Monday, October 26, 2009

Ignore Everybody

I'm going to do a mass review of the run of good fiction I've encountered recently and so I am skipping ahead to review Hugh MacLeod's Ignore Everybody.

MacLeod is a cartoonist who used the power of the web to generate a following. What a rare and unusual story, huh? He is not a writer. This book, which was largely previously released for free online are suggestions for how to be creative. Forty chapters in all, all of them EXTREMELY brief. Take a look for yourself. There's the first twelve chapters, all on one big webpage. I also don't much care for his cartoons. That's more of a matter of taste than anything. But I really cannot recommend this book and am going back and changing my recommendation to an "X".

Saturday, October 24, 2009

See you in hell, Pachelbel


Mr. Muo's Travelling Couch

I ran the gamut of perceptions on this book. It started really slow. Then it got interesting and sort of mystical. Then it got weird. It got weirder and ended somewhat abruptly, oddly and in a disappointing manner.

The story is about Mr. Muo, a forty year old Chinaman who obsessively studied Freud in France. He returns to China to try and rescue his long-time high school crush/obsession, a woman who goes by the name Volcano of the Old Moon. She is now a political prisoner and Muo goes to the presiding judge to try and have her released.

The judge tells Muo that he will release Volcano if Muo brings him a virgin for him to deflower. Muo goes on a hunt for such a rare creature and struggles mightily. He finally discovers that an old neighbor and friend of his, an embalmer called The Embalmer, is, like Muo, a virgin in her forties (because her husband to be throws himself off of a six story building on their wedding night because he is a closet homosexual). She agrees to help Muo but when she arrives to sleep with the judge, she finds the judge is dead. In an odd twist, the judge is sent to The Embalmer for embalming but springs to life once again. She and Muo flee to the safety of The Embalmer's apartment where they have sex with one another. The Embalmer and Mr. Muo are accused of plotting to kill the judge. The Embalmer is imprisoned and Muo flees, only to encounter a teenage virgin who he manages to convince to sleep with the judge.

This plan also goes awry. Detailing any more would pretty much tell the whole story which I don't want to do.

I can't say that I really enjoyed this book. It was different. There are dream sequences that make things a little confusing. Muo is an extremely selfish person with warped ideas about the importance of love and sex (he has maintained his virginity because of his love for Volcano which, if she is aware of (which is uncertain), is unrequited. The ending isn't satisfying and because Muo is so messed up, I don't really care anyway.

Because it is odd and it gives a sense of life in China and is written by a Chinese author (exposure to other cultures is never a bad thing) I'm not not recommending it.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Pharmaceutical experimentation

I'm not one for pharmaceuticals. I don't trust them. I think many create more harm from side effects than they provide good in the form of whatever it is they are supposed to do. I think taking too much of a drug creates a resistance to it which renders the drug ineffective over time and thus, requires higher dosages to generate any benefits. Lastly, I think there are usually natural or herbal alternatives (such as my cure all for about anything, hot and sour soup (heals broken bones, even! OK, maybe not)) that can be just as effective.

I'm writing about this today because we are in the midst of an epidemic where I live. The rumor is that the boowah's school district set a record for most absences in a day ever yesterday. Teachers and students are going home early with fevers. Many are not making it in at all. Doodle's class ended the day with less than half the kids in his class and his teacher not making it the whole way through the school day. Doodle had the flu or whatever it was from Saturday through Tuesday but has been better for a couple of days now. His coach took a poll last night of the eight who had showed up for practice and found that all but one had already missed school because of this flu.

Gaga and I have largely staved this off. Gaga seems to find a way to stay well. It always cracks me up when we go to the doctor for his annual checkup. "Last time we saw you was when you were here for your checkup and before that it was when you were her for your checkup and before that it was when you were here for your checkup and before that...". You have to go back many years to find when he last had a sick visit. This always amazes me, too, because he had problems when he was born and was on a ventilator for a couple of weeks. The doctor said then that he would likely be susceptible to illness and respiratory problems as he got older. Fortunately, not so.

Well, maybe his luck is running out at the moment. Hard to say. He had an ortho appointment yesterday and got rubber bands on his brace. The pain has been bothering him and he has the sniffles. He was complaining about the pain and wanted something for it. I do keep some pharmaceutical stuff on hand even though I don't use it. I'm no monster. If one of the boowahs needs some relief from whatever ails them, some ibuprofen or cough syrup or what have you might provide it (along with a nice cup of herbal tea).

Maybe I am a bit of a monster. When I opened the drawer where I keep the drugs, I saw something that made me think about trying my own experiments with placebos. I pulled out the substitute and gave Gaga an orange tablet to take for the pain.

