On Being Present

It occurred to me early this morning (I can only assume this happened because we watched Kung Fu Panda last night and Master Oogway’s words had an impact) that being present is difficult because the present is a tiny moment in time compared to the past or the future. I have been meditating somewhat consistently for 18 months or so now and the basic difficulty of staying present on the breath has certainly shown me this but it has never been made concrete in my rational mind.

Meditation, especially breath meditation where you focus attention on the breath, is designed to move focus to the present moment where air flows into your body through the nose and out again in the same manner. It is one of those things in life that sounds incredibly easy but is actually impossibly hard, at least in my experience. My tendency is to make it to about breath number two before something intrudes on my focus whether it’s a bad choice from the past, an anxious need from the future or an item on the always present TODO list that lurks like some evil spirit in the shadows of my mind.

One of the reasons this is so hard even in good circumstances is that the Past is a vast treasure trove of fears and delights, times when things went well and poorly, events that seem much more interesting to think about than the ennui of breath in, breath out. The Future is an equally vast cornucopia of possibilities, many of them terrible if the average social media timeline is to be believed, possibilities that spring to mind easily and often to interrupt the focus of the present moment. Add to this the anxiety and cognitive load of the TODO list which I am prone to and the result is a situation where being truly present can seem impossible. The human mind seems especially talented at focusing on the past (depression) or the future (anxiety). The present in contrast is a pinhead of space where this moment you are present in is so fleeting as to be imaginary, gone before it can even be recognized.

Yet the present is the key to practically everything. It is the way to happiness, to progress, and to health. When I watch Wobbles closely, her joie de vivre comes from her total immersion in the present. All children are like this. They run and leap and laugh and cry based on this moment. I believe much of the anxiety of the youth (and perhaps the world) of today can be tied directly to social media usage which is designed to turn our attention to either the past through reminders of what our life used to be five minutes or five years ago or to the future when hopefully we will be having a great dinner in Italy like our friends Karen and Bob and their two perfect children. Unless carefully managed, social media removes us from the present and places us into some other period over which we have almost no control.

The present on the other hand is within our control. What we choose to do with now is where all beauty and happiness lies. It is a great paradox that so many people obsess about the past as one long list of bad choices but obsess about the future as a time when we can get things right, ignoring the more likely outcome that they will continue to make the same choices then and get the same results. Being present is the way out of that trap.

The Stoics were masters at the present, putting forth a philosophy designed to recognize this situation that teaches us not to revel or dwell on our past or worry about the future because they are out of our control. Instead, we must focus only on what we can do in the current moment which results in peace of mind. It is also interesting to me, though probably the topic of another essay, that creation and experience and appreciation of art happens in the present moment. Writing, music, drawing, painting, it’s all done here and now. In fact, the book Drawing On The Right Side of the Brain is a book that specifically teaches you how to leave the judgmental and controlling left side of the brain and fall into the flow of the present that the right side of the brain is so in tune with.

Another interesting way to look at this is that the past and the future don’t actually exist, only the present moment as Master Oogway noted. The past is gone, a litany of present moments spent and cast aside. The future is unstable, a stream of present moments affected by randomness and contingency that we have less control over than we imagine. The only way to achieve a different past or future is to do things differently in the present. Whether that’s saving money or losing weight or learning Spanish, the way to achieve anything is by doing something in the present moment other than dreaming about the future or wallowing in the past. These present moments then compound over time to produce a savings account of memory and learning that redefine our past and change the opportunities for our future. The present is the only way to true happiness.

Managing Inertia

In Simon Wardley’s business strategy methodology, Wardley Maps, there are a class of behaviors you can take in all contexts to improve your ability to act strategically and improve your chances of success. These are called doctrine, universal rules that one should use across contexts. By analogy, in war, you have a doctrine to train your soldiers to shoot before you go into battle or in chess, you should learn the moves of the pieces before playing your grandfather. Doctrine isn’t a sliver bullet but it is guiding principles broadly applicable to multiple situations.

