was the figurehead on the boat saving Tavi; the boat was moving away from him, so I can't see how she could possibly reach that far. It'd be reaching the entire length of the boat.

What was more interesting was the ice ships. I was awfully surprised by them. I figured that the Knights Flora would be going nuts, and building big ships. I didn't think of the Igni going nuts like that.

But the ice seems a much bigger stretch, because of the cold stones. The stones would necessarily have their effect in a sphere, not a plain. So the walls and floors would be as thick as the effect of the stones, meaning that you would need thousands (probably tens of thousands, actually) to create a structure along the lines of what was described. And unless the operation was trivial, I wonder how they could get that done in the time described. Actually, it seems difficult even if the operation is trivial (which seems unlikely as well, since they aren't ubiquitous). Crafting something that big is just not easy; there's a lot of ways for it to go wrong.

Anyway, just needed to get those off of my chest.


A Thank You to All Veterans

I don't have anything deep or profound to say, but I just hope everyone will take a minute to remember the sacrifices veterans have made for our nation.

Time for Some Domination

The Caps started out slow again tonight, failing to get a point in the first, and allowing one to Tampa. That wasn't much of an indicator for the night, though, as they scored two in the second, and four more in the third. The final was 6-3 (the third came on the second of two really bad defensive plays within twenty or so seconds), with the top line scoring a whole bunch.

It didn't look like it'd be dominated by the top line for a while, though. The first was by Poti, finally back from his injury (and thank goodness for that, even if the second of the two defensive miscues I mentioned came from him), with the second by Knuble (with Laich getting the assist). But by the time the carnage had ended, OV had a goal and two assists, Semin had a hat trick along with a pair of assists, and Backster had four assists (including the primary on all three of Semin's tallies).

Backstrom also had a pair of really nice hits on his opposite number in the third period, once slamming him hard into the boards, then knocking him down again on open ice when he came back for revenge. And actually, somebody had a body slam earlier in the game, although I missed who it was. And somehow, that didn't end up being a penalty.

Each team had a power play goal (TB in four chances, Washington in its only chance), and both were really driven by mistakes, not by good offensive play. Semin got his first on the power play where he was left alone in the slot. Twice. He missed the first, but barely squeezed the second shot between Ellis' glove arm and body. The TB one happened where Malone was left alone next to the goal to pick up a rebound and stuff it in.

Neuvy looked very good on the game, coming up with thirty-eight saves, and looking in control from beginning to end. Man, I'm glad this guy's on our team. When Varly comes back, we will have one hell of a goalie tandem. I have to think, though, that Neuvy now has a solid lock on the #1 job at this point. Sucks for Varly, but hopefully it'll keep him very motivated to show that that's a mistake.

The only bad news on the game was that BoGo was hurt in the first period. He hit his foot on the boards trying to contest an icing, and never came back. That led to some really odd line combinations; hopefully, he'll be back very soon.

On the plus side, MarJo was a healthy scratch tonight, so if BoGo is out, MarJo can be put back in.

And congratulations to Stex for winning twenty face-offs. In fact, he and Backstrom had thirty-two of the team's forty faceoff wins. Unsurprisingly, Flash only added three to that total (out of twelve).

The two standings points kept the Caps in the lead overall, keeping them ahead of the Flyers, who administered a serious beat-down on the 'Canes. It also kept the team to one home loss on the season.

So that's it for tonight. Next up, Ryan Miller and the Sabres.


In Memoriam

My grandfather, my mother's father, would have been 100 years old today. I was unable to say anything about his life at his funeral, so I thought this would be an appropriate time to write something now in remembrance of his life.

My relationship with Pop-pop was fairly complicated. He was one of the smartest men I've ever known, but some years back I was sure I was the smartest person around. Given that we were both pretty arrogant (I like to think I've gotten past that, but who knows?), we butted heads a lot when I was younger.

But despite that, he never hesitated when my parents wanted to leave me with him and Mom-mom. When I was pitching in Little League, he didn't mind helping me practice. He didn't even complain when one of my pitches caught him in the shin, causing it to swell up almost as big as the baseball.

I didn't know it at the time, but he was quite an athlete when he was younger. I don't know exactly when, but he did trapeze work at one time. And he could still walk up stairs in a handstand when he was fifty.

I mentioned him being very smart. He made his living as a civil engineer, building sewage systems and such up and down the east coast.

