Friday, December 31, 2010

Sunset Park



Somehow I've become a big reader of Paul Auster. I think this is the fifth book of his I have read in two years (maybe fourth). Auster loads his fiction with a lot of fact. Sunset Park is a part of Brooklyn and is the primary setting for the story. Miles Heller leaves his father and stepmother in his early twenties after hearing a conversation between them about himself. Miles is racked with guilt because he (accidentally?) caused the death of his stepbrother years before and Miles has never been the same.

Miles wanders the country and ends up in Florida (by which time he is 28) where he runs into 17 year-old Pilar Sanchez in a park. They are both reading The Great Gatsby and the two begin a relationship. Pilar moves in with Miles but when Miles has a spat with Pilar's oldest sister, Miles returns to New York to evade possible legal difficulties.

Miles moves into an abandoned house in Sunset Park with an old friend of his and two other squatters. The novel jumps around between all the characters and the story is moved ahead with each different perspective.

All in all, there doesn't seem to be much plot. It's definitely more about the characters than any particular story. Auster's attention to factual detail is amazing. He references a movie from the 1940's and the characters in it (everything true that I can determine). He talks about ex-baseball players Herb Score, Mark Fidrych and Lucky Lohrke (all details factually correct (and who writes about Lucky Lohrke?)). It wouldn't surprise me if the house in which Heller and his friends reside actually exists. Also, despite Heller being involved with a minor, Heller doesn't come off as creepy.

Sunset Park is a good book but definitely not as good as other works of Auster's I've read.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Music of 2010

Didn't listen to a whole lot of new music this year. Came across a couple groups that were new (or new to me) that I liked:

Roosevelt Radio:


St. Vincent:


And a second by her since she carbonates my hormones in addition to making good music:


Went to a couple of awesome high-energy concerts (videos are from the concerts I attended (gotta love YouTube)).
Rupa and the April Fishes:


Straight No Chaser:


And finally, two albums which I had been anticipating:
Jimmy Eat World:


Leiahdorus:

Monday, December 27, 2010

Bringing Down the House



Didn't intend on reading this again. I signed this out for my oldest son who has developed an interest in counting cards. It's such an easy and entertaining read, though, that I plowed through it again.

I'm a good father in that I encourage the understanding of mathematical "games of chance". Blackjack is a game in which the player can occasionally have an advantage over the house and have a positive profit expectancy (the others are poker, sports handicapping, horse racing and the stock market. Anything else is gambling and playing any of those without knowing what your edge is also is gambling). Trying to beat blackjack by counting cards solo, though, is a grind (as is trying to beat any of the above mentioned games). You have to play a lot, be patient for your edge to come, and then get your money in. Given that the edge in blackjack might be as little as two percent, ugh, just thinking about trying to make a living doing so is painful.

Bringing Down the House is a true story about a group of MIT students that formed a team of card counters in the 1990's and made a quite successful run on the casinos of the world. Ultimately, their success was their downfall as more and more casinos banned them from play when they discovered what they were doing. Casinos don't like losing and they treat card counters as cheaters even though they don't do anything to affect play. They just bet more when the likelihood of getting good hands is in their favor.

The team structure is what made the group successful. By having a handful of people counting cards at different tables and signaling a "Big Player" to join the table and place bets when the decks were advantageous, the team reduced some of the grind involved.

Like many such "success stories", timing is everything. One of the reasons the group was able to pull it off was because most of the players were Asian. The casinos weren't suspicious of young Asian players because you had such folks heading up tech companies in the 1990's during the tech boom. Casinos were seeing young Asians all the time. Likewise, one of the big solo card counters cited in the book was an African American who dressed and acted like a pimp/drug dealer. The biases of casino personnels led them to believe such a person could not be a card counter.

Another interesting aspect of the era which would be extremely difficult to overcome in 2010 is the transportation of money. The team would strap wads of cash under their clothes when they flew to Vegas. Carrying large sums of cash (tens of thousands) would be highly suspicious so they tried to hide it. In this era of heightened air travel paranoia, no one's getting by with that amount of cash on their bodies.

This book was made into a horrible movie starring Kevin Spacey called 21. VERY loosely based on the book. Don't watch it. Read the book. Mezrich writes plainly, keeps it exciting and moving along, and captures the story and characters well.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

AFC Playoff Picture

It drives me nuts that it is so difficult to find the different playoff scenarios for the NFL each year. ESPN has some stupid thing where you can see who makes the playoffs if all the home teams win all the remaining games but it doesn't spell out the scenarios.

Now, I don't really care about football. I am fascinated by the possibilities of playoffs, though. So here's how the AFC picture shakes out (I'm doing the AFC because of the local fan favorite Steelers):

#1 Seed: New England Patriots (14-2 or 13-3). All wrapped up.

#2 Seed: If Pittsburgh wins (12-4) or Pittsburgh and Baltimore lose (11-5), Pittsburgh is the #2 seed because Pittsburgh has the better divisional record and has a better conference record than Kansas City. If Baltimore (12-4) wins and Pittsburgh (11-5) loses, Baltimore is the #2 seed.

#3 Seed: If Kansas City wins (11-5) or Indianapolis (9-7) loses, the Chiefs are the #3 seed. If Indianapolis (10-6) wins and Kansas City (10-6) loses, the Colts are the #3 seed based on the Colts 19-9 win over the Chiefs on October 10th.

#4 Seed: If Indianapolis wins (10-6) and the Chiefs win (11-5), Indianapolis is the #4 seed. If Indianapolis wins (10-6) and the Chiefs lose (10-6), Kansas City is the #4 seed. If Jacksonville wins (9-7) and Indianapolis loses (9-7), the Jaguars are the #4 seed based on divisional record.

#5 Seed If Baltimore wins (12-4) and Pittsburgh loses (11-5) and the New York Jets lose (10-6), the Steelers are the #5 seed. If Baltimore (12-4) and the Jets (11-5) win and the Steelers (11-5) lose, the Jets are the #5 seed based on their 22-17 victory over the Steelers on December 19th.
If the Steelers win (12-4) or both the Steelers and Ravens lose (11-5), the Ravens are the #5 seed as the Jets result will not matter since Baltimore defeated them on September 13th.

#6 Seed The Jets are the #6 seed unless they and the Ravens win and the Steelers lose in which case the Steelers are the #6 seed.

See, that wasn't hard at all.

Super Sad True Love Story



Have you ever seen a trailer for books? They're sort of a new fangled thing and as such, the quality isn't what you would expect from a "trailer". Here's the trailer for Gary Shteyngart's Super Sad True Love Story:



While entertaining, the trailer has just about zero to do with the book. I read Shteyngart's first novel, The Russian Debutante's Handbook, earlier this year and thought it was good, not great. My friend Jason read Shteyngart's second book, Absurdistan, and felt it, too, was a decent but unspectacular read.

I guess the third time is the charm because Super Sad True Love Story is fantastic. And while there is humor in it, the book is mostly dark.

The story is set primarily in New York in the not too distant future. The fact that it is not too distant is part of what makes the book so dark. In Shteyngart's future, everyone is attached to their äppärät, a smartphone type device that broadcasts personal details about the user. Furthermore, people use them constantly to rate others around them on their personality and, ahem, sexworthiness (a different term is used). The most important measure of a person, though, is their credit rating. This is partly because the United States has become completely indebted to other countries. The euro and the yuan have become the world currency standards. As to what people do for a living, the predominant jobs are Media and Retail.

SSTLS (we'll abbreviate) alternates between being told by two characters. One, Lenny Abramov, is a 39-year old, ugly Russian immigrant (typical of all of Shteyngart's stories) who works for a firm that is pitching immortality to High Net Worth Individuals. He actually keeps a diary (people complain to Lenny on a plane about the smell of a book he pulls out on a plane. Print readers of the future are treated much like smokers are nowadays) and the diary makes up the bulk of the book.

The other character, Eunice Park, is a smoking hot Korean woman in her early twenties who Lenny falls in love with when he is sent on sales calls in Europe. The feeling isn't exactly mutual but Eunice ends up moving in with Lenny. Her story is told through messages to her GlobalTeens account, an international online communication system which seems similar to Facebook.

All in all, it's quite the satire. The obsession with the electronic devices leads to live personal interaction with people being a novelty. Having a conversation with someone is to "verbal" them. Likewise, the detachment from live interaction has led to sex being rather emotionless. Onionskin jeans are popular clothing for women that are transparent pants, usually worn without underwear, to showcase a woman's body. This, of course, helps that sexworthiness rating.

On the political/financial front, Shteyngart's world is comprised of huge corporations formed by megamergers such as LandO’LakesGMFordCredit Bank. Many countries are owned by these companies. The U.S. has become a military state with the Secretary of State being the primary political official.

Then there is the company for which Lenny works. His boss, a 70 year old man who looks much younger through the processes his firm sells, is well-connected and when the United States collapses at the end of the story, his power (and lust for Eunice) becomes more apparent.

