Tuesday, March 30, 2010

The Russian Debutante's Handbook

I can't help it. I am drawn to foreign authors. I'm drawn to Russian stuff. I can't explain it. My ignorance of things Russian has led me to adding some Russian history books to the "to read" list just so I can appreciate some of it more. If I had to come up with a reason, maybe it is anti-hype. You'll note that the majority of what I read does not come from bestseller lists. I don't read Picoult or Patterson or the Kellermans or what have you. At least in this case Gary Shtayngart is an American even if he was born in Russia.

When looking for Russian literature, I found that people regarded Shtayngart's novel Absurdistan very highly. Naturally, our library system does not have it. So I went with this one. The titles could probably have been changed and nothing would be lost. The Russian Debutante's Handbook is funny, ridiculous, absurd even. It's an entertaining read but there are some problems which made my reading a single star.

The book is about Vladimir Girshkin, a Russian Jew in his mid-twenties who immigrated to the United States with his parents as a child. The book takes place in the 1990's and Girshkin is employed as a clerk in an organization that helps immigrants. His mother is a well-regarded financial wizard and his father is a doctor who pretty much engages in insurance fraud. So while his parents have embraced the American Way, Vlad is having problems.

Vlad's fortunes change figuratively and literally with two events. One, a Russian immigrant named Rybakov, who was almost made a citizen of the U.S. until he beat another foreigner with a loaf of bread during the induction ceremonies (he took the promise to defend the U.S. literally), comes to Vlad to seek help in getting his citizenship. Rybakov has been earning money from Social Security and lives quite well, much better than Vlad. When Vlad starts having financial difficulties, he requests money from Rybakov for "expenses". The second event is Vlad getting involved with his friend Baobab on another financial scheme. Vlad flies to Florida to meet with a fellow who needs Vlad to pose for his son at college interviews and in all likelihood is a drug dealer. The dealer tries to have sex with Vlad, Vlad panics, punches the dealer and flees and the dealer sets out to kill Vlad.

This is not quite the first half of the book.

After staging a pretend citizenship ceremony for Rybakov, Vlad flies back to Russia to meet with Rybakov's son, The Groundhog, who, surprise, heads up the Russian Mafia. Back home, Vlad is in his element. He helps the Groundhog set up businesses in Russia, legitimate and otherwise, to try and move Russia into a more capitalistic environment. Vlad begins dating a woman from the Midwest who seems like an innocent college girl from Ohio State but is also plotting to blow up an important Soviet landmark. Even back in the Russia, though, Vlad can't quite fit in. Whether conflicts with people because of being from the wrong part of Russia or because of his being Jewish, someone, somewhere, always seems to dislike Vlad because of his differences.

Ultimately, that's what the book is about - the difficulties of fitting in, especially for immigrants. It is an entertaining book that is full of bizarre twists. Too many, really, to adequately suspend belief. The route Shtayngart takes to get to them is often cumbersome and twisted. Shtayngart also relies a lot on stereotypes. The book seems farcical, and viewed in that light the stereotypes and the bizarre circumstances make sense. A novel that was more nuanced probably would have been better, especially given that this was a brute of a read at 460 pages.

I don't know that I enjoyed this enough to try and read Absurdistan any time soon (even if I could find a copy). While fun at times, the heavy satire and the long length would require me being in a different mindset than I find myself now.

Working on your best idea

Turning ambition into success is hard enough as it is. Whether you’re taking time to work on a project on the side or you’re launching a full-time business, it’s going to require peak personal investment. Not in terms of working crazy hours, but of dedication and perseverance.

Why would you want to pour so much of yourself into anything less than your best idea? Other ideas might seem more achievable or convenient, but if your heart and mind is elsewhere it’s all for naught.

Whatever excuse you can come up with for why you’re settling for less is probably not good enough. It’s intensely draining to give up on your dreams and you’ll not look kindly back at yourself for treading water.

Are you working on your best idea right now?

That was from David Heinemeier Hansson of 37Signals, a fellow whose attitude, ideas and work I admire. It came in the footsteps of this interview he gave:

I've been struggling a bit as of late. I, for all intent and purposes, wrapped up my third masters degree and my time has now been freed to pursue other interests. I tend to have too many and I get distracted and confused. I've always wanted to learn how to play a stringed instrument (beyond the few weeks I spent playing the string bass in high school). Was at a concert last week and got the cello bug again. Been reading a lot about Russia and so thought about trying to learn Russian again. April is Concept2's Marathon Challenge month. There is an appeal to preparing to row a marathon in a few weeks. I have been working out. Pursuing another martial art is always in the back of my head. I finally got the historic site recognition plaque that my town gives to houses in the historic district which has made me even more willing to get my house (and barn) fixed up. The boowahs are busy with choir, track and baseball. Still have to do my taxes. Still have baseball card packages to send out to people.

Those things (minus the boowahs activities) are the minor stuff. I need to find full-time post-summer employment now that I'm done school. Baseball projects are really important, one in particular. That's where my focus needs to and is going to be for a while.

