A week ago, as the Cubs and Indians were heading down the stretch of the final game of this year’s World Series I tweeted this:
If you’re the kind of person who believes in karma or other such things, there’s an explanation you can consider. Alternately, maybe the gods just decided to stick a metaphorical fork in Nate Silver’s eye.
I, myself, do not believe in such things – I was making a joke since I was rooting for the Indians. So my topics today are: What happened, and what happens next?
I have a pretty simple – even reductionist – view of how Presidential politics works: That the largest single factor is how the electorate views the state of the economy at the time of the election. There are a lot of voters who are “locked in” to one party, and among those who aren’t, the state of the economy is the biggest determining factor in whether they turn out to vote, and who they vote for. In particular, I believe that if they perceive the economy to be bad – especially in their region (“all politics is local”) – then they will tend vote for the major party candidate who is not from the party of the sitting President. Regardless of what’s going on elsewhere in government, in a Presidential election, the party of the sitting President gets the blame.
I also feel that incumbency is a significant factor, so even if the economy is bad, the incumbent has a built-in edge which a non-incumbent candidate of the same party of the sitting President does not have.
There are some other nuances, but fundamentally I think Bill Clinton’s campaign got it right in 1992: “It’s the economy, stupid.”
So, I think that the Republican Congress has been engineering the recovery from the last recession to be weak, so that large swaths of the electorate felt that the economy basically sucks, even though it doesn’t suck for a lot of people. Yeah yeah, lots of job growth, but it’s been not so much tepid job growth as growth of tepid jobs. So the marginal voters who turned out to vote – i.e., the ones that matter – came out and held the Democrats responsible, because the sitting President is a Democrat. I think this has been a deliberate strategy on the part of the Republican leadership, and while Trump displacing their establishment candidates isn’t what they’d planned (primary politics is a very different kettle of fish from the general election), they’re probably pretty happy with the outcome overall.
Would Bernie Sanders have won where Hillary Clinton lost? I doubt it. And I think polls showing otherwise are no better than wishful thinking for his supporters. (I voted for Sanders in the primary.)
Why did the polls and analysts get it wrong before the election? Heck if I know. But the economic news over the last 2 years made me think that the Republican nominee – whoever it was – would have a better chance of winning this election than a lot of people gave them credit for.
Anyway, here we are: President-Elect Trump.
What happens next?
As usual John Scalzi said a lot and said it better than I can. But I have a few more things to say:
First, I think people who voted for Trump for economic reasons are – ironically, tragically – the least likely citizens to be helped by his programs. Trump doesn’t care about the little guy, and I think his talk about bringing back jobs was just rhetoric; he’s interested in helping himself and his fellow tycoons to make money off of everyone else, legitimately or not. Trump isn’t an “outsider”, people like Trump are the reason government has insiders – they exist for people like Trump. If you’re not like Trump (white, male, rich), then don’t expect to see a whole lot of help from the government in the next four years.
Second, while the Supreme Court and the repeal of Obamacare are getting a lot of the press, what really scares me is that in the next 4 years the Republicans might turn their attention to repealing Social Security and Medicare, two of the greatest and most successful government programs in the history of humanity. Certainly I’m not counting on them being around when I retire, at this point. And after helping care for my mother these last few years, I really cannot stress enough just how wonderful a program Medicare is.
(A friend said that Trump has pledged not to abolish Social Security and Medicare. Even if he said this, I bet he doesn’t care enough to stick to that. And the Congressional Republicans definitely want to get rid of them.)
Every Presidential election I’ve voted in has been tremendously stressful to watch the night of the returns. When Clinton and Obama won each of their two terms, it was a big relief because, although I found them each far from perfect, they were better than the alternative. When George W. Bush won each of his two terms, it was difficult to see how I was going to get up in the morning. Last night was like those two Bush elections times ten.
It’s prosaic to say, “we have to go on, because what else can we do?” I was able to get up this morning and mostly do my usual routine. But I fear that a lot of people are going to decide they can’t keep going. I bet we’ll see rising suicide rates among minorities, LGBT folks, and maybe even women.
I have no comforting words. My mental-compartmentalization skills are working overtime to help me adjust to this, and they’re doing pretty well – but I feel guilty because it makes me feel emotionally detached from how I think many people are feelineg.
The next few years are going to be brutal for many people whose wealth is counted in less than 8 figures. I hope we all survive them.