These doctrine are applicable to certain broad categories of activities you might take: Communication, Development, Operation, Learning, Leading and Structure. One of the key ones in Operation that intrigues me is Manage Inertia. This applies to the broad category of operating the business, of doing the day to day things that allows progress to be made on a variety of fronts. A formal definition of inertia is the resistance of any physical object to a change in its velocity. In business, the physical object takes on other definitions and could be a team, a process, a piece of software, or any number of other constructs. The fact that inertia exists in your business is A Good Thing. It’s a sign of success because without past success, continuing to do the same thing would be pointless. It is the fact that inertia rises out of past successes that creates a paradox and the need to deal with it. Much like your brokerage telling you that past success is no guarantee of future performance, Tesla notwithstanding, business success in the past must be often disregarded so that change can happen and the business can evolve.

Inertia in business manifests in particular ways. Organizational units that have achieved success in the past will be unwilling to try new things or learn new processes. Software that has become successful will over time become ossified as more features are added to it in its current structure, cementing design decisions into place. Processes like Scrum or Six Sigma fix initial problems and then are never revisited for examination. The paradox here is that the business landscape is always changing. Businesses must adapt in order to have continued success but they have tendencies to stay the same. This is how the brash startup can disrupt an established player in a vertical. The startup lacks the inertia of the established that acts on every part of the business to keep it from changing for its own good.

Often, certain elements within an organization will, consciously or not, chafe against the inertia and push to make radical changes. In the software landscape, this is often expressed as rewriting some piece of the business’ software after a period of time because technology has moved on and improved. In the best case, this often is a push out of the development teams who see improvements to technology and methodologies and want to do things better. In the worst case, it can be a lack of good business strategy that allows a rogue element to begin a project without guidance or a clear road map. Typically, it’s a little of both.

These rewrites can in fact be successful. With enough engineering firepower and good leadership that focuses on business value and quick wins, rewrites can be done in a way that leads to a rapid evolution of the existing software. However, more often than not, none of that is true. The business focuses engineering talent elsewhere leaving the rewrite understaffed. Management, somewhat out of touch with the landscape as well as the day to day activities, prefers to just sort of hope things will turn out ok. Hard decisions are avoided. The organizational inertia towards the success of the past weighs heavily. This inertia is far more powerful than the average engineer or engineering manager understands.

Other organizational units that interact with the working system have developed rules and processes for that interaction. Over time, through the success of the software, they themselves have become successful which leads to inertia from a different quarter. The marketing team has learned to use the software for its benefits. The business insights group has learned how to get data out and into the hands of stakeholders in a reliable manner. The business executives understand the vocabulary and the predictability of working software. All these sources of inertia work against a rewrite and must be managed thoughtfully and strategically or else the project is doomed.

So we have a paradox. The business must change in order to adapt to an evolving landscape. But the business must not change because what they are doing is successful. Navigating this landscape takes planning and must be done constantly as maintenance on existing systems, no differently than the oil must be changed in the car. Managing this inertia, while a general doctrine, involves critical thought applied to a particular context. There is no silver bullet. Perhaps you can reclaim your software. Perhaps a rewrite is the best plan. But if so, all the sources of inertia that act on the organization must be taken into account and mitigated. You cannot suddenly change a significant chunk in a successful business. The business reached a stable state through time and evolution and a sudden rupture in that stability will rarely succeed.

This management of inertia involves consensus and partnership across organizational units. The irony of course is that the drive for change often arises because one organizational unit has grown tired of the existing inertia and seeks to overcome it by moving alone. However, in a successful business, there is no alone. All units are connected, however tenuously, and the smaller the business, the stronger the bonds between units. So these moments of punctuated equilibrium where a unit thinks they can rapidly change something that the entire business relies on are largely doomed to failure. Conway’s Law cannot be ignored.

How then can we ensure inertia won’t kill us over time? Good strategy goes a long way. By analyzing the issue and developing policies that guide teams’ actions, inertia can be used against itself as small successes help teams develop confidence in their ability to manage change in the organization. A policy that says “we will always be on a framework version within one major version of the current accepted version” will guide teams actions in their planning process and insure that improvements in technology work their way through your system. A policy of “As a team, we will spend one week a year exploring the landscape of our current technology stack” will help sharpen skills and invites broad participation. Policies are critical to guide behaviors and actions. Without them, there can be no consensus on how to move forward.

