Sunday, August 30, 2009

Guns: Guns, guns, everywhere, but not a place to shoot...

South Florida, for all its tropical trappings, sometimes has the feel of New Jersey thanks to the huge population of snowbird retirees from the Eastern Seaboard. This means constant, crowded development (the housing boom and bust hit here first) and a NIMBY attitude to shooting ranges. Visitors might be surprised to find out that while Florida as a whole is relatively gun-friendly, there are actually only a few places to shoot here in Palm Beach County.

Oh, there are indoor handgun ranges, but it's slim pickings for rifle and shotgun shooting. The closest range ("close" being a relative term) that allows you to use your own ammo is the PBSO range, which is open to the public only a few days each month. It's a painful switch to make if you're used to be able to shoot every week, but it's better than not having anywhere to shoot at all.

Links: Simply Recipes

The Web has proven to be an incredible resource for home cooks; you can find instructions for cooking nearly anything these days. Unfortunately, most recipes out there come from big commercial kitchens (e.g. Food Network) and are thus unnecessarily complicated. They call for exotic ingredients, use special appliances (not everyone has a stand mixer), or require too much work to be practical.

Simply Recipes, a blog run by Elise Bauer, is sort of an indie food recipe site. Elise and her family and friends post recipes to the site that they've tried and had success with. Because of this homebrew effort, you'll rarely encounter a recipe that's too difficult for the average cook.

This recipe for banana bread, for instance, can be made from cheap staple ingredients you're likely to find in any kitchen, even the stripped-down college student's kitchen. It can be thrown together in about ten minutes, bakes up in about an hour, and tastes better than the $2 banana bread at Starbucks (try tossing in 1/3 cup of chopped walnuts for a crunchy kick). It wasn't dreamed up by some culinary consultants, it was created by a lady named Mrs. Hockmeyer. But thanks to Simply Recipes, it's now being shared by folks around the world.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Tech: Katamari Damacy

Perhaps it was the first time you chainsawed a demon in "Doom." Or maybe it happened when you launched your spaceship to Alpha Centauri in "Civilization." Some games just have the unique ability to put a silly grin on your face. It's like that with "Katamari Damacy," a budget title for the PS2:

Which is not to say "Katamari Damacy" is the greatest game ever made. Actually, the underlying gameplay never changes in the 10-odd hours it takes to go through the main storyline - you roll an ever-expanding ball of junk, avoiding obstacles and racing against the clock to collect as much as you can. While the game does throw some curveballs at you (animals that can bump into you, barriers that cannot be passed without a big enough katamari), it does get repetitive after awhile.

Where the game gets its grins is by its subtle progressions in scale. At first you're rolling up thumbtacks and mice, then you're collecting small Japanese children. At the end of the game, you'll be rolling up oil tankers and office buildings, causing the people inside to scream for their lives:

Rating: 82/100

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Movies: Appaloosa

There's a long list of movies that were ruined because the director decided that he or she should be the lead performer, or vice versa. From Woody Allen to Quentin Tarantino to Mel Gibson, there is no shortage of people who want to make sure they control what's happening on both sides of the camera.

I find this phenomenon surprising. It's hard enough to be a convincing actor or a skilled director. It must take an oversized ego to believe one can handle both jobs at the same time. Does "Appaloosa," a western starring Ed Harris and Viggo Mortensen, manage to rise above the rest?

Two lawmen, Virgil Cole and Everett Hitch, ride into the town of Appaloosa to deal with a renegade rancher (Jeremy Irons, in yet another villainous turn). When a woman comes into town (a woefully miscast Renée Zellweger), Cole and Hitch find themselves both drawn to her. But a gunman's life is never simple, as they are about to find out.

Ed Harris doesn't get the directing bug often (his last was "Pollock" in 2000), and "Appaloosa" has some pacing problems as a result. Unlike other new school westerns like "3:10 to Yuma," the film is more of a drama/(b)romance than an action movie; the middle third seems to go on forever, and characters can get into drawn-out conversations about their feelings. Harris and Mortensen are veterans, though, and they make the relationship between Cole and Hitch something more than friendship but less than love.

Even though the plot was disjointed overall, the movie's unconventional narrative structure (for a western) works to its advantage. Like the novel on which it is based, "Appaloosa" is more of a crime film, although there's plenty of Old West genre touches (including the archetypical ride into the sunset). That means that there is some intrigue to the story because you don't really know what'll happen next.

