Thursday, November 30, 2006

Goodbye to all that

So, in the paper today there's a brief obit about Google Answers, which is shutting down at the beginning of the year, although the answer archives are apparently going to be left up indefinitely. And if you go to those archives and put in rico-ga (or just click on the link to your left), you'll get to an archive of the 73 -1 answers provided by yours truly from around mid-May '02 to Feb '03.

If you know me or have read the blog long enough, you know the story already. The company I had worked for over the preceding 10 years closed its doors in late 2001, leaving me out on the street and with two weeks of severance for those 10 years. After several months of unemployment, I found a new job that I was supremely unhappy in. Fate, or the Muses, or maybe my Fairy Godmother, decided to lend a hand, and that company sacked me - as well as several dozen others, including their CEO - after I had been there just a month. Ironically, between the signing bonus, salary, and severance, I received more parting money for one month's employment there than I had from the other company for 10 years.

The second company went out of business a few months later.

The experience left me with an epiphany, as well as some money, the gist of it being that being a good boy and playing the game wasn't working, and I needed a new game. So, I started exploring alternatives to traditional go-to-work work. Happily, I had a wife who agreed and was willing to back my play.

I did several things until I settled back into contract work. And now I write, podcast, and blog for money. Sometimes I have several clients, sometimes I have lean periods. Occasionally, I end up out of work for awhile. But it's a pretty good life all-in-all.

As I said, while I was building that life, I tried my hand at several things, one of which was being a Google Answers Researcher, or GAR as we eventually became known. Based on the payment schedule I knew that Google Answers wasn't going to provide me with a living. I think the most I made from it in any one month was $200 $600 (according to my bookkeeper). But, my life and confidence had been pretty well shattered at that point. I wanted to do something - anything - to prove to myself I could still earn money. And for that, Google Answers was good for me.

Except for helping me get back some self-confidence and a blanket that Google sent as a Christmas gift, and which Peggy still uses, there's little else that I remember fondly about Google Answers. As is noted in the engineers/project managers closing statement below, it was one of the first new projects spawned out of the Googleplex, and it was pretty obvious that - except in a technical sense - the then-anonymous "Google Answers Team," didn't have a clue about what they were doing, especially about how to manage contractors.

Poorly conceived, poorly executed, and even more poorly managed,* much bothered and annoyed me about working for Google Answers. There was the near-paranoid obsession with secrecy to the point that researchers were dismissed if they talked/wrote about their work publicly. The management anonymity - researchers would get email from management under the blanket "Google Answers Team" title and during the year I worked for Google I never knew the name of one member of the "Google Answers Team." The arbitrary and inconsistent decision-making. You'd have answers pulled, restored, and pulled again dependent on which of the "Google Answers Team" was monitoring the work, sometimes with an explanation, often with only the reply that you had violated some ill-defined policy. One night in February, frustrated by a monitor who had decided to pull my answer for the third consecutive time with only boiler-plate explanations as to why, I sent an email advising what the entire Google Answers Team could collectively go do and resigned. I never regretted it.

There's some good memories too. One of my answers which was pulled by the ever-watchful Google Answers Team was to a question having the memorable title, "Have Small Cock, Need Small Rubber" I spent an entertaining half-hour searching the Web, learning more about prophylactics both for the over- as well as the under-endowed than I would probably ever have known otherwise. As I said, the GAT pulled the question shortly after I answered it, but did email my answer to the customer, who in turn sent a happy acknowledgement.

Of course, I never got paid for that one, although as I remember the GAT congratulated me on my initiative.

There's some other ones still there I'm proud of. The source of an obscure poem. After dinner toasts for a newly married couple. A murder mystery that bothered me so much that I came back 6 months after my original answer with more information. A Kennedy assassination question. A sad question about a plane crash in 1958.

But that last, as some other questions did, also had me questioning what I was doing. It was pretty obvious that I wasn't providing the customer what she really wanted. All I could do was point to resources that might help her find more information. There were too many questions like that; questions that no one could answer.

Some of the customers were clueless about that, as well as apparently clueless about basic search techniques. And some of them were pretty rude and stupid-mean as well as clueless. But generally, they were pretty good, and appreciative of our efforts. The GARs, which officially numbered somewhere between 500-800, although probably less than 100 were actively answering questions at any given time, were also a pretty good group. Super-intelligent as you could expect. Interesting. Funny. A couple of turkeys in that bunch too, but less than your average on-line community.

