Amateur Hour in the Corner Office

Those of you not fortunate enough to live in the great Commonwealth of Massachusetts may have heard about our new Governor, Deval Patrick. Only the second African American Governor in American history, Patrick, a first time candidate for any office, won both the primary and the general election in a knockout. Hailed by his legions of die hard supporters as an agent of change and a true liberal, the expectations for Patrick were sky high after 12 years of failed Republican Governors. But after gliding through a virtually flawless two year campaign, Patrick has been nothing short of a disaster during his first two months in office.

Staking out a clear position in favor of gay marriage, and refusing to make a pledge against tax hikes, he quickly won over the liberal base of the Massachusetts Democratic Party. Patrick is as eloquent a speaker as you’ll find, and he criss-crossed the Commonwealth sweeping people off their feet. Without ever being too specific about what his plans were, what won people over was his intention to put an end, as he often said on the stump, to “Politics as usual.”

“I don’t have any use for politics as usual,” Patrick said at the state convention in June of last year. “I’m here to put an end to politics as usual.”

Running against Attorney General Tom Reilly, who was never a true Beacon Hill insider, but nevertheless an old White Irish guy, Patrick represented something new. His supporters counted on him to be the renegade outsider who would put an end to the patronage and special interests that have dominated Massachusetts politics for so long. He pledged to fill his cabinet with fresh faces, and flush out the backroom cigar smoking insiders who know their way around the State House better than their own living room. In his first two months in office he has done just that, and it shows.

After a weeklong series of inaugural balls and galas celebrating himself at a cost of more than one million dollars, Patrick was mostly silent during his first month. Aides said he was quietly working on where to make cuts in the state budget to help offset the tremendous deficit. While cuts were made in some areas, others saw a rather healthy increase in spending.

For example, there was a hefty increase in the area of office drapes. Patrick spent $12,000 dollars on fancy new drapes, and another $15,000 on new couches and other furniture for the Governor’s office, courtesy of the taxpayers. Another area that saw an increase was “Governor’s official state car,” which has traditionally been a reliable but modest Ford or Chrysler. For Patrick, it’s a fully loaded Cadillac Coupe Deville, for a mere $46,000. It’s truly amazing that someone whose entire campaign was based on symbolism and rhetoric would fail to see the problem with a multi-millionaire Governor spending $83,000 in taxpayer money on new furniture and a suped-up Cadillac. It was only after the Boston Globe reported on this for four days straight that Patrick partially reimbursed the state for his new office furnishings and fancy wheels.

Mistake number two came the same week, when it was revealed that the administration had made up a new position in state government titled “Chief of Staff to First Lady.” Since Patrick’s wife has no official state duties whatsoever, she does not actually have a staff, but she did have a Chief of Staff. Amy Gorin, a campaign contributor from Wellesley, the fourth wealthiest town in Massachusetts, was briefly in charge of Diane Patrick’s “Scheduling” for a mere 72,000 taxpayer dollars per year. The really pathetic thing about this is that Ms. Patrick does not need someone to handle her calls and schedule her appointments, since she already has a secretary. The reason I know that is because her secretary’s phone number is listed right here on Ms. Patrick’s bio on the website of Ropes and Gray, the major Boston law firm where Ms. Patrick is a partner. After the Boston Globe reported on this, Gorin resigned and her position was eliminated.

But public relations mistakes are merely signs of a rookie who does not understand the nature of his office. The real reason that I spent a year and a half warning everyone I spoke to not to vote for Deval Patrick was because of where his heart really lies: it’s not with the grassroots activists he energized, or the working class he claims to represent, it’s with the big businesses whose corporate boards he served on that helped get his campaign off the ground. Most disturbing to me was his service on the board of directors for Ameriquest, the predatory lending firm run by Roland Arnall, the single biggest contributor to President George W. Bush in 2004. (Click here for some further reading on the moral giants at Ameriquest.) Patrick made over $1.5 million for his service on the board, money made mostly off the backs of poor minorities, and money that he used to kick-start his campaign.

During the campaign, Patrick used poetic slogans and inspirational speeches filled with glittering generalities, masterfully selling to the public the utterly fantastic notion that his deepest sympathies lay anywhere other than with corporate America. After the décor and Cadillac fiasco, and the assistant for his wife, Patrick showed his true colors with mistake number three.

