Wednesday, December 19, 2007

I saw this on a bumper sticker today.

A picture of Little Bush Intelligent Design, or Random Mutation

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

The Star Wars Christmas Special

Here, for your viewing pleasure, is the Star Wars Christmas Special from 1978. Enjoy.

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

Part 4

Part 5

Part 6

Part 7

Part 8

Part 9

Part 10

Wasn't that fun!

Monday, December 17, 2007

The Big Fight

Here is a short video of a hypothetical battle between a sperm whale and a giant squid. One day, I hope that we will have film of the real thing.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Hockey without the Passion: What's the Point

The November 2007 issue of Forbes Magazine has an article on the Toronto Maples Leafs, from the point of view of team valuation. I picked up the magazine and eagerly anticipated reading something about hockey. After all, hockey is the greatest sport in the world, and is very close to being the greatest thing in the world too. After reading the article I must say that Forbes managed to completely miss the point. Hockey is not about dollars and investments. Hockey is about passion and grit and the unique crunch of a well-delivered body check. The Forbes article managed to reduce the greatest game on Earth to something that made me yawn.

Forbes has a great Web site. It reports the daily news well. However, the magazine is a bore. I am truly regretting subscribing to it.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Big Cuddly Squid

This is what I want for Christmas this year. It does cost $1800 however (the Web site does not say if that is Canadian dollars or not), which is a bit much, even for a hand-made giant squid.

Sunday, December 09, 2007

What's with the Capitals?

This has been a tough year to be a Washington Capitals fan. The team has not only stumbled badly, they have been boring to watch, and do not seem interested in playing the game. True, they have suffered from so many injuries since October that I have lost track, but their real problem seems to be that they have just lost interest in hockey. Watching a Capitals game is not fun, it is tedious. I wish that I had some good advice to give the team, but I do not. All that I can say to the players is to get out on the ice and play every shift as if it were the one that history will remember. If they play for the sheer joy of playing, and check their egos at the gate, they just may be able to recover something of this season. The Caps have the raw talent, they just need to learn to use it. I still have hope.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Fruit Cakes

Today I made fruit cakes. It is the first time that I tried cooking fruit cakes and it went reasonably well. I got my Mother's recipe a few weeks ago and have been collecting the ingredients since then. The old family recipe calls for about US$100 of fruit, nuts, brandy, and the more usual cake ingredients such as eggs and flour. When I went looking for things like mixed peel, and candied cherries I found that none of the local supermarkets carried them. In fact, when I asked I got looked at as if I had asked for dried human flesh. Apparently the people of suburban Maryland do not do much Christmas baking. Anyhow, thanks to the gourmet food shop I was able to get everything that I needed.

I started the process at about 10:00 AM this morning, and I just finished it before sitting down to write this, at about 09:30 PM. The total fruit cake making time was about eleven and a half hours. About half of that time was spent with the cakes cooking, and most of the rest of it was waiting for them to cool down so that they could be wrapped and stored. Now I need to figure out how to ice them, and then the big challenge will be figuring out how to eat four large fruit cakes. In retrospect I should have made a half recipe.

Why did I make fruit cakes? Well, to start with I like them. Many people claim to hate them, but my Mom's fruit cake recipe is far superior to anything that I have ever bought. Secondly, I wanted to make sure that the recipe lives on. My Mom is getting on in years and probably does not have a lot of fruit cake making years left in her. I want to make sure that I learn how to cook them while I still have the chance. Finally, there is nothing quite like walking into a house that smells of Christmas baking.

So, if you are in Maryland near where 295 and 495 meet this Christmas season drop me an e-mail and come on over for a slice of fruit cake and perhaps some gløgg (assuming that I can figure out the spices). There is way more than Joan and I will ever be able to eat by ourselves.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Stir-Fried Tofu and Veggies

I was thinking about tofu the other day. Generally I do not like tofu very much. It feels slick when I eat it, and it has no taste. There is not much to like about tofu. To make matters worse there is a small sub-population of vegetarians who have a rather holier-than-thou attitude towards tofu. If I never see or eat it again I doubt that I will miss it.

That said, the other day I was thinking about tofu and what can be done with it, and I realized that there is one tofu meal that I quite enjoy. Here is the recipe. Adjust the quantities to suit the number of people whom you want to feed.

