Friday, February 26, 2010

Great idea

I really appreciate people who are clever, and this is a very clever idea.

Isn't that awesome? I found it from a blog link to this german website. I throw away water bottles every day. If I could just buy these hanger attachments in the USA, I'd be able to screw them in and make excellent hangers! Do you know of any other bits of cleverness like this?

Membership Rewards, paying off (I hope)

For over 10 years now, I've been a member of the American Express Membership Rewards program. Every dollar I spend gets me a point in the program, which can be used for goods and services at an approximately 1% refund rate. This is pretty standard for the industry. The service costs $40/year, which isn't standard (most of the programs are free), but I pay the fee happily because of what Membership Rewards gives me in return. Flexibility.

Like most people, I use my rewards points for miles on airlines, getting free tickets and such. Unlike most rewards programs, the AMEX Membership Rewards isn't linked to a specific airline. Instead, you have the option of transfering your point to about 20 different airlines, including Delta, Continental, USAir, JetBlue and Virgin. This flexibility has enabled me to scout out the best times for a particular route and get on the plane in the cheapest way possible. In addition, sometimes instead of buying a ticket outright with my miles, I'll fill in the number of miles I need using that airlines rewards program, which I'm already a member of. So if I need 20 more points on JetBlue to get a free ticket, I'll backfill using my Amex points.

As a result of my lust of points, I use Amex for everything possible. When I was married ten years ago, I charged nearly the whole thing on Amex, netting me an instant 40,000+ points. In the ensuing years, even though I've used the miles relatively frequently, I've still managed to accumulate an account balance of 173,000 points on my card.

And now it's at zero. I pulled the trigger today on a sweet deal that Delta was having. Namely, transfer points to Delta's frequent flyer program by February 28, 2010, and Delta will give you up to a 40% bonus on the miles transferred. 150,000+ miles transferred triggers the 40% bonus, so I just dumped all of my miles that I've been saving for 10+ years into Delta. I will come out on the other side with 242,200 miles!

For many years now, I've been imagining what I could do with a whole lot of miles, and since I've been planning my wedding, it's become clear. Ali and I want to go to Hawaii for our honeymoon. We'll be in Aruba for the wedding. That's a long flight. A very long and uncomfortable flight. Which would be made SO much nicer if we flew business/first class the whole way! So there it is. I'm bumping us up!

Overdoing it in AC

I spent this past weekend in AC for the first time in quite a few months. I've been insanely busy on weekends with family events following my mother's passing and between that and wedding planning, I haven't really had time for gambling jaunts. Fortunately, Ali went dress shopping with her mother and sister in Connecticut and I most certainly wasn't invited!

I booked a room at The Chelsea hotel, which is a new hotel that opened up a few months ago next to the Trop, right on the boardwalk. I was going to take a bus down, but Christine and a few of her friends were driving down so I hitched a ride with them. They were gracious enough to drop me off on the strip before headed to their own fabulous black-card obtained rooms at the Borgata {Sigh}. We had left New York a little late and made a few stops along the way, so by the time I got to the hotel, it was nearly 11P. I checked in and was told that since they were out of the room type I had booked, I'd be upgraded for no extra charge to the Oceanview room! Score. My throat wasn't feeling great either. Ali and I went skiing the weekend before and she had gotten a cold from being out on the slopes for so long. All week I tried to stay away from her, knowing that a cold would probably kill my AC trip, but I guess sleeping in the same bed as a sick person isn't the best way to avoid sickness!

So with a late night arrival at the hotel, and a cold coming on, I did the only thing I could do: I played poker!


In fairness, I knew that playing No Limit would be a disaster with the way I felt. So I walked over to the Trop with the intention of playing a low limit game, just to get the feel of cards in my fingers for a few hours. Unfortunately, the Trop is now almost exclusively a No Limit room, with only a few 2-4 LHE games running. I sat down for a hundo and messed around for a bit. Low limit is a bingo game, but there *is* a strategy to it. In my opinion, suited connectors and position (for the purposes of choosing starting hands) are more important than premium card holdings. You have to assume in a game like that that you're going to be up against 7-8 random hands at any flop. So I played hands I knew would stand up if they won. High suited cards, suited connectors and premium starting hands. Of course, the rake is nearly impossible to beat in that game, and I was perfectly content to leave when, two hours later, I was exactly even with my starting stack.