"Wait.....What is this?.....This is a PEZ!"

The New England Journal of Medicine is just going to have to wait.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Whither Ryan Howard?

For my son's little league practice tonight, a majority of the players showed up wearing celebratory Philadelphia Phillies t-shirts (completely unplanned). They all had Phillies' players' names and numbers on the back. Thought the representation was interesting.

Jimmy Rollins
Chase Utley
Shane Victorino
TWO!!! Raul Ibanez

ZERO Ryan Howard

Chicks may dig the longball but ten-year olds don't seem to care much for the guys who can really hit them.

Beautiful Evidence

I don't remember when or how, exactly, I became a fan of the work of Edward Tufte. But as a former statistician and someone who has always appreciated good design, he's certainly the guy to turn to in terms of what he calls "analytical design".

Tufte strives to make information usable. Most people have become so indoctrinated into the standard pie charts and bar graphs that really innovative and useful graphical presentations such as those Tufte exemplifies in his books can be both exhilarating and frightening. E.T. (as he likes to go by) also is very much against the usage of Microsoft PowerPoint for displaying data. PP is presentation software, not graphical software. The amount of content that is displayed on a typical PP slide is very small, especially when you consider that we regularly absorb multitudes of data in a small place on a daily basis (box scores, stock quotes, etc.). PP constrains us and forces us to dumb down our information to fit the slide methodology.

Even before I learned of Tufte, I was against PP. When working on my MPA, I would create websites for presentations. Same screen size, just lots more info, lots more control over presentation, and most importantly, no lame clip art.

At my previous job, I finagled my employer into sending me to a lecture in D.C. that E.T was holding. I didn't realize the magnitude and cultish behavior of his following. I thought it might be like some SAS classes I had taken where it would be about 20 people and a nice hands-on instructional. Sold out session of 700 people. Third day in a row. Wow. There are people who consider themselves "Tuftians" (my favorite MLS professor is one) their passion for his work is so great.

I might take a swig of the Kool-Aid but I don't swallow. His work is impressive but I think he topped out a little while ago. Beautiful Evidence is, well, evidence of that. I believe most of this book is compilations of material in his previous books. I think there was one new chapter of information. That's all well and good. It makes for a great primer to his work. But as someone who has read and learned much from his other books, it would have been nice to have more new material. Even so, as a refresher, it was good.

I opted to read it because I have some ideas on a website I want to do which will be data-intensive and I'm trying to think of innovative ways to present it. It definitely helped to read this book. If you work with numerical information and the graphical presentation of said info, you MUST check out Tufte.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Wonder Boys

It was with much anticipation and trepidation that I approached Michael Chabon's Wonder Boys. Michael Chabon is one of my favorite writers and Wonder Boys is one of my favorite movies. I figured something had to give. There was no way the movie and book could be equals.

I was right. I enjoyed the movie much more than the book making two movies I've seen that are better than the book, the other being Fight Club.

The book Wonder Boys is still very good and still very Chabonesque. It doesn't have the cornucopia of word-of-the-day words that his later novels have. Still very detailed and descriptive. There were a bunch of things that rubbed me the wrong way, though.

One thing I didn't like was the snookumy nicknames the main character Grady uses for his mistress Sara. "Monkey"? "My girl" as in "What's wrong, my girl?". I can understand wanting to use them as it makes the characters a little more human but they just read strangely to me. Nicknames like that that tend to be because of the relationship between two people. They're shared between the pair, not outsiders and so I guess that's why they feel odd to me in the book.

In the movie there is a comment on how in Grady's book it doesn't seem like he makes choices, that everything is in the book and nothing got cut out. Chabon's book feels that way. The whole Jewish holiday with the in-laws section just drags the book on and on and really adds nothing to the story. Not surprisingly, in the movie it is entirely omitted. Grady's wife doesn't even make an appearance in the movie. Rightfully so.

Otherwise, the book is really good. It was a little tough for me because I think the casting for the movie was excellent but the descriptions of the characters in the book don't match the folks who played them in the movie. That's not a flaw in the book. It was just tough picturing Grady as someone built like me and not Michael Douglas or Hannah as a blonde instead of Katie Holmes.

If I weren't such a fan of the movie, I'd probably be gushing over this like I have other Chabon books. It's still a good book and if you haven't read it or seen the movie, you can't go wrong with either.

