'Start and Park' Racing...broken NASCAR economics.

I know I lost a lot of you with the NASCAR reference, but if you are still reading, you are in for a treat. In a typical NASCAR race, around 40 cars qualify. Some don't finish. I always assumed those cars had mechanical issues and/or a crash.

Turns out, they might have just had money issues. Enter 'start and park' driving. You drive in qualifying - several solo laps to see who can run the fastest. You qualify. Then you start the race, run a few laps, pull onto pit round, into the garage, out of the car, and flip on the television to see the rest of the race for which you qualified.

Sounds crazy. Turns out it is an economic consideration. NASCAR grants points for starting the main race and pays out prize money based on finishing position, even if that finishing position was the result of a DNF (did not finish). So a driver who finishes 36th and runs the race to completion, expending fuel, tires, and parts and risking a wreck may only earn a few hundred dollars more than a driver who pulled in at lap 26 (of like 250) and DNFd at 37th spot. Prize money + costs avoided = good deal.

It is a particularly good deal if you have two cars. You use your main car to race and the start and park car as a cash machine. Second, if your main car crashes or has a mechanical, you swap and permit your start and park car to race to completion. Thing is, that car isn't racing to compete. It's racing to finish. A lot of fun that is to watch.

So start and park makes NASCAR less fun to watch: There are fewer cars out there and of those cars that are out there, the back of the pack is made up of people who aren't really and truly racing.


Boogity Boogity Boogity...Amen. NASCAR gets a prayer in line with its post-race interviews.

When life imitates art, you have to smile. When the life is NASCAR and the art is Talladega Nights, you have to laugh. You just have to watch this.

A balanced budget amendment would mean Congressmen suing Congress with Judges deciding what to cut.

Perfect. Explain to me how conservatives are for this?



Clearly I was way out of my league even as a beginner mountain biker. I think my stitches make that clear.

(NOTE: this is a video of the trail I was on. It is not my video.)

So I decided to try my hand - actually my arm, but more on that later - at mountain biking this past Sunday. I ride 10 miles 2-3 times a week on roads with a decent number of hills. I have good bike control, so I thought, "Hey, there is a beginner race, why not?" So this past Sunday I loaded my bike into the civic, which requires dropping both seats, moving the car seat to the front and taking the front wheel and seat off the bike. And I drove 22 minutes to Wakefield VA.

This is not a 'hard' mountain bike trail. But I was to learn that I am not a 'competent' mountain biker. That's not really true. I am certainly in good enough shape. I was not sore after the race. I took to the back of the pack and focused on making it to the end.

And I did, unlike a poor gentleman on the trail who had to be gurneyed out over the berms on uneven terrain. I don't even want to know how long that took. But I understood how it happened.

You see, 'beginner' mountain biking is not like a beginner road race where you can just ride along at a clip and get passed; or a 5K run where most people can suffer to the end. You need to train on trails. Get comfortable with the bike. Learn positioning, traction on different surfaces, handling as you get tired, and so on and so on.

I had not been on a trail in 15 years.

The first lap went ok. I was passed a lot. No problem. My hands hurt from gripping the bars for dear life. I was amazed that anyone was comfortable zipping between branches. I will say that loved the stream crossings. The second lap started a lot better than the first. I knew the trail. I knew better where I had made mistakes in my line and gearing choices. I was focused and tiring some, but I was chugging. Then we hit the switchbacks heading down the berms and I ate it on a left turn.

How? Well, first let me say that I did this on my 'mountain' bike - a TREK 3700 that is perfectly nice on a bike back, but whose bottom bracket (the place where the pedals pass through the frame) was low enough to bottom out and hit many obstacles and knobby wheels were not up to this course. My fellow riders' bikes started at 3x the price of this thing and went up from there. They had larger tires with better rubber and tread patterns and better ground clearance. That would not have solved my problems, but it might have helped.

As I road away, I thought, "God, I hate that falling here means leaning forward into the fall (unlike skiing)." That was interrupted by a wet sensation on my left arm. Looking down at a flat spot I saw that my gloves were helping me grip the handlebar because they were soaking up blood from a decent sized cut. The rest of me was covered in red clay.

A mile later, tired and trying to ease it home, I fell again. Again on a left turn. This time, the browning blood got a layer of thick dirt. I got up and kept going. I finished near the bottom (but not at the bottom) and I was lucky enough to avoid a 'dnf' reserved for two of my compatriots in the class (Men < 34)

At the aid station, they looked in the cut. Poking a cut isn't fun. Just sayin'. Then it was up to me to clean off all the mud in the park bathroom - enough to get in the car, load up the bike, and drive home for a visit to the ER for a second poking. 3 hours later, I was showered, the car was clean, and I had 2 stitches in my arm. Oh, and I don't plan to head out in to the woods on a bike any time soon.