For the action-inclined, it's worth noting that all the gunfights are brief and bloodless. I did get a kick out of seeing Everett's enormous eight gauge shotgun. It's almost like another character in the way that it has to be carried around, set down, and picked up again like a newborn baby.

Rating: 6/10

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

News: I know you shouldn't speak ill of the dead...

...but the breathless hyperbole from the network news almost begs a response.

Edward "Ted" Kennedy died today. Obama, who awarded him the Presidential Medal of Freedom earlier this year, called him "the greatest United States Senator of our time."

Well, I guess that might be valid since we're only talking about the snakehouse that is the U.S. Senate. Kennedy, if nothing else, was a great advocate for the gamut of Democratic legislative goals, sponsoring hundreds of bills.

He was also emblematic of all the problems with the Democratic party, too. Here was a limousine liberal who never had a real job, who cheated his way through Harvard, whose handling of the death of Mary Jo Kopechne was gross negligence at best and calculatingly malicious at worst. He was an advocate for minorities and civil rights, except those that didn't fall into lockstep with the rest of the Democrats.

His 47 years in the Senate are the mark of a successful politician, nothing less, nothing more. It brings this quote to mind:

The probability of the people in power being individuals who would dislike the possession and exercise of power is on a level with the probability that an extremely tender-hearted person would get the job of whipping master in a slave plantation.

- Frank Knight

Monday, August 24, 2009

TV: Lock N' Load with R. Lee Ermey

The History Channel's "Mail Call" proved to be a huge hit, mostly because of the larger-than-life persona of its host, R. Lee Ermey. He delivered all the military trivia featured on the show with the down-to-earth gusto you'd expect of a Marine drill sergeant.

Now there's a new series starring Ermey, appropiately titled "Lock N' Load," which explores the history of various weapons. It's like a leaner, meaner "Mail Call" - take a look:

"Lock N' Load" strips away the more mundane matters (how MREs are made, what soap soldiers use to wash up with) and gets straight to the flashy: explosions, bullets, and high-tech military machines. If you've ever wanted to see a genuine Maxim machine gun unload on a bunch of water balloons in slow motion, this is your show.

Each hour, you get to see the development of a weapon from its primitive roots (like the matchlock handgun) all the way up to its most modern versions (like a GLOCK 18). Every new improvement is compared with what came before, often using high-speed photography to show differences in muzzle velocity and destructive power. The show is a rather visceral reminder that armed conflict has driven numerous technological advances over the centuries.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Miscellany: Houston Museum of Natural Science

I've been to some of the most famous natural history museums in the country (the Field Museum, the American Museum of Natural History, the Smithsonian), so I think I had a good framework for evaluating the Houston Museum of Natural Science. The HMNS is a short drive away from Rice University, only a little bit south of Houston's downtown area. I visited with a variety of age groups thanks to my cousins - from dewy-eyed 8 year olds to hardened visitors of college-age (and beyond). Ultimately, I came away satisfied but not impressed.

The first criterion for any museum I go to is whether I experience something new. After all, almost all big city natural history museums have similar exhibits: precious stones, ancient indigenous cultures, dinosaur bones, and the like. The most unique part of the HMNS was the Wiess Energy Hall, a paean to oil exploration that has a slightly cynical edge to it (the major donors are big Texas energy companies and the law firms that represent them). Sure, getting to go "inside" an oil well might be exciting to some people, but it left me cold.

The second criterion for a good museum experience is live participation from museum employees. Sure, having a video or written explanation at an exhibit is better than nothing, but it's really hard for a layman to understand the significance of Picasso's "Guernica" unless a real, breathing guide is there to explain and answer questions. The HMNS was decent here, providing some in-person demonstrations of things like fossils and chemistry, but it was nothing that blew me away. You'll most likely have to navigate the halls on your own.

The third criterion is the quality of the side facilities. Here, finally, was the HMNS' strength. The Burke Baker planetarium is pretty swanky, featuring a state-of-the-art multiple projection system that neatly captures the feel of flying through the cosmos. The IMAX theater was full-sized and gifted with an impressive surround sound system. The butterfly garden was the equal of others I've been to. Unfortunately, you have to pay additional admission fees for each of these experiences, but it's worth the money, especially if you opt for a membership.

Overall, the HMNS is worth a visit but probably not worth seeking out. There were a couple of traveling exhibitions that we did not enter (mostly because each required a steep separate admission fee - $30 in the case of the popular Chinese terra cotta warrior exhibition), but I don't think they would have changed my perception of the museum.

