Friday, February 27, 2009

"Everything's amazing now, and nobody's happy"

For Friday, a reality check from Louis CK (Fair warning, family members: somewhat salty language ahead):

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Jeopardy: the invitation and studying

The last time I blogged in detail about my Jeopardy experience was late last winter, after my audition. I felt good about my chances, but had been told that if I had, indeed, passed the written contestant exam, I'd be on the active list for 18 months, during which time I should not call to check on my chances, nor should I re-audition.

So I got busy keeping my Jeopardy expectations low. In the Spring, Melissa and I bought our house and I changed firms. In early December, I got a call on my cell during my commute from work to mentoring at Homework & Hoops, an after-school program ([you] should volunteer, by the way; drop me a line). Robert from Jeopardy was calling to ask me some questions. Did I still live on Harriet Ave? No. Did I still work at [my former employer]? Nope. Was I at least still with Melissa? Very much so, thank goodness. Was I interested in coming out to Los Angeles in late January to try to win some money? A stupid grin spread over my face. Absolutely! He told me to call him back when I wasn't driving to work out the details.

Those close to me know I had a worried several days after that, as I was unable to get ahold of Robert to confirm. In the meantime I had proceeded to tell anyone who’d listen that I was going to be on the show. I didn't want to lose the opportunity by either not following up or being That Guy who calls back all the time. After having left a message, I decided to wait. Nerve-wracking. On Friday he finally called me back and gave me the details. My taping date would be January 27th and/or 28th. If I wasn't drawn to play on the first day, I'd be guaranteed a spot on the second. Five episodes would be taped each day. The first one or two from the first day would air starting on March 9th, then the remainder would pick up on March 25th following the airing of the Tournament of Champions, being taped in Las Vegas in January.

One of the most common questions I've gotten about the process is whether the people at the show (The Powers That Be, or TPTB, borrowing a term from the Jeopardy message boards) tell you what to study, or what the categories are. They don't. What you’re supposed to study is Everything. Sort of.

There is a bunch of good information online and in print from former contestants about how to prepare for the show. To begin with, I reread Prisoner of Trebekistan while Melissa and I were in New Orleans just before Christmas. I'd read Bob Harris' book on the recommendation of a college friend. It is funny and well-written, and filled in a lot of information about the show. However, his approach to preparing for the show depended somewhat on not being employed, so I knew I couldn’t be that hard-core about it. I also knew that I would drive myself insane if I tried to cover everything.

Former champion Karl Coryat's article on how to prepare scared the crap out of me. His list of what you absolutely need to know is very long and intimidating, but does an excellent job of delineating what the high-value targets of study should be. He also includes many good examples of what Harris calls "one-to-ones." If a Jeopardy clue refers to a Finnish composer, they're asking for Sibelius, a personal favorite. A bog fruit is always a cranberry. Etcetera.

I decided to put together a Jeopardy notebook, that the act of copying information into lists, tables & synopses would be more effective for learning than just reading. You can check it out for yourself. Click here to see the guts of the book (2MB).

Most of this information I got from Wikipedia, cross-referenced with print as necessary. I also decided to focus on areas of study that I had a pretty good grounding in, but could stand to brush up. So I concentrated on US and world history and geography, primarily, with some other stuff thrown in. I made lists of presidents and their elections/ascensions, Vice Presidents, current world leaders, UN Secretaries General, Shakespeare’s plays in order of writing with major characters and short summaries, English and British royal houses and monarchs, and major Prime Ministers. I printed blank maps of the continents and filled in nations & capitals, seas, bays, straits, and lakes. I wrote out a periodic table of elements. I went a little overboard with my Greco-Roman mythology review (pp. 42-46). I also printed Coryat's article and taped it in the back of the book.

Around the same time, I was in the process of re-ripping every single piece of music in my collection from CD to put on my iPod, which gave me a good opportunity to review 19th- and early 20th-Century composers. I also put together a short Jeopardy playlist of such high-information-density songs as Monty Python's "Oliver Cromwell," the state capital song from Animaniacs, "James K. Polk" by They Might Be Giants, and other flashbacks to high school. As a result, I had "Mammal" stuck in my head for weeks.

You'll notice that on my to-do list, two large items never got crossed out: Literature and Art. So it goes. A few items I considered but decided against, including Roman Emperors and Empires (Roman vs. Holy Roman vs. Eastern or Western), Nobel Prize winners, Popes, and so on. I may continue to expand the book with topics that pique my interest. Gotta come up with Weeklypedia quizzes somehow, after all.

