Friday, November 29, 2002

Things forgotten from yesterday's menu:

Corn pudding. Very Pennsylvania area ladies club sort of dish, creamed corn meets eggs and milk. Better than any way I can make it sound.

Appetizer: Chicken cheese ball: chicken, cream cheese, worcestershire, onions, form ball, roll in nuts. Match with butter crackers.

Dessert: Pumpkin roll, zucchini nut bread, and the under-rated mincemeat pie.

We have a really freakin' huge stack of turkey to clear. Not only were we down to 12 people, but because we dropped a few due to illness, there was a cooked, untouched additional turkey breast.

Meanwhile, I finally got to meet my new second cousin, baby Austin. I believe I was the first non-father male to handle him for significant time, given that I had him cradled in the left arm, he kept turning his head to my chest, and I had to keep telling him. "Nothing there, dude. Don't even try." After about 15 minutes of instructing him on the finer points of football. ("See that, that's a touchdown. That means points for my fantasy team, yes it does!") He then did a very male thing for watching football, or at least I thought so, but then I realized babies don't bluff. And that was the end of that.

Wednesday, November 27, 2002

Mark's post on Turkey Day struck a chord. The house specialties(this and Memorial Day being the days my mother gets in the family rotation, the Fourth, and Labor Day, and sometimes Christmas in other relative's hands.) :
Turkey, with just a small bit of ham available for the couple of people who don't eat turkey. Cooked in the traditional way, nothing unusual there. Bread stuffing, cooked in bird and outside (yeah, I know, Mr. President). No deep fry, no turducken. (the turducken always looked like something you'd eat if Norman Rockwell and H. R. Giger had Thanksgiving together) The turkey is cooked nicely, unlike my aunt, who once suggested that when the little pop-up thing goes off, it has another three hours to go.
Mashed potatoes, lots of potatoes. Potatoes are good. If you can set me up with potatoes and stuffing, and gravy, you could probably get me to pass on the bird. (Incidentally, the most amusing moment I've ever gotten out of Iron Chef has to be seeing the Turkey battle with the explanation of gravy as one of the great innovations of American cuisine. Very strange.) I'm less enamored of the candied sweet potatoes which do show up. I think they smell better than they taste, which always leads to disappointment.
Cranberries. No can involved. Take cranberries, apples, orange peel and a meat grinder. Mix into unset jello, form a ring. Good stuff.
Vegetation. Mostly a tip to the family's tie to the Pennsylvania Dutch, we usually end up with one or two vegetables in cream and butter (never was big on that add on, it only made lima beans look stranger). Also as the Pennsylvania Dutch are supposedly masters of pickling (possibly the world's most ridiculous ethnic slur or something), we get the full compliment of pickles, olives, pickled green beans, etc.
Dessert. Want some pie? I fully expect Weebil and Bob to appear at my parents' for dessert. Pumpkin, Apple, Black Raspberry, of which I usually grab the first two, and retire back to my chair to bloat and collapse.

Nothing real special, except for the head count (last year 22). But as always it's not the food, it's the people reminding us exactly why we only see them once a year. More on that later.

Monday, November 25, 2002

Ennui...Or perhaps just recovery.

Saturday went well. A solid B. I can't give us an A for it, because we cut so many things so closely. It's one of those things that I've had the pleasure of seeing a tournament run with excess staff that I realize how much better it is, unless you've had it, you can't really appreciate it. Then again, it gives us room to improve, and I think we can do that. The things that need done (more moderator training, more personnel), are fixable.

Sunday should have been an experiment in deep hibernation, were I not lucky enough to have tickets to the Steelers game. I don't understand why the hot dog with grilled onions and peppers is so good, it just is. Bengals almost made the Steelers pay for it, but no. Still the Bengals. Heinz Field remains a bit of a challenge in turfkeeping. After high school championships, and both Pitt and Steeler games, they've basically given up on the field being any good for this year. Instead of a halftime show by the band on the field, it was the band on the sidelines, and synchronized steamrollers. That was cool. Depending on the moment, we had the possibility of people being run over by steamrollers, people mistaking the steamrollers for Zambonis, a near reenactment of the Cal-Stanford play, complete with crushed trombone, and jokes about how Pittsburgh's "Sparkle Season" included a performance by Mannheim Steamroller. Disturbing comedy abounded. We then retired after the game to random ranting on sports radio, followed by a trip to Buffalo Wild Wings, where I now officially find the Caribbean Jerk wings intriguing, and the Thai wings the right choice after you trade off for one of your mates' Dresden Firebomb wings.