My sister Katy texted me last night to tell me that our Mom’s cat Maggie passed away sometime during the day.
Mom had cats for just about my entire life. When I was born she and Dad had a cat named Dinah, whom I barely remember, although I dimly remember thinking she was someone to avoid. She died when I was still quite young. I grew up with an Abyssinian cat named Amos – I’m not sure if they got him before or after I was born – and he was around until 1987, along with our Welsh Corgi, Punkin, who joined us in 1976. I always found Amos somewhat aloof, even for a cat, just doing his own thing. I don’t really have strong memories of him, even though I was a teenager for part of his life.
In 1988, after I went to college and Amos passed away, Mom and got a couple of cats, a sweet tabby named William, and a feisty polydactyl calico named Jenny. William was my buddy whenever I visited, and I was very sad when he passed away in 2000. Jenny lived a couple more years, and I think enjoyed being an only cat.
We weren’t sure Mom would get another cat after Jenny – well, maybe Mom was less sure than the rest of us – but she found Maggie at a shelter, I think around 2003. The shelter said she’d been found pregnant and with a collar on her neck which was too small. And she was a small cat – maybe 7 pounds – a calico with smoky fur and a smudge on her nose. Mom adopted her, and really had to stick out caring for her for that first year, because she said Maggie took a long time to warm up to her, and even longer to really become her friend. But eventually she settled in with Mom, coming down for treats or to lie on the newspaper, and moving from room to room to lie in the sun in various windows. I guess she would growl and hiss loudly at cats who came into her yard, and avidly watched all the birds which flew into the yard.
She was not a very friendly cat, usually running and hiding when visitors came. It would take several days after I’d arrive to visit before she’d do more than look at me around a corner. She didn’t bite or scratch (much), she just wasn’t very friendly. She did warm up to me when I stayed at Mom’s house while she was recovering from knee replacement surgery in 2012, even getting into the morning paper routine. She’d even sit at the top of the stairs and meow for me to come to bed when it was Mom’s usual bedtime!
She had a bit of a mischievous streak: Mom said she once got outside, and Mom left both the front and back doors open for her to come back in. After an hour, she walked in the front door… and before Mom could close the doors she walked all the way through the house and went out the back. She did come in to stay later in the day, though. She also loved to play with tabs from plastic milk cartons, and would sometimes carry one to the top of the stairs and meow until Mom came out and told her what a good kitty she was. (When we were preparing to sell the house, I found dozens of the tabs behind the oven.)
Maggie had a hard time in Mom’s apartment in assisted living, with people coming in and out several times a day, and having a pretty small place to live. Mom played with her a lot, but as Mom declined (and I see in hindsight that she hid a lot of the symptoms of her decline from us) I think she became neglected and lonely.
The nursing staff told us that when Mom passed away she meowed loudly for a while afterwards, and then she had to endure several days in the apartment alone, with the occasional visitor to give her food and scoop her litter, until Katy and I came to clean out the place.
Katy volunteered to adopt her, and something remarkable happened: She moved into Katy’s house, with her son and her two young cats, and she totally took over the house. She whipped the young cats into line, and became very friendly to the humans. Katy says when she’d have workmen over, the other cats with disappear but Maggie would stay and supervise them. And last December, when Katy adopted a young dog, Maggie told the dog who’s boss, and used him against the other cats, since they didn’t like him.
So after everything, Maggie got her happy ending, a year and a half in a nice old house, with friendly humans, lots of wet cat food, and plenty of time lying in the sun on the porch.
Katy said Maggie had been getting small and thin lately, and we’re not really sure how old she was. Our best guess is that she’s 13, about the same as our calico Roulette, but she could easily have been a year or two (or more!) older than that. She always had kind of cruddy teeth, which is not a recipe for long-term health. So it was not really a surprise, though the suddenness was a bit of a shock. I don’t think Maggie would have done well with a long decline, anyway.
Katy says she’s having Maggie cremated and will spread her ashes over Mom’s grave next time she visits. I think they’d both like the thought of that.
(photo by Katy)
Our big vacation for this summer was in a sense “just” another trip east to visit our families. But actually a lot has changed since our last trip. For me, anyway, things have changed.
This was our first visit in over a year, since Mom’s memorial in May of last year. And really neither of our trips last year were “visits”, since they both primarily dealt with the aftermath of Mom passing away.
