Wednesday, March 29, 2006

No topic is too trivial for me to discuss.

For instance, the NCAA pool at my office. 17 of us are taking part. 16 of us are dead for the coming weekend, having predicted as winners in the national semi-finals and finals none of the teams that made it to the Final Four. And the 17th person picked UCLA to win in the semis and lose in the finals. Seven of us correctly predicted exactly one of the Final Four (six, myself included, picked UCLA, and one picked Florida); everyone else was 0-for-the-Final-Four.

The good news is that the final rankings in our pool are almost set: if UCLA wins its semi-final game, the guy that picked them wins the pool; if they lose, he comes in second. And whatever happens, I come in third.

Idle speculation leads to the next question: what are the odds of perfectly predicting the entire 64-team tournament? This article indicates that if every game were a 50-50 proposition, the odds of a perfect bracket are about one in nine million trillion. If you factor in the observation that, more often than not, favorites win their games, the odds are somewhat more reasonable: estimated at between one in 150 million to one in a billion.

Good enough odds that various companies - including AOL and PapaJohn's - have contests promising huge prizes (a million bucks, or a million pizzas) to anyone who correctly picks the entire bracket. They won't have to pay out this year, as no one in any of the contests got through the first weekend with perfect picks.

Still, I'd liked to have picked as well as this guy (who is leading in the Washington Post's bracket contest). Perhaps I could get him to pick stocks for me.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Here are the new resident cats.
This one is Sami, and he's 13 years old.

And the other:
O. Henry. She's about eight.

Thursday, March 16, 2006

There and back again.

I've returned from a quick trip to Florida to pick up my father's cats. Not a terribly exciting trip as these things go, although I suppose that's a good thing. Good weather, both ways, so that was a plus. But a one-way distance of 860 miles, with all but the first 2 miles and the last 3 on Interstate highways (or their equivalent) through a relatively flat landscape with no view of mountains or ocean makes for a pretty boring drive. South Carolina is especially interminable, and it's less than 200 miles of the trek.

The cats were very well behaved on the return trip: Sami complained for five minutes every half-hour, and O. Henry complained for the first twenty minutes of each day and not at all thereafter. And they have taken to their new home as though they'd lived here for years. The as-of-yet-not-officially-named gray cat was happy to see me return, bag of cat food in hand. That didn't stop her from giving me a lengthy piece of her mind waiting for the cat food to hit her bowl.

One of the highlights of the trip was seeing a school-bus-yellow Hummer. (Well, a Hummer H2, like the one above, which I guess is the SUV version of the Machomobile for idiots.) Very bizarre, indeed: why would you buy the vehicle in the pretense that it makes you as rugged as the Marlboro Man, and then paint it to look like a school bus? I suppose it allows you to sneak unseen through the school bus yard on the way to your secret manly spy mission.

The best part of the trip, though, was a 20-minute piece of highway theater in Florida. I'm cruising along at 2 mph over the speed limit in the middle of the three lanes going in my direction, and am passed by someone going perhaps 10 mph over the limit. Then I'm passed by someone else doing 10 miles over the limit - and it becomes pretty clear that this second car is an unmarked police car. (No markings, no lights on top - but a big star on the license plate and a uniformed driver kind of give it away.) The first driver tumbles to the secret and slows to my speed, as does the cop car, now 5 or 6 car lengths ahead of me and no more than 2 lengths behind the first driver. Someone else goes around me pretty quickly, and slams on his brakes when he recognizes the license plate as being the police. I drift over into the righthand lane, the better to watch the vehicular interaction. The first car slides into the middle lane; the cop immediately slides over right behind him.

Cars keep getting added to our little Kabuki group. Someone zooms up in the middle lane and starts to go around - and slows abruptly when he's close enough to see the star on the license plate. Forty-five seconds later, someone else zooms up behind him and starts to go around, only to stop when the immediately previous car slides into the right lane ahead of me, revealing the cop car.

A couple more cars join our pack, always doing the same: overtaking the back car and weaving their way through all the cars going the same speed, until they spot the cop car and slow themselves down. And the whole time, the cop car is no more than 2 car lengths behind the first speeding car.

After about 20 minutes of cruising along like this, now with 12 or 15 cars in our convoy because no one wants to speed past the police car, and with all traffic ahead of our group having gone out of sight long ago, the policeman finally decides to stop messing with the head of the driver in front of him, and pulls into the right lane and accelerates away from us.

Monday, March 13, 2006

A piece of pi, to go.

Tomorrow is World Pi Day. Why tomorrow, of all days? Because you can write "March 14" as 3/14, which ought to look familiar to fans of pi.

A much bigger version of the pi poster above can be found here. Much bigger - a file size of 1.7 mb and what looks to be about 65,000 digits in the background.

Yes, I suppose it's all somewhat irrational.

Saturday, March 11, 2006

Name that cat!

