Comet


Death Cab for Cutie, Thank You For Today

Posted by: Ryan 9 months, 1 week ago
Categories: Music

On Friday, Death Cab Cutie released their ninth studio album. I wasn’t much of a Death Cab fan when they first hit it big (about 18 years ago), but their mellow sound has somehow made its way into my ears over the past couple years - and it’s clear that I’ve been missing out.  I’m happy to have the opportunity to listen to new music from this band.

The consistency of aesthetic and quality from Death Cab is amazing. They have a signature sound, yet they’re still able to keep it fresh. This album is no exception.

I think I’ve already said enough to sufficiently describe this album to any Death Cab fans - but, I’ll end this post with an extra nod to my favorite tracks: I Dreamt We Spoke Again and Autumn Love - both of which have so much of that signature sound that they could have rung them out and made two full albums out of it.

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Scratch Cards...are your odds bad or very bad?

Posted by: Ryan 9 months, 2 weeks ago
Categories: Comet

A month ago, a few friends and I scratched our way through a stack of scratch cards while enjoying beers at a local Waltham dive bar.  We kept cashing in our winnings (our very small winnings) and putting the money back into more scratch cards.  As you could have guessed, this strategy was not effective for us.

This got me wondering...what does someone get for the price of a scratch ticket?  I concluded that you get a slim chance to win some money, a brief rush while your mind imagines a huge windfall, a few short minutes of entertainment, and then, ultimately, the dull satisfaction of donating a small sum of money to the state.

If you’re able to enjoy the entertainment value of a scratch card – and if you’re able to avoid falling into the lottery "deep end" – then maybe a buying a few scratch cards is justifiable.  But what if we put the entertainment aside and focus only on the chance of winning money.  Can we somehow maximize our chances of winning?  What are the odds, really?  There are a lot of mysteries when it comes to scratch cards – and I get the sense that few people stress the details when it comes to scratch cards.

Did you know that the winning statistics for all scratch cards in Massachusetts (and most other states) are available on the state lottery website?  Sometimes they are even on the back of the card.  I built a tool that reads those statistics and aggregates them.  I analyzed those posted statistics for 22 different types of scratch cards ranging in purchase price from $1 to $30, hoping to somehow find scratch card enlightenment.

So how bad are your odds to win any money when you play a scratch card?

Pretty bad.  Your chances of actually making more money than what you paid are 1 in 4 at best (if you buy a $30 scratch card), and 1 in 9 at worst (for a $1 card).

Let's say you're not looking to win a million dollars.  What are your chances of winning just $100?

Super bad.  For $1 cards, about 1 in 950 have a prize of $100 or more.  For $10 cards, those odds improve to 1 in 60.

Are your chances of winning higher if you buy a more expensive scratch card?

The short answer to this question is: yes.  But keep in mind that the odds are heavily against you even with the more expensive cards, so buying more expensive cards is really just putting you on a faster lane to losing money.

Are some scratch cards within a price tier better than others?

Not really.  From my analysis, I saw that the statistics for typical $1 cards are all fairly consistent, and the same goes for the other price tiers.  The exception to this are the "limited issue" cards, which I talk about below...

Do the “limited issue” scratch cards have a better chance of winning?

The short answer is no.  But, it's noteworthy that some of the "limited issue" cards do weird things with the statistics.  For example, there’s a limited edition $10 scratch card this year called “$50, $100 and $500 Blowout” which only offers prizes between $50 and $500.  This is fairly unusual because most scratch cards have a few million-dollar prizes and many small winners too.  While the prizes for this card are different, the chances of winning aren’t really better.

Ok, let’s say you want to dream big.  What’s your chance of winning over $1 million?

Well, the $1 and $2 scratch cards don’t even offer a $1 million prize - so if you're buying those your chances are literally zero.  Higher value cards do technically offer a $1 million prize, so your chances of actually winning $1 million improve from literally zero to effectively zero.  The chance of winning $1 million or more on a $5 card is 1 in 4.2 million.  Those odds improve to about 1 in 650,000 for the $20 cards.  While these odds are super-duper low, winners do exist.  It happens...just not that often.

