Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Happy Birthday To Me!

So I was going to post about my raucous little weekend down in the Outer Banks, but that story is being overshadowed today in order to bring you the following important announcement: it's my birthday! Yes, I'm finally on the wrong side of 25, but it's only a number, right? And yet, it's hard to believe that I'm 4 years out of college and 2 years away from my 10-year high school reunion. Yikes.

A lot of people today are saying that 26 is the new 21, the age at which people finally become adults in our current society. It's when we're supposed to truly buckle down, take on the responsibilities of life head-on, and become shed all vestiges of childhood.

Phew. It's a good thing I got all of that irresponsibility out of my system last weekend.

Thursday, May 25, 2006

So Long, Indy

Over the past several years of playing kickball in DC, I think it's safe to say I've gathered enough experience to be in a position to make a few judgments about the quality of different teams and leagues I've played in (my closet full of old team shirts has enough color to look like one of those Ralph Lauren polo shirt displays in a department store). Some years have been good, others not so good, but this year stands out as the one that has finally caused me to say this the last time I play in the DC Independence Division.

I started out in that division simply because, way back in the day, a friend of mine was the division president, and was able to get our team registered even though we had been late to sign up. That first spring season was fun, only because I had nothing else to compare it to, but after playing in other leagues, going to other bars, and meeting other people, I've come to realize just how bad the Indy Division really is.

First, the fields. It was bad enough last year when we were forced off the Monument area fields because of unspecified construction that was beginning to rival Boston's Big Dig in efficiency, but when we returned to play on it this year, we found ourselves kicked off after only 2 games because we didn't have a permit. Are you kidding me? How long have we been playing kickball there, not mention alongside all of the soccer, flag football, and ultimate frisbee games that are blatantly going on without permits? The Indy Board, usually the ones who should be handling this sort of thing, had no response other than to have us skip a game and then move to another field the next week, where we can hopefully avoid the cops and squat the fields early enough to actually play.

Second, the bar. The Exchange is great in that they allow you sit outside and play flip cup until you pass out, but the set up is awful. Sitting at our long tables with just our team, it's like a high school cafeteria all over again, where nobody has the cajones (or maybe even the desire) to go up and talk to anyone on another team. I lamented this point to a couple of people on my team this week, and one of my friends had only this to say: "Well, at least we can mingle with the other teams at the mid-season party." Great. One night of meeting other people in the league and 8 weeks of being a little clique. Any division that goes to a place like Adams Mill, Tom Tom, or really any other bar other than the Exchange doesn't have this problem. On my DC Kickball team, we meet, mingle, and hang out with people on other teams the entire night, and it's way more enjoyable.

Finally, there just doesn't appear to be any life to Indy anymore. Maybe it's because I no longer know as many people in the league as I once did, but it's hard to feel a sense of spirit that I know exists in other leagues. Just take a look at the bulletin boards from other divisions on the WAKA discussion website, and you'll see what I mean. People actually talking about the games, parties, etc. The DC Dupont Division alone has over 300 posts this season! How many people in the Indy Division have anything to say? How about none? People just seem to be going through the motions, playing the game and then briefly stopping by the Exchange before going home early.

I could just be bitter about the fact that my team is still winless through the first 5 weeks, but honestly, I don't even really care about how we play on the field (my other team hasn't lost a game in the first 5 weeks, so I have plenty of ways to get the competitive juices flowing). My team itself is full of great people. I just want to feel like there's actually a reason to haul my ass all the way down to the Mall every Tuesday night. As I watch all of the players in other leagues walking to and from the other games actually looking as if they're having a good time, I realize that it's time to move on after this season. Anybody have a team with some open spots?

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Idolnomics

Of all the social sciences, only economics knows how to cut to the core of a problem with rigorous methods and actually come up with real answers to some of society's most pressing questions. I really enjoyed Freakanomics , a fascinating look into how an upstart U. Chicago economist has been able to use economic tools to study everything from the organization of crack gangs to the kinds of names that people give to their babies. Why are black voting turnouts so low in some parts of the country? Why do women typically never marry down in terms of education? All of these questions are fair game for us.

It should come as no surprise, then, to see what a couple of friends of mine have decided to take a closer look at: whether certain characteristics make someone more likely to win American Idol. Forget global warming, this is the problem we need to be devoting our attention to. (Last year, this same friend and I created a formula for calculating a power ranking of the teams in our WAKA division based on kickball game and flip cup records, soooo... yeah, this is what we do).