I'll still be reading. The Robert Downey, Jr. project is probably done. Nothing in the card collecting world is captivating my interest right now. As far as this blog goes, it will likely be book reviews and hopefully some baseball for the next couple months until the next big life change.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

My NCAA bracket

I've just about finished my NCAA bracket. It's a little late to submit to any of the contests online and stuff but I thought I'd show off my excellent prognosticating abilities.

Round 1:
Have to go with the #1 and 2 seeds to advance. I like the #3 seeds with the exception of Georgetown. I can't see them stopping the vaunted Ohio offense.
The four seeds look good but Vandy is a bit of a coin flip against Murray State. I call heads and am predicting that Murray State edges out Vanderbilt.
Temple is a 5 seed? They'll be upset by Cornell who looks like one of the most vaunted Ivy League teams in memory. I wouldn't be surprised to see Cornell advance at least another round. I'll take Cornell and the other five seeds.
The 6-11 games all look pretty evenly matched. I fully expect to see most, if not all, of these games to be decided by a basket or less. I'll take Tennessee and Xavier to advance and Washington and Old Dominion in upsets.
The seven seeds are all vulnerable. Brigham Young is the best of the lot and the only one I'll take. I'll take the 10 seed in the other games.
8-9 matchups are always pretty even. Go with Wake and Northern Iowa, Gonzaga and Cal.

Round 2:
I had all the 1 seeds moving on before but I feel an upset brewing here. I just have this sense that Northern Iowa can knock off the #1 overall, Kansas. I'll take the other #1 seeds to move on, though.
Likewise, I can see St. Mary's riding momentum and knocking off #2 Nova. I'll keep the remaining trio of two seeds.
That's eight of the matchups. Here's my picks for the other 8.
Michigan State over Maryland.
Tennessee squashes Ohio.
Murray State over Butler. No, wait, I'm taking Butler. Close game but Butler pulls it out.
As much as it pains me, Pitt always sucks in the tournament so we'll call the upset here rather than later.
Baylor and Purdue move on in the South.
Cornell and Washington upset in the East.

Sweet 16:
I think it's pretty obvious that Michigan State and Tennessee are the top teams remaining in the Midwest. They both move on to the Elite Eight.
I'm going to go bold in the West. Kansas State moves on by being the first team in the tournament to score 100 points in a game. Butler upsets #1 Syracuse.
No boldness in the East and South. Kentucky, Duke, West Virginia and Baylor will move on the elite eight.

All for now. I should have the rest of my bracket completed next Monday night or Tuesday morning.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Ten things I would Twitter today if I used Twitter but I don't so I'll put them here

1. Looking forward to the dinner dance tonight even though it makes me feel old and country-clubbish (it's actually a fundraiser).

2. I don't do statistics anymore but how can I be out of work when Amazon's prediction models choose based on artists sharing last names?

3. Just about done filling out my NCAA bracket. I should have the rest of the round two games completed after tonight.

4. I've never heard of half these guys and the ones I do know are way past their prime.

5. No good at Twitter. More #2. Amazon recommended opera singer Andrew Kennedy for me because I like violinist Nigel Kennedy.

6. "Iron"ic is the fact that I am ironing what are supposed to be wrinkle-free pants.

7. My card collecting is smoldering but not dead. Going to try and make a last ditch Dollar Store run for 2008 UDX today.

8. Strongly considering getting tickets to see Stephen Strasburg pitch at Harrisburg. Along with half the state.

9. Need to be reading shorter books. I'm in the middle of a 400 pager and a 600 pager. Paging Curious George.

10. Inspired by Keith Law and Night Owl, I may put up some more lists next week.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Sharing some tunes

Seems a tad ridiculous to me that I recently discovered an album that has been out for a dozen years but I did and I love, love it. Firewater's The Ponzi Scheme.

They're still making music which makes my ignorance of them even more astounding to me. I'm not Joe Musicologist but when there's something I like, I'd think I'd come across it. I like their newer stuff, too, but The Ponzi Scheme is pretty much enjoyable from start to finish.

Also getting into Yeasayer a bit.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

The Unnamed

When I was in sixth grade, I read the saddest book ever. I had to read it for school but found myself home sick soon after it was assigned. I read it cover to cover and when it was done I was just in tears. The book? Where the Red Fern Grows. In the book a young man has a pair of hunting dogs who he loves dearly and at the end of the book they die protecting him from a mountain lion. Once I got myself under reasonable control, I went over to my dog West, who was sitting in "his" chair just like he is in the picture below and hugged him and hugged him and hugged him. He seemed really baffled by the whole thing.

Joshua Ferris' book, The Unnamed, invoked similar reactions. Not the baffled part but the whole heartache of seeing a loved one suffer, losing them, not wanting to be apart from them. Even so far as spending time with someone important to you and then having that time end. It's a lesser heartache but one nonetheless.

The Unnamed starts off gripping you right from the beginning. You know something is up but you're not sure what. There's a couple, good-looking successful New Yorkers with a teenage daughter. The husband is a partner in a law firm, the wife a realtor. The marriage is solid, the husband loves his work and is compensated well for it. All seems pretty good.

