Thursday, January 31, 2013

Album Capsules; Finishing a Semester

Well, I just finished sending off student grades for the fall semester, which means no work until February 10th.  So that's nice.  Grading 160 final exams at 40 questions each comes to 6,400 questions, unless my math is wrong, which is likely because my brain is mush.  It would be nice to have a robot to do the grading for me.

Me: See that stack of paper over there?

Robot:  I do.

Me:  Grade them.

Robot: Master, before I begin, I should inform you that considering my limited abilities at reading human script, as well as my unfamiliarity with the principles of microeconomics, I estimate that I can complete the task in 214 hours, with a per-question error rate of 86 percent.

Me: Sounds good.  Before you get started, put a case of Heineken in the fridge.  As far as I've seen, your per-beer error rate is excellent.  If you need me, I'll be on my laptop killing zombies.

Robot: Yes, Master.  [Whispering]  Fuck my life.  Seriously.

. . . Because the only robots that I'll be able to afford in the future will be the ones with attitude.

Well, it's the end of the month, and I've picked up a few more albums recently.  They're all pretty good.

Local Natives



Atmospheric, shimmering indie rock.  At its worst, it sounds like background music.  When you're done with it, you don't remember what it is that you just heard.  A few more plays and the beauty really comes out.  This band sounds like a healthy mix of Band of Horses, the National, and Destroyer.  While it is hard to identify any standout tracks, you get the feeling that the band is only going to get better, despite the fact that a few reviewers have claimed that their previous album was even better than this one.  Well, that's nice to hear.  Check out "Breakers."

Ex Cops

True Hallucinations


A collection of bubblegum pop tracks over half an hour, and many of the songs lasting just two minutes, this album really flies by.  When it's done, you feel like you've just done a tour of what pop music has sounded like over the decades.  I imagine that this album will become insanely popular, and soon Rolling Stone will be declaring them the newest version of the Strokes, or something equally gagworthy.  Anyhoo, bonus points for experimentation.  Below is "Broken Chinese Chairz."

Nosaj Thing



I can't tell whether this album is instrumental hiphop or experimental dance music, or neither of these, because it doesn't make me want to dance, and I can't picture someone rapping over it.  Although it isn't mellow music, it sounds like it should be played at night.  Where Flying Lotus is so chock full of ideas crammed into songs so that you feel like you're about to be trapped in an avalanche, Nosaj Thing is a polar opposite, which is nice because music by Flying Lotus makes me nervous.  Home has three really good songs--"Eclipse/Blue," with singing by Kazu Makino; "Glue," which you can hear below; and "Try," featuring Toro y Moi.

Overall, a very good week for music.  Below, you can find all of the albums that I have reviewed this month. They are listed top to bottom from "very fun" to "lacks humanity."

Foxygen--We Are the 21st Century Ambassadors of Peace & Magic (88/100)

Yo La Tengo--Fade (85/100)

Wooden Wand--Blood Oaths of the New Blues (83/100)

Nosaj Thing--Home (81/100)

Parquet Courts--Light Up Gold (80/100)

Mountains--Centralia (78/100)

Local Natives--Hummingbird (78/100)

Ex Cops--True Hallucinations (77/100)

A$AP Rocky--Long.Live.A$AP (72/100)

California X--California X (70/100)

Pantha du Prince & The Bell Laboratory--Elements of Light (67/100)

Widowspeak--Almanac (67/100)

Brokeback--Brokeback and the Black Rock (57/100)

Everything Everything--Arc (46/100)

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Album Capsules--California X

California X

California X


As far as I can tell, this is a new band that sounds like Dinosaur Jr.  They are Dinosaur Jr. on a happy day.  If you have ever listened to Dinosaur Jr. and thought, God, I wish they would cheer up--well then California X is your wish come true.  Dinosaur Jr., by the way, is still making albums.  And they are better, despite their relatively sad tone.  But after listening to "Pond Rot" below, maybe you will disagree.  Maybe you will think that California X are the god-kings of Dinosaur Jr.  Interesting observation on your part.  Now I doubt everything I've written here.  (Meanwhile, you're sitting there wondering what the hell a Dinosaur Jr. is.  If so, think of indie rock with lots of lead guitar, loud and fuzzy.)

First Live Poker Memory

I didn't start playing live poker until I had been playing online for a couple of years.  I had heard that live poker players were supposed to be worse than online players.  The comparison that I frequently heard was that winning 10c/25c NL players could crush a $1/$2 NL live game.  Well, I was able to win at 25NL online, so I brought three buyins--$600ish--to Harrahs in Council Bluffs (near Omaha) and gave it a try.

Because I didn't know much about live poker--except from what I had seen on TV, which didn't give me much guidance--I didn't really know what was abnormal about my first game.  I guess I was too nervous about doing something wrong.  But it turns out that two things were quite strange.

The first thing was Seat Ten.

I bought in for $200, which I believe was the maximum (perhaps $300?  It has been a while) and observed Seat Ten go all-in about every third hand.  At a passive table.  The action would begin with three or four calls, then ten seat would go all in--maybe $90 into a $10 pot--and everyone would fold.

On 10's third all-in attempt, one of the limpers called and turned over something like ace ten.  Ten Seat had QT.  Anyway, Ten hit his lucky queen and suddenly he had a stack again.  I had the feeling that a few players were deflated by the outcome.  They wanted Seat Ten off the table so that they could resume limping and seeing flops.  Personally, I loved Seat Ten, because I was sitting in seat one.

Meanwhile, I kept waiting.  I recall raising a pair of tens and getting one caller.  On an ace-high flop, I chickened out, lost, and resumed folding for an orbit or so.  I was so nervous that my VPIP might have been 5 percent.