Taking the results of all 5 seasons of American Idol, this crackpot team looked at the top 12 contestants for each season and categorized them according to sex (M or F), being overweight (yes or no), ethnicity, and home state. They then ran a regression of all these variables on the 60 contestants' ultimate finishes to find out if any of these characteristics contributed to how they performed. Here's what they found (most of the results are reprinted, with anyapologies to the author):

Table 1 - Analysis of American Idol Contestants

REG ProcedureModel: MODEL1
Dependent Variable: Rank
Number of Observations Used: 60

Analysis of Variance
Source/ DF /Squares /Square /F Value/ Pr > F
Model /4 /49.72031 /12.43008 /1.01/ 0.4091/
Root MSE 3.50393 R-Square 0.0686 Dependent Mean 6.51667 Adj R-Sq 0.0008Coeff Var 53.76871

Parameter Estimates

Parameter Standard Variable Label DF Estimate Error t Value Pr > t
Intercept Intercept 1 7.20664 0.93790 7.68 <.0001 .
SexDummy SexDummy 1 0.01242 0.91053 0.01 0.9892 0.98835
EthnicityDummy EthnicityDummy 1 0.10870 0.90567 0.12 0.9049 0.99788
WeightDummy WeightDummy 1 1.06355 1.33985 0.79 0.4307 0.98640
SouthDummy SouthDummy 1 -1.72671 0.91053 -1.90 0.0632 0.98835

The conclusion? I'll spare you the technical details, but the number in red shows that all else being equal, someone from the South is more likely to finish 1.73 places ahead of someone not from the South. This is pretty consistent with the fact that all of the winners so far, and 3 of the 4 runner-ups, have been from Southern states. Tonight's finale? The Alabama boy vs. the LA gal... take it for what you will.

Now, there are a few problems with this work. First, we can definitely tell there's a correlation between hometown and performance, but it's hard to say if there's an actual cause and effect here; in other words, can we actually predict if a Southerner is more likely to win in the future, or are we just proving past results. Second, there really aren't enough observations to say with a lot of confidence that this means anything -- the model itself fits pretty badly. But the fact that they found anything statistically significant is pretty damn interesting. Of course, if you really wanted to go nuts, you could easily set up some interaction dummy variables, basically to see if, for instance, black Southerners (Ruben Studdard) or skinny females (Kelly Clarkson, at one point in time) have the advantage...

And Hilary thinks that people my age aren't productive enough during their workdays. Whatever.

Monday, May 22, 2006

The Simple Life



While DC remained sunny and in the 70s for most of this past weekend, I spent my time up in rural but cozy Burlington, VT for my brother's graduation from the School of Natural Resources at UVM. For those of you who don't follow the national news, however, a good part of New England has spent the last several weeks suffering from perpetual rain and flooding, and Burlington, although not in as bad shape as my hometown of Danvers, was no different. It rained, it poured, it was disgusting, to the point where I even had to go to the local EMS to buy a new rain jacket, the one I was using being not at all up the task.

Most of the weekend was relaxing, to say the least, as I spent most of my time eating on my parents' bill and lounging around the indoor pool. Although I arrived Friday night, there were no ceremonies or required events until Sunday morning, giving my parents, my aunts and uncles who attended, and me plenty of time to chill. The ceremonies themselves flew by, and I was back on a plane Sunday afternoon headed back to DC.


My dad, little bro, and me

This weekend, though, I came to an important realization. I think I've truly reached the point where I've been in DC long enough such that anytime I venture outside of the Beltway, I have to recalibrate myself to the outside world. I'm not really talking about getting used to the fact that everyone around you isn't outwardly political or somewhat self-centered, although that's definitely a factor, but more about getting used to a slightly slower lifestyle, especially in a place like Vermont.

I stopped by a convenience store Saturday afternoon and ended up in a conversation with an attractive but slightly older-looking woman working the cash register, who clearly hadn't had a customer in hours and was so bored that she almost literally wouldn't let me leave. As I was paying for my things, she took hold of the $20 bill I gave her and stared at it. "You know, I just love these new colored bills, with the new designs on them. They say you can go to the U.S. mint in Washington and go on a whole tour of how they make these things," she said, desperately trying to keep the conversation going.

"Oh, well, actually, I live in DC, though I haven't been to the Mint," I casually replied.

Looking at me with wide eyes, she responded,"Really? That's so cool! There are so many places to visit and things to do there."

