Friday, December 30, 2016

What's wrong with Final Fantasy XV

I just finished up Final Fantasy XV to the level I wish to complete it (gave up on Costlemark postgame dungeon, not even going to bother with Pitioss).  While I enjoyed the game a lot, there was something subtle about the game I disliked.

As many reviews have stated, the story and characters were on the weak side compared to many Final Fantasy games.  There were just too many story elements that were either cut, skipped, or not fleshed out.  Perhaps some of these will be fleshed out in DLC, some may have been covered in the movie "Kingsglavie", but it just made the game not feel quite that fulfilling.  Here's some examples.

1) Who are the main characters?

This is obvious, but the game threw your entire team together at the very beginning of the story without much backstory.  This isn't a bad idea by itself, but it felt like the background of the characters was never fleshed out.  You get a few conversations in hotels/campsites, but it's not much.

A good counter example is Dragon Quest VIII, one of my favorite RPGs of all time.  The characters are relatively nameless at the beginning of the game, but little side adventures give you more information about them as the story advances. I think of the Mass Effect games are another a good example.  You get character side missions to help you learn more about the backstories of the characters and why they are there.  Final Fantasy XV could have had similar stories, helping your characters deal with "personal issues" in the story.  Perhaps these "side stories" will be in DLC later.

2) Aranea and Ravus, no boss battle

In many games, you meet a tough boss early in the game but get out of the fight due to some story element.  Perhaps the boss was simply distracting you for some other purpose.  You suspect you'll battle the boss later on as the boss was clearly too tough for you earlier in the game.

This is what I suspected when I first fought Aranea and encountered Ravus.  Aranea sort of becomes an ally (kinda?).  Ravus only appears in a disappointing zombie form later on.  It felt unfulfilling.

3) Ravus switches sides

For no reason at all, Ravus appears to switch sides at some point, which seemed out of place, and with little explanation in the story.

4) Prompto being an MT

Late in the game it's revealed that Prompto was a MT.  This wasn't really discussed further.

5) What about all the enemy generals?

At several points in the game enemy generals appear.  There's Verstael, the main general, which you never really see outside of a cameo.  There's the general you capture for a bit in Chapter 6 when you get back the Regalia.  He "escapes" at some point.  It could have been a good side quest to track him down and get him back and interrogate him.  Perhaps leading to another side quest, lets say a secret base you get to take out.  Nope, none of that happens.  Basically all those enemy generals you see in the beginning disappear and are never seen again.

6) What about the bad emperor?

Similarly, after having a cameo early on, he doesn't appear again.  Only in daemon form (which I learned online after defeating the daemon).

7) Universe history

The game could have fleshed out some of the world's history a bit better, for example the history of "the six".  The main characters could have had a side quest to some random memorial/place to learn about history in the universe at any point in time to flesh out the universe (Ignis could have pushed the matter, as he's the intellectual one).  It's there they learn about some mysterious history and .... tada Ardyn is the person in the story.  If such a quest would have foreshadowed the ending too much, fine.  They could have had random quests to just learn general history of the world.

Tasty Stuff I Ate in 2016

Following my tradition from 2014 and 2015, the following are dishes that I loved but didn't blog about.

1) Tea Leaf Salad from Burma Superstar, San Francisco, CA

Tea Leaf Salad
I forgot to take a "before" picture of this salad ... Oops.   You can find a good pic on Yelp here.

Anyways, this salad is pretty famous.  It's apparently a well known must have when going to Burma Superstar and was featured on Food Network at some point (according to their menu).  Fermented tea leaves, shrimp paste, all mixed into a salad with romaine, sesame, peanuts, and other stuff I can't remember. 

2) red octopus from Nishiki Market in Kyoto, Japan

Now I've had these mini octopuses many times, typically as an appetizer at Chinese banquet meals and I think I've munched on them at Korean restaurants too.  This was particularly tasty, but what made it so awesome is they stuffed (what I assume was) a hard boiled quail egg into this octopus's head before skewering it.  Together they were delicious.

3) red and black curry from Kara Kusa in Kyoto, Japan

One thing I've read about a number of times is how great food can come out of very tiny kitchens in Japan.   A restaurant concentrating on just 1-2 tiny things is something you may don't see much (if at all) in America.

My girlfriend had a curry craving, so we wandered into this place in Kyoto.  They serve three items.   Red curry with chicken, black curry with beef, or a mix of both.   That's it.   It's a one man shop with no other staff.

I got the mix above and it was delicious.   Everything was super soft and tender.  Curry was really flavorful but not too spicy.  Personally I preferred the red curry, but the black was delicious as well.

4) Bun Bo Hue from Bun Bo Hue An Nam, San Jose

I wasn't familiar with bun bo hue soup until wandering into this restaurant in 2015.  It wasn't until trying the dish at other restaurants that I realized how good this place was.  It was even name dropped by Vietnamese friends once I mentioned I liked bun bo hue.  The dish can come with pizzle (Ox penis) if you want.

5) Nam Khao from Green Champa Garden, Fremont

I've never had "Nam Khao" before but tried it at this small Thai/Laotian restaurant in Fremont.  It's basically a whole bunch of fried umami in one dish.  I can't remember all of the ingredients, but wikipedia says it's typically fried rice balls, pork, scallions, with some chilis, lime, mint, and fish sauce mixed in for good measure.   I'll be on the lookout for this dish in other places now.

