Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Merry Christmas

Christmas this year finds me more generally content with my life than I have been in a dozen years. I hope the same is true of you and yours.

One of this year's new contributors to my happiness continues to be my kitty, Lucy. Here's a video of her that only her daddy could love--her Christmas present. It's a big hunk of freeze-dried turkey. Usually she gets these (her favorite treats) only a one-bite size piece at a time, but today I gave her a whole one. I had hoped to be amused by watching her claw it open, but her reaction was a little underwhelming. Oh well. As you can see at the very end, she went kind of bonkers once I helped her get past the wrapping.

Monday, December 23, 2013


I like the "Kennections" puzzles that Jeopardy champion Ken Jennings does twice a week for You answer five trivia questions, then have to figure out what theme all five answers have in common.

For a while, they accepted reader submissions. The ones that Ken liked best would run on the web site, and the authors would receive copies of Ken's books. I submitted four, none of which was ever selected. Rigged, obviously.

Anyway, last night I thought up another one--my best yet. I got the questions typed up just right, then went to fill in the submission form on the Parade web site. I was dismayed to discover that they have terminated the reader contribution feature.

But I can't just let this go unused. So I'm putting it here for your amusement. (It has nothing to do with poker.) I can't do the nifty magically-appearing answers like Parade does. I'll just have to rely on big blocks of blank text, forcing you to scroll down for the answers. I'll give you the five trivia questions, then a blank space, then the answers to those questions, then another blank space, then the answer to what the five answers have in common--the thing that Parade calls the "Kennection" between them.

Here we go.

1. Earth’s southernmost active volcano, Mt. Erebus, is found on which continent?

2. What December 23rd (hey, that's today!) holiday does a famous 1997 episode of “Seinfeld” describe as Frank Costanza’s alternative to an overly commercialized Christmas?

3. “Sweet Adelines” is the name for the female counterpart to what form of male quartet?

4. What type of public school uses a specialized curriculum to attract students from across geographically defined district borders?

5. In what city’s shipyards did electrician Lech Walesa become a trade union activist, leading to the formation of the Solidarity movement?

Scroll down for the answers. 

1. Antarctica. 

2. Festivus. 

3. Barbershop. 

4. Magnet. 

5. Gdansk. 

Now, figure out what those five answers have in common, then scroll down for the answer. 

They all have poles. (Or, in the case of Gdansk, Poles.)

How did you do?

Saturday, December 07, 2013

Pearl Harbor

Long before my six years in Vegas that recently ended, I lived there for two years, 1980-82. During that time, I got to know a man in Henderson named Ralph Briggs. He told me once that he had been a Navy radio operator. He said that several days before December 7, 1941, he had intercepted a message from the Japanese fleet about an attack soon to be launched. He dutifully passed the message up the chain of command, then was on leave when the attack occurred. He later learned that the message he had intercepted had been ignored, and, as a result, Pearl Harbor was not at all prepared for the attack.

Even though I judged him to be an exceptionally honest, honorable man, frankly I assumed that he must be pulling my leg--not because I knew anything about the subject, but just because it seemed astronomically unlikely that I happened to know the one guy whose message, if heeded, would have changed the outcome of the single most pivotal event in 20th-century history. There are always more pretenders than real heroes, more people claiming to have been watching the JFK motorcade in Dallas than were actually there, etc.

Many years later, I was watching a string of History Channel documentaries that they were showing on an anniversary date. (It was probably 2001, on the 60th anniversary.) There on the screen was Ralph Briggs, telling the same story, which was being treated as a fully credible and factual account. I'm not entirely sure which program it was, because now I know that he's been in at least a couple, but it may well have been this BBC-produced show, "Sacrifice at Pearl Harbor." Start watching at about 53:00 to hear Ralph. (The screen capture above is from this video.)

I have since learned that his story is hotly disputed. Some writers take him at his word, and accept that the lack of expected documentary evidence to support his account is because of later tampering with the records as part of a cover-up. See, for example, a relatively short book chapter devoted to the whole affair, readable via Google Books here. On the other extreme, some say that his account is "too full of holes to hold up to much scrutiny."

I have no way of knowing where the truth lies. Maybe he really was the Paul Revere of his time whose message was tragically disregarded. Maybe he was a crackpot, trying to claim for himself a place in history that he didn't deserve. Maybe he was sincere but wrong, as memories can become distorted by time and subsequent events. For example, maybe he really did intercept and pass on a message, but it was rightly ignored because it was not, in fact, anything of military significance, and he retrospectively imbued it with content and/or meaning that it did not have. Whatever the truth, it is, at least, an interesting story. In fact, that we cannot now know what really happened kind of makes it more interesting.

