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Below are the 20 most recent journal entries recorded in Nifty McNiftington's LiveJournal:

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Sunday, June 26th, 2011
10:41 am
It's been six months since I've looked at LiveJournal
I haven't looked at LiveJournal in six months. It's weird, since it used to be such a big part of my life. I've met all sorts of friends, and my wife, through LJ. I still think it's a much better platform than Facebook, but I no longer seem to have the interesting friends list that makes it work. Plus having a job where I have to do work at work keeps me from posting anything long.

Anyway, did I miss anything worth knowing? Any marriages, divorces, births, deaths, monkeys, bears, explosions, or pants?
Thursday, January 13th, 2011
5:23 pm
TV Reviews: Million Dollar Money Drop and Onion Sports Dome
There are a couple new TV shows that I quite enjoy, and recommend all of ye watch.

Million Dollar Money Drop

I'll watch any knowledge-based game show at least once. And I especially like shows where the questions are too difficult for someone to reasonably know them, so instead they have to use logical reasoning to narrow down the choices and strategies to hedge their risks. Million Dollar Money Drop perfectly fits this description.

Pairs of contestants (usually married couples) start off with a million dollars of cash to bet. (The money is in stacks of 1000 $20s, which are approximately six inches thick.) They are asked multiple choice questions where each answer is represented by a table. They have to physically move the piles of money onto the tables in a limited amount of time. They can split their money up, but they have to leave at least one table empty. (In early rounds there are four tables/answers and in later rounds there are three.)

Once time runs out, trap doors open up beneath all the wrong answers, and the cash literally falls away. Then they use the money that was on the correct answer for the next round. They only have a limited amount of time to discuss the answers and place the cash, and often contestants panic as time runs short. Since they have to leave one table empty, they could theoretically lose everything on any question. Contestants often split up the money among multiple answers if they don't know which one is right. That guarantees that they'll lose a big chunk of their money, but makes it less likely that they'll lose all of it. This makes the strategy a lot more interesting because risk management becomes key to the game.

If they make it the 7th and last question with some money left, they have to risk it all on one final question. (With two potential answers.)

The questions are so difficult that in the approximately ten episodes I've seen, only two pairs of contestants have won anything. And they only won $20,000 and $40,000 respectively, which means their 50 stacks of cash had dwindled to one and two stacks. All the other contestants lost everything.

I have two quibbles with the show: The first is that they insist on editing so that each pair of contestants is one entire hour-long episode. (If they make it to at least the fifth question.) This means that they often have a lot of padding, so you should DVR it and fast-forward through the crap. It's also a huge spoiler. If there's 20 minutes left in the episode, you know they contestants aren't going to lose on that question. It would be much better if they just didn't try to match contestants to episodes. Most other game shows of variable length will pause the game and have the contestant come back next episode, or introduce a new contestant in the middle of an episode. I don't get why MDMD doesn't do the same thing.

The other quibble is that it's a bit disappointing for most contestants to walk away with absolutely nothing. I think it would be reasonable to give those who make it to the final question 10% of their total if they get it wrong.

But still, I highly recommend this show to game show fans.

As a side note, E and I have started calling it Million Dollar Monkey Drop. We've debated over whether that would be "Answer this question or we'll drop this adorable monkey off a cliff," or "Answer this question or we'll drop this angry monkey on your head." Feel free to make your own suggestions.

The Onion Sports Dome

This is a spoof of Sportscenter and sports in general from The Onion. It's hard for me to figure out how to describe it. But I'll just say it's hilarious. Judging by the first episode, I'd say it's the funniest show currently on TV. And that's true even if you don't care about sports.

Of course it's always possible there could be a huge drop in quality from the first episode, but I hope that won't be the case.

