Saturday, January 28, 2006

Agi is My Good Luck Charm

We went skiing last weekend with a bunch of friends. Actually, I guess it was more snowboarding than skiing - the rest of the group wanted to learn to snowboard, so I figured I'd join them rather than be the only one on skis. (Andrew spent most of the weekend at the card room.) We rented some snowboards and hit the bunny slopes at Kirkwood. I remembered a lot more about how to snowboard than I thought I would - the board mostly does what I tell it to, I can sort of link turns, and I can get down the easy slopes without falling. It was tons of fun to snowboard again, but I'd forgotton what it was like to fall so much and get snow stuck in my hat. Ben, Amelia, and Kelle had never snowboarded before, so they were too sore the next morning to go back. (I was a little sore too, but mostly in my shoulder from one bad fall.)

So Agi and I were on our own for skiing on Sunday, with everyone else wanting to stay back at the condo. We set out after a leisurely breakfast to get in a half day of skiing (me on my skis this time). At the junction of CA 88 and 89 we saw a hitchhiker. This intersection is maybe 14 miles from civilization in any direction, so it's a little unusual to see people hanging out there. If I were by myself, maybe I wouldn't pick him up, but with two of us in the car it seems pretty safe, and Agi says yeah, pick him up. So we pull over. His name is Justin, and he'd hitchhiked here from Stateline but the first ride he found needed to go the other way at the junction. Anyway, turns out that Justin and I work for the same company, but had never met before, presumably because it's a Big Company now, and he's in sales and I'm in engineering. Small world, I guess.

We got to Kirkwood, and Agi realized she'd forgotten her ticket back at the condo. They'd bought tickets in town in advance because it's only $50 if you buy in advance, but more than $60 if you buy there. But the ticket guy was nice and gave her a discount anyway - the ticket ended up costing less than the original one.

We skied a bunch of different parts of the mountain, although the back side was closed because of high winds. We stopped pretty late for lunch, and Agi convinced the grill guy to give us a beer and two hot dogs for less than ten bucks. Sweet!

All in all it was a fantastic weekend, and we made great time back in the car (just over 3 hours).

Wednesday, January 25, 2006


That's When I Carried You
by the Gimp Chair

One night, Andrew, you had a dream. You dreamed you were pushing me through the house: to the room with the ying-yang table, to the office to do some grading, or to the table for the extra unexpected guest. For each scene, you noticed two sets of footprints on the floor; one belonging to you, and the other to me. When the last scene of your dream flashed before you, you looked back at the footprints on the floor. You noticed that many times along the floor of your house there was only one set of footprints. You also noticed that it happened at the very lowest and saddest times in your life. This bothered you, and you questioned me about it. "Gimp Chair, you said that once I decided to buy you from office depot, you would walk with me all the way. But I have noticed that during the most troublesome times in my life, there is only one set of footprints. I don't understand why when I needed you most you would leave me." I replied, "My precious, precious child. I love you and I would never leave you. During your times of trial and suffering, when you see only one set of footprints, it was then that I carried you."

Screw You Gimp Chair
by Andrew

Screw you Gimp Chair! When I first bought you, you promised to be not only affordable but comfortable. Now that I've spent a month sitting on you...well atleast you were affordable. Your cheap imitation pleather is neither soft nor plush. Your arm rails left black scars on the walls of my house, which I bumped into only because your wheels always stick. Your recline is far from sufficient, leaving me cramped and uncomfortable. Your adjustable height is neither high enough to let me reach the counters in the kitchen with ease nor short enough to let me elevate my broken leg on any of the other furniture. Your wheels spread dirt and scratches all across my floor. I must be fair however. You did have your advantages. After all, I can't carry anything on crutches and my shoulders were getting sore from having to support myself. Today when the doctor told me I could start walking again, it was all I could do to choke back the tears of joy. Now that I've freed myself from you, I'm sending you back to the depths of the forgotten office. Oh does it seem like a cruel punishment for all your dutiful service. Just be glad we aren't still living in San Carlos because you'd be chopped to pieces and then burned with scrap wood in our backyard firepit. Screw You Gimp Chair. If I never sit in you again, it'll be too soon.

