Saturday, December 28, 2013

UW Huskies go 9-4 on Season

This will probably be the last mention of the Huskies on this blog until sometime in August 2014.

Last night the University of Washington Huskies football team beat the Brigham Young University Cougars in the Fight Hunger Bowl to finish with a 9-4 season.  That's their best finish since 2000 when they were 11-1 and Marques Tuiasosopo was the quarterback.  Which is significant because Tuiasosopo was the head coach for last night's game, being appointed interim head coach after Steve Sarkisian left for USC after the Apple Cup victory.

The game seemed to start out slow with low-energy on both sides of the scrimmage line.  But the Husky defense held the Cougars over and over, making them settle for field goals if they didn't out right punt.  The Cougars had a better second quarter and scored 16 but never were able to surpass the Huskies who then went on to win 31-16 holding the Cougars scoreless in the second half.

Even a fourth-quarter illegal hit that took out starting quarterback Keith Price (a hit that wasn't penalized) didn't help the Cougars.  The Huskies did have trouble scoring after that but their defense kept the Cougars scoreless, too.  Star running back Bishop Sankey also left the game with an injury.

I was worried about this game because of the emotional beating the team has taken with Sarkisian abandoning them for USC before their bowl game.  From all accounts, the player leadership including Price stepped up and kept the team together.  And the affection the players felt for Tuiasosopo was almost palpable on the sidelines.

This is the Dawgs first bowl win since 2010 when as underdogs they beat Nebraska in the Holiday Bowl.  These two bowl wins are the only two they've had since 2000.  Husky fans have put up with a lot and I consider myself a die-hard.  We had a season the team went 0-12 in 2008.  We've had coaches fired for gambling.  We've had coaches who couldn't get the team to finish a game.  And this for a program that used to regularly win the Pac-10 championship and national titles.

So next year with our new head coach Chris Petersen and a lot of fresh young talent coming up (some of which was on display last night) I'm looking forward to next year.  Yes, we'll still be in the Pac-12 North Division with powerhouses Stanford and Oregon (even this year we finished third to those two teams) but we'll have a chance, a chance to become a contender in one of the toughest conferences in college football.

Monday, December 23, 2013

Life in Cougar Country

Washington State University Logo
I live in Washington State.  When I tell people that they always say, "Oh, that’s such a pretty state."  Which is true, mostly.

You see, the Cascade Mountain Range runs down the length of the state from Canada to Oregon cutting the state roughly into a western third and an eastern two-thirds.  The Cascades is a barrier geographically, climatologically, culturally, economically, and politically.  The Washington State most people think of when they praise its beauty is what those of us living in the rain shadow of the Cascades call "The Wet Side."  That's the side with the Seattle metropolitan area, with Puget Sound and the San Juan Islands.  That's the side with Mount Rainier, Mount Baker, Mount Adams, Mount St. Helens, and the majestic Olympic Mountains.  That's the side that has 78% of the population of the state.  That's the side of the state with the headquarters of Fortune 500 companies Microsoft, Costco, and Weyerhaeuser.  It's where Boeing builds most of its planes.  It's the side with trees and green vegetation.

The Eastern two-thirds of the state are quite different.  A large part of it is the Columbia Basin that runs roughly from Grand Coulee Dam to the Oregon border, from the Cascades to the rolling, wheat-covered hills of the Palouse.  Scrubbed clean by ice age mega-floods (parts are called "The Scab Lands") and in that aforementioned rain shadow, here you only see green vegetation if someone is irrigating it.  And there's a lot of irrigation of potatoes, corn, wheat, alfalfa, apples, and grapes for the famous Basin wineries.  The economy is mostly agriculture, which lately is paying worse than usual.  Then there are the sparsely populated, mountainous counties along the Canadian Border, the farmland of the Palouse in the southeastern corner, and the foothills of the Rockies along the Idaho Border.  Spokane is the second largest city in the state, and Spokane County the fourth largest county.

And the east side of the state is "Cougar Country."