6) Berry Combination from Railroad Cafe, Livermore

This is more of an ode to a restaurant now closed.  I've gotten this "berry combination" plate from Railroad Cafe for over 10 years.  I'm not sure why it's called the "berry combination" as berries are only in the fruit cup on the side, but it along with a cheese blintz, swedish pancakes, and lox on a bagel made for a delicious brunch dish.  Sorry to see Railroad Cafe now gone.

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Play the lotto or have a kid?

A few years back I had a funny thought.  If you put all the money it would take into raising a child into the lotto instead, would your odds of being financially set for life be better?  My last post's thought experiment reminded me of this thought experiment I did years ago and decided to re-crunch the numbers.

Obviously, there's a set of ridiculous assumptions here.  The most ridiculous assumption is that the probability of any child becoming rich is the same across all people.  This is a horrible assumption in reality of course.  Also will a rich child actually take care of you?  Oh well, this is just a silly thought experiment.

Another assumption we need to make is how rich is rich?  Lets look at someone with a net worth of $100 million dollars.  There's never been a billion dollar Lotto payout but there have been multiple hundred million dollar payouts, so lets just go with this number.

The odds of winning the Powerball jackpot are 1 in 292,201,338.

Based on the most recent census, the U.S. population is about 309 million.  According to a recent Forbes article, there are approximately 5000 hectomillionaire households in the U.S.  Now "household" is different than "people", but we'll go with this number as it's the best one I can find.

Based on these numbers, the odds of a person becoming a hectomillionare is about 1 out of every 61,800 people.

Using the default inputs on a cost of raising a child calculator I found online, it'll cost about $191,000 dollars to raise a child and not send them to college.  If you put all that money into Powerball, you have about a 1 in 3059 chance of winning ($2 for a ticket).

So if you wanna be rich, play the lotto instead of having a kid!

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

How much food do pets eat?

I recently had a conversation about an old article on the topic of carbon emissions of pets.  For example, here's an article on the topic from Salon.  Short story, dogs consume enough resources that their carbon footprint is more than your average SUV, while cats have a carbon footprint bordering on an average compact car.

So this led to an interesting thought.  If we didn't have pets, how much more food could we produce?  The thinking was that more food means lower prices and more abundant supply of food for more people and subsequently more people wouldn't go hungry.  Of course, increased supply of food wouldn't be a guarantee that the same supply would be produced.

Other assumptions are that all pet food is human edible (almost certainly false, as some dog food contains bone meal).  But I thought it was an interesting thought experiment to just look at how much food dogs & cats eat and the basically the cost our society may put on food production for non-humans.

Since it's hard to look at all pets, I'll look at just dogs & cats.  I'm going to stick to stats in the United States since it's just easier for this thought experiment.

According to ASCPA there are 70-80 million pet dogs in the US and 74-96 million pet cats.  Lets take the low end of those numbers, 70 million dogs and 74 million cats.

The average number of calories a moderately active adult male needs according to the USDA is about 2600 and for women its about 2000.  We'll take the average of these and say the average adult needs 2300 calories of food a day.

Based on this OSU veterinary chart dogs should get the calorie count according this an advanced formula based on weight.  Unfortunately I cannot find an estimate on the average weight of a dog in the United States.  So I'm just going to go with 25 pounds as the average and hope that's a good guess (I'm likely underestimating given that the most popular dogs are labradors, german shepards, golden retrievers, and bulldogs, which all exceed 25 pounds on average).

1.6 * 70 * (25 pounds / 2.2 (pounds / kg) )^0.75 = 693 calories needed by dog per day

For cats I found this random page saying cats need 20 calories per pound, with Google saying the average cat is 7.9 to 9.9 pounds.  We'll just assume 8 as the average.

20 * 8 = 160 calories needed by cat per day

So under the (likely bad) assumption that all food production for cats & dogs could be converted to human food and assuming all cats and dogs are fed properly, cats & dogs in the US eat enough to feed:

70 million dogs * 693 (calories / dog) / 2300 (calories / person) ~ 21 million people

74 million cats * 160 (calories / cat) / 2300 (calories / person) ~ 5.1 million people

Total ~ 26 million people that could be fed everyday if we didn't have pet dogs & cats

That's a lot of people!  Way more than I thought.  Many of the assumptions above are probably not good ones.  But even general "off by" factors, we could perhaps safely assume it's still enough to feed atleast 10 million people.  Any rounding errors could probably be handled via statistics on other pets not discussed here, the likely larger average weight of dogs, or the low bar I selected on many of the estimates.

Saturday, December 24, 2016

Shelby Miller trade vs. Chris Sale trade

Last year the Atlanta Braves traded Shelby Miller to the Arizona Diamondbacks for Dansby Swanson, Aaron Blair, and Ender Inciarte.  The trade was widely panned that the Diamondbacks overpaid for Miller.  Miller was considered a very good pitcher, perhaps at peak a #2 starter, but nothing near an elite pitcher.  Miller had just come off an All-Star season for the Braves in 2016 and had 4 years of team control left.  If Miller could improve, he'd be an incredible asset under budgeted team control for quite some time.

The haul the Braves got for Miller was Blair, the pre-2016 #56 prospect in baseball, Swanson the pre-2016 #8 overall prospect, and a MLB starter Ender Inciarte.  Inciarte was a relatively light hitting outfielder, but with elite defense.  He posted an incredible 5.3 WAR in 2015 with a 2.6 defensive WAR.

The 2016 results was about as horrific for the Diamondbacks as one could have ever imagined.  Miller struggled with his mechanics and was even demoted to the minor leagues at one point.  He finished the year 3-12, with a 6.15 ERA, and -0.7 WAR.