I don't know how much of a love story this is. It isn't true (yet). Not even sure it's sad. I did think the book was super, though, and definitely worth checking out.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

CSS3 for Web Designers

Huh, no link for this on Amazon which is maybe why it was so hard to find a copy to borrow anywhere.

You can buy the book here, though.

If I were a web designer, instead of someone who dabbles, I'd buy this book. It's a short read, detailing about a half dozen CSS3 tricks that can really make your web design snazzy. That's it, though.

It's a bit of a question how necessary such as a book is. Much of the ideas can be done in Javascript and since Windows Explorer is behind every other browser in supporting CSS3 (and thanks to the more than half of my readers who DON'T use Windows Explorer), there's no sense of urgency to utilize the techniques. The coding does seem cleaner, though, and with any luck, support for CSS3 will grow. I know I'm going to try and implement some of this stuff in a couple of web projects on which I'm working.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

The Book on the Bookshelf



Mark recommended this book to me a while back and I finally got around to reading it. It's a history of the bookshelf which isn't near as nerdy as it sounds. As a matter of fact, for someone who loves books as much as I do, it should be considered a required reading.

Petroski is an engineer who has written books on other "exciting" topics like bridges and pencils. The man knows how to research and he does a great job looking at the evolution of the storage of books and how storage is influenced by the end users, printing methodologies, and engineering. Petroski cites his book well and includes a multitude of illustrations, including many from hundreds of years ago. It is fascinating to see how books were used and stored over the years.

I found the early part of the book to be much more interesting than the latter, I guess in part because book usage was so much different pre-printing press and even into the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Once the book hits modern day, I wasn't as captivated, which is why I'm giving the book one star.

Petroski concludes his book with an amusing little appendix that details 25 different ways to sort one's library on shelves.

If you love books, definitely read this book. But even if you have a passing interest, it's worth picking up.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

My son's new career

As most of you who read this know, I used to work as a statistician. Last night, my 11 year old son was rubbing a blanket on his head to generate electricity and then shocking his older brother, himself, whatever else would create a spark. After a few of these, he announced "I'm a statictician". Cracked me up.

Update: Get it? A STATICtician!

Delivering Happiness



It wasn't too long ago when I was struggling to find something to read. Now books are popping out of the woodwork and I have stacks that I'm trying to read. What tends to happen is that I read multiple books simultaneously. I'll have a book in the car for when I have to take the boowahs to rehearsals or practices, I'll have one in the bathroom for serious reading, keep one in the kitchen to read as I cook, another one downstairs for when the computers are not being used by me, one upstairs to read before bed or if I'm up early. You get the idea. When I'm not swimming in books, a single or couple of books might be read in multiple locales. Now, though.....

Thus, all the book reviews right now. I didn't even know about this book. A library patron returned it and I saw Tony Hseih's name as the author which automatically triggered as "Zappos CEO" in my brain. I like reading alternative business books and so I had to grab this as Zappos approach is definitely unusual.

Delivering Happiness is part biography, part business book, part inspirational. It is a very quick read and written in a very conversational tone. Hseih talks about his youth, how he always was an entrepreneur, and how his Asian parents and those of other kids in the neighborhood always pushed their children. Then there is Harvard, Oracle, and Hseih's first major business, LinkExchange. From there we go through the trials and tribulations of Zappos. Interspersed throughout are Hseih's thoughts on success and happiness.

Hseih refers to Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs, something I believe firmly in, and something which is expressed exquisitely in Chip Conley's business book, Peak. On the opposite end of my agreement with Hseih-spectrum, you have the anti-37Signals approach of running a business. Hseih is a firm believer in "it takes money to make money". I'm sure much of this stems from his success at the end of the dot-com boom where venture capitalists were throwing money at anything having to do with the internet. It was pretty clear that had Hseih not successfully cashed out LinkExchange for millions, Zappos would never have gotten off the ground. Hseih originally funded Zappos with his own venture capital firm, dumped the rest of the firms money into Zappos when it needed it, dumped all his assets and money into it, and still required outside funding. This flies in the face of the 37Signals create a business model that is profitable approach.

Hseih has had a good deal of luck in his life, as well as a lot of hard work. I wouldn't necessarily recommend this book if you're looking for inspiration in running a business. As a fun success story or as a primer on customer service, it's a pretty good read.

Monday, December 6, 2010

C



There has never been a book that I anticipated more than this one. I've been waiting to read this book for over two years. I read McCarthy's first novel, Remainder and loved, loved, loved it. It's among my twenty favorite books of all-time. From the instant I read the last page, I wanted to read more by McCarthy. There is no book like Remainder which probably explains why it took McCarthy seven years to find a publisher. I started looking and found that he was in the midst of writing C and so I began waiting for it. Meanwhile, another book of his was published overseas but not here. Then, finally, C came out.

Perhaps my anticipation did me in. C pales to McCarthy's first book but is still a nice piece of writing. The story is out there, not nearly as much as Remainder, but it's odd. As a matter of fact, I doubt it would be published had Remainder not been published previously.

The novel details the life of Serge Carrefax, a lad from rural England. The book begins in the late nineteenth century where Serge is a child growing up in a strange household. His mother runs a silk business, collecting silk from worms then dyeing and selling the output. The man of the house, thought by Serge to be his father, is an inventor who is involved with the telegraph and radio but whose primary occupation is the head of a school for the deaf.

Different portions of Serge's life are depicted in each section of the book. His childhood, which involves the suicide of his sister, makes up the first. He then goes to school, joins the military as a pilot, then post World War I becomes involved with establishing communication lines in Egypt.

Throughout, Serge is obsessed with messages and trying to link sound and radio waves to something more spiritual. This search of meaning seems to be the focus of the book. And just like signals can be crossed, muddled, or garbled, so to does this book often become. Communication struggles abound.

Some of this may be due to Serge. The book is written in the third-person and Serge comes across as a bit mechanical (which makes sense for someone trying to receive signals). His sister's death barely affects him. Despite being a smart guy, he never registers that his true father is his supposed father's friend. While he frequently has sex with various women, he only is ever willing to do so in a single position, one which seems to have nothing to do with the woman or his pleasure. Mostly he waits and observes.

Through it all, you never get a sense of what on earth the point of the story is. There's no climax to the story, no denouement. Which may be the point. I don't know.

When I read, I tend to read for entertainment and/or information. While I wasn't particularly entertained by C, it was impossible to disregard how well constructed it was, almost like drinking a high-end chardonnay when you're normally a red wine drinker. As a result, and maybe a little bit because of my enjoyment of Remainder, I am giving C one star.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Paleo Solution




What causes people to make changes in their lives? I think for many people, and for many changes, the changes are made for them. Losing a job or suffering an illness, for example. For the most part I think people are creatures of habit and we don't like a whole lot of change.

I don't honestly know whether I like change or not. It sure feels like I go through a lot of them and I do know I need to be making some. At the end of April, I will be turning the big 4-0. Right now, I weigh about 280 pounds. My lean weight is around 205 which means I'm running around at almost thirty percent body fat. The combination of age and weight isn't exactly healthy.

I've also been stressed out because of finances. Stress, age and weight....not a good combination. I really need to be doing something.

My problem is that the "to do" list is vast. I need new employment or at least need to approach the Amish Mafia about getting in on some of their activities (I kid, I just like the idea of an Amish Mafia). Need to exercise regularly (I exercise quite irregularly which is better than not at all). Need to eat better. Need to write some things. Involved on a high level with some organizations. Holidays coming. Then there's even more stuff that doesn't bear mentioning in this area.

Be that as it may, you have to start somewhere if you're ever going to make headway. I picked up this book because I've been a fan of Robb Wolf's and I believe he knows about which he speaks. If I hadn't been, though, I might have chalked this book up as being something along the lines of a Kevin Trudeau book. Wolf bashes the medical community, and while he has a long list of references in the back, he doesn't footnote his research, something I think is pretty necessary when you're trying to refute "common knowledge".

What common knowledge is Wolf refuting? Well, the gist of the Paleo Solution is that our bodies have not evolved to where much of what we eat is good for it. Wolf believes that we should eat more like our early, early, early, early ancestors; nuts, berries, vegetables, meat. Grains, sugars, dairy? Out. Drinking cow milk and eating grains are relatively new concepts for our body evolutionarily speaking.

Much of what Robb espouses is what is touted for those who suffer from celiac disease. Those who suffer from that cannot break down gluten and it causes all sorts of health problems as a result. It's not a stretch to apply the same principles to a "healthy" person.

I know that when I omit grains from my diet, I feel better. The thing is, they taste pretty darn good. Pizza, cookies, all that good stuff which isn't good for you at all - it's hard to want to drop those things (which is why I weight 280).

My 400th post on this blog was, erroneously, the previous post (Transfixed Ingress was right, round numbers aren't my thing). My intent for this post was supposed to go one way or another. Either I was going to launch into a thirty day Paleo diet and see what happened or I was going to stop this blog altogether and try to knock out some of my to do items. Well, I had a productive day and knocked out some things. I had a decent workout. I did not eat well. I continue to read (and I'm blogging my reviews for work as well so I might as well continue that here). So we'll hold off on a decision and carry on as normal until I deem otherwise.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Post tomorrow

I'm only putting something down here because of the niceties of round numbers. More tomorrow.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Auggie Wren's Christmas Story



So I'm hanging out at another library last week and I see a Christmas book by Paul Auster on the shelf. "Well, that's different", I say. It is very different and is intended to be so.