Things settled down for a bit until Seat Ten turned on his randomizer again.  A few players called, Ten declared all in, and the action folded around to seat eight, a young guy with a shaved head and a really old looking t-shirt who had a similar stack.  Shaved Head quickly said, "Call."

His trap had sprung!

Before the flop, Seat Ten flipped over pocket aces, and Shaved Head went quiet.

But when the flop came 3 3 2, Shaved Head exposed A 3, whooped, and that's when the second strange thing happened.

Shaved Head, as white as they come, started some kind of wannabe gangsta trash talk.

"That's how I do!" he exclaimed.  "You can't come with rockets against this," he said loudly, touching his chest.  "Oh no, you can't.  This is how I do.  Quads.  Gimme quads.  I don't win without quads."  He said all of this in a tone of voice that previously had not belonged to him.  He suddenly sounded inner city.  But not exactly inner city.  He sounded like a white kid who has measured his toughness by a single visit to the inner city during which he had not been beaten up.

Anyway, quads didn't come, Seat Ten departed with a surprising amount of grace, and I, on my first trip to a poker room, was too nervous to win at the softest live table I have ever found.

Ah, the Joy of Giving Final Exams

I will do you the benefit of NOT making this a whine post about final exam week.

I thought you might be interested in something, though.  If you were educated in the developed world, you probably went through a curriculum that developed your analytical skills.

You know--you were asked the question "Why?" a lot.  Or "How?"  As you thought deeply about the question and supplied an answer, neurons fired and new connections developed in your brain.  You became smarter.

It's funny how I take that for granted.  In the UAE, as well as in the former Soviet state Uzbekistan, memorization is emphasized instead.

So when I give a final exam, the students tend to do really well with questions requiring an answer that they have already memorized (if they've studied).

But every exam, I like to add a question that tests basic common sense.  I either do that or else I add a question that requires students to follow basic instructions.  Here's the one that I gave this year:

There are three lines below these instructions.  On the top line, write the number 57.  On the middle line, write the number 16.  On the bottom line, write the number 4.  Once you have followed these instructions, you have finished this problem.




Simple test of common sense.  Can my students follow instructions?

. . . Any guess at the percentage of students that got this question right?

Well, since I'm making a blog post about it, you're probably guessing a low number.  Yep.  Fifty-eight percent of students got this one right.  Hello, F.

[Edit: I graded a second class.  They scored 86 percent on this problem.  Six out of 7 got it right.  Maybe the first class was unlucky?  Overweighted with dumb ones?  Not sure.]

What did the other 42 percent of students do?  They added the numbers.  They subtracted them.  They put them on the wrong lines.  They put them side by side on the top line.  Or they left the question blank.

To be fair, I have failed at these common sense questions too.  In high school, I got handed a "test."  At the top, it read:

Instruction: Read all of the problems before doing any work.

There were about 20 problems.  Number 1 required me to solve 6 x 8 + 6 - 18 / 3 * 21 without a calculator.  Number 2 was similar.  Then the latter problems got progressively harder.  I marched right down the page, answering them all . . . until I reached the final problem, which read:

20.  Do not answer any of these questions.  Just write your name at the top of the page and hand it in.

Oh . . . right.  I guess I wouldn't feel like such a doofus if I had bothered to follow instructions.


Sunday, January 27, 2013 Teaches Me How to Write a Music Review is awesome.  I don't do much of anything without consulting it first.  Today, it will teach me how to write a music review.

"1.  Listen to the CD a few times. Write down how you feel while you listen. Be objective. Research background material about the band. Read the album cover."

Pink Floyd's "Dark Side of the Moon."  When I listen to it, I feel relaxed.  Then I feel like I am high as a fucking kite.  I also feel scared of the screaming lady at the end of side 1.  Then I go through the relaxed, high, scared emotions again on side 2.  The album is a picture of a pyramid.  

"2.  Start with the facts: who the band is, what type of music it is, past albums, how many tracks the current CD has and song titles. Opening with your opinion is not a good idea; you want readers to read your entire article, not just the first paragraph"

This is Pink Floyd's eighth studio album.  It has ten tracks.  This band is British.  It is space rock.  Their past albums are not as good.

"3. Bring your impressions and point of view alive. Give examples. Use poetic language. Select specific tracks that you feel strongly about, and share which tracks disliked too."

This album is chasing me down the street, wanting to give me a joint, a massage, and a knife through the ribs at the same time.  It wants to get me high as a fucking kite and then toss me in the air so that I land on the knife.  I liked "Us and Them."  It involved lots of death, but it made me sleepy.  I like to be sleepy.  I liked the sleepy tracks.  I disliked the tracks where I got disemboweled.

"4.  Form an opinion about the music. Write specifically about the CD you are reviewing, not as much about the band itself or its past CDs."

In my opinion, this album will never be famous.  People tend not to like getting stabbed by music, especially when they're sleepy.

"5.  Expand on your ideas. Make comparisons to other musical acts, if appropriate. Summarize your thoughts about the album in the final paragraph, so readers leave the review with your feelings clearly stated."

Fuck.  Okay.  In my opinion, this band will really never be famous.  Honest.  The album that is chasing me is gigantic.  Two stories tall.  I am afraid.  I am very afraid.  Then I am sleepy again.

The end

Thanks, ehow!

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Band No One Listens To?

In an earlier post here, I made the ridiculous claim that Yo La Tengo is a band that almost no one listens to.  Turns out I was--am?--living in the hollow of a tree.  Turns out that in their first week after releasing Fade, they hit #26 on the Billboard 200.