I’ve been staying with my Dad when I go to visit since summer of 2012 when Mom moved out of her house and into assisted living, so that part wasn’t really different, but the “routine” of the visit was different. The big difference, of course, being that I wasn’t visiting Mom. In past trips I made sure to schedule time at least every other day to visit with Mom, spend time with her, run errands with her, and do any tasks on behalf of her affairs which I needed her presence for (and there was always something). This meant I was always scheduling my trip to make sure I had time for that – and more, it meant I was just scheduling my trip, which made it less of a vacation. So it turned out that I had a bunch more unscheduled time on this trip than I’d anticipated, and in hindsight I should have set up some visits with one or two local friends, but I didn’t realize how it would work out.
Of course, more to the point is that I don’t have Mom to visit with anymore. On the other hand, this means I get to spend more time with Dad.
Well okay, I can still “visit” Mom, because as it happened the week we flew out the marker for her grave had arrived and been set at Mount Auburn Cemetery:
The marker was designed by Karin Sprague, whom my sister engaged for the job and visited last summer and said she knew immediately she’d made the right choice on her visit. As you can see, it looks great! Elegant, distinctive, and with a sense of Mom’s personality. It’s certainly the most unique marker in the immediate area, and has a lot more character than almost any other marker I’ve seen at Mount Auburn.
The view from the marker is pretty awesome, too:
Dad and I visited and I took a bunch of pictures of the area around Mom’s site, and then we walked and drove around the cemetery, including climbing to the top of the tower at its center, which has a great view of the surrounding cities. Mount Auburn is beautiful and a popular scenic place to visit, and I’d certainly recommend it if you’re in the area.
Dad and I also drove out to Waban where I grew up to see how things had changed. In particular I wanted to stop in Waban Hardware, which was purchased and renovated after the retirement of the previous owner (who had been there for as long as I can remember). They’ve done a great job sprucing things up, and doubled its floor space by opening up the basement. They also have many great old photos of the store and of Waban Square in the stairwell to the basement, so if you’ve lived in Waban yourself, stop by and check it out.
We also walked around the new Angier School, where I went to elementary school. The old 1920s build was knocked down a couple of years ago and has been replaced with a new, modern building, which looks pretty nifty. While I have many fond memories of the old building, honestly I was aware even when I was going there that it was outdated, with an inflexible, unexpandable design, and needed to be replaced. This was a long time in coming. (The next closest school, Zervas – formerly Beethoven – has also been demolished and was being rebuilt when we drove by.)
Finally, there’s the site of Mom’s old house, the house I grew up in. We sold the house in 2013, knowing that the house itself had relatively little value since – like Angier – it was outdated and difficult to expand and modernize. Sure enough, the old house was demolished, and a large new house was built on the site. The new house is huge – about three times as big as the old house – but honestly it fits in very well with the neighborhood, fixes many of the problems with the old house, and doesn’t look like it dominates the site. I am perhaps a little sad that some of the nice trees around the property were removed and not replaced, but that could be changed; otherwise, I think it looks great. Probably as nice as anyone could have hoped for.
I’d say that this part was a weird visit, but it wasn’t really that weird, just another step forward in the inexorable march of time. I think emptying and selling Mom’s house in 2012-13 was the really difficult step, and it’s been a long – if sometimes traumatic – transitional period since then. And it never really ends.
Anyway, I spent the second half of the week with Debbi and her family. We spent a couple of days at a beach house they have on the south shore, which we’ve both visited in years past. We actually went down the first weekend with Dad to hang out for an afternoon. Mid-week we spent time with Debbi’s sister and some of her kids.
The biggest downside to the visit was that it was hot and humid for most of our trip – I’d forgotten how ugly Boston summers can be. And we spent two nights at the beach house without air conditioning, which was okay since it cooled off reasonably well overnight, but it made the late afternoon and evening a bit ugly. It didn’t stop us from sitting on the beach, either, or making an excursion to the nearby coastal town. It also didn’t stop us from waking up early to watch the sun rise.
We had fun with Debbi’s other sister playing video games (she’s ridiculously good at Wii Tetris) and running around the back yard with their dogs. And then on Saturday we played frisbee golf with several of them on a forested course. I’d heard of disc golf and had some familiarity with it, but I’d never played before. It’s pretty challenging! None of us were great at it, but we did pretty well, making par on a couple of holes, and throwing the disc into the trees on others. I don’t think we actually lost any discs, though (which is more than could be said for at least one party we passed).