In mid-February, Patrick placed a phone call to former Clinton economic chief Robert Rubin on behalf of his former employers, Ameriquest. Rubin is now a top executive at Citigroup, a major financial services company. Patrick called to urge Rubin to lend economic support to Ameriquest, which was badly in need of financial help. Apparently aware that a Governor is not supposed to be trying to influence private business transactions, Patrick claimed he was not calling as Governor. “I made this call solely as a former board member,” Patrick said. Sorry big fella’, but you’re the Governor whether you’re swearing in a Judge, kicking your feet up in the corner office, or taking your kids to Chucky Cheese on a Saturday. When you call Robert Rubin, he’s not thinking of you as a private citizen who once worked for Ameriquest, he’s thinking of you as the Governor of Massachusetts.

Perhaps this series of pathetic moves can be explained by looking at who the Governor has surrounded himself with in key positions. Think the era of patronage jobs is over in Massachusetts? Puh-leeze!!!!!! Consider Patrick’s appointment for Deputy Chief of Staff. After a nationwide search and a review of thousands of resumes, Patrick settled on 25 year old Brendan Ryan. (Ever seen The West Wing? It’s Josh Lyman’s job for the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.) For further reference, Patrick’s predecessor Mitt Romney’s Deputy Chief of Staff was Renee Fry, whose previous occupation was the Director of the Department of Business and Technology, and prior to that she was the Undersecretary of Economic Development. For all of Romney’s faults (and there are plenty) his administration hit the ground running. Brendan’s previous occupation: driver for Deval Patrick during the Deval Patrick for Governor Campaign. (Yes…driver. As in, he drove the car and parked it at the event and then drove it to the next event.) He’s 25, and the number three man in the Governor’s office, at the mere cost of 95,000 taxpayer dollars per year. If that doesn’t say “Politics as usual,” I don’t know what does.

Neapolitan Iced Cream

How does this sell? You can buy chocolate, or vanilla, or strawberry, in any proportions.But instead, you choose to get exactly equal portions of each, all shoved in the same container, why? Why would you limit yourself like that? You can’t even eat your favorite falvor in isolation. You eat vanilla, some strawberry’s gonna get in. That’s just how it is.

And strawberry. Strawberry? What the heck is strawberry doing there? Who, at any time, would rather eat strawberry than chocolate or vanilla!? This was meant to be rhetorical. But informal polling has convinced me that there’s an awful lot of strawberry weirdos out there. To all of them I say, you are seriously weird. Seriously.

Growing up, my father would occasionally purchase neapolitan, just for kicks. And our family would destroy the chocolate and vanilla in about, oh, 35 seconds. The strawberry would just sit there. And sit. A few months later, my father would get a strange urge to buy another carton of neapolitan, and it would repeat. Eventually there would be three or four boxes of ice cream left, each with one carefully sculpted strawberry third remaining. Once in a while, my father would see these and begin to lecture us about waste and how much things cost.

How did strawberry even get in there? Rumor has it those were the most popular flavors when neapolitan ice cream was invented. I think there was just a really good strawberry salesman somewhere! (That’s a ripoff of Brian Regan’s cranapple bit by the way.)

It’s hard to believe they are still the most popular flavors. And indeed, they are not. Per the International Ice Cream Association, here are the top 10 flavors.

1. Vanilla, 29%
2. Chocolate, 8.9%
3. Butter pecan, 5.3%
4. Strawberry, 5.3%
5. Neapolitan, 4.2%
6. Chocolate chip, 3.9%
7. French vanilla, 3.8%
8. Cookies and cream, 3.6%
9. Vanilla fudge ripple, 2.6%
10. Praline pecan, 1.7%

(Isn’t it funny that neapolitan is counted as it’s own flavor?) So it seems that the strawberry should be replaced with butter pecan. Which just sounds sickening, honestly.

That site has other gems. We all know the “I scream, you scream, we all scream for ice cream!” song, right? Well, they have the complete lyrics!

…Iceberg, Lindberg, Sol Berg and Ginzberg,
Ice cream Cohen.
I scream, you scream, everybody wants ice cream.
Rah, rah, raaazberry!