Heat some oil in a wok. Add several drops of sesame oil. Cut some extra-firm tofu into dice-sized cubes and stir-fry it in the oil. Add red pepper flakes. When the tofu starts to turn golden brown add some chopped kale and cook until it is nicely wilted. In a separate pan stir-fry your favourite stir-fry vegetables. I suggest carrots, onions, and broccoli. When both pans are cooked mix the two together and enjoy. Serve with soy sauce and a nice red wine (or even sake if you have any).

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Giuliani and the Aliens

"If (there's) something living on another planet and it's bad and it comes over here, what would you do?"

This is the question that a boy in Exeter, New Hampshire asked Republican president candidate Rudy Giuliani at a town hall meeting. Mr Giuliani's response was interesting.

"Of all the things that can happen in this world, we'll be prepared for that, yes we will. We'll be prepared for anything that happens."

It makes one wonder just how Mr Giuliani intends to protect the Earth from alien invaders. The full story is here.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Anne Enright wins the Booker Prize

The 2007 Man Booker prize was announced a couple of hours ago, and the winner was Ann Enright for her novel The Gathering. I admit that I have never heard of Anne Enright before she was put on the Booker long list a couple of months ago. Sadly, our local library does not have any of her books, which is disappointing. It says something about a library's acquisition policy when the library does not have books by the person who wins the Booker prize. Still, this is the US, where Tom Clancy's books are considered high art. So now it is time to make a trip to the book store and buy The Gathering. Since there are no bookstores near where I live (the Maryland suburbs of Washington, DC are a complete wasteland in many ways) I will probably end up buying it off

Monday, October 15, 2007

The Squid Shoppe

Just a quick note today because I am in a rush. Get your giant squid stuff at the Cryptozoology Shop.

One can never have enough squid stuff.

Friday, October 12, 2007

An Iraq Vet Speaks

Here an Iraq veteran who was nearly killed in the line of duty speaks about "phony soldiers".

Read the blog of an American veteran at Inside my Broken Skull

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Indian Summer

Yesterday was Thanksgiving, or Columbus Day as they call it in the United States. I had the day off work, but I spent most of the day working from home so that I can build up some time off to go to a wedding in New York City next month. Ordinarily, when I am at home in October the windows are closed and the fans are off. Yesterday, however, the windows were open and the fans were going full blast because the temperature outside was in the low 30s (that's about 90 F in Fahrenheit). This is not normal for Maryland. These temperatures are about 10 degrees (16 degrees F) hotter than normal for October in these part.

I miss having normal seasons. I miss Autumns that are cool, crisp, and pleasant. Thirty degrees is hot even for a Summer day, but in October 30 degrees feels oppressive. Is this a harbinger of global warming? Perhaps it is, but this is a la niña year, so the US mid-Atlantic region can expect a warmer than usual Autumn and Winter this year. The climate change that is predicted by most climate models, and most of the world's scientific community, may be contributing something to this heat, but it is not the only effect. Climate change is something that should be taken seriously. I am always amazed when people claim that it is a hoax. Do they really think that such a massive conspiracy could be kept secret for decades? Do they really think that the media would not have a field day blowing the lid of such a story? In my mind the hoax theory of global warming is about as plausible as the theory that governments are covering up wide-spread contact with aliens. The evidence that something is happening with Earth's climate is overwhelming. What is less certain is the details about what is driving those changes, and how those changes will play out over the next several decades.

Fortunately for me the weather forecast for the Washington, DC area says that temperatures are going to drop to about 20 degrees (70 F) in a few days. That will make me and my cat very happy.

Monday, October 08, 2007

International Cephalopod Awareness Day

I learned today, thanks to Google Alerts, that October 8 is International Cephalopod Awareness Day. This is unofficial, but I see no reason not to treat it a a real day. It certainly makes more sense than Columbus Day does. Personally, I prefer to celebrate Octopus Day on 8 August, but I will raise a toast tonight to the wonderful class of animals called "cephalopodia". 'Twill be a glass of wine or beer though, not ink.

Monday, October 01, 2007

0.500 Hockey in the Preseason

The Washington Capitals had a decent preseason this year, but it could have been better. They won three, lost three, and lost a fourth in overtime. Due to the NHL's slightly wacky point system losing in overtime is worth a single point in the standings, so overtime losses are tracked separately from losses in regulation time. Is this a good thing? I do not know. Personally I would have a point system where a loss is worth zero points, regardless of how the loss occurred. This would encourage teams to play for a win, or at least a tie. Under the present system there is less incentive for a team to play hard in overtime because the team is guaranteed at least one point regardless of what happens. However, I do not feel so strongly about it that I am going to let it ruin my enjoyment of overtime hockey.

