Your fingers point to your athletic ability

January 21, 2012

A pair of recent studies found that for both men and women, people whose ring fingers were longer than their index fingers were more likely to be successful athletes.  Lower ratios (shorter ring fingers) are believed to be linked to higher pre-natal levels of androgens (male hormones).

The ratio for the average person is about 1, meaning that the two fingers are about the same length.  My ratio is about .9.  What’s yours?

Stop SOPA!

January 18, 2012

Stop SOPA!

Two Years and Counting

November 8, 2011

The Alewife Brook Greenway Project is a proposed bike path that runs along Alewife Brook/Rt. 16 from the Minuteman Bike Path at Alewife Station to the Mystic Valley Parkway at the border of Medford.  The estimated cost for a bike path that’s less than a mile and a half long (and interrupted by a cemetery) is well over $3 million.

Construction began in spring of 2010.  It was supposed to be finished by this fall, but progress has been glacial at best.  I rode my bike by the Alewife end this morning, and found that they’ve finally finished something

The Greenway is part of a system of paths that will eventually connect Watertown/Belmont, Bedford/Lexington, Medford, and Cambridge/Somerville to Alewife.  Why?  Maybe so they can all catch the Red Line into town?

We’re spending a ton of money on supposed improvements in bicycle infrastructure, but most of the real benefits are going to contractors, not bicyclists.

Baseball needs fixin’

September 2, 2011

It’s September.  The New York Yankees just took two out of three from the Red Sox to pull within a half-game in the AL East pennant race.  And no one cares.

The second-place Yankees currently have an 8.5 game lead in the AL Wild Card race, so even if they don’t catch the Red Sox, they’ll still probably make the playoffs.  “The Battle for Home Field” or “The Battle to Face the Tigers Instead of the Rangers”  just isn’t enough to keep anyone’s attention.

Ever since baseball added the wild card, this has been a problem.  The baseball season is long, which is a benefit when there’s a race but hurts when everyone is just waiting for the post-season to begin.   The way things are going, baseball will become just like basketball or hockey,  where no one really cares about the regular season.

Baseball could easily fix things.  First, they could add two teams to make 32.  That would make more jobs, so the Player’s Association would be happy.  The owners would get expansion fees, so they’d be happy.  Two new cities would get major league baseball, so they’d be happy.  Some people might complain about diluting the talent, but given the growth in population and the international nature of today’s game, teams actually have a deeper talent pool to draw from now than they did 50 years ago, when there were only 16 teams.

Take the 32 teams, divide them up into two leagues of 16, then divide the leagues up into four divisions of four.  Only the eight division winners make the playoffs.  Just as many teams make it as today, but no losers get in.  All the division races would mean something, and having eight pennant races increases the chance of a decent battle to the finish.

The other necessary fix is to make the schedules fair.  Keep interleague play if you must, but each team in a division should play the same schedule.  Why should the Red Sox play the Braves because of some imaginary rivalry when another AL East team gets the pathetic Nationals?

Baseball knows it has problems.  By random chance, the problems with the playoffs stand out this year.  Baseball is supposedly looking at things like realignment of the existing leagues and adding more wild cards.  That may help sell more tickets in the short term, but won’t fix the underlying problems.

The system isn’t really that hard to fix, but given its history, I’m confident baseball will find a way to screw it up.

Make the Square even cooler

June 6, 2011

Square CC readerI recently ordered a Square credit card reader for my iPhone.  The Square plugs into my phone and allows me to swipe your credit card so you can use it to pay for my book at a reading or a race, items I sell you on Craigslist, or other things like that.

It’s a pretty good deal – the app and the reader are free, there are no fixed costs for the service, and Square takes a smaller percentage of my sales than Google Checkout or PayPal.

The downside is that it’s a stand-alone service.  Square is great for physical items, but it would be even greater if I could swipe your card and auto-magically send you a download link for a ebook, MP3, or other digital media.   They could do this by building their own e-store, or by partnering with Amazon, or some other vendor with an online presence where I can post my own digital goods.

