Archive for October, 2012

Happy Halloween!

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Handsome devil, eh?

Rather than trick-or-treating tonight, we took the kids to a spooky old farm that’s in a sorry state of disrepair. But every Halloween, they put on display about 1000 carved pumpkins. Most of them other people carve and then bring back for the owners here to arrange. It’s a neat little walk, probably takes 10 to 15 minutes all told.

Here’s a little sample of the pumpkins. A lot of them are just quick and dirty faces, but the more intricately carved ones they give a little more prominent display. They had over 1200 pumpkins in all this year.

This one struck me as the coolest carving. That’s a big pumpkin too, easily the size of the boy’s head…

I tried to tweet the two pumpkin pictures, but they appear to be in purgatory or something, since they have yet to appear in my feed.

I also managed to spook the Wife, the boy and the lass. The most amusing part is they all knew it was coming, but I got them anyway. The boy and the lass kept insisting I didn’t scare them, but based on the adrenalized reaction I got from them (kicking and swinging arms and very vociferous denials) it was obvious they were in denial. Just a quick grab and “AHHH!” was all it took for all three.

It never gets old.

The kids then kept trying to return the favor. They were way to obvious about it though. Still, they had fun trying.

Not Totally Unscathed

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We didn’t lose power again overnight. At one point, though, I could have sworn I heard a tree go down fairly close to us. I went out and had a look around, but didn’t see anything immediately around the house, so I let it be. Shortly after the power came back on, the storm seemed to start winding down, with a noticeable drop off in the wind.

Fast forward to this morning and the kids are watching Thor, the movie they started last night before the power loss so rudely interrupted them. The door bell rings and it’s some fella driving around helping people out with downed trees.

Turns out, we had this sitting across our driveway:

In the end, pretty mild stuff really though an inconvenience to be sure. Especially when compared to what happened in New York.

Checking In

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We’re still here. We even have power, for the moment.

So far, Sandy has been more or less as advertised. The winds are noticeably stronger now with some serious gusts as well, probably consistent in th 30mph range with gusts above 40. The rain started falling early in the afternoon, but it hasn’t been torrential. Just a steady, wind-driven rain that’s a bit cold.

A friend came over and I helped him take that tree down that the beaver had attacked. We were both drenched by the end of the operation because we ended up out there right when the rain started to come in steady. It was actually pretty cool. He anchored it with a come-along and a chain to another tree to help guide it’s fall, then he cut a wedge out on the side we wanted it to fall. Finally, he cut straight into it from the other side and then we hammered wedges into the cut to push it over. It fell right where we wanted it.

The diciest moment came after he cut the wedge. The wind really kicked in at that point and we just kept our fingers crossed that it wouldn’t be enough to start the tree going in a direction we didn’t want. Fortunately, it held.

Now I’ve got more firewood.

So at this point, we’re within an hour or so of Sandy making landfall in Southern New Jersey. If we can make it through the next several hours, then there’s a decent chance we make it without power loss. We know there are a lot of people around without power at this point- the Wife’s parents lost power in RI and we have friends closer to RI that have already lost power. We’ve also heard of other people in town here who have already lost power.

The kids are managing OK for the moment. The lass was complaining about an upset stomach, which we’re thinking might be more nerve related than anything.

Power starting to flicker. Time to go.

Waiting on Sandy

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Well, we’ve done what we can to prepare for the storm. With the exception of taking that tree down that the beaver took to. Hopefully, he’s hunkered down and won’t be back to finish the job.

It’s kind of a strange situation to be in. As I write this, Sandy has not yet started her Westward turn towards the coast, specifically New Jersey according to every model out there. The news channels cut into the programming every half-hour or so to update on the situation and also serve notice of other news worthy emergency items. At this point, Connecticut is getting set to all but shut down tomorrow in anticipation of what’s to come.

I’m sitting here watching the Sunday night game between the Saints and the Broncos (it’s 14-7, FWIW). I have no idea how much the situation will degrade overnight. It’s a craps shoot whether we’ve got power I suppose. I’m hoping for a cup of coffee in the morning at least, maybe even a couple of eggs.

It’s kind of a weird situation to be in. We’re basically all hunkered down, expecting a mess tomorrow. I’ll admit to still having some lingering doubts about this forecast- it just seems like there are too many moving parts for the weather guys to be so sure. The irony is, it would be better if they were wrong, in some ways because it means a lot of lives won’t be affected. But then that would affect they’re credibility, because they went big and were wrong. On the other hand, if they’re right, a lot of people will be affected, but their credibility will be enhanced.