Overall, the management of inertia is a function of good management. This seems trite but is critical. By defining strategies and policies that guide actions across an organization and then enforcing these policies over time, inertia can be prevented from becoming ossification. Without this management over time, software will grow in size and complexity to a point where changing it becomes perilous and rumblings of replacement will grow louder. It is unlikely at this point that excellent management will suddenly leap out of the fire to guide a difficult project to success. As in health, it is always more advisable to take small steps over time rather than have heart surgery as a strategy. Managing inertia must be consistent and well-guided to allow the business to evolve as circumstances warrant.

DIY Printer Table

Last week, Wobbles and the wife headed for Arkansas and a week away from work. Left to my own devices and a printer that had been sitting on the floor for about 6 months, I found this post that had some basic pictures to build a simple three shelf printer table. It didn’t have any plans or materials list so I basically came up with some plans to create my own. The materials list below resulted in a 3 foot high table that was 22 X 20 inches and sufficient to hold a decent sized Brother printer

1×10 whitewood board, 6 feet long 2
1×3 whitewood board, 6 feet long3
Quart of Polyshield stain and poly1
1 5/8ths Black swivel casters, 2 pack2
# 8 3/4inch self driving screws24
wood conditioner1
Package of #000 steel wool1
Cheap Foam sponge brushes from paint section4
1 1/4 by 1/8 inch angle iron, 36 inches long4

To reproduce this, you’d also need a Kreg jig system. I have the set which contains a starter set of screws along with the system for creating pocket holes. I picked whitewood because it was the cheapest decent wood that Lowes had. Other options were pine and oak but given that this was my first real project where I didn’t have any solid plans to go on, I didn’t want to have to throw away a bunch of oak that I screwed up.

To start, I cut the 1x10s into six 22 inch sections. These make up the 3 shelves by drilling pocket holes, gluing and then screwing them together. I then cut the 1x3s into the sections for the sides. This resulted in six 20 inch sections for the sides. and three 22 inch sections for the backs. I then drilled pocket holes in the bottom of the shelves to connect both the two 1x10s and the sides. In retrospect, I think I think I’d use a finish nailer on the sides instead of the pocket screws because it was difficult to keep pocket screws from poking out the sides. FYI, that table came from Sams and is a real winner. It holds up to 1000 lbs, is super light, comes with two clamps and allows me to not mess with setting up sawhorses.

Once the shelves were constructed, I used a random orbital sander on the wood, first with a 100 grit and then a 150 grit to get them pretty smooth. Once the shelves were sanded and wiped down, I started staining. This was my first ever stain job. I had the reasonably good sense to start with the bottom of the bottom shelf. Painting stain onto unconditioned wood with a paint brush is a terrible idea. It looked like a murder scene. After a little research, I learned that when the stain instructions tell you to condition raw wood, you should listen. I also learned that stain should be applied with sponges and/or rags.

Back at Home Depot (no home improvement project I’ve ever done was the results of a single trip), I picked up wood conditioner, some rags and some cheap $1 foam brushes. Conditioning the shelves made a big difference as did wiping on the stain. It’s much easier to get a decent look this way and avoid stain brush strokes in the wood.

Stained shelf
Improving my technique

I left the stain to dry for 24 hours. In the mean time, I used unibit drill bits to put screw holes in the angle iron. I put them flush with the top and bottom and then marked the middle of each piece of angle iron and put holes about 3/4s of an inch on either side.

Wear your eye protection when dealing with metal!

Once the stain was dry, I took the #000 steel wool and hand sanded all three shelves. Stain doesn’t naturally go on smooth and because of the grain of the wood, actually seems to make the surface somewhat rough again after initial sanding. The steel wool really gives it a nice finish and brings out some of the gleam in the grain. Wear a mask for this as the steel wool gives off a really fine dust mixed with stain.

Once that’s done, it was just a matter of assembly using the self driving screws (though I put in small pilot holes) and putting on the wheels. The main struggle here was just having things level and doing it by myself. Clamps make everything easier. Do the top and bottom shelf first and then the middle one is a lot easier if you are by yourself. You can see the pocket holes in the picture below. A craftsman would have filled those with wood putty and sanded them over. I on the other hand just wanted to build something and knew they’d never get seen by anyone on the bottom of each shelf.

