Monday, June 5, 2017

Everything I Need To Know, I Learned By Playing Pool

I. No matter who you are facing in the game, pool is not you versus that person. It is you and that person versus the laws of physics. The player that takes the lesser beating is declared the winner.

II. The laws of physics are cruel.

III. Don't blame the tools. The table is not perfectly flat, the balls are not perfectly round, and the cue is not perfectly straight, and everyone who plays the game has to face up to that.

IV. Playing for position is an exercise in futility if you miss the shot.

V. Fancy trick shots mean nothing if you can't master the basics.

VI. When you make a lucky shot that you shouldn't have made, don't take credit for it, because then you can't blame bad luck for the shots you miss.

VII. Stroke, don't poke.

VII. Always follow through.

VIII. If you think that being an expert pool player makes you a very big deal, go humble yourself by trying a game of three-rail billiards.

Monday, March 20, 2017

The End For Mercator?

Boston public schools are ditching the familiar world map we all grew up with based on the Mercator projection, in favor of the Gall-Peters projection. The advantage of the latter projection is that it depicts continents with their proper land areas.

The Mercator has been roundly criticized for distorting land areas, making countries in the Northern Hemisphere appear larger than those in the Southern Hemisphere, thus giving the mistaken impression that they are somehow grander and more important.

But, all the political furor notwithstanding, that was not Mercator's intention. Mercator was creating an aid for navigation, and it worked for that purpose for hundreds of years, in fact, it revolutionized navigation in the late 16th and early 17th Centuries. He didn't put Europe in the center of the map as a political statement; he did it because the mariners most likely to use his map at the time were departing from and returning to that region.

In short, Mercator has been getting a bad rap.

I'm not saying that Mercator's map deserves it's position as the default depiction of the world, and I don't think Mercator, a brilliant cartographer, would have approved that application. What I am saying is that schools are taking altogether the wrong approach, and very much sending the wrong message.

Instead of arguing over which map is "fairer," they should recognize that any flat map of a spherical Earth is going to be distorted in some way. It's the nature of projection. Instead of teaching the lesson that one world map is better than another, they should be teaching the truth about maps: that they are created for specific purposes, and some maps are better suited to some purposes than are other maps.

The map that's best suited to teaching the proper size and distance relationships of the world's continents is a globe! But because a globe of usable size can't be carried about in the glove compartment, or pasted on a wall, cartographers have come up with different depictions to suit different purposes.

A lesson is geography should be a lesson about how geography is done. It should emphasize that the only way to get a true picture of the Earth is to look at something that's the same shape as the Earth. Maps are useful, but they are all fictions in one way or another.

To present the idea that Gall-Peters is somehow more "right" than Mercator is to propagate a lie in public schools. I hope that we are trying to get away from that.

And on that note, please stop teaching children that Columbus proved that the world is a sphere. Somebody made that up.

Thursday, March 2, 2017

Jeff Sessions: The Missing Questions

So, Jeff Session may have lied to congress. I can't say I'm surprised because it seems that lying, even under oath, just seems to be the way of things in this new administration. And I'm not surprised that Democrats are calling for Session's resignation (which is a position I agree with), or that the Republicans are not, though some are calling for him to recuse himself from investigations into the Trump campaign's ties to Russia.

And that is what surprises me. Not that they want him to recuse himself, but that no one seems to be asking the most obvious question in this whole affair: why didn't Sessions recuse himself the moment he took office? The Justice Department will be asked to investigate the administration of the man who appointed Sessions to head the Department, and there is always (always!) the possibility that the investigation will lead eventually to Trump himself.

There is no way that he should ever have anything to do with this investigation, regardless of what happened in Congress. Though now, with him being accused of lying to Congress, one has to wonder whether trusting him to stay out of the investigation is even possible.

And that is why I think Sessions should resign as Attorney General. You might argue that a man is innocent until proved guilty, but we are not talking about criminal prosecution (at least not yet). We are talking about a law-enforcement officer, whose integrity should be beyond compromise.

And in Jeff Session, we just don't have that.

Friday, February 10, 2017

Writing In a Winter Wonderland

It's cold outside here in New England; the temperature barely got into the double digits today, and there's snow on the way for the next three days. The house is warm, but the attic, where I do most of my writing, is not. Not so much anyway.

