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Friday, October 23, 2009

Casinos Cheating?

BoingBoing reports that Las Vegas casinos are using computers to count cards and track the bets of customers in an attempt to identify card counters at the blackjack tables.

Card counting falls into the category of things that will get you thrown out of a casino, but that’s because the casino’s can choose not to accept the bets of anybody for any reason not prohibited by law (race, national origin, etc.); it’s pretty widely known that counting cards isn’t illegal.  I don’t have any problem with that, per se; nobody has to play a game with somebody with more skill, after all.

That said, it’s interesting to look at a bit of Nevada gaming law:

NRS 465.075 Use of device for calculating probabilities. It is unlawful for any person at a licensed gaming establishment to use, or possess with the intent to use, any device to assist:

1. In projecting the outcome of the game;
2. In keeping track of the cards played;
3. In analyzing the probability of the occurrence of an event relating to the game; or
4. In analyzing the strategy for playing or betting to be used in the game,
except as permitted by the Commission.

This use of computers arguably assists “(i)n projecting the outcome of the game”, obviously “keep(s) track of the cards played”, and is entirely intended to “analyz(e) the strategy for playing or betting to be used in the game”.  The only thing that might save the casinos is the caveat that these things are allowed “as permitted by the Commission”.

So, either the casinos are breaking Nevada law, or the Nevada Gaming Commission is complicit in tilting blackjack odds toward the casinos.  Since I’m sure the corporations running the casinos spend plenty of money hiring the very best gaming lawyers out there, I bet you can guess what I think is happening.

There are plenty of pure chance games in casinos.  If you want one of those (for some reason), try keno, or roulette, maybe.  Blackjack is a game of (limited) skill.  The casinos do not prevent you from playing badly; they shouldn’t be allowed to use means that would result in a patron’s arrest and imprisonment to prevent you from playing well.  Sure, blackjack is a particularly boring game, but even boring people should be allowed fairness in their games.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Chex Mix and Fermented Fish Sauce

Students of the history of the Roman Empire fairly early on find out that the Romans particularly liked to use a condiment called garum, which was a fermented fish sauce.  The usual response to hearing this is some combination of disgust, horror, and amazement.  (That was certainly my response.)

But now I’ve just read this article about the history of ketchup, written by a linguistics professor from Stanford named Dan Jurafsky, on The Language of Food.  It turns out that ketchup originally contained no tomatoes, but was rather a fermented fish sauce imported from SE Asia that gradually changed its ingredient set until it’s what we eat now.

But what, you say*, does this have to do with Chex Mix?

Well, it turns out that Worcestershire sauce, one of the primary flavoring ingredients in Chex Mix, is made from fermented anchovies**.  That is, it was one of the originally imported types of ketchup.  (The recipe was probably imported from South or South East Asia by a British military officer, though the history is a bit muddled.)

Mmm, fermented fish sauce.

* Say it!

** There are non-fish Worcestershire sauces, but it is my understanding that the original recipe includes fermented fish.  That is certainly the case with Lea and Perrin’s.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Who Gets to Play in the Sandbox?

The NFL does business with all these folks:

  1. Ricky Williams. He’s either a four- or a five-time loser in the NFL banned substances program. I’m a little foggy on the details.
  2. Michael Vick. Which, yeah…
  3. Ray Lewis. While some people might talk about his “tarnished image”, Lewis’ plea deal for obstruction of justice after first being charged with murder didn’t stop him from continuing his career. Payoffs to avoid lawsuits from the families of the murdered men did little to put the shine back on in my eyes, but in the NFL, tarnished = giant paycheck.
  4. Sebastian Janikowski. Who...well, just read it. His history includes the date rape drug, too much drinking, violent confrontations, and a mildly hilarious acquittal for attempting to bribe a police officer.
  5. Pacman Jones. His violent, stupid crimes didn’t lead to his exit from the league; it was marginal play. Jones bugs me more than most because his criminal record paints him as the worst kind of arrogant, useless thug. That’s not the bad part, though: the bad part is that he was allowed to be this guy from college on to the pros because he was talented enough of a player that people kept giving him a pass. Until one year where he wasn’t good enough and the free ride was over. I wonder if he ever really understood the deal he was making or how quickly it would end?
  6. Tom Cable. The Raiders head coach allegedly (and, very believably) viciously attacked one of his own assistant coaches and broke the man’s jaw. Admittedly, the NFL may well kick this guy from the league if and when he is convicted of felony assault; but with the evidence already in place, the severity of the attack, and the NFL’s recent focus on good behavior, I still can’t believe that he hasn’t been suspended pending the outcome of the legal issues and any internal investigation that needs to take place. Hell, it might be to the benefit of the team to be without Cable.

