Monday, April 24, 2017

10 Ways Jerry Maguire Could've Been A Better Movie

1) As it is Cameron Crowe wrote and directed it and was one of 4 producers. They could've fired Crowe before shooting started, gotten Robert Towne and some other rewrite experts in there and completely re-written the whole thing; or better yet, just used an entirely different script altogether. For Jesus' sake, don't make every character sound like Cameron Crowe!

2) It could have been Avery (Kelly Preston), Jerry's finacee briefly at the start of the movie, who had the nervous breakdown and then the "vision" about sports agents being... something, instead of what they are. Avery could've broken up with Jerry (in the film it's the other way around), joined the agency, then quit very soon. Jerry could remain an agent like agents are in real life, and the film could be a realistic portrayal of a sports management company, neither idealizing nor unrealistically condemning the industry, with occasional shots of Avery on her Crusading quest as comic relief.

2a) This raises the interesting question of whether Dorothy (Renée Zellweger), who in the film leaves the management company with Jerry and later develops a romantic relationship with him, will leave with Avery, and still eventually develop that relationship with Jerry. This would give Dorothy's character much more to do than in the film as is, where pretty much all she does is wait around for Jerry to sweep her further off of her feet.

3) The scene where Rod (Cuba Gooding Jr), an NFL wide receiver and the only one of Jerry's clients who leaves the company with him, gets up on his feet after an apparent injury in a "Monday Night Football" game, and dances all over the place in front of a wildly cheering crowd, proving that he finally understands what Jerry (or Avery in the alternate version) has been telling him all along? No. Just no.

4) Get that guitar away from Frank "Cush" Cushman (Jerry O'Connell), another one of Jerry's clients, who wavers for a while but decides to stay at the agency instead of staying with Jerry, and keep it far away from him as long as the cameras are rolling.

5) Include a long angry rant by someone directly into the face of Jerry or Avery or whoever it is who has written that manifesto about "quality" in sports management. The angry rant is about how the job of a sports agent is not about "quality," but quantity: the number of dollars, Euros, pounds, Yen or what have you, which the client receives. The angry ranter could point out that if the manifesto writer is really interested in quality, there are a lot of volunteer positions open in the world's disaster zones. The ranter will definitely denounce American collegiate athletics as possibly the most monumental and shameless rip-off of athletes in the history of the world so far. You could give that rant to Sugar (Jay Mohr), Jerry's protégé who stays at the firm, is selected by management to fire Jerry, and systematically takes all of Jerry's clients except Rod. The rant would give Sugar's character more complexity, making him less of a one-dimensional weasel. (Of course, this and a lot of my other suggestions assumes you agree with me that Jerry's manifesto is ridiculous. If you agree, then you've just about got to take suggestion 1) at the least.)

6) Jerry's relationship with Ray (Jonathan Lipnicki), Dorothy's son, would be much more interesting if Ray started out hating Jerry. Give Jerry's character more work to do. Or,

6a) Eliminate Ray and a few other characters. There are too many characters all trying to be special for one movie. Pick yr battles.

7) Another long angry rant, this one about the stupidity, hypocrisy, brutality and infantilism of sports, and about how athletes, coaches, sports journalists, team owners, cheerleaders, super-fans, etc, etc, are generally every bit as empty and horrible as agents, although agents are much less likely to be revered, for some reason. This rant could also be delivered by Sugar, or someone else.

8) NO BONNIE HUNT! If you don't eliminate the character (Laurel, Dorothy's sister), then at least re-cast the role. It's interesting: I was just on Roger Ebert's website, researching, trying to comprehend just why so many people mistakenly think this movie is any good. Ebert called Hunt "almost always a delight to watch." I've never been the slightest bit delighted to watch Bonnie Hunt, and I'm right and Ebert was wrong.

9) In the movie as is, Jerry and Rod supposedly both becoming much more deep and less concerned about money; and as a result of this, of course, they end up striking it rich. Shit or get off of the pot; either stop preaching against a concern with money (or keep that nonsensical preaching in the mouths of comic relief like Avery if it's Avery who has the breakdown, writes the manifesto and strikes off on her own), or show the characters actually having to live on much less money, but still being happier. For instance, maybe Rod has a career-ending injury before he gets that big payday; and then later we see him as a high-school football coach, or maybe in some other modestly-paying job: and he's happier. (My feeling is that more money definitely will make you happier, and will until we pivot to that Gene Roddenberry-style post-economic world; and that anyone who tells you different is either poor and in denial, or rich and so emotionally fucked-up that not even money helped.)

10) Let Jerry and Dorothy be much more flawed. Because people are deeply flawed. Always. Cuba Gooding was in a very good movie about the same time he was in Jerry Maguire: James L Brooks' As Good As It Gets, a film in which characters have horrible personal problems, and don't solve those horrible problems, but still achieve some significant triumphs and improve thier lives. In other words: A realistic cheesy mainstream feel-good movie about rich white people.

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Jerry Maguire Is The Worst Movie I've Ever Seen

Jerry Maguire is the stupidest movie I've ever seen, so show me the money because you had me at "Hello."