It’s just drizzling outside for now, with some occasional gusts probably in the 20’s. All of our deck furniture is tucked away and the yard stuff cleaned up. We don’t normally have the cars in our garage, but we made room and both have been parked inside. We’ve caught up on all the laundry, filled water bottles and thermos and bathtubs (for flushing toilets). We don’t have a generator, so we moved some items from our fridge freezer into our deep freezer in the event of an extended power outage.

So for now, it’s just the waiting game. The kids are asleep right now, but the boy is nervous so we may have a midnight visitor if things get noisy overnight. I’ll be blogging if I can tomorrow, but no guarantees.

Sandy is supposed to run her course by Wednesday. Hopefully, we’ll be back well before then.

Our Busy Beaver

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So we’re outside tidying up the yard before Sandy starts to get wound up here when the boy come running up to me and says “Dad, there’s a beaver and Mom wants you to take a look at the tree. The actual tree in question is a bit further down in the pictures, but after looking at it, I started looking around generally. The little critter has been keeping himself occupied of late.

The most remarkable thing is that all of this has been happening within the passed couple of weeks.

The pictures are after the jump.

(more…)

Torqued Up About Sandy

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Sandy is all the rage at the moment. Watching some radar shots, she has really basically arrived as of today, as most of the cloud cover we saw here is from her outer bands. Today wasn’t a bad day either- the clouds kept the temps down and the breeze kept things otherwise comfortable.

The lass first heard about Sandy at her dance class a couple of days ago. She’s been concerned about it ever since.

The boy also first heard about it on Thursday. He has also been worried about it ever since.

Tonight was the worst they’ve been, because the news was on at the restaurant we had dinner at and they kept showing various radar picture of Sandy. We couldn’t really hear what the talking heads were saying, for which I’m thankful.

The ask a lot of questions like “When will it get here?” and “How big will it be?” and “Will there be a lot of rain?” We do our best to answer those, but them they try to pump more detail out of us. The questions start to drill down, “Will the wind knock down trees?” and “Will there be water in the basement?” and “What we have school?” and “Will it be worse than last year’s storm?” They also start to imagine possibilities, and ask “What if …?” questions.

I know, it’s only natural. It’s how they deal with the stress and anxiety of the situation. Kids are like little anxiety antennas: if there’s anything to get them going, they’ll pick it up and tune into it big time.

After a certain point, the Wife and I both get tired of these questions because there’s a simple reality: there’s nothing they can do. Or stated another way: it’s all on the Wife and I. For whatever happens, it’s the Wife and I that will have to deal with the problems. Be it water in bad places knocked down trees. Even the prep work is on us because the kids don’t know what should or shouldn’t be done. After all, how many emergencies have they had to handle in their little lives?

We enlist their help where appropriate. They did some grocery shopping this morning and they helped clean up a bit outside today and we’ll do more of that tomorrow. Mainly, though, the Wife and I are trying to keep them on an even keel. Th worst thing to do is panic, and that’s where they’d go if left to their own devices. So it becomes a game of settle down, stop imagining the worst that can happen and just take it one step at a time.

The storm will get here when it gets here. The rain will fall and the wind will blow. Everything else that happens will happen. That makes it sound pretty matter-of-fact and boring. Which is good because boring is not something that kids get too excited about, as opposed to “Bride of Frankenstorm” and whatever else they’re calling it.

BOO!

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Identify the Problem

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The boy was a little frustrated with soccer after his practice was over tonight. I asked him what the problem was and he said “I can’t score goals.”

That seemed easy to me, “Well, you have to work on your kicking.”

“That doesn’t matter, I can’t score goals. I need to practice scoring goals.”

Now I was perplexed. Not about the problem, but what the hell was he thinking? So I asked “Well, what do you mean you can’t score goals?”

“Every time I go to kick a goal, the ball goes somewhere else.”

“That’s because you’re not kicking it right. You need to practice kicking, not goal scoring. Once you learn how to kick it, you can put the ball wherever you want.”

Silence from him after that. Heaven forbid he practice a little.

A Market for Lemons

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So Professor Bainbridge wrote a quick post about Lance Armstrong where he wonders why not just allow PED’s in sports and be open about it. The post is brief, but I’m going to excerpt this part here (it’s Professor Bainbridge referring back to something else he’d written):

A while back, I argued that:

The only rationales for caring I’ve ever been able to see are (1) paternalism to protect players from themselves and (2) drug use by some creates a market for lemons (see my TCS column Drug Testing and the Market for Lemons). I’m somewhat persuaded by the latter, but at the end of the day it’s just not much of an issue for me. I wouldn’t watch baseball or cycling whether the players were juiced or not, while I would watch football and basketball whether the players were juiced or not.