No, they really don’t write ’em like that anymore. They’d get picketed.

An Easy Way to Lose Weight

Weightlifting has many benefits. The obvious one is increase of muscle mass. Most people don’t realize the real work of the body is not during the workout, but after. In a really good workout with weights, you work the muscles to failure. That means actually killing off many off the fibers and tissue. Over the course of the next few days, the body works to repair the muscle, and make it better. This is why you alternate body sections — the idea is to give any given muscle a few days to recuperate before killing it off again. (Note that many people don’t work out this way, you still get plenty of benefit even if you don’t work all the way to muscle failure.) The re-creation of the muscle is what burns the calories, it takes a lot of work and energy.

Likewise, when you suffer any kind of injury, your body needs energy to recuperate and rebuild it’s systems. Many of us have lost those few key pounds when we have a virus. When you run a fever, your body is literally cooking itself. Fighting disease takes energy, and recuperating afterwards does also.

Blood loss is one such injury. When you give blood, your body needs time to recuperate. That’s why you’re supposed to take it easy for a few days afterwards, your body needs time to rebuild. This logically leads to an obvious weight-loss strategy.

Donating blood five times a year not only is the right thing to do (go here for more info, or just get in touch with me directly), you can lose weight while doing it! Now that’s a win-win! And if you can’t give blood, at least get sick every so often.

(P.S. No, I’m not serious about this as a real weight-loss strategy. You really should give blood though.)

Stupid Stupid Marketing Creatures!

This is a piece of marketing material I got recently from some stupid company. It abounds with poor reasoning.

Does your [system metric] surpass a 70% succes rate (outperforming the industry average of just 30%)? Does your [other system metric] exceed 25% (putting the industry’s 5-7% average to shame)?

Why, no it doesn’t. You have me interested. Pray, continue.

These are the results our top-performing clients are getting

You have lost my interest. I have not bothered to work out the statistics, but if the average is 30%, out of the 5,700 clients you quote later, the fact that some of them might get very high metrics, simply by chance alone, seems rather… obvious. Furthermore, all clients are different, there are always those that by the nature of what they do get higher scores at any given metric.

yes, even ones who [do a lot of this].

No, really? You think there might be a little cause and effect confusion? Maybe they do more because it works? Or maybe they do more, so they spend time making sure it works?

And [our company] is one of the reason why.

One of the reasons? Boy, you’re really going out on a limb there.

It bugs me when people say statistics is just lies. It isn’t, it’s a technique that can be used or misused. Jackholes like this companies’ “Sales Manager, Strategic Marketing” don’t help.

Whose Face Do You See in the Mirror?

I was just listening to a cool song, “Jack gets up” by Leo Kottke. It has a line in it,

If you look in the mirror,
it’s your fathers face,
and the thin grin, and the thin grin…

I’m at the age where I’m starting to see my fathers face in the mirror. But this made me think, why my father? Why not my mother? Do I just have stronger memories of my father from this age? Do boys instinctively compare themselves to their father, and girls to their mother?

What about you? Whose face do you see?

Five TV Series That Begin With a Death

Brothers and Sisters: The Dad dies to start it off.
Six Feet Under: The Dad dies to start it off. And then someone new dies at the beginning of every episode.
Desperate Housewives: The neighbor dies to start it off, and then becomes the narrator.
The Shield: An undercover Internal Affairs investigator is murdered in cold blood by the protagonist in the first episode, setting up the (a)moral context for the show.
Party of Five (?): I know the premise is the dead parents, but do they actually die to start the show?

Any others?

I Have Seen the Face of God

… and it looks like my new universal remote control

my awesome new remote

The number of remote controls on our couch-side table is truly horrifying. There are so many that we have no space left to put down our water glasses or soda cans. We have five remotes:

    – TV
    – VHS
    – DVD
    – Receiver
    – Cable box

To watch anything, you have to use at least 3 remotes – 1 to turn on the receiver and switch to the correct input, 1 to turn on the TV, and 1 to control the component you wanted to watch (VCR, DVD, or cable). As a techie AV guy, I was completely fine with this setup, but you’ll win the bet if you guess that it drove my girlfriend crazy. Like most women, it took her forever to figure out what remote did what, and she was always worried that she’d hit the wrong button and mess up all my carefully calibrated gear.

