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July 24, 2010

Insufficient data

Shared by sippey
Up with civilization!

There's a deceptively simple question that's been bugging me this week, and it is this:

What is the minimum number of people you need in order to maintain (not necessarily to extend) our current level of technological civilization?

There are huge political ramifications hiding behind this question. Let me unpack them for you.


Conservative politicians in the US — and elsewhere — get a lot of mileage from appeals to false nostalgia, to a yearning for a time when things were simpler, everyone was sturdily self-sufficient or knew their place (or both), and government was small (sometimes small enough to drown in a bathtub). Nostalgia trips manifest themselves in all sorts of curious places. In SF (the literary field I know most about) we have the perennial libertarian/space colonization nexus.We have Ayn Rand, and her wish-fulfilment nerd fantasy of a world sustained by a tiny, overworked minority of geniuses who, if only they could demand a level of rewards corresponding to their work, would be rich beyond dreams of avarice (and able to make the trains run on time). Outside it, we have the peculiarly rustic aspirations of the green fringe, who'd like to see a world of five million or so pre-industrial humans living in harmony with nature. In the Republican party of the United States we see rhetoric couched in hatred for "big government", and among the UK's conservatives we see an almost masochistic addiction to cuts in public spending framed with calls for a big society in which many current government services will be delivered by voluntary citizens groups instead.

I think these ideas are mostly delusional because they rely on a fundamental misapprehension about the world around us — namely that we live in a society that can be made simple enough to comprehend.

Let's take a look at the superficial structures around us. How many people does it take to design a new automobile? Back in Henry Ford's day, it needed an office full of draughtsmen, a handle of senior engineers to sort out each major mechanical subsystem (gear train, engine, electrics, brakes, suspension, bodywork), and experts on coachbuilding to dictate the shape of the bodywork. There would be time and motion men to dictate the speed and sequence of assembly line activities, and more drafting work to design the tools the production line workers would use ... it took the effort of a few hundred men.

But modern cars are different. A typical 2010 automobile may contain roughly 20-30 electric motors and actuators (for everything from the central locking system to the air conditioning and the motorized seats and windows). There's a similar number of microprocessors involved in everything from the engine and gearbox management systems to the entertainment, navigation, communication, and accident mitigation systems (for example, the sensors and microprocessors that control the sequence of pyrotechnic detonators that inflate air bags, tension seat belts, and collapse the steering column in event of a collision). The in-car electronics alone require on the order of 10-20 million lines of code to run all these services — which implies the combined efforts of thousands of software developers, never mind the small army who design not only the body panels but the handling tools the production line robots use to install them. Cars are no longer user-serviceable because they're nearly as complex as 1960s airliners.

And as for your smartphone? The damned thing has a component count somewhere between ten major subsystems and frame components and a hundred billion (if you go down to the smallest scale and count the capacitors in its FLASH memory). The number of fab lines on the planet that can make memory chips of that density is limited, and they rely on rare elements mined only in exotic locations and in tiny abundance.

Medicine: let's not go there. Back in the late 19th century, we had doctors, nurses, surgeons, pharmacists, and dentists. Today, each of those professions has exploded into platoons and battalions of sub-specialities, and their roles are supported in turn by complex industries full of strange niches.

Around 1900, it took the effort of about 20-30% of a nation's work-force to provide food for everybody; and another 30-50% working in factories to produce clothing, machinery, and processed materials like bricks and billets of pig iron. Today, we only need 0.5-1% of the work force to feed everyone, and another 1-4% working in industry to produce the basics — but the microspecialities have exploded, to the extent that a lot of our needs seem to require a trans-national economy to provide. There are only two vendors of wide-body airliners on any scale today, Boeing and Airbus, and both of them are effectively multinational consortia (more than half the components of the Boeing 787 Dreamliner are produced overseas, and shipped to Seattle for final assembly). There seems to only be room for one vendor of super-Jumbo airliners — if Boeing and Airbus tried to exploit that niche simultaneously, they'd both starve — so they appear to be avoiding conflict in that (and some other) area(s). And so on.

So. I ask: how many people does it take, as a minimum, to maintain our current level of technological civilization?

I'd put an upper bound of about one billion on the range, because that encompasses basically the entire population of NAFTA and the EU, with Japan, Taiwan, and the industrial enterprise zones of China thrown in for good measure. (While China is significant, more than half of its population is still agrarian, hence not providing inputs to this system).

I'd put a lower bound of 100 million on the range, too. The specialities required for a civil aviation sector alone may well run to half a million people; let's not underestimate the needs of raw material extraction and processing (from crude oil to yttrium and lanthanum), of a higher education/research sector to keep training the people we need in order to replenish small pools of working expertise, and so on. Hypothetically, we may only need 500 people in one particular niche, but that means training 20 of them a year to keep the pool going, plus future trainers, and an allowance for wastage and drop-outs by people who made a bad career choice. Higher education accounts for 1.8-3% of gross spending in the developed world, with primary and secondary education taking a whopping chunk on top of that (if you spent 10 years in a school with a staff:pupil ratio of 1:10, then you soaked up a person-year of time; there may be more labour going into pre-university education than goes into agriculture and industry combined).

As to those political implications ...

Firstly: no, you can't simplify a complex society that runs on just-in-time delivery and a host of specialities. You need a huge training back-end to provide for the thousands of skilled graduate-entry niche occupations. You need an efficient just-in-time delivery system to keep everyone supplied with food, water, power, shelter and whatever else they need — it's that, or accept huge inefficiencies in your supply chain that wipe out the gains produced elsewhere.

Secondly, seemingly similar artefacts (cars, phones, airliners) have invisibly accreted complexity. The complexity makes them better (safer, more economical, more luxurious) than their predecessors, but vastly more difficult to engineer; stuff that used to be fixable by shade-tree mechanics and jobbing electricians has receded over the horizon. Back in the early 19th century, the complement of a sailing ship could expect to maintain the ship in every significant way using tools and expertise that they could carry aboard the ship. Today in the early 21st century, that's not an option with airliners or probably even automobiles.

Thirdly, the complexity embodies in these new products means that their production is dependent on a complex web of lower-level specialities.

Fourthly, there are more side-effects to keep track of. Exotic materials mean exotic contamination events from waste dumping, for example.

Fifthly: space colonization? Get back to me when you've tracked down how many people it takes to design and build a space suit. (The number is in the hundreds, if not the thousands.) More realistically, we won't have autonomous off-world colonies unless and until they can cover all the numerous specialities of the complex civilization that spawned the non-autonomous, dependent-on-resupply space program. Or, to put it another way: colonizing Mars might well be practical, but only if we can start out by plonking a hundred million people down there.

FanGraphs Audio: No Sleep Till… Manhattan, Actually

Episode Forty-One
In which the panel has some unfinished business.

Headlines
Live from New York: It’s Baseball Nerds
Trade Value, Schmade Value: Some Qs and As
… and other lyrical acrobatics!

Featuring
Dave Cameron, Full-Time Employee
Joe Pawl, Real-Live New Yorker
Bryan Smith, Prospect Maven Deluxe

Finally, you can subscribe to the podcast via iTunes or other feeder things.

Audio on the flip-flop.

In Trader’s Cocoa Binge, Fear for Chocolate Prices - NYTimes.com

This sucks.

The best sauce in the world is hunger.

Are Cats And Dogs Ruining Us?

2010_07_maru.jpg Well, according to the NY Times' Neil Genzlinger, maybe the super adorable videos of them are the problem: "These dog and cat videos are sapping the United States, and civilization in general, of its greatness. Notice how we can’t seem to get anything done anymore? The Second Avenue subway is unbuilt; the World Trade Center site is a wasteland; the century-old water and sewer systems under our cities are unreplaced. Look back through history and you realize that the great eras of human accomplishment — the Roman Empire; the Renaissance; the Industrial Revolution — had one thing in common: no videos of cats playing pianos or dogs going down sliding boards. People got things done because they weren’t being distracted." Whatever—long live MARU!!!!



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Breeze: another fresh take on window management

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We've covered a surprising number of innovative Mac utilities for easily positioning windows, from MercuryMover to SizeUp and, most recently, Divvy. Well, a new one, Breeze, is taking yet another look at the task of window management.

Breeze is similar to the others in that it runs in your menubar and handles resizing and positioning windows via keyboard shortcuts. Unlike some of the others, it does away with the confines of presets and grids, and instead lets you memorize any window position and assign a shortcut to it. What makes Breeze stand out, though, is per-application settings: you can assign a single hotkey to perform different window movements depending on which application you're in at the time. That's pretty cool.

Breeze is resolution independent, allowing you to perform equivalent positioning no matter what display you're using at the time. The latest version also handles "drawers" (the sidebars that dock to some windows), adjusting as necessary to fit. It has a simple interface, too. It's a cinch to add new window states and shortcuts, and easy to see existing states from its menubar icon. Breeze also has a "Rescue Window" feature that will bring stray windows to the center of your screen. That's not a daily need of mine, but I can think of several frustrating incidents when I would have loved to have the option.

Breeze has a couple of shortcomings, the biggest one being an inability to edit existing shortcuts. I have little doubt that the developer is working hard on expanding new features as I write, though, so this is one to keep an eye on. Try it out for free, and if you like it, pick up a license for $8.00US.

TUAWBreeze: another fresh take on window management originally appeared on The Unofficial Apple Weblog (TUAW) on Sat, 24 Jul 2010 15:30:00 EST. Please see our terms for use of feeds.

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The long right wall explained

When the Clouds Roll By (Victor Fleming, 1919); So Close (Yuen Kwai, 2002).

DB here:

Kristin will be posting a new entry in the next couple of days, but in the meantime, here’s news of another enhancement of this site. It’s the very lengthy list of categories you see on the right.

The blog will be four years old this fall, and we’ve written nearly 360 entries. Some of those are brief and ephemeral, like this one, but many are big. Several entries range over many topics or various periods of film history. Likewise, our festival reports often sweep across a range of directors, genres, and national cinemas. So we thought it was time to expand the categories pertaining to our posts.

We also thought that a finer-grained set of categories would let you see the scope of topics we’ve considered over the years. Maybe you didn’t know that Harold Lloyd or American indies or New Zealand cinema were some of our recurring concerns. In addition, the long right wall makes it easier to dig up older posts when a new film is released. For example, readers interested in Inception (about which I hope to write soon) can have a look at two substantial entries on other films by Christopher Nolan.

The result is the extensive, we hope not daunting, list of categories. These categories apply only to sustained discussions. If we merely mention Ford or screenwriting in passing, that doesn’t qualify for inclusion. Even if a director’s film earned a couple of paragraphs in one entry, we didn’t create a category for that person. That would have made the list enormous and cumbersome. What we have are the recurring names and topics that crisscross the blog entries. But of course the Search function enables you to locate every mention of any person, idea, or film you’re interested in.

We hope that this new wrinkle makes our blog more intriguing and helpful for our readers, whom we thank for their continuing support.

Inception (Christopher Nolan, 2010).

PHOTO: The Krause Music Store, the last commission…

krausmusic.jpg

The Krause Music Store, the last commission by Louis Sullivan. Designed in 1922. If you’re in Chicago, don’t miss Louis Sullivan’s Idea at the Chicago Cultural Center. If a book is more your style, check out Sullivan’s City.

The Key to 'Inception'

The Awl's Maria Bustillos on Inception as a metaphor for cinema:

The easiest way to access this interpretation is to examine the character of Mal, the wife of Dom Cobb. She represents Cobb’s personal inspiration; the Greek kind of muse, not just the beautiful-girl kind. Young artists conceive a passion for their métier that is analogous to a love affair. “He’s wedded to his work,” people will say. The indescribable beauty of books, paintings or music that strikes us with such brilliance and force when we are young; we fall in love with that. Some fall in love to such a degree that nothing will suffice but that they too must become painters, writers, musicians.

via www.theawl.com

I was going to make the same point, but I figured I'd give my friends a week to see the film before I posted a spoiler (real fans watch, but even real fans have other things to do). Usually, the female protagonist's role is a go-to cipher to unlock a film's deeper meaning ("The muse will always be tempting him to indulge his own vision, rather than trying to reach outside himself for it."), but in this case there's a lot more.

The scene "deep" in Cobb's subconscious when he and Ariadne are riding up and down the elevator surfaces the editing process perfectly- the two of them are literally cutting across set and sequence to drive nostalgia deeper, as well as setting the stage for Ariadne to unspool Cobb in the final "escape" sequence of the film. Nolan has absorbed critical hits for the exposition in these scenes, but the exposition only illuminates the superficial text of the movie, if anything it offers a layer of misdrection further from the subtext. Cobb's team is also assembled as a film crew would be - from the director (Cobb), flawed but irreplaceable, his long time partner and producer, the money man, the spoiled film star, the cinematographer, special effects engineer, and so on.

Armond White's criticism of the film ("Despicable Inception), reads to me like he is still angry about Memento (so am I! So horrible, so socially regressive, &c!):

his shapeless storytelling (going from Paris to Mumbai to nameless ski slopes, carelessly shifting tenses like a video game) throws audiences into artistic limbo—an “unconstructed dream space” like Toy Story 3—that leaves them bereft of art’s genuine purpose: a way of dealing with the real world.

This was the major flaw in Memento, but Inception is smarter, and far superior. I saw Inception a little early, with absolutely no idea what it was about (I hadn't even seen a trailer). But i did know that I hated Memento — on our first night out Adriana and I argued about it for most of the evening (we were horrible companions). I wouldn't go so far as to say it was brilliant, but it was fun and challenging.

deeper.png

What I Love about Trail Blazer Fans

New Best of the Web talk: Jeff Bezos

Jeff Bezos: What matters more than talents

In this Princeton University graduation address, Amazon founder Jeff Bezos makes the case that our character is reflected not in the gifts we're endowed with at birth, but by the choices we make over the course of a lifetime.

Watch Jeff Bezos' talk >>

Apple's YouTube Channel

via www.youtube.com I'm generally not worried about Apple, I think they are a great company, and their ethics and soul are made apparent by incredible products. If Apple produced ONLY the iPad, the iPhone, the iMac or the MacBook that would be enough to earn them the adoration of geeks. Additionaly, Apple democratized filmmaking by dropping the floor out of the cost of editing on professional-grade hardware - just six years ago, ever independent film had to find budget to rent an "Avid." Not to mention Quicktime & H.264 compression, which dramatically improved the quality of video on desktops, mobile devices and the web. But sadly, if you look at Apple's YouTube channel it's videos of press conferences, ads for products, and weird short ditties about how their competitor's products are flawed (since when does Apple care about it's competitors?) To me, this feels like an effort out of sync with Apple's creative roots.

Note: about Johan Santana’s Brilliance

Last night in Los Angeles, Johan Santana allowed just a run on five hits, while walking one and striking out four in seven innings of work.