There are two major universities in Washington State: the University of Washington in Seattle and Washington State University in Pullman.  The contrast couldn't be more stark.  UW (also known as U-Dub) is in the state's largest city.  It is the largest university in the Pacific Northwest.  It is considered one of the "Public Ivies" (universities that are public or state owned but are on a par with the Ivy League).  It has for decades led the country in research grant dollars.  Its medical school is world class.

WSU (also known as Wazzu) is in a small town of about 30,000 people.  The next nearest large town is
Spokane which is 75 miles due north on slow, two-lane roads.  It is 8 miles from Moscow, Idaho (home of the University of Idaho).  It is known for its agriculture and animal husbandry programs (which is earned it the nickname "Cow-tech").  And most of the east side of the state is considered "Cougar Country."  And the Cougar fans (or simply "Cougars") support their "Cougs" come hell or high water or losing seasons or whatever may come.  Even as a UW alum and supporter and fan, I have to admit the Cougs are more virulent in their support of their school.  The potato storage pictured at right is an example (this is located along a major east-west highway in Eastern Washington).

And I have to admit, the WSU alumni are more supportive.  For example, there was a competition that the alumni who donated the most money to Habitat for Humanity got their flag to fly at the top of the Space Needle during the week of the Apple Cup, the annual rivalry football game between the two schools.  The Cougs won and not but a small margin.

University of Washington Logo
So I live in Cougar Country but I'm a "Husky."  And I'm not quiet about it.  I have a big purple W on the back window of my car (Husky's colors are purple and gold) and University of Washington licence plates.  I often wear Husky T-shirts and polos.  And I never lose a chance to tweak some Cougar about their team (assuming the Huskies win the Apple Cup as they did this year).  And Cougars never fail to tease me if the Huskies don't win the Apple Cup (like last year).

But even in Seattle (home of UW) the aura of support for the Huskies is nothing like it is in Eastern Washington for the Cougs.  It's pervasive with crimson clothes, license plates, and the WSU logo (see above) everywhere.  In fact, I might be (due to my rebellious streak) more supportive of UW than I otherwise would be because I'm so steeped in WSU support.

But it's all in fun.  I've yet to meet a Coug who couldn't take good-natured ribbing about their team.  And if a Coug gets smart with me I just smile and point out how the Cougars "couged" their first bowl game in 10 years.  And I'm looking forward to Friday's Fight Hunger Bowl, when the Huskies will be playing the Cougars (of BYU).

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Updated Website

I have updated my website to include a exclusive and exciting excerpt from my forth-coming novel, Gods of Strife.  Also on my website are the "buy links" for all of my books that are currently available.  So go check it out:!

Monday, December 16, 2013

Drivers and "Motor Vehicle Operators"

The other day I pulled into Starbucks' parking lot and I saw an attractive car I didn't recognize.  Which, of course, caught my eye.  On closer inspection I saw the Toyota logo and the Camry nameplate.  I was surprised.  For years Camrys have been what Car and Driver described as "aggressively bland."  But it must have worked for them because for years it has been the best selling passenger motor vehicle in the U.S.  But now that Hyundai and Kia (owned by Hyundai) are putting out very pretty cars, perhaps Toyota has decided it better keep up.

Doesn't change my opinion of the Camry as a "transportation appliance."

There are, in my opinion, three types of motor vehicles on the road and two type of motor vehicle operators.

The three types of vehicles are:
  1. Utility vehicles
  2. Transportation appliances
  3. Cars
Utility vehicles are vehicles designed to do a certain job.  Trucks, pickup trucks, delivery vans, etc. are utility vehicles.  Sports utility vehicles (SUVs) were once in the category exclusively but have migrated into category 2.

Transportation appliances are vehicles that are designed to get you from point A to point B with
Toyota Prius
the least travail.  These include: SUVs, minivans, almost every vehicle sold by Toyota and Subaru in the US.  (Exceptions are the Scion FR-S, Lexus LFA, Subaru BRZ (which is the same vehicle as the Scion FR-S), and the Subaru WRX).  The Toyota Prius is the ultimate transportation appliance, designed solely around getting good fuel mileage.  The people who are behind the steering wheel of these transportation appliances are "motor vehicle operators" (and often the most clueless people on the road).