Monday returned to normal, after all it's a short week at work. You can tell this is one of those weeks where people are just marking time. I have a little bit of stuff to do, but the developer left at 3, which made any questions I wanted to ask rather pointless. My inertia at this point will make me look positively manic after dinner Thursday. Meanwhile, I have a large stack of questions written on paper. Nothing trashy, just a stack of stuff, that I just can't seem to bring myself to type in. Eeek...Sleeepy...

Friday, November 22, 2002

One little quiz bowl thing before I start spewing data.
There really are very few words that don't really need to be used in quiz bowl questions at any time. But one of them, that really is nothing but spacefiller is the word "famous". Unless it's in a title, "famous" isn't necessary. Everything in quiz bowl should be to some degree famous. If it isn't famous, then why are you writing the question in the first place?

Head check, how many people know what this is?

A eulogy of a sorts for Sid Sackson

I'm sure there's a question in here somewhere:
1 Every so often it is important to remember that where I live was Whiskey Rebellion country.
2 How much would we be able to charge for Celebrity Kickerboxing?
3 I'd be much more likely to go with a strict vegetarian diet, were more condiments to go on homicidal rampages. I like my food to assert that I am on the top of the food chain, and to have it challenge me is a good thing. Or perhaps she should have been tipped off by the "Bin Laden's Own" label.
4 Just OWW!
5 Admit it, you want this in the next Grand Theft Auto as badly as I do.
6 The management is not responsible for anyone you accidentally maim by this.

Thursday, November 21, 2002

First an odd note: Some people out there define Trash as anything outside of what they could learn in their schools curriculum. What does this mean? Recently we were told that including fine arts made the packets too trashy. That amuses me. I'll just file this as more proof that how we debate these issues makes no sense, primarily because these issues mean different things to everyone.

Why current events were abandoned, and how we get them back.
Back in the day (current events was around 20% of all packets) I can sum up how we lost current events in two steps. First, we fell victim to the worst impulse in packet writing, packet deadlines. If you're writing for a packet deadline, what is the most obvious method of creating a current events question? Simple: open up Newsweek, or, or whatever. Guess what, EVERYONE DOES THAT with the deadline approaching. So what happens: You end up with a bunch of questions submitted, which are identical to each other, reflecting not current events, but only what's in the newspaper on the day of the deadline. Unsatisfactory, especially when you go killing repeats. The moment I saw this begin to affect things on a grand scale was QOTC 1996. The big joke was that of 19 submitted packets, 9 of them referenced Mad Cow Disease (10 if you count that my team name was Cornell Mad Cow.) All of those were cut out. So suddenly the real interesting story, which provided intriguing current events questions, was out of the tournament. Result: harder, more obscure, and less interesting current events.
The second element of current events falling out of favor, was simply that when campaigns were led for other categories, no one would defend current events. Current events tossups are difficult to write, where the answer is not a person, or some sort of biography-type question (by that I mean a question basically retelling the origin of a person/group/movement/company/artwork.) Since we've been on a fairly absolutist purge of biography of any kind, current events was a natural casualty. Add to that, there is no natural constituency within quizbowl for it. By that, I mean that no major that is well-represented in quizbowl benefits from the inclusion of current events. Like the other fields that have been attacked as "not academic" or "not part of real quiz bowl" (current events, geography, general knowledge, pop culture, and sports), the draw for these categories is not based in a set of collegiate majors, but in a broad-based "things that people pick up in real life". The majors which could defend current events (business/finance, journalism, communication, international relations, etc.) aren't typical majors quiz bowlers gravitate towards. That we don't draw heavily from these is a different problem, and a rather shameful one, but one I can't offer solution to today.

The saving grace, and what makes them worth writing, is that primarily current events questions are about the interaction of elements. Those individual elements are what makes a set of answers that you can use, and the interaction of those elements is what makes them interesting. It makes them ideal for bonus questions.