Anyway, you should absolutely go watch this. I guarantee you'll laugh, or I'll give you your money back. (Offer only valid for those who spend $0 or less.)
Monday, January 10th, 2011
2:03 pm
Android Phone Battery Help
A few weeks ago, I downloaded updates for a bunch of the apps on my Android phone. Since then, my battery life has gone to hell. The phone lasts like 1/3 to 1/2 as long as it used to. Can anyone suggest how I can figure out/fix the problem? Is there some sort of "What's eating my battery" app?
Wednesday, December 29th, 2010
9:49 am
Home Internet
I've asked this before, but hopefully I'll get more answers this time: Verizon DSL and Time Warner cable internet are both terrible. AT&T, AT&T uVerse, and Verizon FIOS aren't available in my area. What are some other better options for my home internet?
Wednesday, December 22nd, 2010
1:07 pm
Net Neutrality
Can someone who understands it and isn't a frothing ideologue explain net neutrality to me? What is it, and why do some people think it's good and some people think it's bad? Note that if you're going to argue that the people who disagree with you only do so because they're stupid poopy-heads, I'd prefer to hear from someone who actually understands the issue.
Saturday, December 18th, 2010
9:54 am
The Propaganda Show
It's amazing how few people recognize that the Daily Show is just as much propaganda as Glenn Beck.

Sure, John Stewart is funnier. But both shows have the same point: To evoke an emotional response in order to make you stop thinking. To make you forget that people who disagree with you are real life humans with thoughts and reasons for believing the things they do. And to convince you that the only reason someone could possibly be on the other side is because they're stupid, cartoonishly evil, or both.

And before you point out that Jon Stewart occasionally criticizes Democrats, I'll remind you that it's generally for not being liberal enough. Glenn Beck often criticizes Republicans for not being conservative enough. So what's the difference?

There is one difference: Beck is at least honest about his biases. While Stewart pretends to be non-partisan and above politics while pushing his partisan political agenda.

Anyway, this is a reminder that, whichever side you're on, watching propaganda can only decrease your understanding of an issue.
Monday, November 15th, 2010
3:00 pm
What's the Best Piece of Advice You've Ever Taken?
Here's a question for you: What's the best advice you've taken? Let me define "best" to mean:

1. It's advice that you followed, and it had a significant positive impact on your life.

2. It's not something you would have figured out on your own in time to implement it.

Also, please stick to advice that is at least somewhat general rather than entirely specific to you. If someone told you, "Hey, you should go out with [the person who would later become your spouse]," that might have been good advice, but it's not very interesting for other people to read.

For me, the best advice was to take an Accounting class in college. I don't even remember who told me to do this. But when I was putting together my slack-off schedule for the second semester of my senior year, I dimly recalled someone suggesting it and figured it might be useful. Ten years later, being the top Econ student at Georgetown and getting straight As in every Econ class as well as every class in my Computer Science minor has earned me precisely $0. But I've made a lucrative career out of the one Introduction to Accounting class I took on a lark because of that advice someone gave me.
Friday, November 12th, 2010
2:35 pm
Conservative and Liberal favorite TV shows
I found this article highly interesting. Particularly this chart:

A couple patterns that I noticed:

1. Republican shows tend to be the highest rated shows, while Democrat shows tend to be critical darlings.

2. All of the Democrat shows that I'm familiar with are about narcissists. That's not a bad thing. Narcissists can easily be compelling or hilarious, which makes for good TV. I think 30 Rock, Dexter, and Friday Night Lights are excellent. But it's an interesting pattern. The only narcissist shows I notice on the Republican side are Glenn Beck, Desperate Housewives, and The Bachelor. (There are several shows I'm not familiar enough with to know if they're about narcissists: Brothers & Sisters, Community, Law & Order SVU, Parks & Recreation, and Breaking Bad on the Democrat side, and Modern Family, The Mentalist, NCIS, and Lie to Me on the Republican side. Those of you who watch those shows can weigh in.)

3. Republican like competition-based reality shows, such as Amazing Race, American Idol, Survivor, Dancing With the Stars, and The Bachelor. On the other hand, for some reason Democrats like Kourtney and Khloe Take Miami.