You complete me. If this is empty, this doesn't matter. I love him for the man he wants to be. And I love him for the man he almost is. Success consists of simply getting up one more time than you fall. I am out here for you. You don't know what it's like to be ME out here for YOU. It is an up-at-dawn, pride-swallowing siege that I will never fully tell you about, okay? Did you know that the human head weighs 8 pounds? Did you know that Troy Aikman, in only six years, has passed for 16,303 yards? D'you know that bees and dogs can smell fear? Did you know that the career record for hits is 4,256 by Pete Rose who is NOT in the Hall of Fame? D'you know that my next door neighbor has three rabbits? I... I can't compete with that! Hey, I don't have all the answers. In life, to be honest, I failed as much as I have succeeded. But I love my wife. I love my life. And I wish you my kind of success. What do you want from mw? My soul? Why not? I deserve that much.

But if anybody else wants to come with me, this moment will be the ground floor of something real and fun and inspiring and true in this godforsaken business and we will do it together! Who's coming with me besides... "Flipper" here?

I'm fucked. Twenty-four hours ago, man, I was hot! Now... I'm a cautionary tale. You see this jacket I'm wearing, you like it? Because I don't really need it. Because I'm cloaked in failure! I lost the number one draft picked the night before the draft! Why? Let's recap: Because a hockey player's kid made me feel like a superficial jerk. I ate two slices of bad pizza, went to bed and grew a conscience! Have you ever gotten the feeling that you aren't completely embarassed yet, but you glimpse tomorrow's embarrassment? This is going to change everything. Promise? How about a little piece of integrity in this world that is so full of greed and a lack of honorability that I don't know what to tell my son! Except, "Here. Have a look at a guy who isn't yelling 'Show me the money." Did you know he's broke? He is broke and working for you for free! Broke. Broke, broke, broke. I'm sorry I'm just not as good at the insults as she is.

A positive anything is better than a negative nothing. Anyone else would have left you by now, but I'm sticking with you. And if I have to ride your ass like Zorro, you're gonna show me the money. You are hanging on by a very thin thread and I dig that about you! Maybe love shouldn't be such hard work. Jump in my nightmare, the water's warm! I won't let you get rid of me. On the surface, everything seems fine. I've got this great guy. And he loves my kid. And he sure does like me a lot. And I can't live like that. It's not the way I'm built. I got a shelf life of ten years, tops. My next contract's gotta bring me the dollars that'll last me and mine a long time. Shit, I'm out of this sport in 5 years. What's my family gonna live on? Huh? There is a sensitivity thing that some people have. I don't have it. I don't cry at movies, I don't gush over babies, I don't buy Christmas presents 5 months early, and I DON'T tell the guy who just ruined both our lives, "Oh, poor baby." But I do love you. Dorothy, this is not a guy. It's a syndrome. Early mid-life. Hanging on to the bottom rung. "Dear God, don't let me be alone or I call my newly-long-suffering-assistant-without-medical for company settlement." If now all you still want is him to come over, I'm not saying anything. I'll tell you why you don't have your ten million dollars. Because right now, you are a paycheck player, you play with your head and not your heart, your personal life is all heart but when you get on the field, it's all about what you didn't get, who's to blame, who under threw the pass, who's got the contracts you don't, who's not giving you your love. That's not what inspires people. Just shut up and play the game with your heart. America still sets the tone for the world of sports, in Indiana I signed Clark Hodd, he's only thirteen years old and is considered the best point guard in the country and last week he scored a hundred points in a single game. I also signed Erica Sorgi, you'll see her in the next Olympics. In Seattle I signed Dallas Malloy, she's sixteen years old and her lawsuit helped paved the way for women boxers everywhere, whenever she fights she thinks about her ex-boyfriend. In Indio, California I signed Art Stallings. He plays the sport with what pure joy. In Odessa, Texas I signed the great Frank Cushman. This April twenty six teams will be falling all over themselves in order to sign him in the next NFL draft. He's my client, my most important client, believe me there's genius everywhere but until they turn pro it's like popcorn in the pan: some pop, some don't. I'm the guy you don't usually see. I'm the one behind the scenes. I'm the sports agent, you know those photos where the new player holds the team jersey and poses with the owner? Inside that building, that's where I work: S.M.I., Sports Management International, thirty three out of shape agents, guiding the careers of one thousand five hundred eighty five of the most finely tuned athletes alive. I handle the lives and dreams of seventy two clients and I get an average of two hundred sixty four phone calls a day, that's what I do, this is what I do best, but I'll be honest with you. I started noticing a few years ago and I didn't say a word but the quest for the big dollars and a lot of the little things were going wrong, but lately, it's gotten worse. Who did I become? Just another shark in a suit? Two days later at our corporate conference in Miami a breakthrough, a breakdown? No a breakthrough. I had so much to say and no one to listen and then it happened: an unexpected thing: I began writing what they call a "mission statement." Not a memo, a "mission statement." A suggestion for the future of our company a night like this doesn't come around very often. I seized it. What started out as one page slowly became twenty five, suddenly, I was my father's son again I was remembering the simple pleasures of this job: how I ended up here out of law school, the way a stadium sounds when one of my players performs well on the field the way we are meant to protect them in health and in injury. With so many clients we've forgotten what's important. I wrote, and wrote and wrote and I'm not even a writer. I was even remembering the original words of my mentor the late great Dicky Fox. Suddenly it was all clear: the answer was fewer clients and less money, giving more attention to them, caring for them, caring for ourselves. I'll be the first to admit it: what I was writing was somewhat "touchy feely." I didn't care. I had lost the ability to bullshit, it was the me I always wanted to be. I put the mission statement into a bag and took it to a copymat in the middle of the night, printed a hundred and ten copies. Even the cover looked like The Catcher in the Rye. I entitled it: The Things We Think And Do Not Say, The Future of Our Business.