Overall, this took about 48 hours, much of which was learning how to stain along with the stain drying process. It cost about $120 all told not including tools. Angle iron makes shelving pretty easy to work with. The main issue here I think is that because the sides are 1×3, I could only use 3/4 inch screws which limits the structural ability to hold a lot of weight. I’m only using it for a printer plus decorative items on the top shelf so think it will be find over time. If it starts to sag, I’ll get to build another one.

What Will It Take

What does one do about gun violence in America? What does one do? As Dr. Brian Williams says in the production of Babel, if 20 dead white kids in Sandy Hook can’t rally America and her Congress to do even the simplest of things like a universal background check which 90% (read that again, NINETY PERCENT) of Americans supports, what can happen to foster change?

This speaks to a more fundamental problem with America today, this disconnect between her citizens and her elected leaders. This is an idea that 9 in 10 Americans supports including 70% of NRA members yet when legislation comes up after Sandy Hook to implement universal background checks before purchasing a gun, it gets voted down in the Senate. What can we possibly hope to achieve or change when 20 white kids get shot at their school and nothing changes?

Fundamentally, I think this underlying issue is why both Obama in 2008 and Trump in 2016 were elected, each by their own movements but for a core reason: the American people want something to change. They may not know what that is but they know what we have is no longer working. And so they elected a young, African American Senator in 2008 hoping for change. Contrary to the Democratic elite’s public line, they got very little. So another faction in America took control and elected a total outsider to the process, someone who ran as a populist but that has turned out to be an authoritarian crazy person. Change doesn’t particularly seem forthcoming in this administration either. The oligarchs remain fully entrenched. So at what point do the American people, badly underserved by the financialized political system that has evolved out of Wall Street and Citizens United, decide to do something even more radical than Trump?

In the comforts of our homes with our big screen TVs purchased on credit, we largely remain distracted, too distracted to actually do anything. It seems crazy to think of a revolution in this country, a real revolution, but revolutions have happened in countries like ours in the past and the comfortable in those countries never saw it coming.

I don’t have any real answers. I feel compelled in many ways to try to impart change but my day to day life is so overwhelming that I can’t even imagine when to contribute time to a cause. I can only assume it is worse for people in worse situations then I am so when change comes, it seems likely to originate from places and people so bad off that they don’t even operate in the normal channels of change in America. And maybe those channels only exist in the minds of idealists and academics anyway.

When we can’t get a protection or a law voted on in Congress that 90% of Americans support yet every day laws are written by our elected leaders that no one has read except the lobbyists that crafted them, it just seems like we’re ripe for a different kind of change to sweep the land, a stronger, more violent change riding on a wind of oppression and apathy, a change that stops being civilized and starts being a great deal more animalistic. Perhaps we are too distracted by our lives of convenience but societies rise and fall throughout history so there is nothing special saying it couldn’t happen here.

As of February of this year, there have been 63 school shootings as defined conservatively by Time using EveryTown.org’s data on school shootings. 63 times some idiot or deranged person has walked onto a school campus and shot people. Yet nothing changes. Today, we send our kids to schools across the land and squash those insidious fears in the back of our head that today, it could be our school that it happens to. Maybe the thought of the event is just so alien and horrifying, that the part of our brain that might rationally act to foster change can’t function. Maybe our lives, like mine, are so worn down by the day to day demands that we can’t even be brought to write a letter to an elected representative. Maybe the problem is so broad and so complex that we don’t know where to even start. But it strikes me as problematic that our kids are being killed by weapons of war in places they should be most safe and we are doing nothing about it.

Why can’t we institute universal background checks? I guess it’s because the people who could demand it are so overwhelmed or apathetic or desensitized to events in the world and can’t be bothered to do the hard work of forcing our leaders to implement our collective will. But it’s even more fundamental to that. Our elected leaders know that when these horrific events happen, they are seemingly random anomalies that in our 24 hour news cycle will grab headlines one day and disappear from the collective conscious the next. There is no pressure, no constant throbbing pressure to change because all we do is move to the next link on a web page. Until it happens that enough people stay engaged for long enough to convince the idiots we elect to actually do something, the status quo remains. Only at Presidential election time does the populace seem sufficiently organized and focused to do something crazy. I can’t imagine what it will take in America to actually make a difference at a national level. Ironically, I’m not sure I’ll be able to stand it when it does happen.

