It’s Fun to Say “Walloon” 

Friday, October 10th, 2014

When 5,000 fish go missing from a Flemish lake, your number one suspect should be the Walloons.

Shoppers Gonna Shop 

Thursday, October 9th, 2014

It’s bad when a stabbing takes place in a Philadelphia supermarket. It’s worse when shoppers keep on shopping.

As discussed in episode #9 of Just The Tip, you gotta watch the blood, watch the blood.

Sympathy Emoji

Wednesday, October 8th, 2014

As the emoji character set gains cultural prominence, the world is still navigating its use as a communications medium. Recently, I saw emoji used in response to the passing of a loved one. Some friends messaged simple, encouraging smiley faces (“Keep your chin up! 😃”), while others offered virtual flowers (💐). These digital pictures may not the most appropriate tool for use in conveying sympathy, but I appreciated the gesture nonetheless. However, it certainly would be possible to truly offend with emoji. So, allow me to present:

An Incomplete List of the Least Appropriate Emoji to Send in a Sympathy Text, Which Probably Should Not Be a Thing Anyway, But That’s The Age In Which We Live

  • Skull emoji Skull (💀) – It should be fairly obvious why this is no good.

  • Ghost emoji Ghost (👻) – This emoji is just called “ghost”, but I’ve always thought of it as the happy ghost. He may also be flipping the Double Deuce, and that’ll hurt a guy’s feelings.

  • Astonished Face emoji Astonished Face (😲) and Dizzy Face emoji Dizzy Face (😵) – The double X’ed out eyes, often used to indicate a dead cartoon character, are truly problematic.

  • Face with Tears of Joy emoji Face With Tears of Joy (😹) – “Crying Face” (😢) might be alright to use, and at first glance, this may seem to be an extra sad version of that. However, the name and larger version make it clear that those are actually tears of joy, so this emoji is right out.

  • Crying Cat Face emoji Crying Cat Face (😿) – Even if the aforementioned ”Crying Face“ is OK, adding a cat to the mix just wrecks it.

  • Weary Cat Face emoji Weary Cat Face (🙀) – This cat is even worse. It’s unclear what exactly makes it “weary”. It looks far more like Munch’s “The Scream”, with its depiction of agony. Even so, it’s just not appropriate.

  • Pile of Poo emoji Pile of Poo (💩) – “Pile of Poo” is a tremendously versatile symbol to convey many different things. While it’s functional in many different situations, it’s best left out in these circumstances.

Ultimately, you’ll be best served by using real words to express your condolences. If you must use emoji, however, at least be sure to avoid the worst offenders.

Goodbye Forever 

Tuesday, October 7th, 2014

Elon Musk is perhaps the most fascinating man in tech. He’s working to transform the vehicle markets of Earth with Tesla, makers of electric vehicles. With SpaceX, he’s already changed the game for travel to the stars as well. As NASA has lost its cutting-edge nature, SpaceX has stepped in to fill the void, with dreams of interplanetary travel. Aeon magazine has a fascinating profile on Musk and the future of space travel.

I found this particular view of space colonization to be quite captivating:

Musk told me this first group of settlers will need to pay their own way [to Mars]…My rough guess is that for a half-million dollars, there are enough people that could afford to go and would want to go. But it’s not going to be a vacation jaunt. It’s going to be saving up all your money and selling all your stuff, like when people moved to the early American colonies.’

The idea of visiting Mars is an interesting one. The idea of moving there permanently, as people moved to a new continent just a few hundred years ago, is truly captivating.

Fore! Score, and Then Another 42 Score 

Monday, October 6th, 2014

Recently, four teenagers were arrested for using a golf club to bludgeon 920 chickens to death. There’s no denying that that’s awful. However, it’s also just a ludicrously large number, given the context. It really just seems like a whole lot of work.

Square Cash and the World’s Worst Negotiator

Friday, October 3rd, 2014

By now, you’re likely familiar with Square, the financial services business which has enabled thousands of small businesses to take credit cards via their mobile devices. Last year, the company unveiled a product called Square Cash. It was initially touted as a way to send money via email, but that’s actually a rather minor part of it. The real key to the service is that it’s a free and easy way to send money from one bank account to another, often nearly instantaneously. Think the original vision of PayPal, but faster and friendlier. If you’re an American with a Visa or MasterCard debit card, you can send and receive cash at no charge. It’s great.

In addition to sending money via email, Square Cash offers mobile apps for iOS and Android, and they work quite well. However, the design of the app is…a little wonky. For instance, after you sign up, you can invite your friends to make use of the service as well. The app looks at your contacts and enables you to send them an invitation. All of them. As you can see, the “Select All” option helpfully set me up to text 433 of my closest friends.

Square's Invitation Screen
Invite your barber, your old dentist, and that girl you took out twice 11 years ago.

