Archive for December, 2008

El Gordo and the Spanish Christmas Lottery

December 22, 2008 By: erik Category: Spain, Videos, Weird

lottery ticketToday is a big day in Spain. It’s the drawing for the Spanish Christmas Lottery. For months, people have been buying tickets throughout the country in hopes of winning big this holiday season. The Christmas lottery is not like most lotteries. Each number, 00001 to 85000, has 180 “series”, and each of the series is divided into 10 “décimas“. Each of the tickets you can buy is a décima, and they are sold for 20€ each. That is a grand total, if all the tickets are sold, of 3,060,000,000 euros! The government takes their cool 30% (91.8 millon) cut, and 2.142 billion euros are left for prize money.

What makes the Christmas lottery so interesting, and also so difficult for the human brain to calculate the probabilities, is that the tickets for any given number are all sold in the same establishment or set of establishments. So if number 12,345 wins a prize, all that prize money goes to the patrons of one particular bar, restaurant, or gas station. On recent news coverage, they were showing people queuing in long lines early in the morning to buy tickets from various places around the country. I’m not sure why; maybe they are thought to be lucky locations? Anyway, the newscaster mentioned that the Christmas Lottery is the biggest lottery of the year, with the most participants and the worst probabilities of winning. I have not done any follow-up calculations to confirm this.

Semana del Pincho – Laredo

December 22, 2008 By: erik Category: Food, Photos, Spain, Wine

NIKOS1: NikosThis past week saw the First Annual Tapa Week held in the nearby town of Laredo. Ten restaurants agreed to create one or two unique tapa dishes and serve them all week long for 2€ with young wine, grape juice, or small beer, or 2.50€ for a better wine or larger beer. I am very much in favor of these organized events. It seems to me like a win-win situation for the restaurants, the citizens, and even the local government. It gets people out of their houses and spending money in the local economy. Starting on Friday, I made it our mission to visit, sample, and photograph as many of the entries as we possibly could. It took us all three days, but we ended up sampling eight of the fourteen pinchos available.

Three Wonderful Wonderings

December 19, 2008 By: erik Category: Geeky, Musings, Science

Cutout QuestionSometimes questions pop into my head and I don’t have sufficient time, bandwidth, or motivation to search for the answers. A lucky few of these questions get written down on a piece of paper, and only a subset of those ever get investigated. But today, I’ve taken the time to answer some of my own questions, and I will now share them with you.

This post has been foiled

December 18, 2008 By: erik Category: Colindres, Funny, Photos, Weird

We have quite a few lamp posts in the small town I live in. A year ago, they all got a fresh paint job of black matte paint and official stickers that always make me chuckle reading roughly, “Affixing stickers is prohibited!” Apparently, when they were painting them, they noticed how many “flat for sale!” papers had been taped to the posts at eye level and they wanted to stop such defacing of public property. Good on ’em.

Two days ago, I noticed that one of the lamp posts had been vandalized! It’s unclear to me what the intended goal of the vandal(s) was. Personally, I’m quite happy with the bidirectional reflectance distribution function of the town’s lamp posts. This lamp post does, however, reside on the coolest teenage hangout corner in town. The youngfolk spend hours upon hours sitting sulkily on the steps of this bank.

Dan Gilbert Makes Me Happy

December 18, 2008 By: erik Category: Geeky, Stuff I Found, Videos

Stumbling on HappinessAlmost two years ago, I blogged about Dan Gilbert’s TED talk about The Secret Of Happiness. Spoiler: the secret to happiness is not having choices. If you read my last post, you’ll know that I have been unable to avoid stressing over important decisions. But I do my best.

The folks over at have just posted a new Dan Gilbert talk, that is actually 3.5 years old now. Again, he’s discussing the science of happiness. This time, it’s about the human inability to properly perform benefit/risk analysis. He spends some time talking about playing the lottery and how idiotic that is. (And he gets a very intelligent counter-argument from the audience at the end.) The ludicrousness of lottery playing is of particular importance on this blog this year. He also talks about how silly it is to be afraid of plane crashes or terrorism. Excellent stuff!