And she's right. There are a ton of things to do here. Although Burlington is a great little city, it's a totally different world, and it's not until I went to a place like it that I realized just how much I have here in Washington.

The trip back to DC on Sunday was probably the most interesting part of the trip. Sitting alone in the tiny three-gate Burlington "International" Airport on a Sunday afternoon is a pretty freaky experience. Five years after 9/11, the woman working at the security counter that checks to make sure your ID matches your ticket was at least 70-80 years old and (I'm not making this up) crocheting in between checking people's IDs. If that didn't make me feel comfortable enough, there were so few people in the airport at the time that it was like being in the airport of the past dimension from the Langoliers. Two hours of sheer boredom were followed by a hellish rollercoaster ride on a propeller plane to NYC that held no more than 18 people and had to circle La Guardia for 25 minutes due to what the pilot referred to as "delaying vectors," and then almost missing my connector to DC.

When we finally touched down at Reagan, we had another 20-minute delay waiting for a gate to open up for us. But damn, was I happy to be back.

Thursday, May 18, 2006

Booked Solid

We're now officially 13 days from my birthday. Really, 26 isn't a particularly important number; I've already passed all of the important milestones and have only the ones that mark me getting extremely old to look forward to (ok, so there's the right to become President at 35). For some, birthdays are a time to invite as many friends as possible to get together for a crazy bash and be showered with free drinks and gifts, whereas for others it's just not a big deal. Typically, for whatever reason I've always been fine with doing something chill, but this year I actually considered doing something a little bigger. I then looked at my upcoming schedule for the next several weeks, and realized that that presents a problem.

Let's break this down, Dr. Jack-style:

May 19-21: I'm flying out to beautiful Burlington, VT for my brother's graduation at UVM. This won't exactly be a raucuous time, as I'll be spending most of it either a) at graduation ceremonies, b) out to meals with my family, or c) lounging around the hotel pool. The biggest issue is that I'll be literally flying from DC To Burlington on Friday night and then back to DC Sunday afternoon, meaning I will be exhausted.

May 26-29 (Memorial Day Weekend): A mere five days later, I'm heading down to North Carolina's Outer Banks and staying here with 30 other people for what looks to be one non-stop party. Apart from finally getting some sun, I'm going to consider this a success if I don't find myself on a stretcher at any point over the course of the weekend.

May 31: My birthday. A Wednesday.

Friday, June 2: The first real opportunity to do something falls on the night of the DC Kickball mid-season party at Rhino's in Georgetown. Since a lot of my friends will already be there, I might as well get some free drinks out of it, right? Too bad it's an open bar.

June 7-June 10: I'm heading out to Vegas with a bunch of friends and may never return. I can't promise anything.

As you can see, there aren't a whole lot of chances to do anything really special. And even there were, would I even have the energy for it?

Saturday, May 13, 2006

We're Coming After You, Daniel!

Another sign that we're moving up in the world: Anthony has jumped from no. 11 to no. 8 on the most popular names list for boys. When my French Canadian grandmother found out that my mother was about to marry an Italian, she made one request: that the first born son be named Anthony. It turned out to be a compromise between my mom, who wanted to grant that wish, and my dad, who wanted a slightly more Italian-sounding name. The result? "Salvatore" became my middle name. A narrow escape.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Mad Props

"'Make it $7,000 and it's a deal.'

Svobodny agreed before Ted [Forrest] woke up enough to realize what he'd gotten himself into. It was the Fourth of July in Las Vegas, and the temperature was expected to climb above 110 degrees. The UNLV track was red, rubber urethane, which would radiate the heat.

...Huck finished first and the UNLV track coach, amazed that someone was out on the track, asked what Forrest was doing. 'He could die out there,' the coach said."

--The Professor, the Banker, and the Suicide King

The biggest and best gamblers in the world, like poker pro Ted Forrest, are precisely that because they know how to take a risk when they have an edge. They know when the potential payoff of a bet is greater than the odds of them actually winning it, and they apply this edge over and over again for profit. Most of the time, this comes in the form of a casino game, typically poker, but even poker players get bored sitting at the table all day long. They make up for that lack of excitement with prop bets. Like running a marathon in 110-degree weather with no training whatsoever. Or betting a friend that he couldn't live for a month in Des Moines, Iowa, or that you could beat him in ping pong using only your cell phone as a paddle (all real, documented props between well-known poker players).