If that link doesn't work--it probably changes each week--here's the screenshot:

People have taste!  In my opinion, no band deserves the sales more.

Blogging into Nonexistence

I started blogging back in 2004 or so.  Back then, I had a poker blog called Government Cheese, which was full of wise-ass posts about horrible microstakes players on PokerStars.  It was tremendous stress relief.  Some forumers on twoplustwo mentioned it in a post or two, and suddenly my readership skyrocketed.

When I say skyrocketed, I mean moving from 20 views per day to 400.  Not a lot of views in either case, but a big jump nevertheless.

After I killed that blog, I started a second one, the Epileptic Chihuahua.  I think it was an imitation of the first, with the only real difference being that my number of readers ended up being 75 percent less than my first one.  Eventually, I killed that one.

This blog has been going since April, and my number of hits are ninety percent less than the second blog.

I am blogging myself into nonexistence!  Call me an American success story in reverse.  If you want to be depressed, watch the movie of my blogging life from beginning to end.  (It's a short movie; you won't finish your popcorn.)  If you want to be happy, play it backwards.

Start a fourth blog, with the goal of one reader?  Awesome.

I am imagining a blogger who has posted daily for a couple of years and has never had a reader.  Sad?  Funny?  I'm leaning to the funny side on that one.  Nevertheless, I should count my blessings.

I mention all of this not as a complaint of any sort.  In fact, all of this makes sense to me, with the way that I keep changing my subject matter.  It's awfully difficult to blog about poker when I don't play anymore.  And my current subject matter is, in my opinion, less interesting than my poker content.

Maybe I should've taken that Emirati student up on his offer to play heads up poker with him last semester . . .

In any case, thanks for reading.  I'm having fun with it.  I must be; this must be my fifth post of the day.  Either I'm having fun with it or else I've developed a new obsessive-compulsive disorder.

Album Capsules--Widowspeak




Almanac, their second album, seems inferior to their self-titled first in almost every way.  Molly Hamilton's lazy, lilting voice seems reminiscent of Hope Sandoval of Mazzy Star or Chan Marshall of Cat Power, but Widowspeak's music tends to rock more than those two bands--at the expense of drowning out Hamilton's voice.  All in all, Almanac surprises too little.  Here's "Thick as Thieves."

Album Capsules--Parquet Courts

Parquet Courts

 Light Up Gold


So the Strokes and Sonic Youth were drinking in a Manhattan loft recently and, as tends to happen in situations like this one, things got out of hand and nine months later they had a baby that looked like the Replacements.  They named it Parquet Courts, and it immediately picked up the instruments at hand and made this album.  With 15 tracks over 33 minutes, things really glide by.  At five-plus minutes long, "Stoned and Starving" below is double the length of most of the other songs.


January Music Roll Call (So Far)

Well, here are the new releases I've checked out so far this month.

Foxygen--We Are the 21st Century Ambassadors of Peace & Magic (88/100)

Yo La Tengo--Fade (85/100)

Wooden Wand--Blood Oaths of the New Blues (83/100)

Mountains--Centralia (78/100)

A$AP Rocky--Long.Live.A$AP (72/100)

Pantha du Prince & The Bell Laboratory--Elements of Light (67/100)

Brokeback--Brokeback and the Black Rock (57/100)

Everything Everything--Arc (46/100)

Naturally, I'm excited about Yo La Tengo's newest CD--they're one of my favorite bands--but the highlight is a surprise by a band with the goofball name of Foxygen.  Another is the Wooden Wand album.  Aside from those two, there are a few decent instrumental albums of various types, as well as a rap album that is actually pretty good.

I'm also looking forward to listening to a few more January releases: Parquet Courts' Light Up Gold, California X's self-titled album, and Widowspeak's Almanac.  If I keep up this pace--doubtful since I'm planning my big move to the states in July, which should result in an extended period without the innertubes--I'll have 100-120 albums from 2013.  Every year, I seem to sink more deeply into this new hobby.  I've heard more than once that a good definition of happiness is "losing time" in something.  I used to lose time in poker; now I lose time in this.

I lose time when I sleep.  I love to sleep.  Hmm.  Consciousness = suffering.

Now if only I can find a way to sit at a live poker table--or, better yet, 24-table on Stars--with my ipod on shuffle . . . 

Album Capsules--Brokeback


Brokeback and the Black Rock


This straightforward instrumental album--guitar, bass, drums, keyboards--seems to be a soundtrack for an as-yet-unmade spaghetti western.  Mysterious man walks into southwestern town in 1884.  The townsfolk eye him suspiciously as he sidles down main street.  He slips inside the town's only restaurant and orders a super-sized number 3, an two extra crispy tacos on the side, and a large cherry Coke.  The owner pulls his pistol, makes a show of cleaning it, and replies, "We don't serve that yet, Future Man."  Hero drifts out of town, starves in the brush.  This album is as good as the box office receipts of this film, after you count the return on DVD sales and licensing from Redbox and HBO to fill a gap in its late-night programming.  Surprisingly, I can't find any tracks on Youtube.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

UAE Lady Taxi

The other day, I stepped out to the road outside my university to hail a taxi cab.  Soon one appeared in the distance.  As it slowed down, I noticed that it was a lady taxi--that is, a taxi only for ladies . . . or so I thought.

This was not my taxi driver, but that looks exactly like the car.  To get a better view of the car, look below.  (I just grabbed these photos off the internet.  I don't walk around talking photographs of my taxi drivers.)

So, the lady taxi stopped in front of me.  And I am male.  I opened the door and asked, "Are you sure?"

She said, "Get in!"

I figured a taxi is a taxi, so I did.

The driver was a filipino woman in her late twenties or early thirties.  She was wearing fingerless driving gloves and had good English.