During the limit game, there was a guy in the center seat who looked vaguely familiar, but I couldn't place him. He looked a lot like actor Christopher Meloni and I thought I knew him from somewhere but couldn't tell. During the game, the table was chatting up where they'd played poker and the familiar guy mentioned he had played in underground and home games in Manhattan before. I started to follow up with that and before I could get a word out he said, "Are you Wall Street Poker?". I was floored. Turns out, the guy is Andrew B. who had played in my home game a few times years ago but hadn't been back after we raised the stakes above his comfort level. The name struck a bell with me because I had kept him on my Evite list even though he never came again. We had a good time catching up and it was nice to be remembered. It made me feel a bit like a celebrity!

I went to sleep in my nice and soft King bed overlooking the ocean.

The next day, I got up at around 10:30a and started my morning routine. Chris had texted me to say that they were going to eat breakfast at around noon at the Borgata. It didn't seem like I would have a problem getting there until I went to go take a shower and no hot water came out. The shower was strange. It was a very nice stall shower but the plate behind the shower faucet had HOT and COLD written on it, but the faucet was circular with no arrow indicator! In short, you didn't know how you had to turn it to get hot water; does halfway mean lukewarm, or is that hot and if I go too far I'll go back into cold territory. I ended up trying every combination and still no hot water! I decided that my late shower was coming at a time when all the guests had used up the hot water in the hotel. I called maintenance (who never came) and napped for another hour before trying again. This time, the water was lukewarm which was unsatisfying but good enough for a quick shower. It was 12:30p by the time I got out of the shower and my breakfast plans were ruined. I texted Chris about my rotten luck and she told me to "W" the room. This goes back to the time that W, Darko and I all shared a room at the Trop and we got it for free because W used her awesome powers of bargaining to get the charges nullified because the water in the shower was merely hot and not SUPER hot (true story). However, I don't possess those powers and I didn't ask for anything. The hotel will simply lose my future business for their lack of hot water. #JewPowersActivate #FormUpAHaggler

I ended up having breakfast at Country Kitchen on the boardwalk next to the Trop, which I had wanted to try for years anyway. It was excellent, actually. Just like a Denny's, which totally hit the spot. I cabbed it over to the Borgata and got into a 1-2 NLHE game in short order. The game I was in was fairly aggressive and I couldn't find any traction at all, which sucked big time. The hands I did mix it up in didn't work out for me. For the entire day, I received exactly 5 premium hands. AA twice, JJ, AKs and AQs. The Aces were the only hand that won and they didn't win big pots. I won only with the bullets; pre-flop once and then on the turn after I checked top set and everyone folded on my turn bet. Weak. That's not to say I didn't win a few big pots. I dragged a three way all in pot after my set of Ten's held up against an OESD and a flush draw (I boated up on the river to win). I also got very lucky in another three way pot when I flopped bottom straight with 68 on a three flush board. The board was 79T. One villian bet $30 on the flop and a second guy called. I called as well. Turn was 3. Villian 1 bets $55, Villian 2 goes all in for $100 more and I also shove for another $120. I should have folded at this point, even with my open ended straight flush draw, because the action was telling me someone had a made flush. But I was so frustrated from having lost so many pots at this point that I did a dumb thing and shoved for $125 total. Villian 1 called and we went three way to the river. The river was the 2. With 4 hearts out I figured I was dead, but Villian 1 showed TT for top set and Villain 2 showed 97 for two pair. No one had a heart but me! Weeeee.