The "dark secret", though, is that the husband suffers from this mysterious affliction which comes and goes. When it strikes, his legs start moving and he is compelled to walk. He never knows where and he has no control of it. He just walks and walks until fatigue sets in and he passes out. He managed to hide earlier attacks from his co-workers by playing off absences as him taking care of his wife during her fight with cancer. When the attacks come this time, they are more severe and it gradually affects his life in a big way.

No one is able to determine the cause of the affliction or even if it is physical or psychological. The majority of the first half of the book is spent with the couple trying to cope with it. Ferris does a great job of capturing the frustration. The husband, Tim, fights to be viewed as normal and lead his regular life despite the condition. The wife, Jane, forced to try to care for the one she loves but who is never there to be cared for because the affliction makes him roam far and wide has to also cope with raising the daughter, the temptation of other "healthy" men and her desire to have something resembling a normal life, too.

The disorder goes into remission around the middle of the book. The book could pretty well end there and it would be a nice story. Another bout arrives and it becomes apparent that this is a book without a happy ending. This with a hundred pages to go.

I think this is the best testament to how good a writer Ferris is. I enjoyed his first novel, Then We Came to the End. It was sort of Office Space or Dilbert in a much darker style. A one-star book which is never a bad thing for a first novel. This is two-star because despite it being apparent that no good can come from this, that there is a long way to go, you're caught up in it. You're compelled to finish it knowing that there is little hope.

It's a bit metaphoric in that sense. Life's tragedies are very much the same way. You may know that no good can come from something but you're bound to continue. Maybe because of that sense is why I kept going. I've known heartache but life goes on despite of it. Loved ones die, relationships end, tomorrow still comes. Maybe there is a glimmer of hope and maybe somewhere I held out hope that there was a glimmer for Tim and Jane (I thought it was apparent that there was none but maybe my subconscious felt otherwise).

Despite it not having a "happy" ending. It is a thought-provoking ending that makes you think about the body, mind and soul and how they are all intertwined.

This was an incredible book. Scoping out the reviews on Amazon, I see that, not surprisingly, people are not in agreement with me. Some seem put out by the lack of a happy ending. Some thought the book repetitive. I couldn't put it down and was willing to set aside a Michael Chabon book to finish it. I definitely recommend it.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Ask and ye shall receive - Mark wanted to see the baseball ad

Mark commented in my review of Angels Soar that he wanted to see the glove ad that came with the pair of books I bought. Well, here it is:

The picture isn't that great. The ad is too big to fit on my scanner and I have it hanging in the kitchen. Trying to get a photo with no glare and shadows was beyond me so this was the best I had. It pictures an ad for Ken-Wel's Lou Gehrig model glove.

Ken-Wel was a glove company from 1916 to 1960. Given that, my ad is almost certainly a replica. It's certainly not fifty years plus old. As a matter of fact, here is the same ad on eBay that is touted as a replica.

Rawlings and Spalding for all intent and purposes knocked Ken-Wel out of business. A few years ago, though, a company called Akadema has started selling replica Ken-Wel gloves. Right now it looks like they just have the Dazzy Vance model.

Despite it not being an original ad, it still is a neat thing to hang in the kitchen.

Hope you enjoyed it, Mark.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

The Yiddish Policeman's Union

After reading this book, I think T.C. Boyle has passed Michael Chabon as my favorite writer. The Yiddish Policemen's Union was a typical well-written Chabon book. But it was slow, the story was completely unsatisfying, there was a ton of stuff that could have been edited out without influencing the story and it was just too Jewish.

I'm writing this review out of order since I mentioned in my Outwitting History review that this would be my next review. My next review was actually a book I started after I started this one and could not put down. I would have loved if this book was as captivating.

The story is about Meyer Landsman, a down on his luck policemen in the Jewish town of Sitka, Alaska. In the novel Sitka is sort of an independent part of Alaska but the United States is looking to reclaim the town and evict the Jews. Landsman, divorced and an alcoholic, lives in a flea bag hotel. A murder takes place which leads him down a road involving chess, conspiracy theories, the return of the Messiah, discoveries about the death of his sister and a secret of his uncle, a reuniting with his ex-wife after she becomes his boss, a sort of Jewish mafia, and goodness knows what else. It's just a lot of stuff and there's not a whole lot to care about. Even if you're into whodunits, I think this fails miserably on that front. The "bad guy" is more of an idea than an individual. Landsman is sort of interesting but not a guy who you're rooting for.