4. Republican like multi-camera sit-coms and Democrats like single camera sit-coms.

5. I regularly watch four Republican shows (Amazing Race, Big Bang Theory, Survivor, and How I Met Your Mother.) I regularly watch one Democrat show (30 Rock.) But I also have previously enjoyed or plan to watch 4.5 more Democrat shows (Dexter, Community, Friday Night Lights, Breaking Bad, and possibly Mad Men.)

Anyone else notice interesting patterns in this?
Thursday, November 11th, 2010
2:24 pm
Politics and Thinking Things Through
I frequently see political wonk types make an argument along the lines of "the political party or faction I dislike will make a strategically stupid move, and it will be disastrous for their side and great for my side."

This kind of argument is always ridiculous, because it's based on the premise that people who disagree with you are morons who intentionally want to lose.

They can see why it would be disastrous as well as you can. So either they won't do it, or one of you is wrong about how disastrous it will be. And you have no basis for assuming that you're correct and they're wrong.

People always act in whatever way they perceive to be in their best interest. If your theory denies this, either by assuming people will intentionally act against their interests for no reason, or by failing to explain why their perception of what's in their interest is mistaken, then your theory is wrong.

A couple common examples of this phenomenon are:

1. Republicans who assume that Hillary Clinton will mount a primary challenge against President Obama, which will split the Democrats and hand the Republicans an easy electoral victory.

2. Democrats who assume Republicans will nominate Sarah Palin for President in 2012, which will hand Obama an easy electoral victory.

If you believe either of these things will happen, why do you think the people on the other side can't see what's obvious to you? If your answer is that all the people who disagree with you are too dumb to think things through, then it's really you who is failing to think things through.

Also, please don't respond to this by pointing out past political moves that seem dumb in hindsight, such as the Republicans nominating Christine O'Donnell for the Delaware Senate race. If the Republicans had known how gaffe-prone she was and the kooky stuff that would come out about her, they would have picked someone who had a better chance to win. But it's not stupid to lack access to a time machine. The Republican primary voters in Delaware made the decision that they believed would best promote their interests based on the information they had at the time. They ultimately turned out to be wrong, but they weren't *trying* to be wrong.
Tuesday, November 2nd, 2010
8:11 am
Good news! A bunch of terrible narcissists will lose the election. Bad news: A different bunch of terrible narcissists will win the election and be given power over our lives.

Monday, October 25th, 2010
10:44 am
Storm Chasers and Amadeus
Has anyone else noticed the similarity between Storm Chasers and Amadeus? Both are about an ambitious man of modest ability who works really hard to achieve his dream, but continually fails due to his own lack of skill. Then he gets increasingly bitter over the easy success of the more talented guy with a bad attitude.
Friday, October 22nd, 2010
10:38 am
I was at a party last week where I was chatting with someone about problems in the school system. As soon as the words "bad teachers" left my mouth, she flew into a rage. See, she's a teacher, and she was offended by anyone bringing up the concept of bad teachers.

That was such a bizarre reaction that I was totally taken aback. I mean, it's not like I'm offended when someone mentions bad accountants or writers. Obviously there are people of different abilities in any job. Some are good, some are bad.

And in fact, pretty much everyone has had experience with good teachers and bad teachers. I sure did when I was in school.

So why was she denying reality and insisting they're no such thing as a bad teacher? Of course the obvious conclusion is that she was one, but since I've never seen her in a classroom and know very little about her I don't think it would fair of me to accuse her of that. Still, it's easy to see why schools keep getting worse and reforms keep failing, when the biggest interest group related to education vehemently insists that no problem could possibly be the fault of any teacher ever.

