Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Skyscrapers and Sports


Today I learned of the national pastime of Columbia, a game in which players throw a metal disc 60' towards a slope of mud in the middle of which is a ring lined with explosives.  The game is called tejo (Pronounced "tey-ho", remember that "j" becomes "h" in Spanish) and apparently is played by virtually everyone that lives in Columbia.  The goal of game is to throw the metal disc and hit the tejo, which are triangles of paper lined with a bit of gunpowder.  Players score points for successfully hitting a tejo and getting the gunpowder inside to explode.  Additional points are awarded to players who manage to land their disc inside of the ring after causing the tejo to explode.

Any competition that involves exploding gunpowder sounds fun to me

Here is a link to a good video on tejo produced by the Washington Post, which, sadly, I can't easily embed here.

Here is another good video on tejo from the people at Lonely Planet:

¡Me Gusta!

Much like bowling, bocce, or horseshoes, the game itself is often little more than an excuse for the players to drink beer.  There are also plenty of YouTube videos out there that show that the official rules are often thrown out the window as players move just a few steps away from the target to increase the chances of their throws resulting in the satisfying pop of exploding gunpowder.  Still, the basic elements of the game remain the same: people throw metal discs at a slope of mud in the hope of setting off a small amount of explosives.  Sounds fun. 

Torre Bicentenario:

Continuing the south of the border theme, I came across a description of the Torre Bicentenario today.  The tower, a quartz clad skyscraper 984' tall built to celebrate the bicentennial of Mexico, would be the tallest building in all of Mexico, if the builders ever get around to finishing the thing.


Thursday, August 18, 2011

Let The Randomness Commence

My Hero:

Warren Buffet is my new hero because he wrote a statement titled "Stop Coddling the Super Rich" in which he claims that he would like the United States government to tax him and the other super wealthy more in order to make America a better place to live.  Go Warren!

No, I don't know of a bird named Kevin.
I'm fairly certain that Paradise Falls is a fictional place.
Does anyone have a question that does not relate to the movie Up?

Here is the full text of Buffett's opinion piece.

Fancy Book Learnin':

I'm tempted to sign up for the free online Stanford Artificial Intelligence (A.I.) course that starts on October 10, 2011 because it might be a way to interact with intelligent people.  Actual A.I. strikes me as being a pipe dream but researching the subject might lead me to learn something useful.  Here is what the New York Times has to say about the course.  Here is a link to the course web site.

Come with me if you want to learn

The New York Times article also references the Khan Academy web site that features thousands of video tutorials on all sorts of smart things as the inspiration for the pair of professors that will be putting together the Stanford A.I. course.  From what little poking around on the site I've done, the videos seem to focus primarily on covering math and science for middle school age folks.  I might watch some of these to fill in the gaps left by my public school education at some point in the future.

Also, Stanford is offering a free online course that provides an introduction to database software, which also sounds intriguing.

Quest for the Perfect Coffee Shop:

I've begun a quest to find Southern California's best coffee shop.  I'm trying to find the following:
  • Free WiFi (a must have)
  • Good view (the ocean, beach goers, a park, an urban location if there is either a lot of foot traffic or a dramatic view)   
  • Upgraded furniture inside (granite, comfy sofas, wrought iron, etc.)
  • Employees that don't bother me if I want to post up with my computer/ notebook/ book for hours
  • Oh, and coffee that tastes good would be nice
Adbusters has long written about the power of coffee shops as a gathering point for individuals looking to create a positive change in the way the world work.  Perhaps it's time for me to find a coffee shop.

Updated on July 7, 2012: 

Sir, you're doing it wrong:

Missing the point of mobile computing

I was a little shocked to see this well dressed man (note his white collar shirt, tie and what can't be seen in this photo is his suit jacket that matches his pants) walk into Starbucks carrying a bulging backpack.  He sat down and started breaking out all of the above.  My first reaction is that when you're wearing a suit you should probably be able to just use your smartphone these days and ask someone else at your office to do anything that requires a physical keyboard.  Apparently, this guy didn't get that memo. I think the craziest thing about his setup is the fact that he plugged a full sized keyboard into his laptop at a coffee shop.  If the built-in keyboard and trackpad don't work, why not just buy another computer I thought.  How is it that he seems to have the money to buy a decent suit but not $300 for a netbook?

End update

Hello Little Boys and Little Girls:

Yesterday, I saw several dozen kids playing on a basketball court below where the cardio equipment at the gym where I workout overlooks.  Before I began getting my heart rate up, the kids had already covered the surface of the court in chalk drawings that resembled a mind map or visual outline with circles and squares connected by lines.  Inside each of the circles and squares the children had written words- simple labels of locations or results.

The children had drawn and labeled a "Mountain" connected by a line 
labeled "Rope Bridge" to a circle labeled "City" with a line drawn to a jagged
edged object with the word "Dynamite" inside.  Coming off of the mountain in
another direction was an oval labeled "Cave"

Looking at the court it was impossible for me to determine where the game/ story that the children had been telling/ playing began.

I would have liked to have taken a photo of the court with my cell phone but the thought of having to explain to the Director of the kids summer activity program or someone's parent why I was snapping photos of their children prevented me from doing so.