The book is extremely heavy on Judaism. Nothing wrong with that except for my not having a great appreciation of the trials and tribulations of the Jews over the years. It's an important aspect of the book and maybe if you're Jewish, you can appreciate this book more than I. I just couldn't get into it. Loved Chabon's writing as always but it was overblown at times. What I mean is, you can create a picture of a tree without having to detail every leaf. There's better books that Chabon has written and I just can't recommend someone choosing this one.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Gil Shaham is not OK Go

Classical music has a ways to go in music video development:

Gil Shaham:

OK Go:

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Outwitting History

Outwitting History was a neat and inspiring book. The author, Aaron Lansky, set out in 1980 to rescue books written in Yiddish. He found that people were getting rid of them and was concerned that an important part of Jewish culture was being lost. What started as a small project grew into the Yiddish Book Center which has now rescued over a million and a half Yiddish books and distributed many of them to libraries around the world.

Naturally, with my love of books, this book appealed to me. It was very inspiring and heartwarming to read about someone with a passion for books and culture and the lengths Lansky went to preserve both. The story covers almost a quarter century of growth. There are a lot of book rescue stories and some about the intricacies of expanding the organization and the problems (especially financial) that arose. Definitely an interesting book irregardless of religious beliefs.

The downside to the book was the repetitiveness of it (like Used and Rare, the tales of acquisition begin to blur) and the sizable amount of Yiddish used in the book. All the words are translated which begs the question, why bother? If I want to read or learn Yiddish, I'll pick up a Yiddish book. As it was, I didn't pick up any of the language (and why anyone would try to do it in a book primarily in English is beyond me) because I skipped over the Yiddish words and went right to the translation.

So that's what knocks this down to a one star book for me. Tad too monotonous at times and a tad too Yiddish. That being said, it prompted me to read another book involving Yiddish which will be my next review.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Those Canadians love their hockey

What an awesome graph of water usage in Edmonton during the Olympic gold medal hockey match.

Courtesy Stephen's Lighthouse.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Boiling Out, Part IV

The shower and read made me tired and I was able to sleep pretty well. Opted to have breakfast again at Country House after reports from my comrades about the other place indicated my expectations were correct. The waitress recognized me from yesterday and brought me Diet Pepsi instead of coffee without asking which was nice. I went with a malted peach waffle and a side of turkey sausage. Lackluster all around. Somehow, despite my order being brought to me right after I heard the bell indicating it was ready, both items were lukewarm. The menu indicated that you can't taste the malt in the waffle and it was right. The waffle was a bit overdone and crunchy. The peaches were put in a small dish and set on the waffle. Despite looking like peaches that had been baked in brown sugar, they were ice cold, seemed canned and syrupy. They were sweet enough that I only used syrup on a little portion to try the syrup. It was basic store bought maple flavored syrup, not the real thing. I didn't bother with butter since the waffle wasn't warm enough to melt it. The turkey sausage were very thin (two patties) and had an odd texture. The spices were good. If I were going to be here for another breakfast, I'd try somewhere else after this meal.

Next day: The presentations went well. Peggy Gripshover (who along with her husband Tom Bell were my favorites of the new people I met) did her presentation on Charlie Weeghman and the Chifed spring training of 1913. Peggy brought a unique approach as she is a professor of geography. She talked a lot about the weather and had dug up weather records from 1913. Interesting and informative. I then presented my research on the 1907 Harrisburg Senators. I had brought HTML and Javascript files for my presentation but despite testing them before I arrived, they would not work on the computer we were using. Nonetheless, it seemed like my presentation went over well. There was some good interest and insight. I was a mess of nerves for some reason and too monotone. Some folks nodded off. I know from my experience (as well as post-waking involvement from those at this presentation) that it's all tied together. When I get nervous, my voice loses inflection. Think of how people stammer when nervous. It's all the same tone. That's me but speaking clearly. My nervousness stemmed from not having as much done as I wanted on the subject (stupid school). I wanted to present anyway because that setting is very informal and good practice with good feedback from the others.

After the presentation we did the Brickyard again. Burger and fries again were fantastic. At this point, the meeting pretty much ended. The locals headed home to take care of weekend chores and family stuff. Peggy and Tom opted for a nap. Lunch was late so the races at Oaklawn were underway. So I did some souvenir shopping for the boowahs then R.J. Lesch, the organizer for the meeting, and I headed off to Little Rock for a college baseball game.

The game was a blast. R.J. and I interact a little via e-mail and Facebook and we've met before. I had a great time talking with him. The game was between the University of Arkansas - Little Rock and Indiana University-Purdue University Fort Wayne, arguably the two longest names in college baseball. I was shocked that they charged five bucks for admission to a D-II game. They had concessions which provided dinner in the form of a three dollar hot dog and a $2.50 bottle of soda. As with any hot dog consumed at a ballpark not in Kinston, North Carolina, the dog was delicious. But the cost? Come on. Maybe they were trying to pay for the field. It was very nice with a unique feature. The infield was astroturf and the outfield was grass. Neither R.J. nor I had ever seen such a thing. To give you an idea of how heavily influenced this conference was by geography, geology and archaeology, after a couple of innings I turned to R.J. and said, "I know why they have a turf infield. We're in a basin and the water flows right into the infield. A dirt infield would never dry out". I was able to get R.J. laughing every time through the batting order. One of the players for Indiana was Will Faulkner. When he came to the plate the first time I made as if heckling and fake yelled "I hated As I Lay Dying". Ah, nerd humor. Cracked R.J. up and he giggled every time the guy came to the plate the rest of the game.

