Cracking the Jeopardy! Code

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A few months back, Gawker posted about how one uber-geek named Roger Craig (no, not the retired San Francisco 49er) was able to develop a web app that modeled America’s favorite question and answer show’s question sequences so that he could win an insane amount of money and break their all time record.
Craig delivered this news to the New York “Quantified Self Show & Tell” where he explains how he developed a web tool and various supporting programs to analyze and effectively train himself on a database of past questions. Its a 14 minute talk and its worth watching if you plan to ever be on the show, like I do.
If you did not know, every year I take the entrance exam hoping / praying that this is the year I end up on the show. When I throw out of my many inane pieces of trivia and/or little known facts, I usually follow it up with the statement, “One day I’m going to be on Jeopardy!” to try to reduce my geek factor. That being said, my secret fear is that I’ll get on the show and get destroyed by my lack of opera and classical music knowledge. Having Mr. Craig’s app to help me identify my weak spots would be ideal.
As an aside, one of the best articles I ever read about “Jeopardy!” was written for GQ magazine and it was titled “Why is Alex Trebek laughing at me?” It came out in the late 90’s and I cannot find it online – I was hoping to link to it in this post. If you find it, please let me know!


From the "Art Imitating Life Imitating Art" Department

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This news is a few months old but just as funny now as it was then. A few hours after television producers set up a replica of Occupy Wall Street for the filming of a new episode of Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, the real Occupy Wall Street announced plans to occupy the fake one.
As Mother Jones put it, “It’s straight out of a Don DeLillo novel.” I frankly just love the speed in which this happened – further proof the “art-life-art” cycle is moving faster than ever.


It's Better to Have Never Watched

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One of my favorite “glass half full” statements is from Alfred, Lord Tennyson who wrote, “It’s better to have loved and lost than to have never loved at all.” It can be considered trite but it is almost always true, at least when it comes to love.
It seems that the reverse is true though when one is talking about about current events and Fox News. Fairleigh Dickinson University’s PublicMind center is reporting that people who depend on Fox News are even less informed than those who don’t watch any news programming at all.
Yes, you read that correctly. You are better off learning about the news from overheard conversations in elevators and on the street than by watching channel 640 on your Verizon supplied cable box. To me, this information is more of a “duh – this simply confirms something I already knew!” moment as opposed to a “wow – I had no clue!” moment. That being said, I’ll be very happy to point this study out as a rebuttal to anyone who uses Fox News as source material during a future debate.
Please note that this is a separate study from the one that the University of Maryland ran last year that found that a s found that Fox News viewers were more likely to believe false information about politics.
In closing, Fox’s tag line is “Fair and Balanced” never ceases to make me think of the line from 1984 that says, “We’ve always been at war with Eurasia.” ‘Nuff said.
Via Jessie


A Winning Lexicon

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First off, I like many people, such as Darren Franich at Entertainment Weekly am completely and utterly obsessed with Mr. Charlie Sheen. Franich nailed by writing,

“In just a matter of days, Sheen has already become a kind of Internet Megameme — he’s like the perfect combination of Chuck Norris and the Double Rainbow guy, with just a touch of Dramatic Chipmunk.

Speaking of the megameme, he claimed a twitter account and in only a single day amassed over 1,000,000 followers. I just logged in and am following him and he’s now up to 1,076,858 followers. I now use Twitter to follow Phish’s set lists as they happen and Sheen’s words.
Next, keeping the winning theme going, Judy Berman at “Flavorpill” has been nice enough to compile of list of all the winning words and phrases that Charlie Sheen has uttered recently. As she put it,

His language is a thing of wonder, oscillating between slang we haven’t heard since the early ’90s, hybrid terms ripped from the pages of fantasy novels, and words he has completely and totally re-appropriated (e.g., “winning”).