It wasn't glamorous work, but it kept him outside and challenged, and he really enjoyed it. It also kept him moving around, which I think he liked. Unfortunately, he retired around the time that I was born, so I don't know a whole lot about his work life. I think I probably learned more about his work when he met my wife than I'd known up to that point.

He was very hard-nosed about business; I suspect he was probably a right bastard to deal with back then. He definitely didn't feel that anything came easily to him, and he certainly remained a stubborn old goat into his eighties.

He was born Clarence Edward Clark, but went by Bob pretty much his entire life. How did he end up as Bob? It took me many years to find out, but the answer is fairly simple. His father called him Bub, but his brother Louie had a stutter, and couldn't really say that. But Bob came out ok, and that stuck.

He was born in DC, and, aside from Louie, had another brother, Dick, and a sister Thurley (no, I didn't misspell that, although I called her Aunt Shirley until the day she passed away). I've heard from both him and his Uncle Dick that Bob used to beat up on Dick, until Dick enlisted in the Army.

Uncle Dick ended up in the 101st Airborne, and after that, Bob wouldn't fight with him (he knew Dick would kick his butt :). As a side note, I'm told that Uncle Dick was asked to be interviewed for 'Band of Brothers', but that he declined. I never got a chance to ask him about why that was.

Getting back to Pop-pop, after high school, he went to the University of Maryland to study civil engineering. After he left, he did a number of jobs for a while (this was the Depression). The ones I remember are selling ice cream, driving a truck, and doing surveying out west.

But at some point, he found the sewage work that he did for the rest of his career (aside from the airborne photography he did for the Navy in the War).

And as I said, it was up and down the east coast. He never lived in one place for very long; usually only for a year or two at a time. I know my mom had never lived in one place for more than five years until after I was born (and not more than five and a half until I got to college).

As far as family life, I don't know what caused it (well, I suspect a significant part of it was him being difficult to live with), but it wasn't especially healthy. My grandmother passed away from pneumonia shortly after my mother was born. He remarried a couple of years later.

They had two more daughters, but the relationship didn't last all that long. I don't know exactly, but I believe he left after only seven or eight years. And my understanding is that he lost all of his money in the divorce.

But he started over, with my mother and him living together until she went to college (also at UMD). At some point in that time, my aunts joined them, but I don't know the details. But because of those years living together, and reinforced over many, many years, they were very close. When my mother passed away, the first thing he said to me was that he had lost his best friend.

My mom met my dad while she was in college, and shortly thereafter Pop-pop met Mom-mom. They were much happier, and stayed together until she passed away, roughly twenty-five years later.

I wonder how good she was for him, though. That's not meant to be an insult; she was the nicest, most generous person I ever met. To give a small example, she knew that I liked gummy bears. We got them in bulk at the local grocery store, where they came in four colors. She noticed that I always ate the yellow and green ones first, so she once bought me a couple of pounds of all yellow and green ones. That had to have taken quite a while for her to separate. I didn't have the heart to tell her that I was saving the best for last, when I didn't eat the red and orange ones right away.

Anyway, my grandfather was pretty agressive and arrogant. I think that was his defense for insecurity and the belief that he needed to fight for anything he was going to get. Going through the Depression at a young age probably did
a lot to reinforce the latter. Also, we didn't find out until about when he retired, but he had never been able to finish his degree, so he needed to make sure nobody checked on that. And while Mom-mom was wonderful to be around, she did nothing to curb his worst tendencies; among other things, they both drank quite a lot for many years.

Their lifestyle was interesting, though. After Pop-pop retired, they did not settle down. Instead, they bought an Air-stream trailer, and traveled around the US for most of the year. I'm sure they got to see every corner of the country in which they had any interest.

As I mentioned, Pop-pop and my mom were very close, so most years, Pop-pop and Mom-mom would stay with us for a month or so every summer. They would help with anything needed around the house; Pop-pop frequently made things that we
could use (a grill, a stand for an aquarium, and other things I don't remember). When we moved (we didn't stay in one place too long, either), which happened several times, they spent hours and hours helping us with it all.

When Mom-mom passed away, Pop-pop was living in the Air-Stream in a park down in Melbourne, FL. He couldn't travel like that by himself, so he stayed for a while. He met another retiree down there, and they ended up getting married.

His new wife, for all her faults, was very good for Pop-pop. He lost his aggressiveness, and was actually pleasant to be around. My mom complained about her frequently, and mostly for legitimate reasons, but she was at least mentally and emotionally good for him.

Nevertheless, they were eventually divorced, and Pop-pop remained in Florida, in Melbourne for some years, and near Lady Lakes for the last couple of years.