Don't let the happy music fool you, the trail at Wakefield VA is hard.


OK silly reporters, Mr. Robinson does NOT own the house on which he's attempting adverse possession.

The story of Mr. Robinson paying $16 for a mansion is making the rounds on the internet. The reason I am writing about it is that even Gizmodo has the piece. The normally thoughtful blog is caught up by reading headlines.

Mr. Robinson has filed a petition for adverse possession in Texas, cost $16, that would permit him to claim ownership of the house in several years if nobody sues to get him out. The mortgage company foreclosed on the house and went bust so the successor to the company's interests can oust Mr. Robinson and I imagine it will. So the headline should have read: Area Man Pays $16 to Squat. Might Win Jackpot in a Few Years.

Seriously, adverse possession is a holdover in American law. It is possible that 1-2 properties a year convert ownership under this method, but it takes years (around 10 in most places) to complete a claim of adverse possession, so it is rarely successful.

Incidentally, adverse possession has one of the better legal standards. The squatter's possession of the land must be 'open and notorious.' That is, you cannot conceal your possession and - to the contrary - there must be clear signs of your possession. Mr. Robinson certainly has the notorious part down.


I had to enable Captcha for Comments

You'll need to enter a word to verify that you are human before commenting from now on because I have been seeing some bot/spam in the comments. Sorry and keep 'em coming!

Sepak Takraw - Asian Foot Volleyball. Yeah. Link in to watch.

I first saw this sport in the native Hmong tribe villages in the north of Thailand on a trek during my honeymoon. It is not as exotic as it sounds. We wore Keens; the rest of the tourists brought sandals and hiking boots to change through as we transferred from trail to waterfall and so on. The guide - he wore plastic flip flops, pointed out where tribesmen had ridden mopeds up the trail bringing in food and water, and picked a beetle out of a tree (about 3 inches), hooked him to his shirt, and uttered 'snack' by way of explanation.

When we got to the camp/village, the guide set the women to make dinner and pulled out a wicker ball about the size of a regulation softball. The wicker was woven like a loose basket so the ball is totally hollow. If you listen in the video, you can hear the sound - like kicking a rattan ottoman. The white folks jumped in for a try. The rest of the world had a shot at this game having played soccer since their youth. I had no chance because I had not. Still I tried, picking up pointers from a tribesman who had sustained an injury years earlier and now hobbled on one good leg and used the poorly healed one to strike. Years of practice made him very very good.

And then there was dinner where I had to ask where the spicy food was. The Hmong pointed back to his house and brought out a few morsels. I am pretty sure his food works like an insect repellent pill. Anyone else remember the bug zapper Tabasco ad? That.


President of Nauru in the NY Times. I can talk your ear off about Nauru if you let me.


Marcus Stephen, the president of the 8 mile island in the S. Pacific is going to address the UN tomorrow about climate change. Nauru was strip-mined to the core for phosphate starting in the middle of of the 1900s. More recently, it housed a detention center for Australia akin to Gitmo. If that seems radical, consider the fact that the country has no water, few crops, and has been stripped of the one natural resource it had.

I've done a bunch of reading on this little place. If you want to listen a bit dazed and cock-eyed for about 20 minutes, ask me about Nauru.

Career Colleges have done a 180 - now want 'gainful employment' rules to apply to all colleges. Bye bye poetry major.

Here's the NPR report.

Intro to 'Gainful Employment' rules: The U.S. Dept of Ed created 'gainful employment' rules for for-profit educational institutions after studies showed that for-profit colleges, places like ITT tech, etc., had student bodies taking on big federally-backed student loans and graduating to a dearth of jobs. The rules said: If you want your students to be able to get student loans to attend your institution, you have to show that a certain percentage of graduates get jobs.

This is not controversial on two grounds: (a) you are a for-profit institution. If those profits are really the student loans of people you ought to know should not pay them back, what you are really doing is funneling federal dollars in the door on the backs of people who will default and ruin their credit to add to a long list of troubles.

(b) Most for-profit institutions are vocational programs. Their sales pitch on television, radio and internet is simple: Better degree = better job = better wages. If that promise doesn't bear out - and I don't mean per person, I mean across the board - then we need to suspend federal support.

