Archive for the 'Diary' Category

Incidents and accidents: Holy land tourism, part 3

December 12, 2018

By Matthew E. Milliken
Dec. 12, 2018

So, about our time in Tiberias…

I’ve already chronicled many of the hitches and goof-ups that threatened to complicate my 2009 trip to Israel with Lady X. But I haven’t written about the sticky situation we got into on our first morning in the city nestled on the west bank of the Sea of Galilee, also known as Lake Tiberias, a.k.a. the Kinneret. (And it has a few other names to boot!)

After a leisurely breakfast, X and I drove down the hill and into town without much of a plan. After exploring a bit in our car, we strayed south of the main town and spotted an intriguing road leading toward the top of one of the picturesque grassy hills that loomed in the middle distance. We decided to head up the road without knowing what was there.

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Incidents and accidents: Holy land tourism, part 2

December 11, 2018

By Matthew E. Milliken
Dec. 11, 2018

Some of the glitches on the Israel trip that Lady X and I took in 2009 involved airports. I’ve already recounted my possible (likely?) anxiety about not having booked a rental car in advance, but there were two further incidents that had some potential to go badly.

The first one was a discrete incident that occurred as we were waiting in line to be screened at Ben Gurion before flying back to the U.S., I suddenly became fixated on some knotted leather strings on X’s backpack that weren’t fastened to my satisfaction. It was a small thing, but I must have looked like a bit nutty. When the screener started quizzing us, X quite sensibly told me to cut it out and help her answer the questions like a normal person.

The other hiccup — which, like everything else on our trip, worked out fine in the end — occurred at John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York, where we needed to clear customs and immigration before we could catch our flight back to Raleigh-Durham International Airport. However, this problem stemmed from a decision X and I had made, at my urging, upon our arrival in Israel.

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Incidents and accidents: Holy land tourism, part 1

December 8, 2018

By Matthew E. Milliken
Dec. 8, 2018

Lady X and I flew into Israel’s Ben Gurion International Airport on Dec. 4, 2009, and flew back to the States on Dec. 11. It was a wonderful trip, but there were a few moments that left me feeling anxious or frightened. This is an account of some of them.

I can’t remember whether I booked a rental car in advance; if not, I was certainly freaking out about transportation as we deplaned and went to pick up our luggage. Nor could I tell you if I got a good rental price. Regardless, we obtained a Fiat Punto without trouble and were soon on our way.

The car, which was white with a few sporty red and green stripes, served us well. We drove more than 300 miles in the course of a week: From the airport east to Jerusalem; after a few days in Jerusalem, east and south to Ein Gedi, a beach on the Dead Sea; then, on the same day, north through the West Bank to Tiberias, on the Sea of Galilee, which is also known as (among other things) the Kinneret or Lake Tiberias; after a few days there, west and southwest to Nazareth, then west and northwest to Haifa, and — still on the same day! — south along the Mediterranean to Tel Aviv; and after a few days there, southeast back to the airport.

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Vignette: Flowers, movement, (failed) joke

November 30, 2018

By Matthew E. Milliken
Nov. 30, 2018

Sometime in early or mid-November, on a relatively pleasant fall afternoon, I parked my car on Iredell Street in Durham and walked the long way around the block to a local coffee shop.

After turning the corner onto West Markham Avenue, I proceeded up the incline toward Ninth Street, where West Markham becomes Hillsborough Road. As I closed in on the intersection, I noticed a man walking toward me who was carrying at least two floral arrangements.

I decided to be a comedian. “Oh, you shouldn’t have,” I exclaimed as we neared each other.

His face twitched. I couldn’t tell if he’d gotten the joke — which was that he needn’t have brought me all those flowers — or if he had completely failed to get what I’d been saying.

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Cheeps and Chirps for Nov. 28, 2018

November 28, 2018

By Matthew E. Milliken
Nov. 28, 2018

The finest hand-crafted autumnal tweets.

• Politics

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Cheeps and Chirps for Oct. 31, 2018

October 31, 2018

By Matthew E. Milliken
Oct. 31, 2018


Chirping from the hip.

• Politics, Supreme Court edition

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Vignette: Lunch, itch, polo shirt

October 20, 2018

By Matthew E. Milliken
Oct. 20, 2018

One afternoon this summer, I was having lunch with my Parental Unit in a restaurant in a mall near PU’s home. I was wearing one of my favorite shirts, a sky-blue cotton Land’s End polo. And something was bothering me. Specifically, something was irritating a patch of skin on my chest.

