Sunday, April 10, 2011

30 Favorite Songs of All Time

Doing the "Julio Challenge," (Mandy's nomenclature, not mine). Per Mandy's suggestion, I restricted myself to one song per artist/band.

This is my 30 all-time favorite songs. (As accurate as possible given space constraints and per-artist limitations, as well as the urge to have a more varied sampling). In alphabetical order by band name:

The Beatles -- Eleanor Rigby



I used to be a huge fan of The Beatles. Not so much anymore, to the point that I can pretty easily skip one of their songs when it comes up in my playlist. This song, however, never will be skipped. Just a great song with great emotion and a cool story.

Beck -- Girl



I had to include a Beck song, and this one is just too damn catchy. What's more, I love the infusion of 8-bit.

Coheed & Cambria -- Welcome Home



This song is simply too epic for words. It's a great combination of elements from classic rock and progressive rock. And the Spanish-style guitar solo at the beginning is one of my favorite riffs of all time.

Dave Matthews Band -- Crash Into Me



Had to include a DMB song on here, too, because the band is just full of amazing musicians. This song doesn't necessarily exemplify that fact, but it is, nevertheless, my favorite song by them. It's hard to make such a sexual song sound sweet and innocent, and it really does pull at my heartstrings just a bit. Let's not talk about modern-day DMB ... let's revel in what they used to be.

Eric Clapton -- Tears in Heaven



Pure emotion, and you can hear it in his voice and in the lyrics. One of the most memorable songs of all time.

fun. -- Walking the Dog



I'm so glad I discovered fun.. The band just has a helluva lot of ... fun, and their hooks are like gifts from your god(s). If you haven't heard this band's album, Aim and Ignite, do yourself a favor and buy it now.

Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova -- Falling Slowly



I'll admit that I hadn't heard this song until someone (I think Kris Allen?) performed it on American Idol. I went and listened to the original, and it's simply beautiful. I still haven't seen the movie it was written for (Once), but I hear the movie is damn good, as well.


Green Day -- Basket Case



An awesome song from a masterpiece of an album. I still love singing along to it (unlike Nirvana, which I'm just sick of at this point), and it kicks he deep and hard in the nostalgia gland.


Johnny Cash -- Hurt



I love this song for a number of reasons. First, I'd always loved the haunting original song by Nine Inch Nails. Second, the fact that Cash would cover a song by a band like Nine Inch Nails was crazy to me, but I respected him for it. Then he blew the song out of the water, reinventing it with his gravely voice and the sincerity with which he sang it (not to mention all of the imperfections in his voice). What's more, the fact that it coincided with his death so closely gave it an especially haunting aura. As Trent Reznor (of Nine Inch Nails) said, "[I felt like] I just lost my girlfriend, because that song isn't mine anymore ..."

Lynyrd Skynyrd -- Sweet Home Alabama



I'm known for my outspoken dislike for most classic rock music, but there are some songs that I simply can't deny as being amazing and fun to listen to. Even if only for the guitar riff alone, this song easily makes it into the top 30.

The Mars Volta -- Inertiatic ESP



Ultra progressive rock, and one of my first experiences with it. I wasn't a huge fan of The Mars Volta's later work, but this album was a masterpiece, and it all kicked off with this epic song. Nothing else sounds quite like it, and it's fast and raw, and I love it.

Massive Attack -- Teardrop



Funny-ish inside joke with this song: About 15 years ago I was telling my friend Joe about how awesome thing song was. I'd tell him over and over to take a sec to listen to it. Two years later he came up to me and -- without any irony -- said that our friend Nate had just played a song for him that he thought I'd really like: Teardrop, by Massive Attack. I wanted to kill that sonofabitch.

Regardless, I've loved this song for quite some time now, way before House commandeered it as its theme song. It's just haunting and beautiful, and the woman has an amazing voice.

Michael Andrews -- Mad World



Would have loved to include the actual video, which is kinda cool, but the official YouTube video has embedding disabled, so you get this one. Good idea on their part ... why would they want me sharing their approved version of the video with you? This version is much better for them. /sarcasm

I'd always thought this song was by R.E.M. Nope (obviously). I love it for its simplicity and the emotions it evokes. Most of you will know this song from the Donnie Darko soundtrack.

Moby -- Porcelain



I guess a lot of my songs are on the list because I'd describe them as either "epic" or "beautiful." This is another in the "beautiful" category, especially with the piano portion. Plus, I had a huge Moby phase when his album Go came out (I loved everything on that album ... but not so much since), so I had to include at least one by him. This song was on infinite repeat in my car for like a year. I also love the turntabled instrumentation that kicks it off.

Muse -- Starlight



Muse is the band that made it hard to only include a single song. If there weren't a one-song-per-artist restriction, I'd likely 4-5 Muse songs on here. I had to leave off some of my favorite epic songs of all time and some of my favorite beautifully haunting songs of all time to include just this one song. So, why Starlight? Well, I can't really pinpoint why. I suppose it's because when I think of Muse, I think of this song first. When I knew I had to choose just one, this was the first one in my head. It has commercial appeal, it verges on being epic, and I love the lyrics. Plus, if you've ever seen this one played live, the accompanying lighting is incredible.