Next Jeopardy blog: Strategery, or: Don't Hate the Player, Hate The Game

Monday, February 23, 2009

Oh yeah: Jeopardy

kmkat's comment on my post from the other night made me realize that I never actually announced anything upon my return from LA. So, yes, I taped on Jeopardy. My airdate is Wednesday, March 25th. Those in the Minneapolis area can see it at 4:30PM on KARE 11.

Jeopardy was a ton of fun. I'll be blogging about it more in pieces over the coming weeks. There's plenty that I'm legally obligated not to talk about now, of course.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

On the Oscars

1. My favorite comment of the evening, regarding the five-former-winner, "This Is Your Life"-style presentation of the acting awards:
"This town hall meeting format favors McCain. "
- Caleb McEwen
I joined the liveblog/chat that Mike Fotis hosted over on his site. 'Twas a fun time.

2. It is clear that members of the Academy as a whole don't understand how sound design and editing work, or Wall-E would have won both awards. I wonder if there's a good sound design blog or message board I can find to read all the nerdy outrage.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Ya gotta have...

I was confused at first about the premise of this skybox on the Star Tribune website, with a photo (Daugerreotype?) of Charles Darwin:
Faithful celebrate, defend Darwin

On Charles Darwin's 200th birthday, many Twin Cities believers went to church to support his theory of evolution.
At first glance, I thought the idea was that there was an actual Church of Darwin, and that there was some congregation or communion of people who held faith in a 200-year-old naturalist. Or that even if there wasn't, the Star Tribune was suggesting that those who understand his work to hold truth were somehow holding Faith in him. That premise I rejected, somewhat angrily.

Anyway, Happy Birthday to the following people:
Abraham Lincoln
Charles Darwin
my Aunt Ellen
Michael McDonald
Omar Bradley
Franco Zefferelli
Charles Van Doren
Arlen Specter
Lorne Greene
Joe Don Baker
Judy Blume
Ray Manzarek
Ehud Barak, Raymond Kurzweil, Michael Ironside, Maud Adams, Joanna Kerns, Arsenio Hall, John Michael Higgins, Ed Lover, Josh Brolin, Darren Aronovsky, Ajay Naidu, Christina Ricc... ah, screw it. Happy birthday to everybody.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

We're saved!

Thank goodness the Senate moderates have rescued us from a bunch of wasteful spending on building schools and bringing Federal buildings up-to-date and wiring rural America for broadband (something McCain campaigned on, by the way). I'm glad my company won't be saddled with wasting all that taxpayer money designing a bunch of stuff that some people would then build. What a socialistic farce that would've been, right?

Oh, also:About a dozen and a half of those were my coworkers in December.

Man, I'm cranky. I need to write something about classical music or video games or something.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Hey Senate Dems: CALL THE BLUFF!

I agree with everything in this post from Gawker on the stimulus bill. A 60-vote majority should not be necessary for every piece of legislation. If the Republicans want to block something by filibuster, let 'em do it for real. Let Jim DeMint and David "john" Vitter get up there and read the damn phone book for days at a time, so there's a real cost to them for the use of the procedure.

A procedure that has its place, I might add. I would not generally support the Senate Democrats triggering the "nuclear option" to do away with it. After all, minority status may only be an election away at any given time. I think it's a good thing that the filibuster exists, notwithstanding Strom Thurmond's ugly use of it (pictured) to block the Civil Rights Act. But it's for use in cases that its invokers view as extreme. During the Bush administration, Dems weren't blocking ALL Bush judicial nominees, just a shortlist. And frankly, some bluff-calling by the Republicans might have been warranted there, even if I wouldn't have liked the outcome.

Anyway, my point is, the amount of stupidity being emitted by the GOP on the stimulus is staggering, and it must be stopped. Here are some nice examples compiled by Talking Points Memo.

Jim DeMint (R-SC): "This stimulus bill is all spending."
Guess what, Jim? Stimulus means spending, by definition.

Kit Bond (R-MO): "Mass transit isn't a long-term stimulus!"
Well, you know, it takes people (which means jobs, fyi) to make train tracks and the train things that run on train tracks, and we need more jobs (people, don't forget) in THE SHORT TERM, ESPECIALLY.

Michael Steele (new GOP Chairman): "Government has never created a job."
I think the folks at NASA, or those who worked for the Tennessee Valley Authority might beg to differ.

John Thune (R-SD): "If you stack $1T in $100 bills, it's 689 miles high!"

And the Democrats in the Senate are simply useless. Useless! They allow this to be the message! They let their party be outnumbered 2-to-1 in cable news booking discussing this issue. They allow the GOP to run the debate with their childish antics while people lose jobs by the hundreds of thousands a month. They refuse to push back on these buffoons, and they get rolled. Again and again. Including by the buffoons in their own party.

DO. SOMETHING. I like my job, and I want it to still be here in six months.