Wouldn't life be a lot more exciting if we all took prop bets? Things would be a lot more fun if people more often randomly showed up in their offices wearing clown suits, or tried to walk from LA to Vegas while only sleeping twice, wouldn't they?

Maybe that's why a friend of mine made a bet with another friend last night in between a game of flip cup that he couldn't perfectly flip his cup, bottom-down, into another cup sitting on the table. As soon as he sunk the shot, my friend making the bet realized that offering to go over to the White House gates and belt out "We Are the World" probably wasn't the greatest idea. In the end, it didn't actually happen (I suggested that he simply stand in front of everyone at the kickball postgame happy hour and sing it), but the point was clear: we need more of this.

Any takers?

Love Letter

Dear McDonald's Sausage Biscuit,

I know it's been a long time since we last saw each other. I've been meaning to write to you, really I have, to tell you that I walk past you every day on my way to work and I think about you. I remember the good times we've had, and I start to crave you again. I know, it's silly that we do this to each other, especially when you and I know both know how much I want you. This morning was fun, a chance to rekindle a little of what we've had, but I'm afraid that this just can't be a regular thing. Because once I have you that first time, I'll want you again and again and again, and, well -- it's just not a healthy relationship for me to get into. Please understand. I won't ever forget you.

Sincerely,

Anthony

P.S. Please don't be jealous of that yogurt you saw me with the other day. She means nothing to me.

Saturday, May 06, 2006

Sies de Mayo

A few thoughts while recovering from what feels like the
Battle of Puebla going on inside my head:

All night long, they played every Mexican/Spanish/Latin dance song you can think of, but not once did they play any Shakira. Yes, I realize she's Colombian, but still, this is a travesty. Somebody needs to pay dearly for this oversight.

I'm still not quite sure what "well whiskey" really is, but something tells me that purposely ordering a glass of the lowest quality whiskey the bar offers, served neat, probably isn't the wisest idea.

If someone says to you, "Can you put this on your card? I left my tab open at the other bar," make sure the check you're picking up is less than fifty dollars. Big thanks to the random guy who saw what was going on and offered me a twenty to cover part of the damage.

Here's a lesson to all of you DC residents who find crossing the Potomac as scary an experience as I do: never go out with a group consisting entirely of people from Arlington/Alexandria. Otherwise, you're going to end up sitting in a diner at 3 o'clock in the morning talking to a guy who is apparently a Mason (and no, not of the Final Four-qualifying, George University type -- the Order of the Knights Templar type) and cannot stop railing on about a girl whom he accused of playing "Mother Hen" and orchestrating a cockblock that filtered down through several guys in our group that night, including himself. A $25 cab ride home to finish the night? Score.

Thursday, May 04, 2006

Like Police Academy 3, We're Back in Training


My usual training level


On the second level of my coffee table lies Arnold Schwarzenegger's Modern Encyclopedia of Bodybuilding, an 800-page behemoth of a book that could just as well serve as a weight as a guide to how to use them. Back before he became the Governator, Arnold was the king of muscle, a man who won 7 straight Mr. Olympia contests and whose training regimen, based on what he outlines in his book, was almost an all-day, every day affair.

With no desire (or chance) to look like Mr. Schwarzenegger, I'm happy with a somewhat different approach to improving my level of physical fitness. Over the past several months, though, the demands of work and play have made this increasingly difficult. I'm not a morning person, so the early gym session is out by default, and constantly having to work until 8pm or get out just in time to go to kickball or whatever else I'm up to after work, the evening gym time is also a burden.

But it's also a necessity. I tend to go through a lot of cycles in terms of how into working out I get, and every once in a while I reach a peak of inspiration, that drives me to start drinking the protein shakes and hitting the bench press once more.

And for whatever reason, that's where I am again. For someone with my body type, working out is an all-out war against my body's natural tendencies. While many people who go to the gym struggle to lose those extra few pounds around the waist or slim those thighs, I approach the gym with the exact opposite approach: to gain, gain, gain. With the metabolism of a hummingbird, I can burn through thousands of calories a day by barely blinking an eye, making serious gains all but impossible without a little extra effort.

In order for me to achieve serious results, I need to intake far more calories than my body needs, including massive amounts of unsatured fats, protein, and complex carbs, the building blocks of bulking. Eating, eating, and eating some more, then short periods of blasting your muscles with free weights (never on machines) is critical to success.

When I look at all of the effort that I need to go through in order to get into better shape, it sometimes becomes daunting. But I'm here, ready again to give it a shot. Maybe I can get Arnold to spot me.