January 31, 2016

Hurry Hard and Get Me Some Ibuprofen

Weeks ago I decided that in preparation for an annual curling event I would do some daily stretches and lunges to prepare myself. You see, contrary to popular opinion curling can be taxing physically, especially if you're out of shape and on the other side of forty - which is the exact situation I'm in. Of course, I did my stretches exactly zero times and after going sledding with my kids on Friday and noticing that I was tired and sore, I realized that I was going be in for a world of hurt the next day at the bonspiel and even more on Sunday.

Ready to play the roaring game! Chess on ice! 

A brief explanation of Curling:

Curling is played on a flat sheet of ice between two teams comprised of four players each filling a particular role. The Lead is the first player to throw rocks. The Second is the second player to go, the Third or Vice goes second to last, and the Skip typically throws last rocks. Each player gets to throw two rocks per end - the teams alternate - and games are typically eight ends for club games and ten ends for professionals and other elite events.

The skip calls the game from the opposite end of the ice and the players not throwing rocks sweep it as it travels down the sheet (this helps the rock travel farther and also affects how much it curls). When it's the Skip's turn to throw, the Vice will go down to the other end of the ice. As such, the Lead and Second end up sweeping for three turns out of four in addition to throwing their own rocks.

Points are awarded to the team with a rock closest to the center of the concentric circles called the "house". A team will score a point for each rock in the house that's closer than the opponent's closest rock to the center (so if you have three rocks closest to the center and the opposing team has the fourth closest rock you will score three).

An end typically takes 15 minutes to play with two hours being a typical eight-end club league match. It is considered good sportsmanship to concede a match before all the ends are played if you feel your team has no chance of winning (the Skip on the team who is behind gets to make that decision, usually with consultation with the rest of the team). It is also customary for the winning team to buy the first round of drinks for the losing team.

Wikipedia has a great explanation of the history and rules of curling. If you're at all interested, I'd recommend reading it.

The Bonspiel:

This was the second year that I played on a team that entered The Elmira Striploin Classic, a one-day, adult men's, three game tournament involving eight teams. All the prizes are meat, with the top two teams winning a six-pack of beer and four striploin steaks. Places three through eight get their choice of an assortment of meats as their prize (the eighth place team usually is left with a package of bacon).

I don't have a regular curling team but we cobbled together four guys that went to university together and spent some time hanging out at the on-campus pub The Bombshelter (affectionately known to students and alumni as "The Bomber"). Our Skip and Vice (Sean and Tony) were provincial junior mixed champions back in the day, our Second (Mike) curls regularly, and I was the Lead as the least experienced player (curled for four years in Ottawa from 2006-2009 then took some time off and curled for one year in 2013). You have to represent a curling club when you register and since we were cobbled together we said we were from the Bombshelter Curling Club.

Playing three games of curling in one day is a bit of a challenge but we were ready in spite of our pre-game team selfie indicating otherwise:

Left to Right:
Andrew "Confused" Butters - Lead
Tony "Smily" Rowlandson - Skip
Mike "Surly" Venhuis - Second
Sean "Skeptical" Follis - Vice 
I decided I would wear my Samsung Gear smartwatch and use the pedometer feature as well as the wrist camera to get a few photos. The day started out playing against a team skipped by a gentleman named Franco and the first end finished with a couple rocks near the button (the center of the house) that needed a measurement! In the end, we were up 1-0 after one.

Vice Sean measures at the completion of the first end

We held our own against Franco's much more experienced team but after a few ends our team suffered a bad break with our Skip's last rock picking (that's where the rock picks up a bit of debris or dirt on the ice and deviates drastically off course as a result). What would have been our team scoring two resulted in Franco's team scoring two. With a few ends to go, we were down by four points instead of being tied and things were looking pretty grim. We had even got to throw what I called the "Happy Little Rock", but it was to no avail and we shook hands after seven ends. The good news is I managed over 4,000 steps and was over 5,000 for the day!

Robert "Bob" Ross donated the money for the handle on this rock

Of course, curling advertising is always a fun distraction when you're at the rink. This gentleman was sporting a t-shirt from a curling broom head company.

It reads: A good head is hard to find (yes, there's a wee little
letter "a" at the top there)
After a couple drinks and a hearty lunch of sandwiches and homemade soup (creamy potato with bacon) we hit the ice again, this time against a group of non-curlers who we also happened to know from our university days. Team Sindall has a short, but storied, history at this tournament of bringing home the bacon. Since we knew the other team and were just there to have a good time we decided that the Leads would Skip this game! The upside was I got to skip and didn't have to sweep and the downside was I had no clue what I was doing and I was going to get a lot fewer steps. It was a lot of fun, and in the end, teams that actually curl (or have curled) regularly tend to win over teams that curl only once a year, regardless of who their Skip is. When it was all said and done, I ended up winning (keeping my undefeated streak as Skip alive at three wins) as Team Sindall shook hands after seven ends.

