Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Common Sense Emerges from Hiding

No more cuticle disasters while on vacation, ma'am. Feel free to carry your trusty Phillips head screwdriver, sir! Small pointy things will soon be allowed to travel the friendly, more fortified skies.

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Pop Culture Question of the Day

If Peter Sarsgaard and Maggie Gyllenhaal (the current "it" couple of the indie movie scene) were to have a son, would they be required to name him Aaron?

Thursday, November 24, 2005

Thanksgiving Day, Remembered

This day, as with almost every national holiday, is best celebrated with at least a passing remembrance of how it came to be. As we work our way through Ken Burns' "Civil War," we have been powerfully reminded of what a precious thing our national liberty is, and under what forces it was molded. Mr. Lincoln's words reach across time and remain relevant:

Proclamation Establishing Thanksgiving Day

October 3, 1863

The year that is drawing towards its close, has been filled with the blessings of fruitful fields and healthful skies. To these bounties, which are so constantly enjoyed that we are prone to forget the source from which they come, others have been added, which are of so extraordinary a nature, that they cannot fail to penetrate and soften even the heart which is habitually insensible to the ever watchful providence of Almighty God. In the midst of a civil war of unequalled magnitude and severity, which has sometimes seemed to foreign States to invite and to provoke their aggression, peace has been preserved with all nations, order has been maintained, the laws have been respected and obeyed, and harmony has prevailed everywhere except in the theatre of military conflict; while that theatre has been greatly contracted by the advancing armies and navies of the Union. Needful diversions of wealth and of strength from the fields of peaceful industry to the national defence, have not arrested the plough, the shuttle, or the ship; the axe had enlarged the borders of our settlements, and the mines, as well of iron and coal as of the precious metals, have yielded even more abundantly than heretofore. Population has steadily increased, notwithstanding the waste that has been made in the camp, the siege and the battle-field; and the country, rejoicing in the consciousness of augmented strength and vigor, is permitted to expect continuance of years, with large increase of freedom.

No human counsel hath devised nor hath any mortal hand worked out these great things. They are the gracious gifts of the Most High God, who, while dealing with us in anger for our sins, hath nevertheless remembered mercy.

It has seemed to me fit and proper that they should be solemnly, reverently and gratefully acknowledged as with one heart and voice by the whole American people. I do therefore invite my fellow citizens in every part of the United States, and also those who are at sea and those who are sojourning in foreign lands, to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next, as a day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens. And I recommend to them that while offering up the ascriptions justly due to Him for such singular deliverances and blessings, they do also, with humble penitence for our national perverseness and disobedience, commend to his tender care all those who have become widows, orphans, mourners or sufferers in the lamentable civil strife in which we are unavoidably engaged, and fervently implore the interposition of the Almighty Hand to heal the wounds of the nation and to restore it as soon as may be consistent with the Divine purposes to the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquillity and Union.

In testimony whereof, I have hereunto set my hand, and caused the seal of the United States to be affixed.

Done at the city of Washington, this third day of October, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and sixty-three, and of the independence of the United States the eighty-eighth.

A. Lincoln

A very happy, and thankful, Thanksgiving to all.

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Setting the Record Straight

Powerful words, from March 20, 2003:

“It appears that with the deadline for exile come and gone, Saddam Hussein has chosen to make military force the ultimate weapons inspections enforcement mechanism. If so, the only exit strategy is victory, this is our common mission and the world’s cause. We're in this together. We want to complete the mission while safeguarding our troops, avoiding innocent civilian casualties, disarming Saddam Hussein and engaging the community of nations to rebuild Iraq.”

Well said, sir.

Tech Bargains

For those of you who like a good deal and aren't particularly brand loyal, keep an eye on Especially today, in advance of day-after-Thanksgiving shopping, it is full of interesting possibilities to stretch your technology buying dollar. For instance, if you are a Cingular customer, did you know that you could get Motorola's latest RAZR phone, which lists for $600, for free through Amazon? Lots of good deals on Dells, too. The site appears to do little more than the tedious work of collecting coupon and sale information. It's handy, though, if you're in the market for random electronics equipment.

New "Where On Earth" Quiz!