I used to be a fan of the paternalism argument. Then I grew up. I was completely unfamiliar with his other reason, and had no idea what a “market for lemons” is. It turns out, it ties into exactly the reason I do believe that sports PED should not be allowed.

The theory’s name is based on the used car term for a “lemon” being a car that is known to be broken when sold.

The idea starts with a simple assumption: fans don’t like cheaters(they would be the lemons). That is, they are willing to fork over their money for tickets and the like to watch extraordinary people do amazing things in a given sport. Owners and players are aware of this and thus a perverse incentive develops: to allow cheating but to keep it secret. The cheating leads to increased salaries for players and increased revenues for owners because fans assume, initially, that what they are watching are legitimate efforts by athletes(i.e., they are not watching “lemons”) who are gifted in ways that the rest of us are not.

But the problem comes when the cheating becomes known. If the perception that everyone is cheating is allowed to foster, then the sport is devalued. No one wants to pay to watch cheaters, and the assumption on the part of fans will become that everyone in the sport is cheating; that they are not, in fact, watching extraordinary people.

The “market of lemons” application here is more of an economic argument than I would make. Personally, I’m of the opinion, as hinted above, that people want to watch athletes do extraordinary things in their sport. They want to watch Michael Jordan win back-to-back-to-back Championships and indisputably lead his team to those championships; they want to see Tom Brady win 3 championships and set the single season touchdown passing record; they want to see Randy Moss outrun 3 defenders on the way to making a long touchdown pass; and they wanted to see Lance Armstrong win those Tour de Frances. They want it because it’s something unobtainable to the average individual who cannot play basketball like Michael Jordan, throw a football like Tom Brady, run as fast and catch a football like Randy Moss, nor ride a bike as long and as fast as Lance Armstrong. Anyone who has ever watched a sporting event and ended up jumping up and down screaming like a wildman after seeing something remarkable understands the phenomena.

The key to the experience for the fan; however, is the belief that what they’re watching is someone who excels (amongst those who already excel) because of a combination of talent and dedication, not because they took a chemical that allowed them to practice more than is humanly possible. Because, while not anyone can throw a football like Tom Brady, anyone can start taking a chemical regimen to improve their strength, speed or stamina to a ridiculous point. Body builders from the Ahh-nold era come to mind- their gains aren’t seen as real, just the logical outcome of their chemical regimens.

In the case of Lance Armstrong, the offense is particularly egregious. The whole point of the sport is endurance and recovery and who has the best combination of the two due to their training and whatever intangibles they have. It’s a 3-week event with 100+ miles rides just about every day, in some cases up hills that are hard to walk up, let alone pedal a bike up. For a rider to become depleted and then cheat by artificially aiding his recovery through blood doping or chemical usage destroys the very nature of the competition. No one finds it remarkable, and therefore interesting, to win something when you’re cheating; let alone when you’re better at cheating than everyone else.

In Professor Bainbridge’s case, he admittedly doesn’t care about sports outside of football and basketball. Obviously, the competitors in both those sports can benefit from PED’s, mainly in the context of competing at a high level for an entire season. The question is, would the allure of those sports be adversely affected if a majority of fans came to believe that what they were watching wasn’t legitimate?

I think they would, and I’d point to the Lance Armstrong case as one good data point. The sport’s popularity has cratered since Armstrong left and the discovery of the rampant usage of PED’s throughout the sport. I’d also point to the vilification of other sports figures like Barry Bonds, Mark McGwire and Jose Canseco, to name a few. While the sport of baseball has managed to avoid the perception that PED usage is widespread, it’s popularity certainly took a hit when these players, and others (remember the Mitchel Report?), were determined to have made their achievements using PED’s. I think it’s safe to say baseball was at a crisis point from a fan perspective. Track and Field also serves as examples: Ben Johnson and Marion Jones in particular come to mind.

I think the key is achievement in sport needs to be seen as legitimate. Someone who uses PED’s violates that legitimacy. The perception becomes “Well, anyone can achieve that if they’re willing to mess with chemistry to that degree.” If an entire sport were to become tarnished in this fashion, it would ruin that sport’s legitimacy and interest in it would crumble. As it happens, cycling is a good example of the effect. I see no reason to believe other sports would be immune.