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Ski Photos

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Saturday, January 14, 2006

Transportation Options

I was standing in the pouring rain in the Mission on Thursday, contemplating the value of my time. The walk home from that bart station takes roughly 30 minutes, which is normally how I get home. It's mostly uphill, so it's good exercise. But it's a lot less fun in the rain, which got me thinking about alternate forms of transportation. I can take the bart to Glen Park, then get on a bus, and walk 1-2 blocks to get home; this route has almost no rain exposure, but takes significantly longer than 30 minutes and is not free ($1.40 bart fare as of this week, $1.25 bus fare, 5 minutes wait/ride time for the bart, expected value of 25 minutes wait/ride for the bus, 5 minutes walk from the bus stop). Finally, there's the cab: expected value $9 fare/tip, 10 minutes ride plus 5 minutes finding the cab. (The final option, asking Andrew to come pick me up in a car, works only when the car is not in the shop and when he is physically capable of driving, but it's the cheapest: expected value 15 minutes, negligible cost.)

So, the question is, how many dollars must my time be worth before the cab option is the most optimal? Assume that there is some factor X which converts minutes to dollars. The public transit and cab options are "equal" in total cost to me when this equation is satisfied:

1.40 + 1.25 + (40 * X) = 9.00 + (15 * X)

which happens when X is 0.25 dollars-per-minute, or $15.24 per hour.

Similarly, comparing the cab vs. walking:

30 * X = 9.00 + (15 * X)

suggests that the cab is a better option if my time is worth at least $36 per hour.

The upshot is that I think I'll never take the bus again. :) The exercise (in non-rainy weather) has tangible benefits to me, but I'm pretty sure my time is worth more than $15/hour. Or would be, if I weren't salaried - this is sort of academic at this point.

Having figured this out while wandering down Valencia, I finally found a cab. He called in the pickup as Army Street - I wonder how long he's been driving a cab, if he still thinks of it as Army? - and in fact made better time than ten minutes. Sweet.

Friday, January 13, 2006

You might just have ADD

If you relax by blogging while you're painting, while you're playing 3 on-line tournaments, while you're watching the commentary tracks of your World Poker Tour Discs. God I'm Bored.

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

The Continuing Adventures of Super Gimp

This past weekend, Lexi, Billy, Mandy, Kevin and I went to Tahoe. We must have soaked up all the bad Karma last time, because this trip was lots of fun. About the only thing that went wrong was that Billy's Truck's regular headlights died on the way up, so we had to blind everyone with the brights, but we made it to Tahoe without trouble nonetheless. Everyone went skiing while I spent Saturday playing cards. I only made 11 bucks, but I had a great time chatting with a few of the other players. The morning poker table crowd is a strange mix of old men drinking coffee and bleary eyed drunks still left over from the night before. Two characters of note were spicy corona man and the black russian flirt.

Spicy Corona man was from Monterey Mexico. He had been drinking coronas that he kept adding sweet and spicy mexican hot sauce to. Despite the fact that the hot sauce bottle was almost empty, his play was still respectably sane. His head would hang loosely off his neck as though it was ready to fall off until it was his turn, when someone would remind him he had cards. However as soon as he had to play he would carefully consider his cards and then fold or raise. The pots he raised, he usually won or atleast showed down a respectable holding. As soon as he had won or folded, his head would slump back down. He left the table after he finished the last of his hot sauce and the waitress refused to get him another corona.

The black russian flirt did not do so well at the table. When I first sat down, he was explaining to another player how he had a fight with his girlfriend earlier and he was waiting to go fix things once she had calmed down. He started off playing ok, but as soon as a cute waitress from Brazil started her shift. After that, he ordered about 6 black russians in the space of about a half hour just so he could ask the waitress her name each time. He kept thinking he could get her to go out with him to the improv that night. The more he drank, the more he was convinced this was the case. After about the 5th black russian, the quality of his play dropped of dramatically. He lost $200 in a span of about 30 minutes, chasing straight hands all the way to the river and showing down junk. After the last of his money was gone, he slowly rose from his chair. He swayed towards the exit, then turned towards the back of the poker room, then back out into the casino, where he passed out on a row of slot machines. A crowd of casino workers gathered and carried him to the elevator. I would have paid for tickets to the fight that must have ensued when they dragged him, dead drunk at 10am into the hotel room where his girlfriend was waiting.

The two most engaging players at the table were a programmer for and an English teacher from Santa Barbara. I had a great time just sitting and chatting with them.

After everyone finished skiing, we all went to Cecil's Steak and Brew. It's kind of a cross between a Morton's and a Cheesecake Factory (half big steaks and half big salads). The steaks were great and there was so much food it fed us for breakfast the next day.

Billy, Mandy and I left early on Sunday so that they could get back to LA in time to catch their flight to Hawaii. I wish they had more time to spend with us, but how often do you get the chance to get to go to Hawaii.