Absent strong evidence, which seems unlikely ever to come forth, I would never swallow the extreme conspiracy theory that Franklin Roosevelt had specific knowledge of the impending attack and squelched it so that Americans would be provoked into supporting his desire to get involved in WWII. However, I find it entirely plausible that, as with September 11, 2001, there were a multitude of clues which our various intelligence services failed to assemble and interpret correctly. I also think it's plausible that some such clues were later swept away to prevent political embarrassment. I certainly don't know that this happened, but it would hardly be the most nefarious thing the military brass ever did.

Today I got wondering if Ralph was still alive. It seemed unlikely. Sure enough, I found his 1998 obituary in the Chicago Tribune, here. So he was already dead by the time I was discovering that I was far from the only one who had heard his claims. It is, in fact, a well-known little curiosity among both conspiracy buffs and serious historians of that chapter of American history.

I spent a few hours again today watching some documentaries on Pearl Harbor, which is what prompted this little trip down memory lane. I think it's impossible not to be moved by the stories of both heroism and loss. To all those, living and dead, who experienced that awful day firsthand, and to the memory of Ralph Briggs, I offer my thanks.

Sunday, November 03, 2013

My new "Superfocus" glasses

Update 3/6/2014: 

If you found this page while searching for reviews/information about Superfocus glasses, please do not take any steps toward purchasing them before you read my new post about what appears to be fatal problems at company headquarters, here:


I'm 52, an age where presbyopia--the loss of ability to focus up close--is universal. I got my last pair of new glasses in late 2006. Even then I could have used bifocals, but I decided to soldier on with single-focus lenses, carefully selecting ones that I could easily peek under rather than through for close focusing. (My distance prescription compounds the difficulty of focusing up close.)

This year, though, the situation reached a point where I could no longer continue muddling by. I was losing the ability to focus at computer distance, which is what I need for many hours every day.

I also have a lot of astigmatism--3.0 diopters worth, if that tells you anything--that is actually more of a problem than my myopia (nearsightedness). The result is that even with my glasses off, so that I'm not fighting the negative magnification of my distance correction, I can't see clearly because I'm left with no correction for my astigmatism. This is why dime-store reading glasses don't help me much.

Over the years I had heard and read a lot of different opinions about the relative merits of bifocals, trifocals, and progressive lenses. They would all address my problem, but with a variety of compromises and introduction of other problems that I really didn't want to face: the need to tilt my head up or down to get the right focus, lines between focus zones, tired neck muscles from holding still to keep the computer screen in focus, etc.

And the thing I most wanted to avoid was devolving to multiple pairs of glasses for different tasks. That would drive me stark raving mad, because I know myself well enough to know that I would forever be stuck away from home with the wrong pair, or wasting time trying to remember where I left the pair I want. (I love my girlfriend more than life itself, but I have watched her struggle with this the entire time I've known her. I cannot count the number of times she has been exasperated because she has found she doesn't have the right pair of glasses with her.)

The main reason I put off going for any of these solutions for so long was because I didn't like any of the trade-offs I would have to make. But about a year ago, I was listening to Penn Jillette's weekly podcast, "Penn's Sunday School," when he mentioned that he wears, likes, and endorses something called "Superfocus" glasses (previously known as "Trufocus"). He said they allowed him to see sharply at any distance just by sliding a small lever to change the focal point. I quickly read about them and became intrigued. They sounded like the best solution yet:

I didn't bite right away. I was then just buying a new car and knew that I would soon be racking up a bunch of expenses moving from Las Vegas to Asheville, so I didn't want to spend a lot of money on glasses if I could procrastinate another year or so.

But as I said, over the last few months, I've become increasingly frustrated by not being able to see anything clearly unless it's at least 8 feet away from me. So I decided it was time. I again did due diligence, reading all that I could about both Superfocus and the more conventional alternatives. I went to my local Superfocus vendor, a nice little shop in downtown Asheville called L'Optique. After all of that, I decided to give them a try, knowing that the manufacturer had a 30-day money-back guarantee were I to decide they didn't fit my needs.

Specifically, I got the company's newest line called the "Leonardo" collection. You can read all the technical details at their web site if you want, but the basic idea is that my distance and astigmatism correction lenses are built into the frames, then there is an adjustable focus mechanism with a second set of lenses that snaps inside the frames. The adjustable lenses nest right behind the prescription lenses. By turning a small dial on the bridge, I can move the focus anywhere from about 12 inches out to infinity.