Santana won for just the fifth time since last facing the Dodgers on April 27 at Citi Field, and improved to 8-5 on the season with a 2.79 ERA.

Since July 1, Santana has allowed just three earned runs, 27 hits, ten walks, and 26 strikeouts, and he’s 3-0 with a microscopic 0.71 ERA over that span.

…his ERA since July 1 actually went up last night because he couldn’t throw a shutout…Santana has had a rollercoaster of a season, as have the Mets, but he has complete command once again, and it’s fun to watch…what’s more, his speed differential is back to where it needs to be between the fastball and the changeup, and his fastball is once again in the low 90s, which was a big concern up until about this time…he is also getting outstanding tumbling action on the changeup and getting the hitters to chase it, which has been the key to his career…

The Allen Ginter Project : Card #30 - N21 Quadrupeds

BADGER



BADGER


BADGER


BADGER






Needed something silly for a Saturday. This one has what is probably my favorite title text of all the A&G sets. Something about that Q50 gets me. Pretty decent art on the front too. Not sure if the mighty badger made it into this year's National Animals set, but if Topps uses the idea again for the states we've got a candidate for Wisconsin right here.

July 23, 2010

rate that quake

Shared by Eve
Tim, again, this is why we should byline your illustrations!
Via my Facebook feed, friends were having betting pools regarding the quake rating before it got posted to the USGS site. I love San Franciscans who are that jaded. I think quakes are cool, and do that sort of sideways glance to see how long the shaking lasts before determining if I need to get up and do something about it. Other I know, who shall remain unnamed, get all Chicken Little with every little quake. (Which I suppose is ironic as it is the earth falling, not the sky.)

Ramirez reported that the ratings in his pool ranged from a high of 5.1 to a low of "that was just a fat guy walking by."

Shilpa commented that when you've experienced a BIG quake, all these little tremors are nothing. We both find earthquakes interesting. "Shilpa, "It's interesting, tectonic plates shifting and all of that." I am more of the mind, "It's interesting—the earth moved. It was like, I had it right there, and now it's moved!"

Skot Land had the best comment for all of the Nervous Nellies on Facebook: "Skot Land is laughing at all of you making such a big deal out of a 3.5 earthquake. As a native Californian, let me put it to you this way: a 3.5 is the equivalent of getting a hand shake when you were expecting to get laid."

OSCON 2010: Rob Pike, "Public Static Void"

I liked a YouTube video: http://oscon.com Rob Pike (Google, Inc.), "Public Static Void"

Mastodon (and Night Ranger) Release Notes

[NOTE: below are the release notes for the Topspin releases code-named Mastodon and Night Ranger. Topspin does not actually work with the bands Mastodon or Night Ranger, we just love them (each in their own way) and code-named one of our releases after each of them. Every weekly Topspin release is named after our favorite artists starting with the letter of the alphabet following the letter which started the previous release. And each week Tim Read writes release notes that blow our minds and emails them to the team. Time allowing we post said email here for your information and enjoyment. I dunno about you, but I think this week's notes are going to be hard to top. Thanks and good luck, Tim. ALSO NOTE: Tim's views on metal music between 1988 and 2009 are Tim's and not an "official" Topspin opinion. His view that Mastodon rules can be considered definitive, though. -ian]

Mastodon, Live!

I’m not going to beat around the bush. I think Mastodon is probably the best thing to happen to metal in about 20 years. I’ve been listening to them on heavy rotation for a while now, dug through their catalog and have only had my conviction strengthened. Mastodon is the real deal. They’re the heir apparent to what metal should have been, as opposed to the horrendous self-parody that the genre has been for decades.

Let’s take a jump back to the last worthwhile metal album. All the way back to 1988. Metallica releases …And Justice For All, important and awesome for several reasons:
1) No song is less than six hours long
2) Lars Ulrich pioneers the clicking bass drum sound
3) Despite its length, it still rocks.
4) In the best act of new band member hazing ever, the band apparently decided to mute the bass tracks before printing the final tapes.

#2 is perhaps one of the key reasons the genre went horribly wrong. After this change – and let’s be honest, that bass drum sound was MINDBLOWING at the time – everyone had to have it. As with all awesome things, it was quickly pushed beyond the point of its original awesomeness. In short order, you couldn’t be blamed for thinking that Pantera had hired Gregory Hines to be the low end of the rhythm section.

Gregory Hines

Hail Kings. The new kings. STRONGER THAN ALL…

Similarly, everyone traded either lingering post-Reagan global annihilation fears or Norse mythology for the far less rocking material of working out lingering family issues. There’s nothing lamer than hearing some guy complaining about his daddy issues while trying to project an aura of untouchable toughness. Not really, guys, or else Youtube would be full of guitars over group therapy sessions and we would have realized that was the ultimate expression of metal.

rock_doesnotrockrock_doesrock

At the same time, the cookie monster stuff started up for real. Singing and/or screaming in key was suddenly substituted with some sort of cartoonish guttural utterances that sound like an unholy union between the aforementioned muppet and a grizzly bear. I’m sorry if you took this stuff seriously, it’s clearly a joke. In fact, here’s a simple rule:
If your band’s genre ends in -core, the odds are good that you suck. (see also: grindcore, deathcore, etc)

Or more simply: If you sound more like death metal rooster than Master of Puppets, you just suck.

So amidst this mixture of Muppets backed by Sandman Simms (CHALLONGE!!), pathetic group-hug subject matter, and a general loss of any reasonable ability to refer to the genre at large with any sort of word that would imply actual rocking, a bunch of guys from Atlanta uncovered the forbidden scrolls of the late 80s and stitched together a handful of concept-driven albums. That band? Mastodon.

Let’s take a look at what Mastodon brings to the table.
1) Multi-album cycle, as a broad theme, thematically based on five elements (earth, air, fire, water, spirit). OK…
2) Each album individually addresses its theme in the form of a broader concept album. (Water = Leviathan = a heavy metal tale based upon MOBY DICK.) This is going somewhere good.
3) No cookie monster stuff.
4) Drums sound like actual drums; tap dancers put out of business.
5) As alluded to: No group therapy lyrics. Crack the Skye the long story of a kid astrally projecting, running into Rasputin (yes, that Rasputin), and trying to find his way back to his body from the spirit world. Holy shit.

Furthermore, Brann Dailor restores balance and winds up on the correct side of the Ulrich/Lombardo Rule For Determining If A Drummer Rocks Or Not.
What’s that? Simply stated, a drummer must maintain at minimum a 3:1 ratio of toms to bass drums (physical bass drums — double pedals were not researched in the original document).†
Let’s look at some case studies:

Ulrich_1989_EvalLombardo_1980s_EvalUlrich_2008_Eval

Brann? Let’s see.

Dailor_2009_Eval

Oh hell yes.

†A key corollary to the Ulrich/Lombardo Rule was the Diminishing Pieces postulate, which states that a 2:1 toms to kick ratio is only acceptable on a four-piece (snare, kick, two toms) configuration, and one actually becomes more of a badass with the less pieces they have below a 4 piece configuration.

And as if the band wasn’t carrying their own weight, for 2009’s Crack The Skye, they enlisted the aid of producer Brendan O’Brien, who clearly knows what rock is about. Rockin’ guitars, gunshot drums, and enough bass to fill out the low end but not turn into late-90s sludge.

Thus, things suddenly look up for the genre. And at long last, I present a simple digest of the last 20 years of metal:

musichistory

Amen.

So how do we proceed? With some clips.

Blood And Thunder
Colony of Birchmen
Divinations

NIGHT RANGER

Mastodon rocks more. Thus these notes bear their influence more heavily in the merged release notes.

But because you haven’t had one of those big karaoke moments in these notes yet, here you go.

MOTORIN’… WHAT’S YOUR PRIIIICE FOR FLIIIIIGHT

MASTODON + NIGHT RANGER, THE SOFTWARE RELEASE

No, that retracing of history was not superfluous and unimportant. Great metal albums THRIVE on introductions that are a little too long. Likewise too, great software releases merit introductions that are verbose to the point that you start considering hitting page down.

If you hit page down to get here, boy have you cheated yourself. If you have persisted: I salute your fortitude but the journey is only beginning.

SHIPPED: HTML PURCHASE FLOW

Here it is. A Leviathan (see what I did there?) of a feature, this one has felt at times like scaling Blood Mountain (See.. OK, OK).

Yes. It’s been an on-again, off-again journey, but finally, for real, everywhere: The purchase flow is HTML from beginning to end. Meaning, of course, you can purchase in your browser (assuming it’s reasonably modern – maybe it’s time to upgrade from IE5?), your iPod, your iPad, your iPhone (assuming you’ve run out and got the bumper), your Speak & Spell…. if you’ve been rocking Android you’re probably wondering what the fuss is about, but take a few minutes to check it out. And buy check it out, I mean “buy stuff”.

Don’t underestimate the hugeness of this one. Faster performance, greater compatibility, and a lot of room to grow. As well as a ton of effort by our engineering and QA teams. Hats off, guys and gals.

UPDATED: RECEIPTS, RECEIPTS, RECEIPTS

By request, we’ve added the artist avatar to email receipts and live receipts. This will help give artists little more consistency of branding all the way through the experience. This avatar also shows up in the E4M mail.

ALSO, starting today, we will be exposing more about who’s fulfilling merch on receipts, to help fans get in touch sooner with the people more equipped to answer their questions. For accounts with a fulfiller configured, physical merch items will show who they’re being fulfilled by and how to get in touch with them. In the Fulfiller Profile, just add a Support Contact Name (e.g., Kitchen Table Fulfillment) and Support Contact Email (support@kitchentablefulfilling.com) and it’ll show up in the live receipts and all email receipts.

AND ON A SIMILAR NOTE… THE ORDERS TAB

Haven’t set up a fulfiller on your account? It’s likely you’ve noticed things are not working as expected in the past. As of today, if you haven’t set up a fulfiller, it’s time to do so. If you haven’t completed the fulfiller profile, the app will now block access to the Orders tab until you’ve done so.

You’ll also need to go to the Fulfillment Settings profile and make sure that there have been fulfillers set for the world. (If all you see is “self/none/clear” – click on the “none” column under countries and flag all countries.)

FOR THE FULFILLMENT-MINDED: FANPACK UPCS

And if the words “Fanpack UPC” mean anything to you, this is where it’s appropriate for you to totally go nuts because IT’S OUT!

This for a special fulfillment case where a combination of physical goods has its own unique UPC, as opposed to identifying the multiple child UPCs.

If you have a prepacked (like, shrinkwrapped together) Red XL T-Shirt and Vinyl that has a separate UPC from Red M T-Shirt and Vinyl, you’ve noticed the lack of the Fanpack UPC function. Your good times are about to start rolling. Find Fanpack UPCs on any Package details page containing physical merch.

+ MORE

Tim Read
Topspin

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The Francoeur Rumor

A few days ago I wondered whether the snark level surrounding Dayton Moore and the Kansas City Royals had grown out of hand. They are what they are: an extremely easy target given their record and history of transgressions. At the same time, the farm system is having a nice year. Even if part of that is because the Royals stubbornly refused to promote Alex Gordon amongst others. The Royals’ front office has smart people within. They have a bunch of nice people too. There is no reason to wish ill will or outcomes upon them. None. In fact, you hope they get everything in order so one of the more loyal fan bases in the game can experience playoff baseball again.

But then rumors like this happen and all the warm fuzzy thoughts quickly vanish to where they came. The Royals like Jeff Francoeur? Well of course they like Jeff Francoeur. They seemingly like every former product of the Braves’ farm system that eventually washed out of the organization for one reason or another. Just last night, Thursday night, they had Bruce Chen and Kyle Davies pitching for them. Francoeur isn’t quite the hitting version of that pair because he actually had two very good seasons with Atlanta in 2005 and 2007, but … well, put it this way: 7.1 of Francoeur’s 7.3 career WAR came in those two seasons.

He’s never walked much. He probably never will. He may never replicate the power surge from 2005; at least not over a period longer than 300 plate appearances. His BABIP is .271, which is well below his career norm, but not absurdly so. Look, he’s probably better than his .292 wOBA suggests, but what is his upside? Is it .320? Is it .330? Is it .340? Probably not. He’s just not a good player even when you ignore the fielding, which is about average — give or take a run here or there — despite a strong arm and so-so baserunning despite a supposedly high baseball IQ.

Here is the thing: the Royals could actually acquire Francoeur and have it turn out to be a useful move. For all the jokes and all the ridiculous bravado around Francoeur’s clubhouse demeanor – supposedly, he is the one who dictates when the rest of the team shaves … and this is highlighted as an endearing quality to have in the clubhouse; only in baseball would being the guy in charge of everyone else’s facial hair be such an important position – Francoeur could actually be a decent platoon mate. For his career, he’s hit lefties at a .345 wOBA clip. Take away the .249 figure in 2008 and he’s always maintained a wOBA above .350 versus southpaws until this season. That is absolutely useful.

There are three issues with this idea: 1) The Mets will almost certainly want more than a player of that ilk is worth; 2) Kansas City will almost certainly not value Francoeur as a platoon player either, and by extension, won’t use him as one; 3) Francoeur is being paid $5 million this season; right-handed hitting corner outfielders with average defense who hit lefties aren’t exactly a rare flock of bird. Put that all in a bowl and mix it and you’ll produce some quality snark cakes. Hopefully the Royals ditch the recipe. For everyone’s sake.

My Camera Kit

For those who’ve asked about what I use photo-wise, a list after the jump.

Current Kit
 

image

Nikon D90 DSLR – My current DSLR. Great under low light. Shoots 720p video. Shots have a Canon-like “creaminess” in contrast to other Nikons’ sharpness. Love it.

Shot with this camera:

summer reading
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Sigma 18-50mm f/2.8 EX DC Macro Lens – A good all-around lens, it currently lives on my d90 90% of the time. 18-50mm range is handy for wide angle to slightly-zoomed shots. Macro is handy for getting in close to subjects. f/2.8 aperture is handy for low-light conditions.

Highly recommended over the kit lens Nikon sells with the d90.

Shot with this lens:

lily
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Nikon 50mm f/1.4D AF Nikkor Lens – Before I got the Sigma, this lens lived on my camera 90% of the time. Beautiful shots. Great under low light. Nice and light for walking around. Better quality than the Sigma, but – of course – fixed at 50mm. It also has as a much longer minimum focusing distance than the Sigma, making it difficult to shoot anything close-up.

Shot with this lens (on my old Nikon d70s):

patio lights
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Adobe Lightroom – I use Lightroom 2.0 for most of my photo editing – cropping, correcting and applying filters. It has all sorts of features for photo management (tags, archiving, etc…) that I haven’t used. I’ll probably start once I have a chance to pick up a copy of 3.0. (What I saw of 3.0 in the beta was great, but not worth the $100 upgrade just yet.)