Cars are vehicles that are fun, a joy to drive, bring a smile to your face with their looks, performance, and handling (yes, all three; a good looking Camry is still a transportation appliance).  These cars do not have to be high-powered (although that helps) and they don't have to be small.  A Chrysler 300C with the V-8 Hemi is huge, but it is fun to drive and therefore a car.  And cars tend to have "drivers" behind the wheel.  These are people who take an active part in operating their vehicle.  They know it's limits (because they've tested them) and it's capabilities (because they've used them).  They pay attention to the road (not the radio or their cell phone), they don't think driving slow equates to safety more than driving aware.

Of course, some cars are driven by motor vehicle operators who don't know what they have, and some drivers are forced behind the wheel of a utility vehicle or a transportation appliance and gaze lustfully upon the Ford Mustang beside them at the red light.

I have, in my life, owned one transportation appliance, a minivan to hold my three sons (and have some separation between them).  Even then I pushed the limits (admittedly low) of that vehicle.

Next time you drive, look around, see if you can spot the drivers and the motor vehicle operators.  The latter will be in the left lane going under the speed limit in a Subaru.

Saturday, December 14, 2013

The Future of Husky Football

It's been a while since head football coach Steve Sarkisian announced he was leaving the University of Washington for USC.  In the meantime, former Husky quarterback and current QB coach, Marques Tuiasosopo has been named interim head coach and will coach the Dawgs in the Fight Hunger Bowl.  Which I don't understand because UW announced not long after naming Tuiasosopo interim head coach that Boise State University head coach Chris Petersen will be the new head coach of the Huskies.

Things seem to be in carefully hidden turmoil on the Husky sidelines.  Sarkisian is poaching a great deal of the assistant coaching staff to take to USC with him.  I haven't seen any instance where Petersen is bring coaches from BSU.  And the future of Tuiasosopo is up in the air after the bowl game.

I am, to be honest, not completely happy with the choice of Petersen to coach the Huskies.  Petersen's record as head coach is 92–12.  But at least two of those 12 losses came at the hands of the Huskies.  The BSU Broncos are in the Mountain West conference.  That conference has never been strong nor very respected as far as I can tell.  Looking at it this year, there is one ranked team in the Mountain West (Fresno State at #20) and only five teams have winning records and only six are bowl eligible (out of 12 teams).  Compare with the Pac-12 where Petersen will now be playing.  Nine teams are going to bowls and five are ranked, including Stanford ant #5.

And I don't think BSU has ever played Oregon or Stanford, something UW does every year.  My worry is Petersen may have been great in the Mountain West but will be over his head in the Pac-12.  Playing out of his league, or conference.

They say Petersen is a great recruiter, which is good because apparently Sarkisian is also dragging recruits to USC from UW.  Petersen is said to be able to find the diamond in the rough where others just see rough.  And I would think recruiting to UW would be easier then BSU ("Hey, you want to go to Seattle and UW that gets national exposure, or Boise and BSU and labor in obscurity?").  But I am cautiously hopeful that Petersen will prove me wrong and be a great head coach.  Of course, I was hopeful that Tyrone Willingham would be a great coach, and he nearly destroyed the team.

And since Tuiasosopo is coaching the Dawgs through their bowl game, we won't see Petersen's work until next fall.  That's a long wait.

Friday, December 13, 2013

Fun with Numbers

I know there are people who hate math.  I see their posts on Facebook.  And some talk about how story problems are, to them, incomprehensible.  To which I say, "Life is a story problem."  In engineering, every problem is a story problem. 

I don't understand not liking math because I do like math.  I don't really love it because I'm not really good at it.  I'm slow and have to think a lot.  I took math in college up through differential equations which I loved because it took all that math (algebra, calculus, etc.) and applied it to the real world.  If someone asks me why they have to study algebra I say (if I'm feeling snarky), "So you can study calculus and God speaks calculus."

It's been 20 years since I graduated college (almost) and because I haven't used my calculus and differential equations, I've pretty much forgotten how to do them.  I know the principles involved, but to sit down and do a derivative or an integral, forget it!  But I still enjoy math.