In typical Auster fashion, the story is told as if it were told to Auster. We don't know how much is real, how much is fictitious. The story says that The New York Times had contacted Auster to write a Christmas story and he didn't want to write a typical sappy Christmas tale. He struggled until he started talking with his cigar vendor, Auggie Wren (whose name has been changed), who tells him his Christmas story which Auster then uses. Some of that is true. The story originally appeared on Christmas Day in The New York Times

The tale involves shoplifting, a lost wallet, a blind woman, and another theft. The story makes you think. Can lying and stealing be part of a good deed? Is giving giving if there is taking?

A very unorthodox and not really heartwarming Christmas tale. It's so short and so typical Paul Auster that I can't help but like it, though.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Catching Fire



As much as my tastes are congruent with Keith Law, they are not aligned with Michael Ruhlman. I went against my initial feeling and read Medium Raw after Ruhlman said he liked it. I did not. Then, I saw this video of Ruhlman and thought I would check out the book of which he spoke, Catching Fire by Richard Wrangham:

Had Something to Say - Cooking from michael ruhlman on Vimeo.



Ruhlman sums up the book really well in this video. But his passion and excitement and the background music make it more exciting than the book actually was. Ruhlman makes his own leap about cooking and society around 2:22 but otherwise, what he says is what Wrangham writes.

The book isn't badly written. Despite being a Harvard anthropologist, the writing is very accessible. It's not like reading a scholarly journal. That being said, I had a hard time getting into it. Anthropology isn't a topic that interests me very much and I maintain a healthy degree of skepticism when we're making conclusions about how people lived thousands and millions of years ago. The remnants of life forms before us only give us some clues and from there, it's all speculation, usually based on some preformed concepts. Wrangham thinks cooking shaped how we evolved as humans. He may be right. He can fit the evidence to make it seem like it is so. And he certainly has the research to back his views. Over a third of the book is endnotes and bibliography. I'm sure there are anthropologists out there, though, that completely disagree with him.

The book certainly is different. My bias against the subject matter prevents the book from getting a star because it is well researched and well written. I just didn't care for it very much.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

1909 World Champion Pittsburgh Pirates - Babe Adams



We begin our look at the Pittsburgh Pirates championship teams with the 1909 squad. After their loss in the 1903 World Series, for several years the Pirates were bridesmaids but never the bride despite dominating the National League. In 1904, they won 87 games but finished fourth in the league. In 1905, a 96-57 record left them nine games behind John McGraw's New York Giants. The Chicago Cubs took the NL pennant from 1906 to 1908 and the Pirates finished third with 93 wins then second with 91 and 98 wins. But in 1909, Pittsburgh finally broke through to claim the National League crown.

The Pirates started off modestly enough, going 5-6 in April. They began May with a seven game winning streak which put them on top of the league for a while. The Cubs, though, were still a dominant team as well and after defeating Pittsburgh 8-3 in Pittsburgh on May 29th, the two teams left for Chicago with the Cubs holding a half game lead over the Pirates.

In Chicago, the Pirates swept the Cubs in a doubleheader to take the lead in the standings, a position they would not relinquish the rest of the season. The Pirates returned home after the doubleheader sweep and reeled off a twelve game winning streak, opening up a gap of five games over Chicago. It was smooth sailing from there and a sixteen game winning streak in September helped lift the Pirates to a 110-42 record, the third best winning percentage of the modern (post-1901) era. They especially dominated the doormats of the league, going 18-4 against Brooklyn, 18-3 versus St. Louis, and an astounding 20-1 when playing Boston.

The Pirates excelled at all aspects of the game. They had the highest batting average, slugging percentage and on-base percentage in the league as they led the league with 701 runs scored. The top four players in the National League in runs scored were all Pirates. Future Hall of Famers Honus Wagner (the batting champion and arguably best player in the league in '09) and Fred Clarke joined league leader Tommy Leach and mid-season acquisition Bobby Byrne as the only players to score 90+ runs.

On the pitching and defensive side, the Pirates were equally as stellar. The Pirates committed the fewest errors and had the highest fielding percentage in the league. The Pirates committed 227 errors. The rest of the league averaged 292. Howie Camnitz paced the pitching with a 25-6 record and an ERA of 1.62. Hall of Famer Vic Willis added 22 wins. Youngsters Nick Maddox and Lefty Leifeld rounded out a top-notch rotation.

Even though his pitching had been solid throughout the season, when it came time to face the mighty Detroit Tigers in the World Series, manager Fred Clarke opted to ride the hot hand. He tabbed handsome rookie Babe Adams to open up the World Series against Ty Cobb and his teammates.

Adams, despite being a rookie, was no stranger to professional baseball. He had won 20 games in the minor leagues in 1905, 1907 and 1908 and had seen action in the majors twice. He got a start for the St. Louis Cardinals in 1906 and pitched in four games for the Pirates in 1907. He was hit hard in all the games and did not seem to have the seasoning needed to be a regular, especially for a juggernaut like the Pirates.

In Louisville in 1908, though, he proved his readiness. Exhibiting excellent control by only walking 40 batters in 312 innings, he showed he was prepared to take on the National League.

Adams found it difficult to crack Pittsburgh's vaunted rotation as exhibited by his performance on May 4th, 1909. Adams had been used in relief a couple of times in the early part of the season but was given a start against the Chicago Cubs and their ace, Mordecai "Three Finger" Brown. Adams dueled Brown for eleven innings with both hurlers not allowing a run. The Pirates finally plated a run in the bottom of the eleventh to earn the victory and give Adams his first career shutout. Adams' reward was further usage in relief.

Although he appeared sporadically (complete games by a pitcher were still the norm), Adams fared well. By the end of August he had six victories and had saved a couple of other games (although the save was not an official statistic). At the end of August, Clarke started using Adams as a starter. He went 7-2 down the stretch with a pair of shutouts and finished the season with a 1.11 ERA.

The World Series opened in Pittsburgh and Clarke's decision to start Adams looked terrible. He walked two batters, got two groundouts and then gave up a single to Jim Delahanty which scored a run in the first. George Moriarty also singled but the ball hit Delehanty on the basepaths to end the inning. Adams settled down from there, though, allowing just four singles the rest of the way and not allowing any more runs in a 4-1 complete game victory.

The Tigers took two of the next three and Adams took the hill for game five. His control was much better as he only allowed one walk. He did serve up two home runs. Adams got a lot of support from his teammates as they belted out ten hits, including a home run by Clarke, and stole four bases. The Pirates gave Adams the 8-4 win.

Since you know already from me that this series went seven games, you can guess who won game six. For the final game of the series, Adams was selected to start with just one day of rest. He showed little sign of fatigue. The Tigers got six hits and drew just one walk. Adams blanked the Tigers 8-0 to give the Pirates their first World Championship.

Sixteen years later, the Pirates claimed their second championship and Adams again pitched for them, albeit in a lesser role. He pitched one inning of shutout relief (making him part of the answer to the trivia question from the previous post). As for the rest of that 1925 Series, you'll have to come back to read about Max, Harold and Hazen.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Pittsburgh Pirates, clutch baseball team extraordinaire

I keep coming across the Pittsburgh Pirates as of late and I thought I would write about them. Not the current version of the Pittsburgh Pirates. They're pretty awful. And not any of the miserable seasons over the last two decades. I had a post last year that looked back on what life was like when the Pirates last had a winning record. Nothing to add there.

No, the reason I want to write about the Pirates right now is to look at their five World Championships. Why? Because interestingly, all five times the Pirates have won the World Series, they won it in the seventh game of the World Series. In fact, they have never lost a seven game World Series. In World Series greater or less than seven games, they are 0-2 (the Pirates were swept by the Yankees in four games in 1927 and lost the best of nine series to the Boston Americans in 1903).

In 1909, 1925, 1960, 1971 and 1979 the Pirates were World Champions. I'll be looking back at each series and writing about a possibly unsung person (or just forgotten from those championship teams of 85+ years ago) who played an important role for that team.

For now, I'll leave with a trivia question (no cheating and looking up the answer). Name the five members of the Pittsburgh Pirates who won two World Series with the Pirates as a player.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Straight Man



I really enjoy ESPN.com's baseball analyst Keith Law. So much so, I asked Beardy to make a baseball card of him. We seem to share similar tastes in a bunch of things, especially books. Plus, he's a good writer/analyst. Shoot, I even have his Twitter feed in my RSS Reader (the only person about whom I can make such a claim (or would want to)).

In a chat of his recently, another reader, inspired by Law's love of books, stated that he wanted to become a reader and asked Law for a good first book to read. Law went with Richard Russo's Straight Man. Law is a big fan of Russo's but I had never heard him mention this book. Some of Russo's other books have been on my to-read list but I haven't gotten around to him until now.