But this one was bullied out of even the possibility:
  1. Rush Limbaugh. Who is a loudmouth conservative with a drug conviction. Which, let’s be honest, one drug conviction seems pedestrian in the world of football. You need to have a few run-ins with the pee police before the NFL considers taking any real action.

That’s only a taste, of course, and I’ve excluded those players who were convicted of things like drunk driving that, honestly, certainly are crimes but don’t deserve the kind of coverage that our media manages to milk out of those wayward players. I only include Ricky Williams because I find his career so darned funny.

And I don’t feel any strong need to carry any water for Rush. I don’t listen to Limbaugh. I tried to read one of his book years ago and got bored with his amazing ability to pat his own back--which doesn’t make him evil, it just means he’s not to my taste. Somehow, I don’t think that this should disqualify him to be minority owner of a football franchise that could use a little help.

But what do I know? I’m just the guy who buys the NFL product week after week, doing my bit to help pay the bloated salaries of the players, coaches, and owners in the league.

Just sayin’.

Campaigning: Now for Ballots, Too

Issue 1A in Adams County has the following language:

Shall your rights, as an Adams County voter, be restored to elect candidates of your choice to the offices of Adams County commissioner, (etc.) by lengthening the term limits for those offices by one additional term (for a maximum of three consecutive terms) as authorized by Article XVIII, Section 11(2), of the Colorado Constitution?

Seriously?

That’s the language of a push poll, not a supposedly neutral ballot question.  If similar language were used in a voter poll, the pollster would be ridiculed mercilessly.  Apparently, neutrality isn’t actually required of our “betters” in County government.

Update: It occurs to me that if I were to carry a sign with the official ballot language on it, I would be barred from approaching a polling place.  Where’s Jimmy Carter, “esteemed” election monitor, when I need him?

Sears Appliance Repair: Repair Service Not Included

Since I have access to this giant podium*, I intend to use it.  8-)

On Monday, our washing machine decided that washing was really just too much to expect from any appliance and stopped working.  Because of the name and history of the company, and because we didn’t have any better ideas, we called Sears Appliance Repair.  Sears Appliance Repair quoted a service call price of $129(!) plus parts, which seemed a bit high, but hey, they need to eat too, right? Sears Appliance Repair scheduled us for the first available slot, today between 10 am and 2 pm.  Yesterday, Sears Appliance Repair called to confirm this appointment.

Today?  No repair guy, no phone call, nothing whatsoever from Sears Appliance Repair.

Does anybody have a suggestion for appliance repair in Denver Metro that doesn’t suck as much as Sears Appliance Repair?  Maybe even somebody that knows something about service?

Update: Calling Sears resulted in a 10 minute hold before they would give out a number for the local contractor.  (Apparently Sears Appliance Repair cannot even manage their own telephone lists.)

When my wife called the local contractor and asked to talk to the manager, the employees just set the phone down and talked to each other about what terrible customers we were.  (Sears Appliance Repair apparently also can’t figure out how to use a hold button.) After five minutes, they decided to come back on line with the comment that “The manager is in a meeting and can’t come to the phone.”

Seriously, do not use Sears Appliance Repair for anything.

2nd Update: In the comments for this post, a Sears “Senior Case Manager” has commented, offering to resolve the situation.  Had this happened when we first tried to escalate, it might have done some good.  (Had it even been possible to escalate, for that matter.) As it is, I’ve engaged a different service and plan not to use Sears again.

Still, it looks like when you get high enough up the corporate chain, they actually do care about your opinion, at least if you have and are willing to use a podium (of whatever size).  Doesn’t help me much, but might be worthwhile information for somebody else.

Read the Rest...