So, goodbye Google Answers. I wish I could say that my short time with you was a pleasant experience. But it wasn't. But, you gave me an outlet - and some confidence - when I desperately needed it. And for that, thank you. Here's the notice from the Google blog...

Google is a company fueled by innovation, which to us means trying lots of new things all the time -- and sometimes it means reconsidering our goals for a product. Later this week, we will stop accepting new questions in Google Answers, the very first project we worked on here. The project started with a rough idea from Larry Page, and a small 4-person team turned it into reality in less than 4 months. For two new grads, it was a crash course in building a scalable product, responding to customer requests, and discovering what questions are on people's minds.

Google Answers taught us exactly how many tyrannosaurs are in a gallon of gasoline, why flies survive a good microwaving, and why you really shouldn't drink water emitted by your air conditioner. Even closer to home, we learned one afternoon that our building might be on fire.

The people who participated in Google Answers -- more than 800 of them over the years -- are a passionate group committed to helping people find the information they need, and we applaud them for sharing their incredible knowledge with everyone who wrote in.

If you have a chance, we encourage you to browse through the questions posted over the last 4+ years. Although we won't be accepting any new questions, the existing Qs and As are available. We'll stop accepting new Answers to questions by the end of the year.

Google Answers was a great experiment which provided us with a lot of material for developing future products to serve our users. We'll continue to look for new ways to improve the search experience and to connect people to the information they want.
*And a brief update: According to various postings by now-ex-GARs on the Web, things didn't improve over at GA after my departure. In fact, conditions gradually worsened until in the past few months portions of the system had broken and were left unrepaired by the "Google Answers Team," who obviously had already moved on to new challenges long before the official shutdown notice. The Google Answers Team, with the same charitable concern for the feelings of contractor GARs that they consistently demonstrated during my tenure, notified researchers through email sent a few hours before the official announcement... although apparently it wasn't a surprise to anyone who had been paying attention.

Monday, November 27, 2006

Ricky Jay Plays Poker

Looks like a gift for that poker player in your family who also appreciates music a la Theme Time, given that you have someone in your family as ah, odd, as me.

Note that both the Sony link from Jay's site and Amazon note that the CD or CD/DVD's release isn't till Feb 07, but this article claims it's out tomorrow (November 28th)


1. The Darktown Poker Club
Phil Harris and His Orchestra
2. Rambling, Gambling Willie
Bob Dylan
3. Turn The Cards Slowly
Patsy Cline
4. Five Card Stud
Lorne Greene
5. Don't Turn The Card
Memphis Minnie
6. Politics And Poker
Fiorello!- Original Broadway Cast
7. Ace In The Hole
Anita O'Day
8. Little Queen Of Spades
Robert Johnson
9. Etienne Gonna Die
Saint Etienne
10. Mr. Mudd and Mr. Gold
Townes Van Zandt
11. Poker Playing Baby
Harry Willis
12. Gambler's Guitar
Merle Travis
13. The Darktown Poker Club
Bert Williams
14. Dolan's Poker Party
Frank Crumit
15. Poker Woman Blues
Blind Blake
16. Wild Card
Tex Williams
17. Ace Of Spades
18. Roving Gambler
The Country Gentlemen
19. Ace In The Hole
Dave Van Ronk
20. Bed Spring Poker
Mississippi Sheiks
21. Politics and Poker
Howard Da Silva - Fiorello!- Original Broadway Cast

And the DVD

1. The Guarantee
Ricky Jay
2. The Second Deal
Ricky Jay
3. Heads Up Hold 'Em
Ricky Jay
4. You Can Cheat An Honest Man
Ricky Jay
5. From The Bottom
Ricky Jay
6. Cutting Up Jackpots
Ricky Jay
7. A Proposition Bet
Ricky Jay
8. Bob Dylan Commercial
Ricky Jay - Bob Dylan

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds

This made me LOL, which doesn't happen enough, so one more before I go on hiatus. Go read the full comic.

See you in a bit

Holidays are always a good reason to take some time off, reflect on what you're doing - and why you're doing it - and break yourself out of the day-to-day rut.

If you celebrate Thanksgiving, then my wishes for a happy one for you and your family tomorrow. If you don't, then have a good day tomorrow... and the next day, too.