Game was good. Lots of strikeouts and singles. Good strategy at times, some bad (two out bunt attempts on a turf infield are never a good idea). A couple really nice defensive plays and some serious gaffes. The game ended in the bottom of the 11th on a bases loaded walk. We drove back to Hot Springs, said our farewells and called it a night.

Peggy and Tom graciously took me to the airport this morning on their way home to Kentucky. Breakfast was an Asiago breakfast bagel at the airport's Great American Bagel. Too heavy on the red onion. I brushed afterwards and can still taste it. Barring anything interesting on the flight, this ends my report.

Afterword: The Boiling Out was a great time again. As with all SABR gatherings, the people were great. Peggy and Tom commented on the ride to the airport how different it was from typical academic conferences. No stuck-up people. Positive contributions to presentations. I would have liked to have seen more of the people from the previous meeting but it was nice making some new acquaintances. The Arkansas folks are great. I never did have a fried pickle, get a massage or soak in the springs (all which I had hoped to do) but that is because we had other things to occupy us. Just a fantastic time and they are already planning on the 2012 edition.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Spring training TTM

I sent out a pair of spring training requests and got one of them back. Scott Downs, closer for the Blue Jays. To give you a sense why the Blue Jays probably cannot compete with the Yanks and Red Sox, Downs is the Blue Jays highest paid pitcher at four million dollars a year.

As much as I think it would be a good idea to have Downs be the closer (he was to be last year until he got hurt), the Jays acquired Kevin Gregg from the Cubs and will likely go with him.

Thanks to Mr. Downs for signing for me.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Boiling Out, Part III

After lunch Friday we then walked to the convention center where we took in a new photography exhibit that Gregg Patterson coordinated. He had found about two dozen photos involving major league baseball and Hot Springs. Virtually all of these were identified via geological detective work. Different land formations and landmarks enabled Gregg to establish that these photos were indeed taken in Hot Springs. One, a picture of the Brooklyn Dodgers in the early 1900's, appears in a recent book put out by the Library of Congress. It shows the team standing on a trolley track in front of a hotel and is captioned in the book as something along the lines of "The Dodgers stand along one of the borough trolley tracks from which their nickname is taken". As Gregg points out, though, there aren't many mountains in Brooklyn. Sure enough, the photo is of the team at spring training and the hotel is the Arlington. Another photo was identified by a picture of an ostrich head that appeared between the heads of two Red Sox players in a team photo. There was once an ostrich farm in Hot Springs and that is where that photo had been shot.

The photos were added to a huge number of other historic Hot Springs images already hanging in the convention center. My favorite of the existing photos was one of Babe Ruth on a horse at Oaklawn racetrack. My favorite new photo that Gregg found was of Tris Speaker in a suit, bowtie and bowler hat riding on an alligator at the alligator farm which still exists down the street. The farm has been around since 1902.

We then drove to the former sites of two ballfields in Hot Springs. The one still has the foundation of the grandstand intact but otherwise has been converted into a corporate parking lot. The other site is an open field. Several of the local members are very into this bit of archaeology and much effort was placed trying to figure out where things in different photos are now. I was more impressed with the people skills of member Mike Dugan. Mike is one of the nicest people I have ever met and has a better facility for remembering people's names than I do (and I'm pretty good). Someone from the corporation whose parking lot we were in came out to chase us off for trespassing. Mike gladhanded him, started giving him the history of the area and eventually the guy thanked us for coming when we did leave. He then chased us down on foot after we drove to the second site so he could give Mike his business card. Unbelievable. I'd kill for that ability with people. Instead, we returned to the hotel and sat and chatted and Mike broke out a refrain I have heard all my life. A sarcastic "Jon, you need to settle down and let some other people have a chance to talk". I can't help it. I've become less introverted over the last decade but I just do not like groups. I especially hate when you have a person or two who feel the need to outdo anyone else's story. The variation on that that you find in the baseball research world is the effort to relate everything to one's own research.

Time passed and we went to dinner at an Asian fusion place called Central Park. Pricey but awesome and an excellent value. One of those rare expensive places where I feel I got my money's worth. I had to try the appetizer special - tuna tartar tacos. Two taco shells made out of layered wonton skins that were fried. They were then stuffed with tuna tartar and some veggies. On the side were pickled ginger and an incredible wasabi guacamole. Brilliant. For my main course I had grilled duck breast over jasmine rice (addendum: this horrified the boowahs when I related the tale. We like the little, little duckies in the pond. We do, we do, we do, kachickaquackquack. But the duck was half as much as the other entrees). The duck was done perfectly. The sauce was excellent, just enough for flavor, and the rice was just the right amount. I then finished the meal with white chocolate bread pudding which I would have to put in my top five desserts of all time. The entire meal was flawless. Walked back to the hotel and everyone opted for an early night, something I think will be difficult now that we have some college basketball teams staying at the hotel for the tournament. I'm going to wander and see what I can find to do. A better day but I'm already ready to go and I still have a full day of conference and a day of travel to go.

