Just got back from spending a little time at a local bar and grill with the badminton crew, which was fun. It's one of those immutable laws of nature that a few "tasty beverages" brings out a certain risqué sense of humor in people. Unfortunately I had read el nanO's post on poutine recently and had to order one for old times' sake. I should have bought some heart attack insurance with it, and to make matters worse it wasn't even that good. Oh well, can't win them all.
Saw the Narnia movie last weekend. I hadn't read the book, but I probably walked by it in the library a thousand times as a kid (probably not even an exaggeration). Not sure why I always dismissed it (I'm not much into fantasy, I guess that is probably the reason) but I very much enjoyed the movie regardless. I gave it an 8 on IMDB (-1 for talking beavers). From what I've heard it's fairly faithful to the book and overall the effects were terrific and the story moved along at a good pace even though it was longish at 2 hours 20 minutes. Tilda Swinton did a great job as the, uh, titular witch (that would be a good name for a punk band).
Have been working on the Sonic Normal and have pretty much gotten it down pat. I'm not at near-100% success rate yet but it is getting more consistent and I can probably do it 7 or 8 times out of 10. The trick still feels a bit forced, even when it's successful, but that will improve with time.
Well, I haven't posted since March, so I figured I would do some random rambling. A couple of my friends have launched blogs recently (Klopzi's Mediocre Poker and Evening Tipple) so I guess I have some catching up to do.
Installed Ubuntu a couple of days ago. The whole installation process was very easy. Installed GnuCash and some other software. I want to get back into the good habit of using a personal finance manager. I used a very old version of Microsoft Money for a few years, but due to a meltdown of my old computer that slipped. I think this will be a good New Year's resolution.
I need to find some new blogging software. I like b2evolution but I need a fresh start. There are thousands upon thousands of spam comments in the database and it's not practical to delete them all. I might give Wordpress a shot, we'll see.
Added a new page to my website on dexterity tricks. And I'm practising my poker chip shuffle with 10 chips in each stack as I type this...
Might as well do a quick movie review summary of the last three movies I've seen while I'm here:
* Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. 8. Enjoyable, but we've seen this movie three times before.
* Walk The Line. 9. Terrific performances from Joaquin Phoenix and Reese Witherspoon. Highly recommended.
* A History of Violence. 8. A strange movie by a strange director. Close to being a classic but too implausible.
I'm still in Toronto and it's getting stickier and more humid by the day, it seems. The traffic is somewhat insane here, it seems stepping into the car entails a bare minimum of a half-hour journey, between finding parking and dodging the other cars and pedestrians. If I lived here, I think having a car would be more or less unnecessary.
I went to the Yankees - Blue Jays game last night. The home nine (ten, I suppose, given the DH (which I like)) lost a close game, as closer-if-not-by-name Jason Frasor gave up three runs. The Yankees brought on the witch and a quick three up, three down ended the game. I have to confess, I was actually kind of hoping to see the Blue Jays fall behind at the end, so I would get the chance to see Mariano Rivera pitch.
I went to the Ontario Science Center today and the ROM yesterday. I was a little underwhelmed by both, perhaps partly because we are spoiled by such good museums in Ottawa, and I am no longer the optimal height for a lot of the exhibits. Also both buildings were under some fairly extensive renovations.
It's been ages since I took some planned time off work (somehow the week that were off after the great blackout of August didn't count, since one never knew when one was returning to work). I don't have any huge plans, just tidy up the house a bit and maybe get a couple of new pieces of furniture, and generally take it easy for what should be a pretty hectic few months at work coming up.
I added a couple of "cheat sheets" to my Rubik's Cube page (Solution #1, Solution #2). These are one-page reminders with the moves. I'm not sure why I didn't do this earlier, since they are proving to be reasonably popular. After having been up for about 12 hours, they have received around 60 page views together.
I've been playing quite a bit of Deus Ex: Invisible War. I'm definitely getting into the game more now that the graphics issues have been resolved. I'm trying to make a couple of FAQ documents about the game, but I'm still a long ways from any sort of completion. The game feels a bit "dumbed-down" from the original Deus Ex. Everything seems a bit simpler, probably because it was geared for console gamers as well as PC gamers. Also, the game has crashed on me a few times, sometimes requiring a reboot, and this is after I installed the 1.1 patch (which is critical to getting a good gaming experience with DX2). Still, I would recommend the game to others, as long as you have a reasonably powerful PC.
I think that almost everyone at some point wonders: "What impression do other people have of me?" This isn't a big concern of mine generally, but it's interesting to hear unsolicited input, or to try to deduce this sort of thing from interactions with other people.
An overall impression is hard to quantify, but something happens to me all the time in public, which is that strangers always ask me for directions. It's hard to estimate how often, but I'm sure it happens to me at least 20 times a year. It's quite incredible. I work downtown, and am out a fair bit, but no more than the average person, so I don't think it's a matter of having more opportunities for direction-giving. The last example of this came tonight, when I was wandering about on the University of Ottawa campus, ironically somewhat lost myself, trying to find the Ottawa Perl Mongers meeting, which was being held at a new location. Knowing the approximate location of about three buildings on campus, I directed the guy to one of the apparently hundreds of campus maps.