How much money is Massachusetts making off of these scratch cards anyways?

I can’t really approximate how much money the state spends on designing the cards, manufacturing, distributing, managing the prizes, paying retailers, etc.  But I can see from the statistics that their profit margin (accounting only for prize payouts) is about 30% for the $1 scratch cards and 15% for the $20 and $30 cards.

At first, those margins seemed low to me.  If the odds of actually winning some money is between 1 in 4 and 1 in 9, then should their profit margin be higher – like 80%?  Well, the truth is that there are technically a few big jackpot winners.  Those lucky few jackpot winners take a hefty bite out of the state’s profit.

All that being said…how can you maximize your chances of winning?

No matter what you do, your odds of winning are garbage.  But there technically are some things you can do to prevent your odds from worsening into hot garbage.

But here is the real hint: One way to win every time is to shift the definition of “winning”.  As you scratch, enjoy dreaming of those big prizes, and enjoy your beer when you don’t win those prizes.  Revel in the fun of scratching off those tickets.  Stick to a budget, and don’t lose too much money.

[Dumster fire image by user jleonardart on teepublic.com - you can buy a T-shirt with that image on it here]

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Pete and Jodi's Latest Project

Posted by: Jodi 9 months, 3 weeks ago
Categories: Projects
Tags: Table Restoration

Okay, so for those of you who know Ryan’s parents, you know we like DIY projects and here is one that we are currently taking on.  These are pictures of a 8 foot long oak trestle table that we just bought on a local Craig’s List type of website that shows up in my fb.  We were actually driving home from the Newport Folk Festival pulling our camper when I noticed there was a estate sale going on in a really cool old house in a town near our home.  In one of the pictures posted was a long table with a ton of stuff on it.  I didn’t even look at what was on the table, I immediately saw the table and thought that it is cool and something we can turn into my dream farm table.  So after many back and forths on fb I was promised the table if I could get it by 5:00 pm.  

Well, as you can see we got it.  This was an estate sale put on by the children of the late owners of this house.  They grew up in this house and told us about the happy memories there.  Happy memories around this table in particular.  One sister in particular was so sad watching all her parents belongs going out the door she could only watch us from the upstairs window as we loaded it into my husbands truck.  That made me feel sad, but when the other sister told me she was happy it was going to us because of our excitement getting it and our plans to update it and make it a happy gathering place in our house.  We exchanged phone numbers and I promised I would text her pictures of it finished and in our dining room.

It was extremely heavy so Pete, who by the way is extremely handy, proceeded to take the trestle legs off so we could handle moving it.  So now it is here in my dining room not really put together yet, just the top sitting on the legs.  It is so heavy that it is not going anywhere.  We need to figure out if we want to cut in down and make it a bit shorter.  A shorter table would probably fit the room better, but I love the idea of it fitting so many people around it like it is.  That we still have to decide.  After we decide whether to shorten it or not, then it goes back out to the garage and we start to strip it of the dark finish.  Then I think we will have to bleach it to get it the light color I am hoping for.  We are also debating whether we should redesign the trestle legs a bit.  The way they look now I think looks very gothic.  

So we will periodically post our progress as we tackle this big heavy project.  I am hoping to qualify for a Comet.cool patch at the end of this Ryan.

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Newport Folk 2018

Posted by: Ryan 9 months, 3 weeks ago
Categories: Music

We had another great time at the Newport Folk Festival this year.  The weather was warm, and the venue, Fort Adams, was as picturesque as ever.

It’s become a tradition for Jess and me to go to folk fest with my parents.  We love having them with us.  This year was especially fun because it was my parents’ third year at the festival, which makes them veterans.  They were able to weigh in on decisions, and they even had their own gameplan mapped out.