Given all this, I still would rather that government stay out of sport. The public is perfectly capable of dealing with a ruined sport, should it come to that. While there are perverse incentives involved where PED’s are concerned, the viability of a sport trumps that, thus I think it will police itself.

Flapdoodle

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I think Megan McArdle hits the nail on the head:

It is tempting to blame the candidates, but ultimately, I blame the situation. The candidates do not have a big program, because there is no money to pay for big programs. Whoever spends the next four years is going to have to do some unpleasant things to taxes and spending. No one wants to hear about those things, and they certainly don’t want to tell us about them. And so we have piddling personal attacks, half-hearted promises, and vapid reaffirmations that America is so great because it’s exceptional, and exceptional because it’s America.

I also liked this paragraph:

The true object of these debates is to say as little as possible about anything of substance. Mitt Romney promises to be Obama Lite, with one third less social democracy than regular Barack Obama- but fortified with a full day’s RDA of social conservatism! Barack Obama claims that Mitt Romney only wants to be president so that he can invest the Social Security trust fund in companies that will ship all our jobs to China- jobs that under Barack Obama would be done by hard-working American robots. It is a carnival of claptrap, a festival of flapdoodle.

Of course, read the whole thing.

For as long as I’ve been paying attention to politics, the game has been about what a candidate is going to give their constituents, be it tax cuts, some kind of money for health care, retirement income, legislation that kills competition, some kind of government contract to make something or research something, or money for education. No one that I can remember has stated “I’m going to take something away.”

I understand the reasons. We all want someone to give us things because, deep down, we know that we deserve it. We worked hard all our lives and it’s about time we collected our just rewards. So when James Q. Politician comes along with his legion of “expert” enablers and says he’s got a plan, we uncritically swallow it because we want to believe and, after all, we’ll only be around for so long anyway. Might as well get ours along the way.

Short of guaranteeing that everyone will get a job, though, it’s hard to imagine what else can be promised at this point. Even if something more could be promised, where’s the money going to come from to provide it?

In my humble opinion, the math of the federal budget doesn’t add up for either of these guys. We can’t tax our way back to a balanced budget, and we can’t cut enough programs because too many people are dependent on those programs. Politicians have, over the years, systematically over-promised to the American people and the result is a government that wants to legislate away risk, at the expense of one citizen for another.

The day is coming where we will discuss who’s going to get screwed and how; what promises the government has made but can’t be keep. But today is not that day. Today, we get flapdoodle.

A Random Though About Lance Armstrong

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I was asked years ago whether I though Armstrong was likely guilty of using PED’s and my answer at the time was “My head says yes, but I’d like to be wrong.” Given the recent revelations, well, I still wish I’d been wrong.

More recently, a friend asked what I thought about the recent news about Armstrong and his doping operation. The only interesting thought that came to mind involved Armstrong’s continued statements that he didn’t cheat. Given all the evidence, it seemed an odd statement.

But then, thinking about it from a lawyerly perspective, or parsing the words a bit more, there is one context in which they make sense. From Armstrong’s perspective, everyone else was using some kind of PED at the time. Therefore, his taking them meant that he wasn’t “cheating” in the sense that he had given himself a competitive advantage. He was keeping the other guys from gaining an advantage over him. When competing at the highest level, that’s probably all the rationalization needed.

While Armstrong is taking the brunt of the criticism here, it’s telling that the Tour will not be awarding the Armstrong’s now stripped victories. I take that as an admission that the entire era was out of control with regards to PED usage. To the point that they can’t name a victor because it’s likely that rider would also subsequently be found guilty. So, from an enforcement and “high ideals” perspective, that time period was not cycling’s best moment.

I guess the big question here is, does it really matter? After all, we’re talking about a time when everyone was “cheating”, and Armstrong won 7 Tour victories in the time period. If everyone was doing it, what’s the BFD?

I guess I’d go back to a couple of simple minded lines of reasoning. First, the sport, and the Tour particularly, is about endurance and pushing limits. How far can a man push his body over the course of the Tour? If the competitors are using PED’s, then we don’t get a credible answer. Second, by allowing the victories to stand, then a competitor can rationalize that it’s worth it. After all, the governing bodies for cycling won’t catch up until some time later and by then, the victories will be years in the past. By stripping those victories, a message is sent that it won’t be worth it. The rider’s name won’t appear in the books, except with a large asterisk that means “HE CHEATED TO WIN.”