As big as these pots were, though, they were only getting me back to even. I lost steadily on the only other playable cards I had going, mostly suited and unsuited connectors and gappers. Ever have one of those sessions where you play for 12 hours and it just seems like the board is always opposite from what you have? You know, you have 89 and the board is AKQ. Or you have QJ and the board is 256 rainbow with a bet and a call. There just wasn't much I could do. I played until about 6p, ending down about $100 or so. I went down to Fatburger for dinner with the crew and had a nice meal with great company. Afterwards, we played an hour of Pai-Gow which was a good session for me, netting me $110. I was now even again on the trip, but down $100 in poker winnings.

After dinner and Pai-gow, the girls went to nap and get ready for their night out clubbing. I hit the poker tables again, this time getting what I thought was a better table of less aggressive donks. Again, my hands weren't connecting. If I flopped a flush I didn't get paid and I ran into two coolers which felted my first buyin. The coolers were both flopped two pairs on uncoordinated boards against flopped sets. I got walloped. But I fought back and doubled my second buyin through patient play before finally dropping back to -$45 on the session. Considering the session ended at 7am (!), I'd say that wasn't too bad. If there was anything I could take away from playing that long and losing it was that I didn't get steamed and chase crap. I was proud of myself for that. A less patient person would have been down 3 or 4 buyins with the cards I was getting, but I persevered and played my game and lost the minimum wherever I could.

After breaking myself away from the table, I cabbed it back to the Chelsea and got a few hours of sleep. I woke up at 11a, showered and made it back to the Borgata for a quick lunch and more poker. This time, I felt the lure of the $10-$20 two way game (OE). Sitting down with $300, I oscillated up or down $100 for a few hours until 5pm when Chris texted me to tell me that they were leaving their room to pick up the car and go home. This would be my last hand. I was *EXACTLY* even for the session at this point, with $300 in front of me and I was dealt my last hand of Omaha Hi-Lo. I prayed it wasn't a playable hand so I wouldn't be forced to lose a big pot and then do the walk of shame and feel crappy on my trip home. But it was imminently playable. A347. Damn. I call for $15 in MP and it limps around with a few players. The flop is pretty nice, 268. I flopped the unbreakable low, and a bottom straight draw. This is almost a bettable hand here, but I'd rather have a high hand to go with it because I learned long ago not to bet only the low because getting quartered sucks! A guy bets out with what I assume is only the low (because a lot of $10-$20 players are idiots) and I call. A woman in the SB, who I've played with before and whom I know is a straight up moron, also calls. The turn is the J. Now I have scooping possibilities, but again I don't want to pump the pot without a made high because it's my last hand and I'm only looking at 7 clubs here that make me comfortable since two clubs will pair the board and my high might not be good. The moron woman bets out on the J and I can't see how her hand improved with that card, unless she had JJ underneath. The other guy raises! Oh jeez, now it's $40 to me and I might be looking at a straight up quartering of the low, which would leave me with a net loss on the hand. If the woman raises again and he caps, I'm looking at a decent sized loss. Fortunately, moron woman calls and the river is a blank which doesn't make me a flush or a straight. The woman checks, the guy bets and me and moron woman call. The woman has A3XX, nothing but a low and no draws to a high (AARGH!!!). The guy has A3QQ. I turn my hand over and get *sixthed*. I lost about $35 in the hand and gave the moronic woman some choice words about her play before racking up and grumbling all the way to the cage.

All in all, I lost about $80 at the tables, but lost $170 playing poker. It wasn't a particularly good weekend for me, even though I had as much fun as possible given that I was sick most of the time. Chris and her friends were a lot of fun to be with and the ride back was traffic free, which is a nice bonus. My next trip is March 19-21, and I'm staying at the Showboat. Anyone want to come down while I rip this shit up?

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Think you're badass?

Trust me, you're an amateur.

The Dubai government released this incredible surveillance footage of an 11 member hit team tracking a top Hamas official just before they whacked him in his hotel room. This all went down a few weeks ago. The hit team is likely Israeli, though the members of the team are made up of nationals from many different countries, including France, England and Ireland. They were completely professional and left absolutely no physical trace of their existence that could be used to track their identities. This surveillance footage, cobbled together from many different sources, is the only thing they left behind.