Nine Inch Nails -- Only



Like Muse, NIN was a reason why restricting to one-per-band was hard. However, I had to choose this song because it's catchy, it's fun to sing, and I love this video -- dig the concept. Trent Reznor (the frontman of NIN, and the guy who actually records and composes all of the music and instrumentation) is a genius, both musically and from a business perspective. He understands technology trends and how to treat his fans. There was no way I'd leave him off of this list. But, alas, as with Muse, I had to leave off a bunch of great songs by them. "Only" doesn't feel quite right for this list, but neither would any other individual song by NIN. NIN had to be on the list, but there wasn't a single song that was a top 30 song. The entire body of work by NIN is probably No. 2 on my all-time favorites, but a single song doesn't quite fit. But here it is, anyway.

A Perfect Circle -- 3 Libras



I guess stick another one into the "beautiful" category. Not much else I can say about this one, other than that. Wish I were better with bullshit descriptive words. This one also was a no-brainer for me. I've always loved it, and I love singing along to it. It's both simple and epic at the same time.

The Postal Service -- Such Great Heights



Who doesn't love this song? I never got sick of it, even after it was played ad nauseum on the radio. The opening bleeps and bloops are iconic, and it was this song that -- ironically -- vaulted Death Cab for Cutie into the mainstream. I still long for the day that they produce a follow-up. And no, Owl City doesn't count as a follow-up.

The Prodigy -- Narayan



I knew I wanted Prodigy on this list, but I couldn't come across quite the right song. This one kept coming to mind because -- surprise! -- it is so epic. I've always liked the feeling I've gotten when listening to it. It may sound shallow of me, but I like it because I can think of it playing in the background of a movie during a pivotal moment.

Propellerheads -- History Repeating



I came across The Propellerheads in a roundabout way. I first heard their song Spybreak! on the soundtrack for The Matrix. I loved the song, so I looked them up. The only had one album (and that's all they ever made), but I liked it a lot. This was my favorite song from it, and also their most commercial song. I just love how it has elements of jazz, electronica, and spy-movie flair.

Queen -- Bohemian Rhapsody



I might get made fun of for this one, but I don't care. I've loved this song since Wayne's World. I love how many weird but musically awesome elements it has to it, and how it was unafraid to be just all over the place. Plus, of course, it was epic.

Queens of the Stone Age -- I Never Came



Not one of their well-known songs, but it's always been my favorite by them. It's soft and beautiful, and it always gives me goosebumps.

Radiohead -- 15 Step



Like NIN, I had to include Radiohead, but none of their songs individually deserves to be on the list so much as their entire body of work. I suppose this song best represents why I like them, because it's catchy without having hooks.

Red Hot Chili Peppers -- Under the Bridge



This song doesn't even deserve a description, because it was the first song I put on the list when I decided to compile it. It's that much of a no-brainer. That doesn't make it the best song of all time, necessarily, but it's easily among the top 5.

Sneaker Pimps -- Post-Modern Sleaze



I just love this woman's voice, and the guitar riff in the song is captivating. Plus, I doubt many people have heard it before, so I wanted to include it.

Soundgarden -- Black Hole Sun



With a video like that, how could I not include this song?

Sufjan Stevens -- Chicago



Sufjan Stevens is an acquired taste, but I love him for his musical prowess. He's an awesome composer/singer, and this song very well exemplifies that. He wanted to go through all 50 states with albums -- lol, like that was ever going to happen. Nevertheless, the album was a masterpiece, and this was the keystone.

Third Eye Blind -- Semi-Charmed Life



This is just an incredibly fun song -- fun to listen to, fun to sing along to ... just fun. Plus, I love, love, love that it was in so many Disney/family-friendly movies. It's about doing drugs, assholes.

Vangelis -- Rachel's Song



It took me like four viewings to get through Blade Runner. I simply didn't like the movie the first three times, but then something clicked the fourth time, and now it's one of my favorite movies of all time. This song very well encapsulates the movie, and it's easily the most haunting song on my list. Love, love, love it.

The Verve -- Bittersweet Symphony



This was another shoo-in. When I thought of making a list, this was one of the first songs I thought of. I'm a sucker for orchestral components in alt-rock, though.

SPECIAL BONUS: Shawny G. -- I'll Die When I'm Famous



My best song of all time: I'll Die When I'm Famous -- for the first time ever on YouTube! (With ridiculous lyrics onscreen!) Read more about the song and download the mp3 on my previous blog entry.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

How to Start a Company (I Hope)


Update: While WikiDates.com is being developed, I've started a placeholder blog on the domain to more fully explain the idea, update people on the project, and discuss some ins-and-outs of dating. If you want a better sense of what the site will be about, check out this blog entry specifically.

Let me tell you the story of WikiDates. It’s a fairly short story thus far, and it does not yet have an ending.

“Wait,” you might say. “What the hell, Shawn? Why would you tell us a story that has no ending? And it’s probably a story about you, too, isn’t it? You pompous prick.”

Well, if you’d freaking listen for, like, a minute, maybe I was getting to that. Seriously. Wow, you have a short attention span.

