Friday, December 31, 2010

Legacy RICS Support

  I’ve been contacted lately by some people I’ve known in the past to help support their legacy RICS© software. Having written the RICS (Retail Inventory Control System) program from 1994 to 2008, I am in a unique position to provide support for your legacy system.

  If you have need of support for your legacy RICS© or PERCS© system, please feel free to contact me:

Hank Anzis

RICS© and PERCS© are trademarks of RICS Software.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

The Substitute Dog

If you can't or don't have a dog, a rabbit is a good substitute. And if you have a rabbit like Oreo, you have a fine rabbit and a good friend.

  Having puppies is a lot like having small children around the house. Daisy and Baxter wake up at all hours of the night and you need to make sure they go potty in the right place and then try to entertain them and tire them out so they will take a nap. So far Kathy and I are handling things OK. The dogs stay in the kitchen all day and go upstairs at night. Kathy is a professional teacher and a top notch one. Both our sons knew how to read and add and multiply before preschool and she taught Ben to play chess. I taught Matt to play, but Ben beat me first despite being 3 years younger. After only 2 days, Kathy has gotten the puppies to make their pee-pee on the ‘OUT Training pad’ almost 100 percent of the time. #2 has proven to be another matter, but I think they don’t want to stand on the #1 pad so we will get another training pad today. We used newspapers with the other dogs, but the OUT training pads have worked even better than advertised, which is a rare thing in this modern world.

  The cats have quickly gotten used to the new puppies. They all joined the household when we had dogs so they are used to dogs, if not the manic activity of these new puppies. I was very worried about our rabbit Oreo. We had a small black rabbit named Buster before we had dogs. Buster used to run around our apartment in New Jersey and had a potty box he used. He moved with us to Iowa and was happy, but when we got Queenie, he was frightened of her and stayed in his cage whenever she was around. When Buster passed away, we didn’t have a rabbit for a couple of years until our neighbors were moving and gave us their brown and white Dutch rabbit, Pogo. Pogo was pretty mellow and the dogs were mature at this point so they all got along. 2 years ago, Pogo passed away and Kathy bought Oreo, a black and white Dutch rabbit. Oreo got along good with Queenie and Tuffy and when we came downstairs for our morning walk, I’d let Oreo out of his cage. I’d spend a few minutes petting the dogs and Oreo would hop over to get petted also. When I’d make my sandwiches to take to work, Queenie, Tuffy, and Sneezy the cat would scrounge for some scraps of cold cuts, and Oreo would hang out by my feet to get a piece of bread.

  When the dogs passed away, I’d still go downstairs in the morning to let Oreo out his cage and he would still come over for pets. When I’d open the refrigerator, he’d start to run around my feet, hoping for a piece of carrot. I enjoyed his attention and companionship and it made me miss my dogs a little less. He couldn’t be a replacement for my dogs, but he was an excellent substitute. I’ve even taken Oreo out to the living room to sit on my lap while I watched TV. He likes it as long as I pet him, but as soon as I stop, he’ll get bored and try to dig a nest in my stomach. Oreo likes to explore the rest of the house and will sneak out of the kitchen if the door is left open. Normally he runs upstairs and hides under our bed, but other times he found some papers or wires to chew. I’ve had to replace more than one plug because of him. I get really upset when that happens, but that’s just part of having animals. There is sometimes a little bit of bad to offset the good.

  Initially, Oreo was scared of the pups, but now if they try get too playful or nibble at him, he charges them enough to make them back off and he has pretty much claimed half of the kitchen as his territory. I’m glad to see Oreo sticking up for himself. He was a great substitute dog and he has way to much personality to live his life scared of some beagles.

Oreo in Action

Friday, December 24, 2010

Dogless No More!

Daisy (left) and Baxter (right), our new beagles.

  I haven’t had a dog since Tuffy passed away in September and it’s been depressing. The rest of the family has tried to pitch in. Kathy and I would go for a walk in nice weather but it just wasn’t the same, especially when we’d pass dogs on our walk who used to bark at Queenie and Tuffy, but now just ignored us. The closest thing I’ve had to a dog has been our house rabbit, Oreo. He’d follow me around for food just like Queenie and Tuffy used to. I like Oreo a lot and will hold him on my lap and pet him while I watch TV, but it’s not the same as having a dog. I don’t think Oreo would last very long if I took him on a walk.

  I wasn’t in a hurry to get a new dog. I figured God would bring a dog to me when the time was right, but it was depressing nonetheless. In October, my mother in law sent an email about a young homeless beagle in a shelter with raw muzzle marks on its face. I called and it had already been taken.

  Tuesday, my wife showed me an ad for a male and female beagle puppy. I called and left a message but got no answer. My wife figured I didn’t leave a nice enough message so she called on Wednesday. Her call got answered yesterday morning and last night Kathy, Matt, and I drove 30 miles to a farmhouse in Toledo Iowa in the snow to look at beagle puppies.

  We met the lady selling the beagles. She has a lot of different dogs on the farm. The puppies and their mom (named Red) were in a travel carrier on the back porch. Red was a very long and lean beagle and mostly brown with a little white, but the puppies were tri-colored.

  There was one female and 2 male pups. We had decided we wanted a female dog. She seemed nice enough, a little quiet and shy, but that may have been because they were farm dogs and not house dogs. We decided to get the puppy and then the owner said that she couldn’t sell one of the male puppies because his mom had chewed off some of the toes on his back foot and he had a lot of trouble walking and that if we knew of a good home for him, they could have him for free. Kathy, Matt, and I all looked at each other and thought that we have a good home and we would take him. Having 2 dogs worked out pretty well with Queenie and Tuffy and the little boy dog would learn to walk just fine on his foot with one toe.

  Once that was settled, we met the puppies’ daddy. He was a beautiful show dog, tri-colored with a big broad snout like the beagles you see on the dog shows on TV. We said our goodbyes, and on the drive home went to work on names. Kathy had already picked out Daisy for the girl, and Matt picked out Baxter for the boy.

Puppies can be a real handful, but the joy far outweighs the inconvenience.

  We got home, showed the puppies to Ben, played with them, and settled down for the night. Baxter and Daisy went to sleep on the bed we bought for them in our room, but they woke up at 2 in the morning and kept Kathy and I up most of the night playing with them. Occasionally, one or the other would go to sleep for a bit, but for the most part, there was no sleep for the adults in the house. No big deal, though. It is great to have dogs back in the house and the inconvenience of potty training, chewed belongings, and some sleepless nights is a small price to pay. One day to go and already this is the best Christmas ever!

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Speed Pays... If you want it to

Can a simple sticker solve a state's financial crisis? Why Not?

  As I was driving to work this morning for my last workday before Christmas, I heard my engine make an unfamiliar noise as if it was complaining about being overworked. I looked at the dashboard to see if the check engine light had gone on and noticed I was going 85 miles an hour. I slowed down, my car stopped complaining, and I continued down the empty highway.
  I was lucky I didn’t get a speeding ticket like I got in Pennsylvania this past August courtesy of a state trooper who had nothing better to do than give me a ticket at 7am on a Sunday morning on empty US Highway 80. Then I saw in today’s paper that Iowa will have to layoff over 10 percent of their state troopers unless they find a replacement for 3 million dollars in government money. I felt bad for the troopers who may lose their job, but I was glad that they weren’t trying to make up for the budget shortfall by writing speeding tickets on my highway this morning. I’ve gotten 2 speeding tickets 6 years apart from Iowa state troopers. They were both early in the morning on my way to work on an empty highway. Worse than the fine I had to pay and the increase in my insurance rates was that I had to drive slower than I wanted for months afterward so I wouldn’t risk getting another ticket or maybe even losing my license. I’m not a habitual speeder, but sometimes on an empty road, it is easy to forget how fast you are going and besides, what danger am I posing on an empty road to anyone but myself.