At long last, JPL and NASA has released the latest "Where on Earth" Quiz. One silly mistake prevented me from joining the honor roll last time. I vow to return to worldwide fame this time around.

UPDATE: Dad, you, of all people, need to do this one.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

New UCSB Webcam

For those who need a dose of the coast, UCSB has changed its webcam. The Surfcam no longer exists, but they have added a Lagoon/Ocean cam (permalink to the left). It's less dramatic that the surf cam sometimes was, but the feed rate seems to be better. Plus, sunsets might be very pretty.

For those of you who haven't been to UCSB, just be thankful the Lagoon cam doesn't come with Smell-o-Vision.

[Postscript: if you must see what a state of the art UCSB student looks like, you may also sample the Bookstore Entrance cam.]

Monday, November 21, 2005

Playoff Fever

In my playing days, AYSO never had playoffs. We had 8 to 10 games (rain or shine), a pizza party at the end of the year, and a nice participation trophy.

Things are a bit different now. Starting in the Under-10 age divisions, all of the teams have playoffs. In the lower half of each division or group, the teams play in a single-elimination "Knock-Out Tournament." For those in the top half of the divisions, the teams play in a double-elimination "Regional Championship." In a region that engages 5,000 soccer players, the playoff brackets put March Madness to shame.

I was unprepared for how intense the playoffs would be, and it's not just this sports fan's reaction. Judging by the very tight scoring in all of the games (no team scored more than 3 goals in any of the 20 or so games in the Girls Under-10 division this weekend), everybody is amped up.

Kelly's team finished fourth in its 12-team group, so they are in the Regional Championship. On Saturday, her team played the 5th place team from the other 12-team group and beat them, 2-0. Kelly played goalie for the last three quarters of the game, obviously without allowing a goal.

The Mighty Tigers' reward for winning was to be matched up the very next day with the number one team from the other group, which had gone undefeated and had a bye for the first round. That team had a couple of very good players, but Kelly's team has really figured out how to play smothering defense. Don't they always say that defense win championships? The other team scored first, and looked like they were going to play the whole game in our half of the field, but the Mighty Tigers tied the score just before halftime. Kelly again played the last three quarters in goal, after again sitting out the first quarter. And again she pitched a shutout, making a couple of nice saves. She doesn't do the dramatic diving stops that you might see from older players (few kids her age do), but she has consistently shown a good instinct for knowing when to come out to fall on the ball. The other team had only a handful of rushes that were not immediately squelched by the defense, but on the few times the ball squirted through, Kelly ran out to retrieve it and made very effective punts to put the ball back in play. Unfortunately, the other team held the Mighty Tigers scoreless, although we had far more goal opportunities. The game clock expired with the score knotted at one goal apiece.

As the sun began to set on what was a beautiful 85-degree day, the teams played a five-minute overtime period. Another player was finally put in goal, and she made a terrific save on one of the few breakaway chances the other team's best player had. The extra period ended without a score, so the game moved to penalty shots. Each team could take five shots, and the team with the most at the end would be the winner.

As the parents nervously paced the sidelines (okay, that was me) and the teams sat near the half line cheering on their teammates, each girl took her shot. The other team scored immediately, while our first two shooters missed the goal. Then our goalie made a couple of saves, they missed the net a couple of times, their goalie made a save, then we put one in. At the end of the regular shootout, each team had managed one goal. That put the game into sudden death shootout mode. The last two players who had been on the field during the overtime period who had not already shot were to take the next shots. First to score wins. Our shooter took a great, powerful shot, but the goalie made a nice play to block it away. Their shooter snuck one into the low corner, and the game was over.

I had been concerned about the girls losing, and possibly losing big, to a team that was supposed to be easily superior. The hard-fought battle redeemed the day for everyone, though. There was little disappointment in losing. At the end of the game, the players and parents from both teams gathered at the middle circle, the girls from both teams did a joint cheer for each other, and the parents made one long tunnel for all of the players from both teams to run through. The tension of the game may have taken a few months off my life, but it was truly a happy thrill to see the teams and parents enjoy the pure spirit of competition.