On the other hand Swanson continued to impress in the minors and got a small callup, Blair made it to the majors in 2016 (although struggled), and Inciarte produced a solid 3.8 WAR and ended up winning a Gold Glove.

Some rumors point to the Diamondbacks looking to move Miller, as a change of scenery might be the best thing for him.  In other words, the trade is just looking absolutely horrific for them.

Just a few weeks ago, the Boston Red Sox pulled off a blockbuster deal, trading for the White Sox's Chris Sale.  Sale is a five time All-Star and has placed in the top 6 of Cy Young voting 5 years in a row.  His past five years he's posted WARs of 5.9, 6.9, 6.6, 3.3, 4.9.  He's a completely different beast compared to Miller.   In addition, Chris Sale is under control for three more years at a very team friendly salary.

So while Chris Sale is a far superior pitcher, has 3 years of team control at a good (although more costly than Miller) price, one probably would have thought the Red Sox would have had to give up a much bigger haul for Sale.

But as I thought about it, I felt like the Red Sox got Chris Sale for about the same price the Diamondbacks paid for Shelby Miller.  Lets take a look.

For Sale, the White Sox got Yoan Moncada the pre-2016 #3 prospect in baseball and pre-2017 #1 prospect in baseball, Michael Kopech the pre-2016 #98 prospect and pre-2017 #30 prospect, Luis Alexander Basabe, and Victor Diaz.  The latter two prospects aren't on any top 100 rankings but were considered top 20 prospects in the Red Sox organization.

While the pre-2017 #1 prospect in baseball is better than the pre-2016 #8 prospect in baseball, and the pre-2017 #30 prospect is better than the pre-2016 #56 prospect, it's not that different.  Both of the top two prospects traded were high value middle infield prospects and RHP prospects.

The difference of course is the two other minor leaguers vs Ender Inciarte.  Inciarte was an established major league starter with 5 years of control.  By most people's estimation, that's better than the two lower end prospects the White Sox received.  One can make an argument that the Braves haul was better than the White Sox one solely based on the fact that Inciarte was already a solid major league starter.

So the Diamondbacks appeared to pay an elite #1 starter price for Shelby Miller.  Making the trade look even worse than it already did.

Monday, November 28, 2016

Dining @ Oriole in Chicago, IL

The last time I was in Chicago I stopped in at Blackbird.  I was lucky enough to snag the reservations sort of last minute.  This time I actually had time to plan for the trip so I looked into restaurants way earlier.  I wanted to hit up the famed Alinea, but tickets were sold out by the time I checked (2 months before my trip!).  So I had to hunt for another place.

I looked into Grace but that place is hard to get into as well.  I looked into Goosefoot and Elizabeth, but they were bit farther away in the North side of Chicago.  El Ideas was closer, but I thought the restaurant might be a bit too quirky for my co-diners who aren't quite the foodies I am.

After some random searching and I came upon Oriole.  It's a relatively new restaurant that was run by the chef from Senza, a 1 Michelin star restaurant that closed in late 2014.   Oriole got an amazing 4/4 stars from the Chicago Tribune.  It's only the 6th time the Tribune has given a restaurant a 4/4 as its initial review.  The other restaurants given initial 4/4 were all run by eventual 2 or 3 Michelin Star chefs.  So it's very high praise for Oriole.  Sure enough, a few months after that stellar review, Oriole debuted at 2 Michelin Stars.

Luckily for me I was able to snag a reservation for 4 while I was in town.  Here's an overview of the meal we had.  One interesting note is that the restaurant did not present a menu to you before the tasting, as they wanted the dishes brought out to you to be a surprise.  It's the first time I've ever had a restaurant do that.  So all the official dish descriptions listed below were determined after the tasting.  It does affect how you view the meal and interpret the dishes without knowing them ahead of time.

1) Hot Apple Cider

When we arrived we were given some hot apple cider.  I'm not sure if this is a regular thing at Oriole or not (if it is, perhaps they substitute other cooler drinks during the summer), but given it was a really chilly night, the hot apple cider was really nice and welcome.

2) GOLDEN OSETRA CAVIAR - coconut dashi, lychee and sea grapes

Nothing too much to mention about this dish, a tasty start with some interesting mixtures of flavors.

3) LANGOUSTINE - spring roll with shio kombu, calamansi and mint

Overall, very tasty.  I had to lookup what calamansi is, and it's apparently a hybrid citrus/kumquat fruit.   I guess it was the primary component of the sauce.  The "sweet and sour" of the sauce was a little on the strong side, perhaps drowning out the relatively tiny spring roll a bit. I actually had never had langoustine before so I tried some of it by itself and it had a flavor that certainly reminds you for shrimp/lobster, but had a distinctive taste.

4) KAMPACHI - nigiri with yuzu kosho and genmai

This was a great piece of nigiri.  I believe the rice was a bit more vinegared than other sushi rice I recall having, but the kampachi and yuzu kosho was really flavorful overall and very tasty.  The genmai (brown rice) was added on top for texture.  It gave a nice texture contrast, but I think the dish would have been delicious even without it.

5) BEEF TENDON - puffed with wagyu tartare and shaved matsutake

The first thing I thought of was to compare to the puffed tendons that I had at Alta CA.  The flavor wasn't quite as strong, as I suspect it wasn't salted like the one at Alta.  That's not to be surprising as the wagyu tartare was to be the highlight.  Overall, quite tasty, although I did wish I got what flavors they had used to mix together with the wagyu tartare.

6) BONE BROTH - vietnamese coriander, cinnamon and lemongrass

This dish was served at the same time as the dish above, as we were told to enjoy the broth in between bites.  Overall, really tasty and delicious broth.  Wish I could have had a huge bowl of it.