  I’m sure that Iowa’s new Republican governor and legislature will find some money for the troopers since law and order is a close 3rd in Republican hearts to lower taxes (pro) and gay marriage (against). But I’ve come up with a way for our state to generate more than enough money to fund our state troopers and many other initiatives.

  I call my plan ‘SPEED FOR IOWA’. Drivers would have the option to sign their vehicles up for the right to exceed the speed limit on state highways by a set number of miles per hour when they pay their registration fees. I can see 5 miles an hour costing $50 a year, 10 miles $150, 15 miles $300, and 20 miles $500. Buyers would get a small sticker with the amount of speed they have purchased to place on their license plates to prove they can speed legally.

  If just 10,000 people bought the 20 mile an hour package, the state would collect 5 million dollars. They wouldn’t have to lay off any troopers and could even hire more. If you think 10,000 cars is a lot, keep in mind that in 2009 there were over 2 and half million registered cars, trucks, and multi-purpose vehicles registered in the state (Here is a link to the official numbers.).

  The fines for speeding tickets could be doubled or even tripled without a lot of complaints when people have already had their chance to buy their speed. The only people who would be inconvenienced are the out of state drivers. Maybe they can be sold a day pass at the state line.

  I’d pay an extra $300 dollars a year to be able to drive 80 or 85 miles an hour back and forth to work legally. I normally drive 5 miles above the speed limit and am constantly passed by cars and trucks. I don’t think I’d pay for my wife or son’s car to speed since they are normally in town, but Christmas and my 20th anniversary is coming up. I think a speed card would be a really thoughtful stocking stuffer for friends and family alike. I'd much rather receive the gift of speed that some 5-pack of lottery tickets.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Ring My Bell

  Yesterday, we had our second annual chess exhibition at the local mall to raise funds for the Salvation Army. In the exhibition, my son Matt plays simultaneously against anyone who pays a small donation to the Salvation Army’s red kettle. Matt is not only the best player in town, he is arguably the best player in the state, so we get some good publicity for the event. This year we had one player who had never come to our chess club come to play in the exhibition, which is one more than last year. I don’t understand why we don’t get more casual players, since there are a lot of engineers that work at Fisher Controls who must have played chess in school. When I try to talk some of these people into playing, they say how they wouldn’t have a chance of winning so they won’t even try. They’re probably right that they wouldn’t have a chance of winning, since Matt ended up beating all of us pretty badly, but I can’t help but thinking that some of these guys would have fun just competing and start playing regularly at the club if they gave it a shot. Aside from the one new fellow, 4 or 5 other guys told me they were looking for a place to play chess, so I gave them one of the flyers I had prepared and hopefully I’ll see them soon.

  The exhibition started at 2:30 and was over by 4:30, but I had promised to be the bell ringer until the mall closed at 8, so I stood outside the J.C. Penney entrance ringing the Salvation Army bell to entice shoppers to contribute to the red kettle. I didn’t mind ringing the bell to help out. Aside from hosting our chess club for free, the Salvation Army helps an incredible amount of people, not just the people who worship there.

  Since I knew I’d be ringing the bell for quite some time, I did not put any money in the other red kettles this season, saving it instead for my collection day. The Salvation Army keeps statistics on how much each shift brings in. A number of people have part time jobs bell ringing and if they don’t collect enough to at least pay their wages they get laid off. So by bell ringing, I was also helping the Salvation Army save on a bell ringer’s salary.

  From what I’ve seen, the bell ringing station outside the J.C. Penney at the Marshalltown mall is a plum assignment. You’re deep inside the mall instead of being outside in an Iowa winter or right inside an entrance, being subjected blasts of cold every time a shopper comes in. Also, I think the people shopping at the J.C. Penney have more money than people shopping at a grocery store or Wal-Mart, even though there are many more people at the Wal-Mart.

  It’s interesting to watch the different people approach the store entrance and the kettle at the moment of eye contact. A lot of people would catch a glimpse of me ringing the bell and instinctively reach for their cell phone and intently check their messages until they were safely past me. Others would quicken their pace and briskly walk past as if they had just remembered an urgent appointment. Others would give me a nod and a smile, whether they kept on walking or made a donation.

  A lot of parents would give their kids a coin or 2 to put in the kettle, and other people would have a bill pre-folded to place in the tiny kettle slot. When someone went to put some money in the kettle, I’d thank them and back off so they could donate in private.

  I saw a number of people walking in and out of the J.C. Penney store multiple times. One guy must have passed my way about 4 times and the fourth time through he put some money in the kettle. Then I saw him pass through a couple of more times.

  Ringing the tiny bell with the wooden handle started to get pretty tedious after the first half hour or so and my hand started to hurt. I found that by putting the bell between 2 fingers and making a fist, I could put my hands behind my back and shake the bell by moving my fist. When my fingers started to get a little sore, I’d switch fingers.

  At 7:30, I thought I only had a half hour to go, but then I felt a tap on my shoulder and there was Major McCarthy from the Salvation Army. He unlocked the kettle from the stand (not only is the kettle itself locked, it is also locked to stand itself), and I was on my way home. Last year I got a letter saying how much was collected during our shift and I expect I’ll get another one soon. It was fun ringing the kettle, and I got donations from young and old, and English and Spanish speaking people. It was nice to see so many people donate, but I’m glad it’s not my full time job.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

The good, bad, and ugly of having everybody looking out for me

The Good
  Late last week my boss called me and asked what intentions I had for my unused personal days since he was making sure our assignments would be covered until the end of the year. While our vacation days can carry over, personal time is on a yearly ‘use it or lose it’ basis. I was glad to get the call because I hadn’t even thought about the unused personal days. Most companies discourage the use of personal time unless you are sick. I scheduled my unused days around my co-workers days off and with Christmas and New Year’s Day, I’ll have 3 day work weeks till the end of the year.

The Bad

  2 weeks ago, I came home from work on Thursday to pick up my chess clocks for our weekly chess club and I saw the local heating company’s truck on the street. I figured it was for the house next door that was being remodeled, but my wife told me she called them because she smelled gas. I went off to the chess club and the Salvation Army also smelled like gas. It turned out that the gas company put an overdose of the smell they add to the natural gas so people will smell a leak. The furnace guy came the next day to run a pressure test and told us we had a hole in some part that is not under warranty that they don’t make any more and it was leaking carbon monoxide and a new furnace was needed. He also said that they got at least a dozen calls for gas leaks. The furnace is at least 30 years old so maybe it was time, but my brother (who fixes furnaces in New Jersey for a living for about 35 years) told me that running a pressure test on the furnace would likely put a hole in that part even if it didn’t have one before. If I owned a furnace company, I’d be bribing the gas company to spike the gas every year.