Straight Man was fantastic. The story takes place at a college in a small Pennsylvania town. The main character, William Henry Devereaux, Jr. ("Hank"), is an English professor at the college and interim chair of the department. He is fifty years old but often behaves like a man much younger (say twelve). His father, a noted professor, left him and his mother for one of his graduate students when Hank was younger but has now reappeared in his life for the first time in decades. The department has no budget yet and Hank is suffering the brunt of the blame. The stress in his life has resulted in urinary problems. He fantasizes about his wife cheating on him. Hank has a lot of problems.

I think what makes this book great is that Russo is able to take a guy with a lot of problems (and the other characters do, too) and show the humorous side. Like in real life, there are good moments and bad. Russo balances the dark with the light extremely well. The characters are flawed. There are alcoholics, jerks, professors who sleep with students, guys who cheat on their wife, a couple who overspend their means. People who are greedy, envious, lazy. In short, they are normal.

Maybe a little funnier than usual. And the professors in the book might sleep with their students more than is typical (at least I'd like to think it's atypical). But really the human factor makes the characters interesting and many of them likable.

That being said, the more I think about it, the more I think the book might be a little light on plot. There's tons of conflict, the conflicts are resolved in a very nice fashion. The book moves fast with a lot happening just over the course of a week. I think the frenetic pacing coupled with the complex characters carries the book.

This was definitely one of the best books I have read this year and I look forward to reading more of Russo down the road.

I also re-read Simon Rich's Free-range Chickens. Not so much because it's a great book, but more because it is such a quick read. Seriously, twenty minutes tops. Something to read when you need a quick laugh.

Also finished my friend Jason's novel (at least my first time through it. I intend to go through it again in the near future). Since it has not been published, I'm not going to review it but I will say that it would fall in the one-star range for me. I'm hoping he does get it published.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Hall of Famer George Steinbrenner

Color me cynical. When I was at the Hall this summer, Yankees owner George Steinbrenner died (July 13th).

Stunningly, the Baseball Hall of Fame announced two weeks later that they were overhauling the way the Veterans Committee worked. Under the revised procedures, candidates will now be lumped into an era: Pre-integration (pre-1946), Golden (?!?!) 1947-1972, and Expansion (1973-present). This in itself is baffling. What makes the first quarter century after integration Golden? Why does the Expansion Era begin in a year where no expansion took place (expansion took place in 1961, 1962, 1969, 1977, 1993 and 1998). Every year, the Veterans Committee will vote on candidates from a single era.

Any idea which era is up for vote first? I'll give you a hint. George Steinbrenner bought the Yankees on January 3, 1973.

Two weeks after Steinbrenner dies, the rules for election change, a fabricated era is created that just happens to coincide with Steinbrenner's reign, and that era just happens to be the one the voters will vote on first. Surely it is just a coincidence.

Well, the ballot was released today. Sure enough, Steinbrenner is on the ballot. Five-time Yankee manager Billy Martin is also on the list. I can't help but shake the feeling that there will be two members elected this year and that the plaques are already being made.

I just hope that the Hall doesn't follow the Yankees lead and give Steinbrenner a super-sized plaque.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

How to be an MVP

Kids, do you want to be a Most Valuable Player? If so, there are two important rules to follow. The first is, swing at the ball. Walks won't win you awards. The second rule is don't play unless it's really, really important. The rest will help you be strong so when you do swing, you will hit home runs.

Look at San Francisco Giants shortstop Edgar Renteria. He just won the World Series MVP. And from August 4th until the end of the World Series last night, Renteria drew exactly one walk. That's right. From the time you were at the beach enjoying summer vacation and 100 degree weather until early November, when the first marking period is about to end, he took four balls just once. Very important lesson.

Nopw let's look at rest. During that time span in which Renteria drew one walk, he played in just 15 regular season games followed by 11 postseason games. That's 26 games. His team played 70 games. Renteria started the season playing a bunch of games. He played in 72 games during the regular season and hit three home runs. That's a home run every 24 games. In 2009 he hit five home runs in 124 games for one home run every 25 games.

But in five World Series games, coming off a bunch of rest, Renteria hit two home runs.

So remember, kids, if your coach wants you to play, tell him you'll be ready when the games are important and when you do play, make sure the only walking you do is during your home run trots.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Talking Candy

I've been thinking about candy for a couple of reasons, one of which I'll share next week and one I'll share now.

For some reason, the small town I live in made the decision years ago that if Halloween fell on a weekend, the night for kids to trick-or-treat would be Friday. As a result, my youngest son went out last night for a candy haul. In a way, this is nice, especially since the weekend is not disrupted. On the other hand, savvy (or conniving, depending on your stance) children and their parents from other parts of the county will commute to our town to get a start on their sugarhoards before their own candy grabbing on the 31st. I can't really complain much since my sons will be going to Delaware to visit my ex and doing the trick-or-treating scene there on Sunday.

So with buying and distributing and eating and thinking about candy, I thought I would come up with my all-time top five candy list. The only criteria here are that they have to be wrapped. I like fine chocolates and handmade stuff and all that. I'm only considering candy you could pick up at a gas station or convenience store.

I also thought about doing ten but 1. I don't feel like putting a huge amount of time in this and 2. when I was thinking about this, I sort of felt like once you got out of the top handful, it was really an issue of mood. I wouldn't always put number 10 behind number nine or even six. So we'll go with five.

5. Kit Kat Dark - A sleeper in the candy world as Hershey has only issued it in limited-editions. The Kit Kat is one of those candy bars that doesn't seem like anything special and you can almost wonder why anyone would choose it over other candies. The dark chocolate, though, turns it into a top five candy bar for me, though.

A local pastor goes through town every Thursday and hands out little candy bars with small sermons related to the candy bar attached to them. He introduced me to the Kit Kat Dark when it was the candy of the week. So by definition it has to be good.

4. Peanut Chews - Originally a product of Goldenberg's and now made by Just Born, this is a regional candy but one I have always enjoyed. For me, the high point of Halloween (arguably my least favorite day of the year) now is that my youngest son hates these things and so I get any that he receives trick-or-treating. They, too, are dark chocolate.

3. Reese's Peanut Butter Cups - Undoubtedly would hold the top spot if not for the fact that I find them addictive and either find myself craving more after eating a pack, or eating more than one pack and making myself sick. This lose-lose situation prevents a higher ranking.

2. Take 5 - An almost perfect package of deliciousness. Pretzel, caramel, peanuts, peanut butter, chocolate. Salty, sweet, crunchy, smooth. It doesn't get any better.

1. Good Stuff - Oh yes it does. At least it once did. A company called Grist Mills made Good Stuff in the early nineties. They sold for a quarter a piece when you could find them which, in North Carolina, was impossible. I even wrote the company trying to find somewhere in the state to find them.

My junior year of college, I traveled with my school's baseball team to spring training as I was the statistician. We went by van down to Florida and we stopped at a gas station in Georgia late at night to fuel up and get some caffeine. I went in and there in all it's neon blue glory was a box of Good Stuff candy bars. I bought the entire box. I only ever found them one other time after that.

Much like the Take 5, it was a mix of things. Caramel, chocolate, chocolate chips, peanut butter, and either or both rice crispies and oats. It was almost like a chocolate covered granola bar but didn't have the thick, chewy consistency you get with them.

Ugh. I'm feeling sick writing about candy so early. More about candy (and other food) in a few days.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

The Art Detective



I didn't fool around with getting this book. One copy was entering our library system and I put a hold on it before the library even got it. It came in to their branch and went right back out to me. You know (if you read this blog) that art forgery is of huge interest to me. I wasn't exactly sure if The Art Detective was about forgeries or not but it sparked my interest.

The author, Philip Mould, is an art gallery owner and part of the Antiques Roadshow broadcast in England who has specialized in portrait paintings. Each of the six chapters of his book details the story of some interesting find he has come across during his career: Chapter 1 tells the story of a pack rat who hoarded portraits in a dilapidated church in rural Vermont; the second chapter talks about a Gainsborough that had been so overpainted as to be unrecognizable; overpainting plays an important part in a chapter on a Rembrandt and a lesser role when Mould covers a purchase of a Queen Elizabeth I painting. There is a chapter on Norman Rockwell forgeries and then Mould concludes with a tremendous, unfinished at publication, Antiques Roadshow tale involving an unusual Winslow Homer found in a pile of garbage.

Perhaps what amazed me the most is how much overpainting has been done on paintings of noted artists. Overpainting is what it sounds like. Another artist goes and paints over the original painting for various reasons. In the case of the Rembrandt, it was done in order to update the painting to fit the time period in which it was displayed. Sometimes it is done to cover up damaged areas of the painting. Restorers can painstakingly often remove the overpainting and bring the painting more towards its original appearance. One of the fascinating things about the book is the before and after photos of some of the paintings, especially the Rembrandt.