7) BEAUSOLEIL OYSTER - iberico consumme and smoked finger lime

This was an interesting flavor combination I haven't had before.  The consumme really muted the typical strong taste of the raw oyster, making the flavor more subtle.

8) JAMON IBERICO DE BELLOTA - black walnut, egg yolk and campo de montalban

I've never had iberico ham before, so I didn't know what to expect.  The flavor was definitely different than most other hams and not as intense as I had expected.  I had to lookup campo de montalban, which is apparently a type of cheese.  Overall, an interesting combinations of flavor but hard to give a verdict as I'm unfamiliar with the main ingredient.

On top of the dish was an almond crisp with some jam, which I cannot recall.  This had a very strong flavor and was quite tasty.

9) CARDINAL PRAWN - meyer lemon, fennel and melted lardo

This was one of the best dishes in the meal.  This plate was surrounded by toasted (IIRC) juniper and plated with a sauce that I unfortunately can't recall.  Cardinal prawn is apparently a deep sea salt water prawn, so you get the great flavor that comes with salt water prawns instead of the freshwater ones.  I don't know how Oriole cooked this, perhaps it was done via sous vide it so it was "medium rare" in the middle, but this prawn was really tender in the middle and had a melt in your mouth quality.  I don't recall having prawn like this before, overall it was really good.

10) SEA URCHIN - emulsion with bay scallop, cauliflower and anise hyssop

This was probably my favorite dish of the night, it was an explosion of umami and flavor with chunks of scallop and cauliflower underneath the sea urchin emulsion.  I had to look up what anise hyssop was, it's in the mint family of herbs.  After eating this, I wondered if the sea urchin emulsion could have been poured over pasta, it's just that good.

11) SOURDOUGH - cultured butter and local grains

Overall really tasty, although I think there was too much butter on the bread for my particular taste.

12) CAPELLINI - burgundy truffle, rye berry and yeast

I'm not a huge fan of truffle, as I consider the flavor a bit too earthy for my tastes.  However, I really enjoyed this dish, as instead of raining truffles on top of the pasta only a small shaving was put on top.  So instead of getting all of that truffle flavor, you only get a hint of it in each bite.  One of the servers I spoke to said he agreed that raining too much truffle on top can make it too intense.

13) JAPANESE A5 WAGYU - charred little gem, furikake and sesame leaf

I don't know what needs to be said about A5 wagyu other than it's delicious.  I actually don't recall what the sauce flavoring on the right was.  Perhaps it was the sesame leaf.  The charred little gem of lettuce had a bit of a pickling/vinegar-ish taste to it that I thought was tasty and interesting.

14) LEMON TEA - sorbet with hibiscus, asian pear, and bitter greens

Just like when I went to Blackbird, Oriole surprised me with an interesting sorbet flavor.  Overall, quite tasty along with all the other flavors.

15) CROISSANT - raclette, apple butter and cardamom

This came straight out of the oven warm and hot.  Overall, rich and creamy and tasty.

16) PISTACHIO - gelato with pineapple curd, elderflower, and puffed rice

I wasn't exactly sure what "pineapple curd" was, but it appears to be a combination of a fruit, egg yolks, and sugar to produce a creamy spread.  As you can see in the picture there were also some wafers and (probaby not noticeable) some gelatin chunks for additional texture differences (although I couldn't figure out the gelatin flavor).  Overall, I really enjoyed this dessert, a lot of great flavors and textures throughout.

Because I'm a bit allergic to pineapple, the restaurant substituted pomegranate curd instead in the bottom picture.  I have a feeling I might have been the first one in this restaurant to have a pineapple allergy, as one of the servers asked me how the dish was.  She mentioned that several of the staff saw the dish and were "oh wow, look at that".

17) MIGNARDISES - yuzu and salted caramel

Starting from the top, there was a dark chocolate with salted caramel, middle was a macaron with milk chocolate, and the bottom was a white chocolate with yuzu.  Overall, all good with the dark chocolate being my favorite.

18) Coconut Cream Pie

Off menu, we were each given this box with a coconut cream pie togo.  I'm not a big fan of coconut, but the pie was delicious.

Overall the meal was a little over 2 hours, perhaps about a 2 hour and 15 minute affair.  Compared to other meals, I did leave the restaurant a tad on the not-full side.  It wasn't as bad as Sons & Daughters or Commis, but an extra bread course would have been nice or some fillers at the end (a la French Laundry) to stuff yourself.  Perhaps the coconut cream pie could have been served along the mignardise as an extra filler.

One other thing I'd like to highlight for the restaurant.  My co-diners were worried about their meter running out and wanted to head outside to add more money into the meter, but the restaurant said they would take care of it for them at no cost, which was really nice.

Sunday, November 6, 2016

Dinner @ Aster in San Francisco, CA

My girlfriend and I were going to be in the Mission and decided to hit up  Aster again.  Compared to many of the Michelin Star type restaurants out there, it's quite affordable and we found the dishes interesting and tasty.  While earlier in the year they charged $59 for four courses, it's now up to $65 for four courses and an extra $5 for bread.  Still, it's very affordable compared to many other restaurants.
I'll leave details of the restaurant to the prior post, but here's an overview of the meal we had on this second trip.