...and the Ugly

  Today, I went to Theisens to get 2 new tires for my car. The car is not even a year old and I only have 22 thousand miles on it, but the front tires are bald. The back tires are fine, though. It wasn’t a problem until the past weekend’s ice storm. When I went to get the new tires, they asked me what tires I wanted replaced. When I said the front, I was told that they weren’t allowed to put 2 new tires on the front and that they’d move the back tires to the front and the front tires to the back because they weren’t allowed to put new tires on the front unless I were to buy 4 tires. This sounded pretty weird to me and I asked why that was. The tire guy told me that somebody at a different Theisens got 2 new tires put on the front and when they left the store and got on the highway, one of the new front tires blew, people were killed in the ensuing accident, and Theisens and the tire company lost a 17 million dollar lawsuit, and that is why Theisens won’t put 2 new tires on the front of the car. I'd like to think a store would discontinue selling tires that are prone to blowing out instead of changing some procedures. I didn’t want know if I was buying the same exact tires that were in the infamous blowout, but I have to admit that I did thought about getting the 4 tires so I would have a chance at the ‘blowout jackpot’.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

CyChess Part 3 of 3

  In the last round at CyChess, I found myself playing my fellow Marshalltown Chess Club member Jaleb Jay. Jaleb is a high school junior and has been playing at the club for 4 years. When he first started coming to club, he knew how the pieces moved, but was an unskilled chess player. He never got discouraged and has gotten better and better. Now he is one of the better scholastic players in the state and has pulled off upsets against many adult players in the state . Jaleb goes along with me to most of 1 day tournaments I play in or direct. My kids chess exploits have gained Marshalltown some respect in some Iowa chess circles, but Jaleb’s successes have brought Marshalltown a whole new level of respect in Iowa chess since it is no longer a family affair.

Jaleb Jay, Marshalltown Iowa

  When I was paired against Jaleb in the first round September 2009 CyChess tournament, I decided not to play in order to let a player who was not going to otherwise have a game play. But this was the last round of the tournament, the scores dictated no easy way around the pairing, we each had an outside chance to tie for first place, and Jaleb has been playing me even in our weekly blitz tournaments (I’ve won 9 and lost 7 with 4 draws over the year and a half), so there was no way I was going to bail out on this game. And with 5 of the 18 players from Marshalltown, it was likely that at some point we’d be playing each other. I was happy that Roger was able to keep the Marshalltown players away from each other for the first 2 rounds.

  Jaleb’s style is almost the exact opposite of mine. Where I’m very happy to try to win a pawn and grind the game out, Jaleb is always looking to give up a pawn or 2 to get his pieces out and attack. Generally if I defend accurately I win and if not I lose.

  I'm very happy with the fighting spirit I showed in a tough spot. It was a sloppy game and a very lucky win, but I’ll take it and be happy for it. I’m not likely to be able to beat Jaleb from this kind of disadvantage in another year. Matt Kriegel beat Tim Harder to tie me for second place with 2 and a half points out of 3. This was easily Matt’s most successful tournament ever and he was grinning from ear to ear, which was fun to see. Jerry beat Jon in the other all-Marshalltown matchup and Scott pulled off a 600 point upset by beating Roger so everyone from Marshalltown won at least 1 game and in total we scored 7 wins and 6 losses with 2 draws.

  In my 2 games as White, I showed a poor understanding of how to play against the King’s Indian. I’ll be working on that over the next few weeks. I finished the year with 5 wins and 2 draws in regular tournament play. Not counting the quick chess tournament, I ended up playing in just 2 tournaments for the year and 1 game as a fill in for the Okoboji tournament. I had plans for more, but work, weather, and bad timing interfered. Hopefully I can be more active in 2011.

Friday, December 10, 2010

CyChess Part 2 of 3

  My second round game in the CyChess tournament was against Brad Shepard. Brad is a retired forest ranger in his 60’s and has a chess club at a church in downtown Ames that meets on Saturdays. I’ve gone down there a few times and played Brad there. Brad isn’t highly rated, but he likes to attack, kind of like Jerry at our club. I’ve found that if I can keep players like this from attacking for long enough, they will give up material just to get the smell of an attack and when their attack fails to materialize, they will give up still more and more material until they have nothing left to fight with. The only risk with this strategy is that sometimes the opponent finds a real attack and then you given a lower rated player a chance to play in his element. I felt that if I didn’t try to punish Brad for each attacking move he made that may not be sound and just keep feeding him rope, I’d have a good chance of winning.

  At the time, I considered the game a workmanlike effort that pretty much played itself. A few days later, I can see I missed a lot more than I should have, but will give my self credit for not making any glaring errors and never being in danger of losing. Some people think they should just crush a lower rated player, but I'm comfortable just keeping everything under control, especially when I start with an extra pawn like this game. Both methods have their drawbacks. I think the best results will be gained by playing to your temperment and in my case slow and steady wins the race.

  John won his game, but Scott lost to the top seed that Jaleb beat in the first round and Jerry lost to Matt Kreigel. Jaleb got a draw against the dangerous Tim Harder. After the first 2 rounds there were 2 players who had 2 wins and 4 players with 1 win and 1 draw (myself, Jaleb, Tim Harder, and Matt Kreigel). The players with 2 points were going to play each other and if they drew, a win would get me a share of first place.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

CyChess Part 1 of 3

  This past Sunday I went to play in the CyChess tournament in Ames. CyChess is held 4 times a year by Ames chess coach Roger Gotschall and is one of my favorite chess tournaments. I can leave my house at 12, play 3 games with 45 minutes per player, and be home by 7:00 all for a reasonable $5 entry fee. As usual, I took local high school chess player Jaleb Jay with me to the tournament. But this time, 3 of our regular adult players from the Marshalltown Chess Club’s Thursday night quick chess tournaments came along to play. Jon McCord and Scott Ramsey-Smith had played in my tournament in October and this was their first out of town tournament. Jerry Morris has been playing at the club since late October and this was his first tournament at a longer time control than our 10 minute per player games. Casual players like Jon, Scott, and Jerry find it hard to see the fun in playing in a tournament where you may be playing for 8 to 12 hours in a day, not counting travel and eating. The older I get, the less I can understand it either.

Matt Kriegel of Tama, Iowa

  I had a good 2 weeks of preparation, playing on the internet and doing lots of tactic puzzles and felt I was ready to have a good performance despite not having played in a tournament since last May’s CyChess except for our local quick chess sessions. Since 5 of us were going, I took my wife’s minivan, but I locked myself out of the house when it was time to go. It was probably bad karma since not only was I taking my wife’s car, it was her birthday and I was off to play chess. Luckily, I have a fantastic wife and Kathy understood my chess ‘jones’. I managed to find a spare key and got my keys and picked up Jaleb and met the rest of the guys at the Salvation Army and we were off at 11:40.

  The tournament was held at the Iowa State University Microbiology building. We got in, paid our entry fees, and had a half hour or so to hang out before the start of the tournament. Roger was pleased to have 3 players from Marshalltown that had never played out of town before. At the tournament, we met 2 more regulars from our Thursday night blitz tournaments, Matt Kriegel from Tama and Steve Jacobs of Des Moines.

  I was the second highest rated player and paired against Matt Kriegel in the first round with the White pieces. Matt is in his 30s and doesn’t drive or work so his parents or his sister take him to play chess. I’ve played Matt a number of times in the Marshalltown quick chess tournaments and have never lost to him. He is a solid player who stays away from tactics. He’s had me beat a few times, but so far I’ve always managed to mix the game up and steal the victory from him on those occasions. He will fall for 2 move combinations and will occasionally resign a position after a strong looking move even though he can still fight for a draw or even a win. Statistics say I should beat Matt 99.9% of the time, but statistics don’t know that he drew a player as strong as me at the September Cychess.

  Looking at this game a day or 2 later, I’m disappointed in not winning but more disappointed at misplaying the rook ending since I thought there was a win while playing but I just couldn’t find it in the time I had left. At the time, though, I was very happy at not losing the game given the very poor position I saddled myself with. Matt and I went over the game a little afterwards and it looked to me then and now that he played very well and deserved the draw at least.