Well, I've had them for five weeks now, and my conclusion is that I was right--this is the best solution for me. I can't describe what a revelation it was that first couple of days rediscovering the simple joy of being able to see text and objects clearly, after years of gradually accepting blurriness as just the way things had to be. It takes just two seconds to focus the dial mechanism. I can set it so that whatever I'm looking at is in sharp focus, not just in a small part of the lens, but in the entire lens.

These would not be a good solution for somebody who needs to constantly shift focus from one distance to another. But nearly all of my waking hours are spent in large blocks of time at a single focus--long distance for driving, just a little magnification for the TV about 10 feet away, a medium amount for computer work, or dialed all the way in for reading. When I'm doing various tasks around the house--cleaning, cooking, playing with the cat, or whatever--a sort of medium focus gives me a depth of field such that essentially everything is in acceptable focus without constant adjustment. For situations like grocery shopping the same is pretty much true, supplemented with occasional close-up dialing to read a label.

Only once so far have I encountered a situation where the need to manually focus for different distances was a hassle. I was sitting with my girlfriend, Nina, at an outside table of a local ice cream shop, enjoying the mountain view. But I needed to dial in close to see where the ice cream cone was dripping, a little farther away to look at Nina when she was talking to me, and then dial all the way out to appreciate the beautiful mountains in the distance. Oh, for the good ol' days when my eyes could manage that task instantly, without assistance. (We pause here to weep for lost youth.) But to have had only one such situation in a month of use shows that that is truly the exception rather than the rule.

There are definitely disadvantages. First and foremost is the aesthetics. They are far and away the ugliest, strangest-looking glasses I've ever had. (Well, looking back on old photos of myself in the 1970s, I guess I have had worse--but they didn't seem so at the time.) They give off a definite sense of being something like scientific lab goggles rather than conventional eyewear. This is largely because the multi-focus lenses only work if they are perfectly round, which severely limits the ways in which the frames can be styled. But I spend only a few minutes a day looking in a mirror, and the rest of the time I can completely forget how they look. Besides, I am firmly in the function-over-form camp, and always have been. I'm a guy who wears a fanny pack, for heaven's sake, because it's a convenient way to carry all the stuff I like to have with me, and appearances be damned. So what do I care if strangers think my glasses are kind of funny-looking?

Here's a selfie I just took sitting at my desk:

Because the lenses are set on computer distance (i.e., with a decent amount of magnification), they makes my eyes look a little bigger than is really the case. To see how they look on me from an outside observer's point of view, you can take a look at a photo that Nina took of me at her house Halloween night here.

They are rather heavy, what with two sets of nested lenses and a whole focusing mechanism. They came with a "saddle" nosepiece that runs across the bridge of my nose. It adds to the funky appearance, because it holds the lenses farther from my face than standard glasses. But I tried going to standard nose pads, and quickly regretted it, because I had to keep pushing the glasses back up into place. I put the saddle thing back in, and that problem went away again.

I like starting the day with pristine-clean lenses, and clean them rather meticulously every morning. This process now takes more than twice as long as it used to. It would take twice as long just because there are twice as many lens surfaces as there are with standard glasses. But it's even longer than that, because the second, adjustable-focus lenses are a rather soft plastic that for some reason is just harder to get completely free of smudges and tiny bits of dust and lint.

I have a vague sense that the hinged connection of the earpieces to the rest of the frame is not as sturdy as I'd like. When putting them on or taking them off, I find myself handling them with gingerly care because of this. I hope I'm wrong about that.

Today I found a very recent review of the Superfocus Leonardos by a guy whose experiences and opinions very closely match my own: In fact, he covers so much of what I was going to say that I thought I would just link to his review, add a few words, and be done with it. But, as usual, once I started typing, my congenital logorrhea kicked in, and you're reading the result.

I was glad to see that after some use he downgraded his initial A+ rating of the optics, because I couldn't agree with that grade. If you look closely at the focusing lenses, it's obvious that they are nowhere near as clear as standard eyeglass lenses. Sadly, material science hasn't yet evolved to the point where a flexible surface can transmit light as perfectly as a rigid material. This isn't functionally a problem for me or for most users, but if you do a direct comparison with and without the focusing mechanism in place, there is definitely a slight degradation in the quality and clarity of light coming through. (Another, earlier user review that helped push me to this purchase was this one by a professional photographer who is understandably very fussy about image quality.)

My overall conclusion is that these glasses probably are the best choice for me. Of course, I'm saying that without having actually tried bifocals, or trifocals, or progressives, or having a different pair for each kind of task I might be doing. I can only compare my actual experience with Superfocus to my imagined experience with those alternatives. So I might be wrong. But it's impractical and too expensive to try every option, so I'll just have to live with the uncertainty.

