Archive for January, 2015

Patting myself on the back: A random good deed

January 28, 2015

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
Jan. 28, 2015

This past Saturday afternoon, I was sitting in DaisyCakes, a bakery on Foster Street near Central Park in Durham, N.C. With perhaps one exception, this was only the second time that I’d visited this establishment on a Saturday. I was a bit surprised by how crowded it was. People came in and out at a fairly steady pace.

I ordered some hot cocoa and took a seat on one of the benches along the north wall. I was sitting there, blogging about my recent “exploits” in a local charity Scrabble tournament, when a pair of people sat down at the table next to me. One of these individuals was a white man, maybe in his mid-30s. The other was an androgynous-looking fair-skinned, fair-haired person; I couldn’t decide if this person, who was sitting immediately to my right, was the man’s girlfriend or his son. After this pair finished eating lunch, they left the bakery.

A few minutes after that, I looked at the bench to my right. I was chagrined by what I saw: A small gray zip-up purse lying unattended on the seat.

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Game 16, Duke Pediatric Blood and Marrow Transplantation Program benefit Scrabble tournament, 1/18/2015

January 27, 2015

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
Jan. 27, 2015

And so it all came down to this: My 16th and final game of the Duke Pediatric Blood and Marrow Transplantation Program benefit Scrabble tournament.

I wouldn’t be able to finish with a winning record. I almost certainly wouldn’t be able to finish with a positive cumulative scoring margin. But I could finish with a win.

My opponent was a precocious elementary school student named B. He had a distinctive high-pitched voice that rang through the room — because he may have been hard of hearing, as I surmised from our score discussions during this contest.

At any rate, I got off to a good start with JAWER. With the eight-point J on a double-letter score, and the game’s first move automatically doubled in point value, this phony (alas) gave me 46 points. B. did not challenge, thankfully for me.

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Game 15, Duke Pediatric Blood and Marrow Transplantation Program benefit Scrabble tournament, 1/18/2015

January 26, 2015

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
Jan. 26, 2015

By winning my 14th game in the Duke Pediatric Blood and Marrow Transplantation Program benefit Scrabble tournament, I preserved my opportunity to finish 8-8.

But to do so, I’d have to win my last two games. That was no small feat, considering that for game 15, I was assigned to face L., the bright middle-schooler who had defeated me, 321-261, on day one.

I was playing from behind ever since turn 2, when L. made the first of three straight strong moves: FACE 31, FAZED 59 and TaJ 34. At the end of five turns, I trailed, 136-67.

My sixth move, QUIT, was a 39-point play that narrowed the deficit somewhat. But L. built his advantage fairly steadily. The score was 236-165 entering the 10th turn.

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Game 14, Duke Pediatric Blood and Marrow Transplantation Program benefit Scrabble tournament, 1/18/2015

January 26, 2015

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
Jan. 26, 2015

In losing my 13th contest of the Duke Pediatric Blood and Marrow Transplantation Program benefit Scrabble tournament, I reached a threshold: At 5-8, the best I could do was winning my last three games to finish 8-8.

Fortunately for me, my opponent in game 14 was J., the 20-something novice whom I’d defeated in game 10. Our rematch wouldn’t prove to be quite as dramatic, but it still had its twists and turns.

Thanks mainly to his opening 30-point play, WHERE, J. took an early lead. I found myself struggling to balance my rack: My opening draw was ANPQSW? — somewhat amazingly, the fifth time I’d drawn a blank to start the game.

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Game 13, Duke Pediatric Blood and Marrow Transplantation Program benefit Scrabble tournament, 1/18/2015

January 26, 2015

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
Jan. 26, 2015

Going into game 13 of the Duke Pediatric Blood and Marrow Transplantation Program benefit Scrabble tournament, I had my worst record of the weekend: five wins and seven losses. Unfortunately, that would continue to deteriorate.

I was facing K., a very sharp woman about my age or a little older who appears to have become a strong competitive Scrabble player in a relatively short amount of time.

The game’s key play was in the fourth turn, when K. played HEPATIc for a 71-point bingo. (I considered challenging but didn’t, which was good: That’s a valid word.) My feeble reply was ALOE, a 12-point move. Entering the fifth turn, K. held a 120-59 lead.