  The other Marshalltown players did very well. Jon and Scott lost to higher rated players, but Jaleb beat the top seed Tim Crouse who was rated 400 points above him and Jerry beat Roger with a big king side attack. Roger only plays when there is an odd number of players. I never play in tournaments when I’m directing (except for the 10 minute Thursday tournaments). I normally am one of the last players to finish and when I’m directing a tournament, I feel I have to monitor the games where the players are running out of time in case there is a problem. I just can’t do that when I’m playing also. Roger told me later that he was filling out some USCF paperwork during the game with Jerry and before he knew it he was lost. I told him he should have given Jerry more respect than to do paperwork during the game.

  My round one draw meant I wouldn’t be playing the stronger players in the tournament and my chances of winning would depend on a lot of upsets and draws to allow me to scramble back for a tie. But as the Optimists Creed goes, I tried to ‘forget the mistakes of the past and press on to the greater achievements of the future”...

Monday, December 6, 2010

The money pit

  I’m thinking of getting a new car, possibly a Cadillac, but I could be persuaded to get a Mercedes or a BMW. While I’m at it, I’ll hire a driver to take me back and forth to work. That way instead of having to watch the road, I can catch up on my reading, write my blog, play some chess, or just take a nap. I’ll probably need to get one of those new enormous televisions, the kind with 3-D so I would have something to look forward to after my ride home in the luxury car. I don’t want to get home and have to argue with my kids about what show to watch in high definition, so I’ll get them the same TV’s for their rooms to head off any arguments before they get started.

  It sounds great, but there’s just one problem. I can’t afford it.

  In last month’s election, the Democrats lost control of the House of Representatives in large part to the perception that while hundreds of billions of dollars have been spent to fix the economy, unemployment is at a 20 year high and the economy doesn’t seem to be getting better. You could look at the stock market and the record profits of many companies and say good times are just around the corner, but except for Apple, all the record profits I see are from companies that have cut expenses by closing production facilities and layoffs, not from increasing their sales (in which case they’d have to hire people).

  The beneficiaries of the voters’ anger were the Republicans in general and the Tea Party in particular, who ran on a platform of responsible government and deficit reduction, but also to not let the tax cuts enacted in 2001 expire. For anyone. Not even for those people making over a quarter of a million dollars a year. The reasoning behind that logic is that these people that are making over a quarter of a million dollars a year include people who own small businesses and the primary job creators. I don’t think I’d call a business that can pay its owner a quarter of a million dollars a year ‘small’, but that’s another story.

  The Republicans are holding up all legislation until the 2001 tax cuts are extended and the Democrats have had a hard sell to the public on their plan to extend the cuts for everybody who makes less than $250,000 a year. One of the pieces of legislation being held up is an extension of unemployment benefits for people who have been collecting for 99 weeks without a job. The Democrats want the unemployment extension so badly they aren’t willing to hold it hostage to show off the Republicans as the ‘mean’ party they were perceived to be other times they have taken over the congress. But both sides want to extend the tax cuts, since if the 2001 tax cuts expire at the end of the year for everyone, there will be hardly any politicians able to get re-elected.

  This week,
news of a compromise is being leaked to the public. Not only will all the tax cuts be extended, but the unemployment benefits will also be extended. I’m OK with lowering my taxes and I’m OK with extending unemployment benefits, but I wish the politicians would PLEASE not tell me they are concerned about the deficit. Orrin Hatch (Republican of Utah) said it best: “Let's take care of the unemployment compensation even if it isn't ... backed up by real finances…We've got to do it. So let's do it. But that ought to be it.”

  That is the politicians that get elected by the American people in a nutshell. And Hatch is a fiscal conservative (except when it comes to government spending for his home state of Utah, in which case he morphs into a liberal). Republican or Democrat, they’ve been pulling this same game for over 50 years. Whether you can pay for it or not, don’t make any difficult choices, just print the money and give it away because you aren’t making anyone pay for it in taxes, and say sternly ‘That’s it. No more.' Like the town drunk swearing off alcohol. Until he gets his next disability check, that is… The politicians keep on getting re-elected but what would you expect from a country where the people have almost a trillion dollars in debt on their credit cards alone.

  I don’t really mind the government having a big deficit, I’d just like them to explain that they are just saying they care about the deficit to get your vote and they have no intention of ever doing anything about it, not even cutting spending. Of course, another way to reduce a defecit is to cut spending, but in a country where over half the people get direct government assistance, that is a sure path to not getting reelected.

  There may be an unforeseen saving grace to help with the deficit after all. The government has
printed over a billion hundred dollar bills that are defective. The bills are being stored in a warehouse and are planning on being burned. Maybe to help the people who can’t pay their heating bills, the government can just ship them a few million dollars to burn to keep warm this winter. When there are just a few million or so bills left, they can be stamped as ‘VOID' and sold as collectibles. If the government can make collectible pennies, nickels, and quarters, these new hundred dollar bills should be a hot seller. I'm going to write to the government to see if I can get a contract to be the collectable reseller. If I can get in on the ground floor, I may be able to get both the Cadillac and the driver, and the TVs!

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Morning at Casey's

  When you drive over a hundred miles a day to go to and from work, you find yourself buying a lot of gas. If I don’t have a chess tournament I fill up my car on Wednesday night in Des Moines and Saturday morning in Marshalltown, but the Thanksgiving weekend upset my timing a bit and I ended up needing gas this morning so on my way out of town I stopped at the Casey’s convenience store to fill up my tank. It was 6:45 when I got to the store. I swiped my credit card at the pump and filled up my tank in 3 minutes.

I filled up my tank with 8.8 gallons of my 10 gallon tank. You can see the "FREE" sign, but on closer inspection... need to buy 10 gallons of gas to get a free soda in 15 degree weather.

  While I was waiting, I saw a card on the gas pump letting me know that Casey’s is giving away either a Vault or Mello Yello soda with a gas fill-up. I didn’t really want a soda in the 15 degree cold and even if I did, a Mountain Dew knock-off wouldn’t be my first choice, but the price was right. But then I noticed the ‘fine print’: 10 gallon minimum. My gas tank only holds 10 gallons so I was out of luck. The only way I could ever get the free soda was if I ran out of gas, pushed my car to the Casey’s and then filled my tank with gas.

  The gas pump at Casey’s didn’t give me my receipt, so I had to go in to the store to have them print it up. Since I had to go in and wasn’t getting a free soda, I decided to get a coffee using my refill cup (75 cents instead of a dollar and a quarter) while I got my receipt. There was only one person in line. He was a fat guy with a pair of overalls covering his dirty Iowa Hawkeye sweater and was getting a can of chewing tobacco. My coffee cup had a half cup of frozen coffee in it so I had to go into the men’s room to put some hot water in the cup and scrape the icy coffee out of my cup with my pocket knife. It only took a minute and I had my coffee poured and was ready to pay, but the fat guy was still at the counter talking to the clerk (who was missing more than a few teeth). He was asking about whether there was a fire yesterday by Gilman since he saw ‘2 fire trucks going down the road’ (I guess there is only 1 road in Gilman, Iowa). The clerk didn’t know but decided to go the extra mile in the name of customer service and asked the person working in the kitchen making the donuts and sausage biscuits if there was a fire in Gilman yesterday. The kitchen worker didn’t know and I was relieved that no one had a cell phone handy to call any of their friends to find out about the alleged fire (It may have been in the paper, but they were probably too shy to ask me to read it to them).

  Eventually the conversation wound down and the fat guy paid for his chewing tobacco. He reached into his overall pocket for the change and pulled out a handful of change, corn, and soybeans. He laid it all on the counter, separated the change from the corn and soybeans, paid the clerk, scooped up the corn and soybeans, put them back into his pocket, and left. I asked for my receipt, paid my 75 cents for the coffee, and was back outside 30 seconds later.

