Monday, September 14, 2009

Clearing up a loose end.

When I started this blog, I gave it a theme of being about pop-culture, faith, and whatever floats to the top of my head. And for the most part, I've held true to that theme - with one exception. I've not said thing one about faith.

Tonight, that's going to change.

I don't know how many people actually see this blog - my AdSense numbers tell me its a very, ahem, select group, but for even that currently narrow number of folks that might peruse these pages, I need to ensure they know *the* most important thing there is to know about me.

In June of 1989, I gave my life to Jesus Christ, accepting Him as my personal Savior in the quiet corner of a waiting room at Ray's Barber's Shop in southwest Oklahoma City. That barbershop, and the man who ran it, are gone, but the impact of that quiet moment in my life is one I'll never forget.

Speaking of things "religious" makes people feel all "oogy" and uncomfortable. I've realized that I can't let those kinds of things get in the way of my most important purpose.

What does all this "Jesus as Savior" business mean?

It means that I believe Jesus Christ is the incarnate and only Son of God, who came in earthly form as a human man, born of the virgin Mary, led a sinless life, and was crucified for the sin of all mankind - yet overcame death and the grave to ascend back to His father in Heaven.

I believe Christ is the only means for a fallen mankind to be reconciled to a holy, sovereign, and perfect God; that Christ is that "missing piece" so many seem to seek, yet never find. Good works, being a "good person" are not sufficient to atone for the deficiency of sin that lives within all mankind.

I make no pretense of knowing every possible nuance of the Bible, nor do I make any pretense of being some holier-than-thou person who is trying to "impose" his will on anyone. I speak only of what has happened to me, and how Christ has blessed my life beyond my ability to imagine. He truly conveys that "peace that passeth all understandng." He won't promise you a trouble-free life, but He will promise you a constant source of caring and love as you encounter those troubles.

It is my urgent hope that anyone reading this blog entry would come to know and accept Christ as their Savior as well.

Blessings for your week!

Friday, August 21, 2009

Why is Seattle still hating on Oklahoma City?

It was right at a year ago that an Oklahoma City investor group headed up by Clay Bennett ended a months-long struggle to move the hapless Seattle SuperSonics NBA franchise to the comfy confines of a new home in Bennett's home town. And, as the now-renamed Oklahoma City Thunder head toward the early stages of their 2nd season, it appears some folks in Seattle are still holding a grudge.

First, it was apparently Thunder player Nick Collison who indirectly let the rest of his Twitter-following world know he wasn't crazy about his new professional home. That can be forgiven, possibly, because no one is every truly delighted at the prospect of being uprooted from their hometown by job mandates. Yet the e-warfare finally drew in Oklahoma City radio talk show host (and former Major League Baseballer) Jim Traber, who called Collison out for his apparent "anti-Oklahoma City" attitude. Traber's position was pretty simple - if you don't like Oklahoma City, stay in Seattle. After some pointed on-air volleys, Collison joined Traber on his afternoon talk show, and while the two probably won't be doing lunch anytime soon, the two found some peace, and supposedly that part of the feud has ended.

That might be considered only a minor skirmish, but now its spilling over to the broader media. An ESPN writer by the name of Bill Simmons, in a manner that could only be deemed as slightly more mature than that of the first graders my wife teaches, refuses to refer to Oklahoma City by name when discussing the Thunder - as if each omitted word somehow pierced Oklahoma City to its very heart - assuming more than 5% of the population even knew who Simmons was. They know him now, because that same Jim Traber has taken him to task for his pettiness. And who can blame him? Oklahoma City doesn't owe anyone any apologies for now serving as host to the NBA in contrast to a city that expressed its utter disinterest over a broad period of years.

Worst of all, now, is a Seattle sports radio host by the name of Dave "Softy" Mahler who took carefully edited snippets of the Traber-Collison interview and decided to make Traber the foil for all of Oklahoma City, and apparently incited dozens of people to send profanity-laced email tirades to Traber about, well, everything..from the general hick level of most Oklahomans, to a variety of topics that couldn't be repeated on air. Traber is now encouraging his own radio entourage to follow suit, minus the profanity, to convey a bit about Oklahoma City back to ol Softy. (Note: After this was published, Mahler responded to me and indicated his remarks and disdain were more generally directed towards Traber specifically rather than Oklahoma City in general. Fair enough...)