One area of math were a lot of people have misconceptions is statistics.  That is probably because there's "luck" involved, they think.  You've heard, perhaps, that the lottery is tax on those bad at math?  Well, specifically, it's a tax on those bad at statistics.  According to the Powerball page the odds of winning the big prize are 1 in 175,000,000.  That's one ticket out of 175,000,000.  The odds of flipping a coin and getting heads is 50% (1/2).  The odds of winning the Powerball is 0.0000000057% (1/175,000,000).  That's close enough to zero to basically be zero.

The odds of being hit by lightning sometime in your life is 1 in 3,000.  So you are 58,333 times more likely to be hit by lightning in your lifetime than to win the Powerball lottery with one ticket.  Or, to make the odds of being hit by lightning the same as winning the Powerball, you'd need to buy 58,333 tickets in your lifetime.

So don't play the lottery.

Powerball is different for a lot of lotteries because of the power ball.  But if a lottery is where you pick six numbers out of, oh, 50, then any six numbers have the same (low) odds of winning.  Using 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6 will win just as much as any other six-number combination (including your grandchildren's ages).  It doesn't matter which numbers you play, you'll still lose.

Another area people don't understand statistics is with lucky runs.  The odds of flipping a coin and getting heads is 50% (1/2).  The odds of doing that three times in a row is 12.5% (1/2 x 1/2 x 1/2).  That means if you flip a coin three times 1,000 times, 125 times you'll get three heads in a row (or three tails).  So on that fourth throw, what are the odds of getting a heads?  It's 50%. Coins don't have memory.  Before the first flip the odds of flipping a coin and getting heads four times is 6.25%.  But after three flips (all heads) the odds the next flip will be heads is 50%.  Most people don't believe that (bar bet time!).

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Movie Review: Man of Steel

This week I watched two very different (yet in some ways similar) movies from Netflix.  The first was The Wizard of Oz, which I probably haven't seen for at least 40 years.  Made in 1939, it had what, for its time, was amazing special effects (although on Blu-ray it is sometimes very easy to spot the matte paintings).  In Oz the special effects do what they are supposed to do in a movie: show the audience things it cannot see in real life that are integral to the story.  The special effects enhance the story, they aren't the story.

Then I watched Man of Steel, a CGI effects-laden movie the kludges you with over-the-top violence and effect after endless effect.  Man of Steel (the latest re-boot of the Superman movies) was directed by Zack Snyder who has directed some really good movies (300) and some not so good movies (Watchmen).  And he does direct action scenes with an intensity and power few directors and muster.  But there was a point near the end of Man of Steel that I stopped caring and just want to CGI to stop and the story continue.  But the story is old and if you've seen Superman II, you'll pretty much know it.  And stripped of its CGI, the story is wafer-thin.  This movie is two hours and twenty-some odd minutes long.  If the fight scenes were cut in half (and they could have been if Snyder wasn't so in love with his computer enhancements), it could have been an hour and a half, easily.

Remember our discussion on the uses of special effects?  Special effects are to enhance the story, not be the story.  I think Zack Snyder forgot that with Man of Steel.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Busy Day

Yesterday was a busy day for me.  I had two freelance interviews (with pictures needing to be taken) 90 miles apart, the first at 7:30 A.M, the second scheduled for 10:00 A.M.  But to get the to the first one, I had to drive about 70 miles.  All in all I ended up driving 204 before noon.

To get to that 7:30 interview, I planned to leave the house at 6:00 A.M.  This would give me plenty of time to get there a bit early (as I always try to do with freelance interviews).  Because the trip is mostly on two-lane roads the trip usually takes about 75 minutes.  And of course I needed to stop at Starbucks. 

But then just before I went to bed the night before, I realized I didn't have enough gas in the car.  So I decided to leave at 5:45 to get gas.  That meant getting up at 4:45 to be ready to go and have time to do the daily Facebook promotional work for my publisher.  Best laid plans . . .

I woke up at 3:00 A.M. and couldn't go back to sleep.  Finally got in the shower and left the house about 5:00.  Got gas and treated myself to breakfast at a local diner and hit the road at about 6:00 A.M.  This time of year it was pitch black and freezing cold (about 8 degrees F).  Luckily the roads were bare and dry (if the weather had been bad, it would have been a miserable trip).