Music in my dreams

How very, very strange. I mentioned in this media mix (which, by the way, look they will be no more. I dropped a line to Kelly, who did them on her site and she, too, is juggling all sorts of more-important-to-living-than-blogging things to maintain the questions. Alas) that I rarely, if ever, dream of music when I dream. Imagine my immense surprise when I dreamt of a music video of a song (which is not the actual video (which in itself was perplexing)) and actually heard the song playing in my dreams and remembered it. Just completely, totally, strange.

Even more bizarre, it has been YEARS since I heard the song and I have no idea what could have prompted my synapses to think of it, recall it, create a video of it and then put it in my head to dream about it.

The song? P.O.D.'s Alive (actual video below, not the one I dreamed):

Monday, October 19, 2009

Sayonara Home Run

If this book could have figured out what it wanted to be, it could really have been awesome. Instead, it's just sort of nice.

Sayonara Home Run is about Japanese baseball cards. Subtitled "The art of the Japanese baseball card", the book is, appropriately, extremely heavy on the pictures and light on text. But there's my problem with the book. With all the fantastic pictures, it could have been a wonderful coffee-table type book on Japanese cards. There are great images of both the bromide and menko style cards and the pictures cover all eras of Japanese cards. So why not make it a solid pictorial book? Give it a good binding, a hardcover and make it something that people would have out to look at and admire.

The publisher didn't do that, though. It is a softcover book and the binding is sort of odd. I would have loved to scan some of the pages to show you the images in the book but I'm really afraid of cracking the binding and pages coming loose (this is a problem with being fanatical about condition like I am). Likewise, I wouldn't really want people leafing through it and handling it because of the nature of the binding. It was difficult to want to even open it up because it felt so delicate.

Given all the pictures from across eras, having some good writing would have made it an excellent history book. No such luck. The text is minimal, really a bunch of sidebar-esque essays, and despite there being such little text, there were some notable errors.

The two most glaring were the mention of a 19th century Japanese player being a fan of the Boston Red Sox. The Boston team in the 19th Century was known as the Red Stockings or Reds. The Red Sox nickname was not used until 1908. There is also a picture captioned "Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig" where Ruth is shaking hands with a player who looks Japanese. Perhaps you could chalk it up as a bad hair day for Gehrig except for the fact that he is also wearing a catcher's mitt on his left-hand. Gehrig, of course, was not a catcher and threw left-handed.

When you don't have that much material to edit and you still can't get it right, it really calls into question the validity of all the information in the book.

If you're a fan of baseball cards, though, it's a neat book to pick up. Strangely, despite it being only three years old, Amazon does not carry it. New copies can be bought online through other bookdealers, though, or through eBay for under ten bucks. Of course, once you see the cards, you may end up on eBay trying to spend some more money to pick up some Japanese cards of your own.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Beat Cancer Everywhere

I'm helping to raise funds to
#beatcancer, by blogging, tweeting
and posting Facebook status

Click here to join me!

Friday, October 16, 2009

Some happenings with favorite writers of mine

Stumbled across some interviews with favorite authors of mine that have been published in the last few weeks.

Michael Chabon has a new book on fatherhood coming out.

Jay McInerney's first novel, Bright Lights, Big City is being re-released and the movie is being remade (which seems like a horrible, horrible idea).

Not an interview but a review of Jonathan Safran Foer's first non-fiction book, Eating Animals.

Jeanette Winterson wrote a short-story for The Guardian.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Really poorly done Press Pass NASCAR Series 2 box break

I don't know why the sound was so off on this. Delayed, doesn't sound good. Also, the video isn't that good either. I don't look anything like Clive Owen in the video. Sheesh.

I was jazzed when I opened these but once I got thinking about the math and checking out eBay prices for base sets, I don't think I'll be buying any more of these.

The O-Pee-Chee Baseball, though, hmmm.....they could tempt me. But I don't think right now. I do have that coupon, though. Hmmmm.....

Friday, October 9, 2009

Long Way Down and NeanderThin

I'm not reducing the backlog of book reviews very well so I'll knock out two today.

I read Nick Hornby's Long Way Down when, horrors, I couldn't figure out what I wanted to be reading. I've had the book for a long time as I had bought it for a friend because I lost a bet to her and the book was to be the compensation. I haven't seen her to get it to her, though.

Hornby's novel Long Way Down is about four depressed people in London who decide, separately, to kill themselves on New Year's Eve by jumping from the top of a tall building.

Martin is the first to arrive. He is a former talk show host who was recently released from prison. The reason he was in prison is because he slept with a 15 year old girl. Upon his release his marriage is naturally a shambles, despite his being middle age he is immature and self-absorbed, and so he decides to off himself.