That and the big dead body of a longtime terrorist.

This ain't no movie, this is the real deal. Normally, I would feel a little bit of remorse for what is essentially a snuff film, but this guy they killed was a monster. Nobody, Israel or otherwise, puts this much time, effort and precision into killing somebody unless they've done some really awful shit.

Final table cash

6th of 281

I was a little preoccupied with this tourney, as I usually am playing online. Ali was a little sick from our weekend skiing (too much time outside in the cold?) and she was making me watch the Olympics. I really loved the Snowboard Cross, but it distracted me. Once the coverage went back to Pairs figure skating, I snapped back to attention. :-)

I almost bubbled this tournament but managed to squeak into the money when, with 3 BB's left and 2 out of the money, I limped in the BB with T8o and flopped top pair. I shoved and got called by a guy with K8. I spiked a Ten on the turn and that propelled me into the money. I was happy about that, but then I doubled through with KK and then doubled through again with AT by the tourney chipleader who went all in with A9 on a Ten high flop! All of a sudden, i had a real chance of winning. I made it to the final table but lost momentum when two hands which I should have won got split instead by lucky rivers. The blinds and antes ate me up until I was forced to go all in with 10BB's left with AKo and was called by Ad6d. He flopped a 6 and that was all that she wrote.

Still, I've been running really far into these cheap MTT's. I'm not going to retire off of them, but it's good to know that I can still keep my skillz sharp.

Atlantic City this coming weekend. I'm super excited for it. Ali will be in Connecticut with her family, shopping for wedding dresses. Bonus for me, since it will be the first time in FOREVER that I'll be able to crack out at the poker tables until whatever time I want. The weekend can't come fast enough.

Monday, February 8, 2010

All good things must end

No, I'm not talking about my poker career, though that's probably on advanced life support at the moment. No, I'm talking about musical acts, in particular my favorite one, The Who.

Last night's performance at the Super Bowl was just flat out embarrassing. The performance wasn't bad as taken by itself. It was just that they are so clearly a pale version of their former greatness that seeing them whore themselves out with a medley was cringe inducing. Medleys are the musical equivalent of a tv show's highlights episode where, instead of producing another show, they cobble together clips from past shows as if to say, "look how great we can be". Yes, you *can* be great, but you're not now. If you were, you wouldn't be doing a clip show, or a medley. Roger Daltrey can't hit the notes or the primal screams that made his voice legendary. Pete Townshend, while still a great guitarist, looks like an old man trying to regain his former youth when his shirt comes undone and his 64 year old belly comes flying out during his windmill strumming. And the other two are dead; Keith Moon at age 32 from a prescription drug overdose and John Entwhistle at 57 from a non-prescription drug overdose. Hey, I want to make a buck just like the next guy, but at least have the artistic integrity to know when enough is enough. Prince, who's been a major recording artist since right around the time Keith Moon kicked it, absolutely KILLED at his Superbowl half time show. The Who only killed their image. Even The Rolling Stones have taken it easy, and they still have the chops to perform at a high level, I think. I'll never know because I don't think Mick Jagger would sully his reputation by playing at a gig where he wasn't giving 110% or more.

Understand that The Who is my absolute favorite band of all time. I've seen The Who in 3 live concerts in my lifetime and the first two shows were amazing. The first was The Who performing at Giants Stadium in 1990. They did the entire 'Tommy' album from start to finish and then took a 15 minute break. I thought the concert was over, but then they came back and did a 2 1/2 hour Greatest Hits set. The power, precision and musicianship on display were mind-blowing. There did a cover of "I'm a Man" by Bo Diddley in which Daltrey got the entire audience to do a primal scream in unison. It was incredible and the live version made it onto the '30 Years of Maximum R&B' box set.

