Author Archive: Paul Epps

Nothing behind me, everything ahead of me, as is ever so on the road. — Jack Kerouac


Which Experts Predicted a UConn-Kentucky Title Game?

8 Apr 2014 /
UConn logo

PunditTracker tracked March Madness 2014 brackets for 26 “experts” from ESPN, Yahoo, Sports Illustrated and CBS Sports, plus President Obama.

Number of pundits who picked UConn to win the tournament: Zero.

Number of pundits who picked either UConn or Kentucky to reach the final game: Zero.

Number of pundits who picked either UConn or Kentucky to reach the Final Four: Zero.

Number of pundits who picked either UConn or Kentucky to reach the Elite Eight: Zero.


EppsNet at the Movies: Gravity

7 Apr 2014 /

Gravity

As a kid, one of my hobbies was card tricks. When I started learning card tricks, I had the misconception that the quality of a trick was proportional to how difficult it was to perform. Hard tricks = good, easy tricks = lame.

Today I can perform exactly zero card tricks. I don’t remember even one. What I do remember though is the general principle that the quality of a trick depends on the effect – what the audience sees – and not at all on how the trick is done. An audience doesn’t know or care if you’ve practiced a trick for years or if you just learned it five minutes ago.

The principle applies to things other than card tricks. You can read on IMDb and elsewhere about the technological challenges that had to be overcome in making Gravity. The state-of-the-art cinematography and visual effects would not have been possible even a few short years ago.

Again, I don’t care how the trick is done. I just care about what’s on the screen, not how easy or hard it was to get it there.

Rating: 3 stars

Gravity

A medical engineer and an astronaut work together to survive after a catastrophe destroys their shuttle and leaves them adrift in orbit.

Director: Alfonso Cuarón
Cast: Sandra Bullock Ryan Stone, George Clooney Matt Kowalski, Ed Harris Mission Control (voice), Orto Ignatiussen Aningaaq (voice)

IMDb rating: 8.1 (359,974 votes)


More People I’m Sick Unto Death Of

7 Apr 2014 /
Emblem of the Papacy

If you don’t know me and I don’t know you, don’t call me up and shout, “Hey Paul! It’s Zach Flack with Equity Staffing!” as though I might have been sitting by the phone thinking “Wouldn’t it be a little slice of heaven if I got a call from Zach Flack over at Equity Staffing?”

If I don’t know you, but I might recognize your name, then possibly some heightened level of emotion is warranted, e.g., “Hey Paul! It’s Bill Gates with Microsoft!” or “Hey Paul! It’s Pope Francis at the Vatican!”

Otherwise, tone it down and stop annoying people.


Let it Bleed

3 Apr 2014 /
Hemophiliac (album)

Hemophiliac (album) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

At my piano lesson tonight, I noticed what looked like a streak of blood on one of the keys. The next thing I noticed was that the tip of my right index finger was bleeding — apparently a paper cut from a sheet of music, although I didn’t feel anything at the time.

I didn’t want to ruin the piano so I stopped playing and tried to get everything cleaned up.

I asked my teacher, “If you’re playing a concert and you start bleeding, what should you do? Just keep going?”

“Yes.”

“What if in addition to being a pianist, you’re also a hemophiliac and you might die? Would that alter your advice?”

“Are you a hemophiliac?”

“Fortunately, no.”


Neil Young Acoustic Show at the Dolby Theater

2 Apr 2014 /

We were lucky enough to see Neil Young’s solo acoustic performance at the Dolby Theatre in LA last night. I say “lucky” even though we paid for the tickets because they did sell out rather quickly.

Here’s the set list, to the best of my recollection. I may have some of the harmonica instrumentation wrong. He had the harmonica rack on for the whole show; some songs he played it and some he didn’t.

First Set

From Hank to Hendrix – guitar, harmonica. A good opener for this kind of a show: From Hank to Hendrix / I walked these streets with you / Here I am with this old guitar / Doin’ what I do. / I always expected / That you should see me through / I never believed in much / But I believed in you.

On the Way Home – guitar, harmonica

Only Love Can Break Your Heart – guitar, harmonica

Love in Mind – piano

Philadelphia – piano

Mellow My Mind – guitar (banjo?), harmonica. He played the Gibson Mastertone you can see in the right foreground of the photo. He said it’s a guitar, not a banjo. It sure looks and sounds like a banjo though.

Reason to Believe (Tim Hardin) – piano

Someday – piano

Changes (Phil Ochs) – guitar

Harvest – guitar, harmonica

Old Man – guitar, harmonica.

Second Set

Goin’ Back – guitar

A Man Needs a Maid – synthesizer, piano, harmonica

Ohio – guitar. What if you knew her and found her dead on the ground? This hasn’t lost any punch over the last 40 years.