Anyway, I just want to say that I wish we'd talked more, Pop-pop, (I really wish this had fewer gaps), and that we still miss you.


Home on the Range

Bit of a weird game tonight. The Caps fell behind three times by a goal, but came back to tie it each time. That left the game tied at three after two periods, and the Caps finished off the scoring with a pair in the third.

Neuvirth did not have a good start to the game, allowing a goal on the second shot he faced and generally looking only so-so. But he got himself back in form by the time the third rolled around, and did end up making some big saves.

Green had a very mixed game; he seemed to have trouble with his temper, I think. He got in his second fight of the season - which is two more than I expected from him this season - plus took a bad penalty during a Rangers power play that led to NY's second goal. He did still manage to get a pair of assists, although he didn't extend his goal-scoring streak.

Laich had a very good game, book-ending the Caps scoring with a very nice deflection early and an empty netter late.

Sloan had a mixed game, following an assist and some pretty nice play immediately after by ending the shift by pinching in and completely missing the puck. That was the setup that Boogard needed for his first goal of the season.

Erskine, earlier in that same shift, scored his first of the season with a nice top-shelf wrister. DJ King was on the ice for that one, but still managed to end up at -1 on the night. I thought he was supposed to have some hockey skills to go with his fighting ability, but I haven't seen them. Hopefully he'll either start showing them, or just stay in the press box.

Hendricks scored what turned out to be the winning goal on a beautiful, heads-up setup by Bradley.

And Knuble finally broke his goal-less streak by following an OV shot in on net, ending up with an open net.

All in all, aside from the Caps playing from behind so much, it was a good game. The power play scored again, although the penalty kill allowed one (but it was 5-on-3) when Alzner whiffed on a clearing attempt.

Let's just hope the streak continues against the Lightning on Thursday. Let's especially hope the team can keep Stamkos from setting up in his office in the circle.


Flying High

The early battle for first place in the conference ended up as a draw. The Caps win in overtime left the two teams tied overall. Philly's win streak ends at six, while the Caps extend theirs to four.

Holtby picked up his second win, backstopping the Caps for the entire game. The two goals allowed dropped his save percentage all the way down to .931.

The Caps played a very good game from start to finish (well, except for the breakaway that led to the first Philly goal), leading every category except hits. No surprise being behind there, of course; Philly has always been a big-hitting team. I was a little surprised DJ King didn't get a jersey for that reason, but I do agree with the decision. But the Caps kept their collective cool about those hits, and didn't get themselves thrown into the sin bin much (only two penalties).

Fehr had his best game of the season, constantly buzzing around the net and wreaking havok in the Philly defense. He also scored the first goal on a wicked shot to the far, top corner from the outside of the left circle.

Semin also managed to have another very nice game for himself, extending his goal streak to four games. Backstrom didn't manage a single shot, but have two assists, the one on Semin's goal being a very pretty one.

The end of the game, where it was tied at two at the end of regulation, was very interesting. The Caps were on a four minute power play due to Pronger whacking Steckel in the face with his stick, the penalty lasting until five seconds into overtime. Flash then managed to draw a boarding call with 19 seconds left, leaving the Caps with a 5:3 man advantage to close out regulation.

Since the Caps failed to score in regulation, they went into the break still on a 2-man advantage. Since you can't play 4-on-2, they left it 5-on-3 to start overtime, and played 5-on-4 once Pronger returned from the box. They were going to change it back to 4-on-3 once play stopped, but the play didn't stop until Lambo-greenie put one into the back of the net (Knuble providing a nice screen).

All in all, I'd probably rate this as the Caps second-best overall effort of the season. Unfortunate that they couldn't finish it thirty seconds sooner, and deny Philly the point, but two points is two points. So, for now, Philly and Washington are tied in the standings with 20 points.

I will say, though, that OV's play has felt a bit off, to me, for a while, and I think I finally figured out why that is. He doesn't seem to put forth a lot of effort when he doesn't have the puck. He isn't moving very fast, for the most part, and seems to spend quite a bit of time looking for a breakout pass that mostly isn't coming. And when he does get the puck, he's too often trying to go 1-on-2 or 1-on-3 into the offensive zone. He's a good enough player that that isn't a completely hopeless idea, but it's awfully long odds. I also wish he'd go back to, at least sometimes, taking the outside route around defenders. Even if it didn't lead to a significant number of scoring opportunities, it'd help keep them honest and give him more space to make the inside move.