The Caps' record in their 2007 preseason games is:

7 3 3 1 21 21 7 0.500

0.500 hockey is not a bad thing in the preseason. The object of these games is not to win points as much as it is to see how different players perform, and to experiment with different lines. From that point of view the Caps did not do too badly. Their games were:

  • Sep 30: Ott 2 at Was 1 Loss
  • Sep 28: Phi 5 at Was 7 Win
  • Sep 26: Was 1 at Phi 2 Loss
  • Sep 25: Car 2 at Was 3 Win
  • Sep 22: Was 2 at TB 1 Win
  • Sep 20: Was 4 at Ott 5 Loss
  • Sep 16: Was 3 at Car 4 OT Loss

Bring on the regular season!

Friday, September 28, 2007

+1 419-474-9385

Have you been getting calls from +1 419-474-9385? Over the past three weeks or some I have been getting between five and ten calls a day from this number. When I answer the phone the caller immediately hangs up. When I let my machine answer the phone the caller does not leave a message. When I try to ring this number the telephone rings and rings and rings until I get bored. No one ever answers. And this has been going on for weeks. Fortunately whoever is calling only calls during the day, when I am usually not at home, so it has not been nearly as annoying as it could have been.

A Google search reveals that many people are experiencing the same thing, and no one knows what is going on. I am on the US Do Not Call List, so if this is a telemarketer or some other commercial outfit they are breaking the law. If it is a charity then they are not technically breaking the law, but the fact that they are ignoring the do not call list means that I will never donate anything to them. Perhaps it is just a person with a wrong number and absolutely no telephone manners. People like that are, sadly, rather common in the USA. All I could do was report this to the FTC , file a complaint, and hope that the calls would eventually stop.

Then something happened. A few days ago I decided to answer the phone, and there was a human being (sort of) on the other end of the line. "Hello, is Mr or Mrs Squid home?" the person asked. Instead of answering I said that if this person ever called me again I would report then to the police, the FBI, and the FCC. Then I hung up. I have not been called back since. In retrospect I regret not finding out who was calling me before I delivered my toothless ultimatum, but at least the calls have stopped. If anyone knows who is making these calls from this number please let me know.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

RIP Ken Danby 1940-2007

Ken Danby, who painted the iconic goalie shown above, has died.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Whale Eats Squid

The Tenerife News the other day reported a story about a group of people who filmed a pilot whale eating a giant squid. The film is not available yet, but with luck it will show up on the InterNet before too long. The article says that this is the first time that such a feast has been caught on film. However, the good folk over at The Octopus News Magazine Online report that this is not actually the first film. They have a short, but interesting discussion of the film on their Web site.

This may not be the first actual footage of a whale snacking on Architeuthis dux, but they did get a nice picture, and their description is interesting. I hope that they release the film to the public soon. I wish that I had seen this when I was in the Canary Islands about ten years ago.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

NHL 2008 Outdoor Game

The NHL is going to hold an outdoor game in Buffalo on New Years Day 2008. The Buffalo Sabres and the Pittsburg Penguins will face off unprotected against the elements, which in Buffalo can be rather brutal in January. The is the second outdoor game that the NHL has held in the modern era. The first was in 2003 in Edmonton, and it is generally regarded as being a great success. The game sold out, tv rating were at an all-time high (at least in Canada), and the players enjoyed playing outdoors. So, it is not surprising that the NHL is doing it again. This time they have picked a safe American market to try and generate a bit of interest south of the border. Buffalo is a good choice because it is a true hockey town. The game sold out in less than half-an-hour, and it is already generating a buzz in the Buffalo media.

The idea of playing an outdoor game, and having it count in the standings, has proven to be a bit controversial. Some, such as the Toronto Star have claimed that an outdoor game is absurd. However, I suspect that this is partly a case of sour grapes because Toronto did not get the game. My opinion is that playing a game outside is a great idea. Yes, it is a gimmick. Yes, depending on the wind one team could be at a distinct disadvantage, and yes, fans may have to sit in sleet and snow to watch the game, but these are the things that make hockey games legendary. Does anyone remember any games from the 1975 Flyers--Sabres series other than the infamous "Fog Game"? How many games do you remember from 2003? I will bet that the outdoor game is one of them.