It's contest time, here at the Cellars. The little gray outdoor cat needs a name; something better than her temporary name of The Gray Ghost. We've decided that she is, in fact, a female, although that need not limit your choice of a new name for her.

She continues to be skittish, although as The Provider of Food, I am permitted to pet her and briefly pick her up. But I think she's also getting a bit used to being around people, as she seems to like my company for substantial stretches, so long as I'm between five and ten feet away.

The deadline for entries in the Name that Cat! contest is "soon" and all decisions will be final and arbitrary. The winner's prize is yet to be determined, but will include having the winning name given to the cat. And if you live close enough and are easily persuaded, the prize may also include the cat herself.

Thursday, March 02, 2006

Yet another self-distribution update.

A few updates on self-distribution by Virginia wineries.

First, this year's legislation remains "tabled" and thus will be dead for this year's session. Don't know whether there was any serious attempt to revive it; if there was, it didn't come to anything.

Second, I got an email from an owner of a Virginia website, in response to one of my earlier postings on self-distribution:
Comment about your post regarding your belief that wineries won't go out of business: I'm having to make the decision of whether to sell my house because the winery can't afford to pay me more, and I'm stuck with an ever-growing mortgage payment because of taxes. And I'm sick of working 3 jobs. We are not a profitable business yet, and probably won't be for another year or so. Even using current projections, profitable means a meager margin. That will now be eaten up by the cost of having to set up and support a separate business entity, warehouse, employees, etc., not to mention making less money per case. The threat is real, and although I believe that everyone needs to be able to play with the big boys when you're talking about business, I built our business model on being able to self-distribute. We will probably survive because we're a bit more established--but if you're thinking about starting up a winery and having to go directly to a distributor, good luck. Perhaps they will pass something that will allow a cooperative that can make the alternative more palatable, but I assure you, there was no exaggeration from my end about the gravity of this development to [my winery].

Fair enough. The owner also went on to note that having their wines in retailers and on restaurant lists helps push customers to visit the winery and to their booth at festivals, which are on-site sales that won't have to go through distributors. So losing the ability to self-distribute hurts both direct and indirect sales.

Finally, with the defeat of the bill, there have now been a few articles in the press about losing self-distribution will hurt wineries. It's too bad these articles didn't appear before the legislative session, when they might have done some good.

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Showing your work will not be required.

You Passed 8th Grade Math

Congratulations, you got 10/10 correct!

And no, you can't clean the blackboard for extra credit, either.

Another minute of fame.

My local watering-hole had its second annual “Taste That Beer!” competition last night. Well, not a competition, exactly, as Virginia’s alcoholic beverage control laws frown on such things. And certainly not something that would award prizes, either, other than bragging rights. But a blind tasting of 12 different beers, and you try to determine the style and the particular beer.

At last year’s not-a-competition-as-that-would-be-illegal, you may recall, I came in second, one point behind a professional beer writer buddy. So I claimed that he won the professional division (consisting of him) and I won the amateur division (consisting of the other 39 participants present).

This year’s format was different from last year’s (where all you got was the beer, and you had to dredge your memory to come up with styles and beer names): they had a list of 120 beers, broken into 12 groups of 10, one group for each style. Once you guessed (ah, I mean “determined”) the style, you had to pick the actual beer from the 10 possibilities. They awarded 4 points per beer: 1 for the correct style, 1 for the correct location of the brewery (state, if U.S., otherwise country), and 2 for the correct beer. Thus, a total of 48 points were possible.

As usual, it was a lot of fun, in a humbling sort of way. Since you knew what the 12 styles were, you had the opportunity to second-guess yourself. The beer that you thought was the hefeweisen when you had it in the first round might well have been the Belgian light malt when you try a beer three rounds later that tastes more like what a hefeweisen really should taste like. And they admitted that they were going to include some difficult beers to identify, or even to classify.

Once again, I didn’t win. The winner had a total of 11 points. (Yes, out of 48.) Once again, I came in second, one point back. The good news, I suppose, is that the winner wasn’t the professional beer writer (who had 8 points). And thus the bad news is that I can’t even claim to have won the amateur division.

Unlike last year, I had a couple of regrets about the answers I eventually turned in. The one beer I correctly identified was the Smuttynose Smuttinator doppelbock – and I misremembered the state that Smuttynose is brewed in. It’s in New Hampshire, of course, and not Maine as I recalled. (My excuse is that I was remembering having fresh Smuttynose when I visited friends in Maine. Yeah, not that great an excuse.) If I had gotten the state correct, I’d have tied for first, and there would have been a sudden-death taste-off. Or something.

The bigger regret was failing to identify the brown ale. At least I got the style correct. It turns out to have been the Cottonwood Low Down Brown, which is my favorite brown ale and from one of my favorite breweries. But it didn’t taste quite like I remembered – a bit thinner body than I recalled – so I ruled it out, and picked something from the other side of the country. If I had gotten it correct, that would have been three more points in my column, and a clear win. Alas.