Anyhoo, away we sped.  Soon a car came close to hitting us, a fairly normal occurrence in this country.  I made a comment about the bad drivers here, and she responded, "Yes, it is the Emiratis."  Of course, she meant the citizens of the country, who tend to be rich.

Now, I have whined on this blog numerous times about how inconsiderate and dangerous the Emiratis can be in many facets of life.  (There are nice Emiratis, but they rarely do anything blogworthy.)  In any case, I found it to be a great relief to hear my own opinions echoed by this taxi driver.  I gave her a nugget of info--that my Emirati students blame taxi drivers for the accidents that happen.

My driver shook her head, then proceeded to tell me a story about how her taxi had been struck by an Emirati woman in a Landcruiser.  Do I need to tell you that it was the Emirati's fault?  Anyway, as they were waiting for the cops to show up, the Emirati woman said accusingly to the filipino taxi driver, "This accident would not have happened if you were not in my country."

How classy can you get?

The driver and I talked for a minute or so about how common this belief is among the Emiratis.  If their wish were granted, however, they'd have no taxi drivers, teachers, fast food workers, maids, workers at the grocery store, etc.  I floated the idea that if all of the foreigners were gone, then the Emiratis would starve as a nation within a month.  She nodded.

Then she told me another story.  She talked about an Emirati man who had stepped into her taxi and requested sex for 100 dollars.

"I told him, 'For 100, I say no.  For 500, I say no.  For one thousand, I say no.  For two thousand, I say no.  For all of your money, I say no.'"


As we reached my apartment, I thanked her for the conversation.  My best cab ride yet.

Album Capsules--Foxygen


We Are the 21st Century Ambassadors of Peace & Magic


This band's shitty name somehow looks even worse after listening to the album, because the music is fantastic.  Reviewers seem to have trouble deciding whether lead singer Sam France sounds like Mick Jagger, Bob Dylan, Lou Reed, or David Bowie.  The answer seems to be all of the above.  I kept thinking of Lou Reed's Transformer.  This music is a joyous tribute to the better music you heard in the 60s and 70s--Beatles harmonies, psychedelia, soul.  The best part is how you'll notice some of the better lyrics jumping out at you, like "There's no need to be an asshole, you're not in Brooklyn anymore" from the song "No Destruction."  Uplifting album.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Album Capsules--Pantha Du Prince & The Bell Laboratory

Pantha du Prince & The Bell Laboratory

Elements of Light


German techno producer decides to grab two things for his new album: some buddies and a 3-ton musical instrument called the bell carillon, which is made up of 50 bronze bells.  Then he lays down some beats and has his friends go haywire on bells.  The album unintentionally evokes Christopher Walken's SNL appearance as Bruce Dickinson, producer of Blue Oyster Cult, continually demanding "more cowbell."  It also makes me think that I need to hit the snooze alarm.  Really, it's better than that, but there are a lot of fucking bells.  Pantha's other albums are better.

Album Capsules--Mountains




I get the feeling that very few people are into instrumental electro-acoustic music these days, but if you ever decide to give it a try, Centralia will be like an ocean with the solitary goal of drowning your ass.  At times, they sound like the bands Rachel's, Sigur Ros, Spiritualized, and even occasionally like Floyd's monster 24-minute track "Echoes."  If these bands don't do it for you, this one probably won't either.  But I think I'll be replaying it often.  It's not a chill-out album; some of the tracks get grandiose like an orchestra.  "Circular C" is below.  If you try headbanging to it, you have issues that a music review cannot fix.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Broken Lift

The elevator in my building at work had a sign on it this morning:

Okay, broken elevator.  Fine.  Underneath the announcement was a parenthetical:
(We provide maintenance so the lift will serve you better)
I'll be the first to admit that I am overly analytical, but this second sentence got me thinking.
How did the lift serve me before it was broken?  As far as I can recall, I would enter it, push the button for my floor, it would take me there, and I would exit it.
Now they claim is that the lift will serve me better.  Hmm!  What do they have in mind?  Mini bar?  Not likely in the United Arab Emirates.  Massage hands?  Cushioned seats?  An elevator operator?  A Snickers bar atop a marble stand?  Television built into the wall?  Rockabilly band full of midgets?  A magician performing one card trick per visit?  A dirty joke teller?  A person whose job it is to greet me with the words "You look fantastic"?  A miniature zoo?  Free lunch? 
I await their improvements with anticipation.

Monday, January 21, 2013

Album Capsules--Everything Everything

Everything Everything



This album makes me want to resume facepunching. So many of the tracks are composed of slices of music that seem to have almost nothing to do with one another.  You like that slice?  Too bad.  It's gone!  Now listen to this shitty slice.  And another shitty slice!  You like that?  Next song!  The band can't seem to decide what they are--a prog band?  a pop band?  Radiohead?  a barbershop quartet?  At times, the lead singer sounds like a cross between Thom Yorke and Guy Garvey (Elbow).  That's the best I can say about this band.  Zero good songs . . . except for "The House is Dust," which is not yet available on Youtube.  It's just about the only song where they don't sound insecure.  I'd love to hear if you disagree, but if you agree, I'd hate to hear that you spent money on this album.

Results of this Week's Uninformed, Professional Picks

Well, if you had taken my advice this week and bet half of your net worth on each of the following games--

Atlanta Falcons +4 vs. San Francisco 49ers

Baltimore Ravens +8 1/2 at New England Patriots

--you would've pushed in the first game and won the second, thereby increasing your net worth by 50 percent.  Congrats!

Of course, if you'd followed my advice during the first week of playoffs, you would've ended up losing half of your net worth.  Which is your fault.