So, play a game outside. Have it count in the standings. Three points in January will not make a lot of difference. Give the fans in Buffalo something that they will remember for the rest of their lives. But sorry Buffalo, I will be rooting for the Penguins.

Friday, September 21, 2007

Fennel and Sausage Pasta

Last night I decided to try something new for dinner. So, I looked through my recipes for something that I have never made before, or more accurately, something that I could not remember ever making before, and settled on this. It was not that hard to make, and it goes well with a robust red wine.

  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 1/2 lb sweet Italian sausage
  • 1 med bulb fennel
  • 1 med onion
  • 1/4 tsp red pepper flakes
  • 1/2 lb ziti (or penne, or any other bite-sized pasta)
  • 1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese
  1. Boil several cups of salted water.
  2. Heat the olive oil in a large frying pan. Crumble the sausage meat into the pan and brown it.
  3. Chop the fennel bulb into matchstick sized bits. Do not make the bits too large. Save the fronds and cut them into inch-long sprigs. Chop the onion into small pieces.
  4. When the sausage meat is brown add the red pepper and onions and cook until they are translucent. Add the fennel and cook until it goes a bit soft.
  5. Add 1 1/2 cups of the boiling salted water to the mixture and simmer for 10 minutes.
  6. While the mixture is simmering cook the pasta until it is not quite al dente.
  7. Add the pasta and fennel fronds to the sausage mixture and cook for a few minutes. Add a bit of the pasta water if the mixture starts to dry out.
  8. When the pasta is al dente remove from the heat and add the cheese. Serve immediately.

This is a fairly hearty dish and should be eaten with a salad of some kind. It worked out fairly well for me, but the fennel was a bit undercooked. I probably should have cut it into smaller pieces. Also, it needed a bit of black pepper added while I was eating it. Joan said that it also needed a bit of salt, but I was happy without that.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Meet the New Joe Camel

Some pictures do not need captions.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Proust and the Squid

It has been a slow week for squid news, so I thought that I would read something that is only tangentially related to cephalopods. The question this week is about reading. Proust and the Squid: the Story and Science of the Reading Brain by Maryanne Wolf examines the human tendency to read, and comes to some interesting conclusions. The basic argument of the book is that reading is not natural, and thus must be encouraged. With our society turning more and more digital, Wolf argues, reading becomes less and less important. Since reading is not instinctive our brains must rewire themselves to allow us to understand the printed word. It is an interesting book, although it is difficult to read, which struck me as a bit ironic. Personally, I am not worried that people are losing the ability to read. We will always need the printed word to tell us what is on tv.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

First Loss of the Season

The Washington Capitals lost their first game of the new season this afternoon. Admittedly, it was only a preseason game, but it was their first game since last April and if you are superstitious like me the first game played sets the stage for the rest of the year. Washington lost to Carolina 4-3 in overtime. The Caps played well for most of the game, but they fell apart when it counted: in sudden death. This is reminiscent of one of the Caps big problems last season, they lost games due to shoot-outs and sudden death. It was disappointing to see them still having the same problems this year. Still, Sunday's game was just an exhibition game. It counted for nothing, except perhaps karma. Washington was experimenting with their lines, and did not play some of their better players. The Hurricanes, on the other hand, did. So, pulling off a tie at the end of regulation is not a bad accomplishment.

Next up for the Capitals is a match against the Ottawa Senators in Ottawa. This will be a hard game to win if the Senators take the game seriously. The Senators have a strong team, and are quite capable of winning the East this season. The Caps will have their hands full with them. The game is on Thursday, 20 September in Ottawa at 1900 EDT. Sadly, it will not be on tv in the DC area.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

The 2007 Booker Prize Short List

Well, it has been a while since I have blogged anything. Life has been busy, work has been hectic, and I have been enjoying the last days of Summer here in Maryland. The Summer weather here is too hot and too humid, but in September things cool down a bit and we generally have a few weeks of truly pleasant temperatures. It was actually nice to walk to work this morning, and it has been nice to spend an evening without the drone of the air conditioner in the background.

As well as bringing cooler weather September brings the short list for the Man Booker prize. Here it is.

  • Darkmans by Nicola Barker
  • The Gathering by Anne Enright
  • The Reluctant Fundamentalist by Mohsin Hamid
  • Mister Pip by Lloyd Jones
  • On Chesil Beach by Ian McEwan
  • Animal's People by Indra Sinha

I have read The Reluctant Fundamentalist and On Chesil Beach, but the local library system does not have any of the other shortlisted books, and I am too cheap to buy them. Perhaps I will break down and buy Animal's People this weekend, if I make it to a bookstore.