Baby Name Shortlist – How To Decide

December 17, 2008 By: erik Category: Family, Offspring

For a long time, since long before procreation was discussed seriously, Marga and I have been in agreement about one thing: our child will have a name that is easily legible and pronounceable in both English and Spanish. Rather unexpectedly, since the pregnancy, family members from both countries have expressed concern about this, “Just don’t give her one of those weird foreign names that’s hard to pronounce, please!” It was reassuring to see how wise our initial instincts were.

You might be surprised by how many names fail this simple test. I was. Almost every name suggested was discarded for this reason. In a way, it was nice to have a simple objective criterion in coming up with a shortlist of candidates.

Viral Video Idea: Flying Shoes

December 16, 2008 By: erik Category: Funny, Internet, Politics, Videos

There is a certain video making its round through every news program on the planet, and doing pretty well on the internet too, of an Iraqi journalist launching two shoes towards President Bush’s face. Not only is the video pretty funny, but it’s hugely symbolic for the failure of Bush’s presidency. I think that everyone who has seen it has probably been impressed by old Dubya’s evasive maneuvers. It’s like he’s been practicing dodgeball on the White House lawn or something.

It occurs to me that the internet is ripe for any parody videos involving flying shoes. If I had any video special effects skills beyond iMovie, I would make one myself. The best idea I’ve come up with is a parody of The Matrix. There are two scenes to choose from. Either President Bush bends back until his torso is parallel to the ground, arms flailing, as time slows and we see the shoes fly past in slow motion. Or we go with the scene at the end of the movie and Bush simply holds out his hand and the shoes slow down, stop in mid air, and fall to the ground.

A good viral video idea is worth thousands of dollars. All you need to make it an advertisement is for Bush to take a sip of some beverage either before or after the action, or for the shoes to have a logo on them as they fly by in slow motion.

C’mon, Internet! Get to work!

Building an Ark

December 14, 2008 By: erik Category: Colindres, Complaining, Photos, Spain

Colindres ForecastThe weather here lately has been absolutely ridiculous. I always thought the 40 days and 40 nights of rain in the Bible was hyperbole, but I’m starting to change my mind. It has been raining at least 18 hours every day for all of November and December. And cold. But it refuses to snow. The snow has made it down to an altitude of 400 meters, and we can see it approaching on the mountains, but down here by the sea the temperature is just too warm. And by warm, I mean a couple of degrees above freezing. Personally, I would love to see some snow. Our lifestyle would be very minimally affected by snow.

The result is that everyone is going a little stir crazy. This morning we went for a long, wet, walk around town and only returned home when the discomfort of cold and wetness became unbearable. After a change of clothes, I unboxed the old Tannenbaum. As I was setting it up, something didn’t feel quite right, so I went to my computer to see if I had any Christmas music, only to discover my iTunes library devoid of holiday spirit. Within 5 minutes, I had two albums downloaded and classics like First Noel, Let It Snow, I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus, Little Drummer Boy, Joy To The World, White Christmas, and Silent Night were bringing merriment to the entire living room.

Pigger Woods

December 10, 2008 By: erik Category: Golf, Photos, USA, Weird

Pigger WoodsWhen it comes to bad golf puns executed in the Sculpture genre, I think we have a winner. I found this porcine oddity on the side of a golf hole where my grandmother lives. These objects always baffle me because I am unable to avoid imagining myself in the artist’s position during the brainstorming process, wondering what the specifications, if any, for the piece might have been. Did someone specifically ask the artist for a statue of a sitting pig with golf clubs? Or was it a general “golfer pig” or “animal golfer”? Or did this idea spontaneously appear in someone’s noggin and only upon completion was a buyer sought? Were I a feline, this dosage of curiosity might be lethal.

Why Altruism is Selfish

December 09, 2008 By: erik Category: Musings, Science

Homo sapiens sapiens is a pretty fascinating subspecies. Due to our intelligence and linguistic skills, we like to think of ourselves as thinking and reasoning about our behaviors, and we are insulted by scientists who describe our behaviors the same way they describe those of less intelligent animals. Personally, I’m fascinated by such simple, functional explanations of complex systems. That’s why I love the work of B. F. Skinner, Richard Dawkins, and Desmond Morris.