So how do we make them work? Well, the two best ideas I can offer are to write them more, and write them more often. The two best writers of current events I'd ever seen (Pat Matthews and Eric Tentarelli, both unfortunately no longer writing) both wrote them ahead of deadlines. Additionally, they wrote them constantly. So if a tournament deadline was 3 weeks out, they'd have questions to put in from a variety of times, and a variety of subjects. Use that as a model. The second thing I can suggest is that if we want 2/2 current events out of 20 (to my mind not an unreasonable level), we shouldn't expect 3/3 for 30 to give enough questions to avoid repeats. Repeats are the hardest part of this for the editor, so we should give them the opportunity to avoid them, by putting more questions into the set for current events. So 2/2 in the edited packet should correspond to 4/4 in the submitted packet.

In a similar vein, things lost which should be found, consider this report on geography.

Tuesday, November 19, 2002

It was very odd today at work. They let go 19, two in my department, which kind of gives me one of those odd mixed feelings. It's not like the testing group was overstaffed before, and with two less people we're only going to be further stretched. On the other hand, it was a guy with more seniority than me and a guy with less seniority, which means that I was probably dubbed irreplaceable. Good grief.
This is only the second time I've seen someone fired while here, and that previous time was kind of obvious that he wasn't getting a grasp of the problem. Nonetheless, this was more than a little surprising.

Meanwhile, they've cleaned out everyone on the other side of my cubicle wall so that they can continue the extreme programming experiment. I'm doubtful as to its efficacy in our environment, since it seems to favor small projects with little legacy code to integrate them, neither of which really apply to our company. We will see. Hopefully they won't be too loud. If not, you'll be hearing it here.

Monday, November 18, 2002

Shoes, pen cartridges, a haircut, and spinach.
Or in other words, reasons why I hadn't been posting. Little things that needed done, that weren't getting done.

I'm stuck for new material, since I'm in the midst of writing my share of the TrashMasters packet, and I can't really tip you off to what I'm writing.

S'anyway, the trophy lamp got lit by CMU on Saturday. A pleasant surprise, now we move to reproducibility. Meanwhile, Pitt is putting together its biggest HS tournament ever. Encouraging to see that the local schools are getting in to this.
More later.

Monday, November 11, 2002

A Belgian engineer, an evil squirrel, and a superheroine walk into a bar...

Product testing, stuff I've eaten in the past week.

Lime Green Tea by Snapple. Since Snapple went down to just lemon, raspberry, and peach iced teas, I've felt a little deprived, having really enjoyed some of their discontinued stuff (cherry, strawberry, mango, mint, orange, and especially cranberry) Overall not bad, though they probably put more sugar in it than was really needed, but that might have been from me not getting it cold enough.
dnL by 7up. The thing that will mess with your head with this beverage is that it is the exact color of the 7up bottle, while having a clear plastic bottle, thus making it REALLY look like the label was put on upside down. It ends up tasting like a lime soda, though with a Mountain Dew caffeination aftertaste. Decent, though not spectacular.
Caramel Crunch. Not to be confused with the Camel Clutch, it's the next variation of an established candy bar, following in the line of the Snickers Cruncher I guess. Not bad, given I don't typically go after a Crunch in the first place, this might make my list of normal vending.machine choices.

For those of you who wonder: No. Not all the people from Pittsburgh are as messed up as I am. However, it would appear from this that I'm not quite the top end of the wacky. Hmm. Back to the plans.

Irony defined: this guy

Evil squirrel roundup: One dead, one at large.
Quote that just makes this: "Its a shame he went nuts, but I couldn't let this little beggar hold the town to ransom,"
What next, the squirrel was going to put acorns in the water supply?

Let's just file this under "why Belgium is goofy."

Is there a term for the feeling of frustration that results when one of your fantasy football players just misses the roundoff for the next set of yardage points? Because I'd be feeling it if I wasn't almost assured of a win.
James Thrash 9 yards rec
Michael Bennett 9 yards rec
Duce Staley 39 yds rec
Deion Branch 9 yds rec
Hines Ward 139 yds rec, 29 yds rush
Haven't seen this many 9's since the old PSA's for Covenant House.

Friday, November 08, 2002

Two obits became known to me today.