Later....That was fun in a raise my pain threshold kind of way. Went out to the pool and hung out in the hot tub with some drunk kids in their twenties who work for Coors and a drunk couple in their sixties. Despite the inane babbling about drinking it was nice being outside in a hot tub under the stars. I haven't mentioned but I have immensely enjoyed the weather. No snow or ice anywhere to be seen. No jacket needed in the afternoons. Hot tubs and swimming outdoors at night. More and more people kelt coming out to the point where people had to stand in the middle of the hot tub so I left, somewhat proud of not having said a word or having a word spoken to me the whole time. I then went back to my room and changed then went downstairs to see about using the internet. I did not bring a computer (the freaking hotel charges for internet access. Hello! It's 2010! Time to leave the stone age). They let people use the concierge computer at night but some girl from one of the hoops teams was doing homework on it. I sat and waited awhile as I watched the throngs of people who are there for the tournament (and a real estate conference and who knows what else) mill around and drink. The girl finally took pity on me and let me use the computer. Checked my e-mail (53 new messages). Snapped off a couple of replies and let the girl (who was foreign born but I could not place the accent (addendum: the girl was Hungarian Fanni Hutlassa. Thanks internet) get back to her schoolwork (which made me dread mine).

I'm on the fifth floor which is a saving grace. I found that you can hear the live band in the lobby as high as the fourth floor. The coaches also just went around on curfew check so maybe some sleep is in order. I have dark rings under my eyes. We're considering blowing off the college baseball game we were planning on attending in favor for an afternoon at Oaklawn. I wish all my life decisions were like that. I'm trying to think of any other situation where I might face two equally appealing choices and cannot come up with any. Nice to know that tomorrow afternoon will be fun regardless. Time to rinse off from the hot tub, read and sleep.

Did I go to the ballgame or the racetrack? How did my presentation go? All this and more in the next installment of BOILING OUT 2010!!!!

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Used and Rare

I signed out a couple of books on book acquisition for my plane ride. The first one was a tremendously light read called Used and Rare. The authors are a married couple who love to read and set out to become book collectors. The book is a collection of tales of their travels and their immersion in the world of used book sales.

The book was really delightful. I've collected baseball books for some time but the world of baseball book collecting is very different from other genres. For one, the history of baseball publications only extends into the late nineteenth century. There's nothing that is hundreds of years old. Secondly, most baseball books have been published in the last half century. As such, there is not a lot of variability in how the books were produced. Very few on special paper or with interesting bindings or things like that. So despite being involved with book collecting, there's a lot I don't know.

This book is a great primer for anyone interested in book collecting. The authors start with no knowledge and gradually become pretty well versed in knowing what to look for. They start by hitting the used book stores that everyone who loves books has spent time in at some part of their lives. They gradually begin to become more upscale, hitting the rare and fine book dealers and attending auctions.

The stories are very informative, mostly entertaining, some touching. There's too much discussion about costs and value for my liking. It's always fun when you get a deal. It seemed like pretty much every story, though, mentioned the costs of books. I mean, look over this blog. How many entries have I mentioned the cost of a book? I would venture a half dozen or fewer. Cost does not determine the value of a book, content does.

Ultimately, that's what costs this book a two star rating. That and the brevity. It is a really quick read. But for anyone interested in book collecting, it's really useful and fun.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Boiling Out, Part II

The Arlington Hotel in Hot Springs reminds me a lot of my house. It's old, charming, but needs a lot of work. Whereas I have made progress on my house, the Arlington doesn't seem to show much interest in improving. The rooms are small, not much larger than my bedroom. The bathrooms are very tiny and cannot fit more than one person at a time. The shower head was annoyingly at chest level and worse, unlike most hotels with short showers, it was as a stall and not a tub so to get under the shower I had to squat and could not just bend over. The worst part, though, is the inability of the rooms to block sound. Not only do you hear your neighbors, you can hear other rooms, people in the hall and noises from outside. (addendum: I walked around one night and found that you could hear the lobby band playing as high as the fourth floor). Not surprisingly my disappointing evening was made worse by a lack of decent sleep.

Wake up Friday, finish my book, shower and head out to breakfast. When I'm traveling alone and looking for places to eat, my rule of thumb is to eat at the third place I come to that looks interesting. My reasoning is that the closer to a hotel the place is, the more expensive, the busier, and the lower quality it will be. Places just need to be adequate to draw people. By walking a bit I stand a good chance of finding something special. I start walking and pass a crammed place which I'm sure is where everyone in the hotel is eating. Go further down the street and find a tiny place where the only patrons are a group of men holding hands in prayer. Then I run out of potential places. Head back and walk the other way. No breakfast places in sight. Despite being a touristy area, hardly anything is open before ten and there is an absolute dearth of breakfast spots. So I go back to the tiny place called Country House. The men's group is leaving as I walk in. I'm the only customer. I find out later in the meal that this is partly due to their failure to flip their sign from closed to open. Once they fix this minor oversight, a couple of other people come in. I order the spinach and artichoke omelet. This turns out to be an omelet stuffed with something very similar to the artichoke-spinach dip you can get at chain restaurants around the country for an appetizer. Scattered across the top of the omelet are fried jalapeno slices. It was surprisingly tasty as was the rye toast accompanying it. Not exactly a healthy start, though, and too odd for me to want to eat it again. A different food experience, to be sure.