  When I got back outside, my car was blocked from going forward by another farmer in a giant truck getting gas in the pump in front of mine. The farmer could easily put 10 gallons of gas in his truck in order to get a free soda. The truck was parked at an angle so I couldn’t get around him, but had to back out and go around all the pumps to be on my way. At that point it was 7:00, 15 minutes after I pulled in.

And how did your day start?

Not only did this big truck block me from driving away, he probably got the free soda with his giant gas tank. I'll just look on the bright side, maybe he'll choke on it...

Monday, November 29, 2010

The Heat is On

  The NBA season is almost a quarter of the way done and it looks like the 1973 Philadelphia 76ers record-low of 9 wins is safe for another year since every team has at least 3 wins and are well behind the pace. At the other end of the scale, only the San Antonio Spurs are close to the 1996 Chicago Bulls top record of 72 wins against 10 losses. The Spurs are currently 1 game behind the pace at 14-2, but I can’t see them keeping up the pace, given the age of their best players.

  The big surprise in pro basketball this year is the star-studded Miami Heat’s pedestrian record of 9 wins and 8 losses. When superstars LeBron James and Chris Bosh joined Dwyane Wade in Miami, their fans celebrated as if the championship was already theirs and many of the basketball pundits were all but conceding multiple championships. I thought that if the Heat had gotten off to a fast start, they would have the confidence needed to win the championship (See my prediction here), but they have been set back by injuries and the weight of high expectations.

  I’ve gotten to see the Heat a few times on TV and it seems to me that the other championship contenders playing against the Heat with an effort level that is normally given to a hated rival or a defending champion. The Heat don’t have a top-notch center (Bosh is more of a power forward) or a point guard. Championship contending teams generally have at least one of those components and most championship teams have both. The Heat team seems designed to have Bosh do the rebounding while James and Wade do the scoring, but I think the team does better when Bosh is the top scorer, pulling the opposing teams big men away from the basket so Wade and James can penetrate and score. This is how the great Knick teams of the early 70's played with undersized 'big men' Willis Reed and Dave Debusschere, who would shoot from the outside while guards Walt Frazier and Earl Monroe scored close to the basket.

  There have been rumors about the Heat complaining about their young coach Erik Spoelstra. Even an accidental bump by LeBron James is interpreted as disapproval of their coach. Spoelstra is a good coach, but if the slow start is not his fault, then it would be the fault of the players and that probably won’t be allowed. I think Spoelstra keeps his job for the year since I don’t see 67 year old GM Pat Rielly taking over the coaching duties like he did 5 years ago when the Heat won a championship with Shaquile O’Neill, Wade, and a bunch of cast offs. If the Heat don’t win the championship this year, Rielly will steal a championship coach from another franchise and try again next year. The Heat's season is still a candidate for redemption. Basketball, like most sports is a game of confidence and as soon as the Heat string a few wins together, November's turmoil will be a distant memory.

  President Obama is also feeling the heat, but I think he is bringing more on himself. With the Democrats having lost control of congress to the (at the moment) budget-minded Republicans, Obama is trying to get ahead of the deficit debate by proposing a 2-year freeze on government employees salaries. In a country where 60 million people collect Social Security and 40 million more are getting food stamps, Obama would be better off letting the Republicans make the enemies by deciding what spending to cut, rather than ticking off a group of people who would otherwise be in his corner. He could still look fiscally responsible by proposing to freeze the salaries of just the employees making over $125,000, which would dovetail nicely with his wanting to let the 2001 tax cuts for families making over $250,000 expire. I don’t know how many 10 or 20 dollar an hour jobs the governments really has, but it looks bad to be trying to cut off the raises of those people just to make a point. And even worse, since President Obama can only propose the pay freeze and not enforce it, he is allowing the Republicans to pose as the 'friend of the working people' by not letting the 'mean' president have his way.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Flying, body scans, and pat-downs

  I never liked flying even before 9-11. Maybe I don’t like flying because I never was on a plane until the ripe old age of 25. There is something about flying over water that gets me especially sick to my stomach.

  Most of my plane trips were to visit relatives and involved travel to and from Florida, Iowa, and New Jersey. They mostly went smoothly, but I’d rather spend an extra day and drive to where I want to go. When the company I worked for in Des Moines was purchased by a company from Indianapolis, I had to fly there around every 2 months. There was no direct flight so I’d end up having to connect through St. Louis or Minneapolis or Detroit. A flight to St. Louis was delayed when it was discovered that there wasn’t enough fuel loaded on the plane to get us there. I still made the connecting flight when it was also delayed because they were waiting on a part. They didn’t say what part, but I’m glad it wasn’t the part that told you there wasn’t enough fuel on the plane to arrive at the destination.

  After 9-11, the security was a lot more stringent. I had to take off my shoes a few times, my son’s backpack got searched in the back room once, but nothing more than that. My good friend and mentor Dale Steiger once complained to me how he was patted down at the airport. Dale was wondering what the point was of patting down an 80 year old man. I told Dale that if word go out that old men weren’t being patted down, there would be a lot of terrorists buying canes and white wigs.

  After a terrorist managed to board a plane last Christmas with explosives in his underwear, government authorities have frantically working on a way to prevent terrorists from smuggling concealed explosives into planes. The latest effort is the ‘full-body scanner’, which seems to work a lot like the x-ray specs that were advertised inside comic books when I was a kid (samples here). Some people are complaining about being seen by airport personnel in a ‘naked’ state or are worried about the levels of radiation from the scanners and may ‘opt-out’ of the scan. If they do, they are subjected to a full body search which will require security agents to do a pat-down of the traveler including the ‘crotch and chest’. This takes 4 minutes or longer as opposed to the 10 seconds for a randomly chosen body scan.

I could never afford the X-ray Specs, but now I could just get a job as an airport screener. The only down side is I'd have to look at EVERYONE.

  A protest movement has now erupted to protest the full body scans and searches, citing personal privacy issues. They tried to get travelers to refuse the body scan in order to cause long delays at the airports. The apparent thinking behind this protest is that by delaying the boarding of the flights, the authorities will suspend both the full body scans and the full body searches.

  Of course this protest failed to cause any meaningful delays since no one wants to be delayed any more that they have to when they are traveling. The only way a protest like this would have a chance of succeeding is if someone would bankroll large numbers of airplane tickets for the protesters who could insist on their pat-down, leave the terminal, and reenter for another pat down.

  Perhaps the protesters should put the free market system to work and start their own airlines with no pat downs or scans. It would be very popular with supporters of ‘personal freedom’. I hope they have a lot of replacement airplanes because they will be very popular with the ‘Harry the Human Bomb’ crowd also.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Finishing strong

  The St. Francis chess club held our second parochial school tournament yesterday at the St. Francis cafeteria. We had 16 players, down from 25 at the initial tournament 3 weeks ago. The parochial school basketball season has started and for most young boys, chess is going to take second place to football, basketball, and baseball, but that also means that the players who came were the ones for who chess comes first. The lesser numbers gave me a good chance to have a lot of 1 on 1 time with the parents and everyone had a great time. St. Francis head chess coach Jim Mona bought participation medals for all the kids and no one left empty-handed. Hopefully, I can retain some of these kids for the beginner section of my open tournaments.

The 'gang of 16' chess players.
They had a great time and played some good chess.

  One of my second grade charges, Nate, had a rough patch yesterday. He finished second in the last tournament, but yesterday he only got one draw out of 3 games. In his first game, he played the player who finished first last time and had 2 rooks, a bishop, and a queen against his opponent’s queen, but he wouldn’t trade queens even though it should have been an easy win. He then proceeded to get frustrated and lost his queen, the rest of his pieces, and the game. In Nate’s next game, he was a queen ahead, but forgot to castle, got his pieces all jammed up around his king, and got checkmated by his opponent’s knight move. In his last game, Nate had a king, queen, and bishop against his opponents lone king, but left his opponent without any legal moves and the game by rule is a stalemate and a draw.