We spent the last night with my Dad and then headed to the airport on Sunday and flew home, getting in late and collapsing into bed exhausted. We were smart enough to take Monday off to get our bearings again.
It was a good trip, although I felt like the heat dampened my motivation to do stuff while we were there. (I’d thought of making a trip into Boston, for example.) Hopefully it will be cooler for our next trip. But, it’s always good to see our families!
Since Monday was Memorial Day, Debbi made breakfast both Sunday and Monday. Four days worth of leftovers and four days in the week meant awesome breakfasts every day this week.
Chocolate chip scones (from Iveta):
And sausage biscuits:
Thank you, Debbi! It’s all been delicious!
We got a Tivo Bolt late last year, and we’ve been enjoying it a lot. We’ve been able to time start watching some TV shows that were inconvenient for us to follow at their air times, watched some movies we otherwise wouldn’t have caught, and Debbi has discovered a couple of shows suggested by the machine which she wouldn’t have found otherwise, in particular Murdoch Mysteries, a police procedural taking place in late 19th century Canada.
We’ve had a few problems with it, though. Our TV provider is Comcast, which means we had to go through the process of setting up a CableCard for the TiVo, which means dealing with Comcast’s quixotic customer service line, and sometimes long hold times at Tivo’s help line. We never managed to get Comcast channel 1 – On Demand – to work, but we later learned that Tivo shows On Demand programming as one of several streaming options.
More annoyingly, recently we noticed that a few channels were no longer coming in. Sometimes they’d drop out for a few days, and then come back. Last week it got bad enough that we missed the last episode of season 2 of The Flash because it couldn’t get the signal. We tried to watch it via On Demand, but we couldn’t get that to work either.
The channels that were missing all had error messages that read, “Searching for a signal on this channel (v52)”. So I did web searches for that phrase, and found this page, where someone fixed the same problem by “re-seating the CableCard”. So I powered down the Tivo, removed the CableCard, inserted it again, and powered it up again. And lo and behold, not only were the missing channels back, but On Demand was working! So we managed to see the conclusion of The Flash at last.
It seems like a remarkable fragile system, and man, I dread having to call Comcast for support, especially since my experience so far is that as soon as they hear I have a TiVo they’ll ship me over to Tivo, where I’ll have a long hold time, and eventually connect with someone helpful who will nonetheless have both of us call back to Comcast.
So, mostly I blame Comcast for it all. Just like I suspect everybody does.
But at least I should be able to fix this particular problem if it happens again.
You may have noticed it’s been pretty quiet around here. Life has been ridiculously busy this spring and I have not been in much of a journalling mood.
We’ll start on a high note, which is that in late March when my sister Katy and nephew Ivan came to visit for a week, on his school break. They visited back in 2014 with Katy’s then-boyfriend and his daughter and wanted to make a return engagement. While I failed to get tickets to Alcatraz, we did a lot of other stuff:
- The obligatory visit to Half Moon Bay, including Katy’s “happy place” the Feed & Fuel, and lunch at Cameron’s British pub. It was surprisingly cold and drizzly, so we didn’t spend as much time there as we’d planned.
- A visit to San Francisco to ride on the cable cars, ice cream at Ghirardelli Square, a trip to the Cable Car Museum, and visits to a couple of athletic apparel stores that Ivan really wanted to visit. Again it was a rainy day, and we got poured on while waiting for the cable car.
- A walk through the Winchester Mystery House, followed by a visit to the San Jose Earthquakes stadium and store – Ivan is a big soccer fan. (Somehow Katy didn’t make me take her to the Sharks stadium.)
- Big Basin Redwoods State Park, followed by a drive down to Santa Cruz.
- A visit to Berkeley to see the Cal campus, with another trip to San Francisco (and the easiest drive into the city over the Bay Bridge I’ve ever done) with stop at Borderlands.
- We also spent a bunch of time around my home town of Mountain View, including a visit to the Computer History Museum (where I learned that I now enjoy the self-guided tour rather than the docent tour – 10 years ago it was the reverse). And Katy and I went out for a couple of runs together on the Stevens Creek Trail.
