Wednesday, June 25, 2014


I work at a small college. I love my job. I love getting to interact with students. I love being around people who have dedicated a good portion of their adult lives to learning and want to share that information with others. I love that both my wife and I work at institutions of higher learning and hope that fact makes an impression on our son that we value education.

But there’s one aspect of my job that I can’t stand. I absolutely despise it and have gone on a one-person crusade against it.

I hate when college students call me “sir.” Hate it. Look, I get it, they’re being polite and respectful and all that. But it’s entirely possible to be respectful without saying “sir.” Come in, shake my hand and be attentive while we’re talking – that’s respectful. I don’t need the added “sir” thrown in there. I'm not that formal.

Every time a student calls me “sir” I do two things. First, I tell them I’m not that old. They usually laugh sheepishly and apologize and say they were trying to be polite. Then I tell them in about 15 years when some college student calls them “sir” or “ma’am” they’re going to feel old and also think back to this meeting and say “that guy was right, I do feel old. That’s not cool at all.” Invariably, they’ll forget this and the next time they walk in to my office, they’ll call me “sir.” I tell them “I know we’ve gone over this before, you know you’re not supposed to be calling me sir.” They laugh, I smile and we move on.

If it were completely up to me, I’d have every student who comes in to my office to call me “Luke.” It’s the name I was given and I imagine that’s what my parents wanted people to call me. Having students call me that would be, in a way, respectful to my parents’ wishes. But I understand that probably won’t go over with the powers that be. I begrudgingly accept “Mr. Luke” as a title though I really don’t like it.

I realize by writing this there’s about a 100% chance of people I know who read this calling me “sir” just to mess with me. But if it’s really about respect, you’ll respect my wishes and call me what I want to be called, “Luke the Magnificent.”

Thursday, June 12, 2014

RISKy Soccer

The World Cup started today, and you’ve likely read (or had the opportunity to read) countless breakdowns of the teams from all kinds of angles and perspectives. You may know the top players from each team, which Groups will be the most difficult to escape, the different cities the games are being held and even some of the off the field controversies surrounding soccer’s biggest stage.

But today, I bring you the World Cup preview as you haven’t seen it before. For today, I want to break down each team not based on talent or coaching skill or home field/continent advantage. Anyone can do that kind of pedestrian analysis. No, today I want to break down the countries in the World Cup based on how easy or difficult it is to defend that country in the board game RISK.

Now as you may be aware, RISK takes some liberties in grouping countries into different territories and, in three cases, splits up larger countries into different parts. For our purposes, when looking at defending Russia, Australia and the United States, I looked at having to defend all the parts of the country. Also, several countries are grouped into territories. For example, Costa Rica and Honduras are in Central America, both according to geography and in RISK, so they are grouped together.

After compiling a list of the teams and territories, I looked at the number of borders in which they could be attacked from. While this number is useful in helping determine how difficult it is to defend in RISK, we also have to take into account the strategic values of the country. A territory that has five borders in the middle of Asia may have less value than a territory in Europe that has five borders. Obviously this is all subjective and your rankings may vary (they’d be wrong if they differ from mine, but they would vary.) I’ve also factored in the likelihood of a territory being attacked into the rankings. A territory with lots of borders but little strategic value may be easier to attack, but is less likely to conquered a territory with a few borders but higher strategic value.

So here we go. Note: RISK Territories are in parentheses

Most Difficult
32.       Russia (Ukraine, Afghanistan, Irkustsk, Kamchatka, Siberia, Ural and Yakutsk) – Russia is comprised of seven different territories and frankly I lost count trying to figure out how many places they can be attacked from. They border territories in North America, Asia, Europe and Africa. It’s a massive country that spans nine time zones ( a fact I learned and remembered from the Olympics.) If you’re controlling all of Russia in a game of RISK, you’re either doing very well to be able to control that much territory or you’ve spread yourself thin and will probably be out of the game shortly.

31-27. Algeria, Cameroon, Cote d’Ivorie, Ghana, Nigeria (North Africa) – North Africa has seven different territories that border it. From Brazil to the west to Europe to the north, North Africa has a difficult time staying in one players control for long, especially if someone is able to maintain control over South America.

26.       United States (Eastern United States, Western United States, Alaska) – Were it not for Alaska, the United States would be much lower on the list. Alaska borders with Asia and anytime someone tries to control North America and get the five bonus armies each round that comes with control, Alaska is vulnerable to being attacked to prevent that from happening. With six territories able to attack the U.S., the country scores low on this list.