Until medical science comes up with a way of restoring youthful plasticity to my eyeballs, I'm going with Superfocus. It's a great, great idea. It's not yet perfectly implemented, I think, but still the best among an array of compromised choices.

Note added in proof: I suppose this post might sound like a paid ad. It's not. But after my car, this was the biggest consumer-type decision I've made in several years. I put a ton of time and thought into it, both before and after purchase, so I thought I'd record my experience in the hope of helping others faced with the same conundrum.

Bonus material: Gratuitous cat photos 

You all understand that I'm madly, hopelessly, ridiculously, embarrassingly in love with my cat, right? So I need to remind you at every opportunity how adorable Lucy is. Here's a picture that Nina took of her several months ago:

And here's one I took of her just a couple of days ago as she was stretching out in the new heated-for-winter cat bed I bought for her:

Further bonus material: Asheville fall colors 

Asheville is at the peak of fall colors right now, and it turns out that the street I live on is one of the prime urban spots that people come to gawk at. It's not as nice as the vast swaths of moutainside color in the state and national parks nearby, but we have a nice near-canopy of trees arching over the street. This is just one of them--one in my own front yard, in fact:

In the morning, this tree reflects a ton of sunlight into my office window, throwing its yellow-orange tint all over the room. It's incredibly lovely to sit and work bathed in that glow.

But it won't last much longer.

Saturday, October 05, 2013


I took a break from work today to head about a mile south to downtown, where the annual Blue Ridge Pride festival was taking place. I thought that might be amusing, and this may be one of the last days we have this year to enjoy some pluperfect weather.

I wandered by the main stage just as this scene unfolded:

The music is being provided by a pair of twin brothers, who call themselves Synergy.

Notice that the only guy who appears to be having no fun at all is the preacher, seen for just a few seconds at the very beginning, waving his Bible, carrying a cane so big it looks like a shepherd's crook. I ran into him several times. He was walking around, yelling about all the faggots going straight to hell preaching the gospel of love.

Asheville is a strange place, and proud to be so. It is an artistic/hippie/liberal enclave, perpetually out of step with the generally conservative state and region it's embedded in, much like Austin is to Texas.

As such, I thought this moment encapsulated my new hometown quite nicely: a sequined drag queen dancing to electric bluegrass, everybody having a gay ol' time, except for the sourpuss preacher, who denounced the fun but could not stop it. Which is kind of how the state government in Raleigh treats Asheville.

It was actually a supremely joyful moment--as I think you can plainly see--and I was tickled pink (so to speak) to have been there for it.


I made a spur-of-the-moment decision to purchase this small (11" by 14") but original painting, which was one of many in display at one of the many artists' booths set up around Pack Square Park. I know nothing about the artist, except that his name is James, he lives about half an hour outside of town, and he is exceptionally warm and personable. It is titled "Love's Flamingos." The little sign he had made to display with it said, "My love for flamingos is infinite." It's now hanging over my desk, and I think it's beautiful. (Right-click, open link in new tab to see it full size.)

Friday, October 04, 2013

About the comments--oops!

It just occurred to me today that it has been a long, long time since anybody submitted a comment for any of my blog posts. I thought about it for a minute, and realized the likely problem: I changed my email address when I moved to North Carolina, but I never updated the email address to which Blogger sends my notifications. When the old address died sometime in July, I stopped getting notifications that comments were awaiting moderation.

I just checked, and found nearly 50 comments that had not been posted because of this. Oops! I'm sorry. It was not intentional. All except the handful of obvious spam ones have now been approved and posted. Furthermore, I have updated the email notification address and tested it, so this should not happen again in the future.

My apologies.

Monday, September 30, 2013

Additional notes on yesterday's online play

I forgot to mention three important things that happened yesterday, while Josie and I were playing one sit-and-go and one regular tournament:

1. Josie got knocked out of the big tournament when she ran into my pocket kings.

2. Josie got knocked out of the SNG when with J-8 she tried to steal my big blind, and I had A-A.

3. Josie called me a whore.

Apparently the Deuce-Four works in North Carolina, too

Yesterday I played one SNG and one regular tournament on Black Chip Poker--my first time using the site since I moved. This happened:

He bet the flop, I raised him all in, and he called.

I didn't cash, but that was my own fault, not the Deuce-Four.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Cashing out of Juicy Stakes, part 1

In January, when I knew I was going to be moving to North Carolina, I checked all of my online poker accounts to be sure I knew how to get into them, find out how much money I had left, get the software updated, etc. I wanted it all to be ship-shape before I had to start getting all my contact information changed. I wrote a blog post about this, here.