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Game 12, Duke Pediatric Blood and Marrow Transplantation Program benefit Scrabble tournament, 1/18/2015

January 26, 2015

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
Jan. 26, 2015

My opponent in my 12th game of the Duke Pediatric Blood and Marrow Transplantation Program benefit Scrabble tournament was a young fellow I’ll call X. It was not a surprise to see him: In recent years, I’ve played several tournament games against X., a local kid who’s probably in middle school now. He’s won more games against me than I’ve won against him.

I got a small break when X., who moved first, used his first turn to exchange four letters. Thanks mainly to my third play, CRIB/CUKE 26, I had a 75-31 lead when X. put down CID/LI/NOD as his fourth move. I wasn’t familiar with CID, and although I’m not very well versed in the three-letter words, I decided to challenge.

That was a smart decision. CID is a phony, so I voided a 20-point play by my foe.

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Game 11, Duke Pediatric Blood and Marrow Transplantation Program benefit Scrabble tournament, 1/18/2015

January 25, 2015

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
Jan. 25, 2015

My record was all even at 5-5 when I played my third game of day two in the Duke Pediatric Blood and Marrow Transplantation Program benefit Scrabble tournament. My opponent for this contest was C., the same sharp young whippersnapper whom I’d bested, 377-342, in my very first game on Saturday.

My opening draw was CHHITT? — the fourth time in the tournament that I’d drawn a blank to start the game. I opened play with HITCH for a cool 32 points. That gave me an early lead that I would hold until the fifth turn, when C.’s VOID/VOX/OW/IN 36 gave him a 99-90 advantage.

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Game 10, Duke Pediatric Blood and Marrow Transplantation Program benefit Scrabble tournament, 1/18/2015

January 24, 2015

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
Jan. 24, 2015

By losing my opening game on day two of the Duke Pediatric Blood and Marrow Transplantation Program benefit Scrabble tournament, I fell back into negative territory with a 4-5 record. That left me feeling some pressure to get a win in my next game, the 10th of the two-day main event.

My opponent was J., a novice tournament competitor who (if memory serves) was winless to that point in the conclave. Even so, he jumped out to a 62-23 lead after two turns thanks to a pair of strong plays, ZOO 32 and XIS/ZAS 30.

I had one thing working in my favor early on, however: I had yet again obtained a blank tile on my opening draw. After some low-scoring balancing moves, I was able to put out ESTEEMs/HUTS, a 75-point bingo, on the fifth turn. J. answered with MOW, a 24-pointer, but he trailed, 138-120, going into the sixth turn.

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Game 9, Duke PBMT Scrabble tourney, 1/18/2015

January 24, 2015

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
Jan. 24, 2015

The second and final day of the Duke Pediatric Blood and Marrow Transplantation Program benefit Scrabble tournament began at 9:30 a.m. on Sunday, Jan. 18, 2015. I arrived moments after play began, but about two minutes before my opponent arrived.

P. is another local player, although I hadn’t seen her in some months. When we got under way, I soon fell behind, partly because I drew a Q after my first turn and needed to stall until I found a way to use it. After three moves, P., who took the first turn, had a 60-23 advantage, mainly because of her SOX/PECS 32.

Her fourth play was a small one, worth only 5 points, and then I had my opportunity. I laid down QAIDS 57 and zoomed ahead, 80-65.

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Game 8, Duke PBMT Scrabble tourney, 1/17/2015

January 24, 2015

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
Jan. 24, 2015

In my eighth and final game of day one of the Duke Pediatric Blood and Marrow Transplantation Program benefit Scrabble tournament, I faced D., a very familiar foe. She lives locally (Chapel Hill, I believe) and is a regular participant in the Sunday-afternoon casual Scrabble contests in which I’ve frequently played over the past three years.

I was feeling some pressure in this game. My loss to S. in game 7 had given me a 3-4 record on the day, the first time I’d been below .500. I really wanted to finish on a positive note going into the second and final day of the Duke PBMT main event.

But D. got an early lead on me, and she extended it methodically in turns 4 through 8. Each of those plays was worth at least 21 and as much as 26 points. D. held a 170-93 lead by the end of this stretch of the game.