How could you let yourself be duped like that?  You should only take my winning advice.  When I give you losing advice, please do us all a favor and do not place that bet, no matter how much I insist.

At the end of the day, if you had followed all of my advice, you would currently be sitting on 75 percent of your net worth, compared with 100 percent of your net worth if you had chosen to ignore all of my advice.

So there's that.  Losing is the price you pay for winning, I guess.

Anyhoo, we've got one game left, which means that you've got one more chance at redemption.  Don't screw up!  I advise you to bet your entire net worth on this game.

San Francisco -4 vs. Baltimore

(Please note that I will not be able to tell you until after the game whether I am giving you winning advice or losing advice.)

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Problems with Live Poker

In light of the fact that my current teaching contract will be ending next semester--actually, it'll be ending a semester early due to my desire to get the hell out of the United Arab Emirates--I've started thinking about what I'd like to do when I return to the good ole U S of A in the beginning of July 2013.  And the thing that always pops into my head is that I'd like to play some poker.  But, of course, internet poker in any truly reliable form disappeared after Black Friday.

So that means that I'll have to play live poker.  Holy Christ, what a difference.

To understate it, there are problems with live poker.  Have you played live poker?  You probably know what I mean.  But here goes anyway.

Live poker players have a smell.  They smell like--how else can I describe it?--sweat, shit, and old people.  Even if they're young people.  In fact, the younger they are, the more they tend to smell.  The young people smell like old people, and the old people smell like sweat and shit.  And as the hours pass, their smell . . . matures.

Villain might start off mildly sweaty.  Then he'll have a few beers.  Then he's sweaty and farty.  And scratching his balls before handling his cards.  Then something goes wrong downstairs and he suddenly smells shitty.  A fart misfired, perhaps.  But does he leave?  No, he's got a hand to play.  Soon he forgets about his situation.  It's up to you to point out that he smells like a greasy sweaty shitball, but you don't really have time because he's hungry and wants to order wings.

The smell in itself would be tolerable, but there's a complicating issue: They're holding, rubbing, and occasionally fondling cards, many of which will end up, over a session, in my hands.  I will, in essence, be holding the physical representation of their smell between my fingers.

And as I pointed out, some of them will be snacking.  If you've ever been a live poker player, an image may pop into your head now: another player snacking on buffalo wings, licking his fingers, and picking up his cards.  If  you have never enjoyed this experience, then you are one lucky soul, because my old casino served wings, and they must've been good, due to all the smack-smack-smacking I heard from players sucking on their fingers and leaving sauce on the cards that would soon end up in my hands.

Once you get past the smell and the lack of hygiene, however, there's poker to be played!  At 30 hands an hour.  When I used to 24-table 1,200 hands an hour.  You can only collect so many tells during the down time.  And most of the tells aren't tells anyway; they're just the result of your brain going batshit crazy from sensory deprivation.

Bringing an ipod helps a bunch. An ipod, playing tight, and paying attention to the weak-is-strong and strong-is-weak tell are really all that's necessary to winning.  But at what cost?

I guess what I'm saying is . . . PokerStars, come back.  Please.

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Album Capsules--Yo La Tengo

Yo La Tengo



An album by Yo La Tengo is the definition of a "grower."  The vocals, spoken more than sung, and the mellow pace of most of their songs invites you to underestimate the album.  Every time I hear a Yo La Tengo album for the first time I feel underwhelmed.  While Fade isn't their best album--that would be the masterpiece I Can Hear the Heart Beating as One--it is similar to that album, while missing its standout tracks.  The middle tracks are the strongest.  "Stupid Things" (below) is Fade's best song, and "I'll Be Around" is its most nostalgic.  On January 20th, it's a left-handed compliment to say that this is the best album I've heard all year.  But it's true nevertheless.

Album Capsules--A$AP Rocky

A$AP Rocky



Do you like to stop at a red light and blast gangster music that makes the dude next to you wonder if he's about to get carjacked--that is, until he looks over and realizes with relief that it's only you?  If so, this album is right up your alley.  The songs are well-produced braggadocio about outrapping you, drinking purple drinks, stealing your woman, blasting your ass, and leaving you by the side of the road. I used to enjoy rap more when Public Enemy was part of this universe, but that kind of golden-years remark just makes me sound like an oldster, doesn't it.  The title track below is probably his best.  The falsetto chorus is as unexpected as it is unnerving.

Friday, January 18, 2013

Album Capsules--Wooden Wand

Wooden Wand

Blood Oaths of the New Blues


I'd never heard of Wooden Wand before getting this album.  Their music is described as "freak-folk," whatever that means.  To me, this album sounds like mellow country/folk music that successfully crosses over to ears accustomed to indie.  Standout tracks are the 13-minute opener, "No Bed for Beatle Wand / Days This Long," which plots the laid-back pace of the rest of the album, and "Southern Colorado Song"--clip below--the album's best song.  The two-minute "No Debts" is a gem of a finisher.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

My Biggest Hand Playing Live

Because my mind seems to be focused on poker these last couple of posts, I figured I would tell the story of my biggest win in a live poker hand.

But before I do that, I wanted to point out some similarities that I've noticed about these hands.  I tend to play big hands poorly.  Sometimes very poorly.  Which makes me think, Maybe I play all of my hands poorly.  Maybe I suck at poker.  This is something I should spend some time reflecting on, hopefully at a poker table.

Anyway, I was at a shithole boat casino called Argosy in Sioux City, Iowa, where the briny smell of the water somehow found its way into the casino.  The poker room was small.  Perhaps there was only one $1/2NL game running.  Everyone in the hand had at least 150 big blinds, with my stack of $300 being the smallest.