Edited with Lightroom:

inside | out

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Corel PaintShopPro – Corel’s take on Photoshop Elements. I mostly use it for heavy editing, like combining multiple photos into a single image.

Edited with PaintShopPro:

vitess
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1st Generation iPhone – Soon to be replaced by the v4, which will also be my point-and-shoot for the near future. Photo quality on the 1st Gen is low, but can rescued to a certain extent using apps like CrossProcess.

Shot with the iPhone, edited with CrossProcess:

el dorado | mojito

Alumni
 
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Nikon D70s SLR – My first DSLR. Great camera at the time. The d90 runs rings around it now. (Lighter. Better photo quality. Video. Better under low light. Etc…)

Shot with this camera:

de young
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Nikon 18-70mm f/3.5-4.5G ED IF AF-S DX Nikkor Zoom Lens – The kit lens that came with the d70s. An okay lens, but the Sigma’s photo quality, low-light performance and short focusing distance more than make up for the extra zoom here.

Shot with this lens:

Paris
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Canon PowerShot S400 – The best point-and-shoot I suspect I’ll ever own. I bought this camera in 2003 and used it up until it died last year. Great photo quality. Great colours. I’ve looked at many (many) options to replace it, but haven’t found a P&S I like as much.

Shot with this camera:

shibboleth

Eyes on the Street: Blast of Thermoplast on Flushing

flushing_bikeway.jpg

John Del Signore at Gothamist got this shot of Flushing Avenue this morning. Looks like phase one of the Flushing bikeway is getting striped, creating a continuous link between North Brooklyn and the Manhattan Bridge.

A refresher: The two-way, jersey barrier-separated path on Williamsburg Street West will extend to Washington Avenue on the north side of Flushing, and a regular painted bike lane will run eastbound on the south side. That's what's going on in this photo. West of Washington, it'll be buffered lanes to Navy Street.

This is the interim treatment until the city gets going on phase two, which will widen the north sidewalk to make room for a two-way bike path and pedestrian amenities -- a segment of the Brooklyn Waterfront Greenway. In May, DOT estimated that it will take a good two to four years to complete the second phase.

HUGE: Facebook Lets Publishers Contact “Likers”

Facebook Like Share IconsToday Facebook made a significant announcement: publishers can now publish content to the feeds of all people who liked a specific page. This is a significant step forward in the opening of Facebook Page functionality to the entire web. Also as part of the announcement, Facebook announced a minor, yet significant, upgrade that will convert all iFrame like buttons into share buttons as well.

This is the second step of Facebook providing all pages on the internet with the same tools that all Facebook Pages have. For example, let’s say you “like” this article. I will be able to send a news feed story to all Facebook users who liked that page. The impact of this is significant. Imagine the ability for any object that you like to be able to communicate with you directly through the news feed. In other words, all webpages on the internet immediately have become two-way communication channels.

Additionally, publishers will be able to track how that information was spread through Facebook via the addition of upgraded analytics features. As described in Facebook’s documentation, publishers can add the “ref” attribute to any like button and they will be passed back information about where new visitors came from on Facebook (’home’, ‘profile’, ’search’, or ‘other’). For example, I could add the ref attribute, and then view my Page Insights to find out what percentage of incoming visitors found the page through Facebook Search.

While this is nowhere near the final phase of Facebook’s continued opening of Pages to the web, this is a major step that will help empower publishers even more. We’ll be posting more details in the near future about the best practices surrounding the implementation of like buttons on your website. For more information, view today’s blog post from Facebook.

Software Craftsmanship 2010

The Software Craftsmanship North America 2010 conference looks pretty interesting and has a killer speaker lineup. Gonna be in Chicago in October? Check it out. Want to be in Chicago in October? Here's your excuse!

Some info from the conference itself:

Software Craftsmanship North America (SCNA) is planting a root in the industry as the premier event for the Craftsmanship movement. Software Craftsmanship, which sprouts from the Agile Principles, embraces the core attributes of successful software developers. SCNA is the place to be to develop new software skills and techniques, meet other devoted craftsmen, or find quality people for your company!

Early bird registration ends August 15th so grab a ticket today!

Keith Haring's TRON

Opinionated: Francesco Bertelli

Francesco builds beautiful bikes in New York City. Even though he’s building a bike for you, his rules rule. He’s not afraid to say no.

His about page explains what he likes and doesn’t like in a bike.

He likes bikes with…

  • No logos and stickers
  • Lugged steel
  • Skinny tubes
  • Quill stems
  • Vintage cranksets
  • Track geometry
  • Leather and wood
  • Unusual handlebars
  • Chrome forks

He doesn’t like bikes with…

  • Visible logos and stickers
  • Threadless forks
  • Clamp stems
  • MTB handlebars
  • Sponge grips
  • Fake leather saddles
  • Machined rims
  • Flip-flop wheels

He’s only going to make you a bike if your likes and dislikes align with his. There may be a couple of exception along the way, but his opinions are his business rules.

Bertelli is a great example of a company that knows where it stands. The best way to know where you stand is to figure out what you won’t do. What will you say no to? Francesco puts his no’s right out in front. It makes the experience better for everyone.

More businesses could benefit from putting their no’s right up front.

Stormy skies

In the past several months, powerful storms have wreaked havoc in many places, torrential rains in central Europe and parts of China, tornadoes in Australia, Montana and the American Midwest, and strong thunderstorms across the northeast. Now, as Tropical Storm Bonnie makes landfall in Florida and heads into the Gulf of Mexico, oil cleanup is being suspended, and the final "kill" operation is delayed for at least one more week. These storms have been destructive and deadly, but beautiful and awe-inspiring at the same time. Collected here are a handful of photographs of stormy skies, lightning strikes and storm damage from the past several months. (37 photos total)

A large storm cell moves over farmland between the towns of Ross and Stanley, North Dakota on Monday July 12, 2010. A tornado was reported to have touched down for a few minutes from the cell. (AP Photo/ The Forum, Dave Samson)


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Gulf of Mexico - Florida - Tropical Storm Bonnie - North Dakota - Earth Sciences

Deconstructing Prince Charles

by Martin Filler

London Evening Standard

Prince Charles

Like Mount Vesuvius but at briefer intervals, Prince Charles erupts in high dudgeon over various and sundry affronts to his very particular and sometimes very peculiar notions of how life should be lived. The ghastliness of modern architecture and the superiority of homeopathic medicine—in 2004 he endorsed an alternative cancer treatment that prescribes, among other things, daily coffee enemas—are but the foremost of his many contrarian beliefs. Perhaps because mental illness runs in both sides of his highly inbred family, his state of mind has been questioned more than once.

Still, the latest urban planning flap stirred up by Charles—who at age 61 has been heir to the British throne longer than any of his predecessors—may raise the most serious questions yet about his fitness to reign. In a high-court case heard in London earlier this year, the developer CPC Group asserted that Qatar Diar, the real-estate investment arm of the Qatari royal family (which has been paying dearly for British trophy properties, including Harrods and the US Embassy site on London’s Grosvenor Square) had acted improperly by reneging on its commitment to finance a £3 billion ($4.6 billion) redevelopment plan by Richard Rogers. The modernist mixed-use complex was to include apartments, a hotel, and a restaurant on a 12.8–acre plot on the grounds of Chelsea’s Royal Hospital, the army convalescent and retirement home built by Christopher Wren and expanded by John Soane. 

CPC Group, which sought £81 million ($125 million) in damages from Qatar Diar, won the case in June after emails sent internally by the prince’s staff showed that Charles had secretly pressured the emir of Qatar to drop Rogers during a teatime meeting at Clarence House, the prince’s London residence. In an earlier letter leaked by unknown sources and subsequently called into evidence during the trial, Charles wrote to the emir that “quite frankly my heart sank” upon seeing Rogers’s design and asked the Qatari ruler to “reconsider” his patronage.

Although the Qatari royal family complied, apparently fearing a snub from the future king, the presiding judge took pains to point out that Charles’s “intervention was, no doubt, unexpected and unwelcome.” The Qatari government did not comment on the ruling.

Computer renderings of Rogers’s design at street level indicate that it was far from the caliber of his finest work—his high-tech Lloyds headquarters of 1978–1986 in London, an infernal money machine that perfectly captured the spirit of Margaret Thatcher’s deregulatory “Big Bang” in the year of its completion. But neither would it have been terribly offensive. It showed the architect trying to fit into the local redbrick context with more care than usual—by keeping the scale smaller than his customary high-rises and cladding the Chelsea structures in warmer-looking materials—with a result that brings to mind the commercial work of Rogers’ former partner, Renzo Piano, on a rather slow day.

Rogers Stirk Harbour + Partners

Richard Rogers's proposed design for a mixed-used complex at the Chelsea Barracks, London

In place of Rogers’s ensemble, Charles had suggested a neoclassical pastiche by Quinlan Terry, his favorite living architect. Terry, who designed the soporific, sub-Palladian exterior of the Margaret Thatcher Infirmary at the Royal Hospital dedicated by the prince last year, if anything makes Charles seem like a moderate on architectural and social issues. (In an extraordinary interview Terry gave me two decades ago, he reiterated his certainty that God handed down the Five Orders of Classical Architecture to Moses on Mt. Sinai along with the Ten Commandments, and expressed fears that the Church of England will be hijacked by black lesbian bishops.*)

Quinlan & Francis Terry LLP

New Infirmary, Royal Hospital Chelsea

Charles emerged as Britain’s most conspicuous promoter of neo-conservative architectural attitudes with his headline-making 1984 speech to the Royal Institute of British Architects in which he denounced plans for a modernist addition to London’s National Gallery as “a monstrous carbuncle on the face of a much–loved and elegant friend.” That project’s luckless designers—the London firm of Ahrends, Burton and Koralek—lost the job thanks to Charles, whose tirade led to a new competition won by Robert Venturi and Denise Scott Brown, and which resulted in their Sainsbury Wing of 1986–1991, a sly, pop-mannerist jeu d’esprit that was surely not the copybook classical simulacrum Charles had envisioned.

Among the British architects who spoke out against Charles at the time was Rogers, who contributed an impassioned foreword to Maxwell Hutchinson’s polemical counterattack The Prince of Wales: Right or Wrong? It can be safely assumed that Charles’s pivotal part in killing Rogers’s Chelsea commission was in no small measure payback for the architect’s earlier lèse-majesté.

Anthony Lester, a government adviser on constitutional reform, told The Guardian that “It is not the constitutional function of members of the royal family to seek to take advantage of their public position to influence planning or other decisions affecting private rights and the public interest.” Undeterred and unapologetic, Charles’s assertive private secretary, Michael Peat, reacted to the court decision with the laughable assertion that his employer must “make sure the views of ordinary people who might otherwise be heard receive some exposure,” as if ordinary people had ever had any say in the matter.

The Guardian responded to this twaddle with due skepticism. It reported that at least one tenant in Charles’s Duchy of Cornwall—vast landholdings in southwest England that have traditionally belonged to the Prince of Wales—begged to differ with Peat’s characterization of his boss:

It is frustrating to hear [Charles] thinks he is on the side of ordinary people against developers, because villagers and the parish council here have sent him dozens of letters [of protest] over the past few years,” said Jane Giddens, parish councilwoman of Newton St. Loe, a duchy-owned village near Bath, where the duchy has been planning 2,000 new homes on neighbouring fields. “…. No one can understand why he has not been listening.”

No one knows the answer to that question better than Charles’s long-suffering if loyal aides, one of whom last year told The Daily Mail—long the London paper most sympathetic to the royal family—that “Prince Charles’s heart is in the right place, but he is not of the real world.”

* Martin Filler, “A Mighty Fortress: Quinlan Terry and the Reformation of Architecture,” Assemblage, June 1989, pp. 119-128.

The Peter Principle, Part 2

by Brendan I. Koerner

I'm in the midst of trying to find something to read at a close pal's wedding, which means I've been spending lots of time rifling through my overflowing bookshelves. And while I've yet to locate the perfect poem or passage to celebrate my friend's journey into domestic bliss, I've come across lots of forgotten non-fiction gems that once played important roles in my life.

One of those books is Peter Biskind's Easy Riders, Raging Bulls, which I devoured during my "Martin Scorsese is a Da Vinci-level genius" phase. (I still think he's a genius, but my fanboyistic tendencies have waned with age.) Upon finding the book, hidden behind a bunch of Sesame Street pop-up tomes in my son's room, I noticed that I'd dog-eared one of the pages in the Francis Ford Coppola chapter. And here's the passage that I'd underlined, regarding Coppola's father, Carmine:

Carmine had been a child prodigy, whose instrument was the flute. He hit his peak in his twenties, and went downhill from there, once bottoming out by playing the piccolo at the track with a Nedick's hat on his head. Like many people who flee from what their best at, Carmine took his talent for the flute for granted, and longed to spread his wings, compose symphonies, or conduct opera.

Carmine waws the "maestro," and his wife, Italia, catered to his every whim. The emotional life of his family turned on what Francis later called the "tragedy" of his father's career. Coppola once said of his father, he was "a frustrated man who hated anybody who was successful."
I didn't scribble any notes in the margins, but I really didn't need to. Even a decade later, I know exactly why I highlighted those lines: Because I think Carmine Coppola's tendency to flee from what he was best at it is a nearly universal problem, at least among those for whom work is synonymous with identity. Let's face it, our species has a problem with accepting limitations. And to cop a line from one of Neil Gaiman's Sandman comics, that is both our triumph and our tragedy.

Perhaps a good way to look at this dilemma is to consider it as a corollary to the Peter Principle, that famed management axiom that holds that all employees in a hierarchical organization will eventually be promoted one level beyond their competence. By the same token, one could argue that all talented individuals, upset over the realization that there are more talented and successful people in the world, will eventually try their hand at an endeavor they're utterly unsuited for.

The easy answer here is that we need to learn to accept the gifts that we have, and to draw meaning not only from achievement and the admiration of our peers, but from intrinsic rewards, too. But, hey, easier said than done. And if we lose our drive to push beyond what we've already attained, simply to achieve some greater measure of happiness, what would be the consequences for society at large?

The complicating factor in all this is that Carmine Coppola did eventually achieve his dreams—though only thanks to his son's good graces. And that gives me hope, since I (like all recently minted fathers) am certain my own two-year-old son is destined for great things. Here's to hoping he'll help make my creative fantasies come true in roughly 2035 or thereabouts.



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Francis Ford Coppola - Carmine Coppola - Neil Gaiman - Peter Biskind - Peter Principle

Parents Losing Sleep

Experts tell us that adults need a minimum of five hours of uninterrupted sleep each night in order to function during the day.

Why you should be on Twitter if you love TV (and sports, etc.).

Shared by Eve
Oh, Goodman! Looking forward to when your employers realize you're obsolete!
Look, I didn't want to do it either. After writing a column three times a week for The Chronicle , blogging here at the Bastard Machine , doing the TV Talk Machine podcast , managing Facebook fan pages for both the blog and the podcast , plus appearing every Monday morning on KFOG , I...

