Thursday, April 30, 2009

Guess the backs of US bills - a quiz

click to take the quiz

Mental Floss has a quiz in which you must guess the denomination of the U.S. bill from the back without any additional information. I know most of us know the fronts, but how often do you examine the back of a bill, and then memorize it in case there is a quiz.

I got them all!
Bill Backs
Score: 100% (5 out of 5)

Go try the quiz and then come back here and I will tell you how I did it and why I think the quiz is easier than it appears at first glance.

I will put the spoilers below in a similar color to the background so as not to tempt you before you take the quiz, highlight to read.

You see, I tried to think of what would be an appropriate back to a bill, given the president on the front. The key is to remember who is on the bill, and recognize the building.

Easy to remember is Lincoln on the $5, Franklin on the $100 (it's all about the Benjamins, baby), and Hamilton on the $10 (You can call us Aaron Burr / From the way we're droppin' HAM-IL-TONS). Thus Lincoln and the $5 should have the Lincoln Memorial, Franklin and the $100 should have Philadelphia's Independence Hall, and Hamilton should have the Treasury building. Which one is that? It's the one you don't recognize. Then I guessed the other two. The White House should be for a president, but everyone left is a president. Lastly is the United States Capitol building. Thus the $20 and the $50 are the toughest to guess. Looks like I guess right.

It is like any other puzzle, if you don't remember it straight on, what are some other clues that you can use.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Baseball's Blackhearted Blackouts

I suppose I am late to the historical rant about Major league baseball's controversial television blackout policy. What I am looking for, sparked by my desire to watch baseball when I want and where I want, was the newest map of the MLB blackout areas. I was hoping it would help me to understand the poor implementation of the YES network, MASN and MASN2 on FIOS TV as well as the unnecessarily expensive MLB Extra Innings.

Apparently even MLB.TV on the web blacks out games in your local area because you are supposed to go buy tickets or watch it on the approved local channel. This has caused a lot of angry discussion among fans and commissioner Bud Selig had asked for a review of the policy. should also take back its slogan "Sign up for MLB.TV and never miss a game again!", it isn't true. It doesn't look like the review and changes to the policy occurred in time for this season. Thus the policy is painful and restrictive and doesn't mesh well with this strange new world of the internet. From the article summary:
  • Local Live Blackout: ALL LIVE MLB.TV games will be blacked out in each applicable Club's home television territory (except for certain home television territories for which may offer in-market subscription services) or in Japan.
  • National Live Blackout (Regular Season): Due to Major League Baseball national exclusivities, each Saturday until 7:00 PM EST (beginning May 17, 2008 and continuing for remaining Saturdays during the regular season) and each Sunday night (for games that begin after 5:00 PM EST), all scheduled webcasts of games played within such time period will be blacked out.
  • National Live Blackout (Post Season): Due to Major League Baseball national exclusivities, during the MLB postseason, if you live within the following nations or territories, webcasts of all postseason games will be blacked out: United States, Canada, Guam, US Virgin Islands, South Korea and Japan.
  • NOTE: Due to broadcast restrictions, new MLB.TV and Condensed Game archives are limited to a playing time of five minutes in duration until 6 am ET on the day following that on which the applicable game commenced play.
The national blackouts are because either Fox (on Saturday), or ESPN (On Sunday Night) and now MLB Network (on Wednesday's) has exclusive rights to televised games. This also screws up MLB Extra Innings on cable, since many of those games are blacked out according to these rules also.

In my searches I found at least two maps of the blackout areas for the various teams. I also found maps close to but not exactlye blackout maps, whihc were somewhat helpful. They are somewhat similar to the United Countries of Baseball map from Stange Maps.

The maps below are based on some more rigorous data. The unincorporated territories above are certainly incorporated in real life, because there is money to be made, or imagined to be made. Or one could use this map based on survey results.

However, my goal is to find a map generated using official data from MLB and even to find the data myself.

This version (click on pic for bigger) was created by a helpful wikipedia user but does not get correctly credited in many articles on the topic (like here at the Biz of baseball).