Friday, October 09, 2009

Nobel Peace Prize Thoughts, Part 2 of at Least 2 (Updated)

Update: Thanks to Shawn for linking this over on the American Spectator’s blog.

What might Robert Heinlein have thought of President Barrack Obama’s Nobel Peace Prize? While it’s never quite nice to speak for the dead, here’s a clue:

“Nothing of value is free. Even the breath of life is purchased at birth only through gasping effort and pain.” He had been still looking at me and added, “If you boys and girls had to sweat for your toys the way a newly born baby has to struggle to live you would be happier . . . and much richer. As it is, with some of you, I pity the poverty of your wealth. You! I’ve just awarded you the prize for the hundred-meter dash. Does it make you happy?”

“Uh, I suppose it would.”

“No dodging, please. You have the prize—here, I’ll write it out:`Grand prize for the championship, one hundred-meter sprint.’ “ He had actually come back to my seat and pinned it on my chest. “There! Are you happy? You value it—or don’t you?”

I was sore. First that dirty crack about rich kids—a typical sneer of those who haven’t got it—and now this farce. I ripped it off and chucked it at him.

Mr. Dubois had looked surprised. “It doesn’t make you happy?”

“You know darn well I placed fourth!”

“Exactly! The prize for first place is worthless to you . . . because you haven’t earned it.

That, of course, is from one of the History and Moral Philosophy lectures in Heinlein’s Starship Troopers.

Nobel Peace Prize Thoughts, Part 1 of at Least 1

Maybe the Nobel award committee awarded Obama the Peace Prize because they expected him to keep his campaign promises, too.

Just a thought.

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

Do I Know…

...Anyone who works for Verio or who has strong connections at Verio?

If so, let me know.

Friday, October 02, 2009

Kevin Smith Gets a Moment of Love

There are things about the man that drive me bonkers (Mallrats, for instance), but here’s to Kevin smith for a very simple message about Roman Polanski:

Look, I dig ROSEMARY’S BABY; but rape’s rape. Do the crime, do the time.

Good on ya, Mr. Smith.

No Olympics for You

My first thought on hearing that Chicago had lost the bid to host the Olympics: “I wonder if Joe Biden is going to be sent out to spin this as a big win for the people of Chicago.”

Just sayin’.

This is fun reading:

But here’s the most interesting question about today’s Olympic vote: Why didn’t Obama see this coming? He spends all this time, gets all this press, uses all this political capital to promote Chicago, and then loses? What an amateur. Prosecutors don’t ask witnesses questions in court unless they’re sure of the answers. Presidents don’t stake their personal reputations on contests whose outcomes are uncertain. Very foolish move. No wonder he can’t get health care passed.

Caught that on NRO and it made me laugh.

It is odd to me that he spent more time on this issue and treated it with far more urgency than, publicly anyway, we are seeing the administration deal with the question of ongoing strategy in Afghanistan. It’s a strange place to put that much effort, as Carlson notes, especially when you have no idea of the outcome. Unless he truly believed that his star power would bring the win. Then it’s just a case of poor judgement.

To be fair, I think Rio is a case of poor judgement, too. But what do I know?

Thursday, October 01, 2009

The Less-Important Crimes of Hollywood

In amongst the discussions of how bad our cultural “elites” are at understanding anything other than their own hot-house environment, it might be well to remember just how bad they are at what is supposed to be their core competence.  By this point, I assume that most readers have heard about using the arcade game Asteroids as a libretto for a movie of the same name.  This represents a deep-seated intellectual bankruptcy, but at least it doesn’t do much to corrupt the original property.

This story from Variety*, though, is a bit more offensive.  The 47 Ronin, starring Keanu Reeves, is bad enough, but:

The film will tell a stylized version of the story, mixing fantasy elements of the sort seen in “The Lord of the Rings” pics, with gritty battle scenes akin to those in films such as “Gladiator.”

That takes it right over the edge.

I assume that we will next see a remake of Citizen Kane reinterpreted as a movie about luge racing.  I just want to say that if that happens, I want at least 1/2 point of the gross for the idea.  And that will go to 1 point if they use, as I recommend, Mike Myers as Charles Foster Kane. 

Read the Rest...

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