My only complaints about this book are petty. One, I wish the pictures were with the chapters in which they are discussed. There are two sections of photos, each about a third of the way from the ends of the book. I didn't like leaving back and forth or seeing the pictures of future chapters before I read about them. Second, the book is too darn short. Six chapters? I could have read twenty or more. Lastly, as with most non-fiction, I would love a book of references, especially for the chapters on QEI and the Antiques Roadshow where Mould and his assistant conducted a lot of research. What tools does he use?

I really enjoyed Mould's writing. He is very engaging and he realizes that the stories, and not Mould himself, are most important (at least to the reader). Just a thoroughly entertaining and fascinating read. It appears, too, that Mould will be hosting a television show in England called Art Sleuth which will be in much the same vein.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Carl Pavano TTM request from spring training



Much to my surprise I found in my mailbox an envelope addressed to myself in my own hand. I had not sent out any autograph requests in ages and was shocked to find that Carl Pavano had responded to my request for an autograph.

Apparently once the Twins' season ended, Pavano sat down with his fan mail and went through it all. Given that his signature resembles initials, he probably can afford to wait until the conclusion of the season before he knocks them all out in a sitting.

Nonetheless, I am grateful to get the request back and thank Mr. Pavano for his time.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Answering questions at the Baseball Hall of Fame

When I started my internship at the A. Bartlett Giamatti Research Center at the National Baseball Hall of Fame this past summer, I thought it would be fun to keep track of the questions I was asked over the course of the ten weeks. After a couple of days I gave up as the volume of queries was much too great. I've been going through piles of research of my own from this summer and came across my question list from those early days and thought I would share. These are questions I answered personally. There was another intern, the manager of the library and two researchers who also answered questions. This should give you a sense of the volume and types of questions the Hall gets.

"How many no-hitters in the major leagues have been broken up with two out in the ninth inning?"

This was my very first question. It came from the curatorial staff who I believe had received it from major league baseball. This question came on the heels of Armando Galarraga's near perfect game. Unfortunately, I recorded the questions but not the answers to these. I know I found an article from a 1970's issue of Baseball Digest that had all the ones up to that point. I believe I found someone who had kept a list online. Of course, those had to be cross-referenced and the list was incomplete. When all was said and done, there were a good number but no real way to confirm them all. Challenging way to start.

"When was Jackie Robinson's signing by the Brooklyn Dodgers announced?"
"When did Branch Rickey resign from the Pittsburgh Pirates?"

The first weekend there was the same weekend as the Cooperstown Symposium. Some of the presenters were on hand early to put the finishing touches on their presentations and these questions were from one of the folks presenting on Robinson.

"Please provide a list of all the scouts employed by major league teams from 1926-2005".

While some of the research was fun, some of it was grunt work, too. This question was an example of the latter. This was easy to answer since it is in the Baseball Blue Book, an annual publication distributed to major league teams. But having to photocopy all the lists to send to the guy with the question was a pain. It also makes you wonder, too....What on earth would one do with this info?

"How many Hall of Famers were playing in the major leagues at age 19?"

More than you would guess. If I were at home answering this, I would have used Sean Lehman's Baseball Archive. By the end of the summer, I had convinced the staff to be using it, too. It's a great tool if you have Microsoft Access skills. I forget how I answered it at the Hall, but it took longer than if I had my laptop.

"Have there been any games where both teams scored in all innings?"

No. Baseball Almanac had the answer and I think it is an overlooked site when doing research. I found an error or two over the summer but it is about as accurate a resource as you can find online.

"What was the name of Ossie Bluege's parents and wife?"

This was one of my "I'm writing a book on X" questions which are sort of funny. Some researchers have the idea that writing a book puts them in rarefied territory at the Hall. Many, many writers each day use the Hall (I'm using Hall as shorthand for the Research Center) for their research. The number of people who came in during my time there whom I could say, "Oh, I have (at least) one of your books" was large. Those guys didn't expect special treatment. So don't act like you're all special. OK?

Getting back to this question, I have worked hard to develop my own personal research library over the years. I have almost 1500 books on baseball, the majority geared towards research. When I showed up at the Hall, I thought it would be a piece of cake because of my years of using my library for myself and for SABR. Yes, when it came to books, I was very, very good. But one area where the Hall has it over me is their player clipping files. Every one who has played major league ball (in addition to execs, umpires, Negro Leaguers, women who played, top researchers, broadcasters, etc.) has a folder there containing all sorts of info. There are also player questionnaires on microfilm which is where I was able to find the names of Bluege's parents and spouse.

"What are the differences in William Harridge baseballs?"

I hated memorabilia questions. National League balls produced while William Harridge was the president of the league had different looks depending on when the ball was produced. I remember the guy asking this thinking that there was some sort of variation in the number of stars on each ball. Hated this and other questions of that ilk.

"I'm looking for a pair of articles that were in issues of Sport magazine in 1947 and 1954. Can you tell me where I might find them?"

Sure. No problem. As a matter of fact, let me scan them and e-mail them to you. Ah, technology and a library with periodicals. Another area where my library is lacking.

"I'm looking for information on an exhibition game between the Hollywood Stars of the Pacific Coast League and the New York Yankees. My father got to sit in the dugout during the game and I wanted to try and find the game."

A nice online tool is Proquest. I used that for this one and many other questions over the summer.

"Is the black edge of home plate part of the strike zone?"

I also hated rules questions. Especially ones like this. Have you watched a ball game at any level? No matter what the rule states, interpretation varies from umpire to umpire. The correct answer is no, though. The black is there to help delineate the plate for the ump.

"I'm looking for information on Charles Meara and George Levy".
"Did Mike Zavada play professional baseball?"

These types of questions came up a lot. My father, grandfather, uncle, neighbor, little league coach, this guy I met at a bar who I slept with (yes, you get those) played ball/claimed to play ball/had something to do with baseball and I want to know more. Player files, player contract cards on microfilm, baseball-reference.com. Pretty standard fare throughout the summer. Levy was a little more difficult because he wasn't a player. And delicacy in the event said person did not play is just as important as finding the information.

"My father was Gordon Hutchinson. He had something to do with signing Whitey Ford for the Butler Pirates when they were a farm team for the Yankees. Was he responsible for the Yankees getting Whitey Ford?"

The last question on my list and one where my book knowledge paid off. Russell Hockenberry's A Sketch History of the Middle Atlantic League had information on league officials. I don't have the book but it is on my want list so I knew of it. I don't recall now what Hutchinson's role was but there was some info on him plus a photo which the woman asking the question thought was cool. The answer was no, though.

So that's it. I think that those were all the questions I answered the first two days on the job. About one an hour and that was when I was an ignorant grunt intern who couldn't find anything (unless it was in a book). And that was just the research side of the position. Needless to say, it kept you hopping. I still don't know how they manage when there are no interns. Granted, things are slower in the offseason, but still.

Oh, there were two other valuable resources I failed to mention which are not part of my own collection which should be. The Cultural Encyclopedia of Baseball is an amazing book that any serious baseball scholar should have. The other resource is media guides. I was amazed at the number of answers teams have already provided for you. Want to know who has hit home runs to the left of the flagpole in center at Fenway Park? Someone did and I was baffled as to how to find that. "Did you check the Red Sox media guide?" No. Why would it be there? Oh, look at that. They have a section called "Home runs hit to the left of the flagpole in center". Craziness.

Almost makes me miss it.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Tim Collins at the Pan-Am Games qualifier

After the baseball season ended, things continued to be lively for pitcher Tim Collins. Collins, as you might remember from my post of a month ago is the undrafted, short, hard-throwing strikeout artist now in the Kansas City Royals system. Frankly, though, I'm more impressed with his success given his age rather than his height.

Reports of his height keep creeping up, understandable given the height bias baseball shows towards players, especially pitchers. His birthdate stays the same, however and Collins has been legally able to drink for just under two months now.

I digress. The season ended and the Sporting News, quite appropriately, named Collins to their 2010 all-minor league team. Collins was then selected to represent Team USA in the Pan-American Games qualifier where he was the youngest pitcher on the team and third youngest player for Team USA. The two younger guys, Mike Trout and Eric Hosmer, are both former first round picks. Collins, as you may recall, went completely undrafted.

The fortunes of Team USA and Collins went hand in hand. Collins pitched his first game for Team USA against Canada. He threw a scoreless fifth inning, striking out one as Team USA earned the win in their first game of the tournament.

Two days later, Team USA again defeated Canada. Collins again threw a scoreless fifth, allowing a single.

On October 2, Team USA traveled to Puerto Rico to continue the tournament (the first games were in Cary, North Carolina) and faced Puerto Rico. In the 6th inning, Puerto Rico had rallied to bring the score to 4-3 and had a man on second. Collins was summoned from the pen and got his man to pop out to end the inning.

He got the first two men he faced in the seventh then allowed a single and a double before getting out of the jam by striking out the batter. He began the eighth and retired the first two batters he faced before being removed. Collins threw just 21 pitches to the eight batters he faced and USA triumphed 7-4.

Over the next few days, the United States battered opponents, blanking Aruba 14-0 and crushing Colombia 13-6. Collins worked the ninth in a 8-3 victory over the Dominican Republic, walking one.