I like the version above (click picture above for bigger) from a Yahoo article (map is presented without a credit), that includes the cities and team names so it is clearer when you look at a region. If multiple teams coexist in a region, all of those teams are blacked out on or on MLB extra innings, with the expectation that you should watch the game on a local channel. This get really bad in baseball free Iowa, or if your cable company doesn't carry the correct local channel.

One can use the"Am I in a local live blackout region" dialogue box at the bottom of any of the mediacenter pages, to get a list of the blackout zip codes for any of the teams. Picking each team in succession would allow a file to be built and then the right software could map from that. I am surprised that I cannot find a Google maps mash up that does just that. I now have a list of all of the teams and their respective blocked out zip codes, I now need a list of every zip code with its lat. and long. and perhaps the population for fun, and I could make my own maps.

Monday, April 27, 2009

YES network makes itself more useless

Hey, YES network. I am so glad that you worked out your deal with Verizon FIOS TV to be on their network, even though I hate the Yankees. That means I can see other favorite American league teams, like Detroit or the Angels, in HD on my FIOS TV... or does it.

From the article:

First they say:
"The Yankees have one of the largest fan bases of almost any team in sports, even outside the New York area," says Verizon representative Deidre Mulcahy. "YES programming is a great way for Yankee fans -- and baseball fans in general -- to get more behind-the-scenes and in-depth programming on the Yankees."
But then the other shoe drops:

The YES Network, which stands for Yankee Entertainment and Sports, will be the first regional sports network available in all of the Verizon's FiOS markets, and will be offered at no additional charge. Outside of the network's New York and New Jersey base, however, the programming will not include Yankees and Nets games.

Instead, those customers will see substitute YES programming, such as "Batting Practice Today" (featuring news, analysis, match-ups and BP coverage of the Yankees and opponents), "Yankeeography" (a Yankees biographical series) and the "Joe Girardi Show."

(bold mine)

You idiots, nobody wants to see these other crappy shows, they want to see baseball games.
The draw of your network would be for those vaunted fans of the Yankees (not me) all over the country to get to see the games on the YES network. At least I am not paying extra for it. Somebody wants to make a buck and make me sign up for MLB Extra Innings instead.

When will I get to watch what I want, when I want, where I want, without some other charge being tacked onto my experience? The Yankees and their network suck!

Computer to "play" Jeopardy

IBM is moving from Deep Blue to Jeopardy Blue with an attempt to build a computer that can compete with humans at Jeopardy. I think they should make the computer take the qualifying tests and wait its turn. They claim that the computer will only use information that it has "read" or processed and not be hooked up to the internet. As mentioned in the article, I agree that the real difficulty is for the computer to "understand" the question rather than searching for the answer. We all know how quippy, and full of puns or clever wordplay that a Jeopardy question can be. Sometimes the clue can offer two directions to the answer and knowing the category is important. It seems that this problem is very much tied to parsing the language of the question more than anything else.

In a perhaps unintentional analogy with Chess Grand Master Garry Kasparov playing IBM's chess computer Deep Blue, it has been suggested that Ken Jennings, all-time greatest Jeopardy player, come back to play this new Jeopardy playing computer.

I would imagine that to train or perhaps test the computer program, called Watson, one could use the J! Archive to see if the computer can accurately answer questions from Jeopardy's past. The infographic makes it look as if the computer will just gather relevant data from the clue, plug it into improvised Google-like or a linked Wikipedia-like database (like six degrees of Wikipedia) and spit out the answer. Still, this is a much more interesting problem than a computer grinding through ply after ply of chess moves. It will be interesting to see if it works.

(via Slashdot)

Friday, April 24, 2009

What's on History Channel tonight?

Lately it seems that all shows on the history channel could have the title, "Nazi UFO's of the Bible". This infographic seems to agree.

History Channel Programming Line-Up
see more Funny Graphs

How true.

(via GraphJam)

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Tulip carnage

Animal damage or rainstorm damage? What do you think?

It seems suspicious that only red tulips suffer this damage. That makes me think it is an agent of some sort like a squirrel. On the other hand, one might contend that red tulips are inherently more likely to be damaged by rain due to a weakness in the plant tied to the color (breeding red plants breeds weak plants, for instance).