It was a good trip. I think by the end Ivan both didn’t want to go, and was ready to be back home. 😊
The rest of March through mid-April was mostly given over to taxes. Since Debbi and I got married last year, that meant we had the option of filing our taxes jointly, which we took since it turns out to save us a hefty amount of money. Meanwhile I also had to file taxes for Mom for last year – her personal taxes through the date of her death, and for her estate for the rest of the year. All of this was slowed down considerably by one of her investment accounts not providing the final 1099 until early April (not entirely their fault – one of the funds she’s invested in seems to be very slow about providing their data), plus issues with one of the 1099s not being sent to me, since it was still targeted at Mom’s old address. And then juggling getting the form from the estate to my sister for her taxes, and correcting an error on our taxes. Hopefully next year will be easier – at least I’ll have a better idea what I’m in for. It was exhausting.
But not as exhausting as what came next, which was learning that someone had compromised one of my credit cards, and concern that they had actually stolen my identity (I’m not going to go into details here, but there was evidence that it was more than just a compromised card). So that involved a bunch of phone calls, filing a police report (!), and generally monitoring my accounts for a while. Not to mention the stress involved. So far, nothing more has come of it, so it’s possible that it was more lax security at the card company, though that’s a little surprising since my experience has been that their security is quite good. Anyway, crossing my fingers that that’s the end of it.
Work has been quite busy, as it always is at this time of year ahead of WWDC. One source of stress in my life is when I have phone calls or business I need to conduct during business hours (because that’s when things are open), but I would much rather just be tron’ed in to whatever I’m working on in the office. So I try to get those phone calls or errands finished before I go to work in the morning (especially for calls to the east coast), but it doesn’t always work out that way. And we’ve had a couple of other projects going on over the last month, so it’s been an unusually busy time.
Besides journalling, reading has also fallen by the wayside this year (well, except for the weekly comic book run). I feel like I’ve been picking up a bunch of mediocre books that I run out of gas on. For example, Laurie King’s The Beekeeper’s Apprentice was so slow and (ahem) droning that I gave up less than halfway through. I should just go back to reading space operas, maybe.
Though we have been watching more television than usual, in large part because of the TiVo I bought over Christmas. It’s been working really well, and we’re slowly working our way through Person of Interest. I also decided to dive into The Flash partway through the second season, which is a more entertaining show than I had really expected, although it has the usual superheroes-on-TV problem of having plot devices which make no sense whatsoever, and man, if it wasn’t for Wikipedia I would have had no idea what was going on for the first few episodes. I gotta say that the guy playing the “man in the iron mask”, when he was finally revealed, was a picture-perfect representation of that character.
So, I think that’s enough catch-up for now. We’re having a fairly lazy Memorial Day Weekend, enjoying the air conditioning since it’s been pushing 90 for the last few days, with a forecast of over 100 next weekend. Later today we’re having dinner with the neighbors – because we like our neighbors!
Maybe next month I’ll post as many as two or three entries!
In honor of tax day (which is 3 days late this year because of Emancipation Day in the District of Columbia), I just wanted to write a little post to say:
Holy crap this was the most annoying tax year I’ve ever had.
On the one hand, it was a little easier because Debbi and I got married last year. And filing jointly saved us a bunch of money in taxes, and that meant two fewer returns (federal and state) to file.
On the other hand, Mom passed away last year, and I’m the executor of her estate. So that meant filing federal and state taxes for her personally, and then federal and state taxes for her estate, and an additional state return for California because (apparently) that’s where I live.
On top of that, one of the funds she’s invested in was astoundingly late getting their information to her investment company, so they sent out a preliminary 1099 in February, and then an amended 1099 in late March (!!). Fortunately I have my CPA do all the paperwork, and I know they do it all on computer, so it was mostly a matter of waiting, waiting, and waiting some more before finally dropping it off with them. Oh, and since I transitioned her account from a personal to an estate account, and the personal account records were still being sent to her old address, I had to contact her investment advisor to get the amended 1099 for that account sent to me. Ghaaa-aaah.
And basically everything else hinged on getting the estate returns done, so it could generate K-1 forms for myself and my sister (the estate’s beneficiaries) for our own returns.
Lastly, I found an error in our returns when I picked them up for review, which involved some more running around (but was worth it because it saved us a reasonable amount of additional money).
I am one of those luddites who still files my taxes on paper. Although that’s not really the issue; some of my Mom’s taxes cannot be filed electronically anyway. It did mean a wait at the post office to ship things off, but on the plus side the fact that so many people file electronically these days means the wait is a lot shorter than it used to be.
Anyway, I got everything sent off on Thursday, and hopefully that will be the last I hear of them. Where taxes are concerned, no news is definitely good news.