Ultimately though, the whole thing is just terribly disappointing. For those years when Armstrong was winning, the race was interesting to everyone. It was probably a high-water mark for popularity of the sport, and the Tour in particular. Plus, Armstrong had a very compelling story with his cancer recovery. Looking back, it seems too good to have been true.

Turns out, it was.

Well That Didn’t Take Long

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When last I spoke of the boy (what, a couple days ago?) he had plans for world domination by raking yards. Alright, I exaggerate; but he definitely had his sites set on a DS game where he could conquer the world. So I didn’t exaggerate by much…

The Wife had a cagey idea to give him a better idea of what he was getting himself into. She hired him to rake the leaves in our yard. In this case, he didn’t even have to bag anything, merely rake them to the sides and into the woods. She offered to pay him $20 for the work, but he had to do it to her satisfaction.

So the boy went outside to start his work. At the time, I was working on my post from earlier, so he was on his own for the most part.

Sadly, 20 minutes later, it was over.

He came storming into the house, in tears, and went stomping up to his room. I went to check out his progress and he had not made a lot. The Wife had missed the histrionics, and was wondering where he was. She’s the one who went upstairs to find out what had happened. At that point, I actually thought he’d broken the rake and thought he was in trouble.

The Wife came back downstairs and it was clear that he had underestimated the time and work involved. He was upset because he realized this, and with that understanding he decided he couldn’t (or didn’t want to) rake yards. So there would be no DS games or other stuff to get with all that money he’d already made plans for.

I suppose when looked at from that standpoint, it’s understandable why he was so upset.

Mt. Greylock

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First, let me just say that Mt. Greylock has to be one of the coolest names for a mountain.

It sits in the Northeast of Massachusetts and is the highest peak in the state, standing 3491 feet above sea level. It has an interesting history and was one of the first preserves started in the statei, starting as a 400 acre preserve to stop the practice of strip foresting. The preserve has expanded to over 12000 acres today. It’s on the Appalachian Trail and has a lodge at the summit for weary hikers to grab a hot meal and a dry night’s sleep.

We arrived there on Friday, along with a number of other friends, to celebrate a birthday. Not mine. It was raining pretty good for most of the day, and particularly at Mt. Greylock. We saw a lot of runoff areas as we were wound our way to the summit:

They’re actually designed into the road, as it pools in large drain areas that shunts the water under the road. Otherwise, we’d be driving through all that.

This is Bascom Lodge, which sits at the summit:

It’s as rustic inside as it looks from the outside. The lodging is simply rooms with bunks in them. The dining room seats probably 50 or so, though there is a covered porch on the back side with more seating. The menu is whatever they are cooking for the night. Though I will say, the food was good.

During our arrival, the rain basically killed the views. It also drenched me as the parking lot is about 100 yards from the lodge. With the wind, it was raining horizontally, so the umbrella didn’t help me much during my walk. I also have a bad wheel at the moment, so my walk was leisurely.

But it started clearing yesterday morning, so we were able to get some nice pictures after all.

This is the Veteran’s War Memorial Tower which is also at the summit. We couldn’t see it at all the night before, even from the lodge. That’s how cloudy and foggy it was. You can climb the tower up to a room that’s just below the globe on the top. From their, you have views into New York, Connecticut, Vermont and Eastern Mass.

To the North:

To the South:

To the East:

To the West:

Of course, the views are further when there aren’t so many clouds. But it’s kind of cool that we seemed to be at the same height as the clouds.

Finally, a few final shots from the road as we were leaving yesterday:

The Entrepreneur

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One thing that the boy seems to have firmly grasped is the concept of money. He still doesn’t really know how to value it. For instance, he wouldn’t know if a dozen eggs for $5 was a good deal or not. But he’s pretty clearly figured out that money is a key to other things. Like getting other things.

For awhile, he seemed to have the notion that money was “free.” That’s probably because he sees the Wife and I make purchases and just hadn’t made the connection about the Wife’s work. More charitably, its possible he just figured we were getting a prize or something.

But lately, he’s realized that money has to be earned. Part of this is almost certainly due to his popcorn fundraiser for Cub Scouts. I organize “Show and Sells” at local businesses whom are kind enough to let the boys pester their customers on the way in (or out) of their store. The Scouts ask people if they’d like to purchase popcorn to support Scouting. It’s not exactly back breaking work, but it is work and, to their credit, the Scouts do an admirable job of getting people’s attention.

Another portion of the Scout fundraiser is door-to-door selling. I haven’t been able to take him around yet, but I plan to. Again, to his credit, he’s been pestering me to take him out to do so. Time and circumstances have, so far, conspired against me.