Here's what I said about one of them:
Cake/Juicy Stakes 
The Cake Poker network sort of merged with Lock Poker and became the Revolution Gaming Network last year. I had had a dormant account on Cake for a few years, and threw $100 onto it last summer to try out the new entity. I played one SNG and then never went back--not so much because it was terrible, but because I was concentrating all of my online play on BCP for a while.

Since then, Cake stopped doing business with U.S. players, and transferred their accounts over to a skin called Juicy Stakes Poker. See here for details. (Why doesn't anybody consult me on these names they pick? I could tell them how awful they are in advance and save them the embarrassment.)

I downloaded the new software, and my previous Cake log-in worked without a problem the first time, and my account was at $95, where it should have been. I played a $5 SNG to test things out, busted early.

Today somebody (I think it was KevMath) tweeted something about a new twist in the ongoing problems that Lock Poker is having with players getting their money out, pointing to this news story: That story contained a link to this site which publishes monthly grades on how well the sites do at processing withdrawal requests. I had not heard of it before.

I checked it, and saw that Juicy Stakes was getting F ratings just like Lock was. Ruh-roh. So I decided to see if I could get my remaining $90 out of there before the whole thing implodes.

When I went to request a withdrawal, however, the cashier page informed me that the only withdrawal option was a check (fine; that's my preferred method anyway), but (1) the minimum amount that could be withdrawn by check was $150, and (2) no, you can't deposit more just to get to $150 and then withdraw it.

So I wrote to customer service:

I would like to cash out my account, balance is $90.80. When I went to the cashier, the only option it offered me was check, which is fine. However, it then said that I don't have the minimum to use this method of withdrawal, yet it gave me no other alternative. So, how do I get my money out? 
Thank you.

The answer came admirably quickly, within just a few minutes:

Thank you for your email.  
 I'm afraid at present the only cashout option for US players is via check which has a minimum cashout of $150. (Please note that players are not permitted to deposit with the intent to reach $150 and cashout). We apologize for the hassle caused by the cashout limit but do hope to add new cashout options in the near future. Please let us know if you require any further assistance.  
 Kind Regards,  
 JuicyStakes Support 

Well, now, that simply won't do. When I made the deposit at Cake, there was no forewarning that I was depositing less than the minimal amount I would ever be able to cash out, so that I would have to win another $50 or kiss the deposit good-bye.

 I replied:

That makes no sense. You accepted a deposit of $100, with no warning given to me that the only way I would be able to retrieve that sum would be to win enough to push it up to $150. You need to provide another answer than the one below. It is not acceptable that I cannot get my money off of your site. 

 Again the response came very quickly:

Thank you for your email.  
If you wish to cashout your entire balance we can have the Cashier make an exception in this case. We understand the situation is far from ideal but these limitations have been forced upon us with the lask [sic] of cashout options available within the US.  
Can you please provide us with the following to activate your account for check cashouts ?  
Please scan or take clear digital photos of the following and send as color JPEG attachments in reply to this email: Required information: 
 - The front and back of the payment card used to deposit with us (for security purposes you may obscure the middle 8 digits and 3-digit CVV code as applicable).
 - A recent Utility Bill or Bank Statement, showing your name and mailing address as registered on your account (for purposes of privacy you may obscure account numbers, balances, etc...)
 - A government-issued photo ID (passport, Driver's License) in color
 Upon successful review of the above we will be able to proceed with a cash out. 

Another quick exchange told me the last four digits of the card used, since I didn't have that recorded anywhere. This presented another problem, however. The card I used was a Visa debit card tied to the checking account at the bank I used in Las Vegas. But that bank has no branches in North Carolina, so I closed that account soon after I got established with an Asheville bank. The card no longer exists.

Fortunately, I keep good records of my online poker transactions, so I was able to easily find the date on which I made the Cake deposit. Then, because I also kind of obsessively keep papers, including bank statements, after a few minutes of shuffling through file folders I was able to find the monthly statement on which the transaction appeared. I scanned that page along with the other documents requested. In my email, I explained the change of banks, and pointed out which item was the Cake deposit, complete with transaction number.

Frankly, I thought they would use this slight irregularity as an excuse to deny my withdrawal request, and I was mentally composing the jeremiad I would unleash on them. I was pleasantly surprised when, within an hour, I was told:
Thank you for your email. Now that we have verified the personal information on your account, I have approved your account's ability to cash out via check. You can now request a check from your Cashier screen. Please check that your address and phone number are up to date before requesting a cashout. You may need to restart your client to allow the changes made to take full effect. Please let us know if you require any further assistance. 
So despite Juicy Stakes Poker's "F" rating, I'd say so far they're doing all right by me. Yeah, I wish I could have just clicked "withdraw" and be done in one minute without the back-and-forth with customer service, but they turned out to be pretty reasonable in working with me.