All The Pretty Horsies

From time immemorial, I have struggled with procrastination. Here it is, the night before our first window is open and I am just sitting down to write All The Pretty Horsies. Not only that but for the last hour, I’ve been screwing around on Twitter and chatting with my boss’ boss about work and doing nothing related to actually writing this tome that takes hours of reading Past Performances and distilling them down to what I hope are semi-hilarious findings, none of which should be the basis for any bets you place on any horse.

And this year, nature conspired against me in sending a lung eating virus to infect everyone in the household and it is only through the wonder of my Wolverine-like immune system that I’m even able to function today. But enough about excuses, I suppose we should get down to the writing. This quote from last year’s entry should remain at the top of your mind as you read along:

One thing you should keep in mind at all times while reading the following is that I have almost no idea what I’m doing. You will forget this at your own peril. I know next to nothing about horse racing other than what I have gleaned from reading the Daily Racing Form over the past years and while that is likely infinitely more than you know, you should still not trust anything I say. As the evening wears on and the bourbon takes effect, I may become more witty or engaging or funny but at no time will I become a better judge of horse flesh. You have been warned. Horses are followed by odds as of this evening along with trainer and jockey.

If you are a patron of Darly Downs and not a random passerby caught in the glare of the following prose, you should also remember that it’s quite possible one or more of the horses below won’t make it into the Derby, either because of injury or the owner’s failure to pay the requisite fees. If you bet on a horse that doesn’t get in, it’s a donation. In 2015, Stanford was a pretty solid favorite and he got scratched on Wednesday after everyone put their money on him. A word of advice, don’t put all your money on one horse. But then, that goes exactly contrary to one School of Handicapping in another related document so what do I know.

We’ll start with the current favorites and move our way down the list. In the 7 or 8 years I’ve been running this pool, I have yet to write about all 20 likely entrants. In some years, this has caused me great despair like when Mine That Bird and Animal Kingdom won as 50-1 long shots. In other years, like 2016, it just meant I didn’t write about the horsie that came in second (Commanding Curve). I will try to write at least something about all horses but we’re already 500 words and 2 fingers of rum in without any words about horses.

Horses are listed by name then opening odds then trainer then jockey.

Justify 3-1 (Baffert/Mike Smith) – Sigh, I suppose we had to have a Baffert trained horse rise to the top some year but it’s been nice of late hearing less of him. This horse is fast. Really fast. Fastest of the year if you are going on the Beyer numbers in which he ran three triple digits this year including fastest of the year at 107 in his last win at Santa Anita. It’s Baffert so he knows how to win the Derby. Mike Smith is a good jockey though he hasn’t had much luck at the Derby, winning once in 2005. All of that means he should win right? Not so fast. The most damning evidence against this horse is that he wasn’t raced as a 2 year old. Racing a two year old? That sounds like child abuse. But in horse racing, it’s a heuristic that tells you how experienced a horse is. This horse is as green as the Jolly Green Giant. The Derby hasn’t been won by horse that didn’t race as a two year old since 1882. It’s called Apollo’s Curse. The data minded amongst you are mumbling about small data sets and maybe you’re right. But the real problem with unexperienced horses is that the Derby is like nothing man or horse has ever experienced. According to the DRF Derby Fan guide, it says this horse got distracted by commotion on the infield. There were 40K spectators then. At the Derby, there will be 160K all screaming and spilling their juleps and generally being obnoxious. Not to mention, the Derby has 20 horses in it. He’s going to get bumped and crashed into and have dirt kicked in his face a little probably. Maybe this horse has value at 6-1 or something but I just don’t see him being the one that breaks Apollo’s curse.

Mendelssohn 5-1 (Aidan P. O’Brien/Ryan Moore) This horse is a half brother to Justify, both sired by Scat Daddy. If you’re a bloodline bettor, that is probably a good thing. This horse has the second fastest Beyer of the year at 106, run at the UAE Derby. The UAE Derby is run in the United Arab Emirates (hence the UAE) and no horse that’s won there has ever been particularly competitive at the actual Derby over here in the Land of the Free. I like to think that’s because God is a horse bettor but I may be biased. Really what it is is that the UAE Derby is a metric shit ton of miles away from Louisville and there might just be something to the idea that flying a huge horse over here to race isn’t that great for them. This horse, like Justify, has to overcome some serious history to win at the Derby. On the upside, he won the UAE Derby by 18.5 lengths against subpar competition so at least he didn’t let up. His trainer is one of the best if not the best in the business. On the downside, I don’t think you should name your horse after a romantic composer. This horse is talented but not sure there’s much value for him in our pool.

