About webnerbob

A Cleveland and Ohio State sports fan who lives in Columbus, Ohio

First Fire Pit Of Spring

Finally! It’s warm enough and dry enough to enjoy the first fire pit of the spring!

Time to listen to Derek and the Dominos’ Key to the Highway, smoke a big cigar, drink an adult beverage, check the scores on the CBJ game, and hope that spring is here to stay.

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The Bee On The Window

For the entire afternoon today, a bee kept walking up the window above the desk in my office.  The bee would start at the bottom of the window and march up to the top, flapping its wings, and then inevitably tumble down to the bottom of the window — there to start all over again.

I don’t know how many times it happened.  20?  40?  100?  But the bee was a study in single-minded determination, and nothing was going to stop him from getting to the top of the window, for whatever his bee-related purpose might have been.

I was tempted to try to open the window to try to shoo the obsessed bee out, but (1) the interior seal on my window is broken, which is why it looks like it hasn’t been washed since the Carter Administration, and I’m not sure the window actually opens, (2) it’s difficult to get to the window because of the way my desk is set up in the office, and (3) we’re talking about a bee and a potential stinging incident, for crying out loud.  I may be interested in helping a fellow creature, but I’m not going to risk getting stung by some potentially deranged bee in the bargain.  So I let the bee go on his merry, Sisyphean way.

After seeing the bee fall repeatedly, and get up and dust himself off and start on his upward journey again, I thought the bee on the window was a pretty good metaphor for life and work.  Some days, we’re just a bee on a window.

Living In The Matrix

I thought The Matrix was a terrific movie.  I like the sequel, too.  (The last film in the trilogy, eh, not so much.)

But I had no idea that reputable scientists were seriously considering the central premise of The Matrix — that what we think of as the real world is in fact a huge computer simulation run by machines and designed and policed to enslave humanity.  In fact, a scientist named Rizwan Virk has written a book, entitled The Simulation Hypothesis, about that possibility.

matrix_inThe Matrix concept is gaining traction for several reasons.  One is that computer technology, and games-playing technology, apparently is developing to the point where sophisticated multi-player, on-line games are routine and it’s becoming harder and harder to distinguish reality from simulation.  (I say “apparently” because I’m not a gamer — that is, unless I’m really trapped in a computer simulation and playing, unwittingly, just by living my life.)  If our technology is developing in that direction, the argument goes, isn’t it possible that we are living in a more advanced simulation created by more advanced computer system developed by a more advanced civilization?

And there’s also a weird statistical argument for the simulation hypothesis that goes like this:  once a civilization creates computers that are powerful enough to create plausible simulations for millions or billions of players, it’s comparatively easy to create entirely new, realistic settings for entirely new simulated players that are all artificial intelligence.  Crossing that technological-capability threshold means that trillions of AI creations could be living in games — making it statistically likely that you’re an AI creation rather than a flesh-and-blood being.

And here’s an even weirder concept:  if we’re all players in a video game, maybe our scores are being kept somewhere for some purpose that we don’t quite know yet, and won’t know until our own experience in the simulation ends.  It would help to know the rules of the game, wouldn’t it?

Are we living in a simulation?  I don’t see how you can prove or disprove that, from our perspective as potential players in an ultra-advanced game created by an ancient alien civilization.  But I do know this:  if that is our reality, I’m glad the programmers have finally allowed the weather to warm up a bit.

Let’s Go, CBJ!

The National Hockey League playoffs are underway.  The Columbus Blue Jackets had an up-and-down season and were one of the last teams to clinch a playoff spot.  Their reward was to draw the mighty Tampa Bay Lightning in the first round.  The Lightning had a record-setting season that saw them lose only 16 games, and in their playoff match-up with the CBJ they are prohibitive favorites.

hi-res-51cdc32831e0d855c06d86564e0f71ab_crop_northPlaying at home in the first game of the playoff series last night, the Lightning jumped out to a 3-0 first period lead, making the prognostications of a four-game sweep look solid.  But somehow, goalie Sergei Bobrovsky made some improbable saves, the Blue Jackets kept their poise and started chipping away at the lead, and thanks to a three-goal third period and a last-minute power play score the CBJ — improbably — pulled out a victory on the road.