All of this brings up a simple question. Why does the city of Seattle, famous, world-known, coffee-drinking, hyper-elite Seattle, still harboring ill-will toward Oklahoma? No one in Oklahoma City held a gun to the head of the then-Sonics ownership to sell. No one stopped Seattle from building a half-decent facility to host the Sonics. And what about all those fans at latter-day Sonics games that showed up dressed as empty seats? Ultimately, if Seattle didn't want the Sonics, that's fine.

Oklahoma City did.

Put simply, in the battle for the NBA, Seattle lost, and Oklahoma City won. Oklahoma City owes Seattle no apologies, and Seattle's false erudition and own personal offense at having lost their not-so-beloved NBA franchise to a less-cosmopolitan Midwestern town shows more of their own personal bigotry and bias than anything else. And that's to Seattle's shame.

Power to ya, Jim Traber.

As for you, Seattle...I think its time you just got over it.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

No Sense UI for the myTouch? In a word, RATS...

When Charlie Brown let loose a home run pitch, the last-frame scream from his mouth was always "RATS."

It's also what came to MY mind when I read that, barring some miraculous intervention, the grand new Sense UI for Android phones being released by HTC will NOT be available for Google-branded T-Mobile phones in the US.

I've heard a variety of rumors on why this is the (unfortunate) case, ranging from T-Mobile interference to legal/licensing entanglements with Google.

And that makes no sense.

The worst thing that could happen to Android is for uneven development and deployment to occur, implying whole classes of devices don't get access to the same or similar breadth of features purely for non-technical reasons. If Google asked me (and they didn't), I'd be in their face making sure the reasons for this particular snafu had nothing to do with them. Google should do everything it can to get the very best face on Android-specific development out to the world just as fast as it possibly can, legal obstacles be darned.

Android has a real chance to pivot itself into serious relevance as a new-generation development platform - if Google, carriers, and phone makers can stay the heck out of the way.

Sadly, whether they can remains to be seen.

Google, are you listening?

Monday, August 10, 2009

The Great New T-Mobile myTouch

I suppose it goes against the grain to admit that I, a tech geek by just about any measure, have not found myself caught up in PDA/Cellphone/iPhone mania. I found the iPhone to be ludicrously overblown, a monument to the extremes of trendy excess, and surely wasn't going to be stuck with the Evil Empire for a data and voice plan for months on end just to be contemporary. Ultimately, I didn't care about being trendy.

Until now.

When my wife finally concluded that her (way too) old Nokia phone's antenna was capable of receiving service only when within 25 inches of a cell phone tower, it as time for a new phone.

And it was then I heard about the successor to the clunky but loveable "GooglePhone," the myTouch 3G - known to the rest of the world as the HTC Magic. After reading and musing over the costs of the phone and the data plan, I gave in to technical whimsy.

And I'm glad I did.

The myTouch, which is a horrible name for a phone, probably because it has the word "touch" in it, is one marvelous piece of technical goodness. No, it probably isn't as sexy as the iPhone (which is fine with me), but does give me a 21st century cellphone without a penny of my income going anywhere near ATT.

My "merlot" (advertising jargon for "dark red") myTouch suits me to a tee, for several reasons.

1. It's Google-written Android OS is Linux based. I've just about come to think everything electronic ought to have Linux somewhere involved, even just for good luck - and I don't even believe in luck.
2. It's got absoltely nothing in it from Microsoft.
3. The Android OS community is practically begging developers to join their bandwagon. As soon as I can sort out the details of the Eclipse IDE and the Android SDK plug-in, I'm there.
4. It just plain works. While standing in one store that was sold out of an item my wife needed, I used the voice search to find a different store, and the weblink it prsented gave me a phone number - which my myTouch happily dialed for me.
5. I didn't spend one penny on ringtones or wallpaper. I grabbed existing mp3's and jpegs, copied them to my myTouch's SD card, and turned them into a ringtone and wallpaper.
6. Android is new. It is entering uncharted water, where I haven't been technically in a long time..yeah, its a risk, but so long as Google is behind it, I figure its future is pretty darned bright.
7. Android's gaps are a roadmap to its future. In its youthful stage, Android is a little rough around the edges. It needs to flush out better support for streaming media sources - unfortunately, including some Windows Media formats. It needs a native Voice Recorder application to accompany its great voice-enabled search capability. It needs to continue to evolve in conserving power and extending battery life. The beauty, however, is that all of these things are obvious, and in my mind, just about inevitable.
8. Android is beholden to no one. It does not aspire to be the Polo Shirt and Yuppie toy that the iPhone is. It does not aspire to emulate the anachronistic Windows Mobile social orphan. It is not confined to the constructs of a phone; its future is as broad as the imaginations of those who realize its potential.
9. Android reeks of Geek Cool. If you understand that, you get it. If you don't, well, never mind.
10. The only things my Android is missing are virtually sure to arrive.. Support for Windows streaming media formats, and a built-in FM radio receiver. But those, I suspect, will come in time...

