Hulaween 2018, and our engagement!

Posted by: Ryan 3 years ago
Categories: Family, Friends, & Life Music

Jess and I got engaged! To be more specific, we got engaged while at the Hulaween music festival in northern Florida. We had a great time.

See my photo album here.

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Making Skeleton Costumes

Posted by: Ryan 3 years, 1 month ago
Categories: Music Projects

Jess and I are going to Hulaween, a music festival in northern FL.  In fact, we are on the plane as I write this!

This is a Halloween-themed music festival, and Jess and I rarely shy away from wearing a costume when given the opportunity.  We wanted a good costume, but we didn’t want to be uncomfortable while dressed up; plus, we wanted a durable costume that wouldn’t break while traveling.  So, we decided to buy black jeans and black shirts, and paint ourselves skeleton costumes.

This was a great little project.  We were able to do the painting at night over a few days.  Our strategy was to mark the locations of bones on the clothes (with masking tape) while we were wearing them, and then we took some artistic approximations while painting.  We’re going to supplement our painted clothes with skeleton masks and gloves we bought online.

I’m optimistic about our costumes.  But, it’s hard to get a sense for how they’ll look until we really put them into action!

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A brief rant on Weston and Cat Rock Park

Posted by: Ryan 3 years, 1 month ago
Categories: Family, Friends, & Life

This morning Jess and I tried to take Violet for a walk at Cat Rock Park, a wooded park in Weston that happens to allow off-leash dogs.  On weekends, there can sometimes be a line of cars waiting for a parking spot at Cat Rock, but it’s never longer than a 10 minute wait - and it’s always worth it for a nice time at the park.

When we arrived, we saw a giant new sign saying that the parking lot is now for Weston residents only.  We were forced to take this new rule seriously, because we always see Weston Police doing patrols of this lot.

Shame on Weston! They are trying to keep Waltham residents out of the park to reduce the wait time for themselves. But does this mean Weston residents are not using Waltham parks, adding congestion to Waltham streets, parking in its public lots to visit its downtown, or filling open jobs in Waltham? Of coarse not. It seems like Weston wants to reap the benefits of its more-developed neighboring towns and cities, but doesn’t want to share its parks.

I get it. Making a rule is a quick way to fix a problem - but with a little bit of thought, Weston might be able to solve the parking issue, bring money into their dinky little town, and not upset their neighbors in Waltham. For example, how about putting in parking meters, then use the resulting funds to expand the parking lot?

Anyways, we ended up going to Prospect Hill Park in Waltham instead - which is open for anyone to visit, regardless of what town you live in.

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ZHU @ The House of Blues

Posted by: Ryan 3 years, 1 month ago
Categories: Music

Last night we saw ZHU perform at the House of Blues in Boston. This was a really fun show. ZHU is an artist that’s a little difficult to pin down genre-wise; dance, R&B, electronic, house, and hip-hop would all be suitable classifiers. I was expecting his concert to be more on the R&B side of that spectrum, but it ended up being more on the dance/electronic side.  Nonetheless, the show was captivating.

While the type of music was amorphous, the concert had a consistent theme of a journey through the desert, which I think was really well executed. The theme was introduced by a few very short statements projected onto the wall, and aside from that it was very subtle.  The music itself carried the theme from there.  The desert aesthetic came through in the instruments and sounds more than the lyrics themselves, which was particularly impressive.

The lights at this show were at a different level than other concerts I’ve seen.  It seemed like they were using projectors, but I don’t know how they got the projected images to be so sharp and realistic.

The crowd at this show was very enthusiastic.  It was fun to be surrounded by so much energy.  I wish every show had this many people focused on the music.

Overall, this was a great time.  I’m excited to see and hear what ZHU does next.

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Thinking about new glasses...

Posted by: Ryan 3 years, 2 months ago
Categories: Family, Friends, & Life

I received a home try-on kit from Warby Parker.  It contains five different eyeglass frames for me to try. I’ll need to send them back in a few days.  What a neat idea.

I’m still undecided on which pair I want.  I actually don’t even know if I want new glasses at all!  I’ve just noticed that my current pair is getting a little scratched up and out-of-shape lately.

The two I’m showing here are the more adventurous styles of the five.  The others are similar to my current glasses.