This could be my site.
Sad Face ...
You’re entering the story at a pivotal moment -- the rising action leading to the likely climax, where things either come to life in spectacular, vibrant colors … or wilt and die. (See illustration)

Let’s briefly jump back to the beginning. I have such a diverse group of smart, talented friends and so many fun ideas for websites tumbling around in my head that I've always wanted to quit my job to enable me to work in an intensely focused way to put that plan into motion. So, in December 2010 I decided to do just that.

I quit my entirely stable job of five years to flesh out side projects. Ideas I'd had in the past were interesting, but they didn't quite light a fire inside of me. Finally, in February I was searching on Google, trying to find an interesting place to take my girlfriend for our one-year anniversary. Obviously, my first search was “Best Las Vegas Dates,” and I couldn't find anything truly worthwhile -- just a bunch of top-10 lists in blogs, articles, and the like. I was hoping to find a place where I could search through a ton of possible dates to find the perfect one for us, and the perfect one for this occasion.

But, whatever; I didn’t find anything useful, so I came up with my own date ideas and moved on. A few days later it struck me: Obviously, if I wanted something to exist and it didn’t -- I should make it. Most of the best ideas are things that people stumble upon purely by accident, and the true innovators are those who recognize that moment.

So, I got to work all by my lonesome setting up the company, organizing and mapping out the business plan, designing page comps (mock-ups of what each page will look like), itemizing developer specifications, and coming up with Facebook-, Google-, and guerilla-marketing plans. I bought the domain YayDates.com -- yawn -- because my preferred domain, WikiDates, was taken. I put a backorder on WikiDates, just in case 1) it actually went up for sale and 2) they were asking a reasonable price. Then, lo and behold, I got an e-mail a few days later that WikiDates was for sale, and it was going at a price that was significantly lower than I had expected. It seemed like all of the pieces were clicking right into place and pushing me to finish the puzzle. (Warning: the preceding sentence was very cliché.) (Note: The preceding warning was pointless, having come after the sentence. Sorry about that.)

However, I’ve never started up a company before, so it all still feels a little daunting. What’s more, thus far (and for the foreseeable future), I’ve been funding the entire company and taking on all of its startup costs out of pocket (remember, I’m unemployed now). So, I’ve been trying to get away with things as cheaply as possible. I figured I had an obvious resource right in front of me to possibly alleviate both issues, so I started searching around for blogs, books, or cheap software that could give me a leg up in the startup game.

That catches us up to just now, when I happened upon something called the Lean Startup Bundle on the site AppSumo.com (a Groupon-style group-buying service for techies). I was honestly dumbfounded by what was being offered (and I’m not just saying that because someone from AppSumo is likely to read this blog) -- $6,620 worth of software, web apps, and services chosen specifically for startup companies … for $99. I immediately shot the link to two friends -- one who had committed to helping with the Web development for my site, and another who was starting up his own company -- simply because the deal seemed too good to be true.

But then it got even more insane. In addition to this bundle, AppSumo was holding what they called the Lean Startup Challenge for anyone who bought it. The Challenge is a contest awarding funding, mentoring, and even bigger packages from some of the companies with products in the startup bundle.

Essentially, this whole AppSumo deal became eerily perfect for me. It provided a bunch of books on startups (all in eReader format, which was much appreciated; gotta love my Kindle), premium newsletters and blogs on startups, cheap software tools and web apps to help me organize, research, analyze, and implement what I needed to do (including web design, which was another issue I hadn’t tackled yet!), and now this -- the almighty funding.

I’ve been wrestling with the idea of taking on investors and venture capitalists. The decision seems like a non-decision: depleting my life savings self-funding this company or doing the smart thing and selling investment shares in the company to people with deeper pockets than I. I came to realize that while I have a romanticized vision of owning my company outright, the fact remains that a site like mine is going to need a tremendous marketing push and a lot of organization to survive, and that’ll mean more capital than I have. A good friend of mine reminded me that owning 100% of a $1 million company isn't as good as owning 40% of a $50 million company or 20% of a $500 million company, and the company is incredibly unlikely to get that big without external investments. He is, of course, entirely right.

So, like I said, we’re now at the climax of my little WikiDates story. I’m not exaggerating when I say that winning this sort of prize could make or break my site, effectively crushing my dream of running my own company and seeing my idea come to life and succeed. The best part, however, is that the climax of the story involves audience participation. AppSumo has to decide who to award the prize to, and they’ve specified that they’ll base their decision on Twitter voting, as well as their own (dare I say “perceptive, balanced, and inarguably fair”?) opinion.

But, no pressure or anything … just sayin’.

Wish me luck!

- SPG


PS. Those links above to all of the products in the bundle were not required for this blog. The people at AppSumo never asked for entrants to put any links in their contest-entry blogs, I just kinda wanted to show some love for some of the products in the bundle since it was suck a sick deal.

Friday, May 7, 2010

Maybe Put a Little More Thought into Your Billboards ...