Shortly after entering the venue, we saw a highly entertaining set by Fantastic Negrito on the main stage. This guy is a great performer and he expertly blurred songs together using bizarre stories and banter.  His set sometimes had a mystical feel to it, as if he was telling us ghost stories.  I’d like to see him do a Halloween set in cramped, dark, smokey concert hall someday.

In the afternoon heat, we saw a new band, Glorietta, play at The Quad stage. The Quad is a relatively intimate stage as far as festivals go, and it has the power to make some artists shine.  But it also seems to get the best of many bands, making them seem like amateurs struggling to keep things afloat.  Noah Gunderson, one of the several singer-songwriters in Glorietta, did a great job at this stage and expertly mixed his firey, passionate vocals with reserved down-beat instrumentals in the song Golden Lonesome. After that song, Matthew Logan Vasquez picked the crowd back up with some rocking singalongs.

A highlight of the midday was Lucius, a band built around two harmonizing frontwomen.  They had such a unique and unusual stage presence, it was fun to watch. They had a trio of dancers who added to the strangeness.  Brandi Carlile joined them for a song, but I don’t think she added enough to the performance to make up for disrupting the perfect harmonization the band would have had without her.

The late afternoon set by Sturgill Simpson surprised me.  I was expecting a lot of slow southern crooning but instead saw a rock-and-roll jam fest.  It was great.  Whenever he sang, Sturgill’s voice would boom through the crowd with strength and with such a low frequency you could feel your internal organs vibrate around.  In a good way.

Near the end of the day, St. Vincent played on The Quad stage.  We only saw three songs before leaving a little disappointed.  She was doing stripped-down versions of her songs with only a piano accompanying her vocals - but it didn’t really work.  It seemed like the things that make St. Vincent songs good were lost in that stripping-down process.  What was left was overwhelmingly avant-garde and slightly boring.  She might have recovered in the second half of the set, or she might have fallen victim to the overwhelming intimacy of the Quad stage.

Last, we saw headliner Jason Isbell finish the night on the main stage. He put on a good show, albeit a little depressing at times.  We were going to sneak out a few minutes early to beat the notoriously bad traffic, but we were convinced to stay by a nearby stranger hinting at a surprise guest.  We were fortunate because soon thereafter, David Crosby joined the stage for two iconic songs.

Other highlights: 

Overall it was a really great time.  It's a shame that the Newpork Folk Festival stops its music as early as it does (7:30 PM)!  I would love to hang out at Fort Adams and listen to music after sundown.

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Abco’s Buffalo Chicken Wing Recipe

Posted by: Ryan 10 months, 2 weeks ago
Categories: Food & Drink

Our friend Abby (aka abco) made these wings for us once and I thought they were great.  I had been struggling with making my own hot wings, so I asked her for the recipe.  She was nice enough to share, and since then I’ve done a little bit of iterating on the details (not to improve, but rather to dial it into our kitchen gear and preferences).

Here’s the recipe:

Ingredients:

Instructions:

That’s it!  They come out crispy on the outside and moist on the inside.  The Franks sauce is a mild heat, especially after mixing it with butter.  Enjoy!

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Violet’s Bandana Collection

Posted by: Ryan 10 months, 2 weeks ago
Categories: Fluff

Jessica and I enjoy collecting bandanas for our dog, Violet. It’s a fun thing for us to collect because we often find interesting bandanas for sale while traveling.  Plus, bandanas are usually pretty cheap, and they are generally smaller than other keepsakes/collectibles.

I recently wrangled up most of her bandanas and put them through the wash.  Before putting them away, we arranged them in semi-chronological order (oldest in top-left and newest in bottom-right, like reading a book) and snapped this picture.

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Electric Forest 2018

Posted by: Ryan 10 months, 3 weeks ago
Categories: Music

Jessica and I spent the last weekend at the Electric Forest music festival in Rothbury, Michigan.  To start with the basics, this is a music festival for EDM (electronic dance music), but it also featured some jam-band and other genre performances.  While music is a big part of the festival, Electric Forest had far more going on than just music.  There is quite literally a forest that attendees can wander through, and that forest is filled with various attractions and spectacles.