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Walking to Boston

Posted by: Ryan 3 years, 2 months ago
Categories: Family, Friends, & Life

At 11 AM on Saturday morning, Jess, Violet, and I left our apartment in Waltham and embarked on a long walk all the way to Boston.  We followed the Charles River Bike Path along the way. The total length of that path is about 12 miles.  We bailed a little early when we got to the Back Bay (the official endpoint is at the Museum of Science).  It took us about 5.5 hours, including a coffee break and several Violet-related pit stops.

I was impressed by how nice the path was, particularly in Waltham and some of Watertown. There were many areas completely isolated from roadways, which made it feel like we were hiking in the woods.  Despite walking through familiar areas, we were repeatedly surprised by interesting things hiding around each corner.  We saw footbridges, dams, boat houses, football fields, an amphitheater, and many scenic areas.  We saw bizarre things: an eastern-European chess gathering in a cozy corner of the woods near the river, a drum circle near a boathouse in Allston, an outdoor public gym area, a pop-up beer garden, and a non-zero number of potentially crazy people wandering in the woods.

After getting to the back bay, we left the trail and walked to a bbq restaurant in Fenway.  We took the subway (plus a taxi) to get back home. Violet had no trouble keeping up all day, but she was understandably exhausted afterward.  Our legs were tired that night, but not too bad!  I think we’d like to do the trail again someday. 

Edit (9/11/2018): I mapped out the trail using an online tool and learned that it is indeed around 12 miles long.  The post originally said it was closer to 20.  This has been revised.

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Posted by: Ryan 3 years, 3 months ago
Categories: Web

I recommend Geoguessr, a fun and clever geography game. In this game, you will see google “street view” images of a random place somewhere in the world.  You can look and move around.  Then, you need to guess where in the world you are. After guessing, you’re given a score based on the distance between your guessed location and the actual location.

You can play different modes. One mode will only place you at ‘famous’ places in the world, which tests your cultural knowledge. Another mode will put you in a completely random location, which tests your reasoning and investigative skills. You can also limit it down to only US locations, only New York City locations, and so on. 

You can play right in your computer browser. If you want to play on your phone, I would recommend playing it on the phone browser, even though there is an iPhone app.

The website address is Enjoy!

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Boston Fan Expo

Posted by: Ryan 3 years, 3 months ago
Categories: TV & Movies

Last weekend, Jess and I went to the Fan Expo (formerly known as Comic Con) in Boston.  We didn’t go for any particular reason other than to simply experience something rad.  I was excited to see some enthusiastic fans and to see a big energetic event. Our actual experience was a slight let down.  But that’s partially our own fault, because our expectations were all wrong.

Right off the bat, things were going poorly when we tried to park. First, people working at the Hyatt (a hotel right next to the convention center) tricked us into thinking they worked for the convention, told us that the standard parking lot was full, then directed us to their parking lot which was $25. Not cool, and I was upset that the convention was letting Hyatt do this because it was happening right outside the main entrance. Then, after getting back into the right parking queue, we were directed through a dozen turns by convention staff and eventually directed out onto a street in the Boston seaport with no further directions, instructions, nothing. Then we had to find our way back to the convention center and we finally parked in a private lot for $15.

At that point the convention really needed to be stellar to lift our spirits back up. We bought tickets, but I struggled with how tiny the exhibition area was compared to the annual Pax East convention (which takes place in the same building).  It’s totally rediculous to fault a convention for being smaller than a different convention - but it was hard for me to really get into it.  The energy of Pax with in the back of my mind, and that same energy just wasn’t there.

Now that I’m done with all that negativity, I’d like to describe what was good about it!  There were tons of artists showing of really great, unique, quirky art. No boring art here! There were many areas where fans could line up and meet various personalities, like writers, artists, actors, etc. I think it’s cool that fans could connect directly with people they admire.  There were tons of vendors selling weird and neat stuff.  I actually kind of regret not buying something weird that I could wear at a music festival or something. Everyone there was very friendly and it good spirits. I’d say around 25% of the people were dressed up in some way.

So if it weren’t for the parking frustrations and my silly expectations, this would have been better experience.  I will treat this as a lesson: don’t let expectations stand in the way of a good time.

I didn’t take many good pictures.  The image above is of an exhibitor who had amazing Star Wars droid replicas. I thought they were super impressive...and then they started to move around and make noises. It was surreal. 

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Death Cab for Cutie, Thank You For Today

Posted by: Ryan 3 years, 3 months 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 3 years, 3 months 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 - you can buy a T-shirt with that image on it here]

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