The next time I saw them was in the mid '90's when they toured behind 'Quadrophenia'. I saw it in Madison Square Garden and when the band started up '5:15', the lights flashed to fill up the audience and 40,000 people screamed out the song. It was another very powerful performance and they rocked harder than any metal band I'd ever seen.

The 3rd time I saw them was a few years ago to promote their first studio album in 15 or so years, 'Endless Wire'. What a difference a decade made! Daltrey came out and performed the entire set with a cup of tea in his hand! No joke. The songs just weren't as powerful as the old ones, which is ok because old men shouldn't be angry and rock hard. They can't write that stuff (unless they're Neil Young). The songs were softer and more wistful and I was OK with that. But when the inevitable old songs came around on the set list, Daltrey wouldn't put that damn cup of tea down and he looked exactly like what he sounded like; a grandfather singing 40 year old songs that he can't quite sing anymore. Townshends old man jowls were on prominent display and I felt sad for them a little bit. The only thing making the concert memorable was the fact that I saw it in a private box in MSG, with $150 bottles of wine and gourmet steak for dinner.

As far as the big 60's bands are concerned, there has always, in my mind, been the big 4. Most people will list 3, but I will include one more because it's my mind, not the popular thought. My four "big" bands of the 60's are: The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, The Who and The Beach Boys. I bet you thought I was going to say The Doors, right? I fucking hate The Doors. All 4 of those bands solidify something in the emergence of popular rock music. The Beatles were the songwriters, by far the best at it and possibly the best writers of popular music in the history of music. The Rolling Stones were the bad boys. They were genuinely dangerous and wrote about straight up sex, drugs and rock n' roll. When others tried to tiptoe around the subject, the Stones were writing about worshipping Satan, feeding drugs to your mother and starting revolutions. The Beach Boys were the artistes and recording geniuses. They propelled the medium by expanding the palette and experimenting with new techniques, electronic and musical. Their harmonies were unconventional, their sound was unheard of and they pushed everyone else to keep up. The who were the virtuosos. They were the best at their instruments among all the groups and their chemistry was sonically powerful. Roger Daltrey is the best vocalist of his generation, Townshend the best rhythm guitarist, Moon the best drummer (by FAR) and Entwhistle the most entertaining and propulsive bassist. Each one of them would have been the star in whatever band they had joined, like Clapton was when he joined John Mayall and The Bluesbreakers, but the combination of them together was unstoppable. It was pure luck that Townshend proved to be a good enough songwriter to showcase their talents.

Even early on, songs like 'My Generation', 'The Kids Are Alright', 'Anyway, Anyhow, Anywhere', and 'A Legal Matter' had a fierce urgency that heralded the beginnings of heavy metal, punk, power pop and any other genre featuring overdriven guitars, howling vocals and the "fuck you" attitude that makes popular music relevant to any time. As they got just a little older, Townshends songwriting pretensions took the band out of purely performance and into the realm of performance art. At this point, right around the album 'The Who Sell Out' (a completely ironic title), the band started to slip away from the safe road of greatness and trod instead on an uncharted path. They were equally great, but more divisive. By starting to put out themed material with songs that connected through a central storyline, they risked alienating their teen audiences. Some of their projects were enormous successes, like 'Tommy', others were great albums but not as good as a rock opera ('Quadrophenia') and one was a complete failure as a storyline but still became arguably their best album ('Lifehouse' which ended up becoming 'Who's Next'). Instead of concentrating on discrete constructions of pop music like their other colleagues, The Who went down the road of telling stories. That's ambitious, but dangerous. If the critics and audience don't like the story, do they pay attention to the chapters?

But the band rode through the tumult and uncertainty and produced some of the best musical moments since Elvis sang 'Hound Dog'. There was the Woodstock performance where Pete Townshend threw Abbie Hoffman off the stage after Hoffman rushed up in the middle of the set, high on LSD, to publicize the plight of John Sinclair, who had been given a 10 year jail sentence for giving (not selling) two joints to an undercover cop. Hoffman, upset at the hypocrisy of the suburban Woodstock crowd getting high and apathetic, grabbed the mic from Townshend and yelled, "I think this is a pile of shit, while John Sinclair rots in prison!" Townshend, who was there to play music and couldn't give a shit about politics, hit Hoffman in the head with the business end of his guitar and ran him off the stage yelling, "Fuck off my fucking stage!" This was a band of hooligans.