Almost forgot. Earlier last week I had won a $10 tournament where the prize was the $200 entry into a tournament on Saturday. I couldn't play as I was going to Tahoe so I gave the entry to my friend Yann with the deal that we split the winnings. He managed to win $400 so I made $190 on my initial investment. Not bad. I just won another satellite tournament to a $100,000 dollar tournament that starts on my birthday. I should be able to play that. My tournament play is improving. It's really a matter of being very patient, coming in with aggression, and continuing that aggression post flop in the right amount to drive out chasers or build a huge pot if you have flopped a monster.

Yesterday I took the GRE. I was upset that my scores from my last GRE had expired. When they say they last about 5 years, they don't mean a little over 5 years, they mean a little under 5 years. Doh. Anyhow, I signed up to take it again. Here are the results (out of 800)

No practice
Finished an hour early
690 Verbal
730 Math
? Writing

We'll see if they're good enough for Stanford. Though I'm not sure if I would prefer to go to Stanford or work at the Medicare Research center crunching data. I'm about ready for an office job. Punch in 9-5. No baggage to take home. I've got my mug and stapler all ready. And if they take my stapler I'm....I'm...I'm gonna burn down the building. Just Kidding. Damn it feels good to be a gangster.

Thursday, January 05, 2006

A nice little rant about educational data systems...

...which makes up my statement of purpose for Stanford's Policy Analysis program

Attention Deficit Disorder is the biggest problem afflicting the Education system in America. I'm not talking about the students either. The system itself can't keep track of all the interventions it tries. New programs start, run for a few years, realize they have no way of telling whether they have made any impact, and then are discarded for the next new idea. The answer to this problem is better data management, which I hope to develop during my studies at Stanford.

Plenty of data is gathered by educational institutions across the country. In my district's SASI database, there are hundreds of modules worth of test scores, intervention outcomes, and biographical information for our students. The issues are with ease of access, meaningful representation and interoperability.

The disjoint and antiquated database systems in use in most school districts make student data difficult to access. Though there are a few integrated systems for handling testing data, attendance, and grades, there are many schools that still use separate programs for each of those sets of data. My school district, for example, has one program for teachers to keep their grades in, another program for testing data and attendance, and a proprietary web hosting program that takes data in from the other two programs and publishes it to the web. The result is a system where only some teachers are technologically savvy enough to post their grades to the web. Those grades are then only available to parents and students and not to the counselors, who could use them to help make better informed decisions about their students' schedules. Testing data is only available through a query driven database program. As a teacher with a background in computer science, I was able to quickly learn the complex query system needed to access the data, but not many other teachers have similar experience with query languages and therefore can not take full advantage of all the data collected by the district.

As I stated before, there are software solutions available that integrate all these functions together, but many of these programs still do not give meaningful representations of the data tailored to the needs of each user. For example, the district collects test results for a multitude of required state and federal assessments for each student. However most of these results give the teacher little more than a broad classification of a students skill in a given subject area. For test results to be of any use in education, they must be broken down by individual subject area standards. There are already new assessments that are designed to provide this level of detail, such as the benchmark exams in English and Math required by No Child Left Behind. Each question on these exams is associated with one or more subject area standards. The teacher can then take the results of these exams and check the performance on each standard by class or by individual student. Thus a math teacher can quickly check the results of their students benchmark exam and see which standards the class is struggling with and adapt their instruction to ensure their students get more support for that standard. This is much more useful than many other test results, which would only tell that teacher how many students were proficient or not with no indication of where their gaps of knowledge may be.

Even if more school districts started to use systems that integrated their data and represented it in useful ways to each level of user, there is still the issue of new students entering from other districts. I'm an essentialist educator. I believe that there is a core set of reading, writing and mathematics skills that all schools should be responsible for imparting to their students. Despite my many misgivings about the No Child Left Behind legislation, it does draw the focus of education back to those subject areas. I believe that the next step is to standardize the data systems and subject area standards across the nation. Though individual districts should have the freedom to develop auxiliary standards that meet local interests and needs, the basic standards for English and Math should be uniform across the whole country. With uniform standards and data systems in schools, students who moved between districts would not be lost in a new system that has none of the information it needs to place those students in an appropriate academic program.

I have taught for almost 5 years now. Before I was a teacher, I got my degree in economics with a focus on econometrics. While I was in college, I supported myself with summer jobs in programming. All these experiences have lead me to believe that the educational system has much to gain from the coordinated application of preexisting data management techniques. I would like to work to see this happen someday. It must if we hope to remain competitive in the global economy.

Wednesday, January 04, 2006


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A Photo Tribute to the Argus Lounge

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Tuesday, January 03, 2006

New Year's Photos

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Christmas Photos