Southern Man – guitar

If You Could Read My Mind (Gordon Lightfoot) – guitar. A better interpretation than the original, which I’ve never really liked very much.

Harvest Moon – guitar, harmonica

Mr. Soul – pipe organ, harmonica. I’ve heard a lot of people play guitar and harmonica together. I may have even heard someone play piano and harmonica together. But I’ve never (until now) heard anyone play harmonica riffs while performing on a pipe organ.

Flying on the Ground Is Wrong – piano. Interesting story about this song: when he wrote it, he was living in L.A. at the Commodore Gardens on Orchid Ave. The Commodore Gardens is gone now. It went away when Orchid Ave. was shortened to make room for . . . the Dolby Theatre! (see map)

After the Gold Rush – piano. With a line change: We’ve got Mother Nature on the run in the 21st century.

Heart of Gold – guitar, harmonica.

Encore

Thrasher – guitar, harmonica.

He had seven or eight guitars available, several harmonicas, a grand piano, an upright piano, a synthesizer and a pipe organ.

He has an incredible repertoire of songs to choose from, his voice for some reason sounds better than ever, and he’s a fantastic musician, which you have to be for a solo acoustic performance. If you really can’t play or sing, there’s no place to hide.

Most of the guitars came with stories, related in a laconic, deadpan style. One used to belong to Hank Williams. “I got it from a guy in Nashville. Thanks to you, and people like you, I was a rich hippie. And I was able to buy the guitar.”

Two were given to him by Steve Stills. One — the one he’s playing in the photo — used to belong to a folk singer who was performing in Denver when a gunshot blasted a large hole in the front of the instrument. “That was long before weed was legalized. I don’t know if that has anything to do with it. But no one singing folk songs in Denver has been shot since it was legalized.”


At Any Rate, That Is Happiness

1 Apr 2014 /
Field of pumpkins at harvest time

Nothing happened. I did not expect anything to happen. I was something that lay under the sun and felt it, like the pumpkins, and I did not want to be anything more. I was entirely happy. Perhaps we feel like that when we die and become part of something entire, whether it is sun and air, or goodness and knowledge. At any rate, that is happiness: to be dissolved into something complete and great. When it comes to one, it comes as naturally as sleep.

— Willa Cather, My Antonia

I Already Knew That

31 Mar 2014 /
portrait of Leo Tolstoy

The most difficult subjects can be explained to the most slow-witted man if he has not formed any idea of them already; but the simplest thing cannot be made clear to the most intelligent man if he is firmly persuaded that he knows already, without a shadow of doubt, what is laid before him.

— Leo Tolstoy

Optima dies . . . prima fugit — Virgil


Get Rich Making Dumb Decisions

31 Mar 2014 /

The people on the short side of the subprime mortgage market had gambled with the odds in their favor. The people on the other side — the entire financial system, essentially — had gambled with the odds against them. Up to this point, the story of the big short could not be simpler. What’s strange and complicated about it, however, is that pretty much all the important people on both sides of the gamble left the table rich. . . . The CEOs of every major Wall Street firm were also on the wrong end of the gamble. All of them, without exception, either ran their public corporations into bankruptcy or were saved from bankruptcy by the United States government. They all got rich, too.

What are the odds that people will make smart decisions about money if they don’t need to make smart decisions — if they can get rich making dumb decisions?

— Michael Lewis, The Big Short

I have only ever made one prayer to God, a very short one: “Oh Lord, make my enemies ridiculous.” And God granted it. — Voltaire


Don’t Try to Be Funny at the Vet

30 Mar 2014 /
Veterinary Hospital Parking

(Photo credit: www.myparkingsign.com)

I’m picking up a prescription for Lightning at the vet . . . the new girl, Lauren, is at the desk.

“It’s a little different this time,” Lauren says. “We didn’t have the Prednisone 5mg, so we’re giving you Prednisone 10mg, and instead of giving him half a tablet, you’ll give him a quarter of a tablet. I already cut them.”

“Oh gosh, thanks! Did you cut them on the lines?” Lauren is new so she hasn’t heard this one yet.

“To the best of my ability.”

“That’s good. Lightning doesn’t like it when they’re not cut on the lines.”

She’s not getting the joke but that’s okay. I’ll help her out by taking it completely into the realm of the absurd.

“He feels like it doesn’t show attention to detail,” I say.

“I’ll make a note of that for next time.”

“Yes, you should do that. Go ahead and write it on his chart.”

Pet owners — I know this from spending a lot of time at dog parks — are likely to attribute all sorts of human thoughts and emotions to their animals, so I guess if you work in a veterinary clinic, you can’t assume that customers are joking just because what they’re saying is totally irrational . . .


EppsNet Book Reviews: Revolutionary Road by Richard Yates

29 Mar 2014 /

Richard Yates poses the question of how much reality people can stand, and the answer he comes up with is “not very much.” Alternatives to facing reality head-on are explored in Revolutionary Road: avoidance, denial, alcoholism, insanity and death.