As Martin is on the ledge rethinking things, Maureen shows up. Maureen is in her fifties and cares for her disabled son. We discover that this son is the result of the one time she had sex in her life. She's broke, has no life other than caring for her son (who is an adult from an age standpoint), and alone.

Jess is a crazed young girl whose parents are upright members of society (her father is a politician). Her older sister, whom Jess adored, vanished years before which traumatized Jess. She also recently broke up with her boyfriend (whom we find out she treated in a bit of a stalker fashion). Jess mostly suffers from teen angst but is probably the most serious of the four about ending her life.

The final member of the group is JJ. He is an American musician whose group broke up. His girlfriend also left him. He delivers pizzas and it is while delivering pizzas to the building from which they are all planning to jump that he decides he wants to commit suicide.

The four meet up on the roof and begin talking and decide to not kill themselves. Jess gets them off the roof by coming up with the idea of tracking down her ex. By the time they accomplish that, it is morning and they resolve to give themselves six weeks to get their lives together and support one another at which time they will meet on the roof again and maybe kill themselves then.

Sounds pretty dark, right? It is but it is also very funny. Martin's celebrity status provides all sorts of twists and turns and the media coverage (which is a mix of accuracies and non-accuracies) makes them all minor celebrities for a time. Jess is the most active of the group and comes up with a variety of ideas to lift them from their depths, none of which go off as she plans.

Someone does end up jumping off the building but for the most part, the book ends on a positive note. Hornby is a good writer and does a nice job with dialogue. Definitely a good book to read.

NeanderThin is not. I was looking for a book on the paleolithic diet and sadly, this was the closest our library system had. It's dated, written by a someone with no background in nutrition, and is just not done well in the lease.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

If you're really cool, you can combine it with an Amway gathering

Sometimes it is really difficult to believe that so many people are unemployed when there are people who are paid money to come up with things like this:

A Windows 7 party. Because everyone has the date already circled on their calendar. THURSDAY, October 22nd. There's no better time to throw a party than on a Thursday, right? That's why we celebrate Easter Thursday and throw parties on Super Bowl Thursday. I picture the person who came up with this idea looking at a calendar and saying "Well, my all-time favorite gatherings occurred on Thanksgiving. Granted, I have no friends and have never been at a party but Uncle Steve always got smashed and told funny jokes which I imagine is like a party and my grandmother always gives me a kiss on the cheek when she sees me and that's probably like hooking up with a hot girl at a party. Also, October is football season and we used to watch football on Thanksgiving and with Windows 7, you can start a computer and get on the internet and watch football highlights on YouTube. Shoot, Windows 7 parties are going to be as awesome as Thanksgiving so let's have the release date on a Thursday since Thanksgiving is on a Thursday."

I love the video. The camaraderie and humor is unmatched except by NFL pre-game shows. Only this group is much more diverse. Women, old women, and African-Americans are represented. I'm guessing the Asian guy in a wheelchair had problems finding the studio.

There's so much fun to be had. When everyone gets to my party, I'm going to have a PowerPoint presentation where I will talk about the songs I would have on my Zune if I owned one. We'll then play that party classic, "Does Word think that's a word" where you type in words into Word and see if spell-checker catches the misspelling. We absolutely will be calling Customer Service and wishing them a Happy Release 7 Day. Shame they have to be working while everyone else is enjoying the holiday. Then maybe we'll wrap up the party by going on the Internet Explorer. Man, this is going to be fun.

Oh shoot, this isn't going to happen. I'd invite you to my Windows 7 party only it conflicts with the feast day for Abercius of Hieropolis. If only Microsoft could have waited until Saturday.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

More horse racing

I really, really, really love horse racing. It's my secret passion. I still have it in the back of my mind that I can revolutionize the industry (and it desperately needs someone to do so).

The Breeders' Cup is coming up soon about which I am extremely excited. But TVG is having an online handicapping contest today which I'm entering. This is fun because there's a lot of crap horses racing in this contest and it's a challenge to determine who will step up.

Race 1: Delaware Park 6th race - My old home track. $13,000 maiden claiming of horses 3 years old and up. My formulas say the coupling of El Romeo and Edge Appeal are 3-5 favorites. They look suspect to me. El Romeo has raced once since June of 2008 which isn't something you really want to be doing with a horse you paid $300,000 for. Edge Appeal has some interest in that he'll be running at a shorter distance than he has. I like McCuddy, though. Second race for the horse that Tim Ritchey bred, owns and trains.

Race 2: Calder Park 8th race - $27,000 MSW for 2 yr olds at 7 furlongs. Big time crapshoot as some of these horses have not raced and others only have a single race under their belt. Formulas are useless with these races as there is not enough information to make a decision. Tough choice for me between Hellen's Choice and Sky Venture but I'm going with Sky Venture.