I just want them to survive to flower and be pretty to look at.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Native Delaware flowers in my very own backyard

The backyard by the creek is very shady due to many trees growing on both sides of the creek. It offers the challenge of gardening in the shade. Mother nature has provided at least two very lovely native plants featured below. One transplanted, one that we found when we got here.

This Wild Bleeding Heart (Dicentra eximia) is a native to the Middle Atlantic states that we got from a friend's garden. We thought they had been trampled to death in the winter when a fallen tree was cleared from the creek, but they are back already and blooming.

This mysterious lily-like flower has bloomed from this crook in the roots of this tree this year and last year. We did not put it there. My wife suspected that it is a native lily (she should know, horticulture major that she is) suggested a lily with a "t" in its name but couldn't identify it further. My investigation on the web (using this excellent wildflower idenifier) reveals that it is most likely a Yellow Trout Lily (Erythronium americanum, NRCS USDA infomation), although many of the images you see of them have mottled leaves and more dramatic flowers. It is pretty enough, and unexpected. I wonder how I can get more of them to grow there.

WILLIE (Nelson?) license in Delaware

I think I was behind Willie Nelson's Lexus while driving to work today. How do I know? The WILLIE license.

Maybe it was just a fan.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Switching to FIOS from Comcast - free ceiling hole with purchase

We have had the adventure of switching from Comcast Cable (and Internet) to Verizon FIOS TV (and internet and phone , which we had already) over the past week. It turns out that Verizon FIOS altogether is cheaper (by about $40/month) than Comcast TV and Internet and Verizon phone at what I will describe as similar service (I have all the movie channels) even though I appear to have lots more channels (regular and HD) with FIOS TV than Comcast.

The installation was very professional except for one gaff which I describe below. It is interesting to realize that the fiber optic cable comes to the house and that the box in the garage is now the central nexus for the cable, internet and telephone. It is like having a mini-switching station (with battery backup) right in the house.

The only problems with the installation, he started too late (5pm) and ended too late (10pm) and had some misgivings about the splitter configuration and signal to the rest of the house for the cable. And finally, he fell through the ceiling of the garage.

You read that correctly, the poor guy fell through the ceiling of my garage. That hole is about two feet by five feet. Now he didn't fall to the floor or he really would have hurt himself, tahnk goodness. He said he held himself up in the hole, but I didn't see him do this because I was in the house. I really feel bad for him, because nobody wants to get hurt at work, and I certainly don;t want him to hurt himself working for me. It didn't occur to me to take him up in the attic and explain to only walk where wood was on the ceiling joists or on the joists themselves. He said he got confused by a pile of siding left up there by the previous owners and thought that it was wood to stand on. No it wasn't. At that point he called a friend to help figure out the splitter situation, and probably to calm his nerves and complete the job since he had removed all of the Comcast boxes at this point.

As to the ceiling, Verizon sent out there contractor the next day and explained that we neded to to get two quotes and then get the ceiling fixed and then we can get reimbursed. I would have been more aggravated if the installer had fallen through the ceiling of the living spaces of the house. Mostly I feel bad for the guy. Getting the estimates will be a pain.

Meanwhile on the lenthening evening of the install, the (now two) installers had many misgivings about the strength of the signal to some of the TV's in the house through the various splitters and the old low quality legacy cable from the previous Comcast (or maybe even Heritage Cable) installation, but after some false starts and making sure that the computer could see the IP addresses of the set top boxes they just plugged everything in and it worked, mostly.

The two digital TV's (both Sharp Aquos) had skips in the picture every so often with a black screen(big one, furthest from the input) or a green screen (small one closer to the input). It occurred while the installers were there but they said that it was due possibly to the signal or too the boxes still downloading all of their guide information, and he assured me it would correct itself. I suppose he was too tired and hurt to want to fix it anyway so he said that Verizon would contact us about the ceiling and we could get more help if the problem continued then. I intended to have another installer come and review the issue but I learned more over the next few days.

The issue about the cable signal caused me to rewire the house this past weekend. It was an adventure to get the cable from the attic over the house to the attic over the garage, but not go outside and through the gutters like Comcast had it, not drill holes through the wall, and not have it run on the roof as was tentatively suggested. It was a fun adventure and involved threading the wire puller down the wall of the house and then pulling cable from the garage back up. I am glad I did it, but the bottom line is I probably didn't have to.