I am surprised that for-profit colleges are so baldly going after non-profit colleges (what one would consider 'traditional' colleges) with the claim of equal treatment. First, the data doesn't back them up. The very reason for 'gainful employment' rules in the first place was the distance between student loan default rates from traditional colleges and these new for-profit colleges. The traditional colleges are the baseline that we've been ok with for years. There are two objections to this: (a) That non-profit colleges include ones with huge corporate deals and campuses and TV deals - how is that really non-profit? (b) Coupled with that is a sense that these colleges lock out the population seeking for-profit institutions on the basis of academics. Even if we set aside the fact that that translates into de facto discrimination on the basis of class, it is unfair to compare the repayment rates of a self-selected group of academic achievers to those who have not achieved. It is literally penalizing C students because their employment rates are not equal to that of A students.

Fair, but that doesn't change the fact that institutions focusing on the C students are not giving them more opportunity. Indeed, the numbers indicate that with more debt and no jobs, this population is worse off. That leads to the second point - the long-term solution to this has to be supportive, not destructive. Gainful employment is destructive - it aims to withhold from institutions that don't meet certain standards. That would leave the market without educational options for what is a predominantly low income and minority population. But America needs more craftsman, manufacturers, and other skilled laborers. So we need to find a way to support this education using something closer to the traditional non-profit college model. I don't know enough to set a path for this, but I have to imagine it is possible.


Nancy Grace, I hold you responsible if Casey Anthony gets hurt.

Nancy Grace publicly stoked the fires against Casey Anthony for months and months now. When Anthony was acquitted of charges and released, she was met outside by an angry mob. I don't know if Anthony is guilty and, frankly, I don't care. Her crime, if she committed one, is one of many committed around the country every day - it is a big place this America. And her prosecution, if botched, is, again, one of many around the country every day.

But what is not part of America every day - dare I label it 'Unamerican' - is to threaten the safety of a fellow citizen who has undergone the due process we have set up to deal with crimes.

And why the hue and cry? Nancy Grace. The woman's vitriol against Anthony on a daily basis is what sensationalized this trial. Indeed, it did as much or more for Grace's fame than for Anthony's. And if Anthony is hurt because people want to take their own vengeance, it will be at least in part because of not just the coverage that Grace provided, but the tone and context in which she delivered it.

Again, I don't have anything but disdain for someone who kills a child, let alone their own child, but we tried this woman for that crime and the people with access to the facts presented said she did not commit that crime. If you are angry at Anthony's lack of human compassion in this ordeal, you are no better if you act in an uncompassionate way.


GMail Backup - charted again.

I just finished backing up my GMail. It took several days for two reasons:

1. I have more emails than I was lead to believe. Google listed 48K emails, but it really meant 48K conversations. That actually amounts to 84,000 emails. That is nearly double and puts my average over 40 emails a day. That is not high, but combined with my active RSS feeds, that's a lot of input in each and every day.

2. The mail program I used (Mozilla Thunderbird) didn't want to download all the messages at once. It did 500 at a time every minute for a few days and then hit 70 and then 20 messages at a time when we neared the present. I dont really understand.

The last number you see in the chart is the annualized total of emails. We're 195 days into 2011 and I got 14,444 emails. That translates into 27K for the year, but because the slope of email appears to be rising, the final total is likely to be higher.

I have to admit, these numbers seem huge to me. Imagine what you can do if you put a small effort into this pile. Say, email you friends once a week. Call it 5 friends * 52 weeks = 260 emails. Even if the pile of email I get requires no response, I am still left asking, "Why don't I commit 1/10 of 1% of my email box to people I love?" And that is how all that data can lead to guilt. You're welcome.


Inbox Zero works! Recommended for those whose Inboxes overfloweth. #InboxZero

Back in May, I posted that I was going to try Inbox Zero (http://xerpentine.blogspot.com/2011/05/i-am-trying-inbox-zero-for-change-ill.html). Simple notion: You simply remove emails from your inbox once you have responded and require no additional follow-up.

I ran through all the then-current emails and archived the rest. I also signed up for Boomerang to permit to (a) have an email return to my inbox at a set time and (b) delay email sending to a scheduled time. Both are great features.

It has gone well. I have 12 emails in my inbox right now. All require action. I have recently been traveling and permitted my inbox to grow to 89 emails, but it took all of 5-10 minutes to sort through them and archive those which required no action. The move also permitted me to look over the prior work and determine what, if anything, required additional follow-up.

