27 February 2007

Scratching the Itch

Back in 2004, I started buying lottery scratch tickets. I had never done this before; in the early 90s I had a set of numbers I played in one of the weekly jackpot games for a while, but that was it for me as far as the lottery was concerned. But in mid-2004 I was laid off, and to my twisted way of thinking, a lottery prize would be a convincing argument for not having to get another job.

So what happens when a compulsive mind like mine decides to participate in legalized gambling? Well, I'm not analyzing percentages or anything like that, but I did quickly arrive at some conclusions regarding how best to waste spend my money. I don't have an addictive personality, but I can certainly see how easy it would be to go overboard, so I decided right away that I was going to limit myself to $10 per week, so things wouldn't get out of hand. (I figure the money falls in the same category as a daily fancy-latte-type drink, which I don't buy, so it has about the same justification.)

Then I looked at the the games themselves. I determined that the $1 tickets just aren't worth it, because the prizes are too small. Conversely, while the $5 tickets have much bigger prizes, when I did buy them I never won anything, and for the same amount of money, you don't get as many chances to win: if I buy five $2 tickets, I'm getting a total of ten chances (two per ticket), but if I buy two $5 tickets, there are only eight chances (four per ticket).

So for me the happy medium seems to be the $2 tickets.
In a typical week I'll win a couple of bucks, just enough to make me feel like it's worth it and keep me coming back. On a couple of occasions I won $50, and once a few months ago $100. When that happens, I either take the Mrs. out for a nice dinner, or put it into the "fund" (also known as a savings account) I maintain for big-ticket purchases. At the moment, the fund has about 50% of the cost of the plasma TV I'm going to buy soon, which will make paying for it a good bit easier.

When I win a small amount, I practice a "reinvestment strategy" of sorts: when I go back the following week, I use the winnings to buy additional tickets beyond my weekly allotment. So this week I had $6 from last week's tickets, so I got a total of eight tickets, but still spent only $10. This makes me feel like I have more chances to win something.

Massachusetts participates in one of those multi-state jackpot games called Mega Millions, which is drawn twice a week. When the jackpot gets large, say over $100 million, I find it pretty hard to resist, so I amended my lottery rules to allow me to spend another $10 per week on Mega Millions. I don't play a specific set of numbers; rather, I embrace the randomness of the world and play "quick picks," which means I let the lottery machine randomly choose the numbers for me. (Actually, I decided that filling in the tiny circles on those cards every time would make me feel just a little too desperate.)

To my complete lack of surprise, my winnings from the jackpot game have been next to nothing. Occasionally I have a couple of the numbers, but without the "mega ball" the prizes are
negligible. Last week I had the mega ball twice, but no other numbers, which got me $2 for each mega ball. Since the jackpot was still growing, I put the $4 toward the next set of quick picks. I'll probably never win anything substantial, but I tell myself I have just as much chance as anyone. I fantasize about world travel, vacation homes, helping my family, becoming a philanthropist, and not having to work ever again. Especially that last one.

24 February 2007

In NyQuil We Trust

Being sick is just so much fun. But as soon as I figured out what was going on, I reached for the NyQuil, for two reasons: one, it was already in the house, and two, it always works. Since it was a long holiday weekend and I didn't have to worry about going anywhere or being lucid, I took the green stuff round the clock until Tuesday, when I decided to shift to the day/night combo because I wanted to try to start feeling normal again.

A lot of people will tell you they don't like the taste of NyQuil (their spelling, by the way, with the capital Q). Not me; I love it. I love it because it Tastes. Like. Medicine. One whiff and you know it's serious stuff. One swallow, and you know you're going to feel better soon. Of course, the sense of wooziness brought on by the combination of the antihistamine and alcohol is part of the fun too. It makes you relaxed, passive, receptive. Appetite? Not really. Take a shower? Nah. Five or so hours of Anthony Bourdain on the Travel Channel? Sure.

18 February 2007

Closed Due to Illness

Well, after fighting it for a week, I finally caught whatever it is the Mrs. has been coughing out into the atmosphere. Programming will resume when I can once again think straight...

12 February 2007

Plaid World

Sometimes I just don't have a good topic in mind. Like today. I was actually going to write a lame post about how sometimes I can't think of anything to write, but fortunately/unfortunately, on the way home from work I encountered unexpected inspiration. A young lady standing at the bus stop was wearing Burberry earmuffs. Burberry. Earmuffs. My brain just locked up; I didn't know what to make of them. And then I thought to myself, I wonder if she's wearing a Burberry thong too? Because if they make Burberry earmuffs, they must make fucking Burberry underpants. Then, a little while later, while I was in the midst of an errand at a trendy shopping mall, I saw a second young lady wearing them. At least it's clear who the target customer is.

When I got home I looked them up online, and saw that they are cashmere and cost $115. Just think about that for a minute. What's the last item of clothing you bought that cost over $100? I bet it was probably a coat, or maybe a good pair of shoes, or possibly you treated yourself to a cashmere sweater. I rooted around in my own brain, and I think for me it was a leather coat I got about a year ago. It was originally $250 but I found it on clearance for around $120. I also bought a pair of engineer boots around the same time that were about the same amount. The closest thing I have to earmuffs is those things that go around the back of your head and cover your ears, and twist up into a sort of ball when you aren't wearing them. They cost about $10.