How to read the scoreboard. We were playing blue rocks, the other team yellow:
In the first end, we got one.
In the second end, they got one.
In the third end we got one (total of two).
In the fourth and fifth ends we got three and two respectively (totalling 5 and then 7).
In the sixth end, they got two (total of three).
In the seventh end, we got three (total of ten).
At the end of the game as I was getting my camera out I fell. Thankfully I didn't hit my head on the ice (as someone with a long history of concussions this would have been really bad). I did, however, manage to wrench my back. As such, I decided to stay away from alcohol for the rest of the night (I was also DD so I needed to be responsible anyway). It was also an opportunity for me to brush up on one of the first rules to remember when curling: never walk backwards on the ice! With the hack and all the rocks and other people around holding brooms, there are myriad opportunities to trip and fall.

We ate dinner (steak, potatoes, salad, pie and ice cream) and I noticed that I was starting to get sore. Not just from the tumble but sore all over from curling. So many aches and pains and still another game to play. Ibuprofen to the rescue. I had the forethought to pack a bottle in my bag and started popping those suckers like candy.

The End Result:

The third game was a close back-and-forth affair for a few ends and then our relative youth seemed to take over and we pulled ahead. After six ends we had amassed a five-point lead and with only two ends remaining the other team decided to shake hands. We finished the day with two wins and one loss (in the first game) and improved our standing in the tournament by one spot by finishing fourth. Our prize, a five pack of pork chops.

Pork, the one you love.

After all the games ended and celebratory drinks were consumed I looked down and checked the ol' pedometer. I had a preset goal of 10,000 steps and my little reward medal was proudly displayed on the front of my watch:

Would have cracked 15k if I didn't skip that one game.

My reward for a good long day's activity (aside from free pork)? Everything hurts. I mean everything. My toes on my right foot hurt from pushing out of the hack. My left ankle hurts from sliding. My left leg, hip, and butt cheek hurt from the lunge position while sliding. My shoulders, neck, and arms hurt from sweeping like a crazy person; and my ribs hurt (though that's a product of my poor form sweeping as my broom kept rubbed against them).

Was it worth it? Yes.

Will I do it again next year? Yes.

Will I prepare better for next year? Sure, let's just say that will happen.

For those of you who may not have seen curling before here are two of the best shots I've ever seen. Man, when the planets align and "Plan A" works out the way you want it, it's a beautiful thing:

~ Andrew

January 10, 2016

Who Wants to Be a Billionaire?

It's time to play everyone's favourite game, Who Wants to Be a MBillionaire?

Yes, that's correct. Billionaire. With a "B". Billion. If you're the Koch brothers it might just be enough money to buy an election. It's enough money to give 999 people you know a million dollars and still have a million left for yourself.

It's a lot of money.

Of course, I'm talking about the upcoming Powerball lottery jackpot of $1.3 Billion. That's annuitized, though, which means that you would receive thirty equal payments starting with one this year and then for the next twenty-nine consecutive years. I did the math. The day you cashed in your ticket you would receive a cheque for $43,333,333.33. The last space tourist paid $40,000,000 for a trip to space. This means you could buy a spot on a Russian rocket and spend a week on the International Space Station once a year every year from now until 2044 and still have more than three million dollars a year left over to have some actual fun with, you know, in case a week in space every year isn't rocking your socks.

NASA took this photo

But is it worth it to buy a ticket?

Well, the odds are what the odds are and every draw they're the same, whether you play every week or once every ten years. In the case of Powerball, the odds are astronomical. I don't throw that word around lightly, either. I studied a lot of astrophysics when I was in university, so I understand the concept of astronomical. Time and space are mind-bogglingly huge, and the Powerball odds meet the definition of astronomical. To put it the simplest terms possible, you're not going to win.

But someone is going to win it eventually, right?

Yes. Someone is going to win, eventually, and they will be the luckiest son of a bitch since Billy Joel married Christie Brinkley.

AP Photo/Ron Frehm

I use a bit of simplified poker math to help me make my decision. In poker, there are a couple ratios that you factor in when you're playing: pot odds and pot equity.

Pot odds are easy because you simply figure out how much you put in and compare it to how much you get out if you win. If I need to call a bet of $10 and the pot I'll win is $1000 then my pot odds are 1:100 (winning a hundred times more than I'm betting). In the case of Powerball, you put in $2 and you stand a chance at winning $1,300,000,000. So your "pot odds" are 1:675,000,000. These are great pot odds. Matthew McConaughey would love this much pot.

Now in poker, pot equity gets a little more complicated. It's simply defined as how much you "own" the pot based on the cards you have and the cards that are still available. For the Powerball lottery simple probably math gives us our chances. In every Powerball draw, a single ticket has a 1 in 292,201,338 chance of winning. This is terrible pot equity.

To put that in perspective a lot of people like to use the "hit by lightning" analogy. I prefer to use something a little more personal, so to put this into perspective let me say that your chances of becoming President of the United States (assuming you are actually American and not someone like Ted Cruz) are one in ten million. Which means you are 29 times more likely to hold the Twitter handle @POTUS at some point in your life than you are to win the Powerball lottery.