Like I said: the stupidest. The worst. (I still haven't completely forgiven Cuba Gooding. Not for "Show me the money!" That's what an agent is for. It's the only thing an agent is for. What upsets me is that Gooding's character eventually falls for Maguire's nonsense about there being more to it than that.) Then again, it's the only Cameron Crowe movie I've watched all the way through.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Osoff Wins 1st Round Of GA 6th Dist Special Election

1st: Congratulations, Mr Osoff! 2nd: To those who are already celebrating what they regard as Osoff's sure-thing victory in the June run-off, please take a lesson from last November and TAKE. NO. THING. FOR. GRAN. TED!!! Remember, on November 7 most people assumed Hillary would win. And if Osoff is headed for a big win in June, there's no harm in making it bigger. Every vote counts.

I have been wondering whether Trump is actually helping Osoff win with things like the insane tweets. Trump was tweeting away running up to the Nov 8 election, and he carried the 6th District by... 1.5 percent. Representative Tom Price (now Trump's Sec of HHS) was re-elected by a margin of... 24 percent. Things like that, and the fact that the Democratic Osoff almost won in the 1st round with 48 percent in a district which has been solidly Republican ever since Newt Gingrich won his 1st term there in 1978, and that Republican Karen Handel, who will be Osoff's opponent in the run-off in June, was 2nd with 20 percent, and Trump's approval rating, and other things, have made it seem like this election is above all about Trump, and that the more involved Trump becomes, the better Osoff's chances.

But let's take nothing for granted. When it seems like we're ahead in a race, we should run harder. It has always seemed, to rational people, that Trump's tweets could only disgust people and help his political opponents. Then we found out that at least 62.9 million American voters are profoundly irrational. All through this friggin nightmare since 2015, we would-be political wizards have been making statements beginning with words like "It would make sense if[...]," stubbornly resisting the insight that, with Trump in the mix, things keep happening which make no sense whatsoever.

As a matter of fact, that's exactly how you could describe a Democrat getting 48% in the 1st round of a special election for Georgia's 6th Congressional District: it's something which makes no sense. It's something no one would've predicted 2 years ago.

So, yes, be happy about yesterday's result in Georgia's 6th District. Just don't let up.

Monday, April 17, 2017

Journalism Devoted To Watches

First of all, there's the Watch Snob. Or should I say first, last and everything in between? I'm new at this, I've been really looking for quality horological journalism for a matter of mere months, and I certainly hope there are are worlds of quality writing about watches as yet unimagined by me, but at the present time, the Watch Snob is the only writer about watches I feel I can trust, because he's the only one -- the only one! -- who writes openly negative things about watches he doesn't like. The only one who has openly negative headlines on some of his columns.

Everybody else I've encountered so far -- everybody! -- seems to me like a more or less obvious part of the advertising branch of the watch industry. Websites such as WatchTime and Hodinkee are interesting, but I can't recall a single article on either site which was even faintly negative, overall, about any watch. And those two sites are interesting in part because they're not nearly as obvious about it as a lot of other sites claiming to be magazines. All of these sites have big, expensive-looking ads on them, and it seems that they are competing for watchmakers' ad revenue by flattering them, as opposed to giving the reader some usefully unfiltered opinions.

I don't agree with the Watch Snob about everything -- if when I get rich I'm going to get the watches I want to have, and not spoil my own enjoyment by worrying about whether the Watch Snob approves or rolls his eyes or openly ridicules me or whatever -- and he actually is quite a snob in general, not just about watches, and that certainly is a bore -- but unless I'm drastically mistaken, he is actually quite honest and unabashedly frank in his columns, and that is a service to the reader. For just one example, in his latest column, a report from Baselworld 2017, he states that Cartier, which has been making jewelry for a long time and watches for a short time, is "still struggling" to gain credibility as a watchmaker.

Up until I read that column today, I was under the impression -- the surprising impression, to me -- that Cartier had been generally accepted as one of the world's finest watchmakers, because up until today, that had been the tone of absolutely everything I had read about their watches from absolutely everyone whom I suspected of possibly being some sort of expert. Thank you, Watch Snob!