I'm not too sure what it is about me that elicits this behavior. I generally dress conservatively (my closet contains a rather drab collection of blues, greys and blacks) and presumably I don't look threatening, or people wouldn't be approaching me. I suppose there might be a safety issue in looking *too* approachable, but (knock on wood) I haven't had any reasons to worry about that sort of thing. Any thoughts on this, feel free to post a comment. "Knowledge of directions" seems like an awfully difficult thing to convey by dress or appearance alone, other than perhaps by blending into the crowd appearance-wise, indicating a comfort with the surroundings.
Another thing that I notice about interactions with strangers is that they often tell me that I look like someone else. I'm not too sure how to interpret that, other than I presumably don't have any incredibly distinct or unique features. No green hair, tattoos or piercings for me.
Anyway, that's enough introspection for me for a few years...
I installed my thermostat today, which was a success (*knocks on wood*). The "installs easily" comment on the packaging turned out to be true, at least for me, and not just something thrown in there by the marketing department. It turned out to be really straightforward, just a matter of removing the wires from the old one, and hooking them up to the new one. The only minor negative is that the thermostat box is a little narrower than the previous one, so it's possible to see an outline of where the previous one was. This, however, is not of major concern to me.
It was very satisfying that it all worked when I turned the power back on in the house. Intellectually I know that there is no reason why it shouldn't have worked, but anything electrical is firmly in the realm of "magic" for me, so it was definitely a nice surprise that it worked. My next plan for the house is to plant some grass in the next week or so. My backyard isn't looking all that great, so it would be a good idea to do that before the fall.
I set up an RSS feeds page for an experimental feed I am generating from the Wikipedia Recent Announcements page. If you use Wikipedia and you have a news aggregator then I encourage you to check it out. If you are not familiar with Wikipedia, it is a free encyclopedia that anyone can edit. It is growing rapidly and is getting more popular by the day. I wrote an article about it a year and a half or so ago, however the piece seems a bit out of date now.
At work, we have a weekly 50/50 draw, the proceeds of which go to an annual Christmas party. I didn't go last year but I'll usually buy a few tickets for this sort of thing. I have been playing for a while (and won $57 last week), but I decided to analyze the draw a little more closely to see what the actual odds are. There are three ways to purchase tickets, 1 for $1 ($1/ticket), 3 for $2 ($0.67/ticket), and 25 for $5 ($0.20/ticket). As the name of the draw suggests, half of the money collected is given as the prize for winning the draw.
First of all, I asked the people selling the tickets what the typical distribution of ticket buyers was, in order to help me estimate the odds in winning. It turned out that most ticket buyers buy 3 and that there are typically about 5-10 people who buy 25. A similar number, 5-10 buy 1 ticket. There are usually about 60-80 people buying tickets. Then, I made a spreadsheet to calculate the expected values. As an example, if 10 people buy 1 ticket, 60 people buy 3 tickets and 10 people buy 25 tickets, then the expected return, is about -80% for buying 1 ticket, -69% for 3 tickets, and +2% for buying 25 tickets. It's somewhat amazing that in a lottery giving back only 50% of the prize money, that there can actually be a positive expectation. Of course, this is due to the deep discount given on buying 25 tickets at a time.
With most gambling opportunities, any time you can make a bet that is favorable it is in your interest to do so as much as possible. Not true for this lottery though -- the odds get better for the 25-ticket buyers the fewer of them there are, and the odds get worse for the 1- or 3-ticket buyers the more of them there are. This leads to the somewhat surprising conclusion that for those of us buying 25 tickets, buying an extra 25 tickets actually decreases our expected value. Possibly, even from a positive expectation to a negative expectation.
So how is this possible, you ask? The key ratio to look at is the prize money divided by the number of tickets sold. If the cost of your ticket is less than this figure, then your expectation is positive, and if it's more, your expectation is negative. Each person who buys a ticket makes this ratio a little bit closer to half of the cost of their ticket, due to the fact that it's a 50/50 draw. And, for most practical numbers of ticket-buyers, it turns out that the ratio is usually between 0.10 and 0.33 (i.e. half of the average cost of 25 tickets and of 3 tickets), therefore any marginal purchase of 1 or 3 tickets helps everybody, and the marginal purchase of 25 tickets hurts everybody.
These calculations do not apply to lotteries such as 6/49 or Super 7 since all tickets purchased cost the same amount. In this case, the expectation cannot change as it does in the 50/50 draw as discussed. And of course, the expectation is always negative. Buying more tickets may increase the absolute amount lost or won, but it does not change the expectation per dollar wagered.
It's been a few years since I've had any formal education, so I thought I'd write a little bit about a few classes that were actually useful, in retrospect.
My Grade 6 Math teacher managed to get through an incredible amount of math (at least, incredible for that age) with an easy method. He continually reinforced the Fundamental Theorem of Arithmetic (without ever scaring us off by actually calling it that), which states that every positive integer can be written in exactly one way as the product of prime numbers (i.e. each number has a unique prime factorization).