What struck me about the children's drawings were the similarities between the structure of what the children were doing and the structure of links on the internet.  The choose-your-own-adventure style of fiction that merged storytelling with game play renewed my interest in a project that I've been gathering material for during the course of the last several years.  I'm now thinking of pushing forward with publishing a choose-your own-adventure style fictional story online.  I'm planning to set the story in the contemporary world and to take advantage of the capability of the internet to transmit text, photos and video in order to tell what I hope will be a compelling story.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

The Death Penalty and the Start of NFL Football

A Reason to Live:

The NFL kicks off a new season today!

It feels a little like this

Amazingly, of the five NFL games taking place today the only one that is being nationally televised is the game that I care about the most.  At 5 p.m. PDT the San Diego Chargers will host the Seattle Seahawks.  While this is only a preseason game and even though I expect that the starters will play very limited minutes given the shortened training camp resulting from the prolonged  labor negotiation, I'm thrilled.
Before you say anything negative, remember that Picasso made 
a lot of money from abstract art.  This is from my 
incomprehensible period.

Give Him a Pistol with One Shot and the Chance to do the Right Thing:

At long last, the corrupt asshole who abused his power as a Pennsylvania judge will finally be sentenced today in Scranton.

For those of you would aren't up on this case, former Judge Mark Ciavarella was convicted in the "Cash for Kids" scandal.  Basically, the State of Pennsylvania thought it would be a good idea to contract out to a private company the task of jailing kids under the age of 18 who committed crimes.  Once this company had a financial incentive to put kids in jail, they conspired with Judge Ciavarella, who was illegally paid nearly one million dollars from the private jailing company, to place any and every child that came in front of him for sentencing in their facility no matter how minor their crime.

One kid sentenced for marijuana possession never got over the shock of being tossed in jail.  His Mother, Sandy Fonzo, claims that his suicide was a direct result of Ciavarella throwing him in jail for what should have been a slap on the wrist.  Here she is confronting Ciavarella on the steps of the courthouse immediately following his being found guilty.  Skip to 1:01 on this video to hear the boy's Mother:

I would have thought that for his own safety he would
have been jailed immediately following the guilty verdict.
Shockingly, for the last six months after being convicted,
Ciavarella has been free while he awaits sentencing.

One retired school teacher had her barn and another building burned down by a pair of kids that were sentenced by Ciavarella.  After he was found guilty of accepting bribes in exchange for issuing detention sentences, the Supreme Court ruled that everyone who Ciavarella sentenced would have their convictions overturned.  This left the 100 or so people that lost property to the small percentage of those Ciavarella sentenced that actually deserved to be locked up shit outta luck.  In this case, the teacher estimated her loses at $173,000, which insurance will not cover because it was ruled as arson and therefore, they claim, up to her to recoup her loses from the person responsible.  Originally the two kids that committed the arson were told to make restitution to her but since their convictions were thrown out this woman has to bend over and take it.  The state of PA has authorized two $1,500 checks, one for each of the two arsonists, to cover her $173,000 loss.  Here is the article.

I sincerely believe that Mark Ciavarella deserves to spend the rest of his life in prison.

Updated August 15, 2011: Ciavarella was sentenced to 28 years in prison.  Hopefully that means he will die in prison.

TL;DR: The NFL is back!  The NFL is back!  For me and millions of other American football fans today is like Christmas morning when you were a small child, plus a birthday all wrapped up in a lengthy hug from a hot member of the opposite sex.  I'm a little excited.

Also, a Judge who abused his power is going to be sent to prison but for how long?

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Dog Sitting

I recently dog sat for a woman that grew up with my Mother.  She just so happened to be traveling back to visit her Mother in Memphis, TN and wanted someone to look after her two Chesapeak Bay Retrievers while she was away.

I setup camp in her home the first night.  A VGA cord and male to male 3.5 mm audio cord brought the video and audio from my Asus EEE 1000HE netbook to her flat panel LCD TV.  With a wireless mouse I was able to navigate around the computer from the comfort of her recliner.  Sadly, she didn't have wireless internet.  I was able to survive by using the painfully slow Verizon cellular data network to access the internet but only just barely.  I did manage to get around to viewing the movies I have been putting off watching.  I alternated between these videos, a handful of educational type podcasts that I had been putting off watching and regular TV.  I also hit play on a slideshow of the funny images I have saved on my hard drive and let that run in the background while I listened to music.

I watched Exit Through the Gift Shop, which despite all the hype didn't live up to my expectations.  If you're into watching young artsy types do rebellious things I suggest Bum Fights Volume 1.  Yes it's offensive, rude violent, destructive and appeals to those who are into drinking, drug using and disfiguring violence.  Bum Fights makes a documentary about guys who spend their time pasting Andre the Giant's image on the side of a building after bed time seem tame.  The Bum Fights videos certainly brought more questions to my mind than watching Space Invader post 8-bit video game monsters on a wall in a public space.  The guys that produced Bum Fights offered homeless guys beer in exchange for facing off in what amounts to outdoor boxing matches.  This made me wonder what is different between what they were doing and an official, licensed boxing match or a mixed martial arts fight, the kind that takes place virtually all the time and s broadcast everyday on TV for our amusement.  What is different from what these kids were doing with their video camera and the promise of alcohol and what Dana White does for the UFC?  Why is White in charge of a billion dollar company and the kids that produced this video the subject of criminal charges?

I also watched (horror movie).  While I enjoyed a few of the "nau-my-god" moments when spooky things appeared right behind one of the characters, I just didn't find the supernatural premise all that imaginative and the special effects left a lot to be desired.  They made this movie as a supernatural thriller, not a horror movie.  Since there was never any real blood and guts the underdeveloped fire faced villian didn't freighten me.