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Podcast - Facebook - Twitter - Television - Online Communities

Apple as religious experience

At The Atlantic, Alexis Madrigal has an interesting post about Apple as a religion and uses that lens to look at the so-called Antennagate** brouhaha. For example, Apple was built on four key myths:

1. a creation myth highlighting the counter-cultural origin and emergence of the Apple Mac as a transformative moment;
2. a hero myth presenting the Mac and its founder Jobs as saving its users from the corporate domination of the PC world;
3. a satanic myth that presents Bill Gates as the enemy of Mac loyalists;
4. and, finally, a resurrection myth of Jobs returning to save the failing company...

On Twitter, Tim Carmody adds that Apple's problems are increasingly theological in nature -- "Free will, problem of evil, Satanic rebellion" -- which is a really interesting way to look at the whole thing. (John Gruber the Baptist?)

** The Antennagate being, of course, the hotel where Apple Inc. is headquartered.

Tags: Alexis Madrigal   Apple   religion   Tim Carmody

Episode 0.2.9 - CoffeeScript with Jeremy Ashkenas

Wynn and special guest host Micheil Smith sat down with Jeremy Ashkenas from DocumentCloud to chat about CoffeeScript, a cool language that compiles to JavaScript.

Items mentioned in the show:

Taga Bike Stroller

Okay, this is coming from a bicyclist and a non-runner, but I never really understood the jogging-while-pushing-your-kid-in-a-stroller thing. It just doesn’t look very fun. The Taga however, I can certainly get behind. In 20 seconds it converts between a baby stroller and carrier bike. Cargo bikes that can double for kid transport is nothing new, but the Taga is the only one that converts to a compact stroller. If that’s a bit hard to picture I would highly suggest watching the demonstration video, or the embed below. Yeah it’s very expensive, but think of how jealous Bugaboo-toting parents will be when you and your child fly by in one of these.

Specifications:
High-finish aluminum alloy 6061 frame
Shimano Nexus Inter-3 internal gear hub
16″ wheels
Tricycle dimensions: 73W x 165L x 102H (cm)/ 28.7W x 64.9L x 40.1H (inches)
Stroller dimensions (cm): 73W x 120L x 102H (cm)/ 28.7W x 47.2L x 40.1H (inches)
Weight: 20-29kg/ 44-64lbs, depends on configuration
Colors: Red, Green,Orange, Light-Blue

Click here for full specifications.


What 600 Homers Means

There was no 600 homer club. No. The “club,” everybody knew, was for 500 homers, and it was exclusive. As of 1990, there were only 14 players in the 500 Homer Club… and everyone could more or less name the guys in it.

It really was exclusive. Only two players — Mike Schmidt and Reggie Jackson — had joined the 500 club in the 1980s. And at the end of the 1990, there was no active player anywhere near 500 homers. Eddie Murray had 379 and was still young enough that it was thought that he MIGHT have a chance at 500. Andre Dawson had 346 homers, and the feeling was that maybe if his knees held up, maybe, he might pull it off (but probably not). The other big power stars of the decade — Dale Murphy, Dwight Evans, Jack Clark and so on — well, it was apparent that they were not going to get to 500. Heck, they might not even reach 400.

Then again… the FOUR HUNDRED homer club was still very meaningful in 1990. This is hard to imagine in an era when 400 home runs gets you a handshake and a gold watch, — but up to 1985 every single player who hit 400 home runs in the major leagues ended up in the Hall of Fame. Every one. Four hundred homers* was considered then a full-fare ticket to the Hall — it was such a powerful number in the mid-’80s that I distinctly remember in 1985 there being some hand-wringing because Dave Kingman hit his 400th home run that year. What to do? Kingman, based on his general inability to do anything well except hit home runs, was not a Hall of Fame-caliber player. And yet with 400 home runs… well, it was a conundrum! The Baseball Writers Association came up with a radical but inventive solution — they did not vote for Dave Kingman — but it was touch and go there for a while.

*I had forgotten this until I watched a preview of Ken Burns’ “10th Inning” documentary — which will premier on PBS on Sept. 28 and 29, more on this as we go — but Barry Bonds hit his 400th homer in 1998, the year of the McGwire-Sosa chase. I don’t want to give too much away, but the documentary runs with the popular theory that Bonds was so furious after watching lesser stars Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa pump up and win America’s heart with a summer of home runs that he decided to pump up himself, obliterate their numbers and show the country what REAL power looked like.

And the impetus, according to the documentary’s visuals, was how little attention Bonds got for his 400th home run. Of course, it was no ordinary 400th homer… it made Bonds the first and still only player in baseball history to hit 400 homers and steal 400 bases in a career. By then, though, nobody really cared about puny number like 400 homers. Bonds hit his 400th homer at Pro Player Stadium in Florida on the same day that Mark McGwire hit his sixth homer in six starts (and 53rd for the season), and the same day that Sammy Sosa hit two homers off Jose Lima (51 for the season). Bonds was barely worth a blurb. And, the documentary’s narrative suggests that’s when Bonds turned super villain and decided he was going to take over the world.

Anyway, it was called the 500 Club, and even through the strike and the return, there were still only 14 members. Eddie Murray did join in 1996. And it was right about then that the home run started to feel a bit different.

• Mark McGwire joined the 500 Club in 1999… the year after the year when his home run total fell all the way to 65.

• Barry Bonds joined in 2001… in fact that year he passed Murray, Mel Ott, Eddie Mathews, Ernie Banks, Ted Williams, Willie McCovey, Jimmie Foxx, Mickey Mantle, Mike Schmidt and Reggie Jackson. ONE YEAR, he passed all those guys. Well, 73 homers will do that for a guy.

• Sammy Sosa and Rafael Palmeiro joined in 2003. Fair or unfair, there was something galling about Palmeiro getting into the club — he became for many a symbol of the cheapening home run.

• Ken Griffey joined in 2004. People had been talking about Griffey being the one who could break Hank Aaron’s home run record… but because of injuries and such, by the time he got to 500 homers, he found a crowded room.

• Alex Rodriguez, Frank Thomas and Jim Thome all entered the club in 2007, and by now, nobody really cared. Manny Ramirez entered in 2008. Gary Sheffield wandered into the treehouse in 2009.

So, yes, The 500 Club started to feel an awful lot like the Columbia Record Club — send in your penny, get your 12 free records and then simply buy five more records over the next three years. But the SIX HUNDRED CLUB… well, like I say, that wasn’t even a club. That was a trio, like the Musketeers, the Stooges, the Chipmunks and Ben Folds Five.

There was Hank, Babe and Willie.

There was Aaron, Ruth and Mays.

There was the Hammer, the Sultan and Say Hey.

That was it. There was no club. Six hundred home runs was unimaginable… you had to hit 40 home runs for FIFTEEN YEARS to get to 600 homers. You had to hit 30 home runs for TWENTY YEARS to get to 600 homers. You had to lead the league in homers 10 times like Ruth did, or average 45 homers a year in your young-to-mid 30s like Mays did, or inexorably march, averaging 36 home runs every year from 21 to 40, the way Aaron did.

The path to 600 home runs was strewn with great players not quite strong enough to make it. Frank Robinson had 496 home runs on the day he turned 36… he had a chance. But he had 90 home runs left in his body.

Eddie Mathews had 477 home runs before he even turned 34… it’s fascinating to compare Mathews and his teammate Aaron through the years. Mathews was a couple of years older, so it was hard to see this at the time.

Age 30
Mathews: 399 homers
Aaron: 366 homers

Age 31
Mathews: 422 homers
Aaron: 398 homers

Age 32
Mathews: 445 homers
Aaron: 442 homers

Age 33
Aaron: 481 homers
Mathews: 477 homers

Age 34
Aaron: 510 homers
Mathews: 493 homers

Age 35
Aaron: 554 homers
Mathews: 509 homers

And so on. Mathews only hit three more homers from there. Aaron hit 201.

Harmon Killebrew hit his 500th homer off Mike Cuellar on August 10, 1971… he had just turned 35 in June. And he hit his 501st the same day against Cuellar. He had 515 homers by the end of the year and certainly had a chance. But he hit only 58 more.

Mickey Mantle had 496 homers by the end of his age 34 year, but it was already apparent that his knees and hard-living had taken its toll. He hit his 500th in May of ’67 off Stu Miller and seemed revived enough to hit seven more over the next two weeks. But that was really the last home run burst for the Mick. He hit only 28 more after that before limping into the sunset.

Six hundred homers… it was too titanic for even the greats to think about. Jimmie Foxx hit his 500th homer when he was 32… he hit only 34 more. Mark McGwire hit his 500th and 501st off Andy Ashby in 1999, as mentioned, and considering that he hit 65 that year, he seemed a lock for 600 and who knows how many more? But he, too, faded at the finish line, ending up with 583. Six hundred home runs wasn’t a club, no, it was Father Time’s checkered flag, and only three men had finished that race.

And then there was a fourth… Barry Bonds reached 600 in 2002. There was something wrong about it, of course. Many things. The steroid story was exploding in baseball, and people didn’t like Bonds, anyway, for any number of reasons. But, more than anything, I think, it was that Bonds hit his 600th home run less than 16 months after he had hit his 500th. That part was just too absurd to comprehend… Bonds had hit 100 home runs in 230 games. It was coming at us too fast. Chris Jones has a great story in this month’s Esquire about the guy who made the perfect guess in The Price is Right, and the guy’s wish is that he had not guessed it PERFECT — he could have just missed it by a few dollars. Bonds had become too perfect a player. He was a comic book hero. For most of America, it just wasn’t believable anymore.

When Sammy Sosa hit his 600th home run on June 20, 2007, the public tolerance for home run records had more or less collapsed entirely. Bonds was in the midst of the most joyless record chase in the history of professional sports — he was only seven away from catching Aaron at that point — and Sosa had long before lost the innocence and joy that had made him a national sensation.

And then, less than a year later — June 9, 2008 — Griffey hit his 600th home run. And for the second time, it felt like he was late to the party. This time, people TRIED to get excited, because it at least felt like Griffey had gotten to 600 the hard way, the real way, without bending rules or breaking laws. But, nobody really knows, and anyway everyone was home run numb. When Griffey hit his 600th, it was already clear that Alex Rodriguez would get there soon, plus Jim Thome and Manny Ramirez were on the path. The moment passed.

Well, here we are again: Alex Rodriguez has 599 home runs. He will almost certainly hit his 600th home run sometime this weekend, because the Yankees face the Royals… and the Royals like giving up A-Rod homers. He hit his first home run against Kansas City and also his 500th. In fact, if he can hold off until Saturday, he will face Royals starter Kyle Davies, who surrendered that 500th home run. No pitcher has ever given up a player’s 500th and 600th home runs before, so there’s that.

Hitting 600 home runs is still amazing — and for Alex Rodriguez to do it before his 35th birthday (July 27) is beyond amazing. What does this 600th home run mean, though? A-Rod has, of course, admitted to using steroids during his home run prime. So to many, his 600th home run won’t even count, won’t even exist, a record-book mirage.

But even to those who have come to grips with the Selig Era and the simple fact that all the numbers in the record books are distorted by one queasy fact or another, the 600 home run number STILL feels used up. It is like someone struggling to climb to the top of Mount Kilimanjaro, reaching the peak and finding that people had already built a McDonald’s, a Home Depot and a Best Buy up there. Steroids are not the only thing that caused the home run explosion of the 1990s — I’ve long suspected that they weren’t even the biggest thing. Smaller strike zones, harder bats, body armor, smaller ballparks, weight training (not even including performance enhancers), money incentives, expansion… all these things and more pointed toward bigger power numbers. The game did not tilt… it was tilted. A lot of people wanted more home runs. And the men running baseball had to give people what they wanted.

One of my favorite parts of the Ken Burns documentary — one of the things Burns does so well — is laying things out simply. Baseball was in huge trouble in the mid-90s. The strike and canceled World Series destroyed something inside baseball fans. The embarrassment of the replacement players made things even worse. It’s common thought that Cal Ripken’s streak helped reconnect fans and baseball… and it probably did for some. But I always thought that was overplayed. Attendance was stagnant, television ratings stagnant, the game felt stagnant. The common theory is that home runs — Babe Ruth’s home runs particularly — helped save baseball after the 1919 Black Sox. When players started hitting home runs at a preposterous pace after the strike, well, nobody really wanted to ask too many questions.

And here we are, 15 or so years later, and the bills are coming in. The 400 Club has more than doubled since 1990. The 500 Club has 25 members… few people can name them all now. A-Rod is about to become the seventh man to hit 600 home runs. And none of it feels all that special anymore.

July 22, 2010

Facebook's Tornado Unleashes Version 1.0 on The Web

TornadoLogoWant to turn your website into a storm of real-time user activity? Another way to do so has just arrived. The real-time web framework called Tornado, which Facebook open sourced last Fall, has just released version 1.0.

Tornado is a real-time web server built in Python that supports tens of thousands of continuous connections and thus the long-polling method of real-time data delivery. It is the core of FriendFeed, a technically innovative service built by two ex-Googlers and leaders in the real-time web community, which was acquired by Facebook in August, 2009. Built largely by the man who is now CTO of Facebook, Bret Taylor, this first version of Tornado was taken across the finish line by another heavy hitter: Ben Darnell of Thing Labs.

Sponsor

Ben Darnell was a key engineer in building Google Reader years ago, then joined real-time aggregation startup FriendFeed with Taylor. After FriendFeed was acquired by Facebook, Darnell rejoined Thing Labs, makers of Brizzly and lead by Google Reader's Jason Shellen. In the meantime, he's been helping bring Tornado to its 1.0 and now that time has come.

Below is a clip of Facebook's Bret Taylor explaining Tornado on the Gillmor Gang podcast, the day the open sourcing of the technology was announced.

Discuss

Aubrey takes over from Bengie

With Bengie Molina being traded to the Texas Rangers, MLB has kicked Aubrey Huff into blogging gear. Sorry Adriana, apparently no one cares about Rays baseball except you.

And I'm feeling good at the plate. I know people are making a big deal about the year I'm having but I've had good years in the past. I just had them in Baltimore and Tampa Bay and nobody cared.

via sfgiants.mlblogs.com

Pulse of the Nation: U.S. Mood throughout the Day Inferred from Twitter

twitter_mood_us.jpg
The scientific study "Pulse of the Nation: U.S. Mood throughout the Day Inferred from Twitter" [ccs.neu.edu] illustrates the varying mood in the U.S., as inferred after analyzing over 300 million tweets that were created over the course of the day. Various density-preserving cartograms and a time-animated video were produced to capture important large-scale trends.