Yesterday I headed down to Isle of Gamers for the prerelease for the latest Magic set, Shadows Over Innistrad. After listening to the set review on Limited Resources, and poking around on the net a bit, my feeling was that this would be a complicated set, and that assimilating all the information in the sealed deck prerelease would be pretty daunting, trying to figure out how best to fit together the various moving parts.
Once I opened my packs, I had this card pool:
(click to embiggen)
Notice the following things:
- I opened 7 rares (well, one was the promo card), of which 3 were land, 2 were planeswalkers (yay!), and 2 were not really great in limited.
- All five colors are somewhat playable – this is a pretty deep pool.
- Unfortunately, red is the weakest color, and green the second-weakest, and both planeswalkers require red.
- Black is both deep and has a bunch of removal, so I’m surely playing black.
My first inclination was to go white-black, splashing red for Nahiri, so I came up with this:
That’s not awful, but probably not worth splashing just for one card, even a really good one. And there isn’t really any other red worth splashing. The other thing I realized is that it often doesn’t start doing stuff until turn 3, and it doesn’t make great use of its rare, Odric.
So I decided to try again, with blue instead of white, which gives me a little more early options, and a little more flying power:
I would characterize this deck as “unexciting midrange” (no rares other than the dual land!), but I hoped it would make up for that in consistency and evasion, and after some agonizing, it’s the one I decided to go with. Here’s how it played out:
Round 1: I played against a white-blue deck, and both of our decks ended up playing out as control decks against the other. I had more evasion than he did, but he had cards like Puncturing Light and Sleep Paralysis to deal with my Stormrider Spirits. I won game 1 mainly on the back of Daring Sleuth‘s flip side giving me lots of card advantage, and he won game 2 by grinding me out. Then we drew game 3 because we didn’t have nearly enough time to finish.
After this round I decided that Wild-Field Scarecrow didn’t do much in this deck, so I replaced it with the more aggressive Wicker Witch, which turned out to be the right choice. I also swapped out Merciless Resolve for the cheaper Macabre Waltz, which also paid dividends as I often had creatures in my graveyard I wanted to get back.
Round 2: Another white deck, this time white-black. In game 1 I recognized that my draw was much more aggressive than his and won by pushing through damage early, combined with overwhelming board position through my incremental card advantage. Game 2 was a squeaker, with me seemingly taking a big advantage and playing the Morkrut Necropod, but he had an answer for it in Murderous Compulsion. He took me down to 1, and he was also at 1. I ended my turn with 3 creatures to his 2, and with Broken Concentration in hand I countered his attempt to cast Bygone Bishop (I believe my spoken response when he cast it was, “No no, no no no – no.”) and that was enough to push through the last point of damage on my next turn.
Round 3: My opponent ran me over in the first game, playing a white-green humans deck which fired on all cylinders. Game 2 went much better as he never drew green mana and so stalled out in the midgame. He later told me his deck was mostly white, so this was a weird draw for him. For my part I was pleased that I mulliganed a hand with 3 islands, 3 black spells, and an artifact creature. Game 3 was the opposite as he kept a hand with 3 forests, 3 white cards, and an Intrepid Provisioner. He didn’t draw a plains until it was too late, and I won again.
Afterwards we chatted about his last game’s keep, and I told him that I’d had a similar scenario in game 2, where I’d mulliganed, and that I always seemed to do (and feel) better when I mulliganed color-mismatch hands like that. He pointed out that he had many more plains in his deck than forests, and he only needed one to get going. I don’t know what the answer is; if he had 10 plains in his deck, then the odds were he’d draw one by turn 4, but he really needed to draw one before that if my deck curved out (which it did). So it was a tough loss for him.
Round 4: My opponent here unfortunately also had mana problems, stalling out at 3 land in game 1, and I had just the right removal for the cards she could play (such as the ultra-annoying Sin Prodder). In game 2 she got mana flooded, and while she did play a big bomb in Flameblade Angel when she was still around 14 life, Press For Answers was exactly the answer I needed to push through a bunch of damage which she didn’t have any other blockers for.
So in the end I went 3-0-1 in my 4 matches, which was good for fourth place overall (and 8 packs!) in a field of over 50 people. I feel that my deck overperformed a little bit, and that my opponents’ decks underperformed – in some cases by a lot – so I’m not sure whether I truly “earned” my record. But sometimes you end up on the good side of the variance gods.