I kept looking down and tugging at the neck of the shirt, but the sensation persisted.

Eventually, I inspected the inside of the shirt, in the area where the buttons fasten. I felt goofy doing so, since the spot where we were sitting was visible to all sorts of passers-by in the mall, but the sharp prickly feeling was just too bothersome to let go without any investigation. Alas, I failed to identify whatever was provoking the itch. Perhaps it was all in my head?

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Cheeps and Chirps for Oct. 1, 2018

October 1, 2018

By Matthew E. Milliken
Oct. 1, 2018

Chirp shots from the peanut gallery.

• Politics

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Before me, the deluge — again!

September 25, 2018

By Matthew E. Milliken
Sept. 25, 2018

Having finished most of my hurricane preparations on the afternoon of Thursday, Sept. 13, I checked the forecast decided that I should conduct the rest of my day as I normally would. That meant going to Raleigh to play poker.

That went more or less as it usually does, although some wind buffeted my car on the drive home. I monitored weather conditions and watched and listened for wind and rain throughout Friday, but conditions in Durham didn’t seem in any way remarkable to me, even though the storm system made landfall in Wrightsville Beach, N.C., early that morning.

Things could change radically, of course, if the Hurricane Florence’s track shifted north — but it never did. On Saturday, if anything, the rain and wind seemed to be even lighter than what we’d seen on Friday.

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Disaster preparedness: Getting ready for Florence

September 24, 2018

By Matthew E. Milliken
Sept. 24, 2018

As mentioned in my previous post, Hurricane Florence largely spared the Research Triangle. But up until Tuesday, Sept. 18 (if memory serves), the projected track showed the storm heading directly for our area. I was determined to be ready for it.

In the very early hours of Monday the 17th, near the end of my drive home from an evening of playing free poker, I diverted to a Durham gas station at the corner of Main and Ninth streets. After filling my tank, I went to a nearby 24-hour supermarket so I could stock up on fruit and canned soup. If the storm hit my city hard, I’d have enough gas to travel a few hundred miles and enough food to eat for several days.

There was more to be done to prepare for trouble. I always keep some large bottles of water in my refrigerator, but I filled additional containers to be on the safe side. (Most emergency preparedness guides recommend having one gallon of water per person per day.)

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Aug. 25, 2018, mall Scrabble recap, part 3

September 2, 2018

By Matthew E. Milliken
Sept. 2, 2018

I was riding a three-game winning streak going into the seventh round of Saturday’s tournament. The task ahead of me was a rematch against D—, who had narrowly beaten me in the final game of the early session.

Playing first, D— got off to a terrific start with JEWED! 48. (This verb conjugation is rightly considered offensive, as the exclamation point indicates in Scrabble notation.) Holding AAEEFOP, I was only able to retort with OAF/OE/AW/FE 24. D— added to his lead in turn 2 with JINGLED 32; my answer was PEA/PI/EN/AG 20.

My third move garnered a nice score: ZEALOT/FEZ/DE 54, which left me trailing 104-98. But that was the moment where it was all about to go off the rails.

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Aug. 25, 2018, mall Scrabble recap, part 2

August 31, 2018

By Matthew E. Milliken
Aug. 31, 2018

The three games of the tournament’s early session had been scheduled in advance. Upon resuming play around 1:30 in the afternoon, we commenced playing in “king of the hill” battle — the top two players faced one another; the third- and fourth-ranked players played one another; and so on down the line in our 10-person division.

My foe in round 4 was D.D., a younger Charlotte, N.C., player participating in his third tournament. Like me, he was 1-2, having won his opener by nine points before dropping his second and third games by a total of 23 points.

Playing first, my rival got things off to a rousing start with HERTZ 54. His follow-up was DEACON/JO/IN 33, leaving me in an 87-22 hole after I’d put down JILT.

My big early plays were QI/OI 33 in turn 3 and REX/ZAX 31 two moves after that. But that still left me trailing, 150-134. (A zax is a hatchet-like tool, pluralized as zaxes.)

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Aug. 25, 2018, mall Scrabble recap, part 1

August 30, 2018

By Matthew E. Milliken
Aug. 30, 2018

The opening game of the Aug. 25 Scrabble tournament pitted me against S—, the older North Carolina player who had handed me a 100-point defeat around the start of the summer. I had a modest lead of 64-30 midway through turn 3 when, playing second, S— put down sENIORS/GUYS, a 67-point bingo.