Besides what we generally think of as journalists (including bloggers), there is one major online source of information about watches, and it is a source which is in no way lacking in negative reactions to this or that watch. I'm talking about online forums where watch enthusiasts gather to talk about watches. The biggest such gathering place of which I currently know is at the website Watchuseek. But I'm not sure what to make of the information I get from such forums. A lot of the participants there seem to be biased in favor of a particular brand or model which they happen to own -- I've been guilty of the very same sort of biased writing on this very blog. By the way, this is my Seiko 5:


There are many like it, but this one is mine -- or against some brand with which they seem to have had some completely atypical bad luck: for example, they may have owned a particular model which kept terrible time and broke down very soon after they got it, when the model in general is famous for its precision and reliability.

I hear that in some such cases, the person writing about such bad experience actually has had no such experience with the brand or model in question, but happens to own a store which sells a brand or model which competes in the marketplace which the one they're denigrating. I hear that in some cases, manufacturers actually encourage their employees go online and slander the competition.

I repeat: I HEAR such things, I have no idea how often they actually happen.

Maybe if I spent a huge amount of time in such forums, I would gradually get a sense for which of the participants was knowledgeable and frank, and start to be able to sift the signal from the noise. Maybe. It seems like a huge investment to make, for a questionable possibility of an eventual payoff of unknown proportions.

In the meantime, other then the Watch Snob, where are the honest horological writers at the world's magazines and newspapers? Are there any? Does the Watch Snob publish under a pseudonym because the entire watch industry would snub him if they knew who he was, making it difficult or impossible for him to do his job?

Saturday, April 15, 2017

"Finding Jesus: Faith, Fact, Forgery" On CNN.

The episodes of CNN's series (and it is hardly alone among TV shows about ancient history in being like this) "Finding Jesus: Faith, Fact, Forgery" ought to begin the way they finish:

NARRATOR: The (fill in the blank: piece of wood, bone fragment, etc), thought to (fill in the blank: have come from the True Cross, be the remains of the Apostle [fill in apostle's name], etc), has/have been proven by Carbon-14 testing to come from (fill in actual time 200 to 1500 years later than the 1st century), and so is/are inauthentic, and does/do not bring us any closer to the historical Jesus.

CNN might object: "If we did that, many viewers would change the channel and miss the next 59 minutes and 45 seconds of our 1-hour show!"

To which I would respond, "Well they might! Especially if they had already seen 1 or 2 episodes of the series, in which 80 to95% or so of the first 59 minutes and 45 seconds are repetition, fluff and theological babble, only very mildly mitigated by the odd intelligent remark not edited out or the occasional glimpse of a lovely artwork! Have you thought about how many of those viewers you've already lost doing it your way? Here's a bold new approach for you: you want viewers to hang around for an hour? Fill up the whole hour with actual content!"

Obviously, CNN is not taking my advice these days.

But imagine: a show about Jesus' place in history where they told you what they know about this episode's artifacts right away, first thing, but was so interesting and filled with still further information -- and more of the art: I've seen a tremendous lot of really beautiful art in shows in this genre, but I haven't seen one yet which wouldn't have benefited from still more -- that the actual general public would watch breathlessly all the way to the end.

Drop the "historical re-enactments," the sequences in which actors are portraying Jesus and his contemporaries, like a hot rock. What will you put in their place? I refer you to the above-mentioned beautiful art. (It wouldn't kill you to occasionally mention, if you happen to know, when and/or where and/or by whom the painting or sculpture or altar or church or temple was made.) You can also show manuscripts: hopefully, a large part of the evidence of what you're telling your viewers comes from primary sources. You can show maps, old and also freshly-made. You've already flown academics in to Jerusalem or Rome or wherever -- give them more time to show the viewer around. Get out of their way, use this rich resource in a more appreciative way. If you're doing it remotely close to right you won't have to repeat one frame of film to fill up an entire hour.

That's right, CNN: I just said you're not doing it remotely close to right. Well, there it is. What's that you say? You're asking if I think I could do better? I can't produce an entire documentary right now. But if you hired me as a consultant on your next project of this type: yes, I don't think that could help but result in a drastic improvement. And/or: you could simply stop hiring Simcha Jacobovici. That alone would result in a tremendous improvement. You're welcome!

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

If I Were King Of The Forest --

In the preface to a book on Ottoman history written in English, the author assures the reader that, "because of the book's target audience," (with very few exceptions) the bibliographical contains only items written in English. In the very same paragraph he lavishes praise on the extraordinary multilingualism of some of the bibliographies of the items in his bibliography and urges the reader to check them out.

No book or article was ever improved by taking footnotes out or restricting the bibliography along linguistic lines. Just one example: suppose a student whose first language was French took a college course in which this book was read, and that many of the items the authors eliminated from his bibliography were in French. I'm telling you, both of those things are not just supposin', they're both pretty much guaranteed, and it makes me sad.

A headline says that while Pearl Jam may not be cool, they're great. I'm so uncool that I never until now suspected that Pearl Jam was anything other than possibly too cool.

After 14 pages (6 pages of preface and 8 pages of Chapter 1), a book claiming to be an introduction to information theory explains what information theory is. I'm thinking this explanation belongs right at the beginning of the preface, since this is (supposedly) a book for people who haven't yet been introduced to information theory.