Here’s the thing about Electric Forest:  I’m not going to be able to write a description that will do this music festival justice.  I can say that we went into it with high expectations, and that those expectations were exceeded.  Beyond that, my words are going to fall short - so, I decided to post an album of photos and I’ll make the captions as descriptive as I can.

See the photo album here.

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Dave’s still got it, 2018 edition

Posted by: Ryan 11 months ago
Categories: Music

We saw Dave Matthews Band with some friends on Friday night. It was an eventful night - but I’ll start with the music...

Dave Matthews Band is a force of nature. The depth of their catalogue is insane.  If you compare the set list we heard to the previous set list of this tour, there is only ONE song in common.  The band has played 68 different songs so far this tour, and it’s not even half way over.  Judging from prior tours, they will probably end up playing around 100 unique songs. This is far from typical for most bands.  Consider the complexity of their songs too - these songs have your normal verses and choruses, but they also have tight jam sessions where the band is clearly improvising despite always being on the same page.

After the music was over, our party left the venue and decided to get some sausage subs in the parking lot. I ran ahead to get the car and wait in traffic. Long story short, I tripped over a traffic cone and dislocated my shoulder. Now, I’ve never claimed to be an American Ninja Warrior...but this was still embarrassing.  Jess ended up bringing me to the ER and a group of 3 or 4 doctors pushed and twisted my arm until it finally slid back into place.

I need to thank our friends, Pat, Casey, and Tyler for tolerating my ER trip and staying out until 4:30 am.  Jess for playing the role of Ambulance (Prius) driver and general caregiver.  Also, our friend Abby for watching Violet much longer than she signed up for. Lastly, I should thank the two strangers, Kiersten and Sam, who lent me a hand after I fell and tried (hilariously) to gently ease my shoulder back into its place (it didn’t work).  They probably won’t ever see this, but they were super nice people.

I will end this post with a vintage video of a young Dave Matthews playing a concert at Blockbuster in 1994.

 

https://youtu.be/WKCpeohHZF8

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Laughing and dancing and not being normal at Boston Calling 2018

Posted by: Ryan 11 months, 2 weeks ago
Categories: Music

FRIDAY

We arrived fairly early on Friday afternoon. It was nice to wander around the venue before the crowds got big. Vendors had yard games and other activities set up, so it was a nice and relaxing atmosphere.  We particularly liked the Miller Lite area, where we were able to play Plinko with our empty Miller cans for prizes. We won a hat, a pin, fake tattoos, a coozie, a fanny pack, and a bandana (over the course of the weekend). Jess and I wanted the bandana more than anything - for Violet, of coarse.

The very first band we saw was Big Thief. We saw this band last year at Newport Folk Festival - and they didn’t put on a very good show back then. But they were much better this time. This band has potential, but they might have consistency problems. 

A highlight of Saturday was Maggie Rogers, who performed a fun, energetic, and adorably sincere set while donning a blue cape.  Maggie Rogers is a new artist and she doesn’t have many songs, so I’m looking forward to her expanding her catalog a bit.

The Killers headlined Sunday night. They sounded great and had really excellent stage presence.  I was particularly impressed with their drummer, who brought a lot of intensity to the whole set.  It’s really special when the crowd enthusiastically sings along with a band, and that happened a lot with The Killers.

SATURDAY

There were a few time slots on Saturday where we didn’t have any concerts that we were excited to see. We spent some of the free time in the IKEA area, which was an odd little environment setup by the Swedish furniture company.  It had a lot of hammocks and comfortable benches set up, as well as a dance area where DJs played sets. They served nothing but vegetarian hotdogs - and they gave away free pouches of the pickled vegetables that go into those hotdogs.  What a strange place!  We liked it!