And yet here I am writing, because my outline is coming together, and I'm feeling good about the general flow of the story, and—cold fingers be damned—I am clicking away at my old ergonomic Dell keyboard (even though I write on a Mac) to try to keep that flow going as long as it will before I lose the energy or am forced to go off to bed.

And even that won't stop the writing, for when I am at a point like this, I do a lot of writing in my sleep. Not good writing necessarily (and definitely not good sleep), but writing nevertheless. And despite what it does to my sleep, the dreams will usually propel me into another day when I am champing at the bit to get to the keyboard.

There are usually things in the way. Work, snow, making dinner, more snow, shopping. More snow (I'm not exaggerating; multiple storms this week). It impinges on my keyboard time, but I am writing all the while. It is frustrating, sometimes, to have a great idea for a scene or a plot point or some dialogue and not be able to write it down. At least not without inconveniencing my family (I usually note these things using my phone, but taking a smart phone out when you're shoveling snow in 10-degree weather is a great way to kill the battery).

But the story and the people who populate it continue to fascinate me, and so when I do sit down at the keyboard, the words pour out, and it's slowly forming into a story. When it's done, I hope that you and your kids will find it as exciting as I do.

Friday, February 3, 2017

Worse Than I'd Feared

Well, Donald Trump has been President Of the United States for a couple of weeks now, and the world hasn't come to an end. But it's not as if Trump isn't giving it a good effort. It's not just that he's issued a series of executive orders of questionable quality and legality. It's the fact that the first two weeks of his presidency are as much of a circus as the campaign was. And that's scary.

Again, keep in mind that I'm not some cry-baby liberal who thinks that Hillary should have been president. Because I don't, actually, think that Hillary Clinton would have made a good president. But at least she had some experience holding her tongue.

As much as I think that Hillary is too tied up with the financial sector, and that she's a bit hawkish for my tastes (given the history of American military intervention in, say, the last 100 years), I don't think she would have insulted the Prime Minister of Australia. Or the President of Mexico. I don't think she would have rushed headlong into a ban on travel from seven predominately-Muslim countries without some facts to back it up.

And while I think she is beholden to powerful banking interests, I don't think she's so self-serving as to exclude countries from that ban, from which actual terrorists are known to have come, on the basis of having business interests in those countries. Trump might deny that this is the case, but the coincidence makes no sense outside of that context.

Nor do I think that Hillary Clinton would have spent time during an important fence-mending speech to the CIA talking about the numbers in the election. Or commemorated the Holocaust without once referencing Jewish victims. Or talked about Black History Month without actually knowing who Fredrick Douglass was.

Clinton, in other words, for all her faults, has a filter. Trump has none. It's not that we've never had a president with an ego this big. I think that LBJ might still beat out Trump for ego. But even LBJ didn't air his ego and his temper in public. Even that crude Texan knew what to keep away from the eyes of the world.

In addition, the "dealmaker" that Trump think he is hasn't done much on the deal-making front yet. He's bossed people around and tried to throw around the weight of his office, but he hasn't made any moves to work with anyone on getting anything accomplished. And from what I've heard about his pre-presidential business life, I think that's pretty much what we can expect from Trump.

And, of course, the worst thing is that he refuses to do what is necessary to ensure that what he does in office is seen to be for the good of the nation (and the world) instead of for the self-enrichment of Donald J. Trump and his family. By not divesting his massive holdings—or even divulging them—he makes every policy decision suspect.

And that last problem is, I think, reason enough to have had enough of President Trump. Even after only a couple of weeks.

Thursday, November 10, 2016

The Circus Is Over

About eleven months ago, I wrote about the beginning of the not-very-entertaining side show that was the lead-up to the primary elections. At that time I never imagined that Donald Trump would, by any stretch of the imagination, become the President-elect of the United States. The thought never crossed my mind.

It's not that I was expecting Hillary Clinton or Bernie Sanders to be the next President. I've been around a long time, and since George H.W. Bush succeeded Reagan, we've ping-ponged back and forth between Democrats and Republicans, with mostly two-term presidents. Having a Republican in the White House doesn't surprise me in the least.