1) SOURDOUGH, house cultured butter

Just like the last time we were here we got the house bread.  We both love this bread.  Not too sour but more sour than most sourdoughs.  Not too tough/hard like other sourdoughs.  If you're coming to Aster, get the bread.  We actually asked if we could get the bread to go, but the answer was no :-(

2A) SUMMER SQUASH, pluot, yogurt, vadouvan, mint

2B) KAMPACHI cucumber, pickled plum, shiso w/ uni

For my first course I had the squash salad in the top picture.  Overall, a light and refreshing salad dish to start the meal.  I really liked the pluot and squash combination.

My girlfriend got the kampachi in the bottom picture.  For a price, you can add uni to it, which we did.  Of the bite I took, I really liked it, although I felt the balance of pickling and fish was a bit too strong towards the pickling.  However, I was given the last piece of the fish, so perhaps it had sat a bit too long in the juice by that point.

3A) SOFT-COOKED EGG, puffed rice, salmon roe, bacon vinaigrette w/ uni

3B) HOKKAIDO SQUASH, preserved yuzu, pepita, basil

Last time we were here my girlfriend got the soft cooked egg.  Of the one bite I took I thought it was delicious so I decided I couldn't pass on it this time.  I also added uni into this dish.  This dish was was tasty, really hearty, and had some nice contrasting textures.  My only knock is that after 5 or 6 bites, it seemed to be "too much" heartiness.  This item would have been great on a tasting menu, perhaps smaller with a quail egg instead of a full hen egg.

My girlfriend got the squash in the bottom picture.  Of the bite I had, tasty, especially with the yuzu citrus sauce.

4A) DUCK, celeriac, quince, maitake, grains of paradise

4B) PORK, miso potatoes, brussels, grapes, verjus

I got the duck dish in the top photo.  The duck breast was cooked sort of medium rare.  A bit more cooked than the duck at La Folie but a little rarer than the duck at Keiko a Nob Hill.  Overall I enjoyed it, but liked the duck at Keiko a bit more because I prefer it a bit more medium.  The sauces were interesting, although I wish there was a "strong savory" type sauce amongst the three.  The sauces tended towards the "light" end.  In the back was a roulade of duck that the waiter suggested I end in one bite because it was a really strong duck flavor.  He was right, it was really really rich.

My girlfriend got the pork dish on the bottom.  It includes some pork tenderloin and a roulade of pork belly.  Of the portions I tasted, all of this dish was delicious.  The pork was tender with strong flavors.  Our initial reaction was we both enjoyed this pork better than the one at Gary Danko.

5A) POACHED PEAR, pistachio, vanilla

5B) FROZEN CHOCOLATE huckleberry, bourbon meringue, cacao nib

I had the poached pear dish in the top picture.  The pistachios are on top with a crunchy top and a cream (possible bavarois?) beneath it.  Overall, delicious, loved the flavor combinations and the texture differences throughout.

My girlfriend had the frozen chocolate dish in the bottom picture, which was sort of a frozen chocolate mousse kind of item.  It was surrounded by these soft wafers and there was a huckleberry sauce beneath.  Just like the poached pear, a lot of great flavors and textures together.

Overall a nice meal at Aster although I enjoyed the first meal better as the tastes aligned more with my personal tastes.  That's sort of the risk of going with the price fixe menu and the random items they have that day.

Thursday, November 3, 2016

Not Striking Out - Is it why Albert Pujols Will Age Decently?

A long time ago I remember reading a statistical analysis on the aging of baseball players.  One sign of a player that would age well was the player's inability to strike out.  The theory was relatively simple.  If a player strikes out a lot when they are younger, they will only do worse as they age and their bat speed gets worse.

The paper (which I'm struggling to find) used George Brett as an example.  He struck out a paltry 7.8% of his at bats over his career.  As a modern day comparison, from 2011-2013 when Miguel Cabrera won three batting titles, Cabrera struck out 13.7% of the time. George Brett was able to last in the big leagues until he was 40.  Although not the elite hitter he once was he was productive and even won a batting title in 1990 at the age of 37.

Other players in this same mold can be found.  Hank Aaron and Tony Gwynn both come to mind.

Now, strikeout rates have been increasing in baseball, especially in the last two decades, so "good strikeout rate" is now somewhat relative.  David Ortiz's strikeout rate of 13.7% of his plate appearances in 2016 may seem high, but it's relatively low compared to many of his other power hitting peers.   As an example, Mike Trout struck out 20.1% of his at bats in 2016, and that was a decline from prior years.

However, one of the anomalies in baseball in the 2000s was Albert Pujols.  Despite strikeout rates going up, Pujols continued to strike out at very low rates.  From 2001-2011 in St. Louis, Pujols struck out only 9.5% of plate appearances.  A paltry number for a power hitter in this century.  His worst year was his rookie year when he struck out 13.7% of the time.

It's one of the reasons some people felt a long term contract for Albert Pujols may not be that bad compared to others that received big long term contracts.  The belief was that Albert Pujols would age better than many of his peers.

Albert Pujols' strikeout rate as an Angel has stayed somewhat consistent.  It's been 11.2% over his 5 years as an Angel.  However, as many of us know, Albert Pujols is not the same today.  In 2016, his WAR of 1.4 was a career low, even below his injury plagued season of 2013.  So is Albert Pujols not aging well?

It's at this time I realized, that "aging well" is a relative term.  Very few players can play baseball into their 30s.  So "aging well" may in fact simply be a statement that a player is capable of just holding a job in baseball into their late 30s.  Not that they can hold a job at an All Star level of play.   George Brett had a WAR of 1.7 in his age 36 season before a fluke-ish 4.1 WAR in his age 37 season.  He never had a WAR above 1 again.

While there are the occasional Hank Aarons or David Ortizes of the world that can produce All Star performance into their late 30s, it's very rare.  A player simply being able to hold a starting position into their late 30s is by itself testament to a player aging well.