Last week this all changed. A friend of mine recommended checking out a Logitech Harmony remote control while I was at Best Buy stocking up on all the other stuff that my new HD TV has required me to upgrade (HDMI cables, an upconverting DVD player, etc). “You will love this remote,” he confidently predicted. “It controls everything with one button, and you can program it on your Mac.”

Program it from my Mac? Control everything with one button? Where do I sign up!!!

This remote control is a miracle. Why didn’t someone think of this ten years ago? We’ve all seen the so-called “universal remotes” – huge things with a thousand buttons that claim to control all your gear, usually with a fancy name like “Remote Commander!” They all worked on the same principle – on the top row of the remote, you click which component you want to control, then click the buttons below to perform a task, then click the component button of the next thing you want to control, etc. Took forever. And who could remember what all the buttons did, since each one had multiple functions?

The genius of Logitech is that they realized that the smartest way is control things is to have a SINGLE BUTTON for each task – so (for example), when you hit the “play movie” button, the remote will:

    – turn on the TV
    – switch the TV to the correct input & aspect ratio
    – turn on the receiver
    – switch the receiver to the correct input
    – turn on the DVD player
    – start playing the DVD!

How great is that? All from hitting one button! The remote does all the work! Can you guess what the other buttons are? That’s right – obvious things you want to do, like “watch TV”, “listen to music”, “play a game”, etc!

Here’s how this Holy Grail works. You load the Harmony software onto your Mac or PC, and then type in the manufacturer and model numbers of all your gear. The software downloads the right codes & info from Logitech’s online database and uses the USB cable that comes included to program your Harmony remote for you. If you want to be geeky (you bet I did!) you can configure your remote down to the tiniest detail, controlling what functions appear on the remote’s screen (and in what order), or even mapping specialized buttons onto your remote. Once your remote is configured, you can test everything and the remote’s Help function can make adjustments if anything is still not working perfectly. It truly, honestly, 100%, does not get any better or easier than this.

I got the 670 model because it was marketed as the best one for controlling a DVR. At Best Buy, it was $150, but on Amazon, it was only $100 plus $5 for shipping. You may cry out in shock, “A hundred dollars? For a hundred dollars, I’ll gladly juggle all those remotes and hit all those buttons myself and save the money.” If that’s what you say… then you, sir, clearly don’t understand what is important or fun in life.

The Ethics of Blogging

NYT’s Ethicist column last week talked about blogging. Not surprsingly, he got it completely wrong.

Here’s the question:

I interview high-school seniors who apply to my alma mater. I routinely Google these students and discovered that one posted information on his blog that reflects poorly on him. May I ask him about the blog? May I mention it to the university? Should it affect the score I give him?

The answer features a couple of doozies, “You would not read someone’s old-fashioned pen-and-paper diary without consent; you should regard a blog similarly.” Um, sure. Except a diary is usually kept locked away somewhere, not published for everyone in the world to see. And the answer presumes that a blog is a diary. I humbly submit Muttroxia as a counter-example — I sincerely hope no one thinks these ridiculous posts are my deepest darkest secrets and feelings.

What did the university think? “[He] checked with the university and was told not to ask the student about the blog but to include its URL with his report.” Sure, that’s ethical. It’s not OK for an interviewer to get a full picture of the student, but it is for the university? What’s good for the goose is good for the gander, as Aristotle opined.

For what it’s worth, I think it is not only fair for the interviewer to look at the blog, but admirable. The interviewer is not a formal official of the college. Their job is to get a fuller picture and a subjective portrait that overworked officials might not be able to. Examing the public record is fulfilling that duty. (Mrs. Muttrox, who actually does this, disagrees.)

P.S. Although his column is good Sunday morning entertainment, you should know that Randy Cohen is not a real ethicist in any way. He’s a bright guy who found a good niche in the newspaper advice field. If you disagree with him, you have just as much formal training as he does, which is to say, none.

Lottery Strategy

The New York Times had an entertaining article on why playing the lottery is worth it. It agrees with my point of view. One dollar now and then is a cheap price to play for the fun of dreaming about winning.