I love the internet because if you Google an obscure questions like "green screen on FIOS TV", you get an answer or two. Turns out the interruptions on one TV and the green blackouts on the other are a known incompatibility between the Motorola set-top boxes and the Sharp Aquos TV's. Each company( and Verizon in the forum stories) claims the other has implemented the HDMI interface incorrectly. Thus I can't use the HDMI output if I don't want to have this issue. I have switched the TV's to take the video component output (red, blue, green) from the boxes. The TV says it is still 1080i and the picture looks just as good so maybe this is my fix. many discussions of the HDMI vs component discussion say to try both and see which is better. In my case I see no difference in the vidoe quality. Is HDMI inherently better than component? Is there an expert out there that knows the answer?

I suppose I could call FIOS and complain. Having rewired the house to avoid the low cable signal red herring and having looked up this issue on the internet, I am armed with knowledge to get it fixed faster, but we shall see. If it is truly a software error, replacing the boxes with the same kind won't help. I suppose I need a software upgrade on the TV or on the boxes. Should I put up with this, should I complain?

The long and the short of it is, even with these issues. Watching FIOS through the components on the two HD TV's still looks good. The old CRT TV's in the rest of the house are fine. The computer appears fast, I don't recall the Comcast rates. Here is the speed test for FIOS.

The FIOS TV has a better picture than I had with Comcast, tons more channels, faster internet, and the phone works. It is promised to be cheaper, subsequent bills will prove that out. Since I now have Verizon FIOS instead of Comcast it appears that FIOS wins, ceiling hole, component output and all.

Spring flowers bring out the bleeding hearts, and others

Spring flowers for a rainy day.

I thought I would take pictures of these tulips before they even bloom since the squirrels will soon whack the heads off of them one by one.

A hyacinth closeup looking dizzyingly downward.

The squirrels don't bother the white tulips. These are in a different part of the yard. This photo is peering down the center of a fully open flower.

These daffodils are doing even better this year than last.

The grape hyacinths are blooming from the top down so the tops look lighter, but the bottoms really look like grapes.

This bleeding heart (Dicentra spectabilis) has come back year after year even with neglectful treatment. So far it has only one flower on it.

Why must there be change? New Snapple bottles too big and too generic!

We purchased some Snapple last week and finally bought some with the new packaging. Snapple apparently has found "Better Stuff"tm for their product that's "Made from the Best Stuff on Earth"tm (sugar instead of HFCS). It doesn't taste any different, which is good because I like the product. I am a Peach Iced Tea Snapple fan and I thought the new stuff tasted more peachy than the previous bottle I had just finished, but I also have noticed that the Snapple tastes different depending on the temperature as well. It is a subtle change and probably all in my head.

There is one problem though -

The new bottle is taller than the old one.

We noticed when it didn't fit on the bottom shelf of our drink fridge that we have been using for years to store the Snapple in.

The old bottle height slides in nicely, the new bottle clunks its top on the shelf. "Raise the shelf," you say, but then the beer on the next level won't fit. Both bottles have 16 ounces. I suppose to make the bottle fit into a cupholder it becomes slimmer but taller. Perhaps the new bottle is cheaper than the old one since it does away with the impressed "Snapple" on their glass. But it does replace it with a raised "S". I think the "Snapple" on the glass is pretty iconic, it is always risky to change.

I don't understand why companies with brand recognition that works always try to retool. Perhaps they are losing sales or the brand is losing its luster, perhaps the marketing department wants to justify their existence. The new design looks more generic. I am not the only one who thinks so. I just wonder if they are pulling a Tropicana.

Please go back to the old bottle Snapple, so it can fit in my fridge.

Monday, April 13, 2009

TUBULAR - the 80's called and they want their license plate back

Or maybe - the song "Valley Girl" called and they want their catch phrase back. (lyrics)

How about - Mike Oldfield called and he wants half of his album title back (Tubular Bells, but you knew that didn't you?).