"The Day-Date continues to be the watch par excellence of influential people." Actual quote from rolex.com. I'm thinking that would be more accurate if "influential" was replaced with "insecure." For a lot of Rolex wearers, if the people they're trying to impress don't know how much their Rolex cost, or, worse, don't even notice at all that they're wearing Rolexes, then all of that money was pretty much wasted.

On the other hand, some people laugh at Rolex wearers for only wearing Rolexes to try to impress others, but they secretly want a Rolex so bad, and the only reason they don't have one is they're afraid of being laughed at by watch snobs like themselves, and that's even sillier than wearing a watch only to impress others. (The only sane reason to wear any watch: because you -- not anybody else at all. YOU -- like it. Because YOU think the watch is cool. That's the only sane reason amid all of this madness.)

I'm beginning to think that there may be very few people who share my literary and artistic tastes and my political views and my interests in watches. It might be fewer than few, maybe no-one shares all that with me. I noticed this year that the Leipzig Book Fair and Baselworld overlapped for a couple of days. The more I look into these things, the harder it is to imagine anyone excited by one of these events who has even heard of the other. Oh well, someone's got to be first at everything. Give me a Nobel Prize please, thank you.

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Vegans and Atheists

I assume that most vegans are pleasant and intelligent people with great senses of humor. However, I do not have any direct evidence to support this assumption.


I just assume that, just as Dawkins and Harris and Myers and (from beyond the grave) Hitch are making us (atheists) all look bad, so the humorless, self-righteous and just generally stupid among the vegans, because they make so damn much noise, are making vegans in general look bad. Surely you've heard something along the lines of: "I'm a vegan, and the joke you just told offends me because[...]" and the remark ends with something other than "[...]because I'm a humorless stiff."

There are few atheists who are constantly jumping up and down and yelling, "Hey! HEY! I'm an atheist, and I hate the way that the New Atheist keep talking about historical topics without bothering to learn about them first, and I've actually read the Koran, and I don't think we all should be afraid of Islam. Muslims are pretty much just people like others," and so on and so forth. In fact, I may be the only one.

Likewise, there are few vegans jumping up and down and yelling, "Hey! HEY! I'm a vegan, and I have a sense of humor! You could even tell me a joke about vegans and I'll probably think it's funny. Especially if it's a joke about those vegans everybody hates because they have no sense of humor! 'Everybody' meaning 'including almost all vegans', cause Duh!"

I assume that almost all vegans are like that, even in the absence of the jumping up and down and yelling.

The alternative would be to assume that a sense of humor actually is dependent upon ingesting animal protein and fat.

Nerdly Arrogance

"Given a function f of a real variable x and an interval [a, b] of the real line, the definite integral ∫ a b f ( x ) d x {\displaystyle \int _{a}^{b}\!f(x)\,dx} \int _{a}^{b}\!f(x)\,dx is defined informally as the signed area of the region in the xy-plane that is bounded by the graph of f, the x-axis and the vertical lines x = a and x = b. The area above the x-axis adds to the total and that below the x-axis subtracts from the total."

Oh, is that all!

Welcome to more of me failing to learn advanced math. Well, okay, it's not 100% accurate to say that I'm failing, but I'm being thwarted and blocked just a bit by unnecessary obtuseness such as that just quoted. I suspect that there may be a definition of definite integrals out there somewhere which is somewhat more comprehensible to people who don't already know what definite integrals are. I also suspect that communication with the general public is not a strong point among STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) nerds, and I suspect that it may not be a strong point because, generally speaking, they despise us. They don't particularly want to help. Maybe I'm completely wrong about that because what the Hell do I know about math anyway because for the last 40 years, ever since I finished 10th grade and all of the math I was ever required to study, I've been running away from math. Or maybe it's not the general public at all which nerds tend to despise, but me in particularly, because I in particular tend to offend nerds in some way.

Then again, maybe I'm right. I'm not the first to suggest such a thing. For example, some people have noticed how computers tend to be made by nerds for nerds, and not for the general public; that is to say, the general public has difficulties with computers not because these difficulties are inherent but because the nerds who made the computers don't care much, generally speaking, about the general public and its difficulties. Which is somewhat shocking when you consider that it is the general public which is directly responsible for the nerds making all of those gazillions of dollars, euros, yen and so forth. But they don't have to care because the general public has not yet caught up with the nerds enough to be able to choose the more user-friendly ones from among them, to borrow a nerdly phrase. And don't come at me with Apple, saying that Apple is that user-friendly brand of nerd right before my eyes which I refuse to see. Apple is a rip-off, and ripping people off ain't friendly.

There are not yet enough computer nerds that they have to compete with each other for the approval of the general public. 100 years ago, auto mechanics were just as smug and unbearable as computer nerds are now. A meager supply of mechanics and a huge demand for their services gave them elite status, and they abused the situation and were assholes about it, preferring to be moody geniuses rather than to be helpful and nice and have lots of friends. Then more people learned how to make and fix automobiles, and all of a sudden it wasn't an elite profession any more, and those who had so recently thought of themselves as geniuses suddenly had trouble finding work, and they had no friends to help them.

Those who do not learn from history are condemned to repeat it, STEM nerds.