Magnum Moon 6-1 (Pletcher/Luis Saez) – This is another horse that is fighting the Curse of Apollo, not having raced as a juvenile. He’s been pretty good in his last 4 races though winning all four without much challenge. He’s run different styles (fast, pace, stalker) and won them all which bodes well for the Derby. But it’s that experience thing that always comes back to worry me. The Derby is a unique experience. We don’t typically wonder what it’s like to be a horse but imagine coming from your quiet little race track at the Arkansas Derby where you kicked dirt in the faces of the other 8 horses you face and then being led out into the craziness of the Derby where 160,000 people will be yelling at you and 19 other horses will be trying to kick your ass. I just don’t see it happening.

Audible 8-1 (Pletcher/Javier Castellano) Despite being named after an Amazon buyout victim or maybe something Peyton Manning used to do a lot, this horse has some potential, especially at 8-1 or higher. He’s won four straight and has gotten faster with each race. He ran a 99 Beyer in winning his last race, the Florida Derby. Always Dreaming, last year’s winner, also won the Florida Derby, was trained by Pletcher and ran a similar 97 Beyer. This horse hasn’t raced since March 31st so he’s well rested. The main drawback is that he hasn’t really beaten any other horsies of note. Lots of his competition was crummy and so it’s hard to think he’s going to change that here where all the talent is in the same race. Additionally, he’s in the 5 Post which makes it really hard without a good jump to have a decent trip. Both Justify and Mendelssohn have better post positions and so unless Audible can get to the front without being collapsed on, he might get stuck.

Bolt d’Oro 8-1 (Mick Ruis/Victor Espinoza) – Every year somebody’s got to go name their horse something cute like Bolt of Gold. In his defense, his sire was Medaglia d’Oro which roughly translates to Made His Owner A Shit Ton of Money At Stud. This horse has Rachel Alexandra in his bloodline which is a good thing. He also doesn’t violate the Stupid Horse Names Don’t Win the Derby though he slightly flirts with it. The Golden Bolt finished second at Santa Anita to Justify recording a 103 Beyer and was a very strong two year old. This horse was the early Derby favorite but has largely been forgotten by the betting crowd and that’s a good thing. I don’t know who Mick Ruis is (this is his first Derby) but Espinoza has won 3 Derbies, most recently aboard American Pharaoh in 2015. I like this horse at somewhere north of 10-1 and he might get there in our little field of 20 bettors. This horse has heart and heart wins the Derby a lot.

Good God, an hour of writing, two bowls of Rice Chex, a large glass of wine, 1500 words and we’re only 5 horses in. This is why we can’t have nice things. The Royal we of course since I’m the only one reading any of this at this point.

Good Magic 12-1 (Chad C. Brown/Jose Ortiz) – This horsie has heart in spades and will be flying way under the radar after being an early Derby favorite. I hope all of the other fine patrons of Darly Downs has fallen asleep and don’t get too interested in this horse. He had a Beyer of 100 in the Breeders Cup Juvenile way back in November and then had a disastrous trip in the Fountain of Youth where he basically looked like a mob victim in cement shoes. He rebounded in winning the Bluegrass Stakes with a reasonable 95 Beyer and looks to be improving. The notes from the Bluegrass say he came out strong and drove clear which is just what he’ll need to do in the 6 Post at the Derby. The Brown-Ortiz combo is a formidable one and he has Curlin as a sire who has been throwing off sperm that wins big races since 2013. Gregor Mendel might have been on to something with this genetics thing.

Vino Rosso 12-1 (Pletcher/John Velazquez) – This horse has great bloodlines just like Good Magic, his half brother on the sire’s side. His dam is a half sister to Commissioner who was a great long distance racer. So he has the heritage to win this race. He improved greatly in his last race, the Wood Memorial. Alas, he seems to have had trouble with crowds before that and they put new blinkers (the things on the horses head to keep them looking forward, not turn blinkers. They only turn left in the Derby anyway) on him in the Wood. Jittery horses that need blinkers to win the Wood do not engender confidence on my part in the Derby. Plus his name is pretty lame. On the good side, Pletcher and Velazquez won last year’s Derby so maybe they are on a hot streak.