Kam Fong. Back in the early 80's, I saw some random comedian start a routine about Hawaii Five-O, which began roughly. "Kam Fong as Chin Ho, and vice versa," a phrase which registered with me on so many levels. Hawaii Five-O always fascinated me as a small child, because I understood none of it, but it was just outside of my reach (11:30 being a common young Kidder's bedtime, and regular as Juiceman's colon, 11:30 Sunday night was Hawaii Five-O reruns on Channel 2, at least until 1992. I once theorized that wherever you were in the world, if it was 11:30 Sunday, Hawaii Five O was on, seeing it in Cleveland, and Virginia Beach. After theorizing this, I then saw it in Hamburg, Germany, dubbed, which I think proved my case until the age of Baywatch.) Kam Fong in particular was fascinating, as this was my first exposure to Asian-Americans beyond stereotype. Of course, in the episode where he was shot, and I found out Chin's full name was Chin Ho Kelly, was a classic little WTF? moment for me. (And I suspect for many of you just now.) On occasion, Hawaii Five-O would enter my mind as I drove past Canonsburg's Chinese restaurant (coincidentally named Kam Fong, I assume no relation). gave him a very nice send-off. And so I join them. Mahalo, Chin Ho.

Sid Sackson. When I was 10 years old, I stumbled across a copy of Sid Sackson's A Gamut of Games, a book he published of about 38 games he or his friends had developed. I knew his work from Games Magazine, but I didn't realize at the time how many cool little games he had been responsible for (Domination, Bazaar, Acquire, and Can't Stop being the four I most identified with him). In the 1970's Sackson was the closest equivalent to some of the top German developers today, and he was still creating. A Gamut of Games was a wonderful eye-opener for me, in terms of understanding the mechanics of games, and what makes them fun. Probably had I not run into quiz bowl, following in his path might have been my afterwork activity. According to the reports, he wanted no eulogy, oh, well. Instead, play a couple rounds of something he did, I'd highly recommend Monad, which has a DOS version on the same website. You'll be frustrated, infuriated, and then you'll start to understand it, and you'll be amazed by how elegantly it works. I'm half tempted to go out to the auction of his game collection next weekend.

Wednesday, November 06, 2002

I had no idea there was a Thornburg, PA.
And yet while tracking my order online I discovered the town is just barely 8 miles from where I live. I think this is a sign my local geography goes as that New Yorker cover does, north of 279.

Two things which kind of amused me for their incongruity:
Anne Rice is apparenlty a season ticket holder for the New Orleans Hornets.
While playing around with isotopes, bashing them into each other, scientists may have inadvertently created the tetraneutron, a reasonably stable arrangement of four neutrons, which would be the densest element (as well as having an atomic number of zero, which will make computer scientists very happy.)

Well, the Republican faithful are happy, but I'm not necessarily. The win in the Senate is nice, but I am hoping it's balanced at 51-48-1, preventing the assumption of lockstep conservatism, or perhaps because I don't want the appearance of it. Memo to anyone who's crying right now: So, you got your butt kicked. This happens on occasion. But you'd better get up. You whiffed here. You didn't articulate much more than "what he said, only I'm better, isn't that obvious to you?", and you didn't connect with it. Guess what, you lose that way. And now, if you sit there bitter and moping, you're going to tell me I'm a fascist, or evil, or something else. No, and I don't like being called that any more than you would. So don't go there. Don't fight dirty either. Come up with something positive, and fight for a good idea, not for a party.
Because of my tendencies (socially liberal, fiscally reactionary) I didn't like the election, despite voting pretty much in favor of it. I didn't expect Fisher to win, he had run a general campaign as bad as Rendell had run in the primary, and Rendell had the money advantage. The problem I see now is that because this was a rare and significant Dem pickup, by a former DNC power player, the state capital became the bully pulpit for opposition to Washington, rather than what it needs to be, a place to get things done to keep people, jobs, and business from leaving the state. If he manages to do that, that's fine, and really what he offered wasn't significantly different from Fisher's case, so I'll live with it. If he ends up spending more time on Hardball than in Harrisburg, well, we'll be in the same boat we were this time, and the time before that, and before that....

Tuesday, November 05, 2002

Vote if you haven't. I'm off to.

Time once again for "I'm sure there's a question in here." (News that almost but not quite could be used for question fodder.)
1 I just like the description of this as a giant lava lamp.
2 I always wondered in the Monty Python bookshop sketch why the expurgated version was missing the gannet. [Walks away whistling the alma mater]
3 Apparently the pinheads who do ads for PA have a British subsidiary.
4 Just when I think the ultimate extension of bad reality TV has been achieved, something like this comes along.
5 Sorry, Julie.