The Reluctant Fundamentalist is one of the best books that I have read in quite a while. It is the story of a young Pakistani man in the US before, during, and after the terrorist attacks of 11 Sep 2001. The book tells of how a person who genuinely liked America slowly became radicalized. The story is written from an interesting point of view that could easily have become tedious, but Mohsin Hamid pulls it off well. I highly recommend reading this book. It is short, thought-provoking, and a very strong candidate for winning this year.

On Chesil Beach is Ian McEwan's contribution to literature for 2007, and I was very disappointed with it. The nomination was controversial since the book is less than 200 pages long and thus technically a novella, not a novel. However, I do not think much of this objection. A book should be long enough to tell the story, and no longer. If On Chesil Beach weighs in a few pages short of being a formal novel then I do not think that that should be held against it. My complaint with On Chesil Beach is that the story did not grab me. It felt like a gimmick that had been dragged out far too long. The book should have been a short story. By about fifty pages in I was bored with the characters and their dilemma. It was obvious what was going to happen, and I spent the last three quarters of the book waiting for the punch line. I do not think that this book belongs on the short list.

Monday, August 27, 2007

Baby Giant Squid

A fisherman caught a juvenile giant squid off the coast of Florida a few days ago. This is not the first immature giant squid that has been caught. Dr Steve O'Shea tried to rear giant squid larvae a few years ago. His creatures did not live long enough to grow into mature giant squid, which is probably good considering the size of tank that would be needed to hold them. However, the Florida find represents the first giant squid caught that is beyond the larval stage. Scientists estimate that it was about six months old when caught.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Are they Contenders?

It is only about three weeks until training camps start across the NHL. Like most sane sports fans I can hardly wait. August is definitely the horse latitudes of professional sports. All that is happening in Canada and the US is baseball, and we all know how boring baseball games are to watch. Football fans have the NFL's preseason to savour, but personally I find the NFL to be even worse than baseball. I am probably the only person in North America who did not know about the Michael Vick Affair until a few days ago. I just have no interest in the North American version of football.

So, I spend my Augusts looking forward to the day that players across the continent don their skates and start the rituals of NHL training camp. And, like most sports fans, I dream about the local hockey team and fantasize about their chances at winning the Stanley Cup. The Washington Capitals are in the middle of a serious bout of rebuilding. They came out of the Great Lock-Out as the worst team in the league, and have been struggling to improve since then. Fortunately, the Caps has paid attention to the basics, such as building a strong farm system, drafting well, and developing young players, and now their patience over the past two years is about to pay off.

"We've got the makings of being a very good team for a long time," said goalie Olie Kolzag in an interview with the Washington Post a few days ago, and I tend to agree with him. The Caps have signed several free agents over the Summer who have the potential to fill some significant gaps in the Caps' line-up. Michael Nylander, Tom Poti, and Viktor Kozlov were signed over the past couple of months and should fit in well. All three bring strong records and strong work ethics to the team. In addition regulars like Olie Kolzig and Alexander Ovechkin will be around for 2007-2008. The Caps did well in the first half of last season before falling apart after Christmas. I do not think that this will happen this season. The younger players will have learned from experience to pace themselves, and the new veterans will have the experience to guide the team through any mid-season slump. I am not expecting the Caps to win the Cup this season, but I would not be at all surprised to see them make a strong play-off run this year.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

My Shiny New Work Permit

My work permit came through the other day. I now have unlimited permission to work in the USA. This means that I am no longer tied to my current job as a contractor to NASA. It took about nine months for the application to be processed, and several more months before that for me to gather all the information that I needed to make the application. So now, I can quit my job and look for something better, assuming that I wanted to. I enjoy my work. It gets a bit tedious sometimes, but astronomy still thrills me. I am one of the lucky few who get to work at something that I love. One day, the dream will end, but I hope that that day does not come for a long time.

The next step is to get my permanent residence permit: the coveted Green Card. The final paperwork will be submitted next week, and then it is just a matter of waiting several more months for the government to decide whether or not I get to live in the US for as long as I like. The process has taken years so far (with an interruption due to to my divorce). But now, the end is in sight, and that is a great relief. One way or the other, my future will be decided in the next few months.