Monday, April 10, 2017

Internet Manners

I don't claim to have a greatly refined set of them. I have noticed that I often annoy others.

15 years ago and more, I had a very hard time understanding the overwhelmingly negative response when I posted on a social site in a bigger-than-average font.

I understand it now. Oh boy oh boy, do I ever understand it. Because a plague has settled into my circle of online friends and acquaintances, and perhaps into yours too: these posts consisting of brightly-colored squares with large-font words inside of them.

You were right to think that your message of "Oh, this is terrible!" or "Why did they do that?" was not interesting enough, all by itself, to be a regular post in a regular font. Your mistake was thinking that putting it in big white letters inside of one of these brightly-colored squares was going to make it more interesting, or more anything other than annoying. Putting it into a big font was already making it more annoying, and this with the squares, I don't care if Mark Zuckerberg thought it up personally, it's making it even worse. Somebody say "Amen!" Someone else shout, "Stop it!" If you notice eventually that I've unfollowed you and you're wondering why, this might well be it.

Saturday, April 8, 2017

More Chess Informant

Maybe I actually am getting better at chess. Or maybe the following game, or at least the end of it, is particularly easy to understand.

Near the front of every issue of Chess Informant is a list of the best games of the previous issue as voted upon by several particularly distinguished Grandmasters. Yesterday I noticed that I actually had 2 consecutive issues here, 19 and 20, so that I could look at some of 19's best games as announced in 20. Chess Informant 20 has the list of the 10 best games in 19, as elected by some of the leading lights of the chess world in 1976: Dr Euwe, Averbakh, Barcza, Dr Filip, Geller, Kotov, Pirc, Polugayevsky and Schmidt. Their 1st choice is a rather long game, and it has no illustration in no 19, but their 2nd choice, Vaganian -- Planinc, Hastings 1975, game 533 in Chess Informant 19, is just 22 moves long and the position after White's 19th move is illustrated. In Chess Informant 19 it has analysis by Vaganian, who lost. Of Vaganian's analysis, I have given here only his evaluation of several moves: he gives a ?!, meaning "a dubious move," to his own 6th and 12th moves; a ?, meaning "a mistake," to his 13th move; and a !!, meaning "an excellent move," to Planinc's 19th and 22th moves, the latter of which persuaded Vaganian to retire. I have not given Vaganian's analyses of alternate lines because I have nothing intelligent to say about them. Maybe I would if I dropped everything for several days and did nothing except study this game. Or maybe I wouldn't.

1. d4 Nf6 2. c4 c5 3. Nf3 cd4 4. Nd4 e6 5. Nc3 Bb4 6. Ndb5?! O-O 7. a3 Bc3 8. Nc3 d5 9. Bg5 h6 10. Bf6 Qf6 11. cd5 ed5 12. Qd5?! Rd8 13. Qf3? Qb6! 14. Rd1 Rd1 15. Nd1 Nc6 16. Qe3 Nd4 17. Qe8 Kh7 18. e3 Nc2 19. Kd2!! Bf5 20. Qa8 Qd6 21. Kc1 Na1 22. Qb7 Qc7!! (White resigns.)

Most of the analyses of chess games I've seen, apart from drawn games, have been either by the winner or by a 3rd party. It's impressive when someone analyzes a game they've lost, as Vaganian does here, because there's a strong tendency to want to forget a loss rather then overcome one's ego and learn from it. Analyzing a game one has won is also often quite egotistical: "Look how smart I am, look how I crushed this chump!"

Far from understanding all of the moves in Grandmaster games, it usually takes me more than one try just to follow all of the moves correctly, reading them and moving the pieces on a board. (And just reading the moves and seeing an entire game in my head? I don't think that's ever going to happen for me.) I looked at this game on an analysis board at lichess.org. This has a great advantage, for me, over a conventional chess set: when I move the pieces on the analysis board, the website writes out the moves for me, and this makes it much easier -- for me, at least -- to check what I'm reading against the moves I'm making and make sure I'm making the written moves.

I tried to move the pieces for this game on an analysis board last night, but I think I may've gotten the 22nd moves wrong. This morning I finally got all of the moves right.

And then, after looking at the final position for a couple of minutes, an amazing thing happened: I understood why White resigned! If he didn't take Black's Queen, instead moving his King out of check, Black would take the White Queen; but if he did take Black's Queen, then Black would move 23. [...] Nb3, checkmate.

This is still very, very far from understanding the entire game. For example, I don't understand why White was unable to develop many of his pieces, so that his white Bishop, King's Rook and f-, g-, and h-Pawns were never moved, and were all just about completely useless to him at the end of the game. (Assuming that I'm correct in judging that they were useless to him.) There must have been some threat which was too urgent to allow White to develop the pieces on his King's side. What that threat was, I don't know. Maybe the answer is somewhere in those alternate lines. Who knows? Not me, that's who. Not yet. I would compare my achievement here to watching an NBA player on video in slow motion, making a basket, and after watching it in slow motion 5 or 6 times, you notice the head fake which threw the defensive player off. That might be a great breakthrough for you as an observer of basketball, but it doesn't mean you're ready to try out for the NBA.