Elemental license plate - YLOMNM

I think this person is trying to evoke the element aluminum with this Delaware license, YLOMNM. I had a very dark picture that I had to balance to bring back the license to visibility. As long as it is captured in the bits, clever manipulation can bring it out.

For more fun with elements see Elementary Letters, Better Gaming through Chemistry, Elemental My Dear.

Thursday, April 09, 2009

Singing Easter Parade

All week long, for obvious reasons, I have been attempting to remember and then flubbing the words of Easter Parade (from the movie Easter Parade (1948), but earlier in the Broadway musical revue As Thousands Cheer (1933) and repeated in Holiday Inn (1942)). I sang something like this, heavy on the words I knew -

hmm the Easter bonnet
with the flowers on it
hmm hmm hmm hmm hm hmm hmm hmm
East - er parade.

It turns out that the great Irving Berlin did in fact write words for this song:

Easter Parade

Music: Irving Berlin
Lyrics: Irving Berlin
Book: Moss Hart
Premiere: Saturday, September 30, 1933

Never saw you look quite so pretty before
Never saw you dressed quite so lovely what's more
I could hardly wait to keep our date this lovely Easter morning
And my heart beat fast as I came through the door

In your Easter bonnet, with all the frills upon it
You'll be the grandest lady in the Easter parade

I'll be all in clover and when they look you over
I'll be the proudest fellow in the Easter parade

On the Avenue
Fifth Avenue
The photographers will snap us
And you'll find that you're
In the rotogravure

Oh, I could write a sonnet about your Easter bonnet
And of the girl I'm taking to the Easter parade

The video of the song from the movie with Judy Garland, Fred Astaire and the chorus singing is embedded below (set to start at 7:20 the start of the song, or skip to 9:20 when the full chorus joins in as they walk in the Easter Parade):

(via STLyrics and youtube)

Monday, April 06, 2009

Delaware safe surrender misses the point - too many laws, not too many criminals

At the end of this month in Wilmington there will be a "safe surrender" site at the New Destiny Fellowship church. Apparently more than 120,000 people have outstanding warrants for crimes as serious as felonies through minor infractions (misdemeanors) like failing to pay a traffic ticket, missing a court date or skipping out on a child-support payment. Police are hoping that a church as the "safe surrender" site will make people more likely to come in and clear up the situation. It is not amnesty but it allows the state to clear the backlog. They claim that if the crime is a non-violent one most people will go home that day with a clean slate. Judges from the various state courts systems and other court officials or law enforcement will be at the church to work through the cases.

It seems to me that 120,000 people in Delaware with warrants is a lot. In 2007 the Census estimated the population of Delaware was 864,764. Thus almost one in seven people in Delaware are wanted criminals for some reason. If that many people have warrants for their arrest then there are too many laws, not too many criminals.

From the Tao Te Ching:
When the Tao Way is lost,
The multitude of laws and rules will appear.

A country follows justice by a just code of laws.
A war is won by advanced knowledge of tactics.
A strong will makes a wish fulfilled.

Too many laws attract crimes,
Too much preparation for the war, brings war,
The multitude of wishes brings conflicts amongst people.

That is why the Wise One says:
"Don't have too many laws
And the people will govern themselves.
Think of peace and the people won't suffer.
Live a simple life and people will live in harmony."

Sunday, April 05, 2009

Caution - Garter Snake Pictures and Video

Yesterday, several garter snakes (Eastern Gartersnake, Thamnophis sirtalis sirtalis) were sunning themselves and hiding underneath the leaves in the backyard near the creek. I would have stopped on them if I wasn't looking.

I got some good closeups, as seen above.

I took several action videos, this is one the best of the bunch showing the snake navigating under and over the underbrush. They can move quickly if they want to.

It was a very windy day on Saturday, so the only noise is crunching leaves and wind. This is not the first time that I have seen and photographed garter snakes in the yard but these are the first videos.

Friday, April 03, 2009

April Showers bring a raging swollen creek

I thought April showers bring May flowers, because a raging swollen creek doesn't rhyme with showers.

The rain is still needed and if the creek gets flowing enough it will wash out the last of the leaves and debris from winter. It is also cool to watch.