  I had previously worked with Nate on checkmating with a lone queen, but after Thanksgiving we’ll go over the how’s and why’s of winning a game a queen or more ahead. I told him after the tournament, that he could have won all 3 games and he played very well, but he was discouraged and frustrated and I hope I haven’t lost him as a tournament chess player. As a teacher, I spend so much time showing how to play correctly so they will get a winning advantage that I neglected to work on converting the advantage.

If more kids spent an afternoon or 2 playing chess instead of mindlessly watching TV, the nation's education system would be a lot better off.

  When I got home, I was able to watch another example of not finishing strong when I saw the Iowa Hawkeyes play the Buckeyes of Ohio State University. The Hawkeyes had high hopes going into the season. They won the Orange Bowl last year and most of their best players were returning for another season. Even the schedule seemed to be in their favor with home games against their main conference rivals, including the Buckeyes. Sadly, the Hawkeyes have lost 3 games all in the same fashion. With the score tied or the Hawkeyes clinging to a slim lead, the opponents drove the ball the length of the field for a go-ahead touchdown with enough time left for the Hawkeyes for a chance to mount their own last ditch attempt to win the game. And in each of the 3 games, the Hawkeyes’ offense failed to score and the team lost.

  Yesterday’s game was no exception. The Hawkeyes led 17-13 and the Buckeyes were facing a 4th down and 10 yards to go and less than 3 minutes to go in the game. Ohio State quarterback Terelle Pryor dropped back to pass, couldn’t find an open receiver, but managed to scramble for a first down. Predictably, the Hawkeye defense gave up the go-ahead touchdown and the game was lost when the Iowa offense failed to score with a minute left.

  I see a failure to finish strong a lot of times. Many times on the job, a programming assignment will be complete enough to be put into production, but small errors are left in like a misspelled error message or misaligned labels and are never corrected. At some point, a customer gets upset with the company and will point out that you couldn’t even spell an error message correctly. I’ve seen chess tournaments run without an accompanying article to let people know that the tournament was held. No one will make a mental note not to miss the next tournament if they don’t see that a good time was had or the tournament was even held. Then the same organizers will complain about declining attendance. When I did my church’s newsletter, I was continually flabbergasted by groups that would send a notice to publicize an event, but wouldn’t send along a small article (I called it a picture and a paragraph) to let the people who didn’t attend what they missed and also to recognize the people who did attend and thank the people who helped with the event.

  My 2 most disappointing chess losses were due to not finishing strong and expecting the game to win itself. In 2003 at a team tournament, I cost our team a hard earned draw when I not only failed to beat Tim Crouse with a Queen and 2 pawns for Rook and Bishop, I even managed to lose the game. And last year, as soon as I won a piece against Gerald Hawkins, I made 4 awful moves in a row to lose a game I had no business losing. Since my formative years in programming was as a ‘lone wolf’, any mistake big or small would end up coming back to my desk and I learned to write my programs as complete as I could. I don’t know how many annoying phone calls I saved myself with this practice but I wish I had a dime for each one. Sometimes it seems to be the easiest thing in the world to say a project is 'good enough', but I try to remind myself how much time and future effort I'll save by finishing strong. Besides, i don't need any extra proof that I'm not perfect!

  At work, we have a simple 'pick the winner' football pool. Thanks to Peyton Manning's interception, I won all the afternoon games and find myself in a 4 way tie for the lead. I originally picked the Giants for this game, but the Yahoo pool allows you to change your mind until 5 minutes before game time. I figure the other people I'm tied with will pick the Eagles, so I've changed my mind. Hopefully, my change of mind will allow me to finish the pool strong and pocket some $$$.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Jobs by the numbers

  2 months ago I made fun of the I-JOBS program spending $618,618 in a recession to renovate the old Marshalltown Library into a refurbished City Hall, creating a grand total of 10 non-permanent jobs in the process. At the time, I considered this a very poor return on investment, but I was not looking at the big picture. It seems as far as government job creation goes, I-JOBS is a model of efficiency.

  Chairman of the Federal Reserve Board Ben Bernake has been on Capitol Hill defending his newest plan to revive the economy and create jobs by buying 600 BILLION dollars of US Treasury Bonds over the next 8 months. Last year the government spent 700 BILLION dollars in a stimulus program that was supposed to keep the unemployment rate from rising under 8 percent (it is currently at 9.6 percent) and create or save between 3 and 4 million jobs.

  Bernake has claimed that buying 600 BILLION dollars worth of US Treasury Bonds could create 700,000 jobs over the next 2 years. He presumes that buying the bonds will lower interest rates, which will allow individuals and businesses to get loans, which will promote spending, which will create jobs, which will reduce unemployment.

  I’m no economist so maybe that’s why I can’t see how buying a bunch of bonds will create a lot of jobs. Maybe a few jobs will be created for the brokers that sell the bonds, the printers that will print the money to buy the bonds, and then a few more jobs for people who will be washing the cars, mowing the lawns, and cleaning the homes of the lucky brokers and printers.

  I’m not sure how lowering interest rates will help the economy this time. Interest rates are already at an all time low. If people borrow a bunch of money to buy TV’s and computers that aren’t made here, the only money that will stay here is the commission that the salespeople get. I’d like to see the government give money to US manufacturers to produce goods here that can be sold competitively overseas. That is the only way to create jobs in this country that aren’t consumer driven.

  I took out my special calculator with room for big numbers and saw that Bernake’s job creation plan will spend $857,000 for every job he hopes to create. I don’t see why Bernake wants to go through this roundabout process to create all the jobs. Why not find 700,000 working families and give them $43,000 a year for 20 years to not work? Then there would be 700,000 jobs open for the unemployed. We could do this even cheaper by selling raffle tickets to see who would be part of the ‘newly retired’. Not only would the government make money by selling the tickets, there would be extra job creation in convenience stores all over the country selling raffle tickets.

  In any event, the I-JOBS $61,000 per job for the 10 jobs renovating City Hall seems like a real bargain now.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Smoke and mirrors

  No one disputes that cigarettes are dangerous to not only the user’s health, but to anyone who is around the smoke. It used to be OK to smoke at your desk at many of my jobs. At one company, smoking was banned except for a ‘smoking room’. The room was an office in the bowels of the building. It had no furniture, except for chairs lined up against the walls. When you went down there to have a smoke, we would all sit in a circle watching each other smoke, like some sort of AA meeting. At my first job in Iowa, I could smoke at my desk, but after a couple of years the building was smoke free and the smokers would huddle around the lone outside ashtray to smoke, even in the harsh Iowa winters. We visited my father-in-law in South Carolina a few years ago and all the restaurants had cigarette vending machines. We ate at a Cracker Barrel and sat in the smoking section. Since we weren’t smoking, we got a lot of dirty looks from all the smokers around us and I almost bought a pack just to keep one lit in the ashtray at all times, but we managed to get through our meal without any violence.

  The government is always torn between trying to get people not to smoke and spending the tax revenue that smokers contribute. In Iowa, smoking was banned at all public restaurants, but smoking was still allowed at the casinos since the government gets a big cut out of their profits. You can see a carpet of cigarette butts outside any bar in town from where the people hang out to smoke. If only they were gamblers AND alcoholics, they could satisfy all their addictions form the comfort of their gaming table.