Monday, November 04, 2002

Well, now there are three people I know with birthdays today.
My cousin and his wife finally had a kid. They've had a lot of false starts and heartbreak along this path, and it's taken them a long time. I'm really happy for them.

I'm still trying to figure out my position on this year's ACF Fall, because I'm agreeing with everyone. On one hand, it was a step forward. It was a set where I only saw one tossup where I hadn't heard of the answer. That's very good. The difficulty on the bonuses was mostly reasonable. (It appears that my assessment of "one and two and a kick in the balls" has propagated, and there were more than a few of those, but not the majority. I understand that that is compensating for the other two parts being considered trivially easy, but when you can basically mark the question as a zero before you ask it, all it becomes is unnecessary, undistinguishing time filler) If the design was to make a set accessible to those on the circuit who don't usually go to ACF, then that was mostly achieved. This was a set at about the same difficulty as every other submission tournament I've seen in the past year and a half.

On the other hand, typos do matter, especially if they cause bad moderation. Factual errors do matter. Having pronunciation guides so that new moderators can get their heads around how to say things, that matters. It's damning to the image of something as academically rigorous as to have it ignore elementary school spelling and grammar. Fortunately, that is fixable. Less fixable is the proposition that only 12 of the 25+ were deemed usable, even partially. I've argued the idea that feedback is needed to make sets better, and cutting off another channel of feedback isn't going to fix the problem long term.

Anyway, it was a solid effort by ACF. I didn't see it as jaw droppingly excellent, but as good as other submission tournaments. More importantly, it was something for them to build on. It will take a series of events to shake the notion of ACF as nothing but hardcore. They've had two fall tournaments that have done that, and interceding tournaments that haven't. Whether the fall tournament is enough, we'll see.

Sunday, November 03, 2002

Carey displayed an unnerving power to unleash destructive force on the television schedule. Someone from the Charles Xavier Focus Group will be calling later.
Right now, I'm just hoping MDs leaves, and quickly. Of all the shows this year, this was the one whose ads drove me the most insane. They kept trying to established the leads were "Not your ordinary doctors!" Well, no. However, they were exactly like every other lead TV doctor, and I do mean exactly. It less looked like a show where the characters were created, than extruded out of a PlayDoh Fun Factory.

Finally got to see the Browns ORANGE uniform, thanks to Wow. They managed to capture the exact orange of an Orange Tootsie Pop. They're growing on me. Could be a worthy third jersey (if such things existed in the NFL).

The magic bag of candy appeared again, and I partook. At some level I should feel guilty about metaphorically taking candy from babies. Then I find one of the mini boxes of Dots, and the feeling passes. Craig has managed to capture some of the my more interesting bits from the afternoon after Halloween.

Friday, November 01, 2002

Matt adds his take today.

Tomorrow morning, I get to enjoy one of the great holiday traditions. Every November 1, a big bag of candy appears in the office kitchen. I finally realized this afternoon that it probably was someone just getting rid of the overflow from what they bought to hand out to the neighborhood kids. What's depressing about that is that until today I thought it was some parent giving us the stuff because their little young'uns had OD'ed the night before on the other half of the bag, doing Pixy Stix like they were Mrs. Mia Wallace. Somehow, not having a wicked parent steal their children's hard begged loot just takes the whole magic out of the evening for me.

I just noticed that I hadn't announced the fate of the software. It finally was expelled out the airlock last Friday, we're not sure if it's clinging to the hull.

Consider this: While you're walking around a used bookstore, you see something that's available for a dollar. You look at it, and realize you could probably write only one question on the material in it, and then you wouldn't use it again (not even to read, assume its something that has no value outside of quiz bowl). Would you even consider buying it? If not, what price would you pay? If yes, how high does that price have to go before you say no?
The reason I ask was that I saw a bunch of travel guides at the local Half Price Books for such tourist hot spots as Stockholm, Cyprus, and Tunisia. Each for a dollar. Didn't buy any, but I was tempted. I admit I buy a lot of used books for purely quiz bowl purposes, but it's always been stuff that I could always justify getting the cost back in total questions written. My gut is my single question value lies somewhere between $1, and the $.10 I paid for the Reader's guide to Belgian Literature, which is terribly amusing, but really dumb, and certainly not worth writing anything out of it..