25.       Iran (Middle East) – You mean the place where Europe, Asia and Africa all meet is a difficult place to control? Shocking, I know. I ranked this below the United States due primarily to the low odds of someone needing this to own an entire continent. Asia is a vast place and as I mentioned earlier, controlling it is difficult. I did consider moving it below the United States because it often becomes what my friends and I call a “card territory” where we basically take turns attacking it and then losing it so we can accumulate RISK cards to trade in for armies in the future.

24-20   Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Greece, Italy, Switzerland (Southern Europe) – With its proximity to Africa and the bounty of armies that come with controlling Europe, Southern Europe is prime real estate and difficult to defend. No one wants to allow someone to control Europe if they can help it and someone seeking Africa may attack into Southern Europe solely to prevent someone from ruling the area.

19.       Brazil (Brazil) – Brazil has fewer points of attack than Northern Europe, but it’s strategic value places it lower on the list. Three of the four borders it has are with territories in South America, making it a prime target early in the game to try to get and hold the continent. It’s also vulnerable to attack from North Africa.

18-16.  France, Portugal, Spain (Western Europe) – Like Brazil, Western Europe shares borders primarily with continental neighbors and North Africa. It’s ranked as easier to hold on to than Brazil simply because controlling Europe is more difficult than controlling South America.

15-13.  Belgium, Germany, Netherlands (Northern Europe) – Despite having five borders, it’s ranked easier to hold than Brazil and Western Europe because it’s surrounded by continental neighbors in a difficult continent to control. Because of that, its strategic importance is lower than the two territories previously ranked.

12.       England (Great Britain) – Were it not for Iceland (not in this year’s World Cup), Great Britain would be much more valuable on the board. However, as with Northern Europe, it’s surrounded by continental friends meaning it would either not be strongly fought over during early parts of the game or behind a strong defense later on by someone seeking to retain control of the continent.

11.       South Korea (Mongolia) – Why South Korea is a part of Mongolia, I’m not sure, and even though it has more borders and thus more potential attackers than Great Britain, it’s ranked as easier to defend due to the difficulty controlling Asia. With no outside threats, only Asian territories, it’s safely tucked away. It’s biggest threat would be from someone coming from the south after controlling the Australia and Oceania continent.

10. Colombia (Venezuela) – Venezuela has three territories able to attack it, but one of those is from a neighboring continent, making it the first step out from North America should someone decide to go that route. Bordered to the south by Brazil and Peru, Venezuela is also tough to defend early in the game by those competing from control of the region.

9-8.      Costa Rica and Honduras (Central America) -  Another territory bordering a continent, Central America is ripe for attack from someone who gains control of South America early. Likewise, it’s one of the three access points to North America and therefore a likely target if someone is able to gain control of the continent in order to break up that power base.

7.         Ecuador (Peru) – Like Great Britain and Mongolia, previously, Ecuador is surrounded by friendly continental neighbors. I considered ranking this one more difficult to defend, but once someone controls it and the rest of the continent, it’s really only going to change hands if the entire continent changes hands. If someone does control South America, it’s likely they’ll have strong defense  in both Brazil and Venezuela, making it more difficult to conquer.

6.         Mexico (Mexico) – Another country that’s behind a fortification if already owned, Mexico isn’t really worth going after unless you’ve secured a good portion of the North American continent or have plans to do so imminently. There are only three points of attack in to Mexico, but with a continent as vast as North America, owning it is fruitless unless you own the rest.

5-3.      Argentina (Argentina, Chile, Uruguay) – There are only two ways to attack this territory, both of which are continental neighbors. It’s at the southernmost end of South America with no real strategic value to owning it once control of the continent is settled. If you want Argentina, you’re likely making a play for South America and if you’re successful, you’ll keep it for a while. If you’re not, the previous owner will likely reclaim it.

2.         Australia (Western Australia, Eastern Australia) – Another nation that has two parts to it, only unlike Russia and the United States, Australia is difficult to get to and even when you do conquer it, you’ll need a turn to regroup to get back out of there. It’s similar to Argentina in that it only has two ways to attack it (for our purposes, we’re assuming Eastern and Western Australia don’t attack each other since they’re playing together in the World Cup.). However, it gets the #2 spot because there’s only one way to get to those attacking countries. Siam provides a fantastic buffer /bottleneck. To get to Australia, you have to get through Siam. That kind of defense is what makes Australia my favorite place to own at the beginning of the game.