Race 3: Meadowlands 8th race - Cliff Hanger Grade III Stakes on turf, 1 1/16 miles. Ugh. The Meadowlands is my worst track ever. I do not hit races there well at all. Thank goodness this is the only race being run there for this competition. The formulas have this as a really close race with Nergal getting a slight nod over Get Serious. Nergal is coming off a long layoff and it is really hard to not want to take a horse where the jockey has already won five stakes races with him. Get Serious is my pick.

Race 4: Back to Delaware for the Blue Hen Stakes. 8th race. 1 1/16 miles for 2 yr old fillies. I like Potosina.

Race 5: Over to Belmont Park for the 8th race, The Flower Bowl Invitational Grade I Stakes. 1 1/4 miles on turf. What a bizarre mix of horses for this race. I'm going out on a limb with this one and taking Criticism. If the turf is firm, I think he's the horse to beat.

Race 6: To Calder for Race 10: $25,000 allowance optional claiming. Mile on the turf. First off, the Sanders family needs to get a clue. They're running Phi Slamma Jamma in this race with a $16,000 claiming tag. This is the 10th straight claiming race that horse has been in since he broke his maiden a year ago. Since then he has not finished better than 6th. The horse wasn't claimed with a $6250 tag. No business being in this race. This is really a two horse race between Trust N Vegas and La Scorpianna. My pick is Trust N Vegas.

Race 7: Philadelphia Park Race 11: $40,000 claiming at a mile and 70. What a sad bunch of horses. Twelve of them makes this race one of those where the "best" horse probably won't win because there's no consistency. I'm going to go with the long shot Nobody.

Race 8: The Joe Hirsch Turf Classic Invitational as the 9th race at Belmont. 1.5 miles. Gio Ponti is the best horse by far in this race and he's being coupled with Winchester. Easiest pick of the day.

Race 9: Jockey Club Gold Cup. 1.25 miles at Belmont - 10th race. Man, what a fantastic group of horses in this race. Summer Bird, Macho Again, Dry Martini, Tizway, Quality Road. Quality Road is my pick but anyone could take this.

Race 10: Final race of the tourney is the 11th race at Belmont. Why tracks run a crap race after their premiere race is beyond me but they all do it. Why send everyone home talking about the greats they just saw when they can watch a bunch of claimers? This last race is a mile long MSW on turf. Just shoot me now. I'll take Love and Havoc since Richard Schosberg seems to have a good handle of horses on turf.

Wish me luck.

Tris Speaker biography

When people ask me what my favorite baseball book is, I usually respond without hesitation, Charles Alexander's biography John McGraw. Although it has been many years since I read it, I recall it as being well-written, extremely well-researched, informative and interesting.

Since then I have read Alexander's booksRogers Hornsby, Our Time and most recently, Spoke. All three I have found to be incredibly dull which makes me wonder if I might need to revisit John McGraw.

My hunch is that I am correct in my assessment of John McGraw as being an excellent book. Writing top-notch books about baseball, especially biographies on players, is an extremely difficult thing to do because frankly, there's not a lot of depth to many athletes. I'm not knocking athletes. it is extremely difficult to excel in any field and that often comes with a cost in terms of diversification. It's a rare person who leaves professional sports and goes on to excel in something else. Nowadays, with salaries the way they are, there is also not much need to be able to do anything else once your playing days are over.

John McGraw, like his charge Christy Mathewson, was a multi-dimensional figure. He was financially savvy and became one of the most successful managers after a solid career. He was innovative and intelligent and as such, makes for an interesting biography.

Hornsby and Speaker just don't have much going for them outside of being great players. Hornsby met with some success as a manager but neither player was particularly interesting off of the diamond. As such, both biographies spend a lot of time detailing the goings on of the season. The problem that arises from that is that the book then turns out to be more about the teams for which these individuals played and less of a biography. It's also not very enjoyable to read about the drudgery of a fifth place finish. Heated pennant races, sure, they can be interesting but trying to make it seem like the big battle for fourth place really mattered at the end of the season....come on.

That's why I can't really recommend Spoke. Even as a fan of the era and of Tris Speaker, I just didn't find the book to be captivating in the least. It took me an incredibly long time to finish it because I kept picking up other books that were far more interesting. I also have Alexander's biography of Ty Cobb which is supposed to be excellent and I expect will be because Cobb had more depth to him (plus he was a total asshat). I'm also interested in getting a copy of Tim Gay's biography of Speaker and seeing how that is.