Maybe if we all contact Square and ask them to set up that service…


January 1, 2011

Can you think of any situation that would be improved if someone were to shoot off automatic weapons in a crowded underground subway station?  I can’t either.

A machine gunBut last night, New Year’s Eve, as Ruth and I were passing through Park Street Station on the way to our train, we were surprised to see two men in fatigues standing at parade rest next to the westbound Green Line tracks with machine guns.

I’m no expert on personal weapons of mass destruction, so I can’t say exactly what they were carrying.  I might have stopped to take a picture, but I preferred to spend as little time as possible in a place where drunks mix with automatic weapons.  Also Massachusetts is one of the states where citizens can be arrested for taking pictures of public employees in public spaces.  So we passed through as quickly as possible and continued down to the Red Line platform, which was free of any military presence.

Ruth thought that the soldiers might have been deployed to counteract some “credible threat”, but I was pretty confident that this was just another case of security theater gone wild. A search this morning didn’t turn up anything in the news, and the authorities are usually not shy about giving vague pronouncements about how they successfully protected us from shadowy undefined  threats.

Boston had promised increased security for First Night.  There were cops and TSA agents loitering near the turnstiles when we got on the Red Line at Alewife.  But why send out soldiers with machine guns, weapons that are great for killing masses of people, but not so good at killing selected individuals in crowds of panicking drunks?  What were they thinking?

What do you think?

Hold Your Senators Responsible

December 15, 2010

After Monday’s vote to end debate on the tax bill, the Senate voted 81-19 today to approve a version that extends the 2001-2003 Bush tax cuts for all Americans, retains emergency unemployment benefits, and extends or implements a host of other tax cuts and credits.

Along the way, they voted on a number of amendments.  Two of those are particularly helpful in sorting out how senators think.

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) proposed an amendment that would work toward reducing the deficit by eliminating the tax cuts for the wealthest Americans, restoring some of the estate tax cuts made in 2009, and making some other changes designed to protect middle- and low-income Americans.  It failed 43-57.

On the other side, an amendment that would help reduce the deficit by requiring cuts to offset the extension of emergency unemployment benefits, proposed by Sen. Tom Coburn (R-OK), failed by a vote of 47-52.

These votes lend themselves to an analysis of senators’ voting patterns.  Decide for yourself who’s right and who’s wrong.  Just make sure you pay attention, and hold your senators responsible for their decisions.

Senators who are primarily concerned with reducing the deficit would have voted against the compromise.  5 Republicans and 1 Democrat also voted against the Sanders amendment and for the Coburn amendment: (Hagan (D-NC) Sessions (R-AL) Coburn (R-OK) DeMint (R-SC) Voinovich (R-OH)    Ensign (R-NV))

Senators who are serious about starting work towards balancing the budget, but would prefer to start by increasing the share paid by the wealthy, would vote against the compromise, but for the Sanders amendment.  How many voted that way? Eleven, ten Democrats and Bernie:  (Bingaman (D-NM) Lautenberg (D-NJ) Udall (D-NM) Dorgan (D-ND) Leahy (D-VT) Levin (D-MI) Wyden (D-OR) Feingold (D-WI) Merkley (D-OR) Gillibrand (D-NY) Sanders (I-VT))

No senators voted against the compromise bill and for both of the amendments.

Senators who think we can keep giving more away without ever paying for it, or that now is not the time to do any cutting back, would vote for the compromise and against both amendments.  There were eight of those,  7 Democrats and Joe Liberman: (Baucus (D-MT) Bennet (D-CO) Nelson (D-FL) Pryor (D-AR) Kohl (D-WI) Lieberman (I-CT) Webb (D-VA) Manchin (D-WV))