Return to the hotel for the conference. More people have showed but only one other who I have met before. The majority of the people are locals, a first for this meeting. We had two excellent presentations in the morning. The first, by Bill Ross, was on spring training sites in Georgia. Very nice, thorough presentation. Fred Worth, somewhat infamous for his passion for baseball necrology, talked about his grave visits in Iowa and Texas complete with photos. This is surprisingly more interesting and less grotesque than you would expect. Fred has visited the gravesites of over 1300 people involved with major league baseball. He told stories of some of the more difficult ones he has been able to find and the trials and travails of his interest.

From there we headed to lunch. We ate at the Brickyard Grill. I had the Brickyard Burger. Fantastic, delicious burger. Half pound of meat, fresh, not some patty, cooked medium rare (perfect) with lettuce, tomato, raw onion, sauteed onion, cheese and bacon. Side of really good handcut fries with mayo on the side (my favorite way to eat fries). With drink the bill was eleven bucks.

The local flavor of the trip picked up in the afternoon with some amazing stuff. But you'll have to wait to hear about until the third part of BOILING OUT 2010!!!!!

Thursday, March 11, 2010

The Cello Player

I think this book officially ends the 2010 foreign author experiment. Well, it and another one I could not finish (Mike Gayle's My Legendary Girlfriend).

I really didn't think this book was bad but I may be alone in that regard. While reading it I came across two bookmarks that previous readers had left when they abandoned the book. Also, at the end, many of the pages were either stuck or had not been cut when the book was published. So it is possible that I was the first reader of that copy to have ever finished it.

The Cello Player isn't really about a cello player. It's about a composer. One day this girl in her twenties who is the daughter of a former lover of his shows up and proceeds to live with him. It's possible it could be his daughter. He's not sure, he's too afraid to ask, when he finally asks his former lover she does not give him any sort of reply. To make it all a little weirder, there are suggestions of romantic and possibly sexual relationships between the composer and the young woman. But all of this is a sidebar to the actual story.

The actual story is a philosophical and political view of music in Eastern Europe. It's mostly the composer character ruminating about how his life has changed, how music has changed, and how confusing everything is. The book is terribly dry and dull but is saved by the occasional great thought or turn of phrase. They came along frequently enough that I was able to plod through to the end of the book.

I did enjoy learning about the Eastern European music scene as told by this novel. Since it is a novel, who knows if it is true. It would sort of be like a German reading a novel about a musician at Woodstock. You could get a sense of the times but would have to take it all with a grain of salt. Just not worth recommending.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Thanks to David from Tribe Cards

A while back, David from Tribe Cards was the first card collector online to be nice to me, sending me a huge box of Expos cards for my collection as part of a giveaway. He had another giveaway recently and sent me 203 more Expos cards. Here are a trio of my favorites:

When interacting with other collectors concerning Expos cards, I try to make clear that what I need are lesser known players. I have zillions of Wallachs and Raines and Dawsons already. It's the Bobby Henley types for which I'm looking. I was very jazzed to get this card.

This Rondell White card is very cool. It's extremely thick, has rounded corners, and has great photos on both sides. I just like it a lot and wouldn't mind having an old Ottawa Lynx BP jersey of my own. I like the black with the red maple leaf on the sleeve.

Lastly is a 1970 Topps card of Group of 80 member Mack Jones. My scan was horrible. This is a really nice card in terms of condition and centering and I like the photo a lot, too. Sky blue turtlenecks.

Thanks again, David. I'll be sending some Indians stuff your way in the next couple of weeks.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Boiling Out, Part I

While I was in Hot Springs, Arkansas for SABR's Deadball Committee's Boiling Out meeting, I kept a diary of what went on, what I ate, the research, etc. I'm going to transcribe it exactly to this blog. Pretty long so I'm going to write about it throughout the week and break it up with some book reviews and anything else that comes up.

There are times when I think I'm a little too "fly by the seat of my pants". I really had no business making this trip from a financial standpoint but the last one was a blast, the end of my final full semester is almost here (which one could argue would be a reason NOT to go) and I thought it would be nice to get away. I've not really been anywhere since last year's World Baseball Classic.

Which brings up the whole issue of traveling. I'm a homebody. I miss the familiar aspects of what I call home. Granted, until a couple of years ago, no where I called home really felt like home but that's another story....

When I do know I'm going to be away I get this panicky feeling which never really goes away. So already the trip is feeling like a bad idea, even before I leave.