There is a subtle downside to that competition. The player rotation, free-wheeling all season, is now decidedly locked into a pattern. I can't say I disagree with much of the lineup, but some of the kids are not playing as much or in as many positions as they did earlier in the season. Thankfully, everybody still plays, but the lineup is now clearly geared as much as it can be for winning.

Happily, the Mighty Tigers play again in a couple of weeks, now in the lower half of the bracket. If they play with the same intensity that they have demonstrated in the last couple of games, they could still go far. Even if they don't, though, this season, unexpectedly lengthened, has given the girls and their families some great experiences and memories.

Friday, November 18, 2005

Liable, But Not Guilty

Robert Blake has been found liable by a Burbank jury for killing his wife. So let me see if I have this straight: he probably did it (cha-ching), but it's not totally clear that he did ("you're free to go"). Who comes off looking worse, the prosecutor's office, or the jury in the criminal trial?

If they weren't both now broke, maybe he and OJ could roam the golf courses of the world looking for their wives' killers.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

More Speedy Baseball

I'm not the only one who noticed the unexpected inclusion of amphetamines in the new baseball drug policy. A real live journalist has a similar take:

"Wait: Are they really going after the greenies?

Is baseball really acknowledging its historic association with amphetamines and beginning an attempt to turn the tide of their use? This is, after all, a sport so steeped in speed that a whole host of its players might not even think they're doing anything illegal when they "bean up" before a game.

Baseball and greenies go together like hot dogs and apple pie, assuming the hot dogs come flying off the grill at Warp Seven and the pie sort of jitters and sweats slightly as it is removed from the oven. They've been together for a long, untouted while, is the thing. ...

But the mere fact of amphetamines' inclusion in this new drug policy is news. Why? Because, from a letter Selig sent to Fehr in April asking that amphetamines be banned to Tuesday's announcement, this marks the first time in the history of the sport that its leaders have actually acknowledged the grizzly bear in the kitchen....

But amphetamines are so old school that many observers just assumed they'd never be addressed. Baseball people have long declared that most fans don't care what a player uses to get himself "ready" to play, and the notion that guys have been popping wide-awake pills for decades, going back well into the Willie Mays say-heyday, carries with it some implied grandfathering in of greenies as an accepted form of game preparedness. ..."
As I said, I think the amphetamine issue is going to surprise a lot of players and fans.

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Watch Out For the Law of Unintended Consequences

Baseball, to much self-congratulatory acclaim, has finally agreed to a drug program that includes significant penalties. The commissioner’s office and the players’ association have agreed to stringent penalties for steroid users, with a 50-game ban for a first offense, 100-game ban for a second offense, and a lifetime ban (subject to a right to seek reinstatement after 2 years) for a third offense. The plan also includes additional penalties if a player is convicted of (not charged with) possession or distribution of steroids.

The steroids story gets the headlines. Of greater interest to a broader array of players, however, will be the new penalties tied to amphetamines. Use and abuse of “greenies” and other amphetamines is legendary in baseball, going back decades. The baseball season, with its two months of spring training followed by six months of travel and games almost every day, is lengthy and boring enough to have led players to all sorts of stimulants over the years. It has long been one of baseball’s open secrets, a sort of victimless crime.

Now, however, players will be tested for amphetamines for the first time. The penalties start gently, but become significant quickly. A first positive test will result in a mandatory second test. A second positive test, however, carries a 25-game suspension, 2.5 times the severity of the current first-level penalty for steroid use. A third positive test results in an 80 game suspension (50% of a season’s worth of games), and a fourth positive test will result in a review by the Commissioner of the player’s ongoing status as an active player in Major League Baseball. There are also penalties for convictions for possessing and/or distributing amphetamines.

Baseball players appear to be getting the message about steroids. With several high-profile players caught in the net, and others surely to come, baseball seems to have caught up with the problem. Time will only bring more developments in the doping world, which will require additional, new testing regimens, but baseball finally has a system in place to handle the issue.

Testing and penalties for amphetamine use, however, presents a very interesting wrinkle in the plan. This one cuts deeper into the culture of professional baseball. For that reason, I suspect that there are many players who will be swept up by this new ban. We may also see very poor late season performance from more players than usual as players stay away from uppers of all sorts. I don’t know much about the chemistry behind the testing for amphetamines, but I suspect that we may also hear a lot from players about false positives, stimulants that shouldn’t be banned, and other hair-splitting.