Senators who want to start balancing the budget, but only if the wealthy are protected, would vote for the compromise and for the Coburn amendment, but against the Sanders amendment. 41 senators voted that way, 37 Republicans and  4 Democrats: (Alexander (R-TN) Lugar (R-IN) Barrasso (R-WY) McCain (R-AZ) Bayh (D-IN) Enzi (R-WY) McCaskill (D-MO) Bennett (R-UT) Graham (R-SC) McConnell (R-KY) Bond (R-MO) Grassley (R-IA) Murkowski (R-AK) Brown (R-MA) Gregg (R-NH) Risch (R-ID) Brownback (R-KS) Roberts (R-KS) Bunning (R-KY) Hatch (R-UT) Burr (R-NC) Hutchison (R-TX) Shelby (R-AL) Chambliss (R-GA) Inhofe (R-OK) Snowe (R-ME) Isakson (R-GA) Tester (D-MT) Cochran (R-MS) Johanns (R-NE) Thune (R-SD) Collins (R-ME) Kirk (R-IL) Vitter (R-LA) Corker (R-TN) Kyl (R-AZ) Cornyn (R-TX) LeMieux (R-FL) Wicker (R-MS) Crapo (R-ID) Lincoln (D-AR))

Most of the remaining senators voted for the compromise, for the Sanders amendment, and against the Coburn amendment, placing economic stimulus ahead of deficit reduction.  That list is left as an exercise for the reader.

Only one senator, Jon Tester (D-MT) voted for the compromise and for both amendments.   (Begich (D-AK) voted for the compromise and the Sanders amendment, but skipped the Coburn vote.)

Of course, the reasoning behind each vote probably took other things into consideration, and it was easy to posture by voting for amendments that weren’t going to pass.

Those who don’t learn from history…

December 14, 2010

Since his election, some people have compared President Obama to Hitler.  That’s just crazy.

If you’re going to compare Obama to a World War II-era historical figure, there’s only one choice.  Obviously, the person President Obama is most similar to is British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain.


Coincidence? I think not.

Chamberlain is most famous for allowing Hitler’s troops to occupy the Sudetenland, then a part of Czechoslovakia, in 1938.  He claimed that the deal achieved “peace for our time“.  The next year, Nazi tanks rolled into Poland.

It’s too early to say which of Obama’s concessions will be remembered as his Sudentenland, though I’m pretty sure the associated quote will include the phrase “bipartisan compromise“.  But as Bernie Sanders has noted, there’s already a war against the middle-class going on, and we’re losing it.

The one bright side to this?  If Obama is Chamberlain, then the Republican leadership is Hitler.


You make the call

Now we need to find our Churchill.

Money for schools, or for rightfielders?

December 6, 2010

For whatever reason, people seem to have difficulty understanding what it means if we keep the Bush tax cuts for the rich.  I could give you lots of boring numbers, but maybe this will drive the point home for you:

J.D. Drew takes another strike three

If the Bush tax cuts for the rich are retained, J.D. Drew, Boston Red Sox outfielder, will keep an extra $644,000 in 2011.

J.D. Drew hit .255 with 22 home runs and 68 RBI in 2010.  Not bad, but nothing exceptional.  He will make $14,000,000 in 2011, money that comes from the fans’ pockets via ticket sales, TV subscriptions, $8 beers, and the like.  Maybe, just maybe, he can afford to give some of that back.

Yet another running memoir

November 16, 2010

Lawrence Block is a Grand Master of the Mystery Writers of America, probably most famous for his books about PI Matthew Scudder and burglar Bernie Rhodenbarr.

In the mid-2000′s, he entered the 24 Hour Around the Lake Ultramarathon, a race put on by my running club, the Somerville Road Runners.  As a fan of his work, I was excited to have him there.  Since he was there as a competitor and not as an author, I kept from bugging him for the most part, though I had a nice chat with his wife Lynne.  I did get a chance to talk with Block after the race, and he mentioned the possibility of writing an article about his experiences for a magazine or something.

Step by StepIn 2009, “something” turned out to be Step by Step: A Pedestrian Memoir.  All quality-related puns aside (he acknowledges that the book is somewhat self-indulgent), it’s the story of his travels on foot throughout his life, focusing in large part on his days as a racer in events ranging from 5Ks to ultramarathons.  The 24 Hour figures prominently in the book.

I wasn’t aware of Block’s book until I found it while poking around Amazon after publishing my own running memoir.  It’s not often that an accomplished writer delves into the field of running books.  Offhand, the only comparable example I can think of is What I Talk About When I Talk About Running by Haruki Murakami.  I’m glad I stumbled across it.


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