And time, for today, is out....

Thursday, July 09, 2009

Bad Science, Part II

If you are a lottery player, this is your lucky day!!!

For a *very* limited time, I am prepared to share with you the chance to become INCREDIBLY RICH. I am prepared to share with you the mathematically proven way to DOUBLE, TRIPLE, even QUADRUPLE your odds of HITTING IT BIG in the lottery over those poor souls who buy just one ticket.


Sound like a pitch you've heard, in various forms, on late-night TV, or in various pop-up ads at your favorite websites? If you have, you're being sold a very crafty pitch via the use of what's known as a change in relative risk.

If you were to send me that $49.95, you know what I'd send you in return? A very fancy, foil-printed, three-fold brochure instructing you as follows:

* To DOUBLE your odds of winning over buying one ticket, buy two.
* To TRIPLE your odds of winning over buying one ticket, buy three.
* To QUADRUPLE your odds of winning over buying one ticket, buy four.

You'd probably be be pretty hacked off, but you'd also be lighter in your wallet that $49.95, because I had sent you *exactly* what I promised. Nothing in those instructions is false; if you buy two lottery tickets, your chances of winning are doubled over buying just one, and so one. Statistically and mathematically rock solid.

But if you know that your absolute odds with one ticket are somewhere in the vicinity of 1 in 100 million (depending upon the particular lottery), doubling your odds probably doesn't make you feel much better, does it? That's the unsold dark side of relative risk; what sounds like a great deal expressed in relative terms isn't nearly so appealing in absolute terms.

The art of selling changes in relative risk over absolute risk has risen to high form, practiced primarily by pharmaceutical companies, agenda-based political organizations, and your garden variety late-night hucksters.

The worst offenders in my view are pharmaceutical companies, who are glad to tell you that "prescription-only Miraculex" will cut your risk of catching Throbbing Globulitis by 40%!!!, but just not bother to tell you your risk of catching it in the first place is only 1 in 1,000,000, meaning your risk will drop to 1 in 600,000. Yet millions of people fall prey to precisely this kind of advertising in the hopes that throngs of uneducated consumers will rush to their doctors, demanding prescriptions for this new wonder drug.

Journalists are the next worst offenders, because relative risk stories are fundamentally more sensational and often help "sell" a story when tied to some particularly trendy cause. An example of relative-risk that doesn't, on the surface, appear to be selling something, appears here, with a story about the discovery of a 26% reduction in risk for breast cancer among women who experience migraines headaches.

One of the worst pharmaceutical offenders is undoubtedly the Sanofi-Pasteur, manufacturers of the anti-meningococal vaccine Menactra. Ads for the vaccine paint this terifying picture of happy older children stricken dead with meningococcal disease (which is not, but can lead to, meningitis). What they tell you amidst the fear in small print at the bottom of the screen is that only 1,000 to 2,600 cases of menigococcal disease occur in the US annually, meaning your absolute risk of contracting meningococcal disease is no better than 1:115,000 (assuming a US population of just over 300 million people). Yet Sanofi-Pasteur is delighted to frighten you into believing you or your kids are "one sip" away from death without Menactra.

The point isn't to shoot down pharmaceutical companies or journalists, but to demand action. When news outlets post stories involving changes in relative risk, such changes should also includes changes in absolute risk as well, in the spirit of complete information. Complete information benefits all of us, so we can make informed decisions, not ones based on hysteria, propaganda, and bad science.

Especially bad science that stretches truth to the point of unrecognizability.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Strange Policy from Bad Science - Part One

I despise the misuse of statistics. I'm a firm believer in the axiom, "statistics don't lie, but liars use statistics."

It is unequivocally true that you can use statistics, bent, folded, spindled, and manipulated, to prove nearly anything. Time was, however, that most people knew when a statistical abuse was at hand, and dutifully ignored. These days, however, where mathematical education and critical thinking take a clear back seat to whatever politically correct curriculum is in vogue, the ability to recognize and refute such abuses is diminishing daily.

A classic case in point arose just this week, when our beloved Government rode to our rescue and told the masses to stop using Zicam Nasal Gel, because it was "linked" to incidents of loss of smell.