His phrases blow “I’m taking my talents to South Beach” completely out of the water. I have already started to use a few of his phrases in my own life and already am winning more than I used to. I know that it’s too bad that no one else but me can be on the drug known as Jeff Lipson but that’s for everyone’s benefit, because obviously you wouldn’t be able to handle it – your face would melt off and your children would weep over your exploded body.
So, without further ado, the words and wisdom of Mr. Sheen:
Adonis DNA
n. Along with tiger blood, the building blocks of a Charlie Sheen.
“I will not believe that if I do something then I have to follow a certain path because it was written for normal people. People who aren’t special. People who don’t have tiger blood and Adonis DNA.”
adj. Beyond awesome.
“I’m tired of pretending I’m not a total bitchin’ rock star from Mars.” (Paging David Bowie — don’t you own that one, bro?)
Charlie Sheen
n. Totally bitchin’, incredibly expensive drug that will probably kill you.
“I am on a drug. It’s called Charlie Sheen. It’s not available. If you try it once, you will die. Your face will melt off and your children will weep over your exploded body.”
n. The science of understanding WTF is going on with Charlie Sheen.
“Read behind the frickin’ hieroglyphics… this is cryptology.”
n. A term that gained popularity in the last two decades of the 20th century meaning, roughly, “Everybody knows that.”
“Duh, winning! It’s, like, guys, IMDb right there, 62 movies and a ton of success. I mean, c’mon bro, I won best picture at 20. I wasn’t even trying. I wasn’t even warm.”
adj. Intense, fucked up.
“[I]t got so gnarly that Stan just went, ‘I’m out.’ That’s fine. That’s how I roll. And if it’s too gnarly for people, then buh-bye. There’s the freakin’ door, you know?”
n. One of two women who fell from the heavens (or the strip-club stage, whatever) to fulfill Sheen’s every need.
“I’m not saying that it’s not true. But I’m laughing. And I’m laughing with the goddesses, I’m laughing with my friends.”
Mercury surfboard
n. Charlie Sheen’s vehicle of choice.
“It’s been a tsunami of media. And I’ve been riding it on a mercury surfboard. Right off the bat, sorry.”
n. Person who has Twitter account and/or understands how to use the internet.
“You look at some of these retarded zombies, these trolls that roll out of there and heading back for the rock to crawl back under before the sun peeks out — and they’re putting so much stock into the words and the thoughts and, as I have said, the gibberish of fools, and not checking anything with me.”
n. Male witch, like Charlie Sheen.
“We are high priest Vatican assassin warlocks. Boom! Print that, people.”
n. The only thing Charlie Sheen is addicted to. Widely believed to be a more potent form of crack cocaine.
“I’m so tired of pretending like my life isn’t just perfect and just winning every second, and I’m not just perfect and bitchin’ and just delivering the goods at every frickin’ turn.”



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I’ve gone from “not caring” to “totally obsessed” with Charlie Sheen in the past 36 hours. While its been proven that he hasn’t had any “foreign substances” in his body for the past 72 hours, I think that whatever toxins he’s been putting into his system for the past few years are just leeching out now and making him flat out crazy. That being said, I cannot decide if it’s crack or meth that is driving his craziness. My co-worker thinks its crack based on his gravelly voice. Regardless of what is driving his quotes and antics, I must say that they are awfully entertaining (his anti-Semitic diatribe aside). For instance, I’m never going to look at the term “winning!” the same way again.
My favorite quotes of his thus far are:

  • “I am on a drug, it’s called Charlie Sheen. It’s not available because if you try it you will die. Your face will melt off and your children will weep over your exploded body.”
  • “I’m tired of pretending I’m not a total bitchin’ rock star from Mars.”
  • “What’s not to love? Especially when you see how I party. It was epic. The run I was on made Sinatra, Flynn, Jagger, Richards just look like droopy-eyed armless children.”

In case you’ve been in a hole, here are a few Sheen related news links for you to catch up on what’s been happening. These articles will have “related news” links at the bottom that you can click through to read up on all of the nuttiness…


'Cause I'm As Free As Bird Now…

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It figures that my first real post of this new year is not about a first but a last, a goodbye and a very public one at that. The Late Night TV Debacle of ’09 finally ended with Conan signing off last Friday night from his gig at “The Tonight Show” – something which he called the “greatest gig in all of television” which I find very hard to believe. I would choose doing “In the Papers” on NY1 before hosting “The Tonight Show” even though I hate waking up early. “In the Papers” – that is a great gig. But I digress.
I wound up watching the Conan finale purely by chance – when I finished up something on the old TiFaux I was dumped onto NBC. While I loved to follow the Late Night sniping and barbs through the press, I never cared enough to actually tune into any of the shows to hear the grenades that were being lobbed back and forth nightly. But, once I arrived lazily at “history” I thought I would stay and check out what happened.
Well, after a sort of funny exit interview was conducted by Steve Carell (though all Conan did was laugh the entire time), his Tom Hanks interview was pretty lame and I was about to turn off the tube and head to bed when I decided to just stick it out and see how it all ended. I’m really glad I did.
To quote the review of the show from

And after all the acrimony, bad faith and low blows of the Tonight fiasco, he [Conan] closed, voice breaking, with a statement of unimpeachable class: “All I ask is one thing, and I’m asking this particularly of young people that watch: Please do not be cynical. I hate cynicism. For the record, it’s my least favorite quality. It doesn’t lead anywhere. Nobody in life gets exactly what they thought they were going to get. But if you work really hard and you’re kind, I’m telling you, amazing things will happen.”

That bit left me feeling a little warm and fuzzy and then low and behold something truly amazing did happen. Let’s now go back to the review (emphasis in bold added by moi) for the description:

Conan called onstage Will Ferrell, in bell-bottoms and wig (with cowbell!), to lead a band including ZZ Top’s Billy Gibbons, Ben Harper, Beck and Ferrell’s own pregnant wife—plus Max Weinberg and the crew—in a full version of Lynyrd Skynyrd’s “Free Bird.” And in what must be a first in talk-show-host farewells, Conan—who’s wielded an axe numerous times on his shows—played himself off the air by ripping a guitar solo, to a balls-out Southern Rock power ballad about getting out of a relationship with no future.