But it also included this gaffe:

Large rewards make most people reckless, whether they’re on the winning or losing end. A 2003 University of Vermont study found that lottery players who said they preferred to receive potential winnings in annuity payments — generally thought to be safer than receiving the money all at once, in a lump sum — often changed their minds when they actually won. And the higher the jackpot, the more likely people were to prefer a lump-sum payout, the researchers found. (Mr. Nabors chose a lump sum.)

Yes, people change their mind. They should. Taking the lump sum is a smarter thing to do. It’s not being greedy, it’s being prudent.

Ever wonder how the exact payout amount is determined? It’s pretty straightforward financial calculations, figuring out the present value of those annual payments. As always, the key input is the interest rate. And for this, they use a very conservative number. Why? Because the lottery has to invest in state bonds and other very conservative investments, so from their point of view, that is appropriate. However, you as a private investor, can do better in the market (in most cases). You have investment options available to you that the state does not. Therefore, you can generate a higher rate of return. Which means you get more money by taking the lump sum up front and investing it wisely.

Getting Older, Not Wiser

Happy birthday to me — thanks for the wishes all! To celebrate, I officially started wearing glasses today. Gads. Combined with just a tinge of grey hair on the temples, there is no doubt I have been graduated to the next phase of life.

And to cap off the fun, when I came back from lunch I left the keys in the car. Running. *Sigh*

God I love getting older.

Van Halen blows it at Rock & Roll Hall of Fame induction

Diamond Dave

From CNN.com:

Only Van Halen’s second lead singer, Sammy Hagar, and ex-bass player Michael Anthony turned up for their induction. Guitarist Eddie Van Halen has just gone into rehab and original lead singer David Lee Roth stayed away in a tiff over what he would perform.

From Billboard.com:

“Velvet Revolver performed in place of Van Halen and without Roth. Frontman Scott Weiland explained the ensuing controversy: “We were asked to perform. Kinda what happened was, he wanted to sing the song ‘Jump.’ We felt from an artistic standpoint, and I’m being totally honest with you, that it wasn’t a song we felt comfortable with. We don’t have keyboards. To bring a keyboard on stage wouldn’t work for us. We said we’d do “Jamie’s Cryin'” or “You Really Got Me,” and he was adamant that wasn’t okay.”

Dear Scott Weiland – you don’t get to tell David Lee Roth what song he sings at his Rock N Roll Hall of Fame induction!!! You haven’t earned it! You are a pathetic junkie – a junkie who should be down on his knees every hour, thanking God that he gets to be in a band with Slash. When Diamond Dave says “Jump”, you say, “How loud?”

On Buying a Refrigerator

We recently bought a new refrigerator. Things have changed in the refrigerator industry, I’ll tell you that. For all the gimmicks, most of the modern refrigerator designs are clearly worse.

Freezers ought to be on the bottom. That’s common sense. Heat rises. Therefore, the cold stuff goes below. Yet, new refrigerators have the freezer area on top or on the side.

Side by side is another bad design choice. Ideally, the interior of the refrigerator is just open space that you can configure to meet your needs. But a side by side design puts a big vertical barrier in the middle. This reduces how you can arrange items in there.

The problem is compounded by building in all kinds of specific compartments for specific kinds of food. Here’s the milk area, and here’s the vegetable area, and here’s the fruits, and the butter, etc. You know what, why don’t you let me put my food where I feel like putting my food. It’s all the same freakin’ temperature, what’s the difference?

The biggest gimmick is the ice and water dispensers. If you look inside the refrigerator, it’s shocking how much room the machinery takes up. On some models, 20% of the total space is taken up getting the water and ice to the outside. And what do you get for that? The water never tastes good. The depression is never big enough to fit a normal glass. Oh, but you save a miniscule amount of energy by not opening the door. Whoopee.

Stainless steel is another one. What is the point of stainless steel? It makes your kitchen looks industrial. It gets dirty instantly, and you can’t even clean it with a normal cleaning solution. Why would anyone get stainless steel? They would get it because now everyone has stainless steel, so that’s how you have a “nice” looking kitchen, where “nice” is what all the other people have.