Saturday, August 11, 2007


I realized the other day that I have not had much to drink for the past month or so. This was not a conscious decision, but the result of a series of events that conspired to keep me away from alcohol. It is Summer, so I have been doing a lot more out of the house in the evening. Also, my children are visiting for the Summer, so I tend to be spending more of my evenings reading bedtime stories, which leaves less time for a glass of wine and a good book.

I have a bit of an ambivalent attitude towards alcohol. A few years ago, when I separated from my wife, I stopped drinking for several months, primarily because money was short and ten dollars a week for beer or wine was an unnecessary luxury. However, part of the reason was just to prove to myself that I could do it. My ex-wife was an alcoholic. She never admitted it when we were married, and I was living in denial of her problem too. However, when I moved out I realized that I had spent eight years with someone who's idea of an evening in was to disappear into the bedroom with a bottle of wine. I have heard that since the divorce she has joined AA, and has been sober for about a year and a half. This may even be true, although my ex has a tendency to stretch the truth, often beyond its breaking point.

After several months of self-imposed temperance I started having the occasional drink: a glass of wine on a date, a beer while watching a soccer game, the occasional drink in the evening. I found that I enjoyed those drinks, but had not missed them. Over the past two years I have probably averaged three drinks a week, and over the past month I have probably had no more than three drinks. Stopping and starting drinking is a matter of choice. Fortunately that is a choice that I seem to have no trouble making. For that, I am very grateful.

Thursday, August 09, 2007

2007 Man Booker Prize Longlist

The longlist for the 2007 Man Booker Prize has been released. Here it is.

  • Darkmans by Nicola Barker
  • Self Help by Edward Docx
  • The Gift of Rain by Tan Twan Eng
  • The Gathering by Anne Enright
  • The Reluctant Fundamentalist by Mohsin Hamid
  • The Welsh Girl by Peter Ho Davies
  • Mister Pip by Lloyd Jones
  • Gifted by Nikita Lalwani
  • On Chesil Beach by Ian McEwan
  • What Was Lost by Catherine O'Flynn
  • Consolation by Michael Redhill
  • Animal's People by Indra Sinha
  • Winnie & Wolf by A N Wilson

Nothing really jumps out at me on this list. There is the inevitable contribution from Ian McEwan. He seems to get nominated every year, even though he is a bit of an overrated author. Atonement was a good book, but most of his other recent efforts have been average. I have not read On Chesil Beach yet, so I will reserve judgement on whether or not Mr McEwan deserves his nomination this year.

Stay tuned to this space for reviews of the longlist books as I read them. Given my various Summer commitments I expect to make it through one or two of the nominees...

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Octopus Day

The eighth of August is Octopus Day. It started a few years ago, and has slowly been growing in popularity ever since. Today there must be at least five or six people who celebrate it, which is better than the four people who celebrated when it first started. Octopus Day is a day to appreciate octopuses. In a perfect world we would do this every day of the year, but in the real world mundane things like work, meals, and getting the car serviced tend to get in the way. On August 8, however, we should all take a break from the details of our lives and give thanks that such a perfect animal as the octopus happened to evolve at the same time that we are on this planet.

We celebrated Octopus Day in a relatively low-key way this year. There was the handing out of toy octopuses to the children, and then I slipped octopus-shaped cookies into their lunch bags. Both of them were ecstatic when I picked them up after work. It is amazing what a simple cookie can do to the mood of an eight-year-old, not to mention a four-year-old, particularly when it has an odd shape.

Sunday, August 05, 2007

The Capitals Training Camp

The Washington Capitals 2007 training camp is scheduled to open on 14 Sep 2007 at the brand new Kettler Capitals Iceplex. This is the Caps first year in their new training facility, and it will be interesting to see if it has any affect on the team. Training camps are usually rather boring for all but the most hardcore fans, but they are a critical part of the preparations for the new season. For a team training camp is a chance to evaluate new players (and the veterans), and to try out new lines, tactics, and strategies. For the fan training camp is a great opportunity to evaluate where individual players should rank in fantasy leagues.

Capitals training camp will be open to the public, and there will be no charge to get it. For those of you who, like me, are unfortunate enough to live in the Washington, DC area the Kettler Capitals Iceplex can be reached by Metro. Take the Orange Line to the Ballston-MU station. From there, one can walk to the complex. Exit the Ballston station and proceed straight ahead through the doors under the sign “Ballston Metro Center”. Stay right and go up the escalator. Go straight through the glass doors and across the covered bridge. Follow the signs to Ballston Common Mall and Regal Cinema. Stay right and go through the glass doors and across the second covered bridge. Enter Ballston Common Mall and proceed to the garage elevators. I'll see you there.