Got to the first interview early as I like to do.  But then the subject showed up late (and he was the one who insisted on 7:30 A.M.).  Got the interview done (and pictures taken) and scrambled to the next one, 90 miles away (and a different direction from home).  I did take one exit wrong which cost a bit of time.  When the interview was supposed to happen (10:00 A.M.) I was, according to my navigation system, about 25 miles away.  I call the subject and let him know I was running late.  He had no problem with that (I'd called him the day before and said I might be late).

Got that interview done and had to drive about 30 miles to home, going in a big triangle-shaped circuit, southeast, northwest, and then east to home.

Getting home I ate lunch and dove right in to writing the articles.  It was nearly 3:00 P.M. when I was done.  That's a 9-hour day going non-stop (except for some lunch).  That's a lot for a semi-retired freelance writer and author.

Then I had Toastmasters at 5:30 to 6:30.  Came home and fell asleep in my recliner around 8:00 P.M.  I was tired.

I love writing and I really enjoy freelancing (except when people won't return my calls I get a bit stressed).  Freelancing lets me practice my craft, make a little extra money, and meet interesting people.  Sometimes when you're dealing with corporations it can be frustrating.  Earlier this month I was debating if freelancing was worth it.  But then I remembered January of this year when I had no freelance work and was bored to tears.  But days like yesterday, while rare, are both fun and hard work, two things not mutually exclusive.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Disappointment and Hope

I had decided I wouldn't do anymore sports posts until after the University of Washington Huskies won their bowl game.  Then came the news yesterday that Huskies head coach Steve Sarkisian has accepted an offer to immediately become the head coach at USC.  He won't even be coaching the Huskies in their as-to-be-determined bowl game.  His twitter profile today says he's the head coach at USC.  According to what I read in the Seattle Times today, he'll basically double his salary (to nearly $3 million per year) taking the USC job and be able to return to his home area of Los Angeles.  Sarkisian was an assistant coach at USC under Pete Carroll (now head coach of the dominant NFL Seattle Seahawks).

I have mixed feelings about this.  Sarkisian did a great job taking a team that was 0-12 five years ago
Steve Sarkisian
and making it 7-5 two years later and won the Holiday bowl against Nebraska in an upset victory.  Then came two more 7-5 years and two bowl losses.  The Huskies seemed to have stagnated.  They'd play brilliant for a game or two, then get blown out by a team they should have been able to beat.  And he never, ever beat Oregon, the team Huskies love to hate (admittedly, Phil Knight bought Oregon a pretty good team).  The Huskies were 8-4 this season losing to very tough teams that went on (mostly) to do great things (Stanford, Oregon, Arizona State, and UCLA).

So maybe it's a good think Sark is moving on.  Maybe he's taken the Dawgs as far as he can.  Maybe some new blood will help make the Huskies dominant again not only in the Pac-12 but nationally.  Maybe we can bring in a coach that can take this team to the next level.  Candidates mentioned include the current defensive coordinator, UCLA's head coach (and former Husky player) Jim Mora, and Boise State's head coach.  We'll have to see.

In a way I'm heartbroken.  And I'm looking forward to the future.

Monday, December 2, 2013

Traffic Jams

Every since I first experienced traffic jams on a regular basis when I moved to Seattle in 1980, I've never quite understood them or what causes them.  I don't know if anyone has really researched them.  They seem to be often a physiological phenomena as much as a function of over-crowded roads.

For example, a freeway in the Seattle area, SR 520 (we don't name our freeways up here), had three lanes going westbound (into Seattle from the 'burbs), one of them an HOV lane (car pool lane).  And every weekday morning there was a jam on the freeway for miles.  Here's the weird thing.  When the freeway crossed Lake Washington (on the Evergreen Point Floating Bridge) it dropped to 2 lanes.  Did traffic get worse?  No, it often opened up and was no longer jammed.  Why?  I had two theories: 1) traffic merging off the HOV lane or and 2) there used to be toll gates right before the bridge and people were so used to jamming up there they still did.  (The toll gates were removed 1979, there were no tolls for years, now they are tolling again automatically to pay for a replacement for the 50-year-old bridge.)