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Game 7, Duke PBMT Scrabble tourney, 1/17/2015

January 23, 2015

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
Jan. 23, 2015

My seventh game on day one of the Duke Pediatric Blood and Marrow Transplantation Program benefit Scrabble tournament was a bloodbath. There’s no better way to put it.

My opponent was S., an older man who seems to be a terrific player.

Let’s jump right into the meat of things. I spent my early turns struggling to balance my rack (EGIIOVW, ADIOQUW, ADIOQTU). On his third turn, meanwhile, S. busted out SKEINED/VOWS 84. I challenged, but the word was good, so I forfeited my fourth turn. S. put down MI/ME/ID 23 for his fourth play, leaving him with a healthy 144-32 lead.

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Game 6, Duke PBMT Scrabble tourney, 1/17/2015

January 23, 2015

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
Jan. 23, 2015

My sixth contest in the Duke Pediatric Blood and Marrow Transplantation Program benefit Scrabble tournament brought me my second taste of heartbreak.

My opponent was L., a smart middle schooler from the local area whom I’ve played (and, I believe, mostly lost to) a few times. I took an early lead, mainly thanks to my second play WEAL 23. L. passed me on turn 4 with FAZe 38, which gave him an 80-60 edge.

A few plays later, I hooked an A on the front of VID, making CRABS/AVID 38. L. finished turn 6 with VAIN 25, leaving me up, 130-119.

I started turn 9 with an unpleasant rack: DDEEGIY. I played off DYED for 16 points, which gave me a 160-140 lead with L. yet to make his ninth move.

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Game 5, Duke PBMT Scrabble tourney, 1/17/2015

January 23, 2015

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
Jan. 23, 2015

After going a somewhat painful 2-2 in the morning session of the Duke Pediatric Blood and Marrow Transplantation Program benefit Scrabble tournament, it was time to get lunch. I had about one free hour before game 5 began at 2:30 p.m. I decided to tackle a rather ambitious project.

I drove home from the Duke Comprehensive Cancer Center and gathered a dead laptop computer and its bulging, useless battery along with a bin full of paper bearing sensitive information, which was awaiting shredding.

Then I drove along some back roads toward Durham County Memorial Stadium, the site of what the county calls an E-Waste Recycling and Paper Shredding Event.

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Game 4, Duke PBMT Scrabble tourney, 1/17/2015

January 22, 2015

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
Jan. 22, 2015

My fourth game in the Duke Pediatric Blood and Marrow Transplantation Program benefit Scrabble tournament brought me my first real heartbreak of the day. Even more so than my second game, against the very skilled E., I fumbled a splendid opportunity to beat a quality opponent.

I was playing H., a woman about my age who is affiliated with Duke University in some way. (I get the impression that she’s a scientist, or perhaps a doctoral student, but I’m not sure.) I’ve played her a few times, including a recent warmup game that I lost, 396-278, and I know her to be a sound player.

Things started in plain enough fashion. H. played FAINT 24, to which I answered with BOO/BA/OI/ON 12. Her second play was GAT/FA/BAT 16, which left her with a 40-12 advantage midway through the second turn.

My rack, however, was promising: EINPRRT. I was looking for a way to play PRINTER when I found a better bingo. I hooked my word onto the ends of FA and BAT to make REPRINT/FAR/BATE 79. H. challenged (she was skeptical of BATE) and lost her next turn. I came away with a 103-40 lead after three plays.

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Game 3, Duke PBMT Scrabble tourney, 1/17/2015

January 22, 2015

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
Jan. 22, 2015

For my third game in the Duke Pediatric Blood and Marrow Transplantation Program benefit Scrabble tournament, I faced a novice player named S., a woman who was probably around 50 years old.

I went first with GAVE 16. S. responded with LEED 19.

I had a big play in turn 2 (HAJ 37), but S. had a decent one in turn 3 (QI/IT 24), which left the score 61-58 in my favor.

S. took the lead in the fourth turn when WOE/HEW/ADO 25 gave her an 83-73 advantage.

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Game 2, Duke PBMT Scrabble tourney, 1/17/2015

January 22, 2015

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
Jan. 22, 2015

My second opponent in the Duke Pediatric Blood and Marrow Transplantation Program benefit Scrabble tournament was E., a woman in her 60s who told me she lived in Nashville, Tenn. According to my tournament score sheet — each player is given one at every Scrabble tournament; in this case, the first three opponents were assigned in advance — E. had a rating of 1113, which likely made her one of the stronger players in the tournament’s B division.