Of course, important questions remain: Will there be some huge fee to withdraw? Will they actually send the check? If so, how long will it take? And will it clear when I deposit it? We shall see.

Bonus material: Gratuitous cat photo

I snapped this shot of Lucy a few days ago, while she was looking extra-cute, with her little paddy paw up on the window. Understand that by definition, any photo of Lucy is a good photo. But even given that reality, this is one of my favorites of her. Unless she's sleeping, she doesn't often hold still in good light long enough to catch her face well. So this shot is one of the few I have that really nicely shows her lovely green eyes, with direct afternoon sun highlighting her pretty orange stripes and patches. There is no need to enter her in cat shows, because it is already plain that she is the most beautifullest cat there ever was. It really wouldn't be fair to all the other entrants.

Monday, July 29, 2013

Three open-face Chinese poker hands

I installed a Chinese Poker app on my Android phone recently and have been playing quite a bit this weekend. Here are three hands of some interest that have come up.

1. This is the first time I managed to make a flush both in back and in the middle. Nice bonuses ensue.

2. This was a sticky dilemma. At first glance, that ace of diamonds looks beautiful. But in reality, it's probably the worst card in the deck that could have come. As David Sklansky would say, DUCY?

The only possible play that does not trigger a fouled hand is to put it on top (which, incidentally, makes the strongest possible hand there--three aces), then hope for exactly the ace of clubs plus another diamond. But a tiny chance to survive is better than none at all.

The game was suspended after I made that move, so I don't yet know whether I will get extremely lucky and pull off an amazing hand with an ace-high flush, a king-high flush, and trip aces.

3. Against one friend, we're playing with a variant called "Fantasyland." If you make a valid hand with QQ or better on the top, you get the Fantasyland bonus--which means that on the next hand you get to set your cards all at once, as in traditional Chinese poker. But your opponent has to do his in the usual OFC manner--five, then one at a time--without first seeing your hand. It's an overwhelming advantage, virtually impossible to beat. But getting it is not easy; queens or better up top without fouling is tricky. I tried a few times and failed. But then the heavens did open and choirs of angels did sing:

Whee! My first trip to Fantasyland!

Sadly, I was so excited that I failed to screenshot it, but I made a full house in back and a straight in the middle. I scooped and won some ungodly bonus, giving me the lead by something like 38 points.

I might be up at 5:30 a.m. playing a little, but I'm not addicted. I could quit anytime I wanted to. No, really! Just one more game.

Monday, July 22, 2013

Open-face Chinese poker problem (quasi-poker content!)

Cardgrrl's house is now finished and she has moved in. Last night I was over there for dinner and recreation. I taught her how to play OFC poker. I've only played once before for money, though a few days ago I bought an app for my Android phone and have been playing some no-money games with friends around the country. So my experience with the game is not quite zero, but pretty close to it. Which means that situations I haven't seen or thought of are going to come up from time to time.

Last night, for example, I ended up making this hand:

Cardgrrl had fouled her hand, so I potentially had a big score here--a scoop plus a royalty for the full house. But neither of us knew whether this hand was valid or fouled because both the top and middle had J-10-7. And it's not like Cardgrrl has a few Chinese Poker rule books sitting around the house that we could consult.

So I posted the picture on Twitter and asked for opinions from those with more experience playing. I was surprised but pleased that the answers I got were unanimous: It's a valid hand.

But then that just made me wonder why it's valid. Is it because:

(A) Jack of spades is a higher card than jack of hearts?

(B) The two hands are considered equal, and being equal is valid?

(C) The middle hand is J-10-7-5-4, which is better than just J-10-7 on top?

Here Twitter delivered some variability in the explanation, with all three possible rationales getting at least one nod. But the answers from the most experienced players were consistently (B). Apparently two hands tying is as valid as the stronger one being below the weaker one. So, for instance, if you happen to make a seven-high straight on both the back and the middle, that's a legitimate hand, not fouled. To put it another way, I had been under the impression that each hand must be stronger than the one above it, but the actual rule is that no hand can be stronger than the one below it--which is not quite the same thing.

So now you know. (Or maybe, unlike me, you already did.)


Both Cardgrrl and I had long been wanting a cat but were in living situations where it could not happen. As you know by now, I remedied that very soon after moving in to my apartment. (If you want to watch a couple of stupid videos of me playing "cat hockey" with my darling Lucy, see here and here. Do not expect cinematic epicness.)