But the combination has, I think led him to another idea. He wants to rake leaves for some of the neighbors. He’s been trying to figure out how much to charge them by asking me how much I thought it was worth. I could only go based on what I might be willing to pay someone to rake out yard, which I figure is probably around $15-$20, depending on my mood. But then I tried to explain that he might need to look at a yard before making that decision- a big yard with more trees would likely be worth more than a smaller one.

His logistics aside, it almost certainly puts me on the hook as well, since he can’t get anywhere without some supervision. Also, frankly, he’ll need some backup to finish these yards that he’s been eyeing up for the past week or so. I’ve told him that I’d take him to a house to let him try, so I’m on the hook for that. Then we’ll see what its worth to him.

Kids and Politics

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I’m not surprised this happened, though I’ll cop to a little surprise at the early age.

On the way home from soccer practice today, the boy asked “Dad, who are you voting for, President Obama or the other guy?”

Before I could answer, he continued “My friend at school said that the other guy wants to make the rich richer and also wants to go to war, so he’s voting for President Obama because he wants to make the rich poorer and the poor richer and he doesn’t want to start any wars.” Except for the “My friend” part, where he actually named his friend, the quote is pretty much verbatim.

I thought for a moment and said, “Well, I don’t think your friend knows what he’s talking about. Mitt Romney wants to make everyone richer and, to the best of my knowledge, doesn’t want to start any wars. Though, I think he’d be willing to fight if he was forced to.” I actually know the friend in question pretty well. He’s a smart kid, with a pretty good imagination. My guess is he was repeating talking points his parents had spoken to him.

“You mean like in karate? Where you don’t go looking for a fight but sometimes you have to?” he asked.

“Yes, that’s it exactly.”

“So are you going to vote for Romney?” he asked again.

“Yes, I will.”

“I am to,” he said. Then, amusingly, he add “I was going to vote for him anyway, before you said it. I was just curious what you were going to do.”

I’m well aware that kids almost overwhelmingly adopt the politics of their parents. Having them, it’s obvious why- what else could they have to base that kind of decision on?

Then, the boy asked me another question: “Why are you voting for Mitt Romney?”

Somewhere, when he reads this, the boy’s Grandfather is smiling. Not so much about Mitt Romney, but more because he seems to be taking an interest in politics.

Going back to the boy’s question, I was trying to figure out a good way to answer him. Something that he could understand, sort of at least. Ultimately, I figured that the answer had to be suitably generic. So I told him “President Obama wants the government involved in our lives more, Mitt Romney doesn’t. I don’t want the government involved in my life anymore than it already is. I think it does too much, and most of it not very well. There are other people who disagree with that, but that’s my opinion.”

The boy nodded in agreement, which made me smile. Not in a “good, he’s following my lead” sort of way, rather in a “like he really knows what any of what I just said means” sort of way. He was having an “adult” conversation with Dad, so he was enjoying it.

I’m not really in the habit of telling the boy what to think when it comes to stuff like this. The lass either. I have no expectation that he should follow my lead, or unblinkingly mimic my own reasoning. I want him to be his own man someday, and to do that I have to teach him to think: to gather data and then make a guess as to what that data might mean. When it comes to politics, there’s so much to it that he can’t possibly think for himself on it. I realize that my own opinions will feed his own future opinions, perhaps serving as a baseline. My hope is that he’ll question all of that someday and come to his own conclusions as a result.

If they comport with my own views, so much the better.

A Simple Theory on the Presidential Polls

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Since the first debate, the most dominant theme has been how Romney’s performance completely changed the race and the polls have been swinging strongly in his favor ever since. As such, I’m sure the next round of polls to come out will also get a lot of attention, mainly, to see if President Obama was able to stop that apparent momentum with his performance.

Via Glenn Reynolds, the latest Rasmussen tracking poll shows Romney continuing to press his advantage. Some caveats apply, like the majority of the data was from interviews prior to the previous debate. So we have a couple more days before any real firm interpretations can be made.

But I’d like to point out this, which points out that Romney was actually moving back to parity with President Obama prior to the debate.

There’s been a lot of talk about the polls and whether they’ve been biased in the Presidents favor. That is, up until they weren’t showing the President with a lead. I’m going to propose a simple reason for Romney’s swing in the polls: bad data.

