Monday, July 15, 2019

Please note

"Burnt ends" are a foul, unholy form of brisket. That is all.

Friday, July 12, 2019

Friday Links!

Leading off this week, from Steven Kreuch, one of the most detailed stories I've seen about Action Park: Remembering Action Park, America's Most Dangerous, Daring Water Park.

This is from Bryan G, and it's amazing! However, be aware that it's a Dropbox file. I've downloaded it and scanned it, and there were no virus issues, but it is a download: .PDF of the Houston Mission Control Center plans originally published in 1965.

From Wally, and this is a staggering read: Subway Got Too Big. Franchisees Paid a Price. The only religion-based military unit in U.S. history: Mormon Battalion.

Such a shame: João Gilberto, Master Of Bossa Nova, Dies At 88.

From Geoff Engelstein, and it's fascinating: New approach could sink floating point computation.

From C. Lee, and it's just in time for summer (plus fall, since some of these aren't released yet): Hot new Japan book releases for the sweltering summer. This is excellent: Literature Versus Utopia: An Ancient Quarrel. This is a disturbing read: The dark side of Japan’s anime industry. Also disturbing: The millionaire day trader, the bunker under his home and a murder conviction. It's a disturbing week: Chinese border guards put secret surveillance app on tourists' phones. A terrific read: The Science of Saving the Declaration of Independence.

From Meg McReynolds, and this is fantastic: Faces of Iditarod--2019.

I called this fifteen years early (which means I was wrong). From Brian Brown: The world's biggest video game retailer, GameStop, is dying: Here's what led to the retail giant's slow demise.

From Marc K., and it's a touching story: Giants announcer Mike Krukow leans on his service dog, Patriot, for support.

Thursday, July 11, 2019


I saw this article over at ESPN today: 'These kids are ticking time bombs': The threat of youth basketball.

The 'ticking time bomb' referred to in the headline is injury. Kids are having serious injuries at much earlier ages than ever before. Here's an excerpt:
"They just march in here and out -- knee pain, ankle pain, head pain, back pain," says Dr. Chris Powers, a USC professor and the director of its biokinesiology program. "We see kids all the time that are 10, 11 years old with really bad tendinitis and overuse injuries all the time. I've seen ACL tears in 11-year-olds."

The cause, according to the article, is specialization. Specializing in one sport at an early age predisposes a kid to develop imbalances that result in more frequent and serious injuries than kids who don't specialize.

Of course, what the article doesn't say is that unless you're an athlete in the 99.99% category, you have to specialize. If you want to play in college, you have to spend an incredible amount of time getting seen, and getting seen means playing games. Lots of games.

Plus, you need connections. Lots and lots of connections. Sports is so inbred. Coach A is buddies with Coach B in another state who coaches at the next level and might give you a shot because Coach A vouches for you, and if coaches C and D vouch for you, it's even better. It's six degrees of separation. 

In basketball, kids who play both high school and AAU can easily play 100 games a year. In hockey, kids will play 65 games a year in AAA, then play spring hockey (10-20 games), and a few summer tournaments (8-15 games).

That adds up, on the high end, to 100 games a year. Of hockey!

Baseball is the same way. So is soccer.

Travel sports (in this case, AAU) gets the blame in the article, but I don't know why. Sure, travel sports exploit kids, but so does the NCAA. College coaches at the D-1 level have kids play two to four years of juniors in hockey. They go to junior college for baseball, basketball, and football (usually for two years, so almost the equivalent of juniors).

Why is it like this? Because everybody needs to make their money.

There's absolutely no way that anyone needs to be playing more than 50 games a year in any youth sport for optimal development. But optimal development would mean that a whole bunch of people wouldn't make their money.

The NCAA? Absolutely the same way. It's all about people making their money. Money, money, money.

Eli 17.11 has been, in comparison, very fortunate. We always talked about how important it was to avoid injury. He didn't start playing huge numbers of games until he was 15, and it was only for two seasons. He was in a workout program specifically designed to strengthen his hips and other areas that are are particularly stressed in goal (you wouldn't believe the problems that goalies have with their hips and knees). He had a stretching coach--seriously, he did--that had him on an extensive program designed to protect him from injury.

It worked. He doesn't have any options at the D-1 level unless he played juniors for 2+ years, which he's not going to do because he knows it's bullshit, but his body is remarkably healthy for having played at such a high level.

It's a very exploitative system, and I'm really sorry to say that I don't have any positive ideas for reform because the system is so entrenched. Layers and layers and layers of people who need to make their money, and consider that more important than the welfare of kids.

Sure, it's a little disappointing that Eli didn't make it into a D-1 program, because he worked so hard, but I'm really, really happy that he's still in one piece, and his academic options, unlike his sporting ones, don't involve him waiting until he's 20 or 21 to start college.

Oh, and he starts the University of Michigan with 34 credits, too, thanks to AP tests and the two college Spanish classes he took when he was a senior. To graduate? 120.

It's entirely possible he'll graduate from the Honors College before some of the kids he played with even start college. That is a very messed up system.