I'll be back soon.

American Life in Poetry: Column 087


The first poem we ran in this column was by David Allan Evans of South Dakota, about a couple washing windows together. You can find that poem and all the others on our website, Here Tania Rochelle of Georgia presents us with another couple, this time raking leaves. I especially like the image of the pair "bent like parentheses/ around their brittle little lawn."


Anna Bell and Lane, eighty,
make small leaf piles in the heat,
each pile a great joint effort,
like fifty years of marriage,
sharing chores a rusty dance.
In my own yard, the stacks
are big as children, who scatter them,
dodge and limbo the poke
of my rake. We're lucky,
young and straight-boned.
And I feel sorry for the couple,
bent like parentheses
around their brittle little lawn.
I like feeling sorry for them,
the tenderness of it, but only
for a moment: John glides in
like a paper airplane, takes
the children for the weekend,
and I remember,
they're the lucky ones--
shriveled Anna Bell, loving
her crooked Lane.

Reprinted from "Karaoke Funeral," Snake Nation Press, 2003, by permission of the author. Copyright (c) 2003 by Tania Rochelle. This weekly column is supported by The Poetry Foundation, The Library of Congress, and the Department of English at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. For information on permissions and usage, or to download a PDF version of the column, visit

American Life in Poetry: Column 086


Linda Pastan, who lives in Maryland, is a master of the kind of water-clear writing that enables us to see into the depths. This is a poem about migrating birds, but also about how it feels to witness the passing of another year.

The Birds

are heading south, pulled
by a compass in the genes.
They are not fooled
by this odd November summer,
though we stand in our doorways
wearing cotton dresses.
We are watching them

as they swoop and gather--
the shadow of wings
falls over the heart.
When they rustle among
the empty branches, the trees
must think their lost leaves
have come back.

The birds are heading south,
instinct is the oldest story.
They fly over their doubles,
the mute weathervanes,
teaching all of us
with their tailfeathers
the true north.

Reprinted from "The Imperfect Paradise," by Linda Pastan. Copyright (c) 1988 by Linda Pastan. With permission of the publisher, W.W. Norton & Company, Inc. Ms. Pastan's most recent book is "Queen of a Rainy Country," W.W. Norton & Company, Inc., 2006. This weekly column is supported by The Poetry Foundation, The Library of Congress, and the Department of English at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. For information on permissions and usage, or to download a PDF version of the column, visit

Monday, November 20, 2006

Iggy Reborn

Just when you thought the Blog Father was going to lay down his pen, and people were writing of his demise and eulogizing his epitaph, and speculation was running wild in blogdom about the man that ruined work place productivity for the last three years, the dwarf/housewife/mystery writer of Guinness and Poker has given up his future writings on blogspot and has moved over to join the PokerWorks blogging team

Thursday, November 16, 2006

That's "def," not deaf, Fred.

Footloose in America

On June 22, 2001 Bud and Patricia Kenny with their mule Della left Hot Springs, Arkansas to tour the world on foot. They figure it will take them 15 to 20 years to complete this journey. Bud and Patricia were both 53 when they embarked on this adventure. Della was seven... They're somewhere between Newburyport and Boston today, planning on staying with a friend in Cambridge overnight.

"Old" is only a state of mind.

More about the Kennys, Della, and their travels here. I hope to get to read Bud's book - Footloose in America - Dixie to New England - someday. (Photo by Bob Wallace)

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

R.I.P. Iggy

Personally, I think this is a pathetic attempt to gain attention, and soon we'll seen BONUS CODE IGGY sponsored by Pamela Anderson, but in memoriam anyway...

A dwarf with a lisp goes to a stud farm to buy a horse.
"I'd like to buy a horth" he says to the owner of the farm.
"What sort of horse ?" asks the owner.
"A female horth", the dwarf replies and so the owner takes him to his finest mare.
"Nithe horth", says the dwarf, "Can I thee her eyth?".
The owner patiently picks up the dwarf and shows him the horse's eyes.
"Nithe eyth" says the dwarf, "Can I thee her teeth?".
Again, the owner picks up the dwarf to show him the horse's teeth. "Nithe teeth, can I see her eerth?"
By now the owner is getting a little fed up but again, picks up the dwarf and shows him the horse's ears.
"Nithe eerth", says the dwarf, "Can I see her twat?"
With this, the owner picks up the dwarf and shoves his head deep inside the horse's vagina and holds him there for a few seconds before pulling him out and putting him down.