Over the past few years I've seen some pointless billboards lining the Las Vegas highways. But these billboards aren't conventionally pointless, they take a bit of thought to realize that they're pointless, which I guess is the fun for me. Here's an example:

During Your Next Heart Attack, Think Southern Hills

The first billboard that struck me as a little odd was a billboard for heart surgery. I don't remember exactly what it said or which hospital it was advertising (so obviously it was an effective billboard, huh?), but the gist of it was, "Fast heart surgery! Come to Southern Hills!" My first thought was, What is that billboard's target demographic?

 I mean, think about it. I imagine a guy driving home from work and then suddenly getting one of those pesky little heart attacks. He thinks to himself, "Man, this heart attack sure is an inconvenience. I wish there were a hospital that ... oh! Awesome! Thanks, Mr. Billboard!"

I also don't really see heart surgery as much of a comparison shopping kind of field. I'm probably showing my ignorance here, I suppose, because I've never needed the surgery, but if you need heart surgery, do you really sit down and list all of the places you go and write down the pros and cons of each? "Well, Sunny Hills has great customer service, but that snazzy billboard says that Southern Hills is lickity split quick. Oh my, but Sandy Hills got a 5/5 on Urban Scalpel."

But then, I suppose heart surgery is expensive, so even a single person both miraculously remembering the billboard and being swayed by its persuasive powers is enough to justify the billboard from a financial perspective. So, I guess I can't give them too much crap.

On to the next one ...

But How Long is the Wait ... ?

I passed by this next one for a long while before it struck me that it's kinda sorta really dumb. The billboard showed a cell phone and was telling people, "Text ER to 4522 to get ER wait times!" (I guess I have a thing against medical billboards ...) This is another one of those Who-is-your-target-demographic? conundrums.

An emergency room is an emergency room for a reason. You don't have people sitting at home thinking, "Man, this mild cough just won't go away. I should head to the emergency room. Lemme get out my phone and see which one's got the shortest wait."

The demographic they're (apparently) gunning for is more along these lines: "Man, these multiple bullet wounds to the chest sure do itch. [Takes out cell phone with lone functional arm and texts ER to 4522.] Whew! Virgin Hills has one hour less of a wait than Promiscuous Hills. Thanks random ER wait-times phone number that I somehow remembered in this emergency situation!"

Ohhhh, THAT God


The final billboard that comes to mind is a simple one. Three big letters sprawl across the entirety of the billboard: GOD. No, don't worry, this isn't an anti-religious rant. What I don't get about this billboard is the same thing I don't get about the other two ... the target demographic.

So, who is the target demographic here? Non-believers? Believers of deities other than God? People who have mistakenly been worshiping Judas all of this time? ("Fuck, GOD, not Judas. Duh. I'll remember this time.") I can't see non-believers or worshipers of other religions seeing that and thinking, "Hmm ... touche, Christians. I concede my god and upgrade to your God. Capital Gs are a lot more fun, anyway." Or, on the atheist side: "Ahhhh ... that was the evidence I've been looking for all along. Right smack in front of me this whole time."

Or maybe they're just trying to strengthen belief among those who already believe? "Man, I've been having a super shitty day. There's obviously no God. Oh, wait, yes there is. Thanks, billboard. Glad I took this route home today, instead of the route with the ZEUS billboard ..."

So, to me this simply seems to scream of people patting themselves on the back. "I put up a GOD billboard today. I guess I did my Christian duty in trying to convert people. Move over Mother Teresa."


Anyone else seen any particularly dumb billboards?

-- SPG


(Note: Yes, yes, yes, I realize there are some flaws in my arguments against the billboards above, but pointing those out wouldn't have been nearly as funny, would it? Assholes.)

Friday, April 9, 2010

What Exactly is a Daffodil Penis?

OK, so those of you who are fans of Ragaboo.com on Facebook probably saw that my top-ranking referral keyword term on Google in March was fairly surprising -- although, I guess not that surprising considering some of the content on this blog.

Without further ado, my No. 1 referring Google keyword from last month was ... daffodils penis.

Yep.

No, I don't know, either. Maybe something like this?



I said I didn't know, but I s'pose I kinda do. As far as "daffodils" is concerned, I had a blog entry titled "What Do Daffodils Have To Do With Rectal Bleeding?" So, I suppose I was asking for it. Also, apparently I use the word "penis" quite often. Nevertheless, the question has been begged: Why does one search for "daffodils penis"? Or, rather, why did I get FIVE Google referrals for that keyword phrase? (Yes, my top-referring keyword phrase from last month was from five referrals. Go fuck yourself.)

Further investigation was warranted, obviously. Step 1: Do the search myself. The first thing I'm looking for with that is where my site ranks in the results list. That only served to make the referrals even more surprising, as my blog entry didn't appear until the 24th result. If you know anything about Google search statistics (which you probably don't), the click-through rate plummets after the first and second results. Anything outside of the top 10 usually only gets a fraction of a percent of the total clickthroughs, since 11 and on require clicking through to at least one more page. (For instance, if 100 people searched for daffodils penis, 40 probably would click on the first result, maybe 25 on the second, 10 on the third, 5 on the fourth, and so on.)

My site coming up in 24th means it was on page 3 for the term. Based on my research, that means I probably get about 0.24% of the total number of people searching for daffodils penis to click through to my site. So, if I got 5 referrals (click-throughs), that means there were likely more than 2,000 searches for daffodils penis in the month of March. Why in the holy God damn fuck are 2,000 people searching for daffodils penis??