Now that, on the surface, sounds pretty serious. If something out there is causing people to lose their smell, we ought to know about it. But a review of the data beyond the hysterical news headline reveals a much less hysterical reality.

The FDA based its admonition the basis of 199 cases of lost smell, or anosmia tied to the use of Zicam over a ten-year period. Although I could not find hard statistics on the number of actual Zicam users in that period, one news site reported the number to be in the "millions."

Let's say that, for the sake of argument, that establishes at least a minimum number of Zicam users at 2 million. And the FDA is suspending sales of the product based on 199 of those users. Assuming a 100% causal relationship, that means the chances of a Zycam user experiencing anosmia as a result is, at best about 1:10,000.

What the FDA, nor the media, didn't bother to tell us is how many cases of anosmia are found in the general population from all causes. What if we were to discover that the general incidence rate for anosmia was no more than 1:10,000? Or significantly lower? Or significantly higher?

The point is we don't know. Maybe Zicam really is causing a problem. Maybe it isn't. I'm not here to debate the efficacy or risks of Zicam, but to take our media and our government to task for failing to report the entire story, one with the information necessary for the reader to draw their own conclusions - conclusions based on fact and data, not hysteria and innuendo. The omissions are conspicuous, driven by a variety of motivations - some financial, some political.

We're going to explore this topic further next week, with a discussion on how pharmacetical companies (and political pundits) neglect to explain the difference between changes in absolute risk versus relative risk, and leverage that ignorance into a multibillion dollar industry that plays no small part of our current health care problem....

Saturday, June 06, 2009

Pixar magic lifting us Up, Up, and Away in new film

It has been said that those who observe literary times claim there has never been a "Great American Novel." While I would not presume to debate such topics, I would offer that, to the extent a film narrative can be equated to a literary excursion, that the "Great American Movie" has been made - and from an entirely unexpected source - the Disney/Pixar Studios in its wonderful new film, "Up."

"Up" tells the tale of Carl Fredricksen, and it is in that tale that Pixar immerses us an astonishingly introspective and unyieldingly human story of youth, age, love, hope, loss, and adventure. The first ten minutes of "Up," which ironically holds the least dialog, carry us through a diorama of Fredricksen's life, from an adventure-seeking youngster, to a hope-filled married man, to a widowed and seemingly curmudgeonly elderly man.

Accompanying him on his elder-stage life is young Russell, an overly eager Wilderness Scout desperate to claim one final achievement badge by offering assistance to a senior citizen. Wasting no characters, Up gives us a glimpse into Russell's young life as a child of divorce, providing a common bond of loss that ultimately unites him with Fredricksen in their adventure.

Few films that aspire to comment on the human condition can claim to have drawn on so many elements that will resonate with so many people, which is precisely why "Up" is destined to become one of Pixar's classics. We see Fredricksen's crossed-heart promise to take his love Elly to South America, yet see the dream slip away unwittingly as time and life intervene. We share their pain as hopeful images of babies in the clouds turn to disheartening medical realities. We feel Carl's sadness as we see Elly's health slip away before he is able to make good on his South American promise, and understand that the external curmudgeon is facade for the guilt of a promise unkept, for adventures unexperienced. And we wish Elly's "Adventure Book" did not stop at the page entitled, "Things I'm Going To Do;" fortunately, as Carl's adventure nears its end, we find those pages not so empty afterall, with a gentle reminder that life's greatest adventures are often realized in the unplanned mundane rather than the orchestrated spectacular.

But make no mistake - "Up" is no turgid tale of sadness or melancholy. Mixed with the human tale is a delightful fantasy of Carl's life as a balloon salesman, with his cache of unsold floaters serving as the engine to launch his home skyward, on a course to South America, with Russell as his unwitting stowaway, along with a irresistable canine buddy they encounter along the way that younger children (and many adults) will want to take home instantly.

UP is another creative masterpiece from the artists at Pixar, once again demonstrative of the decided superiority in animated storytelling they hold. Pixar's hardly secret advantage is not in the astonishingly credible electronic realities they create, but in the wonderful characters that inhabit them, and in the ways those characters resonate with each of us. Who else could mix an old man, a little boy, and a house propelled around the world by helium-filled balloons, yet make it an introspective, touching, and still humorous adventure? Certainly, only Pixar.

And that is the grand gift we all enjoy.

Tuesday, June 02, 2009

Who flipped the pop-culture snow-globe??

I think someone has seriously messed with my head. Because what I'm seeing in this early summer wave of pop culture makes me think someone has moved me to an alternate universe.