I apologize for not being able to show you the final board, or even, for my readers whose 1st chess language is not English, to list the moves with the little pictures of the pieces instead of their English abbreviations. But if you google vaganian planinc hastings 1975, you can find a number of websites which show the entire game move by move. If I right-click on the final board on those sites, and choose "save image as," all I've saved is a tiny black square. The struggle continues, the struggle to understand chess, and to understand IT and to understand other things.

Friday, April 7, 2017

Chess Informant

I have a few issues of Chess Informant, a periodical published in Belgrad, which is constructed like a large-format paperback book -- a rather high-quality book, or at least it was as recently as 1995, when Chess Informant 65 was published, the most recent issue I have. In 1995 the pages were still sewn together in signatures, instead of just glued to the spine, which is far more common for paperbacks, and cheaper, and much less sturdy. I have not heard anything about the quality of construction decreasing since the 1990's. Chess Informant 1 was published in 1966. At first 2 issues a year were published, then 3, and now they're publishing 4 issues a year.

(Yes, the name Chess Informant is somewhat comical, and was even stranger to English-speaking ears coming from the Soviet bloc back during the Cold War. I have no doubt that it unnecessarily raised the blood pressure of more than one FBI agent who was not familiar with the world of chess. A better translation would no doubt have been something like Chess Information. But it's far and away the most prominent publication of its type, and the name has stuck. They're not going to change the English translation now.)

What it is, is a collection of those of the most recent top-level Grandmaster chess games which the editors have deemed to be the best. These are presented with commentary, sometimes by one of the game's players, sometimes by some other Grandmaster. The games and the commentary are all presented without words: The editors of Chess Informant were among the first to devise non-lingual signs for chess pieces, moves, and evaluation by commentators. Near the front of each volume all of these signs are explained in various languages. They're all easily understandable, even to someone like me. The number of languages has increased as times has gone by. Until recently, the name of the periodical has appeared in each one of those languages on the cover. I haven't been able to find a picture of the very first Chess Informant. But I believe this is Chess Informant 2,


and it is presented in 6 languages. The name of publication in the editor's native Serbo-Croation is in large white letters running vertically from the bottom to the top; and to the left of that, the title is translated in smaller script into Russian, English, German, French and Spanish. In the 10th issue, published in 1971, Italian and Swedish were added. Chinese was added in the 23rd issue in 1977, and the 25th issue, from 1978, has the same assortment of languages. I can't see numbers 26 through 37, but number 38 from 1984 has Arabic. The 125th issue, from 2015, is the newest one I've been able to see a photo of which still lists all the languages on the cover in this manner, and it still has the same languages as #38 in 1984: Serbo-Croation, Russian, English, German, French, Spanish, Italian, Swedish, Chinese and Arabic. Not a bad international reach. Here's Chess Informant 95 from 2005, displaying those 10 languages on its cover:


And all of the chess in all of the volumes is at a level far above my head. I've studied 1 of these games, game 120 from Chess Informant 20, Kovács L -- Benkő, Debrecen 1975, Going through all of the moves and all of commentary over and over, and I don't understand what happened. It's a short game, checkmate by Black on the 26th move, and there's a diagram of the position after White's 22nd move. Both the shortness and the diagram encouraged me to choose this game to study. I'm convinced by now that I have moved all the pieces as recorded. But I'm not sure about very much at all beyond that. As usual, much of the commentary explains what would've happened if different moves had been made at this or that point. But there is no commentary at several points where I cannot understand why the game's moves were made. Presumably, when there is no commentary, the commentator assumes that it is obvious to the reader why the game move was made. (Not that the existing commentary leaves me unmystified.)

Anyway, that's 1 game out of 724 games in Chess Informant 20. Chess Informant passed 100,000 games presented some years ago, and I think it's safe to say that I would not be able even remotely understand a single one of them.

PS, 8 April 2017: Finally found a picture of the very first issue of Chess Informant!


Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Tantalum

If someone asks: what's the good of being obsessed with watches which are much too expensive for you to afford (for the moment, although of course all that will change when yr rich and famous), the answer is: you learn things.

And if they say: Oh yeah? What kind of things? you can say:

Well, for instance, just now, just this very minute, I learned of the existence of a metal about which I had not known, called tantalum or tantalium. How did I learn about it? This is how:


This watch has a case and bezel made of tantalum. I found this watch by doing a Google Shopping search for Panerai -- which is a brand of Swiss watch, and, as far as I know, unaffiliated with Panera,


the restaurant chain which is proud of its fancy bread. I looked up the watch, and saw that its case is made of tantalium or tantalum, and then I looked up tantalum.

Tantalum was discovered in 1802 by the Swedish chemist Anders Ekeberg. It has an attractive blue-gray metallic luster, and a specific gravity of 16.69, which means that it is a little more than twice as heavy as iron, about 1 1/2 times as heavy as lead, about 85% as heavy as gold and 75% as heavy as platinum, and yes I know that I said "heavy" instead of "dense" and I don't care, because I'd rather be understood than meaninglessly precise. In addition to being very heavy, tantalum is ductile, very hard, easily fabricated, highly conductive of heat and electricity, and extraordinarily resistant to corrosion by acids.