Now, this doesn’t mean that polling outfits were cooking their results. All it means is that prior to late September, all of the polls were worthless because they were not getting an accurate sampling of the electorate. Then, somewhere in late September, that started to change. This comports with the what seems to be conventional wisdom that most Americans don’t start paying attention to political races until Election Day is close at hand. Most Americans are busy earning a living in a field that doesn’t involve paying attention to politics every single day. Further, my guess is many are jaded to the point that they don’t care about the vast majority of the stuff that gets political pundits excited.

Based on this theory, I don’t think it’s a stretch to conclude that it’s difficult, if not impossible, to get a clear picture of what the electorate is thinking before hand. Thus, pollsters do their thing, but they get hangups or people don’t even bother to answer or participate. (Count me among those- I don’t ever participate.) So whatever data they get is unreliable. It was recently reported that participation in these surveys is down to 9%- meaning 1 in 10 people participate in the polls. It used to be closer to 25%. I think this has to have an effect on polling reliability.

Once that corner is turned in late September; however, the sampling data improves because now more people are engaged and now pollsters are able to get a more accurate sampling (i.e.: better data) of the electorate.

Note that this theory does not predict that we’ll always see a big change in the polls come late September, early October. It merely means that the odds of it happening aren’t as unlikely as some may like to think, especially if, on balance, their preferred candidate has a lot of other problems. It also means that the polls aren’t necessarily as event driven as pundits like to think. Note in my second linked piece, the author is at loss for a reason for the move back to Romney, since nothing noteworthy was going on in the time frame he noted. I think this supports my theory and gives us a period of time where the sampling data began improving.

Also note that this theory does not predict who benefits. It could just have easily been President Obama. Thus, I think it blunts the effect of the first debate. My guess is that debate helped Romney to some degree, but did not have the huge effect most pundits are attributing.

A more interesting scenario would have been if Romney’s performance had been less notable. In this case, my theory means we still would have seen a move towards Romney because that’s where the electorate was already leaning. This might seem odd, but remember, I’m talking solely about the data and its reflection of reality.

One thing I do think it means is that, in this case, President Obama has been operating under a false assumption: that he’s had a solid lead. It would appear that, in fact, he really should have been trying to overcome a deficit.

Finding Out if Less is More

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I picked up the kids at school today and it was obvious something was bothering the boy. Probably had a lot to do with the taciturn demeanor and the glum expression on his face. Whatever it was, it seemed to be affecting the lass as well since she was just as quiet. I tried to pry something out of him, but he was clammed up tight. So I didn’t bother pushing.

After we’d arrived at the house, both kids went up to their rooms. The Wife came down after several minutes and informed me that the boy had opened up to her. Apparently, the boy had sat down with his teacher to gone over a worksheet with her. The teacher had corrected everything on the paper and he was upset by the experience.

Personally, I think the boy is being a bit thin skinned, but the Wife is more on his side though and was wondering if his teacher might have been a bit over the top. Now, we’re thin on details so it’s difficult to say. The Wife told me that it wasn’t clear what had transpired between the boy and his teacher based on what the boy had told her. But from her perspective, it was enough to really upset him and that was her primary concern.

The boy came downstairs, ready for his martial arts class and apparently the talk with his Mom had helped his mood considerably. I figured I’d pry into things and see what I could glean about the situation.

But I never did.

For one, the boy seemed to be over whatever was bothering him, this appearance, more than anything else, compelled me to hold back on questioning him. And the longer I held back, I started thinking of other possibilities as well. He’d spoken with the Wife already, so he’d already gotten it off his chest. Also, he wasn’t bringing it up, so maybe he just didn’t want to talk to me about it.

So I opted to respect his space.

The rest of the evening went off without any problems. He finished his outstanding homework and even took some constructive criticism along the way.

It’s easy to fall into the mode of wanting to know and be involved in every little detail of your child’s life. We parents do that because we want to make sure we’re there to help them with their struggle. But they’re growing all the time, and there does come a point where they have to be able to handle their own problems. Maybe they can pick some of those moments themselves.

Kudos to Barnes & Noble

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So awhile back, the charging cable for my Nook crapped out. It had a little help- one of the kids dropped the Nook and it hit connector-first. It slowly flaked out from there to the point where it no longer worked.

It was not big deal at the time because the kids inherited a Nook so I used their charging cable. Sadly, that too has expired. Which left us with 2 Nook’s that couldn’t be charged.

Thankfully, both are still under warranty and tonight I happened to be in the area of the closest B&N. I brought the Nooks in to a sales person, who promptly took the serial numbers off of the tab where the micro SD card goes(both Nooks were out of charge so they couldn’t be powered on to get the SN’s), typed them into a computer, hit several more keys and then said “Let me get you 2 new cables.” I waited a couple of seconds and he came back with the cables and handed them to me.