Why? Well, I just left, which just advised me that the #1 movie in the United States for 2009 to date is....the J.J. Abrams reboot of Star Trek. To the tune of $210 million, thank you very much.


I grew up as a big fan of Trek, but as more movies came out, had to be solaced by the fact that Trek just wasn't "mainstream." For a Star Trek movie to reach "blockbuster" status was pretty darned rare. And given the relatively abysmal, but still somehow underrated "Nemesis" as he unintentional sendoff of the previous "Next Generation" crew, the last thing that seemed in the offing was more Trek; and, yet, Paramount threw $160 million at Abrams, told him to go for it, and he did. And what he did is simply dynamite, with Trek still playing beyond its fourth week in over 3,500 theaters. Somehow, J.J. Abrams has actually managed to make Star Trek cool.

America's entertainment industry is in a bit of a creative void, and as a result, dips into the pool of the known have made franchise reboots such as Dark Night, James Bond, and re-hashed music popular, with mixed results. I must admit, however, that this particular reboot is a delightful treat. In a world where "reality" TV offers us neurotic, self-absorbed psychoparents, hostile cake-bakers, and tattoo artist documentaries, this respite into TV's simpler time translated anew onto the big screen is welcome.

Live Long and Prosper, indeed.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

A Blog Reborn, but because of the Gosselins?

It was about three years ago that I opened a blog account here, with a recognition that it served as much vanity as it did any purpose to improve the human condition. Life, work, kids, and exhaustion all conspire in their various ways to keep such projects subdued, but once again the muse has struck and this blog finds itself being revived.

I can't honestly say it was coincidence that the notion to restart this blog was in the same week as Jon and Kate Gosselin renewed their trek into willful voyeurism on TLC. I find myself curiously compelled to The Gosselin Zone in the same cruel way drivers slow down near a car wreck, yet avert their eyes to avoid seeing anything too gruesome.

After last night's season premiere, the whole thing is hard not to see as gruesome, and in so many ways.

Although I have watched arguably more than half its episodes, I won't call myself a "fan" of their show. Being a "fan" necessarily implies some sort of enthusiasm for what's being conveyed, and I rarely find myself in that position. I have found myself astonished to see Kate toss more harsh, cutting words at her husband in 30 minutes of carefully edited television than my own wife has tossed my way in nearly 15 years of marriage, and I won't pretend to understand how a constant tone of belittling (at one extreme) to conscious humiliation (at the other) finds itself anywhere in the spectrum of an appropriate way to treat one's spouse. Yet Kate is fine with it. Sadder still is that Jon has so little self respect that he, at least until recent events, tolerated it.

Sadly, though, the weekly travails of the Gosselin's unusual brood have gone beyond the basics of how spouses should treat each other. The living Brady Bunch that has become the spectacle of cable television has now turned into a bizarre mutation of gladhanding, self-aggrandizement, and vulgar self-promotion, with accusations of mutual martial infidelity hitting the tabloids just weeks before their season premiere. For TLC, its a free publicity dream. "This started six months ago," now claims Kate, losing sight of the fact that it really started five years ago, when the presumed subject of their lives - their sextuplets - were born. Now, these poor kids are nothing but a sideshow to what is rapidly become a freakshow of televised excess.

Wth the premiere now comes Kate and Jon's mutual disdain for the media, and Kate's particular dislike for "the paparazzi" which she now claims have started following her everywhere. Their marital issues aside, its impossible to escape the reality that the couple exhibits either ludicrous naivete or astonishng disingenuity at their sudden "discovery" of the photohounds, oblivious to the notion that those hounds have been following them with open checkbooks in hand from the good folks at TLC for the better part of their kids' lives. For Kate, now, a "paparazzi" is anyone with a camera in one hand that doesn't hold out a trip, gift, or speaking gig in the other.

What do we know about the Goseelin's marriage problems? Honestly, nothing. We know only rumor, rumor mixed with the speed and hyperbole of the Internet. where barely every fifth byte is credible information. We do know that, whatever their issues, Kate enjoyed the role of Solomonesque monarchy over her domain in the season premiere, giggling like a schoolgirl over issues she would easily have found to be Jon's fault in any other season.

Lost in all the shuffle and commotion amid the speculation about the Gosselins' future are the lives of eight little children who asked for exactly none of this fishbowl world, who seem in some way still blissfully unaware of the lives of notoriety their parents have chosen for them.

Sadly, for them, only time will tell how that side of the story unfolds. And I wonder if anyone will be paying attention.