To answer that question, I came to Step 2: Take a look at the higher-ranking sites in the results to see if anything made any sense. The best lead I got was WikiAnswers, where someone asked what eating daffodil stems could do to you. The answer he got was that men have their penises enlarged, and women ... they grow penises. Seemed like a sound medical answer to me.

So, I gave up on getting a true explanation. But just for shits and giggles, here is a list of the other search terms that helped navigate people to my site:
  • How to make a spider rifle
  • Vagina machines
  • A rap song called this dicks like magic
  • How gynecologists help women have an orgasim (sic)
  • Huggies commercial, mozart, night music (yes, that's a single search)
  • Toothpaste fuck
  • Zap's famous pussy Shania Twain
(For bonus points, let's see if you can figure out which blog entries each of those searches led to.)

But possibly the most disappointing search term on the list -- not to say that the above terms were disappointing; I think it rocks that someone found me with "Vagina machines" -- was the highest-referring search term for my site.

The term that drew the most click-throughs was ... "Ragaboo."

You assholes are lazy as shit. You can't bring yourself to type in www. or .com? For fuck's sake, you don't even have to type in the www anymore -- it just fucking knows. You're really searching for Ragaboo, and then hitting enter, and then clicking on Ragaboo.com?

On second thought, I take it back -- that's not even lazy, it's a lazy attempt at being lazy, since it's dumb and actually results in more work.

-- SPG

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

What Exactly Does 'Skill' Even Mean?

Warning: This is part of my "For Seriously" series of blogs, meaning there isn't anything (intentionally) funny about it. If serious stuff bores the shit out of you, this one is safe to skip. But do not fret, as I've got another blog or two in my "Why So Serious?" series coming in the next few days. Nevertheless, I think a lot of people will find the arguments in this blog interesting.

Before I get to my main point in this entry, I want to put forth some statements that I'm hoping you'll agree with to get you into the right frame of mind:

Sports

I think it's safe to say that everyone would agree most sports involve skill. There are sometimes very clear distinctions between a great player/team and a merely OK player/team. However, in any given game, the great team can be defeated by the merely OK team. This does not mean that the lesser team is now better than the superior team, it simply means that the lesser team had a good day/got lucky, or the better team had a bad day/got unlucky -- or both. If these teams played 1,000 games, the better team would win the majority of the time, but it would likely not win 100% of the time.

As an example, in this year's March Madness NCAA basketball tournament, Butler started as a No. 5 seeded team, yet on its way to the finals, Butler defeated No. 1 seeded Syracuse and No. 2 seeded Kansas State. Does that mean Butler is a better team than both Syracuse and Kansas State? For those two games, yes, Butler was. If this tournament bracket played out 1,000 times, though, would you put money on Butler defeating Syracuse and Kansas State the majority of the time? I sincerely doubt most of you would, even with the knowledge of what happened this year.

Stock Market

Now let's jump to the stock market. Let's say I put $10,000 into a bunch of penny stocks for a 24-hour period with little or no research on the individual companies in an attempt to quickly make money. Would you consider that investing or gambling?

Now let's say I took that same $10,000 and spent a week researching stocks and asking friends/family/financial experts how best to put it into the stock market to save for my retirement. Would that be investing or gambling?

In both cases, I'm putting money into the stock market with the ultimate goal of increasing my funds, but most would consider the two methods to be radically different. The first scenario is pretty obviously gambling -- it's akin to putting all of your money on black at a roulette wheel -- and yet it is perfectly legal to do that with your money. The second scenario is clearly smart investing, is also perfectly legal, and is akin to ... well, poker.

Poker is a Skill Game

So, I suppose that brings me to my main point. I'm frankly fed up with uneducated, narrow-minded politicians, lobbyist groups, and the uninformed general public lumping poker into generic gambling categories. This lumping has caused some states to make it illegal to play online, illegal to play real-money home games, and so on. However, many of these same states allow lotteries -- which are pure gambling -- and all states allow you to gamble on the stock market.

Poker and the Stock Market

I've always liked the stock market analogy for poker. I could play poker like a gambler, just like I could play the stock market like a gambler. But it's a logical fallacy to say that just because one can gamble when playing poker that everyone who plays poker is gambling. That's like saying that just because someone can lose all of their money day-trading penny stocks that everyone who puts money into the stock market is a gambler.

Now, that isn't to say that there aren't risks in both poker and the stock market. I could do a bunch of research and spread my investments out across various indexes, company types, mutual funds, and so on, and yet still lose money. However, if I'm investing smartly, my risk of financial ruin is small, and my risk of long-term profit is quite high. Poker is the same; if you invest time in studying the game, gaining experience, and otherwise improving your play, you very likely can be a long-term winner.

In both cases, it's all about taking calculated risks. I've been playing poker for more than five years now, and I'm a consistent winner. My profits chart is below, spanning about five years of tracking on the CardPlayer.com Poker Stats Tracker. (See if you can guess whether I focus on cash games or tournament, haha.)