Collins continued his string of scoreless appearances against Nicaragua on October 8th. He allowed a single and struck out one in the eighth inning of a 5-0 USA victory. Two days later Collins worked the ninth in a 4-0 victory over Canada. He walked a batter, gave up a single and struck out one.

After thirteen consecutive victories, USA lost their final game against the Dominican Republic. The DR was looking to pull away from USA in the seventh. Up 4-1 with runners on first and third and two outs, Collins was summoned to get out of the jam, which he did. Collins struck out two of the three batters he faced in the eighth and then started the ninth with a walk. After a sacrifice moved the runner to second, Collins allowed a double to give up his first run of the tournament. He struck out the next batter and then was removed from the game. His replacement served up a two run homer, the runner on second being charged to Collins.

Collins led team USA with seven appearances, six of them scoreless. He threw ten innings, giving up seven hits, walking four and striking out seven. His ERA was 1.80.

It was a nice performance by Collins and one that should help increase his already solid chances of being on the Kansas City Royals come April.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Medium Raw



It was never my intent to read this book. I had read Bourdain's Kitchen Confidential and enjoyed that one. That book talks about Bourdain's early days as a cook and the harsh life that it is for the majority of cooks and the other folk in their kitchens. It was interesting and eye-opening and helped launch Bourdain onto the path he now walks; that of glamour travelogue/guest judge/fancy schmancy pants cook. Instead of hanging in the low-end kitchens of his younger days, he now is part of the posh three-star Michelin restaurant kitchens (as an eater, not a cook), festival attending, being on television folks. Well, really it's just one folk, him. Bourdain has crafted a unique place for himself in the food chain (pun intended).

The subtitle of Medium Raw, "A bloody valentine to the world of food and the people who cook" wasn't really appealing either. It seemed as if the book might be a "bite the hand who feeds you" type of approach. I do like Bourdain but I didn't believe that I would get much out of reading this book. I'm not going to be eating at the same restaurants or traveling to the same countries or sharing a table with people he does. He's entertaining to watch and listen to (and, in Kitchen Confidential, to read) but that didn't inspire me to want to read Medium Raw.

Michael Ruhlman did, though. The author of two great books on cooking that I have read, Ratio and Making of a Chef, posted this review on his website. Ruhlman's anticipatory take was similar to mine:

"...I thought great, fine. (Another rehash of travel stories and opinion on foie gras and chefs, detritus sloughed off during too-long plane rides and passing time in airports. Repurposing material because he’d taken a chunk of cash from his publisher and had to deliver something.)"

Ruhlman then goes on to state how wrong he is and how admirable he finds Bourdain's writing skills and the book he produced.

So I read it. And didn't like it. The chapters have a feel of essays and don't move well from one to another. There's no middle ground with Bourdain, either, in his viewpoint of things. He either likes it or hates it. Given the role he plays in the food world, this makes sense. Like so much of our media today, it's not enough to report on something, you have to take a side to keep talking. I hate that. Nothing is ever clear cut and the fact that something can be controversial indicates that there is more than one side. I like to see that side, too. You don't get both sides from Bourdain very often.

I also think it's a shame that someone who writes as well as Bourdain (and shame on Ruhlman, too, in his blog post) that he feels the need to utilize profanities with the incredible frequency that he does. It feels like he overuses profanities in order to remind readers (and maybe himself) that he isn't all high-falutin', that he came up on the other side of the tracks, and that while he may dine with people worth millions, deep down he's still the heavy-drinking, chain-smoking blue-collar guy he once was.

Bourdain does talk about his past a good bit in the book and the final chapter is an update on the people he wrote about in Kitchen Confidential. But in the end, I never feel like there is any point to this book. It does feel like it was about taking a chunk of change from the publisher. Perhaps if you are a die-hard food person and eat at David Chang's restaurants and care about the James Beard awards and the foie gras controversy, then sure, this might be a good book. To the average person, I can't recommend it.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

This Book is Overdue



I enjoyed the majority of this book. It's about librarianship in the 21st century and the challenges and changes that librarians face in a world of rapidly changing technology. Johnson is not a librarian herself which enables her to write with a very unbiased look at the changes going on in the field.

Some of the changes are encouraging to me, some disappointing. Some are just downright odd. Librarianship in the realm of Second Life....not interested. The chapter on libraries in New York City made me long to be in an area where there are library positions (even though NYC libraries are facing the same budget cuts so many other libraries are). Other chapters examine privacy issues, how librarians don't look like librarians any more, blogs, digitization, archiving and more.

This isn't necessarily a book for librarians, though. it's not a how-to manual and is not dry by any stretch of the imagination. If you use a library at all, I think you'll like the book. And if you don't use libraries, well, what the heck is wrong with you?

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

David Sedaris: Live for Your Listening Pleasure



I wasn't sure whether or not to review this since it's a sound recording and not a book. It's not an audiobook because there is no written text to be found although the recording is, in part, of David Sedaris doing readings. So I'll review it but not put it in my sidebar rankings.

I have been a fan of Sedaris since the beginning of the century (Me Talk Pretty One Day). As both an author and essayist, I found him to be hysterical. At least for a while. In the middle part of the decade, he stopped being funny to me and started to show more of a bitter side to him. In the last couple of years, funny again.

My boss is also a fan and she had purchased this CD for the library, then listened to it when she had to go to Pittsburgh. She came back and gave it to me to listen to saying it was extremely funny.

It is. Sedaris starts with a fable using two critters (and I believe his newest book is mostly, if not entirely, such stories). He goes on to talk about his trip to Costco with his brother-in-law which is absolutely hilarious. My other favorite is his discussion of non-natives speaking foreign words with an accent. The CD concludes with some notes from a book tour and then a story concerning his family, always a source of Sedaris' humor.

Good stuff. If you haven't heard Sedaris read his own stuff, here's a sample from an appearance on Letterman

Monday, October 11, 2010

Rework



This book was a long time coming for me to read. I'm a big fan of the 37Signals guys, especially David Heinemeier Hansson, and have read and listened to a huge amount of their thoughts on various topics. It was because I am so well versed in their theories that I did not purchase this book. I was afraid of shelling out twenty bucks and not learning anything new. So I waited for it to hit the library system.

The book was published in March and our library system got two copies, only one of which was being loaned out to other libraries in the system, in April. I put in a hold request but May rolled around and my spot in the hold queue had still not been reached. Being as I was headed for The Coop, I removed myself from the list. When I returned from the Baseball Hall of Fame in August, I put myself back on the hold list and finally, in October, the book arrived for me at the library.

Sadly, it wasn't worth the wait. I've read it or heard it all before. I was initially shocked by the size of the book (288 pages) but the amount of content across those pages is minimal. The book could contain the same information in half the pages. There are a dozen chapters, each of which is broken into multiple sections. Each section has a full page graphic for the chapter heading and then the text of each section runs about two pages. With only two pages (with huge margins), you're not getting any indepth content. The book almost misses being a collection of pithy sayings just because they do write few paragraphs about each section concept.

That being said, if you're new to 37Signals and don't want to wade through interviews, blog posts and videos to understand their way of thinking, it's nice to have it all in one place. You can even get a lot of it free in their first book, Getting Real.

If, like me, you're well versed in the business and design philosophies of Fried and Hansson, it doesn't make much sense to get this. As a matter of fact, I'm going to rate the book zero stars because so much of the content is accessible widely and freely.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Horse Whisperer



I have been in a serious rut of reading. In my last review I mentioned that I was reading a book that I was thinking of withdrawing from the library as well as the first draft of a novel a friend of mine wrote. Well, the book was withdrawn with my not finishing it. Austin Grossman's Soon I Will Be Invincible could not withstand the onslaught of deselection. The book was just backstory about superheroes he created. Over and over. The actual story plodded along because the reader is constantly being told about what happened before. Horrible way to tell a story and I didn't finish it.

My friend Jason's book, Saving Anne, has been an enjoyable read but I'm reading it as a computer file and did not print it out. Not the best way to read but probably the best way to make comments. So I'm plodding along there for different reasons.

Meanwhile, I was continuing to search for something that struck my fancy. My mood has not been good (that changed with all this rain today. Six inches and counting. I love, love, love rain) and nothing has really grabbed my interest. I grabbed Nicholas Evans' The Horse Whisperer because the movie is one of my favorites and one of a select few I own.

As I read the book, I tried to read it without taking the movie into consideration. It wasn't all that difficult. There are probably more differences than similarities between the book and the movie.

The general gist is the same. Young girl goes horse riding with her friend after a snowfall. Horse slips, they slide down a hill in a tangled mass where they are hit by a tractor trailer. One girl and one horse die. The other girl loses her leg and the other horse is all messed up. Both survivors are traumatized.

The mother, Annie, a noted magazine editor, finds a fellow out in Montana who has a mystical way with horses. She forces her way into his life, without the approval of her daughter, to try and get him to fix the horse (Pilgrim), her life, her daughter (Grace), and anything else that comes to mind. Annie and Tom (the Horse Whisperer) fall in love despite a loving, caring father back home in New York.