There was the time when they were performing on the 'Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour' TV show, in 1967, when Keith Moon had explosives packed into his drum kit. The Who was known for destroying their equipment after each gig and they were certainly going to do it on live TV. But Moon, ever the impish joker, decided to pack an extra punch. When the explosion destroyed his drum kit, even Moon was surprised by how intense it was and he ended up with a jagged piece of metal cymbal embedded in his arm.

And if you've ever heard the album 'Live at Leeds', considered by many rock critics to be the best live album ever recorded, there is no way you can listen to 'Shakin' All Over' and not feel the intensity of the performance. You feel like you're in the audience on that record, like you're swimming amidst a sea of college students who are drunk or high, or both, and are letting the waves of sound overload their ears like the drugs are overloading their brain. Just going numb and letting it all wash over you and hoping you can take something out of it when it's all over and there's nothing left but an empty echoing hall and paper cups strewn over the floor.

And what about Daltrey's soul scream at the break in 'Won't Get Fooled Again'? Or Entwhistle's bass, in nearly every song, which jumps and slithers like a cat in a barrel that you're throwing firecrackers into? And how about Townshend's impossibly simple, yet mysteriously complicated, power chord rhythms? And Moon's rattling drum fills which never seem to be in time and yet somehow always hit the cymbal on the downbeat?

Is there any band who was better at playing than The Who? Which is why their Superbowl performance is so upsetting. It's one thing to bring out a mediocre act who are still mediocre. I saw Crowded House perform 'Don't Dream It's Over' a few years ago at the Austin City Limits festival and it wasn't sad at all. They did a serviceable enough version of the only song that ever made it big in the U.S. That's all Crowded House ever was or will ever be. But watching Townshend and Daltrey pimp out their legacy in front of a billion viewers is like seeing an inebriated Salvador Dali scratching out a living in his elder years by drawing clown carciatures at bar mitzvahs.

Friday, February 5, 2010

USC robs the cradle

Is it wrong that I think it's detestable that USC has solicited a commitment from David Sills, a 13 year old 7th grader who plays quarterback for the Red Lion Christian Academy in Bear, Delaware?

This kid's in 7th grade! I mean his promo video looks great, and he's got some mad skillz, but he's playing freaking middle schoolers! There's something very distasteful to me that parents and colleges are conspiring to control the lives of kids who have just hit puberty. Stage moms aren't this bad.

There's a culture of this in this country that is truly sickening. Ali likes to watch this show called "Toddlers and Tiaras" about child beauty pageants and it's stomach churning. 3 year olds being dressed up like prostitutes and being yelled at by their freakish mothers for not hitting their marks on stage. That there are multiple industries in this country which exploit and prey on kids too young to understand what's happening to them is indicative of a serious moral breakdown in our collective consciousness.

Having said that, do you think it's too early for the Jets to look at this Sills kid? ;-)

Responsibility kicks in

So, due to the enormous amount of money that I'm going to need in the near future, I have decided to do the right thing and cancel my March poker trip to California. Prompting this decision was the $1200 scouting trip to Aruba that Ali and I are taking in April, the weekend Bed and Breakfast and skiing trip in Vermont for Valentine's weekend, the Jury Summons I received today that might result in lost days of work, and the actual 7 days of work I'll be missing in March to go on this trip which will end up costing me a week's worth of wages. Consulting, it seems, has a down side.

On the plus side of things, I feel ever more adult. And I will be taking a weekend in Atlantic City in 2 weeks, plus possibly another weekend in March when I would have been gone.

Anyone else going to be in Atlantic City Feb 19-21 or Mar 19-21?