I'm reminded of this fact because today Ryan Howard, one of Albert Pujols' first basemen peers was bought out of his 2017 option year by the Phillies.  With negative WAR values in 2014-2016, it's likely that Howard's career is over.  If he hadn't signed his contract extension so early, he likely would have been out of baseball at the age of 34 or 35.

Earlier this year, another of Pujols' peers Prince Fielder had to retire.  While his retirement was due to injury, his numbers were already beginning to look bad with a 1.9 WAR in 2013 during his age 29 season and 1.5 WAR in 2015 in his age 31 season.

Sunday, October 30, 2016

What they don't tell you about buying vs renting

Every once in awhile I run across some article about the "rent vs buy" argument.  Inevitably, you'll come across some calculator that you crunch numbers into and it'll spit out an answer on what is more favorable to you financially.  Recently I saw Adam Conover had a piece about the "is buying a house a good investment?"

While I don't disagree on any of the things mentioned in the articles or the above video, I'd like to mention some of the subtleties, benefits, and downsides they don't tell you in the "rent vs buy" argument.

I originally had this listed as "Pros" and "Cons" in this article, but I eventually realized that it's somewhat relative if they are a Pro or Con.  So I'm just going to list them all down here in a somewhat random order.

1) If you don't buy a house, you have to save/invest money like the calculators say you should

This is the absolute most important subtlety that none of the articles or calculators tell you.  If the calculators say it is a better financial decision to not buy a house, you have to remember that you have to actually follow through and do what it says.  You have to actually save/invest all the money that you aren't using on a mortgage or home maintenance.

How confident are you in your ability to do that?  Every vacation, nice night out for dinner, etc. eats into this calculation.

2) If you buy a house, you have less disposable income

While you may be "ahead" financially by buying a house, your day to day disposable income will probably be lower.  After all, a nice chunk of your money is now tied up in a home's equity.

I sometimes wish I had traveled more when I was younger, but without that disposable income it was hard to do.  I don't necessarily regret the decision, but it's something that may bother some people more than others.

In contrast to #1, #2 can somewhat be viewed as a way to have a "forced savings account".   Some percentage of your mortgage goes towards equity, so it is forcing you to save that money.  If you're not good at managing your finances, forcing you to not be able to spend money may be the best way to save money.

3) If you buy a house, you become more responsible and learn a lot things

I bought my first primary residence when I was relatively young, I believe 24-25.  It was much earlier than many others I know that bought a house.

The responsibility of taking care of the place, dealing with a mortgage, managing your finances, etc. makes you mature as an adult much faster.  Whether you view this as a pro or con is up to you.  I remember suddenly viewing most financial transactions in "mortgage payment" units.  Others I've spoken to said the same.  Vacations, nicer cars, etc. were all calculated within these units.

In addition, maintenance of the property makes you learn a lot of things you otherwise probably won't have.  I can't speak for every home owner, but when you realize it'll cost you a thousand dollars to hire someone to fix X in your house, you eventually figure out how to do it yourself.  Everyone will have their comfort level thresholds on what to do themselves vs hire someone (I draw the line at most plumbing tasks), but you will figure a lot of things out.

4) If you buy a house, your time will be eaten up by chores

Following up #3, all those things you learn about and do on your own will eat up your time.  But if you have less disposable income, perhaps it doesn't matter :-)

5) If you buy a house, you can rent it out

For some reason, many of the articles talking about loss of flexibility don't bring up the fact that you can rent out your place if you really need to move.

Obviously one needs to judge the rental market in your area, how much you can rent out your property compared to your mortgage costs, your time to manage the property, etc.  But it is an option that can be looked into.  If you buy a beginner property (e.g. condo) the numbers certainly play out much better than a single family detached home.

6) If you buy a house, costs are stable OR If you don't buy a house, costs can be unstable

Anyone who has lived in the San Francisco Bay Area for the last 5 years can tell you about the horror of seeing their rent increase over 10% per year for the last 5 years.  If you buy a house, while costs can be higher initially, you atleast know what the costs will be and it shouldn't change much.  So one might consider this a cost of purchasing stability.  You are trading some higher costs for known stability, which can be a benefit in a way.  While my property value wasn't great during the financial recession in the early 2010s, the fact I was still paying less than the rental market made me feel really good that I had bought a place.

7) If you buy a house, consider your finances after 30 years

One thing that doesn't seem to be discussed in the articles and the calculators is that they don't consider your finances after you pay off your mortgage.  At some point, you will pay off the home and no longer have a mortgage.  I think most of the calculators only think about your net worth after 30 years of mortgage payments.

Obviously, one must consider how long you realistically think you'll be in a property, but you should atleast think about it.

Sunday, September 18, 2016

Dining @ Arashiyama Benkei in Kyoto, Japan

While in Japan, my girlfriend wanted to go to a real nice hotspring.  A friend recommended Arashiyama Benkei and the booking also included a 12 course kaiseki meal ("half-board" if you're booking online, it's sort of confusing what it means).  Surprisingly, there was very little on the internet about the meal.  Not sure if foodie's just aren't interested in going here, or perhaps as a ryokan/hotel it's just not the primary focus and few get the meal.  Anyways, for all interested diners out there, here's an overview of the meal we had.  I'm not going to talk about the hotspring or ryokan/hotel as there are plenty of resources on the internet to talk about that.