Books: Two about the Turn of the Century

Maybe it's because Florida experiences so much rain on summer afternoons, but I've always found that I get the most books read during the traditional summer reading season. What's more natural than curling up with a book while feeder bands buffet the world outside?

Similarly, the transition from the 19th century to the 20th was a stormy period. Here a couple of books set around that time:

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn

This classic novel was largely drawn from author Betty Smith's real-life experiences growing up in Brooklyn. It's the story of a girl named Francie and her coming-of-age in an environment of crushing poverty, family problems, and social change. Betty Smith's upbringing flavors the entire work; when Smith details the grime and beauty of Williamsburg, Brooklyn, you can almost feel yourself there, paying for stale bread with pennies and haggling over cuts of meat at the butcher.

There isn't much of a plot, at least in the conventional sense. It's apparent from the start that Francie is a bright, bookish girl, but there's no Daddy Warbucks to come in and cart her off to a better life. Instead, her dreams get delayed and deferred but never destroyed. It's ultimately a hopeful tale, though, and required reading for anyone wanting to catalog the history of the American woman in literature.

The Devil in the White City

Erik Larson has achieved a rare thing: a work of historical nonfiction that has the pacing and suspense of a good mystery novel. Unlike most history books, the subject is not a war or a revolution, but an event - the 1893 Chicago World's Fair. The book follows two architects (one a mogul and the other a madman) as their lives, and everyone else's, are intertwined into one of the great but lesser-known milestones of American history.

The mogul here is Daniel Burnham, and if you have any interest in architecture, you might already know about Burnham & Root, the legendary firm that designed many of Chicago's greatest buildings. Without giving anything away, let's just say that the madman in the story is a charismatic serial killer who takes advantage of the Fair in order to harvest his victims. Larson does a good job of sticking to the historical record while allowing in just enough conjecture to make for a flavorful read, and it's no surprise the book became a bestseller.

Larson's other historical work, "Isaac's Storm," is decent, but avoid his gun control diatribe "Lethal Passage," which reads like a Brady Campaign press release.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Miscellany: The Great Job Hunt

Being unemployed must be pretty distressing if you have dependents to support, student loans, and no one to pay your bills while you look for something to do. None of that applies to me, but I still feel an incipient pressure at not having a daily routine to attend to. Aside from writing on the blog and applying to jobs, there really isn't much to do.

My search is made more difficult only by the fact that I'm trying to enter the remarkable world of the patent attorney with zero experience. It seems there are a ton of IP positions available for someone with 3-5 years of patent lawyering skills (patent prosecution or litigation), but only a scarce supply of entry-level stuff. Like my folks always say, getting that first job is the toughest.

There's a silver lining - my continued unemployment will at least mean a steady stream of posts here at Shangrila Towers. So sit back, grab a cup of coffee, and enjoy.

Movies: Flash of Genius

The inspiring story of the little guy versus the big corporation is a cherished Hollywood trope, but "Flash of Genius," starring Greg Kinnear, adds an intellectual property riff to the proceedings:

Kinnear plays Robert Kearns, an inventor who finds himself locked into a long-running legal battle with Ford Motor Company after he sues them for infringing his windshield wiper patent. Predictably, the lawsuit takes an enormous toll on his personal and professional life, especially his relationship with his wife (played by Lauren Graham) and his children.

Reading the New Yorker article that the film was based on reveals a more complex story, especially if you're at all familiar with how the U.S. patent system works. The movie never really considers the problem that Kearns' invention might be obvious (the use of a resistor and capacitor combination as a timing device was well-known by 1963), or whether Kearns' patent is functioning more to impede technological progress than to promote it. Mention "patent troll" or "patent thicket" to a group of IP lawyers and you're bound to get some lively discussion, but I guess those issues doesn't interest a mainstream audience.

"Flash of Genius," in cinematic terms, works well. Kinnear is excellent as Kearns, portraying him as a singularly driven and even somewhat unlikable man. Kearns allows the lawsuit to dominate his life, and, eventually, the lives of his children. The movie plays fast and loose with some minor facts, but overall it's pretty close to what actually happened. Director Marc Abraham even gives us a not-so-Hollywood ending that says more about what Kearns lost than what he won.

Rating: 7/10

Monday, August 17, 2009

News: Packing Heat and Protesting

Open carry is explicitly forbidden here in Florida, though I've never really cared, since being able to carry a handgun concealed is much more valuable from a practical defense standpoint. The closest I've ever come to open carrying was an empty-holster protest where I used a thigh rig, and, indeed, it did get some attention.