Grade 8 Math was very inspiring as well. Our teacher had us playing all these different mathematical games and doing little puzzles which made math actually interesting. Everything seemed to be a race, a contest or some sort of challenge. In retrospect, it might have been intimidating for some of the kids who weren't doing well in the class, but I enjoyed that class tremendously.
Grade 9 Typing remains the most useful class I've taken, in that I'm a computer programmer and there are certainly advantages to being able to type 85 words a minute, as I discovered I could do in an online typing test. I think the most I ever got in that class was 65 words a minute, but that was on an electronic typewriter and the computer keyboards are a lot more responsive.
My fourth-year Computer Graphics course was one of those courses that I didn't like much at the time, but that I learned a lot from. This was a course where there was some real programming in a real language (C++), not one of the academic languages like Turing (a Pascal-like language) or PEP-5 (a simulated assembly language) that we had been using before. I remember staying up very late in the lab trying to finish my projects, some of which worked and some of which didn't. This was definitely a concrete step in the direction to becoming a programmer.
Thinking about it, there isn't really one class from high school that stood out for me. I enjoyed high school, but I think I learned more in extra-curricular activities, such as playing Reach for the Top, basketball for a couple of years and badminton for all five years. After a few days at university, it starts to set in just how easy high school actually was.
University was good, but I find that I do my best learning when I have one thing to focus on. You know what they say: schoolwork, social life, sleep: pick two. I think I picked two-thirds of all three, but that's not really my point :-) My point is that optimal learning doesn't happen when your focus is split among five different subjects.
I keep thinking about taking some more courses in something or other. I'd like to take some Economics at some point, and perhaps some more Computer Science classes.
This winter has seemed kind of long, for some reason. Actually, it's pretty clear, here in Ottawa we've had something like 20 days below -20 degrees Celsius. A lot of those were -30 or worse with the windchill. In the latter part of the winter, we got a good amount of snow, and there is something like six feet of the stuff next to my driveway.
I've been fairly inactive lately, other than a few games of badminton. I really should take up an outdoor sport but I don't know what. My skating isn't good enough to enjoy hockey, skiing just doesn't appeal to me, and virtually everybody that I know who has tried snowboarding has ended up with some fairly painful-sounding injury or other.
Tears of the Sun is the new Bruce Willis war flick in which he leads a small group of Navy Seals in the rescue of a number of Nigerians fleeing from some rebels. Overall the movie was nothing I hadn't seen before, but the pacing was good and Willis carried the movie well. I had some issues with the realism of the military scenes but they didn't detract too much from the movie as a whole.
I don't know where to begin with Magnolia. I had been assured by so many people that I was going to like it. Maybe I was expecting too much, maybe I just didn't get it, but the result was that I didn't enjoy it all that much. I didn't like the strange ending, and I found it slow and really dreary a lot of the time. I recognize that the acting was good, and the directing, and all of the individual elements were fine. It just didn't add up to a movie I really was interested in or cared about.
If you have a minute, check out the Which political stereotype are you? quiz. Not too surprisingly to me, I came out as a Libertarian. Now to go find a libertarian country to go live in. Oh right, there aren't any.
I've been playing a lot of Deus Ex lately. An amazing game, even if it is three years old. It's a first-person shooter game with a surprisingly complex storyline, one that really hooks you in, like Grand Theft Auto 3. Decisions you make and which missions you complete have an effect on the rest of the game. I'm playing on the "Easy" difficulty level, so it isn't too hard. One of the really neat parts of the game is how you can interact with a large number of items in the game universe. I'm not having too much trouble with the game, having played a number of first-person shooters, so learning the maps and finding the good weapons is proving to be most of the effort.
I watched the Academy Award pick for Best Picture in 1998 last night, Shakespeare in Love. I ended up giving it an 8, in a fit of generosity, due to a strong final half hour and interesting concept. The first three quarters of the movie I found very slow, and the dialogue seemed almost pained at times. It was as if the screen writers were trying to throw in as many clever little Shakespeare references as possible. The movie was one big in-joke, but it wasn't all that funny. I don't think I laughed out loud once, which is not good for a movie advertised as a comedy. As an aside, this is my problem with comedies in general, which is more or less, that if you don't find them funny, there's rarely anything to fall back on, like plot, action, atmosphere, etc. I suppose this movie was a slight exception -- I tend to like period movies, and there was just enough plot to let me give the movie an above-average rating.
Finally, I bought a copy of Microsoft Money 2003 to try to organize my finances. I have been getting a bit disorganized lately, so I figured it was time to record things a bit better. The software looks really slick, although there's a myriad of features that look intidimidating at first. There are a whole load of cool graphs and charts that you can create, which appeals to me. There are also a number of features that are integrated with the Internet, so you can download bank statements and stock quotes and so forth to your software. One slightly irritating fact was that the software was specifically labelled "Canadian Edition", but there appear to be many U.S.-specific things, such as references to American retirement plans, and large listings of American banks by default.
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