One road victory does not a series win make — as the Jackets learned last year, even two road wins doesn’t do that — but last night’s win allows CBJ fans to dream of an upset and has to give the team a shot of confidence.  Speaking for the city of Columbus, it would be nice to see the Blue Jackets, who have never won a playoff series in their history, advance to the second round.  For now, though, we’ll just settle for the general aura of good feeling that descends upon a town when its team gets a big win.  I expect there will be a lot of happy faces around downtown Columbus today.

Teaching Your Kids About Personal Finances

April is “National Financial Literacy Month” in the United States.  In 2003, the U.S. Senate passed a resolution declaring April Financial Literacy for Youth Month, and in 2004 the Senate — apparently concluding that a wider audience should be getting that message — broadened the concept to National Financial Literacy Month.  The underlying concept is to use April to teach Americans how to establish and maintain healthy financial habits.

1057a15b2bc0402Like so many well-intentioned Senate resolutions, Financial Literacy Month hasn’t exactly worked out as planned.  April is a good choice — the month where Americans settle up and pay their federal, state, and local taxes is bound to make people focus on their finances — but the statistics and surveys show that Americans, on average, don’t manage their finances very prudently.  They don’t save for retirement, they have too much debt and use too much of their disposable income paying interest on that debt, they don’t live on a budget, and they haven’t put anything away into a “rainy day fund” to allow them to deal with an unexpected crisis.

When it comes to financial literacy, most Americans are still in the pre-school stage.

Recently I ran across an interesting article on how to teach your kids about financial literacy.  The article identifies five “life lessons” that can help to put children on the road to financial self-reliance.  The very first lesson is giving your kids an allowance, earned in part by doing chores around the house, rather than being given money or a credit card whenever they ask.  That basic concept reinforces two important adulthood realities — money has to be earned, and it’s a finite resource that doesn’t appear by magic and needs to be spent with care.  Other lessons include having your child save for a big purchase, getting a first job, going to college, and moving out — all of which have their own, important personal financial elements that will help to give your offspring a solid base on which to address their own lives as independent adults.

These are good lessons, to be sure, but I think that perhaps the most important lesson is what a child learns by observing her parents and other adult family members.  Do they behave responsibly?  Do they have jobs?  At the end of the month, are they fighting about money or fretting about how they are going to pay the bills?  Do they talk about finances at home, and discuss whether to buy a new car or use the money for some other purpose?  Have they established a college savings account or taken other long-term savings steps?  All of these are ways of conveying a crucial message:  people do have some measure of control over their personal finances, they can make choices, and financial matters aren’t something to be discussed in secret but rather are part of the backbone of any family.

Some of us, myself included, were fortunate to have had good family role models that taught us, by how they lived their lives, about the importance of hard work, saving, and investing.  They didn’t need a Senate resolution to tell them that setting a good financial example would help their children and grandchildren to live responsibly and within their means.

Pooling The Game

Well, the NCAA Tournament is over, and your annual foray into gambling with your officemates has ended — in abject failure, as usual.  You’re feeling a bit wistful about it.  In fact, you acknowledge, you don’t really care all that much about the money element of the office pool — it’s the social interaction, and the trash talking, and the possibility of getting bragging rights, that’s the real attraction.  It’s been fun following your brackets and talking to your friends about how you’re doing, and you’ll miss that.

hand-of-the-king-pin-replicaSo how about scratching that itch by getting together with your friends and combining the concepts of office NCAA pool, fantasy sports league, and everyone’s favorite big-budget quasi-medieval/sword-and-sorcery/dungeons-and-dragons HBO show?  Except, unlike the NCAA pool where you’re trying to pick winners of basketball games, in this pool you’re trying to select the characters who are most likely to get killed and earn your team valuable points.