Recently, people coming to the Obamacare protests have been openly carrying firearms, which has given some in the mainstream media the vapors:

Visit for Breaking News, World News, and News about the Economy

There's a whole lot of editorializing from Maddow and the former gentleman from the Secret Service in the video embedded above, but no one bothers to ask the man with the AR why he brought a rifle to the protest. Here's what he has to say:

Bringing a rifle to a protest may be imprudent, but in any case, it's impossible to do what Maddow suggests (ban firearms within a mile of the President). A mile is a long distance - I doubt an officeworker lawfully carrying a concealed weapon ten blocks away is any danger to the POTUS, but he or she would technically be violating the proposed cordon.

There's a better argument that protesting with an openly carried firearm creates a "chilling effect" that silences the opposition. But plenty of traditional protest tactics - burning flags, shouting slogans via bullhorn, crowding around entrances of buildings - can intimidate people; after all, part of protesting is getting someone to notice you.

Still, unless the protest specifically concerns Second Amendment rights, I can't see any reason to display your EBR to anyone. But if you normally open carry your handgun, I also see no reason to change just because you're exercising your other rights. Hopefully that makes sense.

EDIT: Just saw this:

Food: Eating Out, Texas Style

I travel to the Lone Star State regularly in order to visit my relatives, and that means I get to eat at some of the area's most noteworthy restaurants. Here are a selection of some of the gastronomical finds in this enormous state:

Duc Phuong Thach Che

The Bellaire area of Houston is notable for its large Vietnamese population, many of whom immigrated here after the fall of Saigon in 1975. This means that in the heart of Houston, you can have some reassuringly authentic Vietnamese food. And it's not just Vietnamese lunch and dinner; there are a number of dessert shops in Houston that have a variety of sweet treats from southeast Asia.

A good example is nestled in a shopping center - Duc Phuong Thach Che (excuse the lack of Vietnamese language characters). "Chè" is the generic term for any number of sweet desserts in Vietnamese cuisine - most contain some combination of beans, rice jellies, and coconut milk. My personal favorite is "chè đậu đỏ," a refreshing combination of red beans, crushed ice, and coconut milk. At $1.75 per glass, the chè desserts are a very cheap way to satisfy your sweet tooth.

3/4 stars

Tan Tan

Tan Tan is a Bellaire landmark that's been serving people in Houston for years. It was so popular among area residents that I even saw Rudy Tomjanovich, head coach of the Houston Rockets, dine there after the Rockets' championship run.

This used to be one of our favorite Vietnamese restaurants, until they expanded and the food quality and service took a noticeable tumble. Nevertheless, they still serve up some good dishes (the pan-fried rice cakes with egg taste fantastic, though they do tend to come out tongue-scaldingly hot). The Tan Tan menu has enough variety to please virtually anyone (everything from wonton soup to hot pot dinners), but everything has a Vietnamese tinge to it.

2/4 stars

Shrimp N Stuff

Many of Galveston's seafood restaurants jockey for supremacy along Seawall Boulevard, but the excellent "Shrimp N Stuff" restaurant has made a name for itself ensconced comfortably within the island, a short walk away from Galveston College. Don't let the lack of an oceanfront view and the seafoam-green interior turn you away - this is some of the best fried seafood you can get in Galveston.

As you might guess from the restaurant's name, the fried and boiled shrimp are the stars here. The fried shrimp are marvelous, crispy and delicate on the outside but having a pretty big shrimp inside. The peel-and-eat boiled shrimp are slightly closer to the average, but they're definitely nothing to sneeze at. Shrimp gumbo is merely passable, consisting mostly of rice and smaller shrimp, but at least it comes in a rich, salty brown broth.

The rest of the "stuff" is good, too - oyster po' boys, cole slaw, hush puppies, and other Gulf Coast staples are executed well. It's apparent the restaurant has a huge following (the joint was packed on Friday night, and they get plenty of traffic from the nearby schools during lunch time), so check it out if you're ever jonesing for fried shrimp in Galveston.

3/4 stars

Pizzitola's BBQ

"Archetypical" is the word I'd use to describe Pizzitola's BBQ, a Houston barbecue joint located a short distance from downtown off of I-10. That's not to say that Pizzitola's is the best barbecue I've ever had, but that it fully evokes what most people think of when they picture a Texas highway barbecue joint - dark walls bedecked with pictures and knickknacks, a huge woodpile in the back for smoking meat, and friendly service with Texas-sized hospitality.