Grace and Pilgrim turn out all right.

Those are the similarities. The differences are considerable. Tom is a bit of a ladies' man in the book but almost more of a monk in the movie. As such, I thought he was much more likable in the movie. Really, I didn't find myself liking any of the characters in the book that much which was a direct contrast to the movie. The book ending is horrible, filled with death and potential illegitimate children.

The author, Nicholas Evans, reminded me a lot of another Nicholas, Mr. Sparks. Same sort of sappy writing. Evans gets a little ridiculous with some paragraphs, breaking out the thesaurus to get some alliteration going here and there. Nothing special. No nice turns of phrases but a lot of cringe-worthy material.

Once I finished it, I found myself amazed at how well the movie turned out given this was the starting point. It turns out the fellow who did the screenplay, Eric Roth, also is doing the screenplay for Jonathan Safran Foer's Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, one of my favorite books. He also did the screenplay for the Curious Case of Benjamin Button, a movie I was surprised was made since it was based on a short story.

I'm hoping my mood and reading selections turn around in the near future. I'm in the middle of a book I like right now and a book for which I have been waiting for six months to read will be on its way to me next week. In addition, we purchased a trio of books that are on my to read list including what may be the book I have anticipated reading the most in my lifetime; Tom McCarthy's C.

Cross your fingers for me and hope for some good reading.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Might I have a new favorite player?

Ask me and I'll tell you my favorite player is Adam Dunn. Says so right there in my profile. Big, strong hulking guy like myself. Plays his brand of game unapologetically, a game of walks, strikeouts and massive home runs. I once kept a blog about his pursuit of the career home run record until that record ceased to belong to Hank Aaron.

I've noticed, though, that when I check the boxscores each morning, I find myself looking forward to checking those of a team other than Dunn's Nationals and after last night, I really began to wonder if my allegiances have modified.

Last night, Dunn led off the bottom of the ninth against the Phillies with a game-winning home run off of Jose Contreras. Awesome. I was very glad to see that.

But over in the midwest, I check the boxscores of the Twins-Royals game and see that Kila Ka'aihue hit a pair of home runs and a triple. That made me give a bit of a cheer. His eleven total bases in a game is the second most ever by a native Hawaiian (Mike Lum's three home run game is tops). Great performance.

I'm not ready to say I like Kila more. One, with the Royals, you never know when he'll be back in Omaha. Two, because Kila finally is being given a chance, there is a bit of a novelty. It's easy to become jaded and say "Wow, another Adam Dunn home run. I've only seen that 353 other times." whereas Kila's were career numbers seven and eight.

And it's not like Kila's game is all that different from Dunn's. At 6'3", 221, Ka'aihue is dwarved by Dunn but they both are lefty sluggers with tremendous patience.

So I guess, no, I do not have a new favorite player but it is very nice to see Kila Ka'aihue have a great game like this and hope that there are many more to come in his big league career.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Never Tear Us Apart

I have fond memories of INXS' song, Never Tear Us Apart. My prom date smacked me during the playing of it. I have played the sax most of my life and when Kirk Pengilly's sax solo kicked in while we were dancing, I broke into song with him. I guess she thought it ruined the mood or something.

Record Club: INXS "Never Tear Us Apart" from Beck Hansen on Vimeo.



Apparently Beck has been remaking INXS songs and while I haven't liked the interpretations of most of them, I do like this one. It would have been nice if they had gone out and hired a fifth grader to play the violin so it sounded better but other than that, it's really nice.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Packing for Mars



Posted out of order. This is neither novel mentioned in the previous post.

I have enjoyed Mary Roach's writings for years and years. I first came across her as a writer for Reader's Digest. My parents have subscribed to RD for most of my life and when I would visit, I would grab any issues I hadn't read and look for her two page humor piece. She has always been extremely entertaining. If you want to read some of her pieces, Google her name and Reader's Digest.

When she published her first book, Stiff, I pounced on it. It was about cadavers and how they are used in scientific study.

I have not read her books on the afterlife (Spook) or sex (Bonk) but read a nice review of Packing for Mars in Book Page. The library got Packing for Mars in so I signed it out and read it.

Packing for Mars is about space travel, particularly the effects of space travel on the human body. This is not a topic that would normally interest me and if not for Roach writing it, I probably wouldn't have checked it out.

I have an issue with Mary Roach, though. She is really, really interested in body functions. I don't have the desire to read about defecation, urination, vomiting, etc. Swelling of organs also not high on my list of interests. Mary loves it. It's why I probably won't read Bonk. I'm afraid it'll turn me off of sex.

After reading Packing for Mars, I can safely say that I will not be participating in space flight any time soon. I actually enjoy showers and real food. I don't enjoy motion sickness and being in tiny places for long periods of time. It is plenty fascinating reading Roach's research into those who are willing and able to take part and even more fascinating reading about the preparations involved.

The research Roach does is excellent. She talks to folks from space programs around the world which I find quite remarkable given the secrecy of governments. If I had an interest in space or even science, this would probably be a two star book but it didn't quite appeal to me enough for me to give it such a rating.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Cult of the Amateur



Before I delve into this horrible book, I want to mention that I couldn't finish another awful book. David Silver's book Smart Start-ups is dated despite being written only five years ago. Silver is an angel investor who funds entrepreneurial ventures. He says in the beginning that he is not an entrepreneur himself. Despite this, he spent most of the part I read throwing out different business ideas for people to launch using social media. Silver also makes it a point that these businesses can be started with just a little bit of capital. They can be successfully launched with as little as five million dollars in funds. Good to know.

Returning to The Cult of the Amateur, Andrew Keen has written a gigantic whinefest. Keen is a journalist who bemoans the changes that have taken place in the world because of technology. Most of the critics of this book consider Keen a Luddite or technophobe. i don't get that sense. My take on Keen and that the book is that Keen is an arrogant man who has spent a great part of his life employed as journalist and now it's harder for his work to be appreciated and paid for. He complains that the internet has created a society where amateurs can take the place of experts and write or talk about whatever they want.

Keen's book evoked anger from me. Upon completion of the book, I closed it and said "What an awful book that was". Here's a professional journalist, an "expert" in his parlance, who does not do a good job of reporting. His citations are haphazard, he only presents his side of the argument, and he will say one thing and then criticize opponents who do the same. For instance, he berates Kevin Kelly of Wired magazine for comparing intellectual property to razors ("books aren't razors") one page after he makes a comparison of the same property to automobiles. Keen cites specific examples and extrapolates them into generalizations. If one person has a problem with gambling addiction, then online gambling must be addictive.

Perhaps the thing that angered me the most about the book is that Keen thinks the majority of people in the world are idiots who can't think for themselves. There are certainly those folks. In the final chapter, which was added for the re-release of the book, Keen calls these people hedgehogs because they have one-track minds. The opposite of the hedgehog is a fox which Keen labels himself, despite not being able to accept viewpoints other than his own. A fox, Keen is not.

I like to think I am. I'm a critical thinker. I thank Robert Williams of Guilford College for leading me down that path in college. He was the first person I can recall who really stressed to me that there are biases everywhere. He had us read about the same current event in multiple newspapers to see how the newspapers differed in their perceptions and biases.

Keen suggests that all that matters is that the media are experts and we should only accept their word because they are the pros. People who keep blogs or post videos cannot possibly know as much as those who appear on television or write for newspapers and only those who have been anointed as such by their respective agencies can merit expert status.

So Keen would have me only read news about the Milwaukee Brewers from Milwaukee newspapers or perhaps national organizations like ESPN. The guys at Brew Crew Ball cannot possibly offer me anything.

As a matter of fact, this book review is garbage. I am not in the paid employ of any newspaper. My opinion of Keen's book is moot. Likewise my thoughts on baseball, cooking, wine, music, or really anything. According to Keen, I probably can write about libraries. Since no one is paying me to do statistics right now, I probably can't write anything worth reading about that topic.

That's why I mentioned my blog statistics a couple of posts ago. People read this blog. They read it for a variety of reasons. Some people might view me as an expert on certain matters. Some might find their tastes aligned with mine. Some people might find my writing entertaining. Some people might just like me and read my writings as an extension of that. There's lots of reasons to read this blog and reasons not to as well. It's up to the individual to make that decision.

Ultimately, that's what angers me the most about Keen. Expertise is all that matters to him. Quality doesn't. Taste doesn't. There are doctors, "experts" in the field of medicine, who diagnose things improperly or miss diagnoses altogether. Look at how the "experts" in the field of finance gave us Enron and the bank bailouts. "Experts" in entertainment give us schlock. Experts publish James Patterson's book of the month while good literature and/or research goes unpublished because it is not viable economically.

I really could go on and on. I would doubt that there was a page in this book about which I did not have an issue. It was truly horrible and could well be my least favorite non-fiction book ever (Don't worry, Audrey Niffenegger, your expert novel debut still has a stranglehold on worst book I've read). Perhaps if experts weren't so arrogant and full of themselves as Keen, he wouldn't have to worry as much.