I responded with AYE/As/YE/EN, which scored 28 thanks to its placement of the A on the triple-word-score bonus spot at center column–top row. S—’s riposte, BUNKO 22, minimized my gain. However, in turn 5 I played ZA/REZ/MA for 47 points, which gave me a 139-119 lead.

S— reclaimed the lead three turns later with DESIST/SWAG. The play notched 35 points thanks to its utilization of the TWS in the center row–far-left column and put my foe ahead, 200-195.

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Cheeps and Chirps for Aug. 25, 2018

August 25, 2018

By Matthew E. Milliken
Aug. 25, 2018

Recent musings from my microblog.

• Politics

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The sign that wasn’t there

August 18, 2018

By Matthew E. Milliken
Aug. 18, 2018

The other day, I wrote about my woeful performances in two recent pinball tournaments. What I didn’t mention was that I was feeling a little off-kilter going into this month’s event.

Part of the reason was that my stomach was a bit uneasy that evening; part of it was that I left for the venue a little later than was ideal. That last factor ties into the forthcoming vignette about something else that was distracting me entering the tournament.

Because it was raining and I wanted to avoid getting wet, I drove to the parking deck right across the street from the arcade. The structure has two entrances; the main one is on Ramseur Street, but there’s also an auxiliary entrance on Main Street. I used the latter portal.

But as soon as I’d passed the open gate, a man rose from the stool he’d been perched upon about 25 feet from the entrance and signaled to get my attention. I rolled down my window.

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Pinball gizzard times two: My tale of amusement-machine woe

August 14, 2018

By Matthew E. Milliken
Aug. 14, 2018

Two months ago, I wrote (extensively!) about my first-ever pinball tournament championship. I’d now like to recap my performances in the two knockout-style pinball events that I’ve participated in since.

• Date: June 20, 2018
Venue: Boxcar, Raleigh, N.C.
Format: Group knockout (elimination upon three strikes)

Match 1: Total Nuclear Annihilation, Spooky Pinball, 2017 (four players)
Result: Lowest score of four (plus one strike)
Status: Χ

Match 2: Dialed In, Jersey Jack Pinball, 2017 (four players)
Result: One of the bottom two scores (plus one strike)
Status: ΧΧ

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Zig-zag: Ruminating upon tournament results

August 12, 2018

By Matthew E. Milliken
Aug. 12, 2018

In thinking over Thursday’s end game, which I detailed yesterday, I couldn’t help but compare that situation, where I folded promising hands, to those in which I’d made all-in calls during the final week of the regular season. In those cases, I didn’t necessarily need to win the event to accomplish my goal, which was winning the venue’s season points championship.

(To be specific, what I needed in those earlier instances was to improve my season points average by recording a high score in one of the last games, which I could have done without a win.)

With the benefit of hindsight, it seems I would have come closer to succeeding in the final week by playing the turtle — that is, by folding and putting off the moment at which I might be eliminated.

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On facing another tough poker end game

August 11, 2018

By Matthew E. Milliken
Aug. 11, 2018

Two of the most memorable hands from Thursday night’s tournament of champions were ones I didn’t play.

Before I get to those, please permit me to recount one that I did. Staring with a high pocket pair, I raised preflop to maybe three times the big blind. (I assume the level was 200–400, which would have made my raise 1,200.) I got four callers.

The flop was jack-jack-something. (That something may have been a nine; it turned out to be irrelevant.) The good news here was that I now had two pairs. The bad news was that a single jack would ruin me.

I needed to find out if danger was lurking, so I made a big bet — maybe 5,800, a little less than the size of the pot. If anyone called, that would signal potential danger. If I got re-raised, then I’d have to give serious consideration to abandoning a premium hand. However, everyone folded, indicating that I was ahead the whole time.

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Hot and then not: Tales from the tournament of champions

August 9, 2018

By Matthew E. Milliken
Aug. 9, 2018

Two Tuesdays ago, I had a very rough start in my first tournament of the postseason but got hot towards the end of the event, finishing in fourth place. The other night, during the tournament of champions at the same Tuesday venue, the opposite occurred: I started off hot but faltered toward the end.

I hit a big hand after moving to my second table, roughly 20 minutes into the event. (Unlike every other in-venue contest that World Tavern Poker conducts, the tournament of champions has long blinds, so I think we were still in the first level, 100–200.) Having been dealt pocket kings, I raised to 800, only to see around four callers.

The flop was a nightmare: three hearts, while I held none at all. I made a significant bet — 1,600, I think — only to see Paul C. raise to 3,200.