The researchers analyzed all public tweets posted between September 2006 and August 2009, and filtered those whom orginated from a US location and those that contained words included in the psychological word-rating system called Affective Norms for English Words, resulting in a collection of 300 million tweets. Through a natural language processing algorithm called Sentiment Analysis, each tweet was assigned a mood score based on the number of positive or negative words it contained. Out of the resulting data, they then calculated the average mood score of all the users living in a state hour by hour which formed the basis of a series of time-varying mood maps.

One of the interesting patterns shows how the West Coast mood follows the same pattern as the East, with a 3-hour time-zone delay, indicating that Each Coast experiences the same time-dependent swings. Weekends were observed to be happier than weekdays. The peak in the overall tweet mood score is observed on Sunday mornings, and the trough occurs on Thursday evenings.

Get the full paper here. Via Newscientist and Slashdot.

crayon food bars



the creator of the weekly clothing and cuisine webzine recently completed a project of their own.
crayon is a series of food bars that are made from various other foods crushed together and formed
into cylinders to look just like crayons. the set of bars are each a unique shade that is made from other
foods of the same shade. the various foods where selected and crushed into a powder and bound with
marshmallow. while each crayon is edible, some are more nutritious than others based on their
ingredients. the crayons even draw on paper and come in a box of 8 with a full ingredient list for
each shade.

http://luxirare.com/crayon
















Portrait of Bill Atkinson

Made, of course, using MacPaint.

How Conan's Tonight Show ended

Todd Levin wrote for Conan O'Brien's Tonight Show; here's Levin in GQ describing the job and those final few weeks of the "I'm with Coco" business.

So it wasn't until my third day of work that I finally decided to slip past Conan -- hunched over his desk, busily doodling on that day's script -- and join the other writers behind the couch. As I settled into my spot among three veteran writers and prayed for invisibility, Conan glanced over, sized us up, and mock sneered, "Look at you four, standing there. You're like a Mount Rushmore of incompetence." Then he chuckled and returned to his cartooning. It was a quality put-down, and I was honestly overjoyed to be included in it.

Tags: Conan O'Brien   Todd Levin   TV

quplo: HTML Prototyping


Quplo may be the most promising HTML prototyping tools I've seen for UX designers who know a little HTML and would like to do HTML prototyping, but either don't have the chops to build the interaction by hand, or are lazy like me.

The web-based tool allows you to build multiple prototypes using a combination of standard HTML/CSS. If you can do JS, the standard JS libraries are available to include in your pages (or sheets in Quplo lingo).

Quplo provides some really simple syntax and markup language, called "flow," for creating variables, loops, conditionals, layouts (like master templates), parts (reusable pieces of code like UI components, menus, etc.), and including browser, get and post vars.

You can even specify a "redesign" prototype and provide a URL, and it'll ingest the HTML for that page as a starting point for your prototype. Cobble together a bunch of pages and you have an interactive HTML prototype to demonstrate your pages and state changes. If you need to, you can download a compressed .zip of the XML files in your project.

This is easily the best thing I've seen for HTML prototyping for non-programmers that I've seen. It's like what my Protokit wanted to grow up to be. :) Sick stuff for the UX k1Ddi35. You can bet I'm going to campaign for a way to get Mockups into this tool.

Writers Explain What It's Like Toiling on the Content Farm

Writers Explain What It's Like Toiling on the Content Farm:

“Never trust anything you read on eHow.com.” 

Etiquette of 4chan knowyourmeme: Tip #5 is the best....



Etiquette of 4chan

knowyourmeme: Tip #5 is the best. :)

thedailywhat: Consequences of the Day: In honor of troll-magnet-du-jour Jessi Slaughter’s recent interview with Good Morning Today America, 4chan has gone (temporarily?) SFW (sorta). Above is the revised code of conduct currently stuck to the front page of the normally notoriously NSFW /b/.

See Also: A sample SFW thread. (via.)

[4chan.]

Graphs

It has become customary to use “graph” to refer to the underlying data structures at social networks like Facebook. (Computer scientists call the study of graphs “network theory,” but on the web the word “network” is used to refer to the websites themselves).

A graph consists of a set of nodes connected by edges. The original internet graph is the web itself, where webpages are nodes and links are edges. In social graphs, the nodes are people and the edges friendship. Edges are what mathematicians call relations. Two important properties that relations can either have or not have are symmetry (if A ~ B then B ~ A) and transitivity (if A ~ B and B ~ C then A ~ C).

Facebook’s social graph is symmetric (if I am friends with you then you are friends with me) but not transitive (I can be friends with you without being friends with your friend).  You could say friendship is probabilistically transitive in the sense that I am more likely to like someone who is a friend’s friend then I am a user chosen at random. This is basis of Facebook’s friend recommendations.

Twitter’s graph is probably best thought of as an interest graph. One of Twitter’s central innovations was to discard symmetry: you can follow someone without them following you. This allowed Twitter to evolve into an extremely useful publishing platform, replacing RSS for many people. The Twitter graph isn’t transitive but one of its most powerful uses is retweeting, which gives the Twitter graph what might be called curated transitivity.

Graphs can be implicitly or explicitly created by users. Facebook and Twitter’s graphs were explicitly created by users (although Twitter’s Suggested User List made much of the graph de facto implicit). Google Buzz attempted to create a social graph implicitly from users’ emailing patterns, which didn’t seem to work very well.

Over the next few years we’ll see the rising importance of other types of graphs. Some examples:

Taste: At Hunch we’ve created what we call the taste graph. We created this implicitly from questions answered by users and other data sources. Our thesis is that for many activities – for example deciding what movie to see or blouse to buy – it’s more useful to have the neighbors on your graph be people with similar tastes versus people who are your friends.

Financial Trust: Social payment startups like Square and Venmo are creating financial graphs – the nodes are people and institutions and the relations are financial trust. These graphs are useful for preventing fraud, streamlining transactions, and lowering the barrier to accepting non-cash payments.

Endorsement: An endorsement graph is one in which people endorse institutions, products, services or other people for a particular skill or activity. LinkedIn created a successful professional graph and a less successful endorsement graph. Facebook seems to be trying to layer an endorsement graph on its social graph with its Like feature. A general endorsement graph could be useful for purchasing decisions and hence highly monetizable.

Local: Location-based startups like Foursquare let users create social graphs (which might evolve into better social graphs than what Facebook has since users seem to be more selective friending people in local apps). But probably more interesting are the people and venue graphs created by the check-in patterns. These local graphs could be useful for, among other things, recommendations, coupons, and advertising.

Besides creating graphs, Facebook and Twitter (via Facebook Connect and OAuth) created identity systems that are extremely useful for the creation of 3rd party graphs. I expect we’ll look back on the next few years as the golden age of graph innovation.

Within The Cone

I knew a tropical cyclone in the Gulf of Mexico would wreak havoc on the oil cleanup and the effort to seal the wild well. I didn't realize it meant they might have to reopen the cap and let oil resume coursing into the sea: "Worse yet, retired Coast Guard Adm. Thad Allen said foul weather could require reopening the cap that has contained the oil for nearly a week, allowing oil to gush into the sea again for days while engineers wait out the storm."

Here's the projected path of the storm that is now a tropical depression in the Caribbean Sea southeast of Florida:

image content




Gulf of Mexico - Tropical cyclone - hurricane - Earth Sciences - Atmospheric Sciences

This One Goes to Eleven (and Up)

The surprise announcement that I posted last week about bringing my career at The New York Times to an end took forever to write. I’m generally a slower writer than I’d like to be, and with something as tricky as that, it takes me at least a dozen drafts to even get the tone right.

There was a lot to fit in too, and in the end I edited out some thoughts that I originally would have liked to include. Mostly, I wanted to discuss why I felt it was time for me to leave. That’s a fairly big subject with several different facets, but I wanted to touch on one of those facets today, maybe the biggest motivation in my departure: my daughter Thuy is rapidly approaching her first birthday. In fact, yesterday she hit the eleven-month mark.

Year One

Most new parents will attest that the first year goes by very fast, but it’s really hard to appreciate how quickly it speeds by until you’re experiencing it for yourself. One day your daughter is this delicate little creature that you’re bringing home from the hospital for the first time. Then, all of a sudden she’s very close to standing on her own and trying every day to utter her first real words, and you’re talking about how to celebrate that big birthday number one. It all sneaks up on you. And of course, the weather outside today is more or less identical to the weather last August when Thuy was born, which helps create this bizarre feeling that the year went by in just a matter of days or even minutes.

I promise, this post is not just a parental indulgence. There’s a real design/business/career advice coming up.

Right: The reason why. Thuy at eleven months.

Time Is Not on My Side

This frighteningly ephemeral time scale made me think intensively about what it is I want to do with my life. As I’ve grown older I’ve become more and more aware that time is a precious commodity (maybe the most precious commodity that any of us have), but this really upped the ante.

Even though I felt then and I still feel now that being design director for NYTimes.com was the best job that I’ve ever had, I’ve realized over the past few years that the job didn’t encompass everything I want to do in my career. I longed to do something smaller, scrappier and more entrepreneurial, and to be more creative in imagining what my career could be. Over the past year or two, what began as vague yearnings turned into an urgent desire for change, and I became frustrated on a daily basis that I wasn’t addressing it.

Daily Lessons

When your first child arrives, there’s a perfectly valid argument that you should hunker down in your job and emphasize stability. But I started to see it the other way: I started imagining what it would be like to stay in my job for years while also contending with all of my frustrated ambitions. And I realized that I’d be coming home at the end of every workday still bearing those frustrations as they slowly chipped away at my sense of self-worth and my happiness.

Were I to do that, I realized what a terrible example I’d be setting for my child. Plenty of parents make heroic sacrifices for their children, staying in whatever imperfect jobs are available to them so their children can lead better lives. But to stay in a job simply for stability when I knew I had the skill and more importantly the opportunity to try something different seemed like cowardice. I just couldn’t square the idea of the uninhibited woman that I wanted Thuy to grow up to be with the daily lesson I’d be giving her in suppressing one’s dreams. And I just didn’t think I’d be able to hide any of those feelings from her, no matter how brave a face I could put on.

What’s more, I realized that I have a relatively short window of time in which I could try anything new. Our current situation is this: my girlfriend is gainfully employed, we have a decent stockpile of savings, no mortgage on our backs, relatively paltry debts of other kinds — and our health too, thank goodness. It’s expensive to raise a child any way you look at it, but it’s a lot cheaper to pay for the things Thuy needs today than it will be to pay for the things Thuy will need in say four years — and it will only get more and more expensive beyond that. In short, my tolerance for risk is on a downward trajectory. If I was ever going to try this, the time was at hand.

Headfirst

All of this sounds incredibly self-congratulatory, I know, but I thought it was worth sharing for anyone who might still be having a hard time understanding the reasoning behind my decision, or who might be considering a similar change. Also, I have to admit, it’s helpful to me to write all of this down to remind myself of what the hell I’m doing. I have no concrete plan really, and though I resolved to basically take it easy this first week, I didn’t anticipate how frightening it would be to be sitting around at my leisure while potentially income-earning hours tick by without actually earning any income. I’m not freaking out yet, but the change has been more disorienting than I expected. As someone told me on Twitter though: “Being on your own is like diving into cold water on a hot day. Shocking at first but quickly refreshing.” I’m hoping.

access to reading lists in prison libraries

There’s an interesting little article in the New York Times today about whether the prison reading list of a prisoner can be used against them in a trial. The case involves a 2007 home invasion and murder in Connecticut. The defense has indicated that the books that one of the accused men had checked out of the prison library prior to the crime were “criminally malevolent in the extreme.”

In a motion last month, the defense lawyers referred to “Department of Correction library books.” They noted that Mr. Hayes, who spent much of his life in Connecticut jails, had borrowed “one or more books of fiction whose plots can fairly be described as salacious and criminally malevolent in the extreme.” The lawyers were trying to block any reference to Mr. Hayes’s prison reading before the Cheshire crime at his trial. They said a mention of the books would be “highly inflammatory and very prejudicial to the defendant.”

In a strange twist, there have been two books already published about the murders that residents are trying to have banned from the local library. More on this from Library Journal recounting a program from ALA Annual.

Dickey Has Mets Fans’ Hearts Aflutter

R.A. Dickey is a 35-year-old, ligament-challenged right-hander who hasn’t cracked 90 MPH on the radar gun since he pitched for the University of Tennessee. His nomadic existence has taken him through five different organizations over the past five years. Up until two months ago, Dickey took his starting assignments in front of several thousand people in places like Scranton/Wilkes-Barre and Pawtucket. But now, the knuckleballer is pitching as well as anyone in the Mets’ rotation.

Like the fluttering pitch that has given him new life, Dickey’s career has been an exercise in unpredictability. Once a touted prospect who pitched for the 1996 U.S. Olympic team that won a bronze medal in Atlanta, Dickey was selected by the Texas Rangers with the 18th overall pick in the amateur draft that year. The Rangers offered the Volunteers’ ace $850,000 to sign on the dotted line. But that was before a team doctor glanced at the cover Baseball America’s Olympic Preview issue and noticed Dickey’s arm hanging in a peculiar position. The doctor soon discovered that Dickey didn’t have an Ulnar Collateral Ligament in his elbow. The club’s bonus offer plummeted to $75,000, with Texas’ expectations for Dickey going from future rotation stabilizer to big league long shot.

Dickey did eventually reach the majors with the Rangers, logging 266 innings over the 2001-2006 seasons. His stuff was dime-a-dozen, though — a high-80′s fastball, an occasional fringy breaking ball and a forkball he dubbed “The Thing.” He started toying with a knuckleball in 2005, and Texas gave him the chance to try it out as a starter at the beginning of the 2006 campaign. Six home runs later, Dickey had tossed his last major league frame with the team.

Since then, Dickey has drifted. In 2007, he signed with the Milwaukee Brewers and posted a nondescript 4.36 FIP at Triple-A Nashville. That winter, he latched on with the Minnesota Twins. But, as a guy not on the 40-man roster with the requisite time in pro ball, Dickey was eligible for the Rule V Draft and was snagged by the Seattle Mariners. The M’s eventually worked out a trade to keep his rights while being able to send him to the minors. Dickey ended up tossing 112 frames as a swing man for Seattle, with a 5.20 xFIP that was exactly replacement-level. He signed with the Twins again last season, posting and 4.90 xFIP and -0.1 WAR in 64.1 innings. Save for one start, all of that work came in relief.

When the Mets signed Dickey to a minor league deal this past December, he wasn’t counted on to do anything but help the Buffalo Bisons compete for International League glory. However, with the flutter ball flummoxing Triple-A hitters (60.2 IP, 5.5 K/9, 1.2 BB/9, 3.16 FIP) and Oliver Perez spontaneously combusting, Dickey got the call in mid-May. And, in 79 innings pitched, Robert Alan Dickey has a 3.78 xFIP that bests the likes of Johan Santana and Mike Pelfrey. Who knew?