I still can't get my mind around the fact that someone thought the world needed cashmere earmuffs with the Burberry plaid on them. It does not surprise me that people would buy them, because people will buy anything. I just think it's sad that we allow ourselves to be marketed to in this way, and that we think we need to buy expensive designer items to validate ourselves.

By the way, I couldn't find any underwear, but they do make Burberry-plaid bikinis. I'm sure it's just a matter of time, though.

07 February 2007

City Mice, Country Mice

Over the weekend we made an overnight visit to friends who live in West Brookfield, a very pretty, very small town out in the middle of the state. Their house is on five acres at the end of a long driveway, and they regularly get coyotes, foxes, deer, and other wildlife as visitors in their yard. We ate, drank, talked, and relaxed. We took a walk in the snow, in spite of the cold, and even the dog seemed to enjoy herself--she doesn't like to walk at home because other dogs in the neighborhood make her nervous. (Yes, she is a pathetic, 60-pound sissy-dog.)

It's only a 90-minute drive from our house to theirs, but it's such a striking contrast to living in the city or just outside it, as we do. If I could drive, I wouldn't mind living somewhere less urban, though not necessarily as rural as "camp," as our friends refer to their place. And as much as the Mrs. enjoys nature, animals, and getting away from things, I could tell that even after only 24 h
ours, she was getting a little bored with all that peace and quiet.

Sure, we have cable and
TiVo and Netflix and everything else, and we could have all that no matter where we lived (our friends can't get cable, but they have DirecTV), but sometimes you just want to go out and do something, and that's where the differences come into focus. If they want to go see a movie, they have to drive 40 minutes to Amherst or Northampton or Worcester; from our house, we can get to either the Capitol, the Somerville Theatre, or the Revere Showcase in about 15 minutes. They have one pizza place and one Chinese place; the pizza place delivers, the Chinese place doesn't. The choices for sit-down dining are bound to be limited in a town with only 1600 residents; again, satisfaction is at the other end of a lengthy car ride. Hell, it's ten miles from their house to the liquor store.

As with everything else in life, it's a tradeoff: what you get in exchange for what you are willing to give up. As we were driving home Sunday evening, slipping through the city on the Turnpike, the Mrs. gestured outside the car and said, "See, I would miss this too much." I knew exactly what she meant.

05 February 2007

Employees Must Wash Hands

The restrooms where I work got shiny new dispensers for the toilet paper, soap, and paper towels last week. Not exactly a major news story, but I couldn't help but notice that it didn't necessarily result in an improvement in the restroom experience. The soap is the foamy kind, which is fine; it's a little nicer than the gel-like substance it replaced, and lathers more easily. The paper towel dispenser requires a combination of pulling down on the towel and pushing in on a piece of plastic that sits behind the towel, which is pretty counterintuitive, and kind of dumb. The toilet paper is wider and thicker, but quite a bit coarser than what it replaced. So that's 1 for 3. Maybe I'd better stop wishing they'll do something about how the restroom smells.

[On closer inspection, I determined that the plastic push bar is there to help the towel along if pulling off one sheet does not bring the next sheet far enough out of the dispenser to be pulled. My bad. But it's still somewhat kludgy, so 1.5 out of 3.]

Also work-related, but with broader implications as well: just how lazy do you have to be to ride the elevator down one floor? I see this about once a week. Our office is on the sixth floor, which is the top of the building, so I feel somewhat justified in riding the elevator (although, since we publish health newsletters, we are always being guilted encouraged to use the stairs, and quite a few people do). But people persist in riding from five to four, or three to two. And these are not people with crutches or walkers or wheelchairs; these are able-bodied types, generally in their twenties, and since the rest of the building is a library, most of them are medical students. If anyone should be taking the stairs, it should be them, right? Setting the example?

02 February 2007

Button to Button

Size creep, as it has come to be known, is keeping a clothing size's physical measurements the same, but labeling it as a smaller size than it was previously known. It's aimed primarily at women, supposedly to flatter them into thinking they are thinner than they really are, or some marketing BS like that.

J. Crew is practicing reverse size creep; that is, I've had to start buying their clothing in bigger sizes. Their men's size large shirts, and at least one style of sweater, no longer fit me comfortably. They have trimmed the patterns by at least a couple of inches, so while I can button the shirts, there's enough pulling between the buttons to look unattractive. I noticed that the armholes and upper arms are cut more snugly as well. Extra large fits comfortably enough, but the sleeves are a little too long. If anything, they should be going in the opposite direction,
given our country's obesity epidemic, or at least consider offering the shirts in more than one fit/cut.

01 February 2007

Much Ado...

So yeah, here in Boston we now look like a bunch of fools in the wake of yesterday's Mooninite invasion. Clearly the mental geniuses (I attempted to link to the hairy guy's web site, but who knows if it's ever coming back) who were hired to make and place these things didn't use good judgment, and even if the city's response seems like an overreaction in hindsight, it's understandable why they reacted the way they did.

But I have to wonder: even though apparently not one policeman, firefighter, EMS worker, or other emergency response person involved had ever heard of Adult Swim, doesn't it seem like one look at the device in question would make it clear it was some kind of spoof? I mean, it doesn't exactly look threatening, plus it's giving the finger (which, incidentally, made for some amusing moments in the local media, as some TV stations reportedly blurred the digit and others did not).
Do we have to be so uptight about everything?