Wednesday, July 10, 2019

Larger than a golf ball, and yellow

I watched a bit of Wimbledon today, thought about something, and went to Wikipedia for confirmation.

I found an article referencing 'the Big Four' (Federer, Nadal, Djokovic, and Murray), which I assume was written by one of Murray's family members, because I see those four names and immediately think "Which one of these things is not like the others?"

Single quotes, double quotes, whatever. I'm eating shredded cheese and mini-saltines for lunch. With difficulty.

The numbers are incredible. Those four players have won the following:
13 out of the last 14 Australian Opens
13 out of the last 14 French Opens
14 out of the last 14 Wimbledons
12 out of the last 14 U.S. Opens

That's incredible, but I think it's starting to hurt tennis. Federer is 37, Nadal is 33, Djokovic is 32, and Murray is 32. These guys (the Big Three, anyway) have been so dominant for so long that the younger players haven't been in championship situations in the Grand Slams. It's like a forest where there's no new growth because the existing trees control the canopy.

There's a normal process of aging and replacement in tennis. Male players after 30 win Slams as an exception, not the rule. But the normal relationships between age and performance have been entirely upended.

Making it even more complicated is that at least two of the three (Federer and Nadal) have an enormous amount of charisma. Their personalities are as large as their games, and that squeezes out interest in young players.

In the semis at Wimbledon: all three. And if Murray hadn't been hurt, it would probably be all four.

Agency (update)

Thanks for the excellent email I'm getting about this subject. I apologize for not compiling it yet, but the jaw is reducing my productivity pretty significantly.

Also, I'd be very interested in hearing from anyone who worked for a charity on a regular basis when they were kids, and how that affected your perspective on the world and on yourself.

Tuesday, July 09, 2019

The Drive-by

We were eating lunch at Chipotle yesterday.

I bit into a soggy taco. "Ow!" I said.

"What happened?" Eli 17.11 asked.

I started experimenting with moving my mouth. It did not go well. "It almost felt like my jaw dislocated," I mumbled. "I think that ends lunch for me."

"I'm sorry," Eli said, and continued to eat.

I sipped my drink. "This is getting old," I said. "Just sitting here, having lunch, and I'm the victim of a drive-by." Eli laughed.

A few minutes later, when he was done, I noticed something. Somehow, it was quiet, which is never true of Chipotle. Still mumbling, I said, "It's actually really peaceful in here."

"You know, it is," Eli said.

"I mean, after my agonizing screams stopped," I said.

This has never happened to me, but after a quick visit to the dentist, he confirmed that I had indeed dislocated my jaw (momentarily), and that all the muscles on the left side of my face had gone into spasm in response. If you're wondering how you treat that, well, you don't. You take ibuprofen and don't eat solid food until the pain goes away to the point where you can chew (not there yet). After the swelling subsides (a week, approximately), you have the dentist verify that your bite hasn't changed.

Rating: 1 of 10. Would not do again.

Monday, July 08, 2019

Team Sports, Agency, and the Development of Character

This might be a multi-day topic, depending on the email.

Ex-Denver Broncos wide receiver Nate Jackson wrote an article for Deadspin a few weeks ago titled How Playing In The NFL Ruined Me For Life On The Outside. I encourage you to read the full article, because behind the humor, it's very revealing, but here are a few excerpts:
When I am struggling in the “real world,” is it because I am conditioned for a different reality? Or because I actually have brain damage? Nobody knows, because frustration can read as dementia. It’s the world that drives us mad, not football! It’s the way people communicate: Vague. Non-committal. Via text. Email. Waiting for a response. Fake smiles and faker laughs. Superlatives and exclamation points and the making of plans that never come to fruition. Sorry for the delayed response, things are crazy over here. “Really?” I want to say. “How crazy?” Every conversation is a game of double-dutch and I cant seem to time it up.

Because in football, there is only one rope, and it’s tied around your neck. Everything is Clear and Direct. They look you right in the eyes and tell you where you stand. If you forget your assignment on a play for example, practice comes to a screeching halt. Everyone turns to you and watches your coach say something like: “If you cannot remember the plays, then we can’t put you in the game. And if we can’t put you in the game, then we can’t have you on this team!” Duly noted. You are evaluated at all times. Coached at all times. 

So how’s retirement? Aside from trying to get writing gigs and hanging out with my wife, I basically just wander around waiting for something to happen, something off-script, because it feels like I’m the only one without a copy.

If I hear a crash, I get excited. A scream. Yay! Glass breaks. Sirens ring out. Killer! Smoke fills the air. Tires screech. Someone yells fuck. A ball rolls out into the street. A crustpunk stalks a tech worker. A Lyft driver backs into a fire hydrant. These are the moments I live for. And when I think about it, I always have. I was a reckless child, always leaning forward, always banged up, stitches in my head, black eyes. I was perfect for football, but my participation came with a price. It rewarded my recklessness, made aggression a virtue, and disconnected me from the emotional reality of violence. Not only that, but it seems as if, even 10 years later, that my dials have been fixed.