I'd been playing for three hours or so.  A very tight young player UTG raised the minimum.  He had never raised so small before.  I called with 77 in middle position.  A real moron called from the small blind.

Three handed, we saw a flop of Q 3 3.  Absolutely nothing for me.  The mouth-breather in the small blind checked, the tight kid bet $10, and I made my first mistake by calling.

What was I thinking?  Not sure.  Perhaps my only thought was, I call.  That might have been the extent of my analysis.  Just: I call.

The small blind raised the minimum.  The kid under the gun shifted in his seat uncomfortably and eventually called.

I made my second mistake by calling.  This time I had an actual thought.  The thought went something like this: I just called $10.  How can I not call $10 now?  It's like admitting that my original decision was wrong.  

So I slid out two red chips.  Just one time, I pleaded.

And the turn was a miraculous, heaven-sent 7.  This turn 7 was absolute proof of two things: (1) that I hadn't made any mistakes earlier in the hand, and (2) that I was a poker genius.

The small blind pushed out $35.  The kid called.  I raised to about $100.  He small blind called.  The kid under the gun sank down in his seat for a while, then lifted his cards to show them to the dealer (the kid was in the ten seat).  Everything about his demeanor indicated that he was about to fold aces.  Which he did.

On the blank river, the doofus checked, I went all in, and he called immediately.  I showed the boat; he showed trips--something like J3.

The process of stacking chips after a hand like that has got to be in my top ten of happiest moments.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

My Second Biggest Hand

This post follows on the one directly below.  Now, I imagine that these are not "big" hands by the standards of most folks, but I figured I'd just tell the story and let you decide.

Some time after my $5/10NL disaster--in which I think I was nearly a 60% favorite, but that kind of talk is just sour grapes--I tried playing $2/4NL while I was visiting family in Sioux Falls, South Dakota for Christmas.

A little preface.  My family is truly a gambling family.  As a child, I remember going nowhere--except to casinos.  My parents like to tell a story about how they decided to "switch things up" by taking us--me and my brother and sister--out to Yosemite and booking a cabin, where I almost immediately started eating the dirt floor and they basically said, "Fuck it, if they're already eating dirt in the living room, we're going back home."

So . . . aside from Yosemite, for fifteen minutes, we went to casinos.

Another time, we headed out to John Ascuaga's Nugget in Reno during a school vacation, and while I was playing Galaga or Joust I got nabbed by a truant officer--his badge dropping in front of my eyes while I played my game--who was sure I was avoiding school.  I told him the truth, and he called bullshit, as cops tend to do, those skeptical, suspicious bitches.  A quick page of my parents left us waiting for my mother, who informed the officers that in California we had vacation a week earlier than the Nevada kids.  The best part of this story?  The truant officer gave me a quarter for the game he wasted.

I guess my point is that vacation for me as a child translated into a roll of quarters in the casino's video game room.

So I'm visiting my family in Sioux Falls.  We had just gone out to the casino.  We came home and naturally I fired up some poker tables.  But for some reason I decided to play much higher than normal, so I bought in for $400 at a $2/4 NL full ring game.

And I was quickly awarded with AA.  (I had come up from Colorado to visit my parents, so naturally I called them over.)

A player directly to my right made a standard raise.  I obviously threebet his monkey ass.  It folded around to him, and he called.

The flop came A K x.  My parents had already begun to celebrate.

He checked, I bet, and he raised very small, and I thought, Oh, snizzzzzap, or something like that, and called.  Somebody--probably my father--grabbed my shoulder.

The turn was a blank, and he led out for a hefty chunk of his stack--at which point the hand on my shoulder gripped me tighter--so obviously I shoved.  And he snapcalled.

Blank on the river and he showed KK.

And my parents erupted in jubilation.  Near Christmas.  So that's my happiest gambling story.

The Day I Jumped from 25NL to 1000NL

I can't access pokertableratings from this country, but once upon a time I used to play a ton of penny-stakes poker.  From 2NL to 25NL, I would put in at least 100,000 hands per month, and I am pretty sure that I maintained a consistent habit of it for at least 2 years, which doesn't count the amount of SNGs that I played before and during that period.

Once I tried to win $1,000 in a month at 2NL.  I think I only managed to get $600 in that month.  Needless to say, this was a period in my life when I had a lot of time on my hands--read no life--probably the summers during law school.

My microstakes strategy was as simple as it was condescending: set mine at 24 tables; overplay AA and KK; and trashtalk my opponents endlessly.

Anyhoo, one day I looked at my balance of $1,500 or so and figured that I would take a shot at $5/10 NL six-handed.  The fact that I had only played full-ring before that moment didn't really factor into my decision-making process.  Beer, however, did play a role.  Fat Tire, I believe.  So I bought in for $1,000 and strapped myself in.

I only recall two hands, and I remember only one player in that game.  He sat one or two seats to my right and seemed to be raising about half of the time.  In one hand, I raised a hand like AQ, he called from one of the blinds, and we saw a flop of Axx.  He checked, I bet out, he raised, I reraised, and he folded.

Easy game, I thought.

Hand #2 happened a bit later.  He raised from UTG, and I called from middle position with KQ of hearts.

The flop came something like Qc 6h 2h.

Please, I pleaded.  I think I was praying.  I never pray, but I think that my Please qualifies.  For me, anyway.

He bet, I raised, he reraised, I shoved, and he called.

Turn was a heart, which naturally made my heart leap--Second nuts! I thought--and the river was a blank.

Villain showed Ah 9h, and two months of 2NL pennies slid his way.

. . . Did I mention that I was playing in a bar at the time?