But it's not just me. Pretty much all of my friends are seasoned, experienced poker players with true passion for continuously improving their games. And guess what? The vast majority of them are long-term winning players.

Poker and Sports

A lot of people don't like calling poker a sport, or even comparing the game to sports. I actually agree -- poker is not a sport any more than chess is a sport. However, thinking about sports can help put some misconceptions about poker into perspective. In the sports statement with which I opened this blog, I hope I made it clear that better players will win in the long run, but they can lose on any given day. Play one game and a better team can lose to a worse team, but play 1,000 games and the better team will win more than 50% of the time.

Poker is much the same, but admittedly the edge that a good player has over a bad player is much smaller than it is in most sports, and it thus takes a larger sample size to see a distinct difference. Given a large enough sample size of hands/tournaments played, a good poker player will always rise to the top, but in a single hand, or a single day of playing cash games, or a single tournament, a good player could do very poorly and a bad player can do amazingly well.

Harrington on Hold 'em Expert Strategy for No Limit Tournaments, Vol. 1: Strategic PlayTo paraphrase one of my favorite quotes regarding this topic (I believe it comes from poker pro Dan Harrington, who wrote three indispensable poker books on tournament poker): A poker tournament is like a lottery in that anyone can win. The difference is that for the same $1 that gets most people a single lottery ticket, a winning player can get three tickets or more.

Poker and Casino Games

I tell people that I play poker semi-professionally. When they refer to me as a "Professional Gambler," I cringe -- big time. I cringe for two reasons: 1) I hate gambling, and I don't do it. Slots, craps, roulette ... they all bore the crap out of me because I have no real way to influence the result. Plus, I'm playing against the house, so I'm obviously a favorite to lose any given bet. Why would I do that to myself? No, I'm not a professional gambler. 2) I know that if they consider poker gambling, they don't know very much about poker, and their eyes would just glaze over if I even attempted to explain it to them ...

In traditional casino games, you're playing against the house (casino), and the house is smart enough only to play against you in games wherein it has an edge. When you play slot machines, every dollar you put into the machine pays you back $0.9999 or less over the long run, I guarantee it. You never have an edge over the house.

In poker, you aren't playing against the house. The house has absolutely zero interest in whether or not you win a hand -- they get to rake in a percentage of the pot whether you win it or someone else does. You are not playing against the house, you're playing against other players. Can you have an edge over other players? Of course you can. You can make them fold the best hand by bluffing, or you can play better hands in better situations than they do. You maximize your profits and minimize your losses, all while trying to induce them to make mistakes and maximize their losses to you.

Can You Lose on Purpose? The Annie Duke Argument

Poker pro Annie Duke took another approach to the argument against poker being your typical casino game. (She attributes the argument to David Sklansky and her brother Howard Lederer.) Her argument goes a little something like this: Can you purposefully lose when you play slots or craps or roulette? Can you purposefully lose when you play poker?

The argument implies that with pure-chance casino games, nothing you do can in any way affect whether you win or lose -- you couldn't lose if you tried. With poker, you could lose every single cash game or tournament you played in very easily. I can fold every single hand throughout an entire tournament and I would eventually lose. FYI, I found this argument on the excellent Freakonomics blog at The New York Times website.

(Notice that blackjack is interestingly nestled in between: you play against the house, but you could purposefully lose most hands by hitting until you bust, unless you get "unlucky" enough to hit 21. However, if you can count cards well, you can have an edge over the house and actually be a long-term winning blackjack player. That's why they keep a very close eye on blackjack tables and kick out anyone they think may be counting cards.)

A Poker Study

But don't take my word for it. There's even a study that was done recently that took the data from 103 million hands of poker played by hundreds of thousands of poker players on PokerStars. The poker study [Scribd document of the entire study] revealed some interesting facts:
  • 75.7% of hands played never went to showdown. So, in essence, the actual cards that player held were ultimately less relevant than the betting players did more than 3/4 of the time.
  • Of the 24.3% of hands that did go to showdown, the best hand at the table (of every hand dealt to every player, including those folded) won 50.3% of the time. What this means is that half of the time the hand that wins at showdown is not that hand that would have won had every player taken their hand to showdown. In other words, even in the minority of hands that reach showdown, betting has caused what would have been the best hand to fold before showdown.
  • When considering every hand dealt, folded or otherwise, the best hand went to showdown and won the pot just 12% of the time.
  • Cigital, the firm that conducted the study, came to the conclusion that the above data show that poker is 88% skill.
/Rant

Anyway, you get my point. Plenty of incredibly smart, logical people make or try to make a living playing poker. The same can't be said about slot machines, craps, or roulette. Poker is very clearly a game dependent upon skill. The edges may be small in some cases -- like in some large buy-in tournament or in high-stakes cash games -- but in the vast majority of situations, it is easy to have a distinct advantage over the opposition in a game of poker.

There, I'm done with my rant, and I've gotten it out of my system. Hilarity will ensue in my next few blogs...

- SPG

    Thursday, March 25, 2010

    Why We'd Be Better Off Without Women, in Iambic Pentameter

    I'm not one to beat around the bush, so I'll answer the titular assertion immediately: I was being disingenuous as a means to con people into clicking through to read this blog entry. Women are actually pretty fucking great. But don't worry misogynists, if you keep reading I may throw you a bone toward the end.

