Wednesday, March 31, 2010

RIP - Vasily Smyslov

Vasily Smyslov
b. : 24 March 1921
d. : 27 March 2010
. Vasily Smyslov was the World Chess Champion from 1957-1958, beating Botvinnik 12½-9½ for the title before dutifully losing it back to him a year later, 12½-10½. He was a top-tier Grandmaster, back in the days when that title actually meant something. He was a candidate for the World Championship on a regular basis from 1948-1985. As of the 1972 World Championship Interzonal in Petropolis, his FIDE rating was 2600, which is pretty darn good. He finished fifth there, 11-6, just a half-game shy of qualifying for the next round in the Championship. . His style is usually described as being "positional", but his games are much more interesting than those of other positional players like Reshevsky or Rubinstein. He played a broad range of openings, which made it a bear to try and prepare something against him. Like any Russian grandmaster he was steeped in theory, but he also liked to get "out of book", particularly by fianchettoing the King's Bishop on the black side of the Ruy Lopez. (which will mean utterly nothing to non-chessplayers). . I have one of his "Best Games" books in my personal chess library, which came in useful when I was trying to teach myself to play positional chess. It's old, beat up, and probably out of print now, although I'm sure they'll re-issue it in honor of his recent passing. .
P.S. I should also note that Istvan Bilek, a Hungarian grandmaster from the same time-period as Smyslov, passed away on 21 March. Methinks God is collecting a "set" of GM's. Maybe She's planning to field a team in the next Chess Olympiad. If so, She needs four more GM's. This is one time when I'm happy I'm a patzer.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Nine Dragons - Michael Connelly

2009; 374 pages. A NY Times Best Seller (but what isn't?). Genre : Crime Fiction. Overall Rating : 7*/10.
A birthday present from Liz last November. I mistakenly told her the title was "Nine Monkeys". Needless to say, it took her a long time to find it. Needless to say, she still reminds me about this.
My review in 50 words or less...
Los Angeles Detective Harry Bosch enters the sordid world of Chinese gangs in order to solve a murder of a Chinese shop owner and rescue his kidnapped daughter a world away in Hong Kong. Non-stop action and a good ending. But oh, those Ocons!
You can find the hen dà version of the review here.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Paul McCartney Concert

Paul McCartney kicked off his 2010 tour here in the valley. Liz went with a friend, but I skipped. I was never into Beatlemania, although I recognize McCartney's songwriting and performing skills. He also plays a bitchin' piano and bass guitar. And (in case you never realized it) he's left-handed, and therefore a natural genius. . Liz describes the concert as "very, very good". No warm-up band and McCartney played for three hours (two sets) with a nice blend of tunes from his Beatles days, his Wings days, and lotsa tracks off his most-recent album. She did say he looked a tad bedraggled towards the end of the night. .
Liz and friend had decent seats - on the floor of an arena that doubles as a hockey rink, and about halfway back. Unlike Metal concerts, you actually had chairs to sit in here, although Liz admits they spent most of their time standing, dancing, and singing. She says the biggest drag was a drunken gnome and his equally-drunken wife in the seats directly behind them; belching, staggering and generally being obnoxious.
I've met some gnomes in my dimension travels. The have breaths like a septic tank and demeanors like a caffeinated minotaur. I'm a little surprised they showed up in this dimension, although their choice of "blending in" at a rock concert is quite clever.
In any event, if Sir Paul happens to come to your city, Liz says to definitely see the show.
Liz informs me they were trolls, not gnomes. The good news is : troll-breath is better than gnome-breath. It only smells like a garbage truck. The bad news is : trolls are ugly-looking critters. Butt-ugly. Bugly, you might even say.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