Well, on Saturday Cardgrrl also cured her catlessness. She went to one of the local animal shelters and brought home a tiny bundle of feline furriness named Loki. He is, as she accurately puts it, ALL OF THE CUTENESS ALL OF THE TIME. My guess is that if you did a chemical analysis of him, he would turn out to be 99% cuteness and 1% carbon/nitrogen/oxygen. See more of Loki's sweetness here.

Here's the three of us last night posing for a selfie:

Survey question: How adorable are we?

1. Very.
2. Extremely.
3. Super-duper.
4. OMG!

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Big announcement

This blog is now gluten-free.

Just thought all you celiac sufferers out there would want to know.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Fog 'n' clouds 'n' trees 'n' mountains 'n' stuff

Three times recently I have been out in the world early enough to see the lovely effects of morning fog in the mountains. I recently got a new cell phone, which has a better camera than my old one, so I've tested it out. I'm reasonably pleased with the results, given what a tricky light situation is presented by such scenes. As always, right-click on a pic to see it full sized.

In case I haven't mentioned this fact before, Asheville is kinda pretty.

Friday, June 21, 2013

Kitty treats

(Warning: All about my cat, zero poker content.)

When Lucy first came home with me, I was having some trouble getting her to use her litter box consistently. I finally figured out the problem, thanks to diagnostic help I found in the excellent book The Cat Bible: Everything Your Cat Expects You to Know, by Tracie Hotchner. All I needed to do was get her a larger box where she had enough room to turn around and find a spot that she liked. (Nearly all commercial litter boxes are quite a bit smaller than most cats like, so go to any discount store and buy a large (mine is 35 inches long), flat plastic storage box from Sterilite or Rubbermaid.)

I was so grateful that this book helped me find a cheap, easy, and 100% successful solution to a frustrating problem that I sent a letter of thanks to Ms. Hotchner. She emailed me back a nice note saying that she was glad she had been able to help, that she was going to read my letter on her next radio show, and that she was going to send me a coupon for some free premium kitty litter from one of her sponsors, Precious Cat--which she did.

This apparently got me onto her list of people to send stuff to. A few weeks ago, she picked up a new sponsor--Whole Life pet treats--and I got in the mail several packets of sample flavors. I arbitrarily opened one of the turkey packets and gave one of them to Lucy. She went nuts over it. She started playing with it and stalking it as if it were a mouse or something. I had never seen her act so bonkers, so I picked up my cell phone and recorded her for about ten minutes:

(The big boxes you see in one corner of the room are not just me being a bad housekeeper. They're Lucy's playground. She loves jumping in and out of boxes, and napping in them.)

I sent the YouTube link to Ms. Hotchner. She posted it on her Facebook page and forwarded it to the Whole Life people, who posted it on their Facebook page. They must have liked seeing it, because today in the mail I got an even bigger box of samples of their products:

This is going to keep Lucy well-stocked with all the treats she can handle for a long time. This post is intended to thank the good folks at Whole Life for such generous sharing, and tell any fellow pet owners (the products are the same for both cats and dogs) that these things are really great. They are pure freeze-dried meat with nothing else added. My kitty lurves them.

How much does she lurve them? Well, when I got the first batch of samples from Whole Life, and saw how Lucy was pawing and sniffing at the box, trying to get at them, I knew I would have to put them somewhere secure, lest she snarf them all down as soon as I went off to bed. So I stashed them in what I assumed was a place she could not get at: the cupboards above the sink in the kitchen:

But the next morning I discovered that Lucy was both more agile and more determined than I had judged. She had been in the cupboard and had ripped open four of the treat packets!  The only way I can figure she got in would be to jump from the counter up to the top of the cupboards, then open one of the doors with a paw, and sort of snake herself in from above. It seemed so nearly impossible that I briefly entertained the thought that it was a mouse that had gotten in, not the cat. But I found a tuft of Lucy fur there, and there were some heavy items pushed around that a mouse could not have done. I wish I had a hidden-camera video of her cat burglary (sorry), because it would have been a pretty amazing feat of feline acrobatics.

Anyway, that's how much she lurves these things. And now she has several months' worth of them. Thank you, Whole Life!

On an unrelated note, I recently discovered Lucy's first act of kitty vandalism. Look what she did to the cables at the back of my television:

I'll have to get some protective casing for the replacement wires. Fortunately, this is an isolated case, and she has shown no interest in attacking all the other wires and cables I have around here.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Things I've been doing

Work, mostly. There has been a steady stream of it, for which I'm grateful.

