Archive for October, 2015

Vacation Recap, Lake Erie, Part 3

We took a week to circle Lake Erie. We never visited Lake Erie itself, just a few interesting points.

Day 2

Upon leaving Old Fort Niagara, we drove a while to Rochester, NY. We went straight to the children’s museum – the Strong Museum. We allowed for 2 or 3 hours there, but the kids could have spent longer there. Part of the problem was that we weren’t able to fit a good meal in there so people were running out of energy.

But they had a bunch of displays.

Race Thoughts

I ran a few different races this year – a 5k, a 10k, and a couple half marathons. Here are various thoughts from those events.

1. After running a few races, you get to see similar signs. By “signs” I’m referring to the notes of encouragement written by spectators and held by them during the race for the runners to view. A number of the signs are meant to be humorous, but the same jokes gets old quickly. This year’s notable entries (i.e. they made me laugh or at least smile, as opposed to the familiar signs that elicit no reaction anymore) were
You’re running better than the government.
Run like you just fumbled a punt!

For those of you who are wondering about the last sign – the run was the day after the Michigan-Michigan State football game, a significant rivalry which Michigan lost this year in the last 10 seconds by fumbling a punt.

2. When the Detroit Marathon website and email suggest you get there early (before 6:00AM) to avoid traffic problems – take them seriously. I took the route I normally take for major sporting events, but I was late because traffic for the marathon is much, much worse than it is for a Lions or Tigers game.

The race started at 7:00, and I couldn’t get to a parking spot until 7:15. Then I had to walk about 5 blocks to the starting line. When I was about a block away, I could see people crossing the starting line and I heard the announcer over the loudspaker start counting down “30 seconds”. The material they had sent out before the race informed everyone that once the last group has started, they close the starting line and no one else is allowed to start.

So I heard the countdown “30 seconds … 10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1” and I’m a block away so I figured there’s no way I’m going to make it. But the mass of people continued to go through the starting line. I got closer and saw a ton of people (actually many tons of people) still in line. And then I heard the announcer start counting again.

It turned out he counted down to the start of each wave. I was supposed to be wave C, but I ended up in wave M. And there were more waves after that. It took about a half hour just to get everyone through the starting line. I suppose it is an interesting logistics problem – how to most efficiently get 27,000 people through a gate that is about 3 lanes wide on the road.

3. Don’t be late for a major city marathon or half marathon if you care about your time. If you don’t start with your group of people with similar paces, you will be stuck in the group of people with slower paces. This is a problem in big city races because there are tens of thousand of people in the race and if you are stuck in a slow pack, you are stuck. The people are packed curb-to-curb and there is no picking your way through the people like there is in smaller races.

The slower group was a relatively happy, festive group. And I witnessed something I never would have seen if I were in the faster group – the in-race selfie. People were stopping and taking photos of themselves at various landmarks. The most popular one was the Ambassador Bridge to cross into Canada. At first I thought it was amusing. But then some people in front of me stopped for that and I had to dodge them. A word of advice: if you have to (or want to) stop during a race, move off the side of the course first, so you don’t block the people behind you. And in this race, there were literally thousands of people behind them.

4. My time was slower than expected for the Detroit race. Much of that was due to the fact that I was stuck in a slow pack for a while, but some of it is because I ran a longer route than necessary. When there were breaks in the pack, I ran faster, but I had to weave around clumps of people. On the Ambassador Bridge, in particular, I probably did as much running side to side to find a break in the wall of people as I did running forward. The extra distance adds up.

and a large crowd was following Him and pressing in on Him.

Mark 5:24b

Vacation Recap, Lake Erie, Part 2

We took a week to circle Lake Erie. We never visited Lake Erie itself, just a few interesting points.

Day 2

Drive to Old Fort Niagara. We crossed over the Rainbow Bridge into New York. The US border patrol was more intense than the Canadians were the day before. I was not prepared for the automatic photo, so it was probably even worse than my passport photo. But I didn’t get to see it. Another extra thing the US did was have me roll down the kids’ window so they could see the kids clearly. And the US people must have more paperwork to do, because they held our documents for a few minutes while they typed in a bunch of things. But we got through there and headed north to Lake Ontario, to the point where Old Fort Niagara is.

Sports Rankings

With college football underway, there are plenty o’ pundits weighing in on who is the best.

It’s a perennial conversation because of the way that the NCAA has avoided finding a champion for college football. Instead, we have many winners. Everyone gets a bowl game!

But I digress.

My topic today is how I disagree with those who say that the previous year’s champion should remain the top-ranked team the next year until they lose.

I have a couple of problems with that.

1. The teams are not the same from year to year. The coach might be, and many of the players are, but it is not the same team. It’s college, so you should expect around 25% turnover each year.

2. That statement of “you’re the best until you lose” applies only to king of the hill and boxing. Unless you have to defend your title against challengers, you can’t claim to still be the best. Or have others claim it for you.

Last year’s champion should not be assumed to be the best this year. If you’re putting together a ranking, evaluate each team based on this year’s accomplishments and statistics.

Or for those who want to have a reason for pre-season rankings: you could propose a king-of-the-hill format. No more predictable scheduling – team #1 plays team #2 and whoever wins gets to be team #1 the next week. The loser is out of the running.

Let’s assume 128 teams total, so 64 matchups each week.
1 vs 2, 3 vs 4, 5 vs 6, 7 vs 8, etc.
1v2 winner becomes #1, loser becomes #65
3v4 winner becomes #2, loser becomes #66
5v6 winner becomes #3, loser becomes #67
7v8 winner becomes #4, loser becomes #68
63v64 winner becomes #32, loser becomes #96
127v128 winner becomes #64, loser becomes #128

So the formula is
For n teams, your new ranking is
if you win: r = rp/2
if you lose: r = rp/2 + n/2
where r is your new ranking and rp is your previous ranking

That way, if you win all your games you can stay #1.
If you lose a game, it will take you log2(r)+1 games to get back to #1.