1.         Japan (Japan) – When I first started this, I thought Australia would take the top spot as easiest to defend. As I mentioned, you have to go through Siam to get there. But Australia’s strategic value makes it a popular place early in the game where the territories may change hands several times before things get settled. Japan, on the other hand, is an island unto itself. It only has two territories that can attack it, but there’s very little reason to. There’s no real strategic value to owning Japan. It doesn’t border another continent so it doesn’t get attacked that often and it has limited places it can attack and those it can attack are both part of Asia, which we’ve established is the most difficult continent to own.

Now I kind of want to play RISK.

Fear (but no loathing) in South Georgia

It's about five flights of stairs up to the top of the Mat Racer at the local water park. From the top, you have an amazing vantage point to look around at the surrounding softball, baseball and soccer fields of the Mill Creek Regional Park complex. Look behind you and you'll see the fields where I spent the better portion of my teenage years playing soccer and where my son now plays and practices. To the left you'll see the softball fields where I pretend to be a softball player for about two months every year. Look down and you'll see the rest of the water park. There's the lazy river, the splash pad and slides for the younger kids. The "mushroom pool" where the water gets a little deeper for the slightly older kids and looking slightly to the right of that you'll see the "bucket pool" where a giant bucket dumps thousands of gallons of water each minute on excited children and young adults.
Ariel view of my local water park.

For the last two years, I haven't got to make this climb up the stairs very often. My son hasn't been tall enough to go down the Mat Racer so every now and again when we were there with friends we'd convince one of the adults to watch the kids while three or four of us would go do something more fun that sit in the kiddie pool and make sure we didn't lose track of our kids.

But this year, this year was going to be different. My son, tall for his age, was going to be tall enough to go down. I was finally going to stop looking on with envy as other parents of slightly older kids walked to do something exciting. No longer would I be stuck listening to the delighted screams of teenagers racing down the Mat Racer while I tried to look interested in my son showing me again how he could walk on his hands in the shallow water.

This was to finally be my time. To borrow a phrase from George Costanza, this was going to be the Summer of Luke, or at least the Summer In Which Luke Had More Fun At The Waterpark Than In Years Past. However, my son is what you could describe as cautious. Extremely cautious. Most of the time, I, as a parent, love this trait about him. He's told both me and my wife on separate occasions to "be careful" when we were going somewhere without him.

However, with this abundance of caution comes a healthy fear of the unknown. This fear can manifest itself in ways I'm not always sure I understand. He doesn't like to go inside friend's houses to play and instead would prefer to either outside or inside our house. For the longest time he wasn't comfortable being dropped off at school in the drop off line and would rather we park and walk in with him. And when it came to the waterpark, he didn't want to go down the Mat Racer. The first time we went this year, he wouldn't even go see if he was even tall enough to go down it, choosing instead to spend his time doing other things there. He and I went one afternoon and stayed for about two hours. For roughly 90 minutes of that time, all he wanted to do was to float around the Lazy River.

I'd offered bribes to get him to go down. Want a toy? We'll go pick it out right after we left. Want ice cream? We'll get some, any flavor you want. Want something else? Sure, you name it. Nothing worked. Nothing I could think of would get him to even consider going down. I asked him why he didn't want to go down and he said "because I like the Lazy River." which is less a reason why he didn't want to go down and more a statement of what he does like.

So I resigned myself to another summer of watching other people enjoy their 10 second trip down the Mat Racer while I looked on with envy. Until that one fateful night when we were floating along the lazy river and my wife was asking my son why he didn't want to go down. As they talked, she unlocked the source of the fear. It was a fear that it wasn't safe for someone his height. Drifting along, she explained that if you were tall enough for the Mat Racer, than it was safe for him to go down. After explaining this a few different ways, he seemed ready to give it a try.

Before we even grabbed a mat, we walked down to the other end just to show him he was tall enough. The lifeguard stationed at the bottom of the stairs pulled out the measuring stick they use and sure enough, he was tall enough to go down. We walked back to get our mats and then began the trip up the stairs. Fortunately it was later in the day and there wasn't much of a crowd. We maybe waited in line for five minutes before we got to the top, which was probably a good thing as it didn't give him time to reconsider.

As we're waiting, my wife and I both asked him a couple times if he was excited. He said he was. He
He's not in this picture, but this is the Mat Racer.
seemed to be. He didn't act nervous or anxious. My wife, on the other hand, was extremely nervous for him. She kept telling me "I can't believe he's actually going to do it."

Finally it's our turn to go. I help him get his mat ready and he lays down on it. We wait for the lifeguard at the top to tell us it's ok to go and when he does..... nothing.

He doesn't go anywhere.