And that was it. Places like B&N get excoriated all the time for what the mess up. I just figured I’d give credit where it’s due when they don’t.

Apple Crisp

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Fast becoming a family favorite is apple crisp. Of course, it’s hard to go too wrong with apple crisp, but there are definitely better recipes than others. Here’s the one I’ve used the past couple times I’ve made it:

  • About 4-5 pounds of Macoun and Cortland apples. If these aren’t available, then go with something that’s sweet and crisp, but not hard. No Granny Smiths.
  • 2 sticks of unsalted butter
  • 2 cups of white flour
  • 2 cups of Brown sugar, divided into 1 cup portions
  • 1 cup oatmeal
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 tablespoon of Cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt

You’ll also need a 9×13 casserole dish and a couple of mixing bowls. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Start by combining 1 cup of the brown sugar, the salt, the nutmeg and the cinnamon. Set aside for a moment and then skin and cube the apples, placing them into a mixing bowl. Add the brown sugar mixture and stir the apples into the sugar until everything is coated, including your hands. Take a moment to lick your hands clean, then pour the apple-sugar mixture into the casserole dish and set aside.

Now for the topping. Mix the flour and oatmeal together. Cube up the sticks of butter and start combining it with the flour, but don’t try to do it completely. Stop when the flour get crumbly- there will still be chunks of butter.

Now add the remaining brown sugar and the granulated sugar. Work the sugars into the mixture until it takes on a coarse, crumbly texture. Most, if not all, of the butter will be absorbed into the mixture.

When the topping is completed, distribute it across the apples. Fill in until the top is completely covered with the topping. Throw it in the oven and bake for an hour. The topping should just be starting to brown at this point. Leave it in the oven for as long as it takes to brown the topping to your liking.

Take it out and wait for a few minutes. No really- it’s still too hot to eat yet. It just came out of a hot oven!

I like to eat mine with a generous dollop of vanilla ice cream. I’d post a picture of the batch I made tonight, but we ate it. Too bad for you, but good for us.

The Boy Gets Taunted

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The boy finally got back to playing soccer this weekend after a 2 week hiatus due to Columbus Day Weekend and a Scout event the week prior. The flow of the game itself was interesting. The opposing team seemed to be slightly better- they had better spacing and seemed to have more guys aware of the ball and able to track it better. They outplayed the boy’s team in the first half.

But then the 2nd half started, and it was like an inverse of the first. The boy’s team spent most of the half attacking and keeping the other team on their heels. They were down for most of the game, but they’re constant pressure yielded some late goals and they were able to eke out a tie that felt more like a win.

The first thing the boy said when he got off the field was “I don’t ever want to play that team again. They were mean.”

So I asked him why they were “mean.”

He said they were saying some nasty things out on the field, including calling him particularly an “idiot.” Seems at some point his feet got tangled with one of their players and their player went down while the boy did not. That happens a lot actually, because the boy is bigger than most kids his age. After that minor altercation, the taunting began.

Not being on the field myself, I can’t judge to what degree it went to. It could be anywhere from a one-off heated comment to a full-on any chance they had to do it. But whatever the case may be, the boy was bothered by it.

I’m not surprised as he takes anything like that, especially from his sister, personally. Too much so in my opinion. Regardless of the fact that I’ve told him those kind of comments from kids he doesn’t know shouldn’t bother him, it bothers him. Some kids will never be bothered by that sort of thing, the boy just isn’t one of them. He just needs to develop a thicker skin.

When it came time for bed, I was curious about what the boy thought about his play today, so I asked him. He was generally pleased with how he’d played, but then he switched gears and asked “How should I handle it when kids call me names? I know I shouldn’t get mad and hurt them…” He was clearly still bothered by the “idiot” comment.

I wanted to try and explain that name-calling is a form of gamesmanship. But then I realized there was no point because he wasn’t ready to understand the mental games involved in sports. So I opted for advice my Dad would have given me: ignore it, play harder and make the taunter eat his own words. I didn’t bother to tell him that, sometimes, the taunter still gets the win. It’s better that he think “good” always wins right now.

I think part of him hoped I would reveal some kind of special incantation that would turn his adversary into a toad, or something. The advice isn’t the sexiest, but if he follows it and practices it, he’ll ultimately develop the ability to block those kind of distractions out. When that happens, he’ll have a big leg up on his competition.

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