A few lessons I learned from the day as regards the format:
- The removal doesn’t look impressive in this set, but a lot of it works well against a wide variety of threats. It seems like there are a lot of 2/3 and 3/2 creatures, and doing 2 damage does really well against the latter, while the former tend to be less threatening. As one person put it, there’s “not a lot of beef” in this set. (But – small sample size alert. There are a number of ways to make some larger creatures, and I just didn’t face many of them.)
- Morkrut Necropod is a better card than it looks like, as there are not many things which can deal with a 7/7 with Menace in the format, and sacrificing a land by the time it comes down is not a big penalty.
- It doesn’t take a lot of Investigate sources in your deck to enable cards which need them such as Daring Sleuth. I think I had 3 in my deck, and that was enough to pretty reliably flip the Sleuth.
- Also, Daring Sleuth can be a horse in limited.
- Gone Missing can do some work. One game when an opponent was struggling with mana, I put his tap-land on top of his deck, which not only blanked his next draw, but it meant even if he had anything to play with 4 mana that he hadn’t played for some reason (such as a combat trick), he would have to wait an extra turn to play it. Also great to enable an alpha strike.
- Accursed Witch is a great card. If they decide not to kill it, then it hits them for 4. If they do kill it, then (most of the time) it turns into an annoying enchantment.
- Thraben Gargoyle is also surprisingly good; by the time you can flip it, if your opponent hasn’t been careful to hold back some removal, a 4/2 flyer is pretty hard to deal with.
- Bygone Bishop looks awesome.
Also, having a deck where only one card costs double-colored-mana is a nice incremental advantage since it makes it harder to be color-screwed.
Also, it turns out that my worry about information overload was unfounded; while I could imagine that having several good Madness cards could lead to struggling to figure out how to use it effectively, I didn’t have that problem. And there are several good ways to interact with discarding and sacrificing and the graveyard which don’t require Madness.
This looks like it will be a fun format, though I think there will be more to keep track of in draft than in sealed (“Whoops I forgot to draft a discard outlet”), but it also looks possible to draft a pretty straightforward deck if you prefer. I also wonder if it’s going to be a less bomb-y format than most (i.e., a pauper rather than a prince format, as the lingo goes).
Obviously I have fun – winning is usually fun! Definitely more fun than the Battle for Zendikar prerelease last fall, where my pool was both not good, and not fun to play. And it was my best prerelease showing since Journey Into Nyx (which featured a fairly meat-and-potatoes aggro deck, albeit one with two great rares).
I’ve been averaging a little less than every other prerelease for the last few years, for a combination of reasons. I’m hoping I’ll be able to make it to the Eldritch Moon prerelease in late July.
I occasionally read about how bookstores are doing better these days, presumably through a combination of Borders closing (perhaps opening a chunk of the market for independent bookstores), the supposed leveling-off of eBooks, and people looking for a more personal touch than they can get at Amazon, or even Barnes & Noble. But small businesses are a high-variance proposition, and perhaps few other places more so than here in the Bay Area, with its skyrocketing rents. So, as someone who visits a lot of bookstores in the area, I’ve been watching how rough it is out there.
There have been some encouraging stories:
But there have been some sad stories, which I wanted to record since most of them fell below the radar other than a few small local reports.
In Half Moon Bay, the Bay Book Company (their web site is still up as I write this) was a very nice new book store with great presentation and a fine selection, too. I saw John Scalzi read there back in 2007, and bought a number of books from them over the years. They closed last summer, I understand due to a rent increase. We swung by to pick up a few things at their closing sale.
Also in Half Moon Bay, Ocean Books (Facebook, Yelp) was a small used book store, of the sort where you go to find something to read while lying on the beach. We visit downtown HMB fairly often and we almost always stopped in, but we didn’t often find much to buy, which is perhaps the curse of the seaside town small bookstore, at least as far as people who aren’t going to lie on the beach are concerned. I wonder if they also felt pressure from the nearby and much larger Ink Spell Books.
Lee’s Comics is (I think) the oldest comic book store in the Bay Area, and they announced earlier this month that they’d be closing their San Mateo location, though their Mountain View location will stay open. This news got national attention in the comics press. While there are a bunch of comic book stores in Silicon Valley and San Francisco, there’s only one other comics shop I can find between Mountain View and SF (Coastside Comics in Pacifica, which is one of the few in the area I haven’t visited).