The game seemed to start on an auspicious note. On her first turn, E. exchanged five of her letters. That gave me a chance to play a word for double points — the first word in a Scrabble game always gets double points — and I had a chance at a bingo. My initial draw was EEHMRS?, which made…

Hmm. I wasn’t sure, actually. After some consideration, I opened with tHEMERS. E. challenged, and the 80-point play was disallowed. She played FIX for 26, after which I tried MESHERs/MI/EX for 77. E. challenged, and this word was also disqualified.

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Game 1, Duke Pediatric Blood and Marrow Transplantation Program benefit Scrabble tourney, Jan. 17, 2015

January 21, 2015

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
Jan. 21, 2015

The main portion of the charity Scrabble tournament began at 9:30 a.m. Saturday, Jan. 17, at the Duke Comprehensive Cancer Center, an outpost of Duke University Health System located on a parcel of land between the main hospital campus and the Durham Freeway, a local highway more formally known as N.C. 147. The tournament, a benefit for Duke’s Pediatric Blood and Marrow Transplantation Program, is now five years old; this was the third year in a row that I’d participated in one of its events.

When I arrived in the tournament space, which is normally the cancer center’s seminar room, most of the tables were full, and people were listening to a couple of speeches. I plunked my coat and bag down on one of the chairs that were stacked alongside the room’s walls. I tried to extract one of my blank score sheets with a minimum of fuss.

As a representative of the transplantation program spoke, I oriented myself. My first game would be at table 12 against a boy I’ll call C., who is roughly 12 years old. My rating from the North American Scrabble Players Association, or NASPA, was 510 going into the tournament; C. was a higher-rated player at 660.

When the game got under way, I drew a promising collection of tiles: AEELRSV. Except for the V, which is worth four points, these were all one-point letters. One-pointers are the most common letters in the English language, and all else being equal, they’re typical the easiest to play on a Scrabble board. The suffix -ERS is one of the most common word endings, so I placed that on the right side of my rack and arranged the other tiles. I came up with LEAVERS, which I thought might be valid, but I wasn’t sure. (It is, as are SEVERAL, LAVEERS, VEALERS.)

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Six degrees of separation? Free association inside the mind of a blogger

January 20, 2015

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
Jan. 20, 2015

It’s funny, some of the things that pop up in my head.

On Monday morning, I was getting ready to leave the house when I suddenly thought about Mrs. Koch, a teacher whom I hadn’t thought about in more than half a lifetime. I was her student — when? In middle school, probably, or else in elementary school.

I’m not sure when or for which class I had her, obviously, but it occurred to me Monday morning to wonder if Mrs. Koch was related to the Koch brothers, the wealthy Kansas conservatives who have become sibling bogeymen for lefty liberal types.

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I’ve seen passcodes from both sides now: On iPhones, iPads and the force of habit

January 19, 2015

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
Jan. 19, 2015

More or less on the spur of the moment, I changed the password on my iPhone in the final hours of Friday or the beginning hours of Saturday.

I don’t even really remember why I changed my password, other than because I’d had the same one for a while. At any rate, I did it, and I’ve been dealing with the consequences ever since.

For years (probably since I got my first iPhone, in late 2008, if I remember correctly) I’ve had my device set to require a password after five minutes of inactivity. That means that I have to tap in the password — it’s numeric, and Apple calls it a passcode, but anyway — I have to tap in my password thousands of times in any given year. The latest number had become second nature of a sort, to the point that my fingers would execute the task almost automatically.

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‘Popular’ tragedies: Contemplating Paris and Baga, and Sydney and Pennsylvania

January 16, 2015

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
Jan. 16, 2015

Everyone knows about the three deadly days that occurred in and around Paris last week. On Jan. 7, 12 people died in an attack on the offices of the satirical publication Charlie Hebdo. The following day, a police officer was fatally shot by a man linked to the attack on the magazine.

On Jan. 9, that same man and an accomplice took hostages in a kosher grocery store in a Parisian suburb. French police stormed the shop, helping to rescue 15 hostages. Four civilians and the gunman suspected in the Jan. 8 murder died; the second gunman escaped.