But Donald Trump? That crude, loud-mouthed, unscrupulous, bigoted, unfiltered reality-TV star? The man who bankrupted four companies while enriching himself? The man who couldn't even contribute to the writing of his own autobiography in any meaningful way? That Donald Trump?

I honestly don't understand. Not that the Republican field was full of roses or anything, but at least one of the other candidates could have been somewhat trusted to hold his or her tongue from time to time. I don't trust Trump not to be impulsive, and that's something I don't want in a high government office.

This is not me being a liberal crybaby. I'm not a liberal anything. I voted for Gary Johnson, not because I wanted to "send a message," but because I honestly thought that, of the four candidates I could reasonably vote for, he was the one with the best track record. I don't think he was my ideal candidate, but the best I could choose under the circumstances. I always thought that's what I was supposed to do: attempt to elect the best person for the job.

I think, instead, we have picked about the worst person for the job. Not because he's a Republican. Not because he's a conservative (is he? I can't really tell). Not because he picked Mike Pence as his running mate. Strike that; that was really, really bad.

I think Donald Trump is the worst person for the job of President because he has absolutely no interest in serving anyone other than Donald Trump. This isn't supposition; it's been the pattern of his life for many decades. This is a man who can't concentrate long enough to read a book. This is a man who "negotiated with" (brow-beat) the architect of one of his grand hotels to take a fee so low that the man lost money on the deal, for no reason other than that Trump had the muscle to do it.

This is a man with no moral compass. For those of you who voted for Trump, I will not stuff you into some little category and berate you, I will not lump you in with him and accuse you of his behavior. But I will say that whatever it is that you think you voted for, you're not going to get it. Donald J. Trump is not looking out for you. He's not going to turn this country around.

Under Donald Trump, without some radical push-back from Congress (and both houses are now controlled by "his" party, if that actually means anything now), the United States could end up being just another Atlantic City. And no matter what debris Trump leaves in his wake, at the end of it all he will come out personally richer, perhaps parlaying his presidency into another reality TV show, and convinced of his own superiority, a legend in his own mind.

And the rest of us, as has always been the case, will be left to clean up the mess.

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Switching to LED

It seems like the obvious thing to do, replacing old, inefficient incandescent and even compact fluorescent (CFL) bulbs with efficient, long-lasting LED (light-emitting diode) bulbs. But even a year ago, it wasn't nearly so obvious. Because for all the amazing advantages we see in the diodes themselves, which have been all over our houses in our appliances and electronic devices, and even our TV screens for years, when it came to home lighting, LED bulbs had a few problems that made me stay away from them.

They were very expensive. Individual bulbs went for as much as $20. And they didn't actually save that much power or last that long compared with CFLs. So they weren't saving much energy or any money.

I started changing over a little at a time in two places in my home. I have two small can lights over my kitchen stove, in which I had been using halogen lamps. Those had two problems: they used a lot of power, and they also lost their lenses after a short time, spitting hot glass onto my vinyl floor and leaving the quartz bulb exposed to dust, which shortened its life.

So I tried LED substitutes, despite their expense, because there are no CFL bulbs that fit the small cans. They provided a very harsh, unpleasant (though bright) light. And they failed. Within weeks. The the LEDs themselves, but the power supply.

The store, Lowes, was very good about replacing the bulbs, but after the third round, I just gave up. We just did without those lights, in fact, for more than six months.

Meanwhile, I found a 7-watt replacement for the 13-watt light in the basement. I chose to replace that because everyone leaves it on all the time. Unlike the lights for the cans, though, that one has lasted very well. It was still very expensive, though.

But now things have changed, a lot. I can buy a six-pack of 60-watt-equivalent LED bulbs that cast a light much closer to the CFLs in quality for less than $10 a package, and they seem to last. No only that, but they use about half the power needed for a CFL, last quite a bit longer, and are so efficient that you can actually hold onto the lit bulb without burning your fingers. In fact, they generate very little heat at all.

So now, with very few exceptions (and those mostly because of available sizes), as my CFLs burn out, I am replacing them with LED. I even found a different brand for the can lights, and the stove area is once again brightly lit.

I can now, without reservation, recommend LED lighting in nearly all home applications. And it's about time.