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Fortunes of play: Notes on an extended tavern championship run

August 4, 2018

By Matthew E. Milliken
Aug. 4, 2018

Having botched my chance at a season points championship in the World Tavern Poker venue where I play on Tuesday nights as well as the one where I play (and direct tournaments) on Sunday nights, I had extra motivation to want to do well in the two-week “postseason” that the league stages every six months.

My first opportunity at redemption came in the tavern championship on Tuesday evening. This is a single tournament, run with the same length of blinds as all the others. The main differences between the tavern championship and regular games are twofold. In the championship, each top-10 player receives twice the starting stack as other players, and each top-10 player is bestowed with a bounty/re-entry/add-on card.

Here’s how the card works. If a top-10 player is knocked out before the first chip-up break, which occurs between the 500–1,000 and 1,000–2,000 blind levels, then the card enables the top-10 player to get a new double stack (effectively, a rebuy or re-entry). In addition, the individual who knocks out the top-10 player receives a 10,000 bounty.

Any top-10 player who survives until the first chip-up break receives a 10,000 “add-on.” After that point, top-10 players receive no further advantage. A top-10 player can use her or his card only once, either when knocked out or at the break.

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Cheeps and Chirps for July 31, 2018

July 31, 2018

By Matthew E. Milliken
July 31, 2018

Bits and bites from ye olde Twitter stream:

• A few personal notes

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Tough tournament spot, redux: Further notes

July 30, 2018

By Matthew E. Milliken
July 30, 2018

Sunday was the final day of World Tavern Poker’s regular season at the venue where I serve as tournament director. That evening, I got caught in a surprisingly similar situation to the one I was in last week.

As on Tuesday, I started the day in the No. 2 position. In this case, the average of my top 15 scores at the pub was 60 points lower than that of the person who held the top rank. The lowest of my 15 scores was 9,450, so I’d need to record a score of more than 10,000 to catch up.

Around the two-hour mark of the early tournament, our blinds moved to 5,000–10,000. I had four chips (nominal value: 20,000), and nine players remained. As the big blind approached, I anxiously waited for a good chance to win a pot. Unfortunately, it never seemed to come.

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Notes on facing a tough tournament spot

July 27, 2018

By Matthew E. Milliken
July 27, 2018

For much of the season, I led the rankings at the World Tavern Poker venue in Cary where I regularly play on Tuesday evenings. Two Tuesdays ago, on the second-to-last night of the regular season, I was unable to record any points in either of the two tournaments; worse yet, my chief rival, H.M., won one game and finished second in the other to pass me and take hold of the No. 1 position.

Which brings me to this past Tuesday, the last night of the regular season. Since I was eliminated without gaining any points in the first game, I faced no small pressure as the second game got under way.

Unfortunately, the cards didn’t go my way for much of the contest. The good news was that I hung on and made it to the final table. The not-so-good news was that I had one of the smaller stacks when we got down to the final 10 players. The better news was that H.M. hadn’t gotten a good score in either game, meaning that I still had an opportunity to catch him if I could manage a terrific finish.

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Before me, the deluge

July 25, 2018

By Matthew E. Milliken
July 25, 2018

Author’s note: This post contains some profanity near the end. MEM

Early on the morning of Tuesday, July 24, it began raining in Durham — very hard. My car, a lightly used loaner that I’d purchased from a Raleigh dealership the day after the 2016 election, was parked in its usual spot by my house. I gave a little thought to moving it.

I ended up not acting on that impulse, but I ought to explain why it occurred to me.

About two months ago, I wrote a post about my fruitless search for a radio interview with Scott Huler, the author of the 2011 book On the Grid: A Plot of Land, an Average Neighborhood and the Systems that Make Our World Work. The impulse to move my car was motivated by the very same incident that prompted me to look for that (possibly imagined?) interview.

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June 2018 Scrabble tournament: Part 4 of 4

July 3, 2018

By Matthew E. Milliken
July 3, 2018

I kicked off the fourth and final session of my June Scrabble tournament with a game 13 rematch against M.K., whom I’d beaten in my third game Saturday morning. Since then, he’d taken off on a tear: His record entering our rematch was 10-2, leaving him well positioned to win the division. I knew that I’d have to play well to take him down.

Playing second, I had a narrow lead when M.K. opened the fourth turn with INSANEr/LUNES. His 69-point bingo put me in a 133-68 hole.

Two turns later, I reclaimed the lead thanks to a 70-point bingo of my own, COWIEST/EWE. Unfortunately, my foe had a comeback loaded and ready to fire: ERASION/ET 74, which left me down, 217-156.

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