Friday, December 29, 2006

There oughta be a law

(warning: pure stream-of-consciousness ahead)

You know what gets my goat? Theater finders on movie websites.

What typically happens whenever you try to use one of these: you go to the site, you go to the page for the movie you want to see, you go to the 'Showtimes And Tickets' tab for that movie and you put in your zip code.

It gives you a list of every theater in your town. None of them are playing the movie.

You sign, go back a couple pages, try the same thing again, get the same results, try a different, totally inconspicuous box to put your zip code in, and find a message saying, "Sorry, this movie is not playing in your area."

No "find the nearest theater playing this movie" option, no drag-down box saying "Find all theaters within 25/50/120 miles", nothing that indicates that, for all you know, they're even looking outside the zip code that you live in. How in the name of Chester Alan Arthur do they claim to know what my "area" is? I mean, I know I live in a cultural wasteland, I just want to find out how many deucing hours I need to drive to see Children of Men. You don't have to rub it in my face, Fandango. (And Google Movies, too; they really disappointed me. And Moviefone, and--but we won't get into that.)

I'm going to go start putting in random zip codes for nearby metropolitan areas. Wish me luck.

Monday, December 25, 2006

Lynx post

Yeah, this is one of the worst ways possible to come back from a two-week hiatus--by putting so many random websites in an entry that you know nobody will ever read them--but I have some tabs to get rid of on Firefox, and it's not like anybody's chomping at the bit to read this right now anyway. But if it happens to be Christmas evening and you're too bloated to do anything but surf the Internet, or you're Canadian and you're waiting for Boxing Day, here's a few fun things for you:

Random Stuff:
Pointless Friend Info
You have Facebook, right? Everyone has Facebook. Go to this website, make a few clicks. It takes the data for all of your friends (hometowns, favorite books, etc.) and returns the most common responses for each category. Cool both in finding out just how much your friends love Boondock Saints and for finding out just how much random information the (still-privately-owned) Facebook has for every college student in America.
Ken Jennings: "You've got to know when to fold'em"
Poker, religion, and intelligence testing: not the most common trinity you'll find. I'm with Ken on this one, incidentally.


San Francisco Chronicle: "'Convert or die' game divides Christians"

I won't believe it until I see it. I don't care if it's out for sale now, I still won't believe it until I see it.
Wil Wheaton: "more stupid security theatre b*******"
I lost a half-empty mini-can of Axe and an energy drink to a 50-minute flight to Charlotte when I went down to SpaceVision. Apparently, I wouldn't have been able to do anything dangerous with those anyway. I doubt that'll keep them from taking my Burt's Bees toothpaste in the future, though.
David Sirota: "The People Party Versus The Money Party
A fun little read if you care about politics and have a few minutes. I would have liked to see more about the Republican Party, though, where a somewhat similar rift between the libertarian and evangelical sections has been growing pretty much since the passage of the USA PATRIOT ACT.

Sports/Jay Bilas:
So I tossed Mr. Duke '86 into an argument I was making against ESPN the other day (which I would link to, were it not two posts down), and for a short time last week, I almost felt bad about it. Because apparently, in last week's Power Rankings, Jay became the first guy in recent memory to make his poll rankings in the order that they should be done: the best teams, not the undefeated teams who haven't played anyone worth playing, at the top. (Ironically, he didn't have Duke in his own top 16; no way in heck is, say, Oklahoma State playing better than the Blue Devils right now, but I digress.)

Then he turns around and goes on some
'wins by one team in a conference have no effect at all on other teams in the conference'
rant and it all gets shot in the head.

Clearly, if Clemson loses their next fifteen games, that won't have an effect on North Carolina's win-loss record (save the games that we play them, natch). But take Air Force, a really good team in a pretty weak conference. Let's say that they go undefeated in the Mountain West Conference but lose in the conference tournament, meaning they don't have an automatic bid into the NCAA's. Let's also say that they play (and beat) San Diego St., another team in their conference, early on in the conference season. San Diego State then goes and plays a big nonconference game--through ESPN's Bracket Busters or something similar--against a big team like Butler or Wichita State.

If San Diego State pulls off the upset, in any reasonable rankings system their position moves up. Therefore, the strength of schedule of all the other teams in the Mountain West Conference goes up (because they all played SDSU), so their own rankings go up. Air Force, meanwhile, has played all of these teams, and because they're a strong team in a weak conference, their seeding in the NCAA tournament, or even if they get chosen for the tournament, depends very heavily on just how weak their conference, which they got half of their wins from, is. So, are you really going to tell me that San Diego State's win has no effect on the conference or other teams in it?

NASAWatch: "Mike Griffin Hits A Home Run"
You're currently spending 15 cents a day to support life-saving research, help prevent the extinction of humanity, and fulfill a destiny of exploration that has been our species' since we first evolved...
Ibid: "Spend Lunch Money on Earth To Destroy Satellites in Space"
...not to fight World War III there.
Ibid: "iPod on ISS"
Picture is worth a thousand words. 4th generation iPod owners unite!

Language Log: "Massachusetts hold'em"

Linguistics is a science.