But I moved here primarily so that I could spend more time with Cardgrrl, and I'm very happy that that has been happening. She comes to my place every Tuesday for dinner (yes, I cook!) and to do laundry (her rental place has no laundry facilities; this will no longer be an issue by July 1, when she moves into her brand-new house, which is almost finished). Then every weekend we get together either once or twice for something fun--like the Chimney Rock hike of the previous post.

Some other recent examples:

A stroll through the gardens at Biltmore Estate (we both have annual passes).

Seeing Shakespeare's final play, "The Tempest," at an outdoor amphitheater, performed by the Montford Park Players.

An evening of barbershop-style singing by the Land of the Sky Chorus.

Reading. (This part doesn't involve Cardgrrl.) I've been plowing through books much faster than I used to in Vegas. I've been here four months now, and I've read:

Denial: My 25 Years Without a Soul, by Jonathan Rauch.

Everything and More: A Compact History of Infinity, by David Foster Wallace.

Control: Exposing the Truth about Guns, by Glenn Beck.

Gospel of Freedom: Martin Luther King, Jr's Letter from Birmingham Jail and the Struggle that Changed a Nation, by Jonathan Rieder.

Redshirts: A Novel with Three Codas, by John Scalzi.

Bacon and Egg Man, by Ken Wheaton.

Elders: A Novel, by Ryan McIlvain.

The World Made Straight: A Novel, by Ron Rash (soon to be a major motion picture, having recently filmed right here in Asheville).

A Universe from Nothing: Why There is Something Rather Than Nothing, by Lawrence Krauss.

God, No! Signs You May Already Be an Atheist and Other Magical Tales, by Penn Jillette.

The God Delusion, by Richard Dawkins.

And I'm currently in the process of reading three more:

Maud Martha, by Gwendolyn Brooks.

The Joy of Hate: How to Triumph over Whiners in the Age of Phony Outrage, by Greg Gutfeld.

Nothing Gold Can Stay: Stories, by Ron Rash.

How's that for an eclectic list?

And finally, a cat. If you follow my non-poker Twitter feed you are probably sick of hearing about the cat. But I can't help it. I'm in love. Cardgrrl recognized this when I had had the kitty home for only about 24 hours, and the adoption was still on a trial basis (to see if she triggered my allergies in some uncontrollable way), and she didn't even have a name settled on yet:

I have only become more smitten since then. Lucy is the best thing to happen to my life since Cardgrrl came along four years ago. She brings me delight and laughter every day. She sits on my lap for a couple of hours a day, sleeping and purring while I work. When not there, she is usually on her window perch about three feet away, often making the most squee-worthy series of cute, snorgling vocalizations.

I am mightily tempted to here produce a photo dump of every exposure that has her beautiful little face in it. But I shall restrain myself and post only a few of the best ones. The first two were taken by Cardgrrl, the rest by me.

Isn't she just the most gorgeous, adorable thing you've ever seen? ("Yes." The correct answer is "Yes.")

So that's what I've been doing since settling in here. To my shame, I still have not reassembled my bicycle and started tackling the hilly streets of Asheville. But that will come when I get the time and sufficient mental motivation.

I do miss all my Vegas friends*, and I miss poker. But in case you couldn't tell, I am very, very happy here.

*Not nearly as many people come visiting in Asheville as in Vegas. So far only one friend of mine has come to town: Shamus came through on his way home from a tournament reporting gig at Harrah's Cherokee in April. He, Cardgrrl, and I had lunch at Juicy Lucy's, which is very near where Cardgrrl's house is going up. This gives me an excuse to re-post my favorite photo of Shamus, International Man of Mystery:

Saturday, June 01, 2013

How green was my valley

Today Cardgrrl and I drove 30 miles or so outside of Asheville to Chimney Rock State Park. It was kinda pretty. (Right-click/open in new tab to see full size shots.)

If this last picture looks out of place with the rest, it is. This was some asshat not just carving his name into the wooden railing, but carefully teaching his two sons that this is how one should behave in a public park. Because, after all, what people really come here to see isn't the gorgeous view, but YOUR NAME scratched into the fence. Idiot. I wanted to push him over, let him ponder his vanity and vandalism on the way down.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Three ways to tell you're in Asheville, not Las Vegas

1. The mountains are green, rather than brown.

2. Unrepentant hippies.

3. Bears.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Poker tells on NPR

I heard this story today on "Weekend Edition Sunday":

The audio and transcript will be posted later today.

Deuce-Four works down under

The first thing I found when logging onto Twitter this morning was Kevmath alerting me that The Mighty Deuce-Four had won a key hand in the WSOP-APAC High Rollers tournament. I quickly looked up the live updates (here) and found this:

As I write, Cheong is heads-up for the title, with the chip lead.