  The latest government initiative to keep people from smoking is to replace the little warning about the dangers of smoking with large graphic pictures of corpses, cancer-ravaged mouths, and other disgusting smoking related pictures
(See pictures here). While this initiative will make a lot of bureaucrats feel good, I doubt it will stop anyone from smoking. The dangers of smoking are very well known. If anything, cigarette sales may increase since the new graphic pictures may become collectors items like baseball cards. Some nuns from Baltimore recently sold an old Honus Wagner baseball card for a quarter of a million dollars (story here). Guess where the card came from? Yes, a pack of 1909 cigarettes. If the model for one of the corpses on your next pack of cigarettes turns out to be the next Johnny Depp, you could be a millionaire someday.

  While the government is discouraging smoking by making smokers look at pictures, the city of San Francisco is attempting to discourage kids from eating junk food by preventing fast food restaurants from including toys in meals that are do not meet nutritional guidelines
(Story here) . Presumably, McDonalds and the like will switch to healthy meals in order to continue to lure the kids into the stores with the toys. I think this misses the point that greasy, fat-filled burgers and fries and sugar-filled soda taste better than celery sticks and salt-free crackers, toys or not. There are no toys at the supermarket in the soda aisle, but the kids still want Coke and Pepsi instead of milk or juice. The toys used to serve as an inducement for the parents to get their children a meal, now they are expected and just used by the fast food chains to compete against each other for fast food loyalty. I can’t imagine the ban on toys getting past a court challenge. Even if the US courts uphold the ban, the World Trade Organization may rule that the ban on cheap plastic toys isn’t allowed due to the negative impact on the Far East countries that produce them. Maybe San Francisco can take a page out of the government’s book and put pictures of obese kids on the meal bags and toy wrappers.

  I'd like to see the government ban smoking and fast food. There are benefits beyond the improved health of the nation. Which would you rather see smuggled illegally into the country, cocaine and methamphetamines or Marlboros and Big Macs?

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Trick plays and playing tricky

  Back in the day when I played baseball and fast pitch softball, my favorite ‘trick play’ when I was pitching or catching was to try to strike out a batter early in the game using the slowest pitch possible. The batter would look silly swinging at a pitch that hadn’t even gotten to the plate yet, and most of the other players would make sure that they didn’t look silly also. They would wait for the slow pitch so they could hammer it, but instead would get a steady diet of fast balls that they weren’t ready for, with a few slow balls that were way outside or in the dirt so they couldn’t hit them. When it worked, either I or my pitcher had an easy game to pitch, my opponents hated me, and my teammates thought I was really smart.

  Last Saturday, the Iowa State Cyclones football team was battling the Nebraska Cornhuskers in Ames. It was a close contest and when the score was tied at the end of the final quarter, the 2 teams played an overtime session where each side takes turns trying to score from the 25 yard line. After each side has a chance to score, if the score is still tied another overtime session is played. The Cornhuskers got the ball first in overtime and scored in a touchdown in 2 plays. They kicked the extra point and were ahead by 7 points. If the Cyclones didn’t score a touchdown on their turn, they would lose, but the Cyclones got a touchdown in 3 plays and lined up for the extra point to tie the game.

  Instead of taking the almost sure extra point by kicking, Cyclone coach Paul Rhoads called a trick play. Instead of holding the ball on the ground for the kicker, Cyclone holder Daniel Kuehl stood up and threw a pass into a 25 mile an hour wind towards an open receiver in the end zone. If the pass was complete, the Cyclones would get 2 points and win the game. Sadly, the wind kept the football from reaching its target and it was caught by a Nebraska player and the Cyclone lost by a point instead of winning by a point or even being tied and playing another overtime session.

Rhoads has been almost universally acclaimed for having the guts to make the decision to stake winning or losing the game on one play. This surprised me since I’ve always noticed that the admiration or ridicule the coach receives for a trick play is almost always proportional to the success of the play. Wisconsin coach Bret Bielema’s manhood was nationally celebrated after he called for a successful fake punt late in a game against the Iowa Hawkeyes that gave his team a chance to win the game (the team capitalized on the chance and won the game in the last 2 minutes). This came a week after Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio pulled off the same trick play in a come from behind win against Northwestern. Last month Dantonio pulled off a successful fake field goal in overtime against Notre Dame.

  I think there were a lot of differences between Rhoads trick play and the ones pulled off by Dantonio and Bielema. For starters, the successful fake punts were called in fairly desperate situations where a failed play would have just hastened an almost sure defeat. Dantonio’s overtime fake field goal call was on a problematic 45 yard attempt, not a fairly sure extra point. I’m sure Rhoads wouldn’t have made the call unless he thought it was going to work, but if I was going to stake the entire game on one play, I’d just as soon have my offense on the field to try to win it instead of relying on trickery.

  Another factor to be considered when going for broke on a trick play is that it is quickly forgotten if it doesn’t work. In a month, no one outside of Ames, Iowa will be talking about the Cyclones failed attempt to beat the Cornhuskers, but if it had worked, it would be celebrated for years to come.

  Two years ago, the NFL’s favorite trick play was to call a timeout just before the opposing team would snap the ball for a game winning field goal. If the time out was called at the right moment, the officials would signal the timeout after the kick was attempted. The kick wouldn’t count and if the kicker made the first kick but missed the second one, the coach was celebrated for his gamesmanship (if not his sportsmanship). If the kicker made both kicks, he would be feted for his fortitude. Eventually, a coach called the time out, but the kicker missed the kick, and then made the second kick. The coach was lambasted as a poor sport that finally got his comeuppance and this trick has been rarely used since.

  Occasionally I would try my 'trick play' on a player who was ready for it. Once I caught the ball with my face. My opponents laughed and snickered while my teammates told me I should have known better. My face was even redder than the blood gushing out of my busted lip. I wasn't so smart that day, but I still remember the look on some of the players faces after they swung and missed at the slowest pitch they'd ever seen and then caught the smirky smile on my face that informed them they'd been had.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Just Like Starting Over

  Last Saturday (October 30th), I ran my first tournament in Des Moines in over 2 years. Part of my assignment as the chess coach at St. Francis is to run 2 chess tournament at the St. Francis cafeteria that are open only to the students of the area parochial schools. I’d rather have tournaments that are open to all, but the Church is protective of their facilities and most of the parents don’t know me very well yet so this is a good proving ground.

Here's some happy prize winners.

  There were 25 players representing 5 schools at the tournament. My fellow St. Francis instructor Bill Broich helped me with the tournament, and he was a big help because while most of the kids in grades K-2 could play the beginning and middle of the game well enough, but when one kid would win all his opponents pieces, they wouldn’t know how to make a checkmate and the other kid would just keep moving into check, so Bill or I would have to babysit until the player with all the pieces eventually left his opponent with no legal moves and the game would be a stalemate or tie game. It was OK because as soon as the game was over, I could go over how to make the checkmate with the kids and parents, so everyone learned something.

  I had a good time hanging out with the kids and since the St. Francis chess club provided the trophies, I am going to be able to use the entry fees to rent a facility for the times that the St. Francis facility isn’t available for my open youth tournaments. I was surprised to see that many of the kids are members of the national chess federation, so they will be able to play in the open tournaments. Most of the kids aren’t ready for real tournament chess, but that won’t be an issue since I’ll be having companion beginner tournaments to help them get up to speed. There is nothing more discouraging to a beginning chess player than to meet kids their age that they can’t compete against, but the beginner tournaments tend to level the playing field.

  The best part of the tournament for me was when everything was put away and I was hanging out with some of the kids whose parents hadn’t come to pick them up yet. We had a great impromptu chess lesson where I played one of the kids while another wrote down the moves and then we would replay the game. We played 3 games which I won by getting more pieces out than my opponent, getting my king to safety, and then attacking the opposing king with the pieces I had developed while their defense was hampered by the fact that their pieces hadn’t moved and were unable to defend the king. In each game, the kids understood more and more about developing their pieces and I felt we connected with some one-on-one time. I wish I could give that kind of attention during the Friday classes, but with 35 kids, there is a bit more babysitting even with 3 instructors.

