October 30, 2007


Slate tries to unpack the Wes Anderson / Owen Wilson interview. It's Wilson's first interview since his alleged suicide attempt.

Slate seems confused that Anderson would make a video filled with superficial, mildly absurd banter that masks an emotionally complicated and unresolved situation.

Apparently, they are not Wes Anderson fans.

October 29, 2007


Chatting with my friend Ozlem (who's Turkish ... we call her Big Turkey)

October 23, 2007

Breaking even

I was looking up the lyrics to Kenny Rogers "The Gambler" as I assumed it was not only the best song written about poker, but really the only half-way decent song written about poker.

Turns out it's terrible. Musically, there's nothing going on. That "know when to hold 'em" part that you can sing? Yeah, that's the tune for the entire song.

Also, it's a really depressing song about poker. The verse that follows the first chorus is:

Now ev'ry gambler knows that / the secret to survivin'
Is knowin' what to throw away / and knowing what to keep.
cause ev'ry hand's a winner / and ev'ry hands a loser,
And the best that you can hope for / is to die in your sleep.

Guess what happens to the Gambler after he drawls that at us? He dies in his sleep.

Good times.

October 19, 2007

Let them eat franks

Tuesday's Wall Street Journal has an article entitled "Loutish Fans Disgrace the NFL." Apparently, people go to football games and get drunk and rowdy.

Having established the harms, the WSJ goes on to dole out the cure: higher ticket prices, more luxury boxes, more season-ticket holders. Or as they conclude "The NFL's stadium-building boom over the past decade has helped ... Personal seat licenses and premium seating tend to price out some of the thugs."

I like that the WSJ is so upfront about what demographic they serve. But they kinda go overboard in the article's latter inches. It basically becomes a support group for rich people who've had terrible things happen to them at sporting events. Here's my favorite:

In Buffalo, the unruly behavior often spills over into the luxury suites, prompting [the Bills' security chief] to post guards outside each one. "Fans would just walk in and use the bathroom," said Bills suite-holder Ed Shill. "In the warm weather, when the windows were open, they'd dive in and grab food and beer. In the winter, when it's 20-below outside and we're in our shirtsleeves drinking hot chocolate, they'd throw things at the window and give us the finger."

"And they called me Ed 'Shilly Willy.' And said sissies drink hot chocolate. And they were just soooo mean!"

October 16, 2007

It's hard to overstate my satisfaction

Portal is one of the most completely great gaming experiences I've had in forever. It's a first-person puzzler that can be beat in one sitting and it has more depth, innovation and wit than games with ten times its scope.

As a test subject of Aperture Science, your goal is to navigate a series of puzzles using a hand-held device that can create two-way portals. The portal mechanic is genius (you can see it in action in this demo reel).

One of the fun things about the portals is that momentum is conserved. So, if you put two portals on the floor and drop something through one, it will yo-yo between the two. You can use this same principle to execute huge jumps, fall forever or set up a perpetual cascade of a single object.

You are instructed in the use of the portals by the disembodied voice of a computer named GlaDOS. As a silent, largely anonymous protagonist, Portal is as much GlaDOS's story as it is your own and to say too much about her arc would spoil the game.

Suffice to say, I found the unfolding and eventual conclusion of this arc to be very satisfying. In reading user reviews of Portal, you'll see a lot of comments about people 'beaming' or 'glowing' once they finished the game. I experienced the same thing.

A big part of this experience is the end credits which is being rightly hailed as the best video game credits sequence in some time. Ocarina of Time is the only game that had as big an impact on me.

While you can check out Portal's ending online, to do so would spoil the game. I highly recommend picking it up so that you can experience it first hand.

Update: Rabbit's review is really good. But also highlights why talking about this game kinda ruins it for those who haven't. A lot of the joy was that it was so unexpected.

October 15, 2007

Michael Knight

Taken at Battista's in Vegas.

October 12, 2007

Joshua Tree

I mentioned to Anna that I'd been listening to Explosions in the Sky (thanks Al3x). She said they made for great Driving in National Parks music. When asked what else I thought would fit in that genre, I said "I'll have to think about that." And now I have.

  • Boards of Canada: Music Has the Right to Children

  • Radiohead: Kid A

  • The Notwist: Neon Golden

  • Aphex Twin: Selected Ambient Works 85-92

  • Yo La Tengo: I Can Hear the Heart Beating As One

NB: This may be a Driving in National Parks while Mildly Stoned music list.

October 11, 2007

Meet the pros

Maggie tipped me off to a This American Life episode that got re-run last month called Meet the Pros. The middle act chronicles Ira Glass's trip to the World Series of Poker in 2001.

As the episode originally aired in 2001, you get a view of poker that is only 6 years old but is from a completely different era. In 2001, amateur Chris Moneymaker hadn't yet won the WSOP which subsequently encouraged the masses to give poker a try (there were 10 times as many entrants in this year's WSOP as in 2001). And the World Poker Tour and its hole card cam hadn't yet debuted on TV.