I don't claim to be an expert on the educational system. But based on my experience having gone through it and being generally observant, I'd say there are three kinds of teachers in the world:

1. People who are teachers because they like teaching.

2. People who are teachers because they needed a job, and couldn't figure out what else to do.

3. People who are teachers because they believe they ought to do it and it's a noble profession. Then once they actually try it, they hate it. But instead of sensibly saying "I guess I'll look for a different job that doesn't make me miserable," they feel guilty over the fact that they are miserable doing something they think is morally noble. So they stay in the job that they hate, and that turns to resentment, which they take out on their students.

Think back about all the bad teachers you've had in your life, and I think you'll easily recognize how they fit into either category 2 or 3. They either don't care, or they actively hate their students. Whereas the good teachers you've had fit into category 1, and are happy teaching.

I think any school reform that's going to work has to be based on setting up hiring practices and incentives so we end up with more good teachers in category 1, and less bad teachers in categories 2 and 3.

But as long as teachers unions deny that bad teachers could exist, that's not going to happen.
Thursday, October 14th, 2010
11:42 am
Ad agencies - especially those devoted to online media - always seem to have the most worthless websites. Why would you think I care about dozens of high-res photos of your office instead of, say, a phone number. If their own website is that useless, why would anyone else hire them?
Monday, October 11th, 2010
2:20 pm
If they're confident in their abilities, why do they hide?
How come Boise State's the only team that feels the need to dye their field to match their uniforms in order to give themselves camoflauge? It seems like the sort of cheap meritless advantage other teams would copy until the NCAA bans it. As it is, I can't take Boise State seriously until they take off the camo training wheels and play some real teams.
Sunday, October 10th, 2010
1:41 pm
BCS Buster
College football experts, imagine the following scenario, which I think is realistic: Alabama and Oregon end the year with one loss and many dominating wins over strong opponents. Ohio State, Michigan State and either Oklahoma or Nebraska go undefeated against lesser, but still fairly strong schedules. Boise State and TCU go undefeated against joke schedules.

Who goes to the national championship?
Friday, October 8th, 2010
1:52 pm
Salon Movie Critic Loses His Shit
See if you can guess what this article is talking about with these quotes:
"rich, lambent color comes from within, as if the movie itself is ablaze with its own crazy sense of purpose. (Or as if someone just off-screen were burning a cross on the lawn.)"

"a work of creepy, half-hilarious master-race propaganda almost worthy of Leni Riefenstahl"

"Now, the fact that [the director and screenwriter] locate this golden age between 1969 and 1973 might seem at first like a ludicrous joke, if you are old enough (as I am) to halfway remember those years... the year the Vietnam War ended and the Watergate hearings began. You could hardly pick a period in post-Civil War American history more plagued by chaos and division and general insanity (well, OK -- you could pick right now)... (The words "Vietnam" and "Nixon" are never uttered.)"

"like Glenn Beck's sentimental Christmas yarn: The real America has been here all along, and we can get it back. If we just believe in -- well, in something unspecified but probably pretty scary."

"it's legitimate to wonder exactly what Christian-friendly and "middle-American" inspirational values are being conveyed here, or whether they're just providing cover for some fairly ordinary right-wing ideology and xenophobia."

"posed as emblems of American ingenuity and power against the villainous, swarthy and vaguely terrorist-flavored [antagonist]"

"a big, handsome MacGuffin, symbolic window dressing for a quasi-inspirational fantasia of American whiteness and power."
Can you guess what sinister evil movie he's talking about? Perhaps some right-wing propaganda documentary? Maybe something Sarah Palin or some sort of Christian group put out?

Nope. It's Secretariat. A generic feel-good movie about a horse.

Note that there's nothing whatsoever about race or politics in the movie. Which the reviewer takes as proof that not only is it secretly racist and political, but some sort of bizarre conspiracy to feed xenophobia to the American public.

He's actually claiming that winning a horse race is the same as burning a cross, and a movie that doesn't focus on racial tension is the same as Nazi propaganda. He's offended that a movie based on a true story is set when the real events occurred and accurately portrays the race, gender, and wealth of the real person it's based on.