Dickey has struck out 6.15 batters per nine innings and walked 2.51 per nine, displaying strong ground ball tendencies to boot (54.3 GB%). According to Pitch F/X data from TexasLeaguers.com, Dickey’s throwing the knuckler for a strike about 65% of the time, while getting a whiff nearly 11 percent of the time that he throws the pitch. That helps explain how he has managed an 8.6% swinging strike rate, which is slightly higher than the 8.4% MLB average.

R.A.’s knuckleball is odd in a couple of ways. For one, he’s burning worms with the pitch. Per Pitch F/X data on Joe Lefkowitz’s site, Dickey ground ball rate with the knuckler is 53.5%. There obviously aren’t many other pitchers with whom we can compare that number, but Harry Pavlidis showed that the average ground ball rate with the pitch is about 37 percent. Dickey’s knuckleball is also strange because of its speed — Dickey has thrown the pitch anywhere from 63 MPH to 83 MPH:

For comparison, Tim Wakefield has a 16 MPH range in his knuckleball velocity (58 to 74 MPH). The vast majority of his knucklers sit in the mid-60′s.

Dickey’s mid-80′s fastball, which would be a BP pitch without the knuckleball, hasn’t been hit very hard. Nobody’s whiffing at the offering (just 2.4%, while the MLB average is 5-6%), but opposing batters are slugging .469 when making contact with the pitch (.567 MLB average).

In just two months, Dickey has racked up 1.6 Wins Above Replacement for the Amazin’s. Not bad for a guy who shouldn’t be able to turn a door knob without pain, much less fool major league hitters.

Cow Clicker: You get a cow. You can click on it. In six...



Cow Clicker:

You get a cow. You can click on it. In six hours, you can click it again. Clicking earns you clicks. You can buy custom “premium” cows through micropayments (the Cow Clicker currency is called “mooney”), and you can buy your way out of the time delay by spending it. You can publish feed stories about clicking your cow, and you can click friends’ cow clicks in their feed stories. Cow Clicker is Facebook games distilled to their essence.

(via inky again — I guess he’s writing my blog while I’m busy with cache serializers this week)

This is the first Facebook app I’ve ever been tempted to install. And Ian Bogost’s rationale in creating this is worth a read.

'Washington Post' Brutally Attacked By Ad!

TODAY'S WASHINGTON POSTWe live in an amazing time for web advertising!

Previously: Ad Obliterates 'New Yorker' Website.

Five Key At-Bats From The Late Night Marathon

In case you weren’t awake at 2:25 Eastern Time, when the Arizona Diamondbacks finally sealed their 14 inning, 4-3 victory against the New York Mets, you missed a thriller. Extra innings, five home runs, 1.1 scoreless innings from Oliver Perez, and an unfathomable seven scoreless innings from the historically awful Diamondbacks bullpen – this game had it all. Here are the top five moments of the game by leverage index. Click on the game graph below for the full statistical summary.

5: Augie Ojeda vs. Raul Valdez, bottom 9th. LI: 3.89

Ojeda had the chance to end the game in regulation, batting with a runner on second and two outs in a tie game against Valdez. Instead of delivering a single to end the game or a walk to continue the inning, Ojeda popped out to second, ending the inning and delivering a hellish round of extra innings to Mets fans in the Eastern Time Zone. The Diamondbacks’ win expectancy fell from 61.4% to 50.0% on this play.

4: Chris Snyder vs. Fernando Nieve, bottom 14th. LI: 4.27

With runners on first and second and one out, Chris Snyder came to bat against the seventh Mets pitcher, Fernando Nieve. Nieve lived up to his performance to date this season – a staggering -0.9 WAR in 38 relief appearances and one start – as Snyder singled, plating Justin Upton, who doubled to open the inning. Snyder’s single raised the Diamondbacks’ win expectancy from 71.7% to, obviously, 100%. The walk off hit turned out to only be the fourth biggest situation in the game, as the Diamondbacks had many other missed opportunities in extras before finally striking here.

3: Adam LaRoche vs. Raul Valdez, bottom 10th. LI: 4.45

Raul Valdez put in a pretty heroic effort for the Mets last night. Valdez, a 32 year old rookie, went three innings and struck out four, somehow making Jerry Manuel‘s decision to avoid Francisco Rodriguez in a non-save situation at all costs look pretty good. Valdez was in a jam here against Adam LaRoche, but he managed to induce a flyout to left field with two on to end the inning. The Diamondbacks win expectancy fell from 61.8% to 50.0% – essentially the same situation as the inning prior.

2: Stephen Drew vs. Oliver Perez, bottom 12th. LI: 5.39

It’s not terribly surprising that the biggest jam that the Mets faced in extras came as a result of two Oliver Perez walks, even though one of them was intentional. The walks resulted in Stephen Drew’s bases loaded, one out at bat in the twelfth inning. Given the location of the first two pitches to Drew – both balls well out of the zone – some can certainly question his decision to swing at Perez’s third pitch.

Drew should have driven that pitch – an 86 MPH fastball which caught much of the plate - but instead he popped it up to third base. Hindsight is 20/20, of course, but that swing easily could’ve resulted in a base hit or a fly ball necessary to win the game. I certainly understand the decision to swing there, but it resulted in a drop in win expectancy from 83.9% to 66.5%

1. Adam LaRoche vs. Oliver Perez, bottom 12th. LI: 6.39

But Ollie wasn’t out of the woods yet. He still had to manage to get through another hitter without throwing four more balls – a tough task indeed for Perez. All joking aside, Perez was around the strike zone with all six of his pitches against LaRoche, who, after fouling two pitches off, flew out to left field to end the inning, reducing Arizona’s win expectancy from 66.5% to the ever familiar 50%.

It certainly wasn’t the best baseball game of the season or even the night, but there was plenty of drama to go around in this marathon game. Mets fans and D’Backs fans, enjoy a well-deserved nap today if you managed to stay up through the whole game.

Shame on Obama?

Forty-eight hours ago the story was another bad apple found on Obama's cart. By yesterday morning it was another black eye for Obama and Tom Vilsack for rushing to dump a blameless woman on no good evidence and cravenly or cowardly or pusillanimously running for cover because Breitbart, Roger Ailes and whatever other gods of The Crazy said boo! For progressives mad at their president, at some level, that's understandable. They have no relationship with and expect only the worst from the Breitbarts and Fox Newses of the world. But with Obama they expect more. And it's personal.

Still, you just have to back up from that and realize that as disappointing as Tom Vilsack's first crack at this was, the idea that he or Obama is the bad guy in this story is not only preposterous but verging on obscene. It's like the NYPD as the bad guy in the Son of Sam saga because they didn't catch David Berkowitz fast enough. Or perhaps that the real moral of the story is that the woman with the stalker should have been more focused on personal data security. Not for some time has something so captured the essential corruption of a big chunk of what passes as 'right wing media' (not all, by any means, but a sizable chunk along the Breitbart/Fox/Hannity continuum) and the corruption of the mainstream media itself as this episode.

Let's review what happened here. And for the sake of conversation, let's assume that Breitbart and his crew didn't edit this thing and hadn't seen any of the rest of the highly exculpatory video. (I'm willing to assume that for the sake of the conversation. And I think it may even be true as a matter of fact.) That's by far the most innocent explanation. And that means that Breitbart got a piece of video he knew nothing about and published it with a central claim (that it was about Sherrod's tenure at the USDA) that he either made up or made no attempt to verify. No vetting, no calls, no due diligence, not the slightest concern to confirm anything or find out what was true. Even setting aside the fact that, as Josh Green ably notes, most of Breitbart's scoops center on race and/or race-baiting, for anyone else practicing anything even vaguely resembling journalism, demonstrated recklessness and/or dishonesty on that scale would be a shattering if not necessarily fatal blow to reputation and credibility.

Yet most of the coverage has been along the lines of Breitbart sparks debate about racism or White House pratfall on prematurely canning Shirley Sherrod. Indeed, ABC tonight is sending out an exclusive on Breitbart, which is ... a puff piece about how he got his start in new media.

Or what about the Fox News? To use to terminology of infectious disease, Fox was the primary vector of this story. And to the best of my knowledge, there's been not only no disciplining of anyone in the news room but as far as I can see no retraction, apology (with the exception of a semi-retraction, on a personal basis, from Bill O'Reilly) or even discussion of their primary role in an obvious smear. The only 'press criticism' I've seen is this piece by my friend Howard Kurtz which can't be called anything but a white-wash, even including a self-serving internal email leaked from Fox about taking a careful, thoughtful approach to the story. (My god!)

For that matter, you simply can't discuss Fox's role in the Sherrod episode without referencing their constant harping on the sham story about the Obama DOJ's allegedly going soft on freak show black radicals intimidating voters back in 2008 -- a story cooked up by one of the right-wing activist plants burrowed into the DOJ during the US Attorney firing era. Fox has become the primary purveyor of race-baiting attacks aimed at discrediting President Obama, a fact apparently too substantive and ugly to be a fit topic for 'press criticism' or 'media reporting', which apparently must focus on journalists considered "controversial" despite not being able to point to any actual wrongdoing on their part. That amounts to saying that virtually all of what goes under the name of 'media reporting' these days is a crock.

The current controversy over the 'Journolist' listserve is actually instructive. Much of the story is much ado about nothing since most of what's discovered in these emails is self-proclaimed liberal opinion journalists displaying a liberal bias in their approach to politics and news. But what makes private expressions of bias relevant is the suspicion that it may lead to public dishonesty, deception or fraud -- the fundamental infraction behind all journalistic wrongdoing. In the Sherrod debacle, however, we have an open and shut case of the real thing -- outright journalistic fraud. But that's apparently not as big a 'media story'.

This is a journalistic felony, really the worst kind of thing that journalists can ever do -- a reality only compounded by the fact that they refuse to admit not only culpability but even that they did anything wrong.

Now, you're probably saying: tell me something I don't know. And yes, I hear ya. I wouldn't expect much else. What's most instructive about the whole episode, however, is the cravenness of the legitimate press. You'll see no end of 'media stories' about the Wiegel nonsense and now even more about 'journolist'. Politico, I think, has published half a dozen pieces on each I imagine. But I doubt you'll see many if any of these 'media criticism' or 'media stories' about the perpetrators of the offense in this instance. All I've seen so far is Kurtz's piece referenced above, which is apparently intended as a Fox-defending corrective to the almost non-existent critiques of their role in the affair.

It's much easier to focus on Obama or Vilsack or 'what it says about race in America' or whatever other nonsense. Because most reporters are simply cowed by Fox and Breitbart and Beck and the rest of the organized forces of bamboozlement -- too afraid, too bewildered, too hapless to apply anything remotely approaching standards in analyzing the fourth estate of which they are the nominal custodians. So what we get is this 'see no evil, hear no evil, speak not at all' routine from reporters and journalists who should know better.

In any other instance in life, when wrongdoing is committed, the primary goal is identification, apprehension and consequences for the guilty. The shortcomings of those who were affected by or mishandled the response to the offense is inherently secondary -- whether that be cops who didn't find the felon sooner or an over-anxious administration that jumped the gun in response to a fraudulent news story. We know who the guilty parties are here. Anything else is cowardice, denial or complicity.

(ed.note: In the course of a lot of criticism of mainstream journalism, I'd be remiss not to explicitly mention CNN and the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, two Atlanta-based news organizations that did the real spade work debunking this travesty.)




Fox News - Andrew Breitbart - Media - United States - White House

First Look: Graffiti Analysis 3.0

Graffiti Analysis v3.0 - Trailer from Evan Roth on Vimeo.

One Night Only: Afternoon de la Light

My advice to you, one layabout to another: don’t ever go to work again.

My other advice: start today.

Thursday, July 22 | Colorado at Florida | 12:10pm ET
Starting Pitchers
Rockies: Jorge de la Rosa (NERD: 8)
30.2 IP, 9.39 K/9, 5.58 BB/9, .315 BABIP, 52.4% GB, 22.7% HR/FB, 4.17 xFIP

Los Marlins: Josh Johnson (10)
128.0 IP, 9.14 K/9, 1.97 BB/9, .285 BABIP, 49.0% GB, 3.6% HR/FB, 3.01 xFIP

A Mostly Irreverent Note on Jorge de la Rosa
If I’m correct, they changed their player search function ahead of this season, but traditionally it’s been impossible to search for players whose names are shorter than three letters in Yahoo’s fantasy baseball platform*. Hence, it’s been tres difficile — because of the two two-letter words — to search for de la Rosa. Another player whom this has affected: Fu-Te Ni. And also: Chin-lung Hu. (Racism, innit?) Off the top of my head, de la Rosa’s the best of the group, however.

*It returns the following: “Your search query must be at least 3 characters. (Error #163)”

A Slightly More Substantive Note on Jorge de la Rosa
He crapped the bed last time out — at Cincinnati on July 17. Line: 19 TBF, 0 K, 5 BB, 5 GB on 13 BIP (38.5%). That resulted in 3 HR and 7 R (6 ER) in just 3.1 IP.

Unlike the previous outing, in which de la Rosa conceded 7 R (5 ER) in 4.1 IP but generally did his part (6 K, 1 BB, 22 TBF), this wasn’t explained away by bad luck.

A Completely Obvious Note on Josh Johnson
While ranking Johnson No. 9 overall in his recent Trade Value series, Full-Time Employee Dave Cameron wrote of Johnson: “If you haven’t seen him pitch, you’re missing out. The fastball has both velocity and movement, the slider is a knockout, and the change-up plays up because of how hard he throws it.”

Hear Cameron now, and believe him now, too: Josh Johnson is the goods.

Batter Bullets
Gaby Sanchez appears to be major leaguer. His nerd line on the season: .301/.367/.462, .367 wOBA, 128 wRC+. Question: Is his .340 BABIP helping matters? Answer: Yes, and it’s more than possible that he’s just a league-average hitter, but he’s got the sort of high-contact, line drive approach — like a Michael Young, maybe — that can be pleasant to watch.
Carlos Gonzalez‘s plate “discipline” has been the subject of some interesting work around these electronic pages of late. Dave Goleblahski recently looked at said work and even coerced Resident Cyborg Dave Allen into producing this swing contour thing:

Cool, right? Anyway, if you want a hint as to what the deal is with CarGo, here’s his walk rate: 4.4%. Now here’s his strikeout rate: 24.3%. Connect the dots, America.

If I Had My Druthers
• Sources would reveal that the “rosa” of Jorge de la Rosa’s surname is actually the selfsame one as in Seal’s 1994 smash-hit single “Kiss from a Rose.”
• Either Seal or de la Rosa or someone would explain why and/or how there’s a kiss from said “rosa” — and how it got on that grave and whether it’s still there or not.
• Heidi Klum.

Joe Lurato New Work

joe2.jpgAwhile back I got an email from Joe Lurato (aka :01), who started stenciling a couple years back, and has really been honing his craft and trying to figure out how to use artwork for social good. He just finished a couple prints with the Abztract Collective that are quite nice. Often his work is a little too photo-realist for my personal taste, but I like his stencil style here, very Euro with lots of bridges, but distinct as well. More info HERE.