How much does Tantalum cost? That's a very good question. I have consulted many sources about this question, and they are unanimous in giving these 2 answers: "Contact us and we'll quote you a price right away!" and "Here, let us sell you some of this tantalite instead!" Tantalite is an ore which contains tantalum. How difficult is it to extract the tantalum from tantalite? I have no idea whatsoever.

They (scientists, not the merchants offering tantalite for sale online) say that there is about 2000 times more tantalum than gold in the Earth's crust, and about 700 times more tantalum than platinum. How do they know such things? Don't ask me. I still can't wrap my mind around how people tell time by looking at things in the sky, which they've been doing for thousands of years. There are lots and lots of things I don't know and/or can't comprehend, things which are very basic to some other people.

And I know all of this because of my interest in the expensive watches, and for no other reason. Can you get a brand-new tantalum Panerai right now, or is the tantalum just something they did with a few watches in the past? That I don't know.

Saturday, April 1, 2017

The US: A "Leader" In Combating Climate Change?

Yesterday, Michael Bloomberg published an op-ed in that liberal bastion, the New York Times -- you ever notice how many conservatives publish op-eds in our nation's supposed liberal bastion? Good! If it were just one conservative now and then, it might be seen as a refreshing sign of open-mindedness, but when it's a constant slew plus a whole bunch of the Times' regular columnists, it ought to be one more huge clue that the Times is a huge joke, and that our country doesn't have a liberal bastion -- in which he assured his readers that Trump will not be able to wreck the environment, and that wind and solar and other clean sources of energy will triumph no matter what Trump does. Many people have been reassured by Bloomberg's column -- but should they have been?

Before we go further, since many of my readers come from countries other than the United States: in the previous paragraph, I used the term "liberal" in the American sense, meaning "Left" or "progressive." Most of the rest of the world, when they say "liberal," mean what we in the US mean when we say "libertarian." Michael Bloomberg is what most of the world would call a liberal, and what we in the US call a libertarian.

His column, asserting that Trump won't be able to stop or slow down the conversion from fossil fuels to wind, solar, tidal, geothermal, etc, is completely libertarian in its outlook, subscribing to Adam Smith's quaint notion that some markets are free, and that free markets are morally good. He says, in essence, that Trump won't be able to stop the conversion to clean energy because that conversion is good.

Bloomberg certainly isn't the only one who is confident that Trump will not be able to have a significant impact in the transition from fossil fuels to clean sources of energy. And I certainly hope he's right. I just don't see anything in his column in the Times which convinced me that he knows his ass from a hole in the ground.

For example, he refers to "American leadership on climate change." I certainly wasn't the only one who said, "Huh, what?!" when I read that.

Here is a page with statistics about electricity produced from renewable sources. I realize that the use of electricity is not the same as all energy consumption. There may be some definitive statistics on energy consumption and pollution out there somewhere. Or maybe there aren't.

There are two lists of this page: the first lists the 10 countries which produce the most terawatt-hours per year from renewable sources.

The second lists all the countries in the world. It includes the percentage of each country's electricity which is generated from renewables. Unfortunately, it does not list the countries in the order of this percentage (Do I have to do every freakin' thing myself?!), or even in the order of total electricity produced by renewables: it lists them alphabetically.

The top 10 in total number of terawatts from renewables is, in descending order: China, the US, Brazil, Canada, Germany, Russia, India, Japan, Norway and Italy. Oh, another problem with this page: it includes hydroelectric among renewables, and although huge dams don't have huge smokestacks, that doesn't mean they don't wreak any environmental havoc. And #1 renewable producer China generates 4/5 of their renewable total from hydroelectric dams, and #2 US nearly half of its total. And it seems that many of the world's countries generate all or nearly all of their electricity from hydroelectric dams. Should dams be ranked somewhere mid-way between coal and oil on the one and wind and solar on the other in terms of negative environmental impact? I honestly don't know whether that would portray dams too negatively or too positively, or about right.

Anyway, keeping that in mind: China generates only 24.4% of its electricity from renewables. But that's better than the US' 14.27%. The rest of the countries on the first list: Brazil generates 83.98% of its electricity from renewables, Canada 64.48%, Germany 32.70%, Russia 16.59%, India 19.11%, Japan 15.53%, Norway 98.47% and Italy 45.90%.

9 out 10 of the top producers in terms of total wattage, AND MOST OF THE REST OF THE COUNTRIES ON EARTH, generate a higher percentage of their electricity from non-fossil-fuel sources than the country Bloomberg refers to as a leader on the issue of climate change.

Here's a list of countries ranked by the kilotons of carbon dioxide they produced in 2015. The top 10 is quite similar to the top 10 producers of electricity from renewable sources. China and the US are 1-2 again. So, I couldn't blame the residents of many countries, or residents of the US who attempt to think globally, if they got angry at someone like Michael Bloomberg for referring to the US as a leader, or even the leader, in tackling the problem of climate change.

Here's a state-by-state breakdown of the US, giving percentages of electricity with and without hydroelectric dams. Vermont leads both with hydroelectric dams (99.8%) and without (44.3%).