That's pretty silly.

By the way, I have zero interest in this movie. I don't care about horse racing or the story of a rich overdog triumphing through the luck of owning an exceptionally powerful animal. But a sensible reviewer would be panning this movie for being lame, predictable, generic, and just a remake of The Blind Side that replaces a person with a horse, rather than insisting it's part of some imagined right-wing conspiracy.
Friday, September 24th, 2010
2:59 pm
Political Prediction of the Day
I'm going to offer an official prediction, so that in four years when it happens I can say "I told you so." Or if it doesn't happen, you can mock me.

I believe the following chain of events will occur:

1. Republicans will have huge electoral victories this year, taking control of Congress.

2. The bulk of Republican Congressmen and Senators will continue to be as terrible as they've been in the past.

3. This will piss off tea partiers to the point that they form a real viable third party.

4. The Tea Party (or whatever the official party will end up being called) will win a significant amount of Congress and Senate seats in 2014. Probably less than the Democrats or Republicans, but enough to be a real voting bloc and establish itself as a legitimate political party that's here to stay.

I think numbers one and two are fairly common and not very bold as far as predictions go, but very few people seem to be thinking about where this obvious chain of events will lead.

The Tea Party is significantly more popular than either political party. They're pissed off at how terribly the government is being run. Right now that anger is primarily directed at Democrats, because the Democrats are running the government. But once the Republicans are running the government and show themselves to be almost as terrible, the Tea Partiers aren't going to go away. They'll be even more angry at the Republicans for the betrayal. But they aren't going to forget how awful the Democrats were, so their only choice will be to run candidates themselves.

I think the only thing that would stop this is if the Tea Party succeeds in its current attempt to take over the Republican Party from the inside. They've had some success in this venture, defeating corrupt plutocrat big-government insiders in primaries in Florida, Alaska, and Delaware. But I think the corrupt plutocrats are too entrenched in the party, and efforts to turn the GOP into the party of small government and fiscal responsibility are doomed to fail.
Thursday, September 23rd, 2010
3:08 pm
What changes to the NFL rules would you like to see?
Football fans, what rule/play changes would you like to see in the NFL? Please stick with realistic options that would still be recognizable as football. Not "Add trampolines," "Replace the players with bears shooting harpoons," or, "Award two points every time they throw a ball through a hoop."

Here's my wishlist:

1. In the last five minutes of the game, when the team that's in the lead has possession, the clock should stop on any play where they fail to gain yardage. They can't just kneel down to run out the clock, but have to accomplish something, even if it's just gaining one yard. And the defense would have the opportunity to stop them and get the ball back. (This is something the Arena league did, and it kept games exciting until the end.)

2. Replace coin flips with an opening scramble. A player from each team would line up 30 yards from the ball. The ref blows a whistle, and whoever gets possession of the ball wins the equivalent of the opening coin flip. Since it's skill instead of luck, it would be reasonable to let them choose both possession and direction. (This was one of the few good ideas the XFL came up with.)

3. College style overtime rules.

4. Make everything reviewable, including penalties and judgment calls. (Still using the current red flag instant replay rules.) Even if it's a judgment call, the ref will have better judgment with the help of 12 angles and slow motion. (I saw this suggestion in an interview with one of the mucky-mucks at Football Outsiders.)

Some other changes that I'm not sure about, but would be interesting to see play-tested in an R&D setting.

A. Changes to the way penalties work. Like maybe someone who commits a penalty has to sit out a play. This could be done with a substitute, or with the more radical notion of forcing the team to play with 10 guys. If you allow a substitute to replace the penalized player, it would make sense to do that even if the penalty is declined.

B. Field goals could be worth different amounts based on distance.

C. Get rid of extra points. Either make touchdowns worth 7, or make teams go for two after every touchdown.

What do ye think?
Thursday, September 9th, 2010
1:44 pm
Koran Burning
Can anyone explain to me why it's newsworthy that some random idiot is planning to burn a Koran? Obnoxious attention-seekers seek attention by being obnoxious all the time. That's not a story. So why is the media giving him the attention he craves?