According to the locals, the ribs are the most popular thing here, but I found them to be a bit dry compared to the Southern-style spareribs you can find throughout northern Florida. In contrast, the beef brisket was smoked to a healthy pink, and had just the right texture when doused with some of Pizzitola's slightly spicy barbecue sauce. There was live music, and the owner even came out to give us an extra pound of meat for free (sure, it was left over from lunch, but it was still decent).

2/4 stars

TV: The Colony

"The Colony" is a reality TV show on Discovery Channel with an interesting premise. The show strands ten strangers in a simulated post-apocalyptic wasteland with minimal supplies and follows what they do to survive. Check out this segment, which shows the construction of improvised weapons to fend off raiders (a la "Fallout 3" - Junkman rides again!):

As a social science experiment, I'm pretty sure the whole thing is worthless, since the survivors are closely monitored by CCTV to make sure no one is ever in serious danger. For instance, the marauders attacking the compound are given strict orders not to physically harm the inhabitants - something that won't be the case in a real end-of-the-world scenario. Human history shows that where the rule of law has disappeared, the threat of actual starvation and rape wreaks havoc with people, and it's something "The Colony" only makes half-hearted attempts to address.

It's still entertaining, though, and the interpersonal fighting over what, when, and how to do things seems pretty authentic. There's a varied mix of people on the show, from scientists to nurses to handymen, though it's clear that some people have been cherry-picked for their abilities. For instance, take ten people off the street and there's a good chance no one will know how to weld metal, which obviously rules out some of the show's more exciting projects. If you've ever wondered what you could piece together after a viral pandemic, though, "The Colony" is a neat place to start.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Movies: Soldier

Kurt Russell is usually one of the bright spots in a B-movie (he was pretty much the only good thing in "Death Proof"), but even he can't save "Soldier," a stinker of a sci-fi movie directed by Paul W.S. Anderson:

Russell plays Todd, an elite soldier trained from birth to be an emotionless killing machine. When Todd and his comrades are replaced by newer, genetically-engineered super soldiers, Todd is marooned on a remote world. By a strange, almost arbitrary sequence of events, Todd finds himself defending a colony of refugees from his old employers in brutal but predictable fashion.

The big problem with "Soldier" is that Russell doesn't ever get the chance to do anything interesting with his performance. To put it in perspective, Arnold Schwarzengger had more lines in the first Terminator movie than Russell does here. It's pretty hard to root for your protagonist when he doesn't have any personality whatsoever, not even the silent machismo of other silver screen tough guys.

There's also the matter of Anderson's direction, which is at its usual scattershot worst. It's almost like the man takes bits at random from a junk drawer and hopes they all combine into something watchable. Random insert of a Loreena McKennitt song from "The Book of Secrets" during a montage? Check. Pointless climactic fistfight with Jason Scott Lee? Check.

To sum up, "Soldier" is a perfectly forgettable sci-fi B-movie. That took $75 million to make. Ouch.

Rating: 3/10

Guns: The Backup CCW System

When you consider how much stuff has to happen for a firearm to function, it's a miracle the darn things work at all. Every time you press the trigger of your handgun, you're setting in motion a Rube Goldberg-esque series of events involving springs, pins, and multiple small interconnected metal pieces.

And it's not like the springs and such last forever. Heck, even holsters can break. I've learned as much in the brief time I've been carrying a concealed weapon. You know those plastic J-clips that some holsters use? They can snap like twigs after enough time and stress (a broken holster clip is pictured above). Belt snaps can loose their internal tensioners. Stitches can break.

Because anything that can go wrong will go wrong, I have an entire backup CCW rig - not just a spare gun, but a spare gunbelt and spare holsters. I suspect I'm in the minority here (heck, surveys seem to indicate a lot of CCWers don't even carry), but I'm not going to go around in public unarmed because of a wardrobe malfunction.

Miscellany: Packing with Polypropylene - An Ode to Sterilite

I've had to move my stuff several times during my college years, but it wasn't till the later moves that I ditched the old cardboard boxes and embraced injection-molded polymers for my packing needs. When I found myself finally leaving Gainesville after graduating from law school, I opted for a bunch of jumbo-size Sterilite containers.

They're transparent, so you can see the contents of a box. They're relatively cheap and easy to find. They're practically indestructible, and won't be damaged by a little water or rough handling like cardboard boxes can. And strangely enough, Sterilite products are made in the U.S., with bona fide manufacturing plants in several states (heck, Sterilite stuff is probably one of the few plastic products you can buy in Wally World that's still made in America).