Also on Jan. 9, two brothers who were suspected of participating in the Charlie Hebdo assault holed up in a rural community northeast of Paris. Authorities entered the building at the same time as the grocery store. The brothers died.

The final toll: 17 civilians and police died, as did three gunmen.

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Don’t let the air out! On building codes and differences in degrees

January 15, 2015

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
Jan. 15, 2015

New York has something that North Carolina doesn’t. And no, I’m not talking about consistently great pizza, one of the greatest cities in the history of the world and a theatrical scene rivaled only perhaps by London’s (although this is all true).

No, I’m referring to foyers and vestibules.

Don’t get me wrong: There are a handful of buildings in the Old North State that have spaces between their outer doors and their main spaces. But this architectural feature is much, much more common in the Empire State.

Why is this? Frankly, I’m not sure.

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Economists and politicians: Parceling out credit and blame for the numbers

January 13, 2015

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
Jan. 13, 2015

Gas prices are down! The economy is growing! More Americans are going to work!

Great job, President Obama! Oh, wait — perhaps new Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, Republican of Kentucky, deserves credit for the turnaround?

Or maybe not. On Thursday, Politico’s Lucy McCalmont contacted 14 different experts and asked them to evaluate Sen. McConnell’s claim that “[t]he uptick appears to coincide with the biggest political change of the Obama administration’s long tenure in Washington: The expectation of a new Republican Congress.”

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Straightening out: An anecdote about parking and poker

January 12, 2015

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
Jan. 12, 2015

On a recent weeknight, I was participating in a no-cash poker tournament in a town alongside the Hudson River. Thanks to some careless play by others and some good luck on my part, I quickly amass a huge war chest of chips.

This town has parking regulations that are in effect for business hours and overnight, but not from 6 p.m. to 11 p.m. The tournament takes a short break around 11 p.m. After dithering for a few minutes, I decide to rush out to my car. I feed a few coins into the nearest parking meter, extract the receipt — good until 11:40 p.m. — and place it face up on the dashboard of my car. I hurry back into the establishment just as play resumes.

Soon enough, the field narrows down to three players: Me, a man whom I’ll continue to call Robin Hood and a fellow I’ll refer to as Ian. Ian is a slender, rather dapper white-haired man who sports what I take to be an Australian accent. Robin Hood has long hair and is a guy I think of as an aging hippie.

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The good, the bad and the ugly: Looking at the newest job numbers

January 10, 2015

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
Jan. 10, 2015

On Friday morning, the Bureau of Labor Statistics released employment numbers for December 2014. Many commentators highlighted the positives: Unemployment dropped from 5.8 percent in November to 5.6 percent last month, and 252,000 new jobs were added, mostly in the private sector.

I’m no economist, but I thought that the data were mixed. Here’s my look at the good, the bad and the ugly from the latest BLS report:

• The good. Job creation fell slightly from November but was still strong. As Mother Jones blogger Kevin Drum is fond of reminding readers, about 90,000 new jobs are needed each month to keep up with population growth; even so, the remaining number of jobs, 162,000, is not too shabby.

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The revolution will be 3D-printed (and open source): Cory Doctorow explores the inventions and economy of the future in 2009’s ‘Makers’

January 8, 2015

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
Jan. 8, 2015

Suzanne Church is a popular 40-something business columnist for the San Jose Mercury News when she gets her big break. It begins when she questions Landon Kettlewell, the CEO of Kodacell — the newly merged companies of Kodak and Duracell — at a press conference describing his new corporate fiefdom. Late that evening, the shrewd executive impulsively (and rather improbably) e-mails Church with an invitation to “embed” with one of his company’s free-wheeling entrepreneurial teams. The reporter’s decision to accept the invitation changes the lives of countless thousands of people, especially those of Church, Kettlewell and the two men she is soon living with and reporting on nearly every waking hour.

With this, Canadian-born author and blogger Cory Doctorow sets in motion the plot of Makers, his 2009 science fiction novel about the economy of a near-future United States. The novel is competently written but uneven: Doctorow’s scenario for how embedded journalism will work in the near future strikes me as rather unlikely, and a significant amount of dialogue comes off as pretty didactic — a lecture, rather than a conversation.

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