You can watch a clip of the performance on the Huffington Post as it seems that NBC’s copyright attorneys have removed it from most of YouTube.
I must stop now and inform you of my love for all things “Free Bird” – both the highbrow and the lowbrow of it all. I love the song, the music, the lyrics, the flow and the way it builds. I love that it’s probably the best example of Southern Rock that exists in a single song. I love how the band has a two word name that is misspelled (like my favorite band).
I also love how people will shout out “Free Bird” during a break in a performance, no matter what type of performance they are attending. It could be a piano concerto, it could be a political speech, or it could be the “Bare Naked Ladies” concert I went to my freshman year in Binghamton’s West Gym. A guy was shouting “Free Bird!” at the end of each song from the start of the show. Finally, in the middle of the second set, the lead singer shouted into a microphone “If we play ‘Free Bird’ will you shut the fuck up?!” and when the man responded with a curdling “Yes!” BNL just launched into a pitch perfect cover that blew the doors off the gym. I have been waiting for something similar to happen at one of the shows I attend since. I have never been present for a “Free Bird” cover at a Phish show or any other shows and cannot wait for the day when I hear it once again because I love it, and this bird you cannot change.


Butterflies In The Sky No More

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It is with great sadness that I report that a beloved television show of mine is ending its run today. After 26 years, “Reading Rainbow” is going off of the air.
My all time favorite episode was about the book titled Gila Monsters Meet You at the Airport. Another great episode was about The Day Jimmy’s Boa Ate the Wash and on the theme of eating, I really loved the Gregory the Terrible Eater episode which was about a very picky goat who would only want to eat fruits, vegetables, eggs, and orange juice, and refused the usual goat diet of shoes and tin cans.
Reading Rainbow debuted in 1983 – a tremendously formative year for me (I was six) as “Return of the Jedi” debuted in the theaters and GI Joe and He-Man also debuted on TV. Put it this way, while I’ve seen a lot of things in 2009, I don’t think anything thing I’ve seen had the transformative effect that one of those shows I listed above had on me, lest the power of those four shows combined.
It seems that no one — not the station, not PBS, not the Corporation for Public Broadcasting — will put up the several hundred thousand dollars needed to renew the show’s broadcast rights and while the funding crunch is partially to blame, the decision to end Reading Rainbow can also be traced to a shift in the philosophy of educational television programming.
The change started with the Department of Education under the Bush administration, he explains, which wanted to see a much heavier focus on the basic tools of reading — like phonics and spelling. I know the basics are important but I still feel compelled to say “boo.”
“Reading Rainbow” will live on in repeats and on DVDs and really, just as the show always told us, we shouldn’t be watching television anyway. Take a look – its in a book. Reading Rainbow.


We Shall Remain…Online

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The recent excellent PBS series on how badly the various colonists and governments in the landmass now known as the United States of America screwed over the indigenous populations (i.e. the Indians) has come and went but if you missed it, like me, you can catch all 5 parts of “We Shall Remain” online at the American Experience web site.
I traveled to Hawaii a few years ago and while there I fell in love with the pronunciations and the language and social quirks – the evening news broadcast in Honolulu captures this idea completely. One reason I loved it so much was because I imagined this is how all of America could have been – where an indigenous population was absorbed peacefully and uniquely – where the sum is greater than the parts. Unfortunately, for most of the Indian groups in this country from the 1600s to even the present, this has not been the case.
Having grown up on Long Island where so many towns and parks have Indian names, having studied Long Island history starting in fourth grade, having had a Hopi as an Art Teacher for grades K – 6 (so of course many of the crafts projects through the years were Native themed) and frankly being part of an ethnic group that has gotten screwed throughout history, I have always had a strong affinity to Indian issues where my bias is towards the Indians. Everything from the Shinnecock Indian Pow-Wow to Dances with Wolves has captivated me and I am looking forward to watching this series. I just hope that at the end there is something positive to look forward too, because the past has been pretty horrible.


The First Artificial Contestant on America's Favorite Quiz Show

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Answer: This highly successful television quiz show is the latest challenge for artificial intelligence.
Question: What is “Jeopardy”?
Not content with simply winning at chess, IBM has decided to build a machine that can win at “Jeopardy.” One point that has been decided is that the box will not be hooked up to the net during the match – it will have to reference its memory just like the rest of us. While you might think who cares, it’s brain can be many terabytes in size, just remember the AI has to synthesize the answer and then search this ridiculous amount of data before a human can do the same to figure out the right question. Sounds like a huge query challenge. Because it is.
As Kasparov is to chess, Ken Jennings is to “Jeopardy” so I hope that the AI indeed plays KenJen and that KenJen takes it down to Chinatown…