I foresee a lot of warning track power, more numerous ineffective relievers (really, who is more hopped up than the guy who comes in at a pressure-filled point in the game to retire one or two batters), and sagging August and September statistics. Still, it’s about time. Baseball fans deserve better than the cartoonish figures they have been presented over the last decade. I loved the summer of 1998 for the McGwire/Sosa home run spectacle, I still think Barry Bonds has the most amazing eye-hand coordination in the game (regardless of whether his power was artificially enhanced), and I dig the long ball as much as anyone else. But when a player like Brady Anderson suddenly looks like he joined the WWE and knocks almost thirty homers more than he had in any single season prior to then or at any other time in his career, something’s clearly wrong. When Ken Caminiti suddenly bulks up and puts out huge, out-of-character numbers, then dies a lonely, drug-addicted death at the age of 41, something’s clearly wrong.

The pressures on minor league players to make “The Show” are immense, which led many, if not most, to dabble in all sorts of questionable potions just to keep up with the next guy (or so they told themselves). Here’s hoping that the ban on steroids and other performance enhancements will level the playing field once again.

Friday, November 11, 2005

Apparently You Can Patent Anything

I am sometimes asked, by people who remember that I once wanted to practice intellectual property law, whether I practice patent law. The answer has always been "no," as patent law is an unusually specialized area in which the practitioners often possess engineering degrees. However, if one recent patent granted recently is any indication, maybe I should have looked into it more closely. They seem to be doing some pretty interesting things over there these days.

There are too many great parts of the patent claim of this device to excerpt, but let's start with the abstract:
A space vehicle propelled by the pressure of inflationary vacuum state is provided comprising a hollow superconductive shield, an inner shield, a power source, a support structure, upper and lower means for generating an electromagnetic field, and a flux modulation controller. A cooled hollow superconductive shield is energized by an electromagnetic field resulting in the quantized vortices of lattice ions projecting a gravitomagnetic field that forms a spacetime curvature anomaly outside the space vehicle. The spacetime curvature imbalance, the spacetime curvature being the same as gravity, provides for the space vehicle's propulsion. The space vehicle, surrounded by the spacetime anomaly, may move at a speed approaching the light-speed characteristic for the modified locale.

It's a spaceship! It travels faster than light!

This invention concerns devices self-propelled by the artificially changed properties of the pressure of inflationary vacuum state to speeds possibly approaching the light-speed specific for this modified locale. Furthermore, this invention concerns devices capable of generating the spacetime anomaly characterized by the elevated vacuum pressure density. The devices combining these capabilities may be able to move at speeds substantially higher than the light-speed in the ambient space.
As Lee Iacocca might say, if you can find a transport with a better flux modulation controller, buy it!

End of the Week Humor Break

Having wielded the Swedish allen wrenches many times, this one resonates deeply with me:

Thursday, November 10, 2005

A Star Is Born

Introducing ...

Dr. Monk!

And here is what you can expect from the good Dr. Monk's class at George Mason University, PSYC 317-001 Cognitive Psychology:

This course will introduce some of the major issues, theories, and experimental findings in cognitive psychology. Some of the topics that will be covered include sensory perception, attention, memory, imagery, language, reasoning, and problem solving. Although the format will be primarily lecture-based, in-class discussion is encouraged. You will be expected to understand the facts and theories of cognitive psychology and also the research methods used in cognitive psychology — in other words, how human cognition can be studied scientifically, and why the results of experimental investigations support particular theories of human cognition.
Way to go, Chris!

Federal Courts Have All The Fun

One of my cases is venued in the local federal district court, which is a bit of a thrill because of the seemingly higher standards of jurisprudence and wisdom exercised by litigants and the court. Without knocking state court judges, who do a difficult job very well, the federal courts tend to handle a lot more "higher end" cases. The judges are powerful, the clerks are whip smart, and the general tenor of the place leads you to make sure you have shined your shoes and straightened your tie.