Down sides? I don't see any. Before, I never looked through my older emails except via search because there were too many of them. I am more likely to just run through the historical emails now because they are manageable. I don't have a case of purging an email I wish I had kept. It hasn't happened yet.

Wanna do it?
1. Make sure you have a good, stable place to archive emails.
2. Read your last 100 or so emails. Keep the ones that require action. Archive everything else.
3. Make it a goal every day or week to get as close to zero emails in your box as possible.
4. Consider a tool like Boomerang to help you.

GMail Backup - charted.

That's the number of emails downloaded from GMail for each year. A few notes:
  • It went up. Not surprise. I think most of us would report getting more email.
  • That might not mean that my 'real' email intake went up. I suspect that many of these emails are junk that either got ignored and archived (instead of deleted) or immediately filtered to a subfolder and never looked at.
  • It actually shows how little email I get. Overall, these 40K+ average out to 22 emails a day. Clearly, most of those are back-loaded. That said, I struck out on my own in 2009, using GMail to manage both work and personal emails in one account. Given that fact, it is interesting to see that there is little deviation from the arc. Indeed, that is my experience. I do a lot of work. I don't spend my time on email.


1/2 way through backing up my GMail. First, it takes days. Second, my 40k+ emails = 22 a day.

46K emails since the start of 2006 = around 22 emails a day, taking out deletions, but leaving in a bunch of junk I just never threw out. I think this is below average, even taking into account that I didn't send as much email in 2006 as I do today.

If you are going to be a polygamist, just get one civil marriage. Right on.

The stars of "Sister Wives" are suing Utah (I believe) to challenge its polygamy law. (http://www.nytimes.com/2011/07/12/us/12polygamy.html?hp&gwh=D5C4EEAD2836F3E56DFAE7434FE6AB56). The family (families? Honestly, I have no idea.) were said to be under investigation in Utah for violating the law.

First off, that's odd given that the Utah attorney general's office explicitly states that law enforcement has no intention of focusing on enforcing those laws. (http://attorneygeneral.utah.gov/polygamy.html). I guess when you are flaunting it...

Second, the 'Utah Polygamy Law' is not merely a law, it article 3 of that state's constitution, included as a condition of statehood: (http://le.utah.gov/~code/const/htm/00I03_000100.htm)

First: -- Perfect toleration of religious sentiment is guaranteed. No inhabitant of this State shall ever be molested in person or property on account of his or her mode of religious worship; but polygamous or plural marriages are forever prohibited. .
Third, I happen to come down on the polygamist's side on this one. Here's how:

A. The Brown families have between them 1 civil marriage. The rest are religious marriages only.

B. While I admit that the intent of the Utah Constitution Article must have been to foreclose this loophole, I am not sure it can. Even if you say that the article prohibits religious polygamous marriage in addition to civil polygamous marriage, nothing prevents a man from simply taking up with several women, siring children with them and cohabiting. No stated marriage of any kind. There is no prohibition against "practical polygamy" or what I guess we'd consider polyamory.

C. As is clear from the paragraph above, the only thing the state must be targeting is religious polygamous marriage as it already makes bigamy illegal in the civil context. That raises some serious freedom of religion issues.

D. And yet, none of that forms the center of the current legal challenge, which relies on Lawrence v. Texas, in which two gay men were targeted by a neighbor who phoned in a fake weapons charge to get the two caught in flagrante delicto (don't you just love that phrase?). The Supreme Court held that laws targeting the sexual proclivities of consenting adults violate the due process and equal protection clauses of the U.S. Constitution.

Nice choice. Seems pretty clear cut that if you cannot make a threesome illegal for a man, married or not,you shouldn't be able to make the same act illegal just because the man claims a spiritual relationship with both women. (That would, for example, invalidate a lot of the early 1970s).

But, I can hear the nabobs nattering, this isn't about sex, it is about the rest of the relationship - the holding out oneself as head of many households. For that we go back to religion. How, forsooth, is being the head of multiple households of unmarried women different from a man who has multiple children out of wedlock and visits them all? Indeed, if that man were as involved as this man, we'd applaud him. Which means what we really don't like is the religion. See Article 1.

E. And a postscript: There are many things to dislike about polygamous communities in the U.S. as it pertains to individual rights, child abuse, and so on. The thing is, much of that is not a function of polygamy per se, but of the oppressive communal norms that attend it. Utah and other states focus on those violations as they should. Look, we don't outlaw rap or first round NFL draft pick-ed-ness or NASCAR or islam or fundamentalist christianity or ultra orthodox judaism or first generation immigrants because the incidence of domestic violence is higher in those communities. I admit there are efforts on that last one. We target the action itself and lay down a rule of law. The communities in question learn to respect that law and come to prize it. That is what makes America great.