The only explanation I can think of is that the media is hoping to make it into a big story by sparking riots and murder in retaliation. But I'm not satisfied with that explanation, because it's usually dumb to assume those who disagree with you on a contentious issue are only disagreeing because they're intentionally being evil. I doubt reporters and editors are sitting around cackling over how they're going to get people killed so they can cover the deaths.

So what's a more reasonable explanation?

I'll note the obvious comparison to the fake story that ran a few years ago claiming the US Military was flushing the Koran down the toilet as a method of interrogation. That story sparked riots in which several people were killed, and then was later determined to be completely false. But that's not the same, because a matter of official military policy is obviously more newsworthy that some random idiot being an idiot. Also that was a situation where the media was acting out of incompetence and failing to fact-check a story that fit their preconceived narrative, rather than actual malice. Not that that makes any difference to the people who were killed due to the fake story. But an explanation that involved incompetent people being incompetent is far more plausible than one that involves a bunch of people chortling over their plans to be evil.
Thursday, August 26th, 2010
1:36 pm
Why Political Sex Scandals Matter
There hasn't been a political sex scandal in a while, which means that people aren't hypocritically changing their opinions based on which party the cheating politician belongs to. So now's a good time to discuss them.

A lot of people dismiss these scandals by saying, "That's between him and his wife." But I think that viewpoint is crazy, and we absolutely should care when a politician cheats.

The most important quality that we want in elected officials is for them to be trustworthy. We need to have people in office who will put their constituents' interests above their own. We can't watch over their shoulders every second. Anyone capable of getting himself elected will generally be better at hiding his crimes than we are at discovering them. (The exceptions are the scandals we know about. But obviously there are far more incidents that should have been scandals, except the corrupt politicians successfully kept them hidden.)

For a government official, trustworthiness is much more important than intelligence, competence, ability to communicate, or any other quality. If a politician is incredibly skilled but untrustworthy, he'll only be better at screwing us over for his own gain. That's the exact opposite of what we want.

Ordinarily, it's difficult to assess someone's trustworthiness. A successful politician will be very skilled at making people think they can trust him, whether or not that's the truth. Since we can't distinguish between candidates on the most important quality, we fall back on secondary issues - usually whether they claim they'll do stuff we agree with. Lacking better information, we simply have to hope this sub-optimal method of picking who to vote for works out for the best.

But occasionally we do get better information. When a politician cheats on his wife, he is demonstrating that he finds his own personal pleasure to be more important than the promises he made to and happiness of someone he ostensibly loves and sees every day. Once he's shown himself to be that kind of person, why would you think he would act in a trustworthy manner toward millions of people he's never even met?

Would you hire a pickpocket to manage your bank? Would you hire a tax-cheat to oversee the Treasury Department? (Oh, wait...) So why would you hire someone who lies to his wife to tell you the truth?

And this is true whether the cheater is a Democrat or Republican.

By contrast, it doesn't matter when an athlete or actor has an affair. Tiger Woods' job is to whack a ball into a hole with a stick. Nothing about his job requires us to trust him. (There are too many witnesses and cameras for him to have an opportunity to cheat at golf.) And since an actor's job is to pretend to be someone he's not, you could make the case that an ability to fool his wife demonstrates just how talented of an actor he is.

So when you're talking about people outside of the government, I would agree that any extra-marital affairs are none of our business. But with government officials, basic common sense dictates that once they've demonstrated that they can't be trusted, we shouldn't trust them.

Also, I should clarify that I'm only talking about when a politician cheats on his or her spouse. I don't care and don't think anyone else should care if it turns out a politician posed for racy pictures, or went to a sex club, or (for unmarried politicians) are outed as gay or found to be promiscuous. None of those are issues of trust, and they have nothing to do with how they would govern.
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