    But I'll at least give you your promised iambic pentameter (sticking to the women-are-great theme):

    If I were told to pick my favorite thing /
    About the fairer sex lasjfl;nvkla nel;kfj awl;efj fljs  FUCK IAMBIC PENTAMETER

    And you know what? Screw poetry, too. When I try to write poetry, my skin crawls. Why did I think iambic pentameter would be a good idea?

    But wait. Hold on. Let's back up for a second. I say women are "pretty fucking great," but that isn't, of course, the entire truth. The best example I can give you of why women aren't great is my current girlfriend. (Don't worry, she won't read this.) (UPDATE: She read this. Crap. Change of plans ... ) She truly is pretty fucking great, but she's the primary reason I haven't posted an entry in a while.

    Put simply, time spent with her means time spent not blogging.

    Put complicatedly, time spent with a girlfriend when you have one girlfriend is greater than time spent with a girlfriend when you have zero girlfriends, and as all segments of time are percentages of a whole, when one segment increases, another decreases. (Note: You do not need to read the preceding paragraph. It is superfluous. Sorry for putting this note at the end.)



    So, for the seven Facebook fans that I lost, blame her. It's true that quite possibly her only flaw is that time with her is not time blogging. If she could somehow fix that one thing about herself, that'd be great. Kthanks.

    [Simple, logical transition goes here.]

    And that brings us to online dating sites.

    Online Dating

    I spent just about a year scouring online dating sites in an attempt to find a girl. I've never liked the idea of meeting a girl in a club or bar -- that just seems sleazy -- and I'm no longer attending college or working a retail or service job with a high turnover rate, so there wasn't really any good way to meet new women. Plus, I'll be honest, the geeky side of me salivates at the thought of filtering thousands of women by points of data. (See, misogynists? I just said I like thinking of women as data. That's gotta get your rocks off, huh? Bone thrown.)

    Here are some quick reviews of some of the most prominent dating sites out there:


    Match.com

    This one is expensive as fuck, but it's actually a lot of fun. There's just a shit-ton of people on there, even within the relatively narrow confines of my searches. There are a lot of details you can look at for each person, and a lot of pictures/personality to review. I gave myself an extra inch of height on the site, because those superficial bitches always put 5'10" as their cutoff.

    And I've come to realize that "Spiritual but not religious" means one of two things: 1) I'm too big of a pussy to call myself an atheist or 2) I believe in energy crystals and auras and The Secret and hugging moonbeams and Santa Claus. Those two standpoints are pretty fucking dissimilar, which makes these girls wildcards.

    eHarmony.com

    Fuck eHarmony. Seriously.

    For starters, I hate them on principle. For the longest time, they had you start your profile by asking if you were a "man seeking woman" or a "woman seeking man." Just those two options -- sorry gays. It's hearsay, but I'd heard that eHarmomy is owned by Mormons, and that the omission wasn't an oversight ... they really didn't want to allow gays.

    So, to recap, their two-pronged War on Homosexuality consists of 1) Preventing gays from finding love on dating sites and, in case that fails, 2) Banning gay marriage. It's a solid plan ... prevent the gays from procreating, thus nipping the gay flower at the bud. (Remember ... Mormons aren't good at biology. See evolution.)

    Another problem with eHarmony is their bullshit moneymaking scheme. You sign up, fill out your profile, and do their dumb marathon of a personality test, and then at the very end, they tell you they've found you a few matches ... but you can't see them yet.

    "No, no, no, it's not that we want you to have to pay to see them," says eHarmony, "it's that love is built on personality compatibility. Of course, if you want to see these three girls who match your personality perfectly and may very well be supermodels (or Goodyear blimps), you can pay us ... but we aren't forcing you."

    Fuck you, eHarmony. Of course looks are important. You just want me to have to pay before seeing that my three perfect matches all look like roadkill. A good relationship is based on both physical attraction and compatibility. You're saying it's not ... which means you're dumb and wrong -- you lose.

    PlentyOfFish.com

    This one'll be short:
    1. It's free.
    2. It looks like a blind, non-English-speaking, dyslexic, misanthropic, three-year-old quadruple amputee made the site.
    3. It's free.
    4. If you're clever, you can use a free Match.com account to find women, and then hopefully find them again on PlentyOfFish to contact them for free. (But hurry, if you stare at POF.com too long, your eyes will begin to drip blood uncontrollably. Possible solution: Place a saucer on your desk below your chin to collect the blood droplets.)
    HotOrNot.com

    This site used to be about telling people they were ugly or hot on a scale of 1-10. (I'm a 9.9, bitches! No, seriously, that wasn't a joke. It actually kinda hurts that you're laughing right now...) The owners realized as an afterthought that if you think someone is hot, you might want to date them. Eureka. So, they slapped on a little "meet me" feature that allows people to "double match" with each other if both people say they want to meet. If they both do, and they both have paid accounts, they can contact each other. This is kinda like the opposite of eHarmony. It's a site that says, "Personality? Can you fuck a personality?"