Fred’s wrong (or quoted out of context)

[Twitter breaks] because “it wasn’t built right — Twitter was built kind of as a hack and they didn’t really architect it to scale and they’ve never been able to catch up.” – Fred Wilson

This is wrong.

Twitter wasn’t built as a hack, it was just built. The way you or I might build something new, in a couple of weeks, with some databases, and a couple of cron jobs, and a daemon or three. If they had built it [portentous voice]TO BE TWITTER[/portentous voice] they would have failed.

Scaling is always a catch up game. Only way its ever worked. If you never catch up then something isn’t working, but it isn’t original sin.

July 21, 2010

Flipboard Review on Cool Hunting

via www.coolhunting.com

So I've yet to get myself one of these iPad thingys but this sure is pretty. Actually it reminds me of feedly which is a "magazine" style feed reader that doesn't, as far as I know, have an iPad app, or pull in links from Twitter and FB. They do share a nifty RSS reader according to Coolhunting's review.The downside is that you have to be online to use it unlike say instapaper and others.

By the way what magazine" are these "magazine" style apps emulating Tennis Week, Popular Mechanics, or New York? I think they most closely resemble the FOB short items, photos.

Catching razor clams

I've dug/raked for my fair share of shellfish (oysters, steamers, littlenecks and mussels) but I'd never harvested razor clams. I've seen their shells all over the beaches, but until a few years ago never realized people ate them. Then I had them roasted with butter and garlic at St. John's in London and fell in love! While reading my new Forgotten Skills of Cooking I learned a simple way to catch razor clams: pour salt in their hole and watch them wriggle out!

That's crazy! I can't wait to try it! Also if anyone knows a good source for buying razor clams in New York City, please let me know. I want to start eating them more regularly.

AppleJack startup utility now works with Snow Leopard

Filed under: ,


In the hustle and the bustle of last week's full-court press press, there was a bit of Mac news worthy of mention: the indispensable AppleJack single-user utility has been updated for compatibility with Snow Leopard. If you never need AppleJack, you'll be happier, but if and when you do need it there's no doubt it can save your sanity (and your Mac).

Developed by Kristofer Widholm with an assist from Steve Anthony, the AppleJack utility can only be run when you boot your Mac into single-user mode (by holding down the S and Command keys during startup). It will allow you to clean caches, run repairs and generally happy-make your unhappy Mac. The tool is open-source and free, so go get it.

[hat tip to TidBITS]

TUAWAppleJack startup utility now works with Snow Leopard originally appeared on The Unofficial Apple Weblog (TUAW) on Wed, 21 Jul 2010 18:00:00 EST. Please see our terms for use of feeds.

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Elena Kagan, Barack Obama, and the American Establishment

This article addresses what should be a puzzling question: Why did Barack Obama nominate Elena Kagan to the Supreme Court? Not only has Kagan never been a judge, but, far more problematically, she has over the course of a 25-year legal and political career taken almost no public positions on any significant legal or political questions. This latter fact would, at first glance, seem to disqualify her from consideration for a lifetime appointment to one of America’s most powerful political institutions. That it has not tells us a great deal about deep-seated cultural myths regarding the possibility of separating law from politics, and about the elite institutions that have molded Obama, Kagan, and so many other members of America’s contemporary legal, political, and economic establishment. Ultimately, in one sense Kagan remains, on the eve of her confirmation by the Senate, as much of a blank slate as ever. Yet in another we, like Barack Obama, can venture a good guess regarding what sort of Supreme Court justice she will make. That we can do so reflects both the cultural and ideological power wielded by the elite institutions that are producing the contemporary American establishment, and the relatively narrow range of political views those institutions generate among those who go on to become part of that establishment.

The Elena Kagan story, as presented by both the White House and her supporters throughout the legal world, is that of a brilliant academic and administrative career, whose trajectory has been ever-upward, until it has placed her on the doorstep of the Supreme Court a few months after her 50th birthday. This story is actually a serious oversimplification: Kagan has gotten to her present position despite a series of early career reversals, which culminated in the loss of her position on the University of Chicago faculty, and a brief period in which she was almost frantically scrambling for a job. Her rather abrupt transformation from a soon-to-be unemployed former law professor to dean of the Harvard Law School, and her subsequent ambiguous track record in that position, is a tale that reveals academic politics at their most byzantine. The real story, in other words, is more interesting than the narrative being put forth for public consumption. In some ways it makes Kagan a more attractive figure than the almost robotic paragon of flawless professional advancement concocted by the public relations machine. Over the last few weeks I’ve spoken to a number of former colleagues of Kagan’s in Chicago, Washington, and Cambridge. On the basis of those conversations, as well as the public record, the following story emerges.*

The first five years of Kagan’s legal career fit the White House’s narrative well: prestigious clerkships with a federal judge and a Supreme Court justice, followed by a brief stint at a top Washington law firm, before joining the Chicago law school faculty as an entry level tenure-track hire in 1991 (the same year that Barack Obama was hired as a non-tenure track lecturer). This is the precise early career track worn into a deep groove by hundreds of current legal academics and administrators. But once she got to Chicago, Kagan’s smooth upward ascent began to encounter significant turbulence. According to people involved in the process, Kagan’s tenure case was quite contentious. I was told that “more than a couple of people” were strongly opposed to her candidacy, and several other faculty members were ambivalent, mostly because Kagan had published so little by Chicago’s normal tenure standards: one article, a couple of short essays, and a book review. “In terms of quantity,” one former colleague of Kagan’s told me, “it was a thin file — probably the thinnest of any ultimately successful case in a long time.” Furthermore questions were raised about the quality of the work. There was skepticism about the placement of Kagan’s pieces: all of it was published in two journals produced by the law school itself (as a rule, it’s considered somewhat undesirable for non-tenured legal academics to publish in their home journals, since such placements invariably carry a suspicion of nepotism). A bigger problem was that the actual substance of what she had written was considered by some of the faculty to be, as one of them characterized it to me, “fairly pedestrian.”

One participant in the faculty discussion of Kagan’s case described it as “unusually heated.” “My sense,” this professor told me, “is that the argument for her came down to the claim that, while what she had done so far presented a less than compelling case, she was obviously extremely smart and driven, and she would either succeed here in the long run, or go somewhere else. Everyone was aware of her political connections [and] ambitions. Plus, she was considered an excellent teacher.” (This last comment reminded me of an anecdote related by former Yale Law School dean and current Obama administration member Harold Koh. When Koh was hired at Yale, he had a long conversation with a senior faculty member about Koh’s scholarly plans, and how he should pursue them in the context of his pre-tenure career. Eventually, Koh asked his colleague about teaching. “Teaching,” he was told, “is like hitting a home run at the faculty-student softball picnic. Your career here will depend on how your scholarship is judged. And if you hit a home run at the picnic, well that’s nice too.”)

Immediately after getting tenure in the spring of 1995, Kagan took a two-year leave to work in the Clinton administration for White House counsel Abner Mikva, for whom she had clerked after law school. As her formal leave was coming to an end another old friend, Clinton Director of Domestic Policy Bruce Reed, asked her to stay on as his deputy.

At this point Kagan faced a practical problem. It’s not unusual for law professors to cycle in and out of government jobs. (Last year the Obama administration hired a gaggle of legal academics, including Kagan herself). A common practice in such instances is for institutions to extend leaves beyond whatever period faculty members enjoy as a matter of contractual right – in Kagan’s case two years – so as to allow such people to remain in their government jobs while keeping their academic positions. According to someone familiar with the situation, Kagan inquired about getting an extension to her leave of absence, but the law school’s administration refused to grant one. As a result she resigned from the faculty to stay at the White House and work for Reed.

This was an odd decision, on both ends. First, Chicago’s refusal to accommodate Kagan is striking, especially given that, two years after the school granted Kagan tenure, her resume was now stronger than it had been at the time, primarily because she had published an article in the school’s law review in 1996, while working at the White House. (This article, Private Speech and Public Purposes, is along with her 2001 article Presidential Administration one of the two most cited pieces of evidence by defenders of the quality of Kagan’s scholarship). The fact that Kagan had published a significant piece of scholarship in the relatively brief interval when she was working in the White House was all the more notable, given how little she had done in her four years as a full time law professor. Why then did the law school turn down a request that in the context of legal academia is granted fairly routinely? On this point, interpretations differ.

According to one faculty member, the kind of work Kagan was doing for the Clinton administration was and is not especially valued by Chicago, and therefore the school’s refusal to extend her leave wasn’t surprising, and didn’t necessarily indicate anything about the law school’s attitude toward her in particular. “It’s not like she was the White House counsel,” he said. “I think the message was, if you’re serious about your academic career, stop carrying water for Abner Mikva and get back here.” Another faculty member sees the matter somewhat differently. “Let’s face it, if they were concerned about keeping her they would have extended the leave,” he told me. “I wouldn’t say they were trying to push her out, exactly, but I can see how she might have taken it that way. By that time I think there may have been a general sense here that her future was in politics, or maybe the judiciary.”

Kagan’s decision to stay at the White House was an uncharacteristically risky move on her part. On its face, she was giving up a very valuable asset – a tenured position at a top law school – for nothing more than a temporary job as a mid-level bureaucrat in the last term of the Clinton White House. In a career otherwise full of strongly risk-averse behavior, this choice suggests Kagan took the school’s refusal to extend her leave as a sign of at best indifference to her return, and at worst buyer’s remorse. In any case, whether or not Kagan’s decision was driven by serious pique toward her employer, she resigned from the Chicago faculty in the spring of 1997.

It seems she soon regretted that decision. Within a few months she had, according to someone who worked with her at the time, two full-time jobs: her new White House position under Reed, and coming up with a plan to escape it. “Everybody knew she wanted to be somewhere else,” this person told me. “Everyone respected her brains and her energy, but some people were struck by how focused she was on finding the next rung of her ladder. That’s a common thing in any administration, but in her case it was obvious almost from Day One.” Soon somewhere else turned out to be Hyde Park: a little more than a year after resigning from the faculty, Kagan was making inquiries about coming back.

In what was by now a well-established pattern in Kagan’s relationship with Chicago, the school was ambivalent. “She certainly had some strong supporters,” I was told. “Naturally, the people who had the most problems with her tenure case were opposed to taking her back.” Eventually, in the winter of 1999, Kagan’s overtures resulted in another round of heated arguments among the faculty. This time she lost.

What a few years earlier had looked like a brilliant career trajectory was now going in the wrong direction. Kagan had tossed away a plum academic job she had secured despite what some of her colleagues considered an inadequate record – and now that institutional ambivalence was coming back to haunt her. Furthermore she had so far failed to parley her four years in the Clinton White House into anything more than a temporary second-tier government job – and Clinton was going to be out of office soon.

At this point, in the spring of 1999, Kagan was pulling strings she had collected over the previous 20 years at Princeton, Harvard, Chicago, the White House, and the federal judiciary. Kagan had impressed a lot of people over the course of her career, and made many influential friends. Now, the combination of native ability, hard work, driving ambition, personal connections, and general social privilege people such as Kagan can draw upon in such situations paid spectacular dividends. In June 1999, Bill Clinton nominated her for a federal appellate judgeship – and not just any judgeship, but one on the District of Columbia circuit. (Among other things, this is the best possible job to have if you want to get on the Supreme Court: four of the current SCOTUS justices were D.C. circuit judges at the time they were named to the Court.). It was quite a coup for a young former law professor just a few months away from formal unemployment.

Yet Kagan’s apparent triumph over an Ivy League version of adversity evaporated almost as quickly as it had transpired: Senate judiciary committee chair Orrin Hatch refused to schedule hearings on the nomination, effectively killing it. But Kagan had a backup plan: Harvard Law School. Despite having just been unceremoniously rejected by her previous legal academic employer, Kagan secured what is known in the trade as a “look-see” visiting offer at Harvard – that is a visiting position, taken in anticipation of a subsequent offer of tenure.

Of all Kagan’s career acrobatics, this was the most impressive to date. Consider that, in legal academia, a lateral faculty position at a school is generally far more difficult to secure than an entry-level job at a similar school. At the entry level, candidates are by necessity evaluated largely on the basis of their potential: lateral job offers, by contrast, are based on actual performance. It’s also, on the whole, easier to secure tenure at the school that hired you in the first place, than it is to get tenure at a similar school as a lateral hire (because it’s much easier to choose not to hire a potential colleague than to, in effect, fire someone you’ve worked with for years). So, all things being equal, it should have been much more difficult for Kagan to get a lateral offer at Harvard in 1999 than it had been to get an entry-level job at Chicago eight years earlier. And all things were not equal, given that her performance at Chicago had resulted in something of a messy tenure fight, and an even messier departure. In addition, at the time she approached Harvard, she hadn’t published a word since the Private Speech article three years earlier. In short this was not, under normal circumstances, what would be considered a promising candidacy for a lateral position at one of the nation’s top two law schools.

But nothing about Kagan’s career has been normal. Kagan had a lot of friends in Cambridge, including heavyweight constitutional law professor Laurence Tribe, for whom she had been a research assistant the summer after her law school graduation. Most notably, she was also good friends with then-Secretary of the Treasury Lawrence Summers, whom she had worked with in the Clinton administration, and who had numerous connections throughout Harvard’s administrative structure. With her judicial nomination in what would prove to be permanent legislative limbo, Kagan accepted an offer to join the Harvard faculty as a visiting professor in the fall of 1999.

One significant obstacle still remained before this sudden spectacular rebooting of Kagan’s academic career would be complete: she needed to (once again) get tenure. Kagan hadn’t published very much at Chicago, and nothing at all since 1996, so some burnishing of her academic resume seemed imperative. At this point, Kagan made what in retrospect was a very canny move: she found a new academic specialty. Prior to coming to Harvard, her writing had focused exclusively on the speech clauses of the First Amendment; now she switched gears altogether, and in a space of less than two years re-made herself into an administrative law scholar.

From the standpoint of academic politics, this move made a great deal of strategic sense. The work Kagan had published when she was on the Chicago faculty suffered from a couple of obvious weaknesses: it was extremely narrow – essentially, she had written about nothing but Supreme Court interpretations of the constitutionality of content-based speech regulations – and it lacked anything like a critical component (it was difficult to tell from Kagan’s writing whether she agreed with the Court’s interpretations from either a strictly legal or more broadly political perspective). By publishing on administrative law, she would automatically ameliorate the first problem, and have an opportunity to address the second. Furthermore, writing about administrative law would give Kagan a chance to draw on her experiences while working for the Clinton administration.