This is a good time to mention how great it is to go to Boston Calling with friends.  Jess and I went with our friends Abby and Amanda. We all did our share of dancing and goofing around.  With a good group of friends you can have fun even when you’re not listening to live music. Unfortunately, our friend Jackie couldn’t make it this year, but she was still present in our hearts - and to show that, we brought a printout of her face on a popsicle stick.

We saw the hard rock band The Manchester Orchestra up and close. I don’t know this band very well - but I was happily surprised by their set.  Their lead singer is able to blur the line between screaming and singing, so you get melody and intensity - the best of both worlds!  I think I saw their guitarist throw his guitar onto the ground after furiously shredding through the last track.  Woah!

Later that day, I was excited to see the hip-hop “boy band” BROCKHAMPTON. Despite being a new band (group?), they have a big catalogue of unique, emotional, and textured songs. Their live music seemed slightly off-kilter because they were missing one of their rappers. The next day, it was revealed that he was kicked out of the band due to assault allegations. Unfortunate to lose talent, but the fact that they kicked him out is a testament to the character of this young band.

Jack White headlined Saturday night.  His music has a ton of complexity - much of which was unfortunately lost on me. I think I would have gotten more out of his set if I had tuned my ear to his music prior to this concert.  Nonetheless, he has a cool and confident stage presence that makes you feel like you’re watching a master at work.

SUNDAY

While the weather on Friday and Saturday was nearly perfect, the weather on Sunday was cold, rainy, and miserable.  We spent some time hiding from the rain in the big tent set up by the Danish brewery, Mikkeler. Their beers were good, but the location (in the back of the festival) was a little unfortunate.  It’s bizarre that Boston Calling chose to have Mikkeler be the only craft beer at the festival - what with there being so many great craft breweries in  Massachusetts - but having Mikkeler there is sort of fun and interesting.  I think it helps make Boston Calling special. 

We ventured out into the cold to see a very fun set by Thundercat, who was very groovy. Then we saw The Decemberists make excellent music look completely effortless. We left that set a little early to see the legendary Mike D (of The Beastie Boys) play a few songs of a DJ set.

Eventually the weather and the fatigue got the best of Jess and I, our mood sharply declined, and we decided to call it quits a little early on Sunday night.  It would have been nice to see Eminem, but it wasn’t in the cards for us.

Overall, it was a great time.  We heard a ton of music - much more than I could fit into this post.  The organizers did a really good job reducing wait times for security, food, and restrooms.  Also, they did an excellent job with keeping the music punctual.  I’m already looking forward to going again next year. 

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Machine Learning Progress Update 6 (The End)

Posted by: Ryan 1 year ago
Categories: Comet
Tags: Machine Learning

My machine learning project was on the back burner for the last few months.  I recently resurrected the project for no reason other than to just push it to a decent stopping point.  I already spent a lot of time developing a tool to categorize thousands of self-captured images of vehicles to train the neural network.  It would have been silly to leave the project off before actually implementing all of that data.

So, I re-trained the neural network last month - and just this weekend I finally got around to putting the re-trained tool to work.  I set it loose on some pre-recorded traffic footage from cameras owned by the Maryland Dept. of Transportation - and I was very happy with its performance!

If you recall, the earlier version of this tool was trained on third-party car images and - let's be honest - it didn't do such a good job.  The retrained network is much much better.  I recorded some video clips of its performance and saved it onto youtube.  You can check it out here.

My primary goal of this project was to learn as much as possible, and from that perspective, it was a success.  Some of my other goals, such as optimizing the neural network to run on the Raspberry Pi (a $35 mini computer), were not completely accomplished.  I mean it can technically run on the pi, but it only does about 5 frames per second.  With time, I am confident I can improve that - probably a lot - but there will be diminishing returns in terms of learning if I spend more time on this.  Also, it's easy to imagine developing a set of tools that would sit on top of this technology to do useful things like count cars, detect traffic conditions, etc.  All of that stuff would be fun to do, but time-consuming.

So, with this last post, I am putting this project on hold indefinitely.

[Check out the youtube video of the "final" version neural network in action here]

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