And to the person from Nashville, Tennessee who visited my blog through Jeff's a few days ago, congratulations: you're my 2000th hit.

Merry Christmas, y'all.

Monday, December 11, 2006

in which I test to see if I can load YouTube videos half-correctly

Not the ad of the year, but darn close. I spent about twenty minutes trying to make dead certain that this had no relation whatsoever to The Polyphonic Spree; apparently it really doesn't.

Now, I realize that about 75% of America is going to look at this commercial and throw their remote through the TV screen. Just like that "Babies Everywhere" commercial, you're going to either go out and buy the product right then and there or scratch your head and flip to a less batguano-insane channel.

But what about the channels, like SpikeTV and G4, that normal people wouldn't be watching in the first place? Why can't we get these commercials on there?

Anyway: two exams down, three to go. Whee.

Saturday, December 02, 2006

ESPN, you donkeys

As I write this, UNC is about fifteen minutes from continuing their ridiculous non-conference basketball schedule with a game against 4-2 Kentucky. In most polls, UNC is currently somewhere from 6th-8th in the nation. A ranking this low is understandable, given that all these polls were taken before Carolina's recent victory over championship-contender Ohio State. Yet in this week's edition of ESPN's Power Rankings, released the day after the OSU game, UNC is still a lowly fifth. ESPN has also been using phrases like "UNC did what it needed to" en masse with the implication that this wasn't really a major victory for UNC's side, despite the fact that ESPN had ranked Ohio State as the #1 team in the nation in this week's poll.

(Of course, this is the network where Jay Bilas and Duke Vitale run the college basketball field, while UNC (and Reynolds High) alum Stuart Scott is stuck hosting game shows. What do you expect?)

If UNC beats Kentucky today (Ken Pomeroy predicts a 20-point victory), when the polls come out next Monday they deserve to be ranked no lower than 2nd, probably behind UCLA. And here's why.

First, let's assume that for polling purposes, wins and losses are a primary criterion; secondary stats, the status of injured players, head-to-head matchups and the like have little or no importance. This, as far as I know, is pretty much what happens. It is true that 'perceived strength'--how good a team is thought to be coming into the season--can be pretty important, but since UNC was ranked #2 in the preseason poll this shouldn't keep us from going as high as we want. So, let's break down the wins and losses to date of the teams that could conceivably be ranked in the same places as Carolina.

UCLA: 5-0, one strong win (Kentucky), one marginal win (Georgia Tech).
Florida: 7-1 2, two marginal wins (Western Kentucky, Florida State* good grief. Is it still not classy to chant "Overrated"?).
Kansas: 6-1 2, one strong win (Florida), one loss at home two losses to Oral Roberts University and DePaul. (Really. DePaul?)
Ohio State: 6-1, zero strong wins.
Pittsburgh: 7-0, one marginal win (Florida State).
Duke: 6-1, one strong win (Air Force), three marginal wins (Davidson, Indiana, Georgetown*).
Marquette: 7-0, one strong win (Duke), one marginal win (Texas Tech).
Air Force: 7-1, three marginal wins (Davidson, Wake Forest, Texas Tech).
Maryland: 8-0, four marginal wins (Illinois, Winthrop, Michigan State, St. John's/Vermont)

UNC: 5-1, three strong wins (Ohio State, Kentucky*, Tennessee), one marginal win (Winthrop)

*to be played between now and Monday

So you have three categories of teams that are more or less in the top 10 right now: teams who've played patsies for the last month (Florida, Ohio State, Pittsburgh), teams with a lot of decent wins but nothing really impressive yet (Air Force, Maryland), and teams who've had some good wins, but not a lot of them. UNC, with its schedule thus far, clearly stands head and shoulders above everyone else save Duke and, as previously mentioned, maybe UCLA. (Their schedule isn't that great, but they haven't lost yet and pollsters just love that.)

Now, let's look at one more team, for the heck of it:

Butler: 8-0, two strong wins (Gonzaga, Tennessee), two marginal wins (Indiana, Notre Dame).

Could be one of the two most impressive resumes in basketball this year. Why aren't they in my list above? Simple: nobody expected them to be this good, so they have to 'earn' their way into a top 10 ranking position. Of course it's not fair. That's how sports polling works. When they come back in January (not 'if', I personally believe) and have one or fewer losses on their belt, they can start clamoring for a good position. Now, though, they're out of luck.

There is a factor or two I may be overlooking here (margin of victory, how one classifies a 'marginal' win), but I'm trying to provide an objective ranking of basketball teams here, not auditioning for SportsCenter. I would love to discuss those issues, and how they may affect my jury-rigged judging system, in further detail, though.

In other news, I got my first royal flush in poker yesterday. I was playing Omaha (which is like Texas Hold'Em, but you get four cards dealt to you and have to use two--and exactly two--to make a hand with the board), and got Ah 2c 2d Kh. (Ace of hearts, two of clubs, etc.) The flop came Th Qh Ks, giving me a pair of kings and leaving me one card--the jack of hearts--from holding the best hand possible in most forms of poker. It came on the next card. I only won about $2 from it, given the low-stakes nature of my table, but I can't exactly say that it wasn't a big deal.