Admittedly, my address book may be in want of some cleaning out. Still, enabling a user to send a mass text to hundreds of people is perhaps not the best idea. The bad ideas continue, with the send and receive screen. Here, you punch in an amount to send or request. Sending in Square Cash is initially limited to $250 per week, and maxes out at $2500 per week once you’re verified. Nevertheless, you can attempt a request for up to $99,999.99.

Requesting $99,999.99
You can just pay me $250 weekly for the next 400 weeks.

What really cracks me up, however, is the history. The app uses a rather amusing messages-type view to show money being sent and received. For instance, here you can see I’ve really been raking it in with sign-up and referral fees.

Requesting $99,999.99
“The Cash Team” is a cool name.

Where this gets really ridiculous is when money is passed back and forth with a friend. I like to read this as an interaction with the world’s worst negotiator. We begin with an opening price of $905. A very low $200 counter comes in, but before any response arrives, it’s followed by a $2000 bid! Excitement then cools and the proposal is lowered way back down to $250. The seller responds with a $500 offer, and the buyer finally agrees. Whew!

A terrible negotiation
$200. $2000! $250.

Though the app is goofy in multiple ways, Square Cash really is a great way to transfer money between friends and acquaintances. Sign up here and we’ll each earn an entire American dollar, free. If enough people sign up with that referral link, I intend to “make it rain”1 in “da club”2.


Footnotes:

  1. A slang phrase meaning “place the bills”.

  2. Another slang phrase meaning “my wallet”.

Not Funny. Not Clever. Not Excused. 

Thursday, October 2nd, 2014

Last week, two idiots on Fox News said stupid, sexist things about a female fighter pilot from the United Arab Emirates. While offensive and pathetic, it was just the latest in a never-ending series of dumb stories about Fox News, and it was thus not worthy of a link. However, this open letter response from dozens of American pilots and service members surely is.

They Have Not Sold Many Phones, You See 

Wednesday, October 1st, 2014

Last month, there was some big, big news in mobile phones. It seems unlikely that you could have, but just in case you missed it — the Amazon Fire phone is now available for just 99 cents! You read that right, just 99 cents! Amazon announced the price drop in a press release, which also featured quotes from existing Fire phone customers. In fact, given that there are six quotes, they’ve actually got quotes from almost all current Fire phone users.

Purple-Bellied?

Tuesday, September 30th, 2014

In 2011, Jose Reyes pulled himself out of baseball game at the end of a season in order to preserve his league-leading batting average. Prominent baseball writers decried this gutless move, declaring Reyes to be yellow-bellied. This past Sunday, it seemed that cowardly act was being repeated. Astros second baseman Jose Altuve came into the day leading the league with a .340 batting average, and he wasn’t in the starting lineup for the final game of the season.

This time, however, it was not the player himself bowing out. Instead, the Astros brass made the decision to sit Altuve, in the hopes of their organization gaining its first batting title. The desire to secure something to be excited about after yet another lousy season was clearly strong.

Lawless on decision to sit Altuve today: For the organization and for Jose, we thought it was best for him to sit. It gives him a chance to sit back and relax and relish what he's done…He's had more at bats than anyone.
[Tweet Links #1 and #2]

However, Altuve was having none of it. He spoke up and requested that he be allowed to play, so as to earn the batting crown.

Lawless on decision to sit Altuve today: For the organization and for Jose, we thought it was best for him to sit. It gives him a chance to sit back and relax and relish what he's done…He's had more at bats than anyone.
[Tweet Links #1, #2, and #3]

You can’t play the game the right way if you don’t play, and Jose Altuve played the game the right way. He was rewarded for his efforts, going 2-4 to end the season with a league-best .341 average. Take note, Jose Reyes. This is the opposite of yellow-bellied.

Do the Math

Monday, September 29th, 2014

Baseball is a game obsessed with numbers. No other major sport involves nearly so much math. Amateur sabermetricians1 analyze the numbers in attempts to quantify the true value of their favorite players. When not involved in other distractions while attending a baseball game, fans keep score, crunch numbers, and swap statistics. Meanwhile, professional analysts toil for major league clubs, digging through mountains of data in search of a competitive advantage.

Yet for all that, it seems the devotion to math has not found its way to all parts of the sport. The accountants and insurers who run various contests and donations in baseball seem to be using their rear ends as a source of numbers, or worse, not doing the math at all. To continue the tying of loose ends before the playoffs start tomorrow, here’s a quick recap of three statistically-challenged contests seen while watching Red Sox baseball.

Arbella’s Strikeout Donations

During the 2014 season, the Arbella Insurance Foundation pledged to contribute $50 to the Jimmy Fund for every strikeout thrown by a Red Sox pitcher.2 That sounds pretty straightforward, and it is. However, whenever the contest was mentioned on air, a disclaimer always accompanied it. That disclaimer informed viewers that Arbella’s contribution would only go as high as $100,000.