The staff is quite English friendly and they provided an English menu, so it was much easier to decipher what I was eating compared to the two prior kaiseki meals I had in Japan.  Also, if you book the meal, as part of the experience they serve the meal to you in your room.  They bring out the dishes quite quickly, it's not the super slow pace that you may be accustomed to in finer dining establishments.  It sort of makes sense, since you're in your room.  I think we ended our meal in about 90 minutes.  It's also possible its timing of when we asked for dinner.  They ask the guests when they want to begin their meal.  Perhaps we told them a time that was super slow or something, or perhaps most of the guests didn't get the meal.  It's not a big deal either way.

So here's an overview of the meal we had.  I should mention that some items were brought out simultaneously (such as the soup & rice at the end, which is what happened at the other meals).  But since they were split out in the menu I'll list each separately.

1) hassun (appetizer) - skewered bran and egg, mackerel sushi, cooked eel with eggs, baked egg plant sesame soy sauce w/ sea urchin, boiled chestnuts with syrup

You can see the orange-ish egg yolk on the end of the skewer in the middle.  That was delicious.  The mackerel sushi was really delicious too.  It must have been cured or something because mackerel usually doesn't have that strong of flavor.

It's worth showing how the dish was originally presented.

My girlfriend and I both had a different picture, which was sort of cool.

2) saki-suimono (soup appetizer) - lotus root clear soup and boiled tilefish with matsutake, new zealand spinach, and yuzu

The tilefish was really good and the broth was light and delicious.  I think at the bottom of this dish was fishcake even though it wasn't listed.

3) muko-duke (raw fish) - yellowtail, amaebi, maguro, hamo

This dish looks ridiculous. There's yellowtail on the top that was served with some ponzu sauce. The amaebi shrimp, maguro, and hamo were on the bottom and served with some soy sauce. There was also some (I think) plum sauce on the hamo. I think it's interesting that we had maguro and hamo at Hirobun the other day. I guess when it's in season, you're likely to get this stuff at many restaurants. The hamo was a little softer than the one I had at Hirobun. Overall, all pretty delicious. I liked the amaebi I got at tsukiji more, but I'm nitpicking a bit at this point.

As an aside, I recall when we first got to the hotel, the staff asked us if we were ok with sashimi.  I guess there are western visitors that can't handle raw fish, so they can adjust this course if you really can't handle raw fish.

4) Taki-awase (cooked dish) - Fried tofu and adductor muscle, young taro boiled with soup stock, brassica pekinensis, boiled deep-fried tofu with soup stock

The English menu said "adductor muscle", which I assume is a translation error.  Possibly some type of "mussel"?  If it was ground into the tofu I don't recall tasting it.  Perhaps I'll never know what was meant. "Brassica pekinensis" brought up a Chinese cabbage on Google.  Overall a nice course.

5) yaki-mono (grilled food) - Grilled frost fish marinated salt with grated white radish ponzu vinegar, added to citrus sudachi and green onion

This dish also included a few edamame, which I thought was an interesting addition on the side.  I wasn't familiar with frost fish, but I enjoyed this dish and especially liked the radish/ponzu combination on top.  I'm also glad we didn't get grilled ayu again like the other two kaisekis :-)

6) shi-zakana (Hot pot cooking) - pot of eggplant and Japanese black beef with grated white radish, scallion, broiled tofu and seven flavor chili pepper

The dish originally came out with the beef raw.  The server told us to eat the dish after the pot started steaming with the flame below.  Hot pot isn't my favorite because I think the dish is a little light on flavor, but the chili pepper (which was on the side and you stirred in as you wish) kicked the dish up a couple of notches.  Overall, pretty good, although I preferred some sukiyaki we had earlier in the trip.

7) abura-mono (deep fried food) - Fried barracuda by flour of sesame with maitake mushroom, green chili, and cherry tomato

This was the third time in our trip that we encountered this sweet green chili and it's delicious.  I guess it was in season in Japan.   We both loved the cherry tomato, it was super sweet.  I honestly can't remember much about this fish.  It's possible I was "fished" out by this point in the meal.

8) mushi-mono (steamed food) - Boiled homebred chicken soft and steamed pumpkin with starchy sauce and wasabi

There was also some rice in this soup.  Overall, not my favorite combination of flavors.

9) suno-mono (vinegared food) - Botan shrimp marinated Japanese kiwi Vinegared with stem of taro and red shiso

I'm a bit allergic to tropical fruits and had them remove the green kiwi sauce you see on top.  I decided to try a dab of it off of my girlfriend's plate and it was sweet and delicious.  I'm sure it would have been delicious with the shrimp.  I thought the green "stem of taro" was really interesting.  It's the green thing you see at the bottom which I had initially assumed was green onion.

10) Extra Course - kobe/wagyu beef

The staff brought us this additional dish on the house. It was beef with green bean and baby corn. There's some red flakes and sauce that I tasted familiar, but couldn't determine the flavor. We had some A5 wagyu steak for lunch and could immediately tell this was wagyu, but it probably wasn't A5. I'm not complaining this it was on the house extra.

11) Tome-wan (soup) - Red miso soup with cow parsley and hackberry

At an earlier meal I had wondered why the miso soup tasted different than the typical ones in the states, and perhaps it's the fact it was red miso.  Overall tasty.

12) Gohan - Steamed rice with Japanese Pickles

The server brought a bucket of rice and served this to us for this course.   After serving the rice the server asked if we needed more rice.  We immediately said No! :-)

The pickles included pickled daikon, some vegetable that we couldn't identify, and a seaweed/konbu.  I especially liked the seaweed as it was much sweeter than the Chinese seaweed I've typically consumed.