Intense concentration under some watchful eyes.

  My first open youth tournament is over 2 months away and I’m already wondering what kind of numbers I’ll get. Most of the Catholic School kids in Des Moines are kept busy on Saturdays with whatever sport is in season and their attendance can’t be taken for granted. My free tournament in Marshalltown drew 30 players. By comparison, a 2-day tournament in Ames drew 26 players who paid $30 to $50 each in entry fees. Of course there was a $1000 prize fund with $750 guaranteed. Last weekend’s Iowa State Chess Association (IASCA) Grades tournament in Williamsburg drew 84 players. The 2 Grades tournament I ran in Des Moines drew 111 and 131 and the 3 tournaments in Williamsburg have drawn 141,102, and now 84. Hopefully these numbers are more due to a decline in the enthusiasm for IASCA scholastics than a decline in the enthusiasm of scholastic chess players for chess. I’m just starting the publicity this week for the tournament. I’m budgeting for 25 players but I may just roll lucky 7's and get up to 50.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Texas Sports Teams and Democrats

  If you don’t like Democrats or Texas sport teams, this has been a banner couple of weeks. I only recently discovered my dislike of all things relating to Texas sports teams, when I was abused on facebook by a Texas Rangers fan. Since then I’ve gotten to watch the Texas Rangers lose the World Series in front of their cheering Texas fans and the mighty Texas Longhorns lose at home to long time punching bag schools Iowa State and Baylor. I know that Baylor University is in Texas, but not many people identify the Baylor Bears with Texas and besides, Texas University probably pays their players more than the coaching staffs at Iowa State and Baylor combined. But it got even better when the New York football Giants not only beat the Dallas Cowboys in their billion dollar stadium, they broke Dallas quarterback Tony Romo’s collarbone in the process. The Cowboys then proceeded to lose to the Jacksonville Jaguars at home this past Sunday to secure the second worst record in the entire National Football League. As a Giants fan, I’ve always hated the Cowboys but used to respect their machine like efficiency under Tom Landry in the 70’s and the brilliant and gutsy running of Emmitt Smith in the 90’s. Since then, except for the few years when ex-Giant coach Bill Parcells assembled a real team, they have been a laughing stock and few things amuse me more that watching Cowboy owner and GM Jerry Jones prance, grimace, and groan on the sidelines or his luxury box while his team of high priced celebrity players lose yet another game. The only silver lining in the Cowboys dark cloud is that they will probably win some games with their backup quarterback and realize that Tony Romo is not someone who can lead a team to a championship. He might have grown into that if Parcells had stayed on, but once he left Romo became a tabloid superstar without earning it on the field of play. In any event, it has been a fun couple of weeks to be a Texas un-fan.

  The Democrats took it on the chin in the election this week, losing control of the House of Representatives and many state Legislatures. In 2008, the Democrats were able to use the rampant dissatisfaction with President W. Bush to gain the Presidency and huge majorities in Congress, but 2 years later, they found themselves blamed for many of the same problems.

  I think the big winner of these elections is President Obama. Without a Democratic majority in Congress, he won’t be pressured by his base to follow a too-liberal agenda and now he can throw some of the blame for the nation’s problems on the same Republican shoulders that have just claimed power. Instead of being skewered for not doing enough to advance the cause of gay rights or illegal immigrants or abortion or ... no matter what he actually accomplishes, he will now get credit for any small thing that does manage to get done. Just as voters forgot how much they wanted Democrats to be in charge in 2006 and 2008, they forgot how hated the Republicans were in those years, but they will soon remember. Also, now that Obama has been seemingly weakened, there will be Republicans crawling out of the woodwork to try to gain the nomination to run against him for President in 2012. They will be bashing each other so much that whoever does get the nomination will either be severely weakened by partisan attacks or a fringe candidate with a small energetic base that won’t be able to gain the votes of the middle-of-the road majority. The currents odds on Obama’s reelection is 4/5 (bet 5 to win 9). If I can ever get to Las Vegas, I’ll make the bet in a heartbeat. It is an even surer thing than it was a week ago.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Cut out the election middleman

  Elections always interest me and this year’s is no exception. Who would have thought that 2 years after the Democrats won the Presidency, House and a filibuster-proof majority in the Senate, the Republicans are looking to win control of the House back and may even win the Senate back?

  Some of the anger against the Democrats is frustration about the economy, but there is also a lot of buyer’s remorse about the bailout, stimulus, and health care bills. Unemployment is over 9.5% even though the stimulus package was supposed to keep it down to 8%. The bank bailouts have led to record profits for banks but people are finding it harder and harder to get loans. And there are still plenty of troops in Iraq and Afghanistan, Iran is producing Uranium, and even exporting their nuclear technology to other countries.

  These are all things to be concerned about, but the Democrats have done almost everything they said they were going to do 2 years ago. Their main problem is that the casual voters who put them in power expected instant fixes like the last 15 minutes of a detective or doctor TV show and since the resolutions to our country’s problems aren’t that easily solved, these same casual voters will move on to the next batch of ideas that have ‘quick-fix’ potential.

  There has been an incredible amount of money spent on campaign ads this year in Iowa. I couldn’t even get away from the election advertisements by watching football this weekend. The only positive campaign ads I’ve seen are from Senator Chuck Grassley, whose reelection is a foregone conclusion.

  Living in Marshalltown, I get to see the ads from both the Des Moines and Cedar Rapids media outlets. I’ve seen a lot of pre packaged ads against members of the Iowa Legislature where the incumbent Democrat’s face is shown with President Obama and Nancy Pelosi (mentioning their support for ‘Obamacare’), then noting the incumbent’s vote for the biggest budget in Iowa history, and then pointing out how they voted to cut money for education while voting for ‘heated sidewalks’ (The heated sidewalks were for a pilot project in an Iowa town for a downtown revitalization and were scrapped from the project). The ads conclude by showing me one more look at the face and name of the scoundrel who is wasting my tax dollars and telling me ‘xxx. Wrong for Iowa. Wrong for Us!”. There are 2 different versions of this ads, with a different incumbent pasted into the candidate’s role. The fast food attack ads are a pretty good idea, but with winter fast approaching, I sort of like the idea of heated sidewalks. We wouldn’t have to shovel snow and could save a lot of money and fuel by cutting out the visits to the doctors for shoveling related industries.

  I think the country’s economic problems would be solved if we would have elections every 6 months or maybe even quicker. But why should the newspapers, TV and radio stations, and advertising companies get all this money? After all, aren’t the candidates paying all this money to get our votes? In 2008, Max Sanders faced charges when he tried to put his vote for bidding on eBay, but this is old thinking and I am ready for a change I can believe in.

  I say we should cut out the middle man and allow the candidates buy our votes directly. We could sell our vote early or see if the election is close and we can get a better price. Of course, there is the risk that a blowout would make out vote worthless, but how much would a 2000 Florida presidential vote have been worth? This could be a true celebration of our capitalist system. It would only be a matter of time before the people of China, Iran, etc... revolt over the right to be able to sell their votes also.

  Until that happy day comes, if my blog happens to display the ‘DON’T LET SARAH PALIN WIN’ ad, please be sure to click on it. It is the best paying ad I’ve ever had shown on my blog and I only have 2 more days to cash in. Proceeds willl go to the 'HAHSF (Hank Anzis heated sidewalk fund)'. Thank you!