Next on the reading agenda are two books which have not commanded attention. The one is a novel I had wanted to read that we were considering withdrawing from our collection because no one has read it. The other is the first novel of my friend Jason McClain. His novel has not been submitted for publication as of yet. I'm looking forward to it and hope that the experts in publishing find it worthy of their expertise.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Lies, Damned Lies and Statistics - Blogger edition

I keep this blog largely for myself. I like to write on occasion, it is something I continue to try and improve my skills at and I find it cathartic at times. As I write left-handed, a blog is a great alternative to running around with ink on the side of my hand all the time (you should see the pages of my handwritten journals over the years).

A handful of friends appreciate my tastes in various things, particularly books, and so they are my secondary audience.

I tried to become more involved with the baseball card online community and so the folks who are part of that world became my tertiary audience.

I point all this out because I don't try to cultivate an audience. I know from the comments and e-mails that people do read what I have to write and I am appreciative of that. It's nice to know that my opinions do matter. Until recently, though, if you had asked me what I write interests people, I would have assumed the order of topics would correlate to those of which I write. In other words, people come here to read my book reviews mostly or possibly baseball.

Blogger has started reporting stats and it turns out I'm wrong, hysterically so.

The most read post on this blog is my review of the Sherlock Holmes movie. Twice as many people have read that post than any of my other posts except one. What post comes in second? My review of the extraordinarily delicious 2007 Achaia Clauss Mavrodaphne of Patras.

Two more of the top ten are of food reviews of Oneonta/Cooperstown. Four are book reviews. Only one is on baseball (my recent post on Tim Collins).

A number of baseball card sites bring traffic here. Thanks for that, guys. What brings people here from Google? Wine. Go figure. Three posts are tagged wine and that's what bring people to my blog.

Am I going to change my approach? Of course not. Like I said, it doesn't matter all that much to me. I do find it interesting and it ties in with a book review (which apparently no one will read) that I will be posting this week. For that reason I'm sharing my findings.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

The Book Thief



"500 page book, set in Nazi Germany, the narrator's Death, and you think, "How do you recommend that to your friends?" - Markus Zusak

Let me try, Markus. This book, which has been on my "to read" list since it was published in 2006 (which says more about my adherence to reading lists than the length of my reading list), is the best book I've read in 2010.

The reason why this is the best book I've read is because Death is the narrator and Death is a poet. Or maybe an artist. You wouldn't think that an entity that extinguishes life could appreciate the beauty of what life has to offer but Zusak's Death does. Even in war-strewn Germany in the 1940's, Death is able to see that beauty can come from ugliness, good from evil.

The story is about a young girl named Leisel and begins with Leisel, her brother and mother traveling to a foster home. The mother is unable to care for her children. On the way there, however, the brother dies. While attending the burial of her brother, she picks up a book dropped by one of the gravediggers. Leisel cannot read despite being nine years old. She keeps the book as a reminder of her brother.

Upon reaching her foster parents, she discovers that her mother-to-be is a harsh acting, profanity spitting individual. The father, however, is my favorite character in the book. Hans Hubermann is a caring individual who treats everyone kindly.

Hans and his wife, Rosa, both dropped out of school at young ages and neither are good readers. Hans works to teach Leisel how to read after discovering her stolen book. Leisel continue to improve and learns the power and magic of words; an important lesson in Nazi Germany where Hitler relied greatly on his verbal strength to rally and unify the country.

Because this is Nazi Germany and because Hans is pretty close to sainthood, it isn't too surprising when Hans stashes a Jew in his basement. The Jew, Max, is the son of a man who saved Hans' life in World War I. Max and Leisel become good friends and over the course of the story, they each create a book for one another for different reasons. It is Death's encounter with Max's book which inspires him to tell this story.

There's so much that goes on in this story. Hans' son is devoted to the Nazi cause and is angry at Hans for not being supportive and joining the party. Leisel's best friend, Rudy, is inspired by Jesse Owens and becomes one of the best athletes in town as well as being a top student, a combination that is enticing to the Nazis. Leisel rescues a book from a book burning and then proceeds to swipe tomes from the mayor.

Given the book's length, it moves quickly. Zusak paints wonderful little stories that combine into an intricate masterpiece. It really is a beautiful book filled with emotion.

This is this year's book for the One Book, One Community project which is what prompted my reading this now. This was a great choice even though there is much debate over whether this is a Young Adult book or not. Too often, folks (myself included) dismiss Young Adult books as being "not adult enough". After reading The Book Thief, I'm definitely inclined to be more open-minded on such matters.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Death personified - question for readers

I'm reading The Book Thief right now and the narrator of the book is Death. The only other book I've read that comes to mind where Death is anthropomorphized is Piers Anthony's On A Pale Horse. In film, Brad Pitt plays Death in Meet Joe Black. Can anyone else think of instances in 20th Century literature (I know the concept is more frequent in older literature) or movies where Death is a being?

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

The most desired midget in baseball




Tiny Tim Collins has been traded twice this year. Listed at 5'7" (and heights are often padded) and between 180 pounds (up from 155), the diminutive Collins has been a strikeout machine since turning pro back in 2007.

Actually, he was a strikeout machine before that. Before he hit his growth spurt, Collins was a mere 5'6" in high school at Worcester (MA) Technical High. He dominated opposing hitters, though, averaging over 16 strikeouts a game his senior year (in seven inning games). He struck out 20 in one game and fanned thirteen while pitching a no-hitter in the Division 2 Central Massachusetts title game.

Despite all the K's, he drew as much attention as he allowed contact. Collins wasn't drafted by a major league team, no college programs were interested in him and if not for a fluke viewing by Toronto Blue Jays general manager J.P. Riccardi, he would have ended up pitching for a community college in Rhode Island. Riccardi was scouting an American Legion game and Collins came into pitch. The story is that Collins fanned all twelve batters he faced. The Jays signed him as an undrafted free agent and he was sent to the Gulf Coast League where he pitched all of six relief innings.

In 2008, Collins pitched for the Lansing Lugnuts of the Midwest League. Despite being the youngest American-born pitcher in the league, the lefty Collins made pro hitters look like high schoolers. Collins went 4-2 with 14 saves and a 1.58 ERA, struck out 98 in 68.1 innings and allowed a mere 36 hits. None of this garnered him much respect. He did not make the All-Star team and was not considered a prospect by Baseball America.

The Blue Jays moved him up the ladder in 2009, sending him to Dunedin of the Florida State League. Collins led the league in strikeouts per nine innings, as he K'ed 99 in 64.2 innings. His performance led to a promotion to AA where he was the youngest pitcher in the Eastern League. The Blue Jays were using him more in a setup role than a closer but he still merited some more press. Baseball America said he had the best curveball in the Blue Jays organization.

In the offseason, Collins, a notorious hard worker, worked hard to add muscle to his frame. Here's a clip of him hurling medicine balls:


The Jays returned him to the New Hampshire Fisher Cats this season. Once again he was one of the youngest players in the league and one of the most dominant. In 43 innings, he struck out 73 and allowed just 27 hits. The Atlanta Braves acquired him on July 14th as part of the Yunel Escobar-Alex Gonzalez shortstop swap. Collins was one of two minor leaguers included in the trade and the one most overlooked in trade reports. At least the Braves wanted him.

They didn't want him as much as the Royals, apparently. Braves fans didn't get to enjoy him long. Assigned to Mississippi, Collins pitched in six games, saving two of them, striking out 14 in eight innings and surrendering just one run. For two weeks he was part of the Atlanta organization and then he was sent packing again to Kansas City as part of the package to bring Rick Ankiel and Kyle Farnsworth to the Braves.

The Royals didn't fool around, assigning Collins immediately to AAA Omaha. So far, he is the third youngest pitcher to hurl in the Pacific Coast League this year. The only two younger are former first round picks Madison Bumgarner of the Giants and Jordan Lyles of the Astros. Bumgarner was the tenth pick in the 2007 draft, the same draft that went 1,453 picks without Collins being chosen.

In twelve games, Collins has pitched well. He is 2-1 with three saves with 19 K in 18 innings and just nine hits allowed. His ERA is 1.50.

With Joakim Soria potentially under contract until 2014, the Royals could have one dandy of a bullpen.

It will be interesting to see if Collins can continue to dominate professional hitters. I've been trying to think of other minor league pitchers who have struck out as many batters as Collins has. In 220.2 professional innings, Collins has whiffed 327 batters, or 13.3 per nine innings.

Here are the minor league ratios of some guys who I thought might challenge that mark:

Stephen Strasburg 10.6
Francisco Rodriguez 11.9
Billy Wagner 10.9
Aroldis Chapman 11.8
Dwight Gooden 11.7
Tim Lincecum 14.9 (finally!)

Lincecum only pitched 62.2 innings in the minors before he got the call to the show. I would not be surprised to see Collins be on the Major League team on Opening Day 2011. Hopefully he will then get some of the recognition he deserves. And for those who like underdogs, I can't think of anyone better for whom to root.