The longer that Eli 17.11 played team sports, the more something nagged at me. Everyone was talking about how team sports build character, but the kids who play team sports are developing obedience, not character. The more agency they show, the more they get yelled at. Coaches don't want kids with agency--they want scheme execution, and that is precisely defined, even in hockey.

Obedience without true agency is not character.

Plus, everyone also talks about how it teaches kids not to be selfish, playing on a team. When you're playing on a national level team, though, your family's life revolves around you. It has to. There is so much travel and so much outside coaching and so many workouts.

It's a situation where everyone you write the checks to says writing that check will help your kid develop character, but I started wondering if--all else aside--a kid might develop more character if they worked at a charity for fifteen hours a week and just played regular, local sports.

So when I saw this Nate Jackson article, it struck a chord, because he was saying life inside a team sport made it more difficult to live in the regular world, not less.

Then, in the comments section, there were several military veterans who said they couldn't adjust to the real world after being in the military, and what they described was almost identical to what Jackson described.

We have several readers, including some of my favorites, who were in the military for long periods, and I'm hoping they weigh in on this.

So we have two topics here for discussion here, although they're closely related. Are team sports actually helping kids develop character, and does being in a highly regimented system (college/pro sports, the military) reduce one's ability to live in the outside world?

Friday, July 05, 2019

Friday Links!

From Simon Jones, and this is a fantastic read: The Man Who Walked His Life Away.

From Steven Davis, and this is just incredible: Boeing Outsourced Its 737 MAX Software To $9 Per Hour Engineers.

From Wally, and wait, what? Jersey is being terrorised by 100-strong gangs of feral chickens waking up locals and chasing joggers. An interesting read: The Century-Long Evolution of the U.S. Army Helmet. Always fun: Pass The Salt - Joseph's Longest Machine Ever. This is both unnecessary and kind of irresistible: Clock of the Long Now.

Outstanding links from C. Lee. First, and this is very clever, it's Japanese Picture Book Photoshops Prehistoric Creatures Into Contemporary Settings. These are stunning: Delicate, Miniature Sculptures Made From Dandelion Seeds by (euglena). An excellent read: The Patents Behind Toy Story’s Beloved Characters. Very useful: Download Scale Drawings of Everything at Dimensions.Guide. What a story! Objects of Intrigue: The Medieval Knight With a Chinese Sword, Who Was Once A Bridge.

From Meg McReynolds, and good grief: Smartphones aren’t making millennials grow horns. Here’s how to spot a bad study Science.

Thursday, July 04, 2019


Hey! You there. Young person. Stop opening the door for me. I mean, it's nice that you're opening the door for me, but stop doing it because you think I'm old. I mean, I am old, but--oh, never mind.

Thanks for opening the door.

Wednesday, July 03, 2019

Life: The Subscription

Do products even exist anymore?

I'm watching Wimbledon, and ESPN shows some of the matches, but they offer many more on some special package. Additional fee required.

Then there's ESPN+. ESPN spends more time promoting ESPN+ than they do actually showing content. That's an additional fee, of course.

NBC Sports has NBC Sports Extra. The Golf Channel has Golf Channel+ or something like that.

Every content provider, it seems, has an additional fee channel that they're constantly pushing you towards. And, inevitably, they're going to extract more and more of the base content and put it behind the paywall.

Gaming, meet your sibling.

It seems like life is a subscription now, which I find pretty discouraging. I told Eli 17.11 that I feel like an orange where every last drop of juice is being extracted. In this country, at least, the constant and suffocating levels of advertisement have become overwhelming.

Want to fill up your car with gas? Ads will play at the pump. Listen to the radio? A third of the content will be advertising. Same with television, unless you're on a premium channel (and check out our new + service that's even better*).

*additional fee required.

What's even more frustrating is that many of these subscription services conflict with each other. Want to start streaming Netflix in 4K (yeah, that's an additional fee)? That counts against your data cap, which is your ISP subscription.

It's all a big, tangled bird's nest, and given the state of consumer protection in this country (almost none), it's hard to imagine any kind of improvement.

On the plus side, Los Espookys is very funny. And strange.

Tuesday, July 02, 2019

You Should Have Seen the Holiday Advertising Campaign

"Oh, sure, I'll eat at Noodles and Co.," I said to Eli 17.11. "I had a salad a few weeks ago that was fantastic."

I ordered the fantastic salad. "This salad has corn and avocado," I said. "That really puts it over the top."

The salad arrived.

I had a few bites but something wasn't quite right. I investigated. "This salad actually has zero corn and zero avocado," I said.

Eli laughed.

An employee came by. "Hi," I said. "Could I get some avocado and corn? My salad didn't have any." She apologized profusely.

A few minutes, she came back. "I"m really sorry, but we're out of corn and avocado," she said. "Could I bring you some of our other ingredients?"

"Thanks, but I guess it's okay," I said. Really, it wasn't.

I looked at Eli. "We are literally out of everything in this salad except lettuce," I said. He burst out laughing.

I thought about it later. Do salads come with season passes, or DLC? Maybe this was an F2P salad, and I needed to grind for hours to get those ingredients if I wasn't going to buy salad coins.

This salad was barely an alpha.

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