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Tech: Jane's Combat Simulations

Most of us will never get the chance to pilot aircraft like an AH-64D Apache Longbow attack helicopter (unit price - more than $50 million each, including weapons and support), so military flight simulators are a staple of the PC gaming market. Back in the heyday of the flight sims, store shelves were filled with games that offered phonebook-sized manuals and meticulous attention to flight envelopes. One of the biggest flight sim series was "Jane's Combat Simulations."

Considering the state of PC performance around the mid-'90s, the Jane's sims are shockingly realistic. The best-known of the lot, "Longbow," was developed by Origin Systems, and it featured everything from a neat forward-looking infrared camera view to the unique fire-and-forget Hellfire missile system. Somehow knocking out a tank column is much more satisfying when you have to fiddle with a dozen controls in order to do it:

My favorite parts of these games, though, are the instruction manuals. They're always fun to read because they don't just consist of bland directions on how to work the game; instead, there are descriptions of nap-of-the-earth flying, helo vs. helo combat, and ground-level aerodynamics. It must be pretty difficult to grok all these flight concepts while people are shooting at you, but the men and women of the U.S. military certainly make it look easy.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Miscellany: Schlitterbahn Galveston

The Galveston branch of the Schlitterbahn family of waterparks is sort of a simplified, sterilized version of the original that my family and I visited a couple of years ago. That is, everything that made the New Braunfels park so idiosyncratic and special - the strange bifurcated layout, the use of natural spring water in some of the rides, the relatively out-of-the-way location - has been edited out for a smoother but less interesting experience.

The Galveston Schlitterbahn is a convenient hour-long drive from Houston, and it's nestled in the middle of Galveston Island. It's actually open for most of the year (there's a heated indoor season that features a climate controlled lazy river), but we ventured into the park in the middle of a Texas summer. If you ever wondered what would happen if you combined screaming schoolkids, water slides, and 90+ degree heat (and a heat index in the triple digits), well, it ain't always pretty.

In terms of visitor friendliness, Schlitterbahn Galveston is undeniably better-equipped than its predecessor, with a more mature layout and faster lines. Even with a very crowded park, wait times seemed reasonable for just about everything but the concession stand (and I can't blame Schlitterbahn when a class of thirty kids lines up in front of me). The designers have also managed to cram a lot of rides in a rather small space - each slide tower has several slides that offer differing experiences, even if some are duds (one of the family tube chutes had a boring straight layout). The walk between attractions is short, and the lazy river can transport you almost directly to most of them.

Unfortunately, my favorite ride in the New Braunfels Schlitterbahn, the Master Blaster, did not make the leap to the Galveston location. The two small water coaster rides that were present did a poor job of replicating the one-of-a-kind experience of the true Master Blaster - a rush of giddy exhilaration and pants-soaking water immersion that remains the gold standard for water rides. There are certainly other good rides in the park (including various body slides and dizzying tube chutes) but nothing you can't find elsewhere. And that fact, more than anything else, is what makes Schlitterbahn Galveston an average waterpark.

Quick Blog Update

Sorry for the dearth of posts - just finished visiting my family in Houston. Hopefully I can start posting again soon. In the meantime, why not watch the entire original "Ghostbusters" movie on YouTube?

Sunday, August 02, 2009

Books: Andy Roddick Beat Me with a Frying Pan

There are many sports books that aspire to great heights. Authors like Michael Lewis give detailed analytic accounts of how sports and economics intersect. A few writers try to bring the sort of dramatic texture to an athletic contest as other writers would to a battlefield (just look at Marshall Jon Fisher's "A Terrible Splendor" to see how much can ride on the outcome of one tennis match). "Andy Roddick Beat Me with a Frying Pan" by Todd Gallagher takes a more whimsical approach.

It's a not-very-scientific look into the kind of strange hypotheticals that every sports fan dreams up: could I beat an Olympic swimmer if he was limited to using the doggy paddle? Can an NBA player really touch the top of the backboard? Would a pro sumo wrestler make a good NFL lineman?

Some of the tests are ridiculous (the morbidly obese NHL goalie challenge), some are thought-provoking (the discrimination against baseball players with dwarfism), but the titular challenge is the most interesting, since it uses the off-kilter premise as a starting point to explore the sport of tennis. You learn a lot about modern tennis racquets, modern tennis players, and, of course, #1 American player Andy Roddick.