Hofburg 20-1 (William I. Mott/Irad Ortiz Jr.) – This horse is inexperienced but improving. He has a world class trainer and might be a really good value at 20-1 especially in boxes or trifectas or other exotic bets. The problem is, none of those pay off at Darly Downs. We only like winners and for this horse to be a winner at the Derby, he’s going to have to dramatically improve on his second place finish at the Florida Derby where he was beaten by Audible. His sire is Tapit who is known for siring Belmont Stake winners, the much longer race in June. All that said, he seems to be making great leaps towards figuring out how to run races and might be worth a shekel or two at higher odds. But keep him in mind for the Belmont in a month where I really like his chances especially if he skips the Preakness.

Promises Fulfilled 30-1 (Romans/Lanerie) – On the upside, Corey Lanerie knows the Derby and this horse has an affinity for the track. He’s a fast horse who might be aided by a slower pace that he could rest on early and sprint to the finish. Unfortunately, in his tune up race at the Florida Derby, he ran a 47 Beyer (which is as slow as that character from Flowers for Algernon) and decided to start walking in the final turn. Hint: Horses that like to walk in final turns only win the Derby if there’s been a fortunate meteor strike. If you think the pace might be slow for this Derby (which is not the consensus opinion), he has value as a 50-1 longshot. Otherwise, save your money for more important things like dentures or something.

Flameaway 30-1 (Mark Casse/Jose Lezcano) – Flameaway is probably a throwaway but he has won 5 of his last 9 and was second once to the far more talented Good Magic. His Beyer times are increasing rapidly which is a good thing for horsies in the spring and the Derby but there doesn’t seem to be much in his bloodline (though he is another offspring of Scat Daddy making him a half brother to a couple of our favorites) that says he’ll be good at this distance and he struggled in his only start last year at Churchill. However, he is improving and worth a shekel or two at the odds you might see here at Darly Downs.

My Boy Jack 30-1 (Desormeaux/Desormeaux) – His mom’s name is Gold N Shaft which is what I call your mom when we fight. Or something. This horse has a bad case of the thirds. As in that’s pretty much where he finishes most of his races. He’s a closer which is good for the Derby but he hasn’t shown enough heart to make anyone think he can close at the length of the Derby. He is the most experienced in the field (which is also what I call your mom) at 10 races but 10 races of mediocrity does not a Derby contender make. He’s in the field because we need 20 horses, not because he might win.

Enticed 30-1 (Kiaran McLaughlin/Junior Alvarado) – This horse is enticing at 30-1 because he has the speed and chops to win this assuming he makes a big jump in speed. He wasn’t there yet in his last race but he won the Gotham with a 95 Beyer before that and then came in second (lost in Ricky Bobby voice) to Vino Rosso in the Wood Memorial. There is probably zero chance he makes the leap but with the right trip and a decent pace, he could show some heart and win it as a big underdog.

Solomini 30-1 (Baffert/Prat) – This horse hasn’t decided what he wants to be when he grows up. Right now, he’s been flunking out of school on trust fund money but has shown some flashes of deciding he wants to become a valedictorian with a late flourish. Personally, I don’t see him making the leap until he has a couple more races under his belt but it’s the Derby so you never know. At > 30-1, you’d hate to see him come through with you having nothing on him.

Noble Indy 30-1 (Pletcher/Geroux) – 30-1 coming from post 19? No thanks. Still, he won the Louisiana Derby and has been steadily and consistently improving his speed in his last four races (77, 86, 91, 95). He’s going to have to have a magnificent trip, either a quick first step (which he’s actually had trouble with in several races) or making a beeline for the rail and getting lucky enough to get through the crowd late.

That’s 14 of 20 horses and covers all but the longshots at 50-1. Calling it quits before I die of tuberculosis which is what it feels like I have.