The dwarf shakes his head and says,

"Perhaps I should weefwaze that, can I see her wun awound?"

And of course this happened in Florida

via BBC News:

A rare stamp worth as much as $200,000 (£105,000) may be on an envelope sealed in a ballot box after the US mid-term elections, poll officials say.

Officials in Broward County, Florida, say they saw a famous "Inverted Jenny" stamp while reviewing postal ballots.

About 700 of the stamps were mistakenly printed in 1918 with an upside down illustration. Just 100 went on sale.

But it will be 22 months before laws will permit the box with the envelope to be reopened and the stamp checked.

The original stamps bear a picture of a Curtiss JN-4 plane, known as a Jenny, which was used for training pilots in World War I and later became an airmail plane.

'Oh my God'

Broward County Commissioner John Rodstrom told reporters he spotted the red and blue Inverted Jenny on a large envelope with two stamps from the 1930s and another dating from World War II.

"I thought: 'Oh my God, I know that stamp, I've seen that stamp before,'" said Mr Rodstrom, 54, who collected stamps as a boy.

"I'd forgotten the name. I just remembered there was a stamp with an upside-down biplane on it, and that it was a very rare, rare stamp," he told Reuters news agency.

The official said the envelope had no return address, and the ballot was disqualified because it gave no clue as to the identity of the voter.

The box containing the envelope was sealed before the stamp could be authenticated, and election laws do not allow the box to be reopened for 22 months.

In October 2005, a block of four Inverted Jenny stamps sold for $2.7m (£1.52m) at auction.

Maynard Guss, president of the Sunrise Stamp Club, told the Associated Press news agency that a cancelled [postmarked] Jenny would likely sell for $20,000 (£15,547) to $100,000 (£77,736).

Thursday, November 09, 2006

There ain't nuthin' about that woman I don't like

Your Host's audio quality isn't of the best in episode 20 of Dreamtime, but maybe Maria Muldaur's stunning live redition of "Heart of Mine" will make up for the audio engineering problems.

Also, some information on Woodsongs Old Time Radio Hour and an excerpt from Kitty Wells 1952 hit, "It Wasn't God Who Made Honky-Tonk Angels."

American Life in Poetry: Column 085


The Illinois poet, Lisel Mueller, is one of our country's finest writers, and the following lines, with their grace and humility, are representative of her poems of quiet celebration.

In November

Outside the house the wind is howling
and the trees are creaking horribly.
This is an old story
with its old beginning,
as I lay me down to sleep.
But when I wake up, sunlight
has taken over the room.
You have already made the coffee
and the radio brings us music
from a confident age. In the paper
bad news is set in distant places.
Whatever was bound to happen
in my story did not happen.
But I know there are rules that cannot be broken.
Perhaps a name was changed.
A small mistake. Perhaps
a woman I do not know
is facing the day with the heavy heart
that, by all rights, should have been mine.

Reprinted from "Alive Together: New and Selected Poems," Louisiana State University Press, 1996, by permission of the author. Poem copyright (c) 1996 by Lisel Mueller. This weekly column is supported by The Poetry Foundation, The Library of Congress, and the Department of English at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. For information on permissions and usage, or to download a PDF version of the column, visit

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

And in last night's Wheaties

... humming Oingo Boingo's Dead Man's Party for no particular reason, Mr. Rico sat down at his table, part of a tiny field of 33, at 8:30 ET last night. At 11:07, he stood up, finishing in 2nd place and $79.20 richer.

I think it's my 3rd WWdN 2nd. Lately I've been hooked on micro-limit H.O.R.S.E. and I wasn't sure how that was going to affect my NL Hold `Em game. I'm still not sure. Last night was one of those rare nights where the ol' engine was firing sweetly on all cylinders, the cruise control was on, and I didn't need to do much more than strap myself in and enjoy the ride. I saw the flop 39 out of 258 hands, won 85 percent of the hands that I played out to the River, and took 46 pots without ever seeing a flop.