Some excerpts:

“You want to play house you got to have a job. You want to play very nice house, very sweet house, you got to have a job you don’t like. Great. This is the way ninety-eight-point-nine per cent of the people work things out, so believe me buddy you’ve got nothing to apologize for. Anybody comes along and says ‘Whaddya do it for?’ you can be pretty sure he’s on a four-hour pass from the State funny-farm; all agreed.”

 

And all because, in a sentimentally lonely time long ago, she had found it easy and agreeable to believe whatever this one particular boy felt like saying, and to repay him for that pleasure by telling easy, agreeable lies of her own, until each was saying what the other most wanted to hear — until he was saying “I love you” and she was saying “Really, I mean it; you’re the most interesting person I’ve ever met.”

People’s inability to absorb large, unfiltered doses of reality probably explains why New Yorker fiction editor Roger Angell wrote to Yates’s agent in 1981, “It seems clearer and clearer that his kind of fiction is not what we’re looking for. I wonder if it wouldn’t save a lot of time and disappointment in the end if you and he could come to the same conclusion.”

And why at the time of his death in 1992, all of Yates’ books were out of print.

Rating: 5 stars


Why Do (Some) Smart Kids Fail?

29 Mar 2014 /
Bored of Education

A woman is telling me about her two sons . . . they’ve grown up to be fine young men, she says. It’s disappointing, of course, that neither of them managed to finish high school but it was really unavoidable because the older boy was much smarter than his peers and so he was always bored and academically unengaged and finally dropped out completely, and the younger boy just imitated whatever the older boy did.

I’ve heard this type of woulda-coulda-shoulda before and I have to admit I’ve never been totally receptive to it: this happened . . . then that happened . . . the kid did such-and-such . . .

It sounds very passive. Parents aren’t supposed to be passive observers. There are intervention points every day. If things aren’t going in the right direction, you do something to take them in a different direction.

Look in any classroom in America . . . you’ll see kids with a range of abilities. Are you telling me that all of the smartest kids are destined to fail because they’re smart? That because they’re smart, they have no option but to get bored and check out and fail?

Lots of smart kids do very well in school . . . they get good grades and test scores and they go to good colleges. What is the difference between those kids and the kids who get bored and check out and fail?

Think about it . . .


The Surprising Benefits of Nonconformity

28 Mar 2014 /

New research finds that under certain circumstances, people wearing unconventional attire are perceived as having higher status and greater competence.


Expanding My Repertoire

22 Mar 2014 /
The only known photograph of Frédéric...

The only known photograph of Frédéric Chopin, often incorrectly described as a daguerreotype (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

My piano teacher asks me if there are any pieces I want to learn . . .

“How about . . . ?” and here I name a piece by Chopin.

“This one?” she asks and starts to play it.

“Yeah.”

“It’s hard.”

“Well, it sounds quite impressive but I think if you break it down it’s just arpeggios and thirds.”

“No, it’s not just thirds,” she says and starts to play it again to show me. “And that’s with the left hand. Do you think you can play that with your left hand?”

“My left hand’s not very good.”

“I know.”

“So that one is too hard.”

“Yes.”

“OK, how about . . . ?” and here I name another piece by Chopin.

“That’s the only piece that’s harder than the first one.”

“How about this?” I ask, and play a YouTube video on my phone.

“What is that?”

“It’s from a film called The Piano.”

“Is that New Age music? It’s not classical music.”

“Is that bad?”

“IT’S TOO EASY! YOU COULD SIGHT-READ IT!”


Forget About Female Leadership

22 Mar 2014 /

Everyone can shut up about “let’s get more women into leadership positions.” Because they don’t want leadership positions. Or they’d get them. Obviously. Women want to have time for their kids. And leaders – especially top-down leaders – dedicate their lives to their work. There won’t be female leadership and male leadership. There will be people who lead at home and people who lead at work. People will take ownership of outcomes for the areas of life they care most about.


Childish Economics

22 Mar 2014 /

I have a very difficult time imagining the economic ‘theory’ that motivates proposals such as this one by Pres. Obama [to "streamline" the Fair Labor Standards Act so that more white-collar employees would be eligible for overtime pay]. The best that I can do is to imagine how a two-year-old child would respond if asked to propose a way to raise workers incomes.


I Am the Bath Day Messenger

22 Mar 2014 /
Lightning and his Bear

Lightning and his Bear

My wife is preparing to give the dog a bath in the kitchen sink . . .

I say, “Lightning says be sure to warm up the water before you start spraying him with it.”

“I always do that.”

“He says that in his experience, the water is sometimes too cold . . . I’m just telling you what he said. Don’t shoot the messenger.”

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20 Mar 2014 /

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