The Age of Elegance

We went to the 21st Annual Ms. Senior Arizona Pageant last night. There were 17 contestants, all of which were at least 60 years old. The catchphrase this year was "The Age of Elegance", which really does sum up what the pageant was all about. . We had excellent seats, right at the end of the promenade. So I was able to get some decent shots with my digital. The contest was divided into three parts - a.) A quick, prepared inspirational speech and a walk down the promenade by each contestant. b.) The talent show (lots of singing), after which the field was narrowed down to the five semi-finalists. c.) An impromptu interview question, followed by the final vote. . This is Ms. Senior Arizona 2009 taking her final walk. Since I didn't attend this even last ywar, I can't tell you anything about her. She did give a truly moving speech after her walk. .
And this is the newly-crowned Ms. Senior Arizona 2010, Maddy Paschal. Liz had worked with her helping to set up the (previously-posted about) 6th Annual Cameo Ball, and said she is just the sweetest person in real life. Congratulations, Maddy!
After the pageant was done, anyone and everyone could go up onstage to congratulate and chat with the contestants.. Which allowed me to snap this pic of the five semi-finalists.
All in all, it was a cool event. There were some truly inspiring contestants, including one lady who is dealing with Parkinson's and has to walk with a cane, but who nevertheless did a great big-band song-&-dance number in the talent competition. Another lady's talent was a clown routine, which was very good. The oldest contestant was 82 years old, which is fantastic in itself.
The whole pageant went off without a hitch, thanks in no small part to the efforts Jasel's mom, Marilyn. She also organized the Cameo Ball, and that went smoothly as well. It's funny. You never appreciate the work that goes into events such as these, because everything just runs perfectly. You only notice the poorly-organized ones when things go awry.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Grandma Pageant

We're off to see the Arizona Senior Beauty Pageant tonight. Grandmas in sashes and tiaras and all that. Evening gown and talent competition, but no bathing suits. Which is probably just as well. I'll have a better report on it tomorrow. . And no, the above pic has no tie-in to the post. I don't have any pageant-related pix in my jpeg folder, so this one will have to do. Lord knows when I'd ever have a topic to use it with anyway.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Death to the Yodelers!

I realize I have a rather tenuous grip on reality. But Gaddafi lives in his own little universe.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Best Chopin 100

You say you just can't get enough of Classical Piano in general, and Chopin in particular? Then this is the collection for you. A whopping 6 CD's, cleverly packed into one box, and all the disks are easily accessible. How's that for excellence in Mechanical Engineering? . What's To Like... This is a recent release (January 2010) and all the CD's are packed to capacity, so you're getting about 7 hours of Chopin. Wikipedia says there are 230 surviving works of Chopin, which means almost half of them are included here. . Chopin (1810-1849) of course is long gone, but about a dozen great pianists are here, including luminaries like Arthur Rubinstein, Dinu Lipatti, Claudio Arrau and Martha Argerich. The first two are among my personal favorites, and they don't disappoint. . I've never listened to this much Chopin at once (actually, over the course of a week), and what particularly surprised me was the diversity of his works. Fast stuff, slow stuff, stuff with an orchestra, stuff without. Stuff that will humble most pianists, and even something called "Fantasy on Polish National Airs". Chopin was one of Poland's ardent nationalists. . None of the music was bad, but naturally I found I liked some types of compositions better than others. In rough order of preference : . Yeah!! The polonaises, piano concertos, piano sonatas, scherzos, and the aforementioned Fantasy on Polish Airs. . Well, okay. The mazurkas, rondos, impromptus, and most of the waltzes. . Meh. The preludes, etudes, and a lot of the nocturnes. . Shoppin' for Chopin... You can get Best Chopin 100 for a mere $14.99 at Amazon. Not bad for 6 disks. Barnes & Noble also stocks it. It's not a best-seller at either outlet. Indeed, you can be the first person to write a review about it at Amazon. . We'll rate this 7½* out of 10, because I liked this collection a lot more than I expected. It doesn't alter my basic views - nocturnes are the cure for insomnia, and all classical piano sounds better when an orchestra is accompanying it - but I'm still developing a taste for this type of classical music (I much prefer Tchaikovsky, Beethoven, Wagner, and anyone named Strauss), and this was another step along the path.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Yo, Tyrania - Ric Weiss

2010; 296 pages. Genre : Fiction; Satire. Suitable for both YA and Adult readers. Overall Rating : 8½*/10.
Full Disclosure : I've never met Ric, but I've been reading his blog for years, so I am cyber-acquainted with him. His blog is here, and his website is here.
My review in 50 words or less...
Ah, Tyrania! An isolated, unwanted principality high on a Swiss alp; its citizens blessed with Neanderthal genes and persistent in-breeding. Queen Doreen is determined to modernize Tyrania, and shanghais Eula Gibson to be the royal tutor. Mayhem, culture-shock, and intrigue ensue. A hilarious satire. Highly recommended.
The gitschmatz version of the review is here.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Illusional Tuesday

Something quick, as I'm knackered from last night's tax session, and am working on a couple reviews - one book; one music. Keep staring at those two blocks of wood; they'll eventually change positions.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Bats in the belfry

One of these was in our suite when I got to work today. It's tough to say who was more terrified - the bat or the various co-workers that he was dive-bombing in a desperate search for an escape route. . He was quickly trapped in a VP's office. No, the Veep wasn't in it at the time. We aren't Dilbert. He just as quickly figured out to crawl out underneath the office door and continue his terrorizing of us humans. . I hypothesized that it was in fact a vampire seeking shelter from the dawn. This was dismissed as not being plausible, so I shut my door and ignored the crisis. I assume they eventually opened one of the dining-room doors and persuaded the critter to make an exit. By 7:30, the excitement was all over.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Moving Pictures - Terry Pratchett

1990; 337 pages. Book #10 in the Discworld series. Genre : Fantasy; Comedy. Overall Rating : 6*/10.
All in all, a pretty average Discworld story. But a so-so effort by Pratchett is still pretty good. This is his salute to the Motion Picture Industry, here called "Holy Wood".
My review in 50 words or less...
When the Ankh-Morpork alchemists rediscover octo-cellulose, Holy Wood is revived. But something stirs in the underground, as people start believing in silver-screen fantasies. Lots of movie references, but the main plot takes forever to get going. A good ending, but don't make this your first Discworld read.
The filmed-in-technicolor version of this review is here.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Sherlock Holmes (the movie)

Opened in theaters : Christmas 2009
DVD Release : March 2010
Genre : Action, Mystery
Overall Rating : 9*/10

. My first movie for 2010, and a good one. Jude Law and Robert Downey, Jr. are the latest cinematic Watson & Holmes duo, and they team up to try and figure out what evil mayhem Lord Blackwood, a devil-worshipping baddie who somehow manages to come back from the grave, is up to. . What's To Like... The turn-of-the-20th-century London settings are fantastic, even if they are CGI-rendered. Both main characters have been re-cast, and like (most of) the Batman movies of the past decade-plus, this is an improvment. Holmes is more brooding now, and often withdraws into his inner thoughts. His boxing skills now have some kung-fu influences, and although he of course has brilliant detective skills,, he also has some vulnerabilities. Most notably, a pretty face and some female attention can really screw his head around. . But it is the re-make of Watson that really shines. Gone is the bumbling, clueless geezer; replaced by a young, close friend of Holmes who, if lacking the deductive prowess of his colleague, has a level head and a lot more common sense. Which means he can cover Holmes' back a lot better than the "old" Watsons. . The plot is good. You keep wondering if Blackwood's feats and powers are of supernatural origin, as natural explanations seem few and far-fetched. And there's a lot of (scientific) chemistry throughout the movie, which makes me misty-eyed, albeit probably from the fumes. We're a long way from OSHA. . The action scenes are well-done, and there's a stream of subtle humor that flows along with the plot. The ending points to an obvious sequel. Blackwood may be evil, but he's no UE. That role is reserved for Professor Moriarty. . So we'll give this one 9 stars, losing points only because Holmes mumbles too much when he broods, and because Mycroft Holmes and the Baker Street Irregulars are nowhere to be seen. It kept me entertained, and there was even some romance to keep Liz interested. Although I read the complete set of Sherlock Homes stories many times as a kid, I find the "new" Watson and Holmes to be a refreshing change. And the fact that the plot is new, and not a retelling of one of Arthur Conan Doyle's tales is a plus, not a minus.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Happy Anniversary !

It was seven years and two presidents ago that we invaded Iraq. Under known-to-be-false pretenses, and without any direct acts of war by Saddam and company. . MSNBC ran a minor article on this today, which you can read here. Curiously, today's article estmates the cost of the war to be $712 billion, while the 2007 cartoon above estimated it to be (at that time) more than $1.3 trillion. Fuzzy math at its best. Either way, that would buy a lot of healthcare. . So what have we gained? Well, the anti-war sentiment was strong enough to put Democrats in the White House and in control of both houses of Congress. This has caused the GOP to reduce the alphabet to 25 letters, eliminating Dubya from their vocabulary entirely. . Iran is sufficiently spooked by our invasion-without-justification mentality to get seriously working on building/acquiring nuclear weapons. Their rationale appears to be "You certainly have the capability of invading and occupying us without cause, but if you do, we'll at least make some places glow in the dark." Hard to argue with that logic. . The body bags are now coming from Afghanistan (which we've been occupying for nine years now) instead of Iraq. We are of course nowhere close to winning either war because the entire populations of both countries hate our guts. . China now owns us (how do you think Dubya funded two wars without raising taxes?), and is getting quite tired of us acting like they need to do what we say. Look for us to start licking their boots, just as we do to the Saudis. . And all the while, we're really no closer to withdrawing from either country. Thus a whole generation of Muslim youth is turning to radical clerics who tell them they will have virgins galore in Heaven if they become suicide bombers and strike a blow against the tyrannical forces illegally occupying Muslim soil. . So Happy 7th-Year Anniversary, America! You will surely reap the economic consequences of your decade of foolishness. Let us hope military consequences don't come down on our heads as well.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

My notes! They're gone!

To repeat - I for one am all in favor of Sarah running for President.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Titanium and Dinosaurs

Once upon a long time ago, I was sitting in the back pew during a weeklong revival, three-quarters asleep, and praying for the evangelist to be short-winded that night, as the next day was a workday. The evangelist then woke me up by uncorking this little tidbit of startling news : . "It's a fact!" said he, "Scientists have actually spotted the New Jerusalem with their telescopes out in deep space! But they're not telling anyone about this because they're godless heathens. It's in the shape of a giant cube, and its heading towards earth!" . Since people knew I was a chemist, the rest of the sparse Pentecostal congregation turned around and gave me an accusing "look", wondering why I was deliberately withholding such important information. . I went up to Mr. Evangelist after the service was over, and asked him just where he might have heard about this little conspiracy of scientific silence. His answer was, "Oh, another evanglist told me about it a couple weeks ago." Apparently that was good enough documentation for him. . Folks, when he's at work, your average scientist doesn't think at all about his religious beliefs. When I do a Total Sulfur determination, I don't pray to God for the answer, I follow a scientifically-proven method. We didn't conjure up evolution to destroy a believer's faith in the book of Genesis (there's actually no contradiction between the two, but that's a subject for some other post). And we didn't invent the Periodic Table just to give little Johnny and Susie more things to memorize than Earth, Water, Fire, and Air. Just because titanium and dinosaurs aren't mentioned in the Bible (the bible doesn't mention cats either), doesn't mean they don't exist. . And, no, I'm not covering up about the New Jerusalem. If I do happen to spot it (which is very unlikely since I'm not an astronomer), I will announce it immediately, and submit my discovery for next year's Nobel Prize. As would every other scientist.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Happy St. Urho's Day !!

St. Urho is the patron saint of Finland (whoever heard of St. Henry?), best known for saving the Finnish grape harvest a long time ago from a plague of locusts by swinging his mighty axe and banishing the pesky critters via the saying below. Which, loosely translated, means, "Begone, you pesky critters!" . Here's a statue of good old St. Urho.
And for those of you who are a trifle lacking in Finnish legends, here's the Wiki article on him. Curiously, there was no St. Urho's Day Parade here in Phoenix today.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Cryptonomicon - Neal Stephenson

1999; 1130 pages. Awards : Locus Award 2000 - Best Science Fiction Novel. Which is strange, since there's no science fiction in it. Also nominated for the a Hugo and an Arthur C. Clarke Award in 2000. Genre : Cyberpunk; Historical Fiction. Overall Rating : 8*/10.
Another 2009 Christmas present (thanks, Jasel!), and a new author for me. Cyberpunk and WW2 historical fiction makes for a jim-dandy nerd novel. A good book, especially if you're a techno-geek.
My reveiw in 50 words or less...
Combines WW2 cryptography and counterintelligence hijinks with a modern-day high-tech finance company start-up and defending it against hackers. Subtle humor, great characters, and Nazi gold. Two storylines that eventually merge, with a good ending to boot. Next vacation, I'm visiting Kinakuta and Qwghlm.
The The skrrgh-inspired version of this book review is here.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

What is your favorite color?

Yet another reference to what is arguably the greatest movie of all time.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Why I don't play the lottery

I have the same problem when I go to Vegas. So I don't put any money in the slot machines. Instead, I watch little old ladies feed their ever-dwindling pile of quarters into the one-armed bandits. I have found that those little old ladies can give remarkably b*itchy looks to people who are watching them lose their money.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Get drunk - keep the weight off

Have 2-3 glasses of red wine every night, and not only is it good for your heart, but it also, if you're a middle-aged woman, helps you gain less weight. So says an article in the latest edition of Archives of Internal Medicine. You can read MSNBC's account of it here. . What I find interesting about the MSNBC article is the way it trumpets the fact that moderate drinking showed better results than teetotaling; but is curiously vague on the issue of moderate drinking versus out-and-out drunkenness. . What if getting schnockered worked just as well as the 2-3 glasses of wine? What if it worked better? Would the results still get published? After all, you can't ingest any calories when you're passed out on the floor. . Perhaps if those were the conclusions, you'd simply downplay them and focus instead on the fact that moderate drinking outperformed no drinking at all. Which, come to think of it, is exactly what that article does.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Just Wrong - Deluxe

I can't even begin to list the number of ways in which this is wrong.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

A Dirty Job - Christopher Moore

2006; 394 pages. Includes an "Are You A Beta Male" quiz in the Appendix and a kewl glow-in-the-dark book cover. Genre : Fiction; Humor. Overall Rating : 9½ */10.
Another book that Santa brought me last Christmas, and so far, all have been good, worthwhile reads. Christopher Moore has become one of my favorite humor writers.
My review in 50 words or less...
Charlie Asher is a Beta Male caring for his newborn daughter, Sophie; when he discovers he's been given a new job : Agent of Death. Lots of laughs, twists, witty metaphors, and charming characters. Including two bubble-bath loving hell-hounds. Laugh-out-loud funny. Highly recommended.
The Luminatus-approved version of this review is here.

Tuesday, March 09, 2010

Cameo Ball Pics!

One pic of each of the clan. Youngest to oldest. .
Somehow my hair is always mussed up in photos. For more pics of this wonderful affair, see here.

Sunday, March 07, 2010

Saturday, March 06, 2010

Choose Carefully

Something quick, as I'm battling the "crud" (coughing, sneezing, fever, etc.) that Liz gave to me earlier this week. Two of her work-mates also blame her for passing it along to them. She's a regular Typhoid Mary.

Thursday, March 04, 2010

Thursday Riddle : The Monty Hall Problem

This is a riddle based on the old game show Let's Make A Deal. You're the lucky person who gets to try and win the Grand Prize, which is located behind either Door #1, Door #2, or Door #3. There are booby prizes behind the other two doors. . For the sake of this riddle, we'll assume you picked Door #1. The show's emcee, Monty Hall, now opens one of the two other doors (we'll assume here it was Door #2), which always contains one of the booby prizes. He now asks you whether you want to stick with your pick, or switch to the remaining door, which here is Door #3. Statistically speaking, what should you do? . a.) Stick with your original choice. The only reason Monty is making you this offer is because he know you've picked the right door. . b.) Switch to the remaining door. Any genius knows it has a better chance of having the Grand Prize behind it than your door. . c.) It doesn't matter. The odds are the same for either door. Two doors; one prize. The chances are 50:50. What could be simpler? . d.) Consult the pigeons. Everybody knows birds are smarter than humans. . . The correct answer is given in the Comments of this post. Alternatively, you can read the MSNBC article about it here.

Wednesday, March 03, 2010

Minority Report - Philip K. Dick

2002; 290 pages. A tie-in book with the Steven Spielberg movie. Genre : Sci-Fi Short Stories Anthology. Overall Rating : 6½*/10.
A new author for me. Short stories aren't my shtick, and I can only take a limited amount of 50's/60's sci-fi at one time. Dick's adherents are zealous in their praises of him out on the Internet. These are okay tales, as long as you remember who the target audience was. I need to find one of his full-length novels, preferably his award-winning "The Man in the High Castle".
My review in 50 words or less...
Minority Report is the best of the nine offerings. If psychics could detect crimes before they occurred, would it be okay to detain people for acts not yet committed? All the stories have kewl twists. Good fiction, but not much literary depth.
The majority report of this review is here. Which you already know if you're a precog.

Tuesday, March 02, 2010

YFKM : Understanding Electricity

"Police : Man urinating on power line electrocuted."
. Gotta wince at this one, although the above headline in today's Arizona Republic doesn't really tell the whole story. Read the details here.

Monday, March 01, 2010

Waking up fuzzy

Well duh. I had to read the cartoon below three times this morning before I "got it". . In other news, Happy St. David's Day to all you leek freaks out there.