13) Mizu-mono (dessert) - Seasonal Fruit

This is what I love about the dessert courses at more Asian themed tasting menus (see Benu and Narisawa as examples). It's really light compared to the somewhat heavier desserts at more western restaurants (see Blackbird and its goey butter cake as an extreme example). This is some type of sweetened gelatin/sauce with fruit. Not the most complex dish in the world, but light and wonderful after getting stuffed with food. Minimally there was green grapes (real sweet), red grape that I assume was a kyoho (also really sweet, not like American red grapes), blueberries, asian pear, watermelon, white peach, orange, and banana in this dish.

Overall, a nice kaiseki meal. I debate in my head if I enjoyed the one at Hirobun more (somewhat adjusting for the smaller number of courses and smaller portions because that was for lunch). They both had some courses I enjoyed more than other one.

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Dining @ Hirobun in Kyoto, Japan

My girlfriend wanted to check out Hirobun in Kyoto because they are somewhat famous for their somen noodles that you "fish" out of water (here's a random link I found about it).  They (along with many restaurants in Kibune) are somewhat famous for the fact that you can eat on a river.  A platform is laid out on top of the river, and you can actually eat on it as the river flows under you.  Needless to say, there are beautiful mini-waterfalls and foliage all around.  Here's the view we had from our table.

That may look like an artificial waterfall in a restaurant, but it's not.  It's actual flowing water from a river.

Our initial plan was to hike to Kibune, eat a kaiseki lunch at Hirobun, then afterwards try their noodles.

Our plan was interrupted because we were stuffed by the kaiseki lunch.  So if any travelers wander to this blog post and you want to do the "fishing for noodles" and the kaiseki lunch, budget enough time.  We ate on the late-ish side and it interrupted things.

We didn't have any regrets as the kaiseki meal was wonderful.  Here's an overview of the lunch we had.  Just like my prior post I had to guess on a number of ingredients.   Some of the staff at Hirobun spoke a little English, so we were able to decipher the ingredients of the dishes better than before, but not all of them.

1) first course

These cute pouches had a rice cake w/ red bean paste in the middle.  Tasty.

2) second course

This second course had a lot of stuff.  We weren't aware of all of it, but here goes.  Upper left was a small piece of tofu with what I believe was nato on it.  It was really tasty with the contrasting flavors.  To the right in the bamboo leaf (or possibly banana leaf) was some type of starch, possibly rice cake with a citrus-like filling.  It was delicious.

Bottom row, the left was some type of cake with a meat like flavoring to it.  Also really good.  Then a starch-ish ball with what I believe was cured salmon.  Then some edamame, shrimp, and pile of what I assume was cooked shirauo (very tiny fish).  I liked the shirauo flavor.  While salty, it wasn't just "salty stuff to put on rice" like I've had before.  Then finally to the far right was tofu with what I assume was goji berry.

This course was really good.  Tons of items that were really tasty or interesting.

3) third course

This sashimi course had maguro, kampachi, and hamo with what I believe was a bit of plum sauce.   The maguro was especially delicious.  The hamo and plum sauce was tasty, but hard to compare since it's the first time I had eel sashimi.  There was a bit of crunchiness to it, which reminded me a bit of tripe.

4) fourth course

This was a warm dish with potato, duck, and what I believe was some bean curd with carrots & some other veggie as garnish.  Overall tasty and with a nice broth.

5) fifth course

This is my second grilled fish in a kaiseki on my trip.  Reading online, it appears grilled whole fish is a staple of kaiseki.  The waitress confirmed this fish to be ayu (which looks than the one yesterday, so maybe it wasn't ayu).  This was tastier than the one from last night and came with some vinegar which I didn't include in the picture.  I had trouble eating the bones and didn't eat the main "spine".  The fins were salted, which was interesting.  The presentation of this ayu was just awesome though, looking like it was still swimming.  If you zoom in you can still see the teeth of the fish.

6) sixth course

Served cold, there was eggplant and okra in a gelatin-ish broth.  The broth had a bit of fish flavoring.  Overall, I really enjoyed this course.  The eggplant and okra were delicious.  I wish I had a spoon to scoop it all up together but had to instead slurp up the soup/gelatin afterwards.

7) seventh course

This was a small collection of items.  Small fried fish (I assume smelt), a pepper (unsure of the variety, but very tasty), a mini-eggplant (tasty), some baby corn, and beneath it some fried pike eel, which appears to be in season as it's the 4th or so time I've come upon it on my trip.

8) eighth course

I assume this is the somen noodles this restaurant is famous for with their "noodle fishing".  Obviously you can tell its served with some eggs, shrimp, and some dipping sauce.  Overall, very tasty.  The flavor was a little lighter than the somen noodles I've familiar with from home, but that may be me just being used to the random store bought somen.

9) ninth course

Another filler course before dessert.  There are cucumber pickles, pickled red cabbage, and something else which I'm not sure.  The soup was a clear broth with some water shield and what I believe was a fish cake.  The broth was delicious and I'm becoming a big fan of water shield after having it for the second time this trip (previously at Narisawa).

10) tenth course

Finally the dessert course with some cantaloupe, watermelon, and some matcha jello.  Both my girlfriend and I loved the watermelon, I guess it's in season in Japan right now.  The cantaloupe not quite as sweet as what I'm used to in the states.  The jello was good too.

Overall, this meal was excellent and I enjoyed it more than meal at Nagamegawa Pontcho Hana.  I think the dishes were tastier, had more variety, and the presentation was better (especially the ayu).  On top of all that the meal was only 8600 yen, so only about $16 more in US dollars.  And they even gave us this cool fan as a souvenir.