And the price… the cost of any refrigerator above the basic block model is incredible. When my friend told me how much he paid for his, I practically laughed in his face. Then we went shopping, and I ended up spending even more.

You Know What Happens When You Assume?

You’re usually right, that’s what happens.

Assuming is usually correct. You save a lot of time and energy and keep yourself from looking like an idiot. If you go more than ten minutes without assuming something, you have severe brain damage. That’s what separates you from an infant, you’ve been in the world long enough to make good assumptions.

Also, there’s no “we” in team. Unless you turn the M upside-down.
Letter W

Voting Methodology

(This one’s been sitting around for a while. It’s in response to a November 6, 2006 editorial, so it’s not very timely at all. But what the heck.)

This op-ed demonstrates why sociology is not considered a “hard” science. The errors abound.

1) 99% is not the standard significance threshold in science, 95% is.
2) It’s easy to count penny jars accurately. It’s called being careful. It’s especially not hard to count penny jars when you have million dollar budgets.
3) He spends some time stating how four different counts produce four different numbers, and suggests averaging them. Three paragraphs later, he ignores all this to say that in Washington’s 2004 race, 1,373,361 votes didn’t beat 1,373,232 votes by enough, so it shouldn’t count.
4) While it’s vaguely true that recounting may get you slightly different numbers, that’s not where the issues lie. The issues are not implementing a counting methodology, but having an agreed upon counting methodology. Do hanging chads count or not? Are absentee ballots with insufficient postage valid or not? If someone waited 12 hours to vote and couldn’t because of broken machines, should they get to vote? If someone was incorrectly purged from the voter polls, does their vote count? If they voted in the wrong precint, does it count? If they were confused by a butterfly ballot, can their vote be re-assigned to who they obviously meant to vote for? If a voter doesn’t have the correct ID, even though they are a legal voter, does it count? etc. Those are the questions that lead to recount after recount.
5) The proposed remedy of do-it-again is just plain insane.
6) I’m a statistics person, but statistics are not the way to hold elections. A 99% certainty level (or a p=0.01) means that about 1 in 100 times, you get the wrong answer and are OK with it. 99% is not enough here.

The answer is agreed upon counting methodologies. Execution may not be easy, but it is staightforward and auditable. Given reasonable time and money, the counting will always be accurate.

Links o’ Interest

Fantastic legal correspondence, from somethingawful.com All real.

My lawyer, Leonard “J.” Crabs, has advised me to exercise my 16th Amendment rights on this issue. He said it’s “more than three times better” than the standard fifth Amendment, so my chances of winning the lawsuit instantly tripled. I don’t know what Congress’ power to collect income tax has to do with your email, but I’m not a lawyer like Mr. Crabs is. That’s why I pay him big bucks (plus bus fare).

Not only do we intend on fighting your lawsuit in court, we additionally plan on suing ourselves once your lawsuit is invariably thrown out on the grounds that you people are dangerously incompetent in virtually every aspect of life. We plan on suing ourselves for successfully not being successfully sued by you, therefore creating another grievous case of “defamation of character , libel or slander” since our upcoming legal victory over your company will create the public opinion that your company is completely staffed by subterranean mole people who know nothing about the law. You may consider yourself the “head subterranean mole person” if you so desire, or the CEO of Mole People if you’re into brevity.

Surreal conversation between Bjork and P Diddy

Would you like to get an entire operating system built for $3-6,000? This idiot is trying.

A lottery winner who didn’t blow it all. An interesting contrast to the usual winners.

Massachusetts be so smartest!

No. This isn’t real. It can’t be real. Is it real? I think it’s not real. Bob Dylan does Dr. Seuss.

Bad User Interface: Showers

This is the standard shower control in many gyms and hotels:

Shower Control

This is about the worst controller their ever could be. A simple person might look at this and think, hmm… the big pointy thing is pointing to hot. It must be very hot! No, simple person, this setting means “Off.: This shower is so special, its pointer does not work like every other big pointer in the entire world that points towards something. No, this pointer, points away! It is not like a clock, or a highway exit sign, or a mouse pointer, or a one way sign. It is special! Why? I haven’t the least idea.

Oh, and for a bonus there is no way to adjust water pressure.