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

This Week's Uninformed, Professional NFL Picks

Okay, if you took my gambling advice last week, you lost half of your net worth.  And that was probably bad for you.

Well now is the time to celebrate!  This week I have the following uninformed, professional advice: Take all of the money you have left, divide it in half, and bet each half on these teams.

If I am right, then your net worth will double.

Atlanta Falcons +4 vs. San Francisco 49ers

I don't know anything about Atlanta, but Atlanta will win, or lose by less than 4 points.

Baltimore Ravens +8 1/2 at New England Patriots

I am picking the Ravens this week because I have a firm rule about the Pats.  I never bet on the Pats for any reason, regardless of the point spread.

I would recommend spending your winnings right now, before you get the results of the games, but if you have followed my advice, then you have gambled all of your net worth, leaving you with nothing.  How you could be so irresponsible is beyond my capacity for understanding.

Bad Album Covers

"Heaven's Hitman" seems like a good place to start. By the way, the cursive you see in the bottom left of the album cover reads:

If you were to die tonight
because I killed you, do you
know for certain that you'd
go to heaven?

I want to hire this guy for my nephew's next birthday party.

Musician: Enik
Album Title: I Sold My Moon Boots to a Girl from Greece

Somehow, Svetlana's album . . . 
. . . and Dick Black's album go together.  But I just . . . can't . . . figure . . . out . . . why.

Then, of course, there's Pooh Man.

Stay classy, Pooh.

Classy like, say, Devastatin' Dave, the Turntable Slave.

And my all-time favorite (so far):

Monday, January 14, 2013

New Album by Band No One Listens to

Yo La Tengo just released a new album, "Fade."  YLT might be one of the best bands that few people list to.  If it isn't my all-time favorite band, then it is certainly in the top 5.

Anyhoo, I've got a copy of the album but haven't given it a listen yet.  So far, the reviews have been good, but not outstanding.

What kind of music does YLT play?  Generally, their style is all over the place--folk, noise rock, shoegaze, electronic, and straight-up indie.  They are quite a creative band.  If I had to choose their strongest influence, I'd probably throw up my hands and guess the Velvet Underground.  These guys have been playing music since 1984.  It's not often that an indie band demonstrates this much staying power . . . and builds up such a strong catalog.

In any case, this is a very happy week.  I've got a new YLT album just waiting for me to listen to it.

If you're interested in checking out the band, their two best albums, in my opinion, are I Can Hear the Heart Beating as One and And Then Nothing Turned Itself Inside-Out.

From the former album, here's "Autumn Sweater."

And from the latter album, here's "Let's Save Tony Orlando's House."

Back when I used to 24-table 25NL (and lower) on PokerStars, I used to make a game out of playing "Let's Save Tony Orlando's House" every time I stacked someone for 100 big blinds or more.  Even when I hear it now, it sounds like a celebration song.


Sunday, January 13, 2013

More Results of My Picks

Baltimore Ravens +9 at Denver

Green Bay Packers +2 1/2 at San Francisco

Atlanta Falcons -2 1/2 vs. Seattle

Houston Texans + 9 1/2 at New England

Turned out that the last two picks were duds.  Falcons won by 2, failing to cover the spread.  Houston  lost by 13--9 1/2 points couldn't save them.

Fear not.  If you followed my advice, you still have half of your net worth to bet on next week's games.  

A Wonderful Conversation that Will Not Happen

Emirati Student: Teacher, I have a question.

Western Teacher: Yes.

Student: Can you tell me what "fuck up your shit" means?

Teacher: . . . Can you repeat that?

Student: My English teacher said that on the final exam she was going to fuck up my shit.  What does "fuck up my shit" mean?

Teacher: Oh.  Ha ha.  That's nothing.

Student: It's nothing?

Teacher: Well, it means that she's going to give you a very easy final exam.  You're going to get an A.

Student: Oh!

Teacher: Yeah.  So.

Student [beaming]: Well, I really hope that she fucks up my shit on the final exam!

Teacher: I hope so too.

Results from My Uninformed, Professional Picks

Before this week's NFL playoffs, I made uninformed, professional picks on all of the games.  I advised readers to divide their net worth into quarters and to bet one quarter on each of these four games.

Baltimore Ravens +9 at Denver

Green Bay Packers +2 1/2 at San Francisco

Atlanta Falcons -2 1/2 vs. Seattle

Houston Texans + 9 1/2 at New England

The results of the first two games are in.  In the Ravens-Broncos game, the Ravens--my pick--not only covered the 9-point spread, but they managed to win in double overtime 38-35.

For this win, I credit my blossoming genius.  To a lesser extent, I acknowledge that the Ravens did a pretty good job of pressuring Peyton Manning, the Broncos QB, even though I am not sure whether the Ravens did much pressuring of Peyton Manning, in which case all of the credit for their win belongs to me.

In the second game, the Niners' QB, whose name I do not know, supposedly ran wild against the Packers, who I had picked +2 1/2 points.  The final score turned out to be 45-31 in favor of San Francisco.  

For this loss, I blame the Green Bay coaching staff, its players, the team's play-calling, and their baffling desire to fail, especially when one-quarter of your net worth has been bet on their success.

Saturday, January 12, 2013

New Yorker Wins, Loses Miss America Pageant

Mallory Hagan, a 23-year-old New Yorker, won the Miss America Pageant on Saturday.  She won the award right before she lost it.

As her name was announced, Mallory Hagan decided to celebrate by showing her baboon face.

"It's my favorite look," Mallory tearfully admitted after the award had been rescinded unanimously by pageant judges.  "I was saving it for my win."