Thursday, August 02, 2007

A Day at the Beach

I just got back from two days at the beach with my children. We decided that, since I do not see enough of my children, we should make the most of our Summer together and drive to the beach for a couple of days. The time was mostly spent riding inner tubes in the ocean, watching my eldest daughter fearlessly leap into waves that were bigger than she is, and braving rides at the little fairground there. We also picked up some dresses for the girls. All in all, 'twas a great way to spend two hot Summer days, and a great excuse not to go to work.

Over the past two years I have been working on learning how to swim. Two and a half years ago I could barely swim from one side of a pool to the other--the short way. Now, I routinely do quarter-mile swims after work. On our little beach vacation I learned that I am now able to swim in the ocean when my feet can no longer touch the sand. My swimming has become strong enough that I can swim back to shore even when the undertow wants to drag me out and drown me like a kitten in a sack. To be realistic, it was not a strong undertow, but two years ago I would not have been willing to go in much above my knees. My transition from human to squid is proceeding ahead of schedule.

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Off to the Beach

This is just a brief post before I leave for the beach. I was originally planning to write something about the people who are vying to become the Democratic Party's presidential candidate in the 2008 US presidential election. However, when I started writing I realized that it would take me a while to organize what I want to say, so I will postpone that discussion until later. The grist of what I intended to say is that the Democratic slate of candidates is probably far weaker than most Democratic supporters realize, and that it is not obvious to me that the Republicans will not just walk all over whoever is eventually selected.

And now, off to the beach for a couple of days in the Sun. With luck, the weather will be nice and the water will be warm.

Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Are we Smarter than Our Parents?

I have just finished reading the book Everything Bad is Good for You, a book that argues that modern pop culture has become so complex that it requires a good deal of intelligence to comprehend it. The basic idea is that today's tv shows, games, and culture are significantly more complex than their counterparts of a generation ago were, and therefore people need to put more brain power into understanding them than our parents did. The book makes a convincing case that this is so. Steven Johnson shows how, on average, popular culture is more complex than it used to be, and that that is driving intelligence to higher levels.

This got me thinking. Much of pop culture is a wasteland. There are some aspects of it that are challenging, complex, and require considerable smarts to decipher, but on the whole pop culture is a waste of time. On the other hand, there are two aspects of modern society that are rapidly becoming more complex, and that all of us have to deal with on a daily basis. Perhaps these, more than pop culture, are contributing to a general increase in some forms of intelligence.

The first is our jobs. Over the past two generations western society has moved from being based on manual labour to being based on highly-skilled labour. Sixty years ago anyone in good physical shape could find work as a labourer, and be reasonably well paid for it. Today one typically needs a skill to get even low-paying jobs, and those skills can take years to learn. Today white collar employees outnumber blue collar ones. A high school diploma is barely enough to get a job at a fast food joint. If we want a career we need to train, and often train hard. Then when we find work it often involves using a considerable amount of intelligence to do the job. This is not just true for white collar jobs. Working on a road crew, for example, requires learning how to use sophisticated machinery. Being a plumber involves learning byzantine regulations. Today's workplace tends to require far smarter employees than did yesterday's.

The second aspect is how we get to work. Two generations ago most people either walked or took public transportation. Today, almost everyone drives. Driving takes skill. Anyone can learn to operate a car in a few weeks. But it takes about twenty years for a person to become a really good driver, as evidenced by the fact that crash rates tend to plateau for drivers in their mid-thirties. A driver has to keep track of many things at once, and do a good job of predicting what other drivers will do. Failure to do this can result in death. Most people in the US and Canada spend at least an hour a day driving. And whether they realize it or not their brains are working in high gear while they do. Roads are far more crowded than they were two generations ago, and cars are faster. The complexity of driving has increased over the past sixty years, and so has the intelligence needed to drive.