POTUS on Twitter

Anyhoo... now that you've got your two numbers you can figure out if you should play or not. In poker, this helps determine if you should fold, or chase that card you need for a winning hand. You decide by comparing your pot odds with your pot equity. If your pot odds are better than your pot equity, then go for it.

So, for Powerball, our pot odds are better than our equity (by 3 to 1) and I'll be buying a single ticket (and not holding my breath). It's a small price to pay for a potentially massive return. I treat it as entertainment. It's fun, for however short a time, to have a non-zero chance at winning a billion dollars.

Plus, if you don't play your chances of winning are guaranteed to be zero, and that pot equity is as bad as it gets.

~ Andrew

P.S. I'm Canadian, so I'm going to have to get one of my friends in MA, RI, or CT to buy me a ticket before Wednesday's draw. I'll see you next week when I'm in town and give you 1% of my winnings ;)

January 03, 2016

The Sound of Music - Part 4

Welcome to the fourth installment of the Sound of Music - My Top Five Albums Of All Time. 

Think of this as a "deserted island" list of albums I'd want to have with me if I were stranded and these were the only albums I had on my iPod at the time (assume a solar charger and necessary waterproofing).

As a reminder, I present my main decision-making criteria:
  • Number of songs I like on the album (the fewer songs I skip over, the better)
  • Composition of the album (are the songs arranged in an order I find pleasing?)
  • Memories invoked when I hear a song from the album
  • Emotional impact of the album (how does listening to it make me feel?)

In no particular order thus far we have:

Today we will add a fourth album to the list:

Source: Wikipedia
Released 1973
Track Listing:
  1. "Speak to Me" - (Intro-Instrumental)
  2. "Breathe" (8/10)
  3. "On the Run" (Instrumental, 8/10)
  4. "Time" (8/10)
  5. "The Great Gig in the Sky" ("Instrumental", 9/10)
  6. "Money" (8/10)
  7. "Us and Them" (8/10)
  8. "Any Colour You Like" (Instrumental, 8/10)
  9. "Brain Damage" (9/10)
  10. "Eclipse" (9/10)
While the sixties were a time of peace, love, music, and marijuana (and acid, and whatever else those crazy kids could get their hands on). If they were giving out awards for whose fans were the highest it's no secret that Pink Floyd was likely the first band to hold the title across the Atlantic. With the Grateful Dead having formed around the same time they were leading the way by a country mile in the United States.

The only track I'll skip on this album is the opening instrumental intro. Quite frankly, the composition is nothing short of perfection. Opening with a psychedelic instrumental reminiscent of something Monty Python would have written, the album sets the tone with "Breathe" and then moves seamlessly into an instrumental that finishes with a resounding "boom" before we get a jolt of surprise with the sounding of dozens of alarm clocks in "Time", one of many instances where Floyd makes use of samples to augment their musical stylings. "The Great Gig in the Sky" was the first song where I noticed and really began to understand that a person's voice was an instrument. The woman singing on this track doesn't use a single word from the dictionary as she winds her voice up and down with "ooooohhhhhhh" and "ahhhhhhhhh" and "ooooooooooo" and it's positively hypnotic. "Money" brings more distinctive sound bites and "Us and Them" sits in a natural spot as track seven, leading into another instrumental. The final two tracks, especially when played back to back without interruption, might be the greatest ending of all the albums in my library.

This album cover is probably one of the most iconic pieces of musical artwork ever created. Every kid who has heard of this album has tried to recreate this effect the first time they got their hands on a prism in science class.

For years growing up in Thornhill, I would drive past the "Becker's" convenience store on Aileen Road and there was this big green electrical box with the Dark Side of the Moon album cover spray painted in white on the side. The box has long since been replaced and is now obscured by a collection of overgrown trees but thanks to the fine folks at Google Maps and Microsoft Paint I've been able to recreate the image forever burned into my memory (that graffiti stayed on the side of that electrical box for years):

Aileen Road Electrical Box with Modified Graffiti Courtesy of Andrew

In 1994, I was fortunate enough to see Pink Floyd play at Exhibition Place with a lifelong friend, Jon, as well as a newly formed friend, Riaz (and a bunch of his buddies). As part of their Division Bell tour, Floyd played the entire Dark Side of the Moon album and to this day that remains one of my most memorable live concert performances. 

How does hearing this album make me feel? Nostalgic, calm, peaceful, relaxed, poetic, introspective, and blissful. Which, I suspect, is just what Pink Floyd was going for. 

Hey, since you've read this far if you're looking to learn how to play guitar like one of the greats, I came across this website that gives you some free tips and tricks. They happen to have a section on none other than David Gilmour. Check it out over at Beginner Guitar HQ.

~ Andrew

Coming Soon: 
The fifth addition to round out the list and then a post where I put them in order, explain why, and list a bunch of honourable mentions.