    I actually could go on about dating sites, but this entry is getting a bit long in the tooth.

    Until next time ...

    - SPG

    Wednesday, February 17, 2010

    Music -- How Not to Suck, Part 1

    There are plenty of ways not to suck as a musician, so I figured I'd preemptively make this a multi-part post, even though I have no immediate plans for additional parts. In the very least, "Part 1" indicates that what I'm writing here isn't an exhaustive list.

    So, let's start with the easiest rules to follow so as not to suck:

    Rule No. 1: Don't make rap music.

    Sing For The Moment [Explicit]If I want someone to talk to me about how rich they are and about how bitches be all up ons -- all while some annoying, repetitive beat plays in the background -- then sure, I'll go ahead and tune in to a rap station. No, your lyrics are not fresh, and no, you do not have musical talent. And there's a reason why everyone's favorite part of songs like Eminem's "Sing for the Moment" is the part sampled out of an actually good song.

    Rule No. 2: Don't make country music.

    Country music is in an entirely different realm than rap music -- I actually respect the musicianship of a lot of country music. These guys and gals often actually can sing, and they usually can play instruments, to boot. So, why is this a rule to prevent suckage? Because country music is annoying as fuck. Not to sound cliché, but I truly don't give even half a fuck about your pickup truck, your dog, or how your wife done left you. And unless you came to play a concert fresh off of a cattle drive, leave your dumb little cowboy hat at home -- you're not a cowboy.

    That Don't Impress Me MuchSpecial Exception: You're allowed to be Shania Twain or Taylor Swift and not suck. Yes, I realize that publicly posting this exception causes immediate revocation of my Man Card. Truth be told, I have a feeling it was revoked years ago when I sang "That Don't Impress Me Much" at karaoke and fuckin' rocked the house. Yes, that happened.

    Rule No. 3: Don't suck live.

    If you suck live, it pretty much means you just suck.

    In most scenarios, this means that you really just aren't very good at what you do, and it takes the magic of multiple takes over weeks or months in the studio, as well as auto-tuning and other production tricks to get you to sound halfway decent. Truly good musicians record something that sounds great, and then they practice and practice and sound just as awesome when they get on stage. Why does Ashlee Simpson have to lip-sync when performing live? Because she sucks. Why does Muse refuse ever to lip-sync or pretend to play instruments when playing live? Because they're music gods and incredible musicians.

    The ResistanceMuse is so awesome that when they were told at the last minute by an Italian talk show that they had to lip sync, they decided to make it incredibly obvious by switching instruments and "playing" so horribly that they couldn't be taken seriously. The people hosting the show knew so little about Muse that they had no idea anything was awry. Pay particularly close attention to lead singer/guitarist Matt Bellamy as he rocks out on the drums one-handed at one point. (The drummer is "singing and playing bass," while the bassist is "playing guitar  and keyboard.")


    De-Loused in the ComatoriumYou also can suck live simply because you have too much faith in your jamming skill and how much people give a shit about said skills. Exhibit A: The Mars Volta. They're pretty amazing on albums, and they just throw a bunch of experimental shit in there and jam out to perfection in the studio, making like 10-minute-long songs that are generally enjoyable for the most part. Then they get on stage and think, "People obviously love it when we just go apeshit and jam. Let's take that to a level that no one wants! We're awesome!!" So they randomly pluck strings, flail on drums, and grunt into the microphone in the middle of songs and it simply sounds like a cacophony. No, it isn't good when you randomly rock out and jam. Plan that shit out so my ears don't bleed. Kthanks.

    CrashExhibit B: The Dave Matthews Band. I went to a concert and it was excellent until about 45 minutes in when a song decided that it wasn't going to end. They had about 30 minutes or so left to play, and they decided to fill that entire period up with a bunch of instrumental solos instead of playing more songs that we wanted to hear. Excellent choice, douchebags. The violin player would move to the center of the stage and rock out for 2-5 hours, and I envisioned him thinking to himself the entire time, "YEAH! Violin! Vi-oh-fucking-lin!" Then came the drummer, and he was all, "Drums! Drums! Drums! YEAH! Drums! Drums! Drums! YEEEEAH!" How about -- no. Just end your song and play another one we want to hear, idiots. Stop catering to all of the high people in your audience who aren't noticing how much time you're wasting.

    (UPDATE: Duh, a large majority of DMB concert-goers are high. Catering to the majority is a good business plan. My hat's off to you, DMB.)

    Note: Rule No. 3 also works in reverse. If your album isn't that great, but you put on a great show, I'll actually enjoy your album more next time I hear it.


    Obviously there are plenty more rules I have in mind, but let's let these marinate for a while before I come back for part 2. These are pretty good starting points, though.

    Oh, wait, there's one more really easy one:

    Rule No. 4: Don't be Nickelback.

    That's the entire rule, really. Kinda speaks for itself.

    But you know what? Here are some examples of why, anyway:

    1) Listen to this MP3 with headphones. The two first Nickelback singles played one out of each headphone. They're the exact same length and have the exact same song composition. Pretty sad.

    2) Here's Nickelback having rocks thrown at them at a concert for sucking too badly:


    -- SPG

    Ragaboo T-Shirts