I fly out to Chicago from Philly and that goes smoothly. I have an aisle seat with a space between myself and another person. The flight attendant and I talk about diet colas and she comes back and refills my drink later which was very nice. Almost finished an entire book on a flight about an hour and a half long.

Land in Chicago and I'm looking forward to seeing some fellow SABR members. Last time we had a handful of people who came in from Chicago. I figure there'll be 3-5 of us on the flight and we can share the cost of a shuttle to Hot Springs from Little Rock. Last time a bunch of us ended up at the airport all at the same time and did that. Figured I'd be all right. I get to the gate and no SABR members. The good vibes from the first flight go away. Hadn't had anything to eat since breakfast so I grab an Italian sub from Potbellies, a reprise from my last visit to the Chicago airport a year before. Nice toasted sub and an awesome value for airport food.

Board the plane and the feeling worsens. Definitely no one I recognize. I get an aisle seat but we're three in a row this time. Unbelievably, someone at the back of the plane had brought her terrier and gave no thought as to trying to sedate the dog before the flight. For the most part, the dog handled the flight well but during takeoff and landing it went nuts yipping. That in turn disturbed the one baby on the flight which was at the front of the plane. Dogs yipping, babies crying, crammed seating. Add to that a pilot who was playing Dodge the Clouds and it was an awful flight. No turbulence. The pilot just seemed like he wanted to go up and down and turn a lot. I spent the flight motion sick and got no reading done.

Land in Little ROck and I stagger to the shuttle service. No one, SABR or otherwise, is there. Uh oh. I get quoted a price to Hot Springs that would probably be enough to rebuild Haiti. My panicky, upset stomach somehow gets worse. I sit outside a bit and try to relax. Check the incoming flights and see there is a flight from Chicago in 45 minutes. Cool. That'll be the other guys. I wait and still nobody. Go back to the shuttle and there is a guy in for the basketball tournament who wants to go to Hot Springs but he has sticker shock, too. We're able to split the cost but he wants to go off and think about it. I go and check on a flight from Charlotte (no one) then track down the guy. He called a cousin and is going to spend the night in Little Rock and have the cousin drive him the next day.

Running out of options. The cost of a rental car could fix Haiti and Chile. A taxi cab fare would provide food to all the homeless in the world. I finally give up and pay for the shuttle. No available drivers by this time so I have to wait. The counter person wanders off and a cab driver comes in and offers to take me to Hot Springs for the cost of the shuttle. I've already paid for the shuttle so I'm out of luck. The cabbie scampers off as the counter person comes back. Her panties are all in a bundle about the cab driver coming in. Apparently it is against airport rules for the cabbies to solicit fares in the airport. The manager (who is one of the drivers) shows up and joins the Bundled Underwear Club. They start calling everybody and complaining about this driver while I wait.

I finally get fed up and ask for us to go. The manager takes me but is on the phone trying to resolve the cab issue. He updates me on every call as if I care. I'm just exhausted and want to get to Hot Springs. Finally he tells me that the cab driver is suspended from picking up fares at the airport for three days.

To add insult to injury the shuttle driver decides to stop for gas. He goes inside which baffles me but he comes back with bags of chips and sodas for both of us. I'm feeling awful and return them to him then doze off for the remainder of the ride.

Get to the Arlington Hotel, go in and recognize no one in the lobby. What the hell?!?! Check in, go to my room, unpack, go back down and finally see a couple of familiar faces. Sit down and chat for a bit then had a late dinner of the hotel's market salad (a standard but tasty Chef salad with very strong red onion) and a pear vodka and tonic. The salad costs less than the drink. The conversation somehow stuck mostly on football and college basketball, two topics of which I know little and am interested less. Finally we call it a night and I head off to bed feeling very dejected.

Will the trip become better? Will I taste red onion for the remainder of the trip? Did Haiti get any of the money from the shuttle fare? Yes, no and probably not. Tune in next time for the next installment of BOILING OUT 2010!

Monday, March 8, 2010

Woohoo! Dream job!

I landed my dream job, at least for the summer. This summer I will be working for the library at the National Baseball Hall of Fame!!!

Friday, March 5, 2010

Happy Birthday, Murray Head

Happy birthday to Murray Head, who turns 64 today.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Deadball baseball in Arkansas

I'm off this afternoon for Boiling Out, SABR's Deadball Committee's irregularly scheduled but enjoyable gathering in Hot Springs, Arkansas. Hot Springs was a favorite place for spring training back in the Deadball Era (1901-1919).

This gathering is a lot of fun. Likeminded fellows (and an occasional lady or two) discussing the baseball of a different era, touring some former baseball sites, research presentations (I'm doing one on the 1907 Harrisburg Senators), all in the terrific setting (especially in March) of Hot Springs. At the last one (which was three years ago) we did morning hikes, went to Oaklawn racetrack (got to see Smarty Jones win the Rebel Stakes), played a homemade Strat-O-Matic style baseball game, complete with draft, and saw the excellent one-man show Matty which I would absolutely LOVE to see again. Great fun. It's stuff like this that is one of the really nice things about SABR.