Lastly, and perhaps the one I’m saddest about, is Know Knew Books (Facebook, Yelp). When I moved to the Bay Area in 1999 this was the first used bookstore I visited, and it was great! A huge science fiction selection, not quite as big as Bookbuyers, but generally a more selective stock. I bought a hardcover copy of Neil Gaiman’s American Gods – autographed! – there. At the time it was located on California Ave in Palo Alto.
But over time the store seemed to go downhill. They tried reconfiguring the Palo Alto location, and seemed to have a really long going-out-of-business sale. But then, surprisingly, they suddenly moved to downtown Los Altos, opening in a new location, bright, perhaps a little sparsely stocked, and branching out a bit into jewelry and other knick-knacks, but still fun to browse. The last time I visited they’d gotten a couple of bookstore kittens who were getting acclimated to the attention, but the store seemed to be looking up.
They abruptly closed late last spring, which I only learned about when walking up to the vacant storefront. It sounds like there was some behind-the-scenes acrimony between the two owners, but it appears the details have been kept private. You can read a little public grousing by customers in comments on this article, and what appears to be one side of the story in this GoFundMe page. I guess I don’t really want to know the story of what really happened, I’m just sorry the move didn’t work out.
I’ve seen other great bookstores close in my life (hell, Harvard Square in Cambridge, MA alone is littered with storefronts I remember fondly visiting when I was in high school and college), and like I said, small businesses are a high-variance experience, and when you patronize a lot of them, then a lot of them are going to come and go over the years.
But it still sucks, and I think the next five years are going to be at least as rough as the last five.
Update 4/18/2016: In just the 2 months since I posted this, Bookbuyers announced they can no longer afford their space in downtown Mountain View on Castro Street and are moving. At first they’d hoped to find another place in Mountain View, but now they’re looking further afield, and will be leaving Mountain View. Their last day open was yesterday (we stopped by and Debbi bought a bag of books).
I can only recall one bookstore moving other than by choice which managed to survive (Lee’s Comics in Palo Alto lost their lease 15 years ago and relocated to their current Mountain View location), so unfortunately I am not optimistic about Bookbuyers’ chances. And if they move somewhere far away like Morgan Hill (as they apparently were exploring), then it’s likely we will rarely-if-ever go there (I think we get down to that end of the valley to shop about once very 3-5 years).
It’s a big blow to Castro Street, which is flooded with restaurants and has very little retail. I’m very bummed.
Back in February of 2014 Debbi and I were selected to join Arbitron ratings (who have since acquired by their competitor Nielsen and are now named Nielsen Audio).
I imagine back in the day that people in this program would need to note which programs they watched and when on paper and then mail them in. (I think I’ve heard of this, and no doubt someone who participated back in those days could explain in detail.) Today it’s different: You get a little device (“meter”) to carry with you which is connected to the cellular network, and it would listen programs you watch or listen to for a signal which identifies the program, and report back to its home base. All we had to do was charge it each night, and notify Arbitron if we were going on an extended trip away from home. Well, and not tell that we were in the program on social media while we were in it. (I doubt we told very many people at all, in fact.)
In return, beyond being counted directly, we also received a small check every month for our troubles. Coincidentally, we also signed up for Graze around the same time, and I noted that the checks we got from Arbitron would just about cover the cost of the Graze boxes. Convenient!
Debbi watches a lot of television in the background, especially police procedurals, while I tend to throw on sports. We also had some regular shows we watched. While I doubt I can remember it all, here’s a rundown of what we watched while we carried our meters:
- I listen to public radio, and Debbi listens to country.
- NCIS and NCIS: New Orleans. Probably also some NCIS: Los Angeles, though we have run out of gas on that show.
- Doctor Who, of course.
- The Big Bang Theory.
- We started watching Elementary during that time. (Did I mention police procedurals?)
- Baseball and football.
- And a random assortment of films which aired on cable.
Last September Arbitron contacted us that we had been randomly selected to leave the program – a little early, since we’d been told at the start that it would be at most a 2-year term. Apparently we’d been among the most diligent participants in the program. It was kind of weird for a couple of weeks to no longer be carrying our meters with us everywhere.
Anyway, it was a neat little perk for a while, easy to do, and maybe helping keep some programs we enjoy on the air. I rather wish we’d gotten a TiVo while we were in the program in order to support a few other shows, such as Person of Interest, which I’d been interested in but which aired at an inconvenient time slot to watch live. But, so it goes.