I am finally backing up Gmail. 6 years. 45K messages.

I am using a local backup. It is about time.

1. Download a secondary mail program - I am using Mozilla Thunderbird.
2. Put the mail files on an external drive (that takes a tiny bit of doing)
3. Create a POP connection to the gmail account and just download files for, like, ever.

I'll let you know how it goes.


AVPlayer for iPad does video for real - most codecs, formats, etc.


AVPlayer. For someone who routinely ends up with XViD AVIs on his computer, iPad's native video player is lacking. It just won't play them. Enter AVPlayer. Generally, you upload a video and it works.

Even more important - you don't have sync through itunes. By turning on the WiFi transfer feature, the iPad acts as an FTP/HTTP transfer server. You enter the URL it tells you to enter on the machine from which you will upload the file and viola...

I assume if I lost you in the first sentence with all the jargon you haven't read far enough to reach this apology for said jargon.

Weezer Covering Green Day's Brain Stew = Win, unplugged.

This is from Weezer at Aol Sessions. No, I don't know what is with that outfit, but we're nixing the 'Waldo' comments.

At the very least, your life should be interesting in 100 words. WaPo readers managed.

HT to the spouse for this one.

WaPo asked their readers to write a vignette of their lives in 100 words or less. They got thousands of submissions and put these up:

I think most of us have some story, big/small, happy/sad, dangerous/funny, etc. that is compelling in 100 words. I think that's what makes some of these relatable.

My name is Garrett Waters and I attend St. Bernadette's School. I once made a play in a basketball game that you wouldn't believe. There were three seconds left and my team was down by two. My teammate passed me the ball. I shot from half court, and there was a long silence. Wish. Swish. I watched the ball go through the net and we won. My hope for the future is that everybody gets this feeling some time in their lives.

Others, well, they are just off the wall.

My name is Christopher Langstaff, from Washington. I am 12. My dad's dad is Ken Langstaff, who is married to Percy Lee Langstaff. Her great-grandfather was Stephen Dill Lee, who was distantly related to Robert E. Lee. Stephen Dill Lee was an artillery general for the Confederacy. It was his artillery at the bloodiest battle of the Civil War, in the cornfield at Antietam. We have his sword. We use it to cut wedding cakes.
Well that one wasn't so crazy. How about this one:

I am Reya Millicker, of Takoma Park. My parents were activist, intellectual, Marxist Jews. In the '50s they were blacklisted; in the '60s they worked for civil rights and painted an orange Day-Glo peace sign in our front window to publicize their opposition to the Vietnam War. They embarrassed the hell out of me, and I swore I would grow up to be normal. But what's written in one's DNA cannot be denied. Thirty years later, I am a 46-year-old Jewish bisexual priestess of eco-feminist witchcraft.


Oh, and coffee to soda is a sustainable change because it is small...I wonder if that's true for swimming.

This is a great TED talk and short - about 3:30. Here's a man who is making small changes in his life and sticking to them for 30 days. Those he likes get integrated into his day. Those he doesn't fall away. And all the while, he is more mindful of his time.

I have swapped coffee for soda and it works! Thanks Juan Valdez! #caffeine

I drank a lot of soda. Two liters at a time perhaps twice a week. 44oz. plus on other days. On a bad day, I might go over the 64 oz. threshold.

You'd think at that amount, it would be the caffeine that would frighten me. It made me shaky. The massive intake of CO2 made my insides churn. The acidity could be annoying. But none of those things made me walk away.

Aspartame did it. The current EU safe limit is 40 mg per kg of body weight a day, 50 mg per kg in the U.S. That translates to roughly 16 cans in the EU and 21 in the U.S. Sounds like a lot to most people, but a 2 liter bottle of soda is nearly 7 cans, which means I was pushing 10 a day. I got headaches and migraines when I wasn't on it.

The studies aren't there to show it is a serious health risk, but approaching the advisable limit as I was, coupled with the other negative effects, pushed to me to find something else.

And that something else is coffee. The caffeine is concentrated. The ingredients in the drink are known and simple. The milk is good for me, and the sweetener - Splenda - is much more powerful, so not only am I drinking less of it per oz of liquid, I am drinking less caffeinated liquid - nearly 80% less.

So far, so good.