When asked to describe it further, Mallory said that four simultaneous moves were necessary to complete the look--bugging out her eyes; opening her mouth so as to fit an entire Chipotle burrito into it; drawing back her eyebrows in disbelief; and imagining zombies chasing her into a closed alleyway.

After Hagan's debut of the Baboon, judges snatched the tiara from her head, awarding the top prize instead to Ali Rogers of South Carolina, who smiled and said, "Well golly, thanks America."

Theory About Fights

I am in the process of developing a theory about fighting.  It involves an optimal strategy, and it goes something like this.

If you are in a fight, and if your opponent is male, as he is likely to be, focus all of your energy on attacking the other gentleman's sack.  Make it clear that your sole goal is to punch, grab, twist, mangle, stomp and, god willing, dismember his sack.  A maniacal, gleeful look on the face, I imagine, could only benefit you.  The illusion of insanity, justified or not, will serve as a check on your opponent's optimism--because he think something along the lines that even if I hurt him badly, this guy won't stop until my sack is pulp.  Soon after he has this thought, your opponent will think: And I like my sack.  I value my sack.

He might even think, Even if I win, I might still lose my sack.

Attack the sack.

Playoff Picks from Someone Who Never Watches Football

Despite my disinterest in American football, I am making my picks for this coming playoff weekend.

My advice to readers: take all of your available cash, divide it into quarters, and make equal-sized bets on each of these picks.  You're welcome in advance.

Before you make these bets, here's a little extra info to add to your anxiety.

I cannot name the Ravens QB.
I cannot name the Texans QB.
I do not know any of the star RBs on any of these teams.
I have a vague notion that SF has a strong defense.
I have heard that the Pats offense remains explosive.
I am shocked to see Seattle in the picture.
I have the firm but unsubstantiated belief that any Seattle team is doomed to fail in any true test of will.
I believe that a safety nets the defensive team with two (2) points.
I believe that football is as much of a sport as darts, bowling, and curling.

Despite my knowledge, or lack thereof, I am 100 percent confident that all of these picks are winners.  If I were you, I would begin spending your winnings before the first game begins.

Baltimore Ravens +9 at Denver

Green Bay Packers +2 1/2 at San Francisco

Atlanta Falcons -2 1/2 vs. Seattle

Houston Texans + 9 1/2 at New England

Please note that these picks are not random.  They are the result of the science of my mind.  Have a nice weekend.

Friday, January 11, 2013

The Dangers of Fast Thinking

I've been reading a book lately chock full of interesting insights.  It's called Thinking, Fast and Slow, written by Daniel Kahneman, a dude who won the Nobel Prize in Economics in 2002.  So I guess he knows his shit.

As you can guess from the title, the book analyzes human decision making.  In particular, it focuses on errors in our decision making that we make repeatedly, without seeming to notice it, and a major reason--among many others--that we make these errors is that we tend to rush our way to answers to complicated questions.

Now, several months ago, I read Blink, a book by Malcolm Gladwell, on the same topic.  In Blink, however, the main point of the book seemed to be that we should trust our quick responses.  The first example given in that book is a statue that a museum on the East Coast wanted to buy, but they wanted to ensure that the statue was authentic first.  So they hired a couple of experts to come look at it.  In a glance, the experts knew that it was fake.  However, they were unable to explain why it was fake.  In this story, their initial knee-jerk reaction turned out to be accurate.

Thinking, Fast and Slow comes at these quick decisions from a more skeptical point out view.  The human mind falls victim to the WYSIATI pitfall--which stands for What You See Is All There Is.  In other words, when we are considering a question, we tend to use only the data available to us, without bothering to look for more evidence.  For example, consider the following question from the book:

Consider the letter K.  Is K more likely to appear as the first letter in a word OR as the third letter?

When I tried to answer this question, I had some trouble.  I felt like there were so many words that I couldn't think of, but I still made a guess.  My guess was that K was likely to be the first letter.  Did you make the same guess?

If so, Kahneman's guess is that we would guess that K is more likely to appear as the first letter.  Why?  It is much easier for our minds to think of words that start with K than it is to search for words that have K as the third letter.  We pile up those words in our mind, we can't locate many third-letter K words, and so we guess that there are more words that start with K.  WYSIATI.  Our guess, as it turns out, would be wrong.

We following the WYSIATI pitfall when it comes to all kinds of things.  Take gun control.  Many people have strong feelings on the issue one way or the other.  But how much do we actually truly know about the subject?  Does gun control actually reduce crime?  How can we possibly answer this question with so many moving variables in the world?  Despite the lack of knowledge on the issue, many people have strong thoughts on the subject, even though their opinions are based on extremely limited evidence.

Another argument that Kahneman makes is that our minds are just downright lazy.  To demonstrate this point, he poses the following question.  Give it a try.

A bat and ball cost $1.10.

The bat costs one dollar more than the ball. 

How much does the ball cost?

Got an answer?  Kahneman guesses that a number came rather quickly to your mind.  That number is ten cents.  (Is that true?  It was for me.)  He claims that 10 cents came to your mind quickly because it was intuitive and appealing.  It was also wrong.  If the ball costs 10 cents, then the bat costs $1.10--one dollar more--and so both of them cost $1.20.  Instead, the correct answer is 5 cents.

As I said, I chose ten cents almost immediately, but I was aware that I was reading a book that might contain such questions, and so I found the correct answer after giving it some more thought.  But if I hadn't been on my toes, I likely would've stuck with my initial incorrect answer.  And I imagine that my mind makes similar errors all the time, and I never notice it.

There's a whole lot more to the book.  In fact, I've only given two of his ideas, and two examples, from the first 20 pages or so.  It is quite a compelling read, one which I recommend highly.