So, the average person today faces far more mental challenges on a daily basis than the average person did thirty or sixty years ago. Does this mean that we are more intelligent than our parents or grandparents? In some sense yes, it does. It takes far more skill to earn a living today than it did in 1947. It takes far more skill to drive a car today than it did in 1947. Our problem solving and analytical skills probably are stronger than our parents' were. However, today we tend to live in smaller social units than our parents and grandparents did. Extended families today are people that we see for a few days a year. Sixty years ago they were people that we saw several times a week. When we drive to work we do not talk to the person next to us on the bus. In fact, it is easy today to go an entire day without talking to anyone outside of our homes or offices. Our social circles are smaller than they were a generation or two ago, and that can adversely affect our social intelligence. So, we gain one form of smarts at the cost of another form.

Monday, July 30, 2007

Giant Squid Music

This is just a brief post about a band with a great name: Giant Squid. I am not a big fan of their music, but I think that we should all support any band that names itself after a cephalopod; so, please buy this album.

Sunday, July 29, 2007

The Caps 2007 Preseason Schedule

The Washington Capitals released their 2007 preseason schedule a couple of weeks ago. It is not a great line-up for the fans. The Caps will play seven preseason games. Four of them will be on the road, and only three of them will be at home. Those three home games are against Carolina, Ottawa, and Philadelphia. With the exception of Ottawa none of those teams are very good right now, and they certainly are not interesting to watch play. This will make it hard to generate any sort of preseason buzz in DC.

DC is not a good place to be an NHL hockey team. The local fan base is small, and consists mostly of expatriate Canadians, like me. The last time that I went to a Caps game I was cheering for their Canadian opponents, and sitting right behind me were several people who had just moved here from Vancouver, and were cheering for the Canadian team. Hockey just isn't on most people's radar in this town. Hockey isn't on the media's radar either. The two local daily papers (one of which is owned by the Moonies) give minimum coverage of hockey, and the local tv and radio virtually ignore it. There is one local channel that shows Caps games, but hardly anyone watches.

What the Capitals have done by having such a lame preseason schedule is ensure that there will be little or no media interest, or fan interest in the preseason games. Granted, preseason games are usually dull since teams use them to try out new players and experiment with lines that no sane coach would play in a game that mattered, but for fans these games are the first hockey that we see in months. They are the mouthful of water after crawling through the Summer desert. They are the eagerly awaited harbingers of the new season. We the fans want to see good hockey in September, not games against teams that simply don't matter.

The full preseason schedule for the Caps is

Date Victim
Sun, 16 Sep, 1500 at Carolina
Thu, 20 Sep, 1900 at Ottawa
Sat, 22 Sep, 1930 at Tampa Bay
Tue, 25 Sep, 1900 Carolina
Wed, 26 Sep, 1900 at Philadelphia
Fri, 28 Sep, 1900 Philadelphia
Sun, 30 Sep, 1700 Ottawa

Saturday, July 28, 2007

The Tour de France and Drugs

So the Tour de France is having some serious drug problems. I imagine that there are perhaps ten other people in North America who care. Which is too bad because the Tour de France is perhaps the most gruelling sporting event on the planet. Anyone who thinks that that competitive cycling is easy simply has no credibility in my book. Competitive cycling, like most sports, has rampant abuse of steroids and other drugs. And this year the Tour organizers decided that they are going to take a hard line against anyone who is caught doping. They have already disqualified several riders, including Michael Rasmussen. If you don't know who he is you really have no right calling yourself a sports fan. Even if you are not a big cycling fan Rasmussen is one of the most recognizable athletes in the world. For him to be caught doping is a very big deal.

So, the Tour de France is having some serious drug problems. What is to be done about it. To start with the doping charges have cast a pretty long shadow over this year's race. How much does the race mean if some of the best cyclists in the world are disqualified? Perhaps it is time to stop worrying about athletes doping. It is, at some level, an admission of defeat, but it is also an acceptance of reality. Drugs are already a Neddy-No-No amongst sports regulators, and many athletes simply don't care. If anything, the use of performance enhancing substances is increasing. Allowing their use would simply be accepting the world as it really is. Athletes have always gone to extremes to gain a competitive edge. Runners are known to breathe pure oxygen before races. Some have gone as far as having blood transfusions when running at high altitude to increase the oxygen content in their blood. Special diets (of every imaginable type) are common amongst athletes. Vitamins and dietary supplements are widely used. Where does one draw the line between a legal and illegal substance?

Sooner or later the sporting community is going to have to have to deal with this issue. The current policy of zero tolerance, inspired largely by America's idiotic (and disastrous) war on drugs,  is not working. Let's replace it with a use at your own risk policy.  This is not an ideal solution, but would it be any worse than the mess that we are in now?