Ladies and gentlemen, allow me to introduce you to the Game of Thrones Death Pool.

It’s straightforward.  Identify fellow rabid fans of the show, figure out how many of your pals will be in the pool, and set a time for your draft.  Come up with a list of characters (there’s a lot of them, by the way).  Figure out what you’re going to kick into the kitty and how you’re going to allocate the money — whether it’s after each episode, or at the end of the season, or both.  Decide how many rounds the draft will go.  Prepare a grid that people can use to keep track of who’s drafted whom, and appoint a commissioner — being a Game of Thrones pool, perhaps Archmaester or High Septon is a better title — who will keep track of the scoring, provide a brief recap, and let players draft from the list of remaining (and new) characters to replenish their roster and replace the characters who’ve been killed.

And then get together with your friends, have your draft, and enjoy an adult beverage or three while you’re deciding whether Brienne of Tarth is more likely to get knocked off early in the season than, say, Varys or The Mountain.  There’s some strategy and skill involved, because even if you’re reasonably sure that a character is going to get rubbed out at some point — like, for example, Cersei — if you think they’ll last through the first few episodes you might want to hold off on drafting them in favor of a more minor character that could easily meet their maker in an earlier episode.

We had our Game of Thrones Death Pool draft last night, and it was a lot of fun.  We each are kicking in $45, points and money will be allocated after each episode and at the end of the season, and the ultimate winner will get an authentic knock-off Hand of the King pin purchased from Amazon.  There were five of us, and we had five rounds in the draft.  I drafted second and am pretty happy with my team, which consists of Melisandre, Qyburn, Baric Dondarrion, Yohn Royce, and Gilly.

Let the GOT Death Pool begin!

The Random Restaurant Tour (XXV)

At any given moment, there’s always a hot restaurant in town.  It’s the place that has gotten some favorable press, that has a certain distinctive buzz about it, that everyone is itching to try.  In Columbus, the restaurants don’t come any hotter than Service Bar, which has been getting great press — including a recent rave from no less than the New York Times.  Last week, Kish and I decided to check it out.

Service Bar is part of Middle West Spirits, located just off Fifth Avenue in the zone between the northern part of the Short North and the southern edge of the Ohio State campus area. It’s in a bright, fresh space, with room for a row of tables, a long common table, a private dining room, and a bar.  The wait staff is terrific — friendly, professional, and knowledgeable.  A fine wait staff is a pretty strong sign of fine dining to come.

When we were deciding on an appetizer, we looked down at the row of tables where we were sitting and every one — without exception — had ordered the “cheesy poofs.”  These are a mound of colossal pork rinds served with pimento cheese spread that you slather on.  Our waiter said they seem to be a favorite for patrons, so we gave them a try.  They were greasy and cheesy and good, but the order was just too much food for the two of us, and we wanted to save room for our entrees.

We both ordered the Mongolian glazed short rib for our entree, and here the meal really hit its stride.  The short rib was meaty and luscious, topped with an interesting assortment of mini cucumber slices and other items, and surrounded by dollops of a delectable sauce.  The challenge was to carefully assemble each forkful to feature meat, the different flavors and textures of the toppings, and a healthy dousing of the sauce, and when you successfully met the challenge the taste combination was incredible.  But to take the whole dish a step further, the meat was accompanied by three “bao knots” — moist, doughy, chewy morsels of bready delight that were a perfect complement to the meat.  I think I could probably eat a thousand bao knots and never think of the words “low carb” again.

After a main course like that, we had to get dessert, and went for the carrot cake with our after-dinner cup of decaf.  The cake was light and delectable, served with a schmeer of meringue, some crunchy items, and a delicately flavored ice cream.  It ended the meal with a bang, and was the kind of dessert where you find yourself surreptitiously scraping the plate multiple times just to get a final taste before you reluctantly allow your server to take it away.

Service Bar lived up to the hype, and then some.