Friday Night Pizza

While we were in Savannah in October for our wedding, I bought Animal, Vegetable, Miracle from E Shaver Books  It’s a story about one family’s attempt to gain a stronger connection to their food and how it’s grown and harvested.  It’s also an attempt to disengage from the fossil fuel economy that allows all foods to be available at all times.  It’s an eye opening book best treated with a full post somewhere else but one tradition they have is Friday Night Pizza.  Every Friday they would make pizza at home.  The dough was homemade, the ingredients were home grown or acquired locally and it’s a huge improvement on the quality of what they could get from Pizza Hut, assuming they even had a Pizza Hut in their small Virginia town.

I haven’t made pizza at home in years but yesterday, I decided it would be an easy Friday night dinner.  I’m back on Paleo so it’s a little different but I figured I could find some gluten free pizza dough or crust at Tom Thumb down here in The Cliff.  Alas, the food choices at grocery stores here strongly lean towards carne asada and conchas.  However, I did manage to find some La Tortilla Factory <a href=”http://www.latortillafactory.com/view/products/gluten-free-wheat-free-wraps/”>gluten free tortillas</a> made from <a href=”http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eragrostis_tef”>teff flour</a> which I had never heard of.  It’s actually a grass originally from Ethiopia.  These are some pretty good tortillas though like most bread products made from non-wheat ingredients, they have a tendency to break.  I have to assume that’s because most non-wheat flours lack the protein that makes bread stick together but also tends to irritate those of us with real or imagined gluten sensitivity.

Even though these are tortillas, when baked at a high temperature on a pizza stone or baking sheet, they crisp up into excellent, very thin crust, pizza crusts.  I made BBQ chicken pizza with chicken, red onions, mozzarella and BBQ sauce.  Because I was using chicken that was already cooked, I did not actually have BBQ chicken but instead just drizzled Stubb’s Spicy BBQ on my pizzas.  Cooked at 450 for about 9 minutes, the pizza turned out pretty well.  At first, I thought it was going to be a fork and knife kind of pizza but the tortillas held up pretty well.  Mara made a much more traditional pizza because she specifically said she didn’t need gluten free crust.  So she had a margherita pizza with mozzarella and basil on a plain old pizza crust.

While those tortillas worked out pretty well, I may try to make some rice flour pizza dough this weekend.  Wildly exclamatory claims aside, this <a href=”http://minimalistbaker.com/the-best-gluten-free-pizza-crust-sauce/”>recipe looks pretty good </a>and while it has xanthan gum, it doesn’t have soy lecithin and other preservatives that the tortillas have to have to sit on the shelf for a couple of months without spoiling.

In other news, the bird feeders had been pretty lonely lately after I ran out of sunflower seeds in December.  Two weeks ago I noticed a flock of goldfinches hanging around the backyard so I picked up some niger seed which has kept them happy but the cardinals, doves, chickadees and titmice were mostly out of luck.  We don’t have a Tractor Supply anywhere near here and they always had the 50lb bags of black oil sunflower seeds that most birds seemed to love.  But last weekend I was back in Wylie for a golf tournament (1st place net after not playing for 3 months, crazy) so I stopped at a couple of old haunts one of which was Tractor Supply.  They were actually out of the sunflower seeds in large packages so I picked up some basic seed and refilled the feeders.  With the snow yesterday, the birds have been pretty happy to have a regular food source.  This is a pretty grainy, shot through the kitchen window iPhone photo but you can see the doves and goldfinches if you squint real hard.


Patriot Guard Riders kick Rev. Phelps ass in public

Ok I made up the title but it sounds nice. Actually, while Phelps certainly needs a public ass-kicking followed by an even more public butt-fucking, those things are unlikely to happen any time soon. However, the Patriot Guard Riders are a group of bikers who ride around the country and shield familes at soliders’ funerals from Phelps horseshit protests. This has been a long time coming and I’m happy to see it.

What Phelps and his so-called church members (really just incestuous extended family members) does in the name of God is disgusting. I’m glad to see some people standing up for these soldiers and their familes.

Thanks Jeff!

Wow, Jeff over at Alphecca updated his blogroll and sent a ton of traffic my way. Welcome to all the readers from there and I hope you poke around over here and find some things you like.


In my ongoing search for meaning and fulfillment in my life, I”ve added a site meter to my blog in a vain attempt to gain self-worth through my adoring fans. I”m running a contest to give $10,000 to the first visitor I see on the site meter.

Oops. When I checked to make sure the site meter worked, it says I”m the first visitor. So much for that contest, sorry about that.