In the evenings going eastbound (out of Seattle into the suburbs of Bellevue and Kirkland), the traffic would jam up to (you guessed it) the former toll booth plaza then open up.  Same number of cars, same number of lanes.

Last night I was driving to Seattle on Interstate 90 and suddenly traffic went from about 70 mph to stop and go.  Same number of cars and same number of lanes.  And the same rainy weather.  The picture above was taken during that jam last night.  It took us 70 minutes to go 30 miles for an average speed of 26 mph (on rural interstate with a speed limit of 70).

Now some traffic jams have obvious causes: blocked lane, way too many cars for the road (I-5 downtown Seattle's permanent traffic jam).  But when the same number of cars on the same number of lanes suddenly comes to a halt as if the road suddenly got sticky, that's when I don't understand.

And then there's the other question about traffic jams: why is the lane you're in always the one moving slower?

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Tire Pressure

Yesterday I took my car to the tire store to have the snow tires put on.  They are on rims so it was what they called a "switch," not a mount and balance (which is much more expensive).  I forgot to check the tire pressure before I put the tires in the trunk of my car and decided to check it when I got home.  Also, I have a tire pressure monitoring system on that car which is fairly accurate (but all TPMS I have are glitchy and tend to read low).

After waiting a bit (the weather is turning and lots of people are putting on snow tires) I got my car back and drove home.  As I pulled into the driveway each tire on the TPMS read around 37 psi.  The recommended pressure is 30 psi.  I grumbled.  It seems (at least around here) every tire store over-inflates your tires.  So later in the day I went out and lowered the pressure to 30 (which is probably a bit high considering how cold it was; see below).

Tire Rack, whom I pretty much trust for all things tire related, says over-inflation is bad for a number of reasons:
An overinflated tire is stiff and unyielding and the size of its footprint in contact with the road is reduced. If a vehicle's tires are overinflated by 6 psi, they could be damaged more easily when running over potholes or debris in the road. Higher inflated tires cannot isolate road irregularities well, causing them to ride harsher.
Some people think over-inflating tires gives them better gas mileage.  But it doesn't.  Also, you can wear out your tire faster I've been told because the center will be taking more of the load and the middle will go bald faster than the edges.

Some people think the tire pressure listed on the tire is what they should be inflated to but that's the maximum tire pressure the tire can handle, not the recommended pressure.  Cars weigh different amounts so the same tire on a different car could have a different manufacturer's recommended tire pressure.  Always check your owner's manual or newer cars have a sticker on the driver's side door jamb.  Also, if you inflate your tires to that maximum pressure, then go drive 100 miles at 60 mph, the tire pressure will increase due to heat and, bam, you have a blowout!

The problem is, measuring tire pressure is tricky business.  Pressure depends on three factors: the amount of air in the tire, the size of the tire, and the temperature of the air (I discussed this relationship in great nauseating detail here).  Now the size of the tire is constant but the temperature changes.  The manufacture's recommended tire pressure is the "cold" pressure.  But cold doesn't mean "cold" it means "not hot."  Again, from Tire Rack:
Set according to the vehicle manufacturer's cold tire pressure(s) recommended on the vehicle's tire placard or in its owner's manual. This must be done before rising ambient temperatures, the sun's radiant heat or even driving short distances temporarily warms the tires.
(I once checked my tire pressure with one side of the car in the sun and once side in the shade and I was shocked at the difference.)  And then there's a bunch of correction factors for temperature listed.  They never say what the optimum ambient temperature is but I suspect it's about 68 degrees F (20 degrees C).

Now, if you drive 100 miles at 70 mph, your psi will be about 2-3 pounds higher.  That's okay.  That's designed into the pressure and the design of the tire.  If you start your car and it's 20 degrees F out your psi could be 3-4 pound low.  Again, once the car gets moving the tires will warm up and that'll get them to the right pressure.  You can't always maintain the correct pressure of 30 psi (or whatever is recommended for your vehicle).  But you should try to get close with a good tire pressure gauge (I don't recommend the "stick" kind, not accurate enough).  Your tires will thank you.