This is a glimpse back at poker right on the cusp of its big break.

The story chronicles how Ira Glass gets swept up in the action and has to come to terms with his own poker jones. There's a wide-eyedness to his commentary that I find really endearing. In reviewing the rules of hold'em, Glass mentions that the five community cards are there "for everybody to share." The drawn-out way he says "share" makes it seem like he's talking about kindergarteners with a box of crayons.

Glass also has some great interviews with pros Jennifer Harman, Phil Gordon, Paul Phillips, Rafe Hurst and Mike Laing (this is around the time that Mike was flipping quarters for $25,000 with Andy Beal, as mentioned in The Professor, The Banker and the Suicide King.)

As this is before pro poker players became quasi-celebrities, you get a less mediated, less polished account of what it's like to be a pro (I also think Glass does a great job of drawing his subjects out). Jennifer Harman talks about how she couldn't sleep for days after she first lost $30,000 in a session. Mike Laing talks about how he hopes his son doesn't become a pro. And, Phil Gordon reveals that he lost his wife because he didn't want to give up his life of gambling adventure.

I'd resisted the pull of This American Life for many years ... really without a good reason for doing so. But I've come around because of stuff like this and the unparalleled Break-Up episode. (Starlee Kine, who is the star of the Break-Up show, has a supporting role in Glass's story about poker).

October 09, 2007


Control is one of two Joy Division movies The Weinstein Company snapped up during this year's festival season. The other is a documentary called Joy Division.

I guess they wanted to corner the market. Either that or it proves that there's no such thing as a casual Joy Division fan and one of them works for Bob and Harvey Weinstein.

October 08, 2007

Run it twice

I've watched a lot of televised poker and most of it is not very good.

Almost every show either contrives or covers a tournament. The tournament format would seem to be a good choice because it has a built-in conclusion; a single winner. And the escalating blinds make for ever-increasing pot sizes.

But those million dollar pots are made up of tournament chips, not real dollars. So even though there's big prize money at stake, a player only loses his original buy-in if he busts out (and sometimes this is as small as a couple hundred bucks thanks to smaller, qualifying tournaments).

The Game Show Network's High Stakes Poker is now in its fourth season and takes a different approach. They televise a cash game; no-limit hold'em with $300/$600 blinds and $100 antes. The minimum buy-in for the game is $100,000 and the money is real.

Seeing players compete over six figure pots is part of the fun. Because it's a cash game, it also means that the producers can invite the best players. In tournaments, especially large ones, you usually end up with half a table of marginally skilled nobodies. GSN pays the best around to show up for their game. (The appearance fee of $1250/hour is a sweetener but not enough to significantly offset the large stakes).

Also, you get to see a lot of things that would never happen in a tournament. All-in bets are far less common in deep stack cash games. And when they happen, the players will often "run it twice" meaning that they'll deal out the remaining cards two times. The effect is to mitigate the variance on these big bet pots and it's interesting to see stuff like this get worked out.

You also get a sense of how addicted to action these pro players are. They will gamble on everything. They bet on what cards will come out on the flop, they bet on how much weight someone will gain in a lifetime. There was nearly a $500,000 bet about whether someone could work 40 hours a week in a furniture store for a year.

High Stakes also does a great job on the commentary. Most poker shows have amazingly bad voice-over filled with faux-folksy poker nonsense. But Gabe Kaplan is savvy enough to work out the players' thought process and is funny enough to beat-up goomba co-host AJ Benza.

There's really only two things bad about the show. The first is that you have to have GSN to watch it (I don't). You can download it off of Veoh (skip season 1, they didn't quite have it together yet) but it's not a great experience. If only they would sell the episodes online.

The other thing is the High Stakes Poker theme song. It may be the worst poker song ever written and this is not a particularly distinguished genre. A sample of the lyrics:

Man I'm gonna kick it / Pocket nines is the ticket
Ladies ain't ladies / unless they your ladies
Get your hand on a monster / if that's what it takes
And if you got what it takes / You can play High Stakes.
Despite that, I recommend it.

October 07, 2007

Cat photos

Lane has done a great job cultivating a yard cat that hangs around her house down in New Zealand. It's fun to have a kitten around.

I inherited a mistrust of cats from my mom. But all-star felines like this one and Moki have changed my mind.

I no longer believe cats are evil. Some may be duplicitous.

October 01, 2007


  • Percentage of Americans who believe the Constitution establishes a Christian nation: 55%

  • Number of times "God" "Jesus" "Christ" or "Christian" are mentioned in the Constitution: 0

  • Number of times "religion" or "religious" are mentioned in the Constitution: 2

  • Percentage of those references constituting limits on Congressional power: 100%
The first statistic comes from a survey from the First Amendment Center. The 55% is the sum of "Strongly agree" (38%) and "Mildly agree" (17%) for the question "The US Constitution establishes a Christian nation." While the 1000 person phone survey is conducted every year, there's unfortunately not historical data for this question.

The other three statistics come from doing a control-F on the text of the US Constitution ... which apparently 55% of Americans should read.