That may sound reasonable. After all, Arbella needs to have a ballpark (sorry) for what their donation will be. What if the Sox pitchers have a stellar year? Arbella needs to put a cap (again, sorry) on their donation to protect themselves, so why not $100,000? Well, statistics and probability are why not. The excellent 2013 Detroit Tigers pitching staff set the high-water mark for strikeouts in a season, and their total was 1428 Ks. At $50 per strikeout, if the Red Sox managed to match that amazing season, it would only total out (still sorry) to a $71,400 donation. And remember, that’s the all-time record! Hitting (I really just can’t help myself) Arbella’s ceiling would require besting the current record by almost 50%. There’s no way that that will ever happen, and no need for that disclaimer.3

Cumberland Farms 99K Grand Slam Contest

The next contest involves pitching as well, but it’s the opposing team’s pitching. In short, if the Red Sox hit a grand slam on the 99th pitch they saw in a game, a $99,999 prize would be awarded local convenience store chain Cumberland Farms. So what’s the problem? First, a single “finalist” was selected at the beginning of each game. Thus, before a single player had stepped into the batter’s box, all but the chosen contestant were already eliminated. Second, a grand slam requires that the bases be loaded prior to that 99th pitch, with a home run hit on the 99th pitch. If the bases are empty at pitch 97, the contest is already over for that day. In fact, if the bases are empty around pitch 90 or so, there’s almost no chance of a grand slam on pitch 99.

There were 92 games scheduled during the contest, and can you believe that not a single person won? Given that only around 100 grand slams are hit per year, I’d be fairly confident in taking a bet that zero grand slams were hit on pitch 99 throughout all of baseball. The contest’s official rules did include a sop to the “lucky” finalists who were selected. If a non-grand slam home run were hit on the 99th pitch, that day’s contestant would receive the so-called “bonus prize”. Rather than $99,999, they would instead receive a paltry $999. No one managed to claim even that prize.

A reading of the official rules showed that the only thing each losing finalist earned was a $30 Cumberland Farms gift card. Lucky for them, the gift card does not expire. Lucky for Cumberland Farms, a contest which could have awarded as much as $9,199,908 ($99,999 times 92 games) actually issued just $2,760 in prizes. That’s quite a savings.

The 2005 Chevy Cobalt Contest

The Cumberland Farms contest echoed another ridiculous contest from years back. Scouring the web revealed only passing mention of it, so I’ll do my best to catalog this 2005 contest here. It was quite similar to the Cumberland Farms contest, though this one focused on the 100th pitch instead. Similarly as well, before each game one contestant was chosen to possibly win, with everyone else out of the running for that day. Luckily, this contest didn’t require that a grand slam be hit on the century pitch. No, no, any old home run on the 100th pitch would do! On the other hand, this contest also only took place on Friday games, which meant there were just 26 chances to win.

Ultimately, this contest might not seem any worse than the Cumberland Farms contest. However, there’s one key difference. Even if the Red Sox clubbed a home run at the right time, that week’s contestant wasn’t actually guaranteed of anything. The prize pool featured just one Chevy Cobalt as a prize, not two, or three, and certainly not 26. That meant that if a home run were hit by the Red Sox, on the 100th pitch, of a Friday game, the single chosen contestant for that day would have their name entered in a drawing at the end of the year, along with any other contestants who happened to have the same lucky confluence of events happen on their chosen day. Phew! If you think that was difficult to read, realize that the announcers had to explain these rules every week!

In fact, Red Sox announcers Don Orsillo and Jerry Remy managed to have great fun mocking the contest while it was going on. They’d lead a count-up to the pitch, only to guffaw when the batter didn’t even lift his bat off his shoulder to take a cut. As the contest dragged on without anything even close to a home run, they speculated that the opposing teams were aware of the contest, and diabolically choosing to throw balls on the 100th pitch. And then some games, they missed the 100th pitch entirely, only realizing several pitches later. As you might be able to guess, not a single home run was ever hit on the 100th pitch, and I assume the Chevy Cobalt was driven off a cliff and into the ocean at the end of the year. The fact that someone set up a complicated process for a drawing amongst people who would have already “won” by having a home run hit on their 100th pitch still makes me chuckle. Can you imagine being a person who, after all that, loses such a drawing and gets nothing?

Wrap Up

I don’t have access to the powerful statistical databases that Major League Baseball keeps, but you can be sure that the people who create (and insure) these contests do. Perhaps they’re foolishly not using that access when they design the contests. Then again, perhaps the more likely scenario is that they’re intentionally creating contests that won’t have any winners. There’s something to ponder in the long, cold off-season.


Footnotes:

  1. Hell, does any other sport even have its own word for the statistical analysis of its data?

  2. I suspect this page will disappear or change, so here’s an image from 2014 for posterity.

  3. Also worth considering is that if the Red Sox did somehow manage to break the impossible 2,000 strikeout limit, Arbella would be able to make great hay using it for publicity.

  4. I suspect this page will also disappear, so again, an image from 2014 for posterity.