In checking on some items for our case, I came across an order issued recently by one of our local federal district judges that may illustrate the range and complexity of issues that come before the court. The mere title of the motion is something I could not come up with in a million years:

Order Denying MAAF's Motion to Preclude the French Phrase "Queljeu Doit-on Jouer Vis-a-Vis Des Autorities De Californie?" as Used in Mr. Simonet's Notes From Being Translated as "What Game Must We Play With the California Authorities?"
That's so esoteric that it can't help being cool.

A Legitimate E-Mail Chain Letter

Among the flotsam and jetsam of random e-mails that have been passed on to you for being one of someone's ten best friends, you may have received a message that provides advice for diagnosing a stroke. The core segment of the e-mail is this:


Thank God for the sense to remember the "3" steps. Read and Learn!
Sometimes symptoms of a stroke are difficult to identify. Unfortunately, the lack of awareness spells disaster. The stroke victim may suffer brain damage when people nearby fail to recognize the symptoms of a stroke.

Now doctors say a bystander can recognize a stroke by asking three simple questions:

1. *Ask the individual to SMILE.
2. *Ask him or her to RAISE BOTH ARMS.
3. *Ask the person to SPEAK A SIMPLE SENTENCE (Coherently) (i.e. . . It is sunny out today) If he or she has trouble with any of these tasks, call 9-1-1 immediately and describe the symptoms to the dispatcher.

It sounds reasonable, but so many of these kind of chain e-mails are meritless. This one, however, is apparently correct in its content and based on an actual (albeit small) medical study. According to, the advice is basically sound, although it has not been officially endorsed by the American Stroke Association. Here's a broader explanation of the test:

Focal neurological signs such as slurred speech, unilateral facial droop, blurred vision, discoordination, and partial or total paralysis are often indicative of some sort of brain dysfunction and would be recognized as important markers by those in the medical profession. However, expecting laypeople to diagnose that something has gone terribly wrong in a loved one on the basis of that checklist would be reaching for too much; in that key moment few would be likely to remember what they were supposed to be looking for.

By distilling the assessment process down to three simple tests (smile, raise both arms, speak a simple sentence), anyone is likely to remember what to ask of someone they suspect has just undergone a stroke and to correctly interpret the information so gleaned. (The tests are pass/fail, after all, so if the person they were administered to couldn't smile, couldn't raise her arms, and was incoherent, the party observing all this wouldn't be at a loss for what to make of the results — she'd conclude her friend had undergone a stroke.)

File this in the category of things you hope you never have to deal with. Someday, thought, someone may be very, very glad you knew this.

Monday, November 07, 2005

Little Boys Are Not Like Little Girls

I love picking Michael up from school, because the half-day kids in his class are scheduled to be in the play yard at that time. I get a chance to see him in his element, playing with his friends. Sometimes that involves riding a tricycle (and being driven off the road by one of the girls in his class), sometimes it's baseball or soccer, and sometimes it's leaping off a small play structure and bonking heads with one of the other boys, causing a moment of stunned silence and then laughter and more jumping.

Today, one of the boys was chasing other kids around, his hands formed like he was wielding a gun or, possibly, a syringe. As a teacher walked between my vantage point and Michael, I saw the boy run up to Michael with hands in attack mode and making a hissing sound. When I could see Michael again, he was sprawled prone on the playground floor in a very convincing portrayal of unconsciousness.

After he got up and came with me to go home, I asked him what they were playing.


Aw, they're so cute at this age.

Remember That Whole UCLA-USC Thing?

Okay, yeah, ouch. I just knew this would happen if I looked ahead to the USC game. I was going to prepare another post before that game showing how porous UCLA's run defense was, and how that didn't bode well against the two-headed monster of Bush and White, who have already rushed for more than 150 yards each in the same game this year. After the shellacking laid on by Arizona, though, UCLA is now an afterthought. They will be lucky to end up in a BCS bowl now. Still, this year was a nice turnaround for the team, which had been relentlessly mediocre in recent years.

Friday, November 04, 2005

Wanna Waste Some Time?

Here's another delightful little shockwave game. It requires even less of the participant than most shockwave games. It may be more thrilling, though, especially if you are an infectious disease specialist who watches cells multiply and divide through a microscope (that makes sense; you'll see).

My high score so far: 1537.

Thursday, November 03, 2005

A Little Midweek Chuckle

What is sushi in Tennessee?