That isn't to say he isn't, still, the best player on the team, I just feel like he isn't playing to his capabilities. I suppose it's probably a bit churlish to say that of someone who has 18 points in 14 games, but he could be doing better. And if his team-mates feel that he's not giving full effort, they might feel like they don't have to, either. That's one thing that does suck about being the captain. Anyway, hopefully I'm reading too much into very little.

I guess we'll get a little better idea on Tuesday, when the Caps head up to MSG to go after the Rangers. Damn, just thinking about that makes me want to start chanting 'Nineteen-Forty'; but 'Ninety-Four' just doesn't sound the same.

Update: I forgot that I wanted to mention that Holtby looked very good handling the puck. And I should probably also point out that I don't think he looked good enough to expect him to maintain that save percentage, but for as young as he is, he looked great.


If the Politicians Were Serious...

About what they claim to care about, here are the things that would happen.

If they truly cared about the deficit, they would seriously overhaul Medicare Part D (the prescription drug benefit) with two simple provisions: allow Medicare to negotiate drug prices, perhaps even allow imported drugs (I don't think this needs to be done if the negotiation part is implemented, but it wouldn't hurt, either way), and eliminate drug companies from marketing directly to consumers.

Medicare Part D is a huge contributor to the deficit (trillions of dollars already, from what I've read). As I undertstand it, the program reduced prices by less than 25%. However, their drug prices are several times as much as the Veteran's Administration (which can negotiate group reductions) pays, and the VA is a small fraction of the size of Medicare. Eliminating the direct marketing of drugs would also cut costs, because there would be less demand for drugs. Much of current demand would is driven by people going to their doctor and saying, "Will this help me?"

Another thing that proves the deficit hawks are full of crap: they never put military spending on the chopping block. The US military budget is currently about the size of the budgets of the rest of the nations in the entire world. It shouldn't even need to be argued that that is too much, it's so excessive. Cut out the wars (nation-building is not what our military is, or should be, about), and eliminate many (most?) of the costly acquisition programs, most of which have little or no military benefit until a WWII-scale conflict comes along. And there are better ways of preventing a conflict of that magnitude from coming along than hoping that our armament scares anyone considering such a conflict. It's called diplomacy.

What else would the Democrats do if they truly cared about protecting the little people?

Close Guantanamo and Bagram prisons, immediately. Having them is innately dictatorial. The idea that our justice system can't handle small numbers of criminals is ludicrous. This is one point where Democrats do not have the courage of their convictions. Republicans say, "These people are some of the most dangerous people on Earth", and Democrats just roll over instead of saying, "We have no evidence of that. If we did have evidence of that, we could easily convict them of a crime, and throw them in supermax prisons like we do with all the other very dangerous people". Are these people, without the backing of a wealthy country, more dangerous than Nazi war criminals were? The idea is absurd on its face.

Modify the health care overhaul to include a public option. If they wanted to keep it simple, they would just expand Medicare. How so? Well, an easy way, and I'll credit this one to David Brin, is to automatically cover all children under, say, sixteen. Too young to work? You've got coverage. Medicare is far more cost-controlled than general medical care, so it would help cut down the rising cost of care for everyone.

But having a true public option would do an even better job of cutting the cost of medical care for everyone. I would envision it as something everyone would want, but that the rich would want to supplement. So the existing insurance companies would evolve into something closer to boutiques, for covering stuff that the government can't, or won't. It would take a while, of course; many people would want to keep their existing insurance (and, to be clear, they should be allowed to do so; I'm not in favor of 'thou shalt'-style legislation). Some would keep it for the rest of their lives. More, though, would only do so until they saw how much more expensive those plans (or, more to the point, care under those plans) were than the public option.

For those scared of the public option, or something like it, consider this. When your insurance company is currently looking at whether or not to pay for a procedure, they have a profit motive to deny payment. A government bureaucrat, on the other hand, would not have that incentive. They would actually be less biased than your current provider. So to which would you rather trust your health?

If the small-government types really meant that they wanted a smaller government, they would end the dragnet surveillance that we know is going on within the government (probably within the NSA). They would also get rid of warrantless wiretapping. That warrant, you know, is a way to show that you actually have a reason to be surveilling someone. Otherwise, you're just on a fishing expedition. Ditto those National Security Letters. And we know for a fact, from FBI Inspector General reports, that those have been abused repeatedly (odds are, far more than those IG reports show).

Alright, I think I'm ready to stop ranting, and maybe to go back to sleep.