Not because he's scared, but because he hasn't mastered pushing off the back to help him go. So my wife helps get him going and down the slide he goes, us right behind him and then passing him because, well, because the more you weigh the faster you go. He gets down to the bottom with a huge smile on his face. He makes the long walk that all young children who go down the slide have to make because they don't slide as far. He says he wants to go again. So we do. Then again, and again. Now, instead of going around the Lazy River, it's all Mat Racer all the time. TheSummer In Which Luke Had More Fun At The Waterpark Than In Years Past might actually be happening.

Eventually it's time to go, but we go back the next day. Partly because my wife was taking a nap and we needed something to do, but mostly because I want to capitalize on the momentum and keep him going down the Mat Racer so he doesn't get scared again. That's not a problem. All he wants to do is the Mat Racer. Even when the line gets long and it's a lengthy wait, he wants to do it. "What about the Lazy River?" I ask. "No, Mat Racer," he says smiling.

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

The Mail Never Stops

I need your help. Well, maybe not you specifically, but someone's help.

The problem I have is that there's too much great content out right now that I want to read/watch/listen to that I can't do it all. And I can't convince the world to stop creating more stuff until I catch up. I feel like Newman.


I know there are things I'm just going to have to miss out on. I still haven't seen The Sopranos. I still haven't read Jim Collins' Good to Great and I'm not sure I ever will. I'm usually embarrassed when those "how many of these 100 classic books have you read?" posts start making the rounds on facebook because the answer is usually very few. I'm not sure why I let that bother me, especially after just writing that I try to just "like what I like" and not worry about anyone's opinion on it. 

I guess I feel a certain responsibility to have read some of those. I'm certainly not one to equate educational achievement with intelligence, but it can be a decent proxy for that. So I feel that as an educated person I "should" be reading the classics. The thing is, I have no interest in doing so.

So what do I spend my time on? Well, I'm glad you asked since I'd already written what's below before coming back to write this introduction.

155 shows on Netflix.

When my wife and I cut the cable cord a few years ago, I initially thought I'd watch a lot less television than I had previously. I remember growing up just flipping through channels, sometimes for up to 30 minutes looking for something to watch while I waited to watch what I actually wanted to watch. I figured with roughly 10 over-the-air channels (the major networks and some sub-channels, including one that just shows weather maps), my days of endlessly watching television might be over and I'd start to do something productive with that time.

That has not turned out to be the case. If anything, I watch more television now than I did with cable. Most of that stems from being able to watch what I want, when I want it. Sure, I may be a year or more behind the most current season of whatever show I'm watching, but as more and more people have started DVRing shows or streaming them online after they've aired, the idea that a television show is something for people to gather and talk about the next day is slowly fading away. Rarely do I hear conversations at work about a show that aired the night before. When the conversation turns to television, it's usually about catching up on a show on Netflix.

Having it on demand makes me more selective about what I watch, but it also provides me with the opportunity to watch more efficiently and intentionally than in the past. I spend far less time watching stuff I'm not interested in because I don't have to. I have immediate access to what I want.

My Netflix queue is impossibly long. Granted, some of those are shows for my son. As far as you know, I don't regularly watch "Curious George: Swing into Spring." But even accounting for his shows, there are probably 135 individual entries. And most of those are television series. I could spend the next month doing nothing but working through my Netflix queue and I'm not sure I'd finish. (The link is a story about a guy who wanted to see just how much he could watch on Netflix in a month. Now you're curious, aren't you?)

16 Podcasts

On my iPod right now there are 16 podcasts. Of those, three come out daily, nine come out weekly and the other four come out sporadically with some being 2-3 times a week and others being 2-3 times a month. I try to listen to all of them. Whether I'm in the car, at work, mowing the grass, taking the dog for a walk or even just sitting at home after everyone's gone to bed, I want to listen. Obviously I'm interested in the topics.

As you might guess, a good number of them are sports related, though I've sought out ones that try to take a big picture look at sports rather than daily recaps of what happened the night before. I first became interested in the NFL's concussion issues from a podcast long before "League of Denial" aired on PBS. Overall, I find this kind of analysis beneficial as it allows me to step back from the granular details that often get picked apart of sports radio and tv and to take a wide view of the issues surrounding the games I enjoy.

In addition to the sports podcasts, I've got a couple NPR podcasts and I allow myself one on politics just to give myself the chance to get a basic understanding of the political issues of the day. Most are 45 minutes to an hour, so I'm trying to fit roughly 14 hours of spoken audio entertainment into each week. When I had an hour commute to and from work, this was a little more manageable, but since I got a job closer to where I live, that's down to 12 minutes from driveway to parking lot.