Notable notables... Apparently in sympathy to my lousy finishes in the past couple of weeks, Iggy rigged the game so his set of 3s ran into a set of Js early on, and he appropriately finished in 33rd place. The Travelin' Pokester was around, but left in the 20th spot before we could sit at a table together. ISS Spock looked for awhile as if he were going to take his namesake tournament, making me fear a rip in the space-time continuum, but he finally went out in 3rd place, giving Blinders a commanding stack over lil' Rico. Never played with Blinders before, but he was a good sport as my railbirds - led by fellow New Hamsterite xkm1245 and including BrainMc and Kyhunny78 - tried to cheer me into 1st.

But 2nd is good. 2nd keeps the Bear fed. Until next week.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Just imagine what Dick Cheney could do with this

Ammo with flavor

The Flintstones - Hebrew Version

Just because I can...

Dylan boxes in Madison

via The Wisconsin State Journal:

When Bob Dylan was in town Tuesday, he spent some time sparring at Ford's Gym on East Wash.

"He came in to do some boxing training before the concert," confirms owner Ford Sheridan. "Him and two of his workout partners, one of them was in his band. They did a little sparring and a little work on the bags. We left him alone to do his thing. I totally respect anybody who wants to get a workout in." Sheridan shook hands with Dylan, whose band mate said they found the gym by looking on the Internet. "He said when they travel around, they look for places like this."

Friday, November 03, 2006

Email exchange with Jeb Bradley offices

Addresses and names removed. Bradley is the incumbent Republican Congressman, in a close race with Democratic candidate Carol Shea Porter, whose offices have yet to respond to the same question...

I don't know if the Congressman's email spokesperson is working from a prepared script or developed the response (I assume with Bradley's approval), but in either case, he's factually wrong. The bill's "
primary intent [is] to prevent the use of credit cards for illegal Internet gambling," is not true.

Credit card use - at least either of the Big Two - on online poker sites is already next to impossible. What the bill does - or will do - is choke off any legal way to conduct financial transfers between U.S. citizens and online gambling sites, essentially killing the current alternative to using a credit card. And I have no idea what his differentiation is between "legal" and "illegal" online gambling - they're cool with me using a Sports Book but not playing poker?

Fred Bals <>

To: <>
Dear Mr Bradley,

I am a resident of Merrimack, NH, and I will be voting in your election.

Your stance on the following question will affect my vote and my endorsement to other voters: Would you support a bill that creates an online poker exemption from the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act of 2006?

regards - Fred Bals

Reply-To: p<>
To: Fred Bals
Mr. Bals:
Congressman Bradley supported HR 4411, the Internet Gambling Prohibition and Enforcement Act. The primary intent of this bill is to prevent the use of credit cards for illegal Internet gambling. It is important to understand that this legislation does not change current law, nor does it make legal online gambling illegal. In response to your question, an exemption for legal online poker is something Congressman Bradley would take into consideration should further clarification of the Internet Gambling Act be required.
Thank you,
Jeb Bradley for Congress

American Life in Poetry: Column 084

an editorial comment. If we had had twin daughters, Peggy always threatened to name one Amaryllis and the other Forsythia, not least because it's near-impossible for me to pronounce either without bystanders bursting into laughter - fhb


Many of this column's readers have watched an amaryllis emerge from its hard bulb to flower. To me they seem unworldly, perhaps a little dangerous, like a wild bird you don't want to get too close to. Here Connie Wanek of Duluth, Minnesota, takes a close and playful look at an amaryllis that looks right back at her.


A flower needs to be this size
to conceal the winter window,
and this color, the red
of a Fiat with the top down,
to impress us, dull as we've grown.

Months ago the gigantic onion of a bulb
half above the soil
stuck out its green tongue
and slowly, day by day,
the flower itself entered our world,

closed, like hands that captured a moth,
then open, as eyes open,
and the amaryllis, seeing us,
was somehow undiscouraged.
It stands before us now

as we eat our soup;
you pour a little of your drinking water
into its saucer, and a few crumbs
of fragrant earth fall
onto the tabletop.

Reprinted from "Bonfire," New Rivers Press, 1997, by permission of the author. Copyright (c) 1997 by Connie Wanek. Her most recent book is "Hartley Field," from Holy Cow! Press, 2002. This weekly column is supported by The Poetry Foundation, The Library of Congress, and the Department of English at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. For information on permissions and usage, or to download a PDF version of the column, visit