What your buddy says when you forget to introduce your new girlfriend to him.

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

UCLA v. USC: The Coming Armageddon

If you follow college football, especially if you do not live on the East Coast, you know that USC has continued undefeated this year in its march toward a third consecutive national championship. You may also have heard that UCLA, thanks to four incredible fourth quarter comebacks, is also undefeated, one of five such teams remaining in Division 1-A. Thus, it is possible that the two Los Angeles gridiron powerhouses could meet at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum on December 3 with pristine records. USC will be looking to retain its inside track to the BCS national title game, held this year at the Rose Bowl, the Granddaddy of the Bowls and UCLA’s home field, while UCLA will be attempting to knock USC out of the title game and, perhaps, put themselves in it (although UCLA has been the lowest-ranked of the undefeated teams all season).

Even discussing this could be the final jinx on their seasons, but supposing they get that far, an interesting question arises. In the long history of their intra-city battles, have these two teams ever met under similar circumstances, and if so, what happened?

Only once in their history, which dates back to a first contest in 1929, have both UCLA and USC entered the game against each other undefeated and untied. In 1952, USC spoiled UCLA’s perfect season, winning 14-12. USC lost the next week to Notre Dame, 9-0, but ended up the Pacific Coast Conference champion, went on to beat Wisconsin 7-0 in the Rose Bowl, and ended the season ranked 5th in the nation by AP. UCLA would finish the year ranked 6th in the country by both AP and UPI.

UCLA and USC also met when they were both undefeated but with one tie in each of their records. On that occasion in 1969, USC again ended UCLA’s undefeated run … with another 14-12 victory. As the Pac-8 champion, USC then defeated Michigan in the Rose Bowl to conclude a 10-0-1 year with a final ranking of 3rd by AP. UCLA finished the season ranked 10th by UPI and 13th by AP.

Early in their history, UCLA and USC would typically meet at the beginning of their respective seasons, rather than at the end as they do now. As a result, there were several other games in which both teams were technically undefeated and untied, although neither team had yet played a game in those seasons. For the record, in those games USC beat UCLA four times and the teams tied once. In their first two meetings, opening the 1929 and 1930 seasons, USC trounced UCLA by scores of 76-0 and 52-0 (the teams would not play again until 1936, when UCLA managed to battle the Trojans to a 7-7 draw). USC opened its 1943 and 1945 seasons with 20-0 and 13-6 wins over UCLA. Only in 1944 did UCLA manage a 13-13 tie in its season-opening tilt with USC.

Unlike most blather that appears on blogs, mine included, what follows here is the result of my own independent research. Should both teams survive the next month’s worth of games to arrive at the December 3rd contest undefeated, I will have saved some stathead at some work. And don’t think I won’t be looking for some SportCenter anchor to spout exactly these stats, complete with grainy footage of the 1952 game.

As a UCLA alumnus, I must also point out that while the Men of Troy have a much longer and more heralded legacy in football, UCLA is the most successful intercollegiate athletics institution, with 95 total NCAA titles coming into the 2005-2006 year, while USC is third with 83 titles. Lest that make you think that UCLA is nothing but a jock school, let me provide a few more pertinent data points, courtesy of the 2005 US News and World Report Rankings:

Undergraduate rank: UCLA 26th, USC 30th.
Business school rank: UCLA 11th, USC 26th.
Law school rank: UCLA 15th, USC 18th.
Medical school rank: UCLA 11th, USC 32nd.

Fight on, indeed.

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Local Athlete Honored

As you will see from this article in the Glendale News Press, Kelly has been chosen to receive her soccer team's Sportsmanship Award for the season. As the youngest player on the team, she has had to learn how to compete against much bigger, more experienced girls, but she is doing very well and enjoying herself. Her Mighty Tigers (she picked the name, by the way) have had a pretty good season, with a couple of very flat losses and a lot of blowout wins. Kelly has been the good soldier and spent a lot of time at goalie this year. The best thing is that she is having fun, getting a ton of exercise, looks forward to soccer camps, and views herself as an athlete. It's a lot of work for us to get her to practices and games, but every minute is worth it.

Here are a couple of shots from the award ceremony:

Here she is in action warming up before the game this weekend: