Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Gornisht Helfen

We are all familiar with some Yiddish phrases that have survived in English - like Oy Vey which loosely means "woe is me". However, I never quite understood 99% of the bizarre Yiddish sayings my grandparents used to be heard muttering to each other.

But I must admit, once in a while I hear a Yiddish saying that really hits the mark, with no true English equivalent. An example was a discussion a few weeks ago with my dad when my parents were visiting for the weekend.

Me: "Dad, you printed out three different maps, you called the hotel for directions, you got directions from the website, and you still got lost TWICE looking for the hotel."
Dad: "Gornisht Helfen"

(Rough translation of Gornisht Helfen: "Nothing Helps")

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Easy Airbrushing

How to airbrush your family photos without using fancy tools like Photoshop:

1. Open your JPG picture file in MS Paint (comes with Windows - under the Accessories menu)

2. Download and run the free utility Pixelgrabber. This will help you identify the color to airbrush. (Note, if you don't feel like installing Pixelgrabber, you can skip these steps and use the "eyedropper" tool in MS Paint for selecting your color)

3. Select RGB in the drop-down menu (it will show HTML as the default)

4. In MS Paint, click on any color on the bottom of the screen. You will create a custom color to use for your airbrush.

5. Select from Colors menu - Colors / Edit Colors / Define Custom Colors

6. Hold the mouse over the section colored like what you want to airbrush and write down the three numbers displayed. (In my example the numbers are 215, 164, 160)

7. Enter the three numbers into the Red, Green, and Blue boxes in MS Paint to create your custom color. Then click "Add to custom colors" to add this color to your MS Paint palette. Return to the main screen.

8. Now on the main paint screen - click on your new color in the palette, click the "Airbrush" button (spray paint can), and touch up the area as needed!

I only needed one click for my example, to clear out a mystery white spot. Took about 2 minutes.

Monday, January 29, 2007

World's Oldest Living Person

Upon hearing today about the death of the world's oldest living person, I was struck with the following random thoughts and observations:
  • The fact that the most recent oldest person died after only living for four days as the world's oldest living person (following the death of the previous champion) makes me wonder if she was just hanging on long enough to achieve her status as the world's oldest.
  • This is the fourth time in five months that the world's oldest living person has died. I wonder, on average, how often we should expect the world's oldest living person to die. It seems like it happens, in general, about once a year.
  • There have been two people with impressive runs as world's oldest living person. Jeanne Calment reigned for 6.5 years in the 90's, and Shigechiyo Izumi for 10 years in the 70's and 80's.
  • Is it a coincidence that the two oldest people currently living in the US are in Indiana? How would you like to be 113 years old, fifth oldest person in the world, but only the second oldest in Indiana? One thing we know is that this does not qualify you for a Wikipedia page.
  • It is interesting to look through the list of oldest people currently alive, and see which ones have their own Wikipedia pages.
  • Up until 5 days ago, the world's oldest person was actually a man!
  • The oldest man and woman are currently both living in Japan. But it is surprising how many of the title holders have historically lived in the U.S.

Joe's Goals Update

Updated my Joe's Goals today.

(The following goals were not really providing any good motivation, for one reason or another)
  • Speak Only Positive
  • Perform Tasks I Ought
  • Always Usefully Employed
  • Frugality
  • Tranquility
  • Address Task On Work List

  • Look at Pete's School Stuff
  • Play 1 song on guitar

Saturday, January 27, 2007

Thinking Forward and Backward

I've written before about a certain thought experiment that I was pleased to encounter the other day in a different context.

The premise I had previously raised is that often in life we lament that we wish we knew many years ago some of the truths we later learned. For example - maybe we wish we did more physical activity when we were younger, didn't waste time in dead-end relationships, spent less time drinking in college, didn't kill so many hours watching that soap opera, and so on. The new insight I had was that some of these lousy choices were probably fairly obvious to us at the time, but we just lived day-to-day and never sat back and took a long view at our life. So we can help to avoid this phenomenon today and in the future by occasionally taking some time to pretend we are 20 years older and looking back at our current activities. Then we can resolve to make the improvements now that our future voice will wish that we had made. (I find that vacations are great times for this type of thought activity.)

The interesting encounter I had the other day was reading a blog called Don To Earth. It is an impressive blog, considering that the author is 94 years old. The post was called "It Bothers Me That I Have To Go", and was brief and poignant. I was struck by the passage that read "I don't want my successors to find out how much I could have done that isn't done, not by a long shot. There are numerous notes and letters I must write. There are places I've wanted to travel, but never had the chance. Actually, each of you can, if you think yourself into my age, fill out the list." I kept coming back to the phrase "think yourself into my age". This seems to be precisely the concept I had been thinking about. But hearing someone say it, especially at that age, helped it resonate even more for me.

Saturday, January 20, 2007

Addictive Game

Here is a fun game:

1. It is addictive
2. It only takes 30 seconds to play
3. No rules needed, just play it a few times and then you will get the idea

Here is a time for you to try to beat:

American Idol: Your Days Are Numbered

Enough already with the talk about American Idol becoming a permanent fixture at the top of the US television ratings.

Yes, the show is currently as hot as ever. Hooray for everyone. But it will flame out with the same predictability as every other show, regardless of the hype you keep hearing from the media machine. (Can anyone say "Who Wants To Be A Millionaire"?)

Let's review the path to destruction:
1. Themes on show become completely repetitive and predictable: Check
2. Show is syndicated in various forms: Check
3. Stars (in this case, "judges") start commanding exorbitant salaries that will be unsupportable when ratings decline: Check
4. Ratings begin to fall: 2008
5. Ratings plummet: 2008 or 2009
6. Show is cancelled: 2009

Finding New Music

I find it a strange challenge to try to find new music I like. There is something about music that makes it hard to predict if I will like a new CD in my collection. Unlike movies, where there are many new movies each year than I am fairly certain I will enjoy, I find that with music I have no idea if I will like an artist until I listen to an entire album a few times.

They have all of these websites now that analyze your collection, or recent tracks on your playlist, and make suggestions for you. But I rarely find that they hit the mark. Maybe one day I will figure out the single nugget that is shared by all of my favorites. Until then, I guess I will just have to hope that I keep randomly finding some new artists that I like.

Or maybe if I keep staring at the list below (my most played artists of 2006), some trend will emerge.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

The Alternate Reality Score

The Alternate Reality Score is something I just invented. It is a number from 0 to 100 that represents how successful (or lucky) you feel that you have been to date with your decisions of how to steer your life.
The premise is that there are billions of different lives you could potentially have today, assuming different things had happened in your past. To help visualize this concept, think of your life as a tree, and think of your current life as the very tip of a small branch. At the base of the tree are decisions you made about what school to attend, who to marry, what career, etc. There are also branches for events that life thrust upon you (although those are mostly outside the scope of this exercise).

To determine your score, imagine every possible branch your life could have taken. Of these billions of possibilities for where your life could be right now, take a guess as to what percentage of them are "worse" than your current life. The best score you can get is 100, worst is zero. For example, someone like Maurice Clarett might give himself a score of 5 and someone like Dakota Fanning might give herself a score of 95. It is rather subjective, but try to be honest with yourself. You can define "worse" however you like. I choose to define it as being generally less happy on a regular basis.
An interesting way to continue the exercise, after you determine your score, is to try to isolate the handful of decisions that had the greatest role in determining your score. For one person, it might be breaking up with a high school sweetheart. For another, maybe a decision to get behind the wheel after drinking. Maybe having an extra child. Or not having one. It will be different for everyone.

Now complete your journey by thinking if maybe there are 1 or 2 things you could do this year that would have a lot of upside, which might have a good chance of increasing your score when you look back 5-10 years from now.

Tasers For All

You know, when I first read about the trade show where they were giving out free taser trials, I thought it was a horrific idea:

But then I remembered some of the Actuary meetings I used to attend and I realized that, compared to the alternative activities at those shows, I probably would have been the first in line for the taser booth.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Why Didn't I Think Of This?

Couldn't we just save the $9.99 by turning on the radio to a bad station?

Do 78% of Americans Support the War In Iraq?

The November 2006 elections were a huge win for the Democrats, with their receiving about 52-55% of the vote on average across the US. You hear a lot from the Democrats about how these elections were a clear mandate by the American people that they do not support the war in Iraq, and how we thus want to withdraw the troops as soon as possible.

Let's take a closer look. About 60% of American citizens who were eligible to vote in the election did not vote. If you are assuming that any vote for the Democrats is a vote against the war, then you can also claim that the 60% of Americans who didn't vote are choosing to stay the course and retain the policies of the current administration. It is like when I get those proxy statements asking me to vote on issues for a stock I own. I usually am not well-informed on these issues, so rather than cast an uneducated vote I choose to not return the proxy ballot, and thus implicitly choose to let the Board of Directors make the appropriate decision for the company. If I was truly outraged about something, then of course I would cast a vote.

Looking at the other 40% of Americans who voted, for a round number let's say 45% of them voted for Republicans. So that comes to another 18% of Americans who presumably support the administrations policies in Iraq.

So adding together, you get the conclusion that 78% of Americans support the war in Iraq.

Of course, anyone who talks to other people and reads the news knows that this is absurdist logic. However, the point here is that you better be careful when you say that winning a tight election is a sweeping mandate for change. That argument would have more validity only if more people voted and if there were a greater margin of victory.

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Prediction - 2007 Open Championship

The Black Parade

Got a new album from Lala the other day called "The Black Parade" by My Chemical Romance. I would highly recommend it. When you first listen, it sounds like some of the currently popular bands like The Killers or All-American Rejects. But I really felt that this was more of an epic album, like a theme album that you might get from a collabortation of Queen and Pink Floyd, with a Green Day edge mixed in. It is also refreshing that this album was produced at a higher fidelity than some of the other stuff I have been listening to recently (like The White Stripes or Pavement).

If you're not familiar with My Chemical Romance, you will likely recognize this video, a song which has led to their recent surge in popularity. The video is sort of an emo version of Sergeant Pepper. I can't figure out why this song wasn't nominated for any Grammys, but I suspect it missed the cutoff because it was released right around Sept/Oct timeframe. So it will probably be one of those deals like "Drops of Jupiter" where it wins a year and a half after the song comes out and everyone is completely sick of it being played to death.

Sunday, January 07, 2007

Thinking Ahead

It seems that so many things that you should have done earlier in life become obvious to you only later, perhaps even “too late” with regard to doing certain activities. Some examples are, for example, that I wish I had taken certain classes and read more of the assigned books when I had all of the free time I had in college. Another example is that you might wish you were more comfortable and aggressive with meeting new people when you were younger, now that you understand that there are a lot of lonely people and you have a better idea of the type of things they are looking for in others.

A thought experiment I sometimes use to avoid this scenario is to imagine that I am 20 or 30 years older than I am now. I think back to the things I am presently doing with my time (as limited as it may be), and then I think about the things that perhaps I “wish I had done” with the time instead. It is like having a conversation with myself in the future. It is surprising how quickly I can come up with a handful of simple things to consider. Likewise, I think that if I had tried this thought process when I was younger, in some cases I would have made some better decisions on a day-to-day basis.