There are some weeks when things just get busy and I end up missing a few of the daily podcasts for a day or two. The only problem with that is when I do jump back in, I end up missing the jokes referencing the episodes I missed. Yes, in the grand scheme of things, this isn't that big a deal, but as I mentioned earlier, I listen because I enjoy them, so I don't like missing episodes.

11 Books

This is the one area where I most need to make changes in my media consumption. I've currently got 11 books on my reading list and no clue when (or if) I'm going to get to them. Every year I commit to reading more books and have modest goals of reading 24 books a year - two per month. Every year I tell myself "this is the year you're finally going to do it." And for the last five, I can say I have only if you count children's books. As for books for adults that I read for pleasure, I haven't come close to meeting my goal.

Unlike what you likely think, I don't actually read all that many sports books. I'm currently reading a book called "Word Freak" about competitive Scrabble. Thinking back, I've spent a lot of time reading about psychology, decision making and how our minds are wired. I'm at least more aware of the theories of hour our minds work, though I'm not sure how much I've been able to incorporate into my life simply because so much of our brain activity is done on autopilot unless we take the time to stop and think and as you know, that takes energy and effort that we don't always have to give.

Here's the thing, though. Despite not reading as many books as I want, I do feel like I'm constantly reading. My twitter feed consists of a lot of writers who tweet out links to their articles, columns and news stories, not just of their own work, but work of other writers they find interesting. Just in the process of writing this section of the blog post, I've stopped twice to read articles of people I follow. So it's not as if I'm not reading, but I'm not reading the in depth levels of books that I sometimes feel like I should be doing.

 Now what?

At some point I'm going to eventually realize that I can't have it all. As my son gets older and more involved in his activities, I'll have less and less time to devote to my hobbies. He's still going to bed at 8 p.m. so I've got evenings to watch what I want. But there's going to come a time when he gets older and stays up later and I don't get run of the television. And I'll miss more and more stuff.

If there's one thing my wife has been telling me for years it's that it's ok to miss out on some things. I'm going to get there eventually. I'm just not there yet. And if I know my friends like I think I do, I'm about to get recommendations for other things I need to watch/read/listen to that will only add to my list.

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Like what you like

My friends have often characterized me as a sports nerd. While I appreciate the kind words, at this point it's no longer an accurate reflection of who I am. Amazingly (and you single guys take note), getting a job, a wife and a kid take up a lot of time. Time that used to be spent dedicated to sports is now spent pondering how everyone in CandyLand doesn't have diabetes or why the characters on SuperWhy need their individual airplanes when it would make more sense to fly together in one larger aircraft.

Fall Saturdays that used to be spent watching College Gameday and then 12 hours of football are now spent at the soccer field and then birthday parties with other dads who are secretly wishing they were home watching the game instead of watching their kid jump in a bounce castle while trying to discretely check the score on their phone.

So I've had to give up some things. I no longer even casually follow the NBA. I know a few superstars and have a vague sense of what's going on in the playoffs, but couldn't even pretend to fake a conversation with anyone remotely knowledgeable on the subject. I've wanted to start following soccer, and for the next month when the World Cup is going on I will, but it will likely fall by the wayside for the next 47 months after that until the next World Cup.

But the one interest I've managed to hang on to is baseball. I know, I know. Football is king in this country where the NFL and College Football are, by far, the two biggest sports where I live. Baseball is something that's merely tolerated from the end of spring practice (for college teams) or the NFL draft until mini-camps and fall practices begin. While I'm not exactly alone on the baseball island, the neighboring football island has a lot more people who seem to throw louder parties than my island.

But I like baseball. I'm actually auditing an online class on sabermetrics (the study of baseball, especially through statistics) for the fun of it. My bookshelf has more books on the sport than anything else. My television viewing takes a hit from April through the end of the World Series and generally just wait for a show to hit Netflix before catching up on it.

There was a time when it bothered me that I was the only one among my friends who was as in to baseball as I was. Not so much from a "why don't they appreciate the game like me?" aspect as a "what am I missing that I enjoy this game and so many of my peers don't?" Part of having a hobby and something you enjoy is sharing it with people around you. When no one is as in to it as you are, it gets tough.

But fortunately, now, I'm perfectly content to go about enjoying the sport without needing anyone around me to enjoy it as much as I do. (Though I may or may not be indoctrinating my son in the sport and pointing out when the announcers are wrong about something.) More importantly, I don't make fun of what other people are in to (well, except my wife for watching "The Bachelorette." That deserves mockery.) So when I see people on Twitter upset about what a celebrity wore or someone on facebook deep in debate about a television show they love, I no longer reflexively feel the urge to make a snide remark.

So you like what you like, whatever that is. And I'll like what I like.