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, 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


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.