This method would not be good for relative rankings late in the season, or at the end of the season. But if you want a method for defending the title, you can’t be concerned with the losers.

and he who invited you both will come and say to you, “Give your place to this man,” and then in disgrace you proceed to occupy the last place.

Luke 14:9

Vacation Recap, Lake Erie, Part 1

We took a week to circle Lake Erie. We never visited Lake Erie itself, just a few interesting points.

Day 1

Drive to Niagara Falls. One hour in the USA and 4 hours in Canada. The border crossing was uneventful. The CBP asked us a few questions, mostly relating to the fact that we were not coming back into the US via the same point we were leaving it. Really, the only issue was that my wife was wearing her sunglasses and the guard asked her to remove her sunglasses so he could see that she looked like the picture in her passport.

We got to Niagara Falls, checked into our hotel, then walked to the falls. We stayed on the Canadian side, but I saved a bit of money by booking a hotel that does not have a view of the falls. In fact, here is the view from our balcony:

Warranty Beware

Since Apple introduced a new iPhone, the other – now less-desireable – iPhones dropped in price. And since our phones have been about two numbers behind, it was time to upgrade.

So we upgraded. Now my phone is only one number behind the current phone. I hope to be able to make it to three less than the new phone eventually.

In the process of buying the phone, however, the guy (not sure if he’s a cashier, customer service representative, salesman, or what) recommended we buy the protection plan. A warranty for the phone – in case anything happens to it, it would get replaced. These newer phones are thinner than our older phones, so I figured they might be more easily bent or broken. Plus the screen is larger, which means more area to be damaged. So a warranty/insurance policy made sense.

I asked the guy how much it cost, and he said $10 a month per phone. I agreed, and we continued with the transaction and getting our phones switched.

We got our phones, and everything was fine.

About a week later, I got a message from the phone company telling me I should activate my protection plan.

Activate? Shouldn’t insurance just be there? There shouldn’t be anything to activate…

So I went to the website and found the descriptions of the protection plans.

It turns out the $10/month plan is insurance plus tech support.

The insurance-only plan was $6 or $7 per month.

And the deductible was half the price of the phone. My thought behind the insurance was to avoid paying anything to get a replacement phone.

Can you imagine if car or house insurance worked that way? Your $20,000 car is totaled and you have to pay $10,000? Or your house burns down but the insurance will pay only half the value?

But this story turns out well – I was able to cancel the protection plans online. No having to talk to anyone!

I know, I know – we are treading on thin ice by not having replacement phone insurance. But we’ve lived this long without insurance, and we kept our old phones (they were going to give us about $30 for the phone) so if the new phones are damaged we can just swap SIM cards and keep going.

Learn from My Mistakes
1. Ask what other plans there are.

I did not, so I didn’t know that I had signed up for the middle plan, which had me paying for things I didn’t want.

2. Ask what the deductible is.

If it’s a significant fraction of the price of the phone, just use the money you would have spent on the insurance each month and instead buy municipal bonds. Or something. Pay yourself that money and invest it and you’ll come out ahead in the long run.

A decent phone case is worth the money, so buy that and consider that your insurance.

But if he should ever wish to redeem it, then he shall add one-fifth of it to your valuation.

Leviticus 27:13

The 5 Hows: Dominion

This is the next installment in my series of The Five Hows

Dominion is an interesting card game my sister and brother-in-law taught us. It has a variety of money cards and victory-point cards and action cards. The learning curve is a little steep, and it took a couple of hands to catch on, so I thought it would be a good candidate for an explanation here.

1. How do I win the game?

You win by having the most points at the end of the game.

2. How do I get points?

You get points by buying the point cards with the money cards.

3. How do I get money cards?

You get money cards by buying them with money cards.

4. That doesn’t make sense. Won’t I end up with the same amount of money I started with if I use my money to buy money?

That’s not a How question.

4. Ok, how do I get more money if I have to spend my money to get money?

That’s better. And this is a key part of understanding the game. Whenever you play a card (either spending money or effecting an action), you don’t lose those cards. You discard them after use, but your discard pile gets shuffled and you keep those cards to play later (when your draw pile is depleted).

In other words, with each round your hand of cards grows. You play cards until your draw pile is gone, but then you shuffle your discard pile and it becomes your draw pile again. “Spending money” isn’t really the right term for the money cards, since the money stays with you. It doesn’t go to a bank or another player. But “spending money” or “buying money” is what everyone ends up saying since it’s close enough.

5. How does the game end?

There are piles of cards to be drawn from during the game. The game ends when a certain pile of victory points is gone (i.e. enough people bought them that there are no more left). Or when any two piles of action cards are gone. When that happens, each person counts the number of victory points in his hand and the highest number wins.

And that was The Five Hows for the game. It didn’t delve into the mechanics of playing, like how many cards you start with and when you shuffle and stuff like that, but that you can get from the game’s instructions. This was the big-picture view.

This game is fun, and it went pretty fast because we trusted each other. There’s a lot that can happen each turn, so if you don’t trust your opponent and try to verify that everything he’s doing is legal, it could take a while. So don’t play this game with cheaters.

For he had dominion over everything west of the River, from Tiphsah even to Gaza, over all the kings west of the River; and he had peace on all sides around about him.

1 Kings 4:24