Kagan went up for tenure at the start of her second year at Harvard, in the fall of 2000. At that point, she had two administrative law articles in preparation: a piece co-authored with David Barron, who had joined the Harvard faculty as an entry-level hire the year before, and a long article, “Presidential Administration,” which would appear eventually in the Harvard Law Review (this piece drew heavily on Kagan’s own White House work experiences, while arguing that President Clinton and his staff had made significant alterations to the traditional relationship between the White House and administrative agencies). Although not what could be called provocative, these articles at least contained some of the critical perspective that had been almost wholly absent from Kagan’s free speech publications. And they allowed her to present a tenure case featuring two areas of expertise.

Still, her tenure case was fraught with potential problems. Two additional articles (one co-authored) didn’t do that much to alleviate what had been an exceptionally light tenure file six years earlier. A bigger problem was that the articles weren’t yet published – and wouldn’t be until after the tenure file which the law faculty would vote on was complete. Most universities, including Harvard, put strict formal limits on the extent to which, if at all, publications that are “in press” — that is, in the editorial process but not yet published — can be considered in the context of a tenure evaluation. (This is because work that has not yet been published has not had a chance to be evaluated by the scholarly community in general. This is a particularly glaring problem in the context of legal academic publishing, where most scholarly articles never undergo any formal peer review prior to publication. The “Presidential Administration” piece, for example, was selected for publication by the Harvard law students who were editing the law review at the time).

Despite these issues, Kagan was awarded tenure in the spring of 2001. But this was only the beginning of the remarkably rapid rehabilitation of a career in legal academia that had been in limbo just two years earlier. At the same time Kagan was receiving tenure, her old Washington mentor Larry Summers was being named Harvard’s president. The importance of this for Kagan’s professional prospects became evident a year later, when Robert Clark announced he was stepping down as school’s dean, and Summers formed a search committee to find a successor. One law school faculty member described that search to me as “a sham.” This person described Summers as Kagan’s “godfather,” and opined that Kagan was Summers’ only choice all along. In any case, in the spring of 2003 Summers chose Kagan to be the school’s new dean.

Kagan’s six-year tenure in that position has received almost universally glowing reviews in the media. For instance, a New York Times profile claims that, when taking charge of Harvard’s faculty, Kagan inherited “a dysfunctional family stuck in the legal dark ages,” which she transformed by “building consensus” across different faculty groups. This supposed consensus was reflected by a remarkable amount of new faculty hiring, which, after taking into account retirements and other departures, expanded the size of the faculty by more than 25%.

My conversations with Harvard law school faculty members yielded a far more ambiguous portrait. “The same ten or twelve faculty members have given endless quotes about how wonderful she is,” one told me. “In fact a lot of people here think she was awful.” I found that faculty complaints about Kagan fell into several categories: her treatment of subordinates, her intolerance for disagreement, her financial decisions, and her management style.

Kagan, according to these critics, engaged in regular “verbal abuse” of staff people, including the liberal use of profanity. On one occasion, I was told, she kicked a door while berating a staff member. “She has a terrible attitude toward what she considers underlings,” one faculty member told me. Apparently Kagan fired at least five members of the school’s administrative staff (none were willing to comment on the matter). Kagan’s alleged poor treatment of subordinates was apparently extended to some faculty members. “A lot of the faculty have been yelled at,” I was told. Another professor told me that “a cloud of fear” descended on the faculty during Kagan’s tenure, and that she was “at heart a mean person.” According to her critics Kagan was markedly hostile to disagreement and robust debate — a trait which was most evident in her management style, which was described to me as “authoritarian.” One dissident claimed Kagan had bulldozed appointment offers through hiring committees hand-picked by her to be reliably pliant, then made extravagant financial deals with many of the prospective hires — deals which had left the school in “disastrous financial shape.” Specifically, according to this person, the school’s new building project is badly undercapitalized, to the point where the interim dean looked into the possibility of suspending it, and major cutbacks have been made in areas such as hiring visiting professors, in order to deal with the consequences of Kagan’s alleged impecunious management of the school’s finances.

“She’s very much like her mentor Larry Summers,” I was told. “She buys people, in every sense of the word.”

A common complaint about Kagan among the faculty members I spoke with was that she had been credited with ending the high level of faculty conflict at the school. “That is simply nonsense,” one senior professor told me. “The real story is the precise opposite of what is being portrayed in the media. Bob Clark (the previous dean) should have gotten all the praise now going to Kagan. The dysfunctional faculty that Kagan is supposed to have fixed is the one he actually inherited. He ended the faculty wars. In fact Kagan changed the faculty atmosphere for the worse, with her authoritarian style and failure to involve the faculty in decision making.”

Of course none of this should be taken as definitive proof that Kagan was a bad dean. Law faculties tend to be fractious places, and plenty of people at Harvard, not all of whom she hired, believe she did an excellent job. But it does demonstrate that portrayals of Kagan’s deanship as an unambiguous success are at best serious oversimplifications.

What, readers might ask, is the point of going into Kagan’s academic and administrative career in such detail? There are several reasons to do so. First, Kagan has been in legal academia for the great majority of her career, and her work there – and especially her work as a scholar – provides the main justification for putting her on the Supreme Court. (Her career as a university administrator would seem to have scant relevance to her candidacy, and I’ve given attention to that side of the story only because this aspect of her resume has been touted so much by her most enthusiastic supporters). After all, she’s never been a judge, and she has spent very little time actually practicing law. People, and most particularly people who are not legal academics, should be able to consider that work on some basis other than the Obama administration’s predictably fulsome praise for its nominee (Obama has called her “one of the best legal minds of her generation”).

Second, a close examination of that career is a useful reminder of the extent to which both social privilege and sheer randomness affect human affairs. Consider, for instance, how Kagan’s academic career almost flamed out altogether. It’s a credit to Kagan’s intelligence, hard work, and perseverance that she managed to elicit a positive tenure vote on the basis of a shaky file in 1995; that four years later, within weeks of suffering a couple of serious career reversals, she was able to land a position at Harvard; and that she was able to plausibly remake herself into an administrative law scholar in so short a time. But Kagan’s rise to national prominence is also very much a tribute to how crucial it is to have many friends in high places – in particular friends like Lawrence Summers, whose academic and political connections seem to have played such a crucial role in the revival of Kagan’s flagging career. In other words, a critical examination of Kagan’s accomplishments belies claims that she’s particularly well qualified to serve on the Court. No one doubts that Kagan is intelligent, hard-working, well-educated, legally knowledgeable, and adept at charming and otherwise impressing influential people. Those qualities, however, do not distinguish her from quite literally thousands of other people who are by such standards equally well suited to serve on the Supreme Court.

The bottom line is that a close look at Kagan’s formal credentials to serve on the Court reveals there is nothing extraordinary about her, other than the extraordinary combination of social privilege and the ability to exploit it that has put her in her current position. This makes it all the more imperative that the public process leading up to Kagan’s confirmation should have produced a satisfactory answer to the almost wholly unresolved question of what Kagan’s fundamental legal and political views actually are. This it has completely failed to do.

Not surprisingly, Kagan’s confirmation hearings turned out to be little more than a three-day charade, during which the candidate uttered reassuring banalities about how she would be a “fair” and “objective” judge, while refusing to answer any substantive questions about legal and political beliefs. Where, for example, does Kagan stand on matters of executive power in war time, or the legality of “enhanced interrogation techniques,” aka torture, or on the constitutionality of campaign finance reform? With a Senate vote on her nomination looming, no one knows, because she has never published or uttered a word on these or dozens of other crucial questions.

The most interesting question about the Kagan nomination remains this: Why did Barack Obama nominate someone with largely unknown legal and political views to a lifetime appointment on the Supreme Court? Under the circumstances we can do little more than guess, but I would venture that three inter-related factors were crucial. First, Obama himself, as a former president of the Harvard Law Review and University of Chicago law professor, has been immersed in cultural context — elite legal academia — which puts a great deal of stock in the belief that being a good Supreme Court justice is largely a matter of technical competence. Legal academia is (quite literally) invested in the idea that being a “good” judge means accepting “good” legal arguments and rejecting “bad” ones, with good and bad defined as the correct and incorrect application of legal rules. This belief is absurd – any case that reaches the Supreme Court can’t be resolved merely through the application of legal rules – but its persistence signals how important it still is to American law schools, which remain committed, against all intellectual odds, to maintaining a sharp distinction between “law” and “politics.”

That distinction allows a lawyer-politician such as Obama to indulge in the fiction that a prospective justice’s politics are largely or wholly irrelevant to the question of whether she ought to be nominated. In its most simple-minded and politically popular form, the argument is that if Kagan is an intelligent, hard-working person, who knows her subject matter, and who is “objective” enough to keep her political beliefs separate from her job as a judge, then we really don’t need to know anything about those beliefs.

There’s little doubt former Professor Obama understands how that argument ignores the extent to which Supreme Court justices’ political commitments cannot, even in theory, be kept separate from their legal views (although naturally President Obama is not in a position to acknowledge this). Consider, as just one of an almost limitless series of possible examples, the question of whether the Supreme Court ought to continue to uphold a constitutional right to abortion. Answering this question requires a justice to take a stand on, among other things, whether the meaning of constitutional language should be treated as fixed by the intentions of its authors, as well as under what circumstances following case precedent should outweigh other considerations, and the extent to which the enforcement of judicially-identified fundamental rights should trump the outcomes of the legislative process. None of these questions have legal answers in any useful sense: each of them (and many similar questions) is every bit as political as the question of whether the United States should withdraw from Afghanistan, or whether the estate tax should be abolished. This brings us to the second factor that allows someone like Obama to nominate someone like Kagan.

Although most legal academics greatly exaggerate the extent to which controversial legal questions can be reduced to technical exercises in formal rule application, most such people, especially at elite institutions, also recognize that technical competence by itself cannot determine the outcome of Supreme Court cases. Yet they have another escape route that allows them to avoid acknowledging that, at the level of Supreme Court decision making, the distinction between law and politics is largely meaningless. That escape route appears whenever such people invoke the need for “good judgment,” “common sense,” “reasonableness,” “sound public policy,” and other such phrases that are all shorthand for “the (narrow) range of political beliefs considered acceptable among people such as ourselves.” This tendency is captured well in a passage from The Legal Process, the written version of the enormously influential course taught at Harvard Law School by Henry Hart and Albert Sacks in the 1950s and 1960s, which argues that judges should interpret legislation as if it were the product of “reasonable persons pursuing reasonable purposes reasonably.” An institution must maintain a high degree of ideological consensus to mask the fundamental emptiness of that sort of advice — and for the most part elite legal academia has been up to the task.

This, I think, is the ultimate explanation for why Obama could with such confidence nominate a candidate for the Supreme Court who remains, in conventional terms, a legal and political blank slate. The very fact that such a person could become dean of the Harvard Law School, Solicitor General of the United States, and now apparently a justice of the Supreme Court, tells us a great deal about how members of the contemporary power elite in America, whether they call themselves “liberals” or “conservatives,” see themselves. For Elena Kagan presents a particular kind of blank slate to the world: one that appears to have been the product of, among other things, exquisitely calculated careerism. And that sort of careerism is by necessity always grounded in the relentless pursuit of the approval of the legal and political and economic establishment — something that itself is always inimical to significant legal, political, or economic change. Kagan, in short, is the kind of candidate who is most popular with admirers of the status quo. Indeed, Obama’s nomination of Kagan suggests that, for all his talk of “change,” he is himself at heart a comfortable denizen of Establishment America – that place where people with the right sorts of resumes rotate profitably between Wall Street, Washington, and the Ivy League, while praising each other for having “good judgment,” and being “reasonable” and “non-partisan.”

The relative ease with which Elena Kagan is being confirmed to a lifetime appointment on the Supreme Court illustrates the extent to which Establishment America believes that a member of the club in good standing – someone who has gone to the right schools, and gotten the right kinds of jobs, and befriended the right sorts of people – can be counted on to do the right thing, even though her own legal and political views remain largely unknown. Naturally, from the establishment’s perspective, the right thing is to do nothing that might seriously disturb any of the social arrangements that continue to serve its interests so well. And in the end, Obama’s faith in Kagan is most likely based on a well-warranted belief that, as a Supreme Court justice, she will prove to be as acceptable to that establishment as Obama himself.

*A note on the sources: While researching this piece I spoke to several people who were willing to be quoted anonymously, and several others on background. Three people whose views I particularly wanted to get, given what I was told about their interactions with Kagan, refused to talk to me at all. I was disappointed, but not surprised, by the unwillingness of legal academics to put their criticisms of a former colleague and soon to be Supreme Court justice on the record.

Related posts:

  1. Being There, Elena Kagan edition
  2. One More Kagan Point
  3. The strange career of Elena Kagan


Flipboard turns social network content into a virtual magazine

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The latest hotness wandering around the blogs is this iPad app called Flipboard, which turns your favorite social network content into an easy-to-read magazine-styled layout. It does look good -- the idea is that pictures and text are all pulled in from various social feeds, and then assembled together by the app to make a full-color, full-featured magazine that you can flip through instead of pulling up various feeds and/or running a bunch of different clients. We saw a similar app at WWDC this year that pulled content from RSS and styled it in a magazine fashion.

Personally, I'm not entirely sold -- I have the same problem with this app as I did with RSS readers for a long time, which is that I like to see content in the format it's generated for. If someone likes something or posts a link on Facebook, I'd rather see what it looks like in the same space they created it for, not crammed into an app's magazine-style formatting. You may make the argument that information is increasingly growing context in-sensitive, and you'd be right -- I do use an RSS reader now, after many years of trying to read blog items on their own blogs, and social networks are growing more interchangeable as they fight to find their own spots in your attention.

Flipboard may work well (and at the low, low price of free, it's hard to argue against at least trying it out, though word is that the servers are hammered at launch), but I think there's still something to be said for seeing your tweets in your Twitter client and your friends' pictures on Flickr. I'm not quite ready to completely separate all of my social network content from its original form quite yet.

TUAWFlipboard turns social network content into a virtual magazine originally appeared on The Unofficial Apple Weblog (TUAW) on Wed, 21 Jul 2010 16:00:00 EST. Please see our terms for use of feeds.

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The bubbly of Louis XVI

The world's oldest drinkable champagne has been discovered...it dates back to the time of Louis XVI and may have even been in his actual possession.

The corks kept their seal and the cold and dark of the deep Baltic preserved the champagne. Inside the bottle they found champagne, and not just champagne but drinkable champagne, complete with fizz. Ekstroem contacted champagne vintners Moet & Chandon, and they identified it with 98% certainty from the anchor marking on the cork as 18th century Veuve Clicquot.

According to records, Veuve Clicquot was first produced in 1772, but the first bottles were laid down for 10 years. "So it can't be before 1782, and it can't be after 1788-89, when the French Revolution disrupted production," Ekstroem said.

Tags: champagne   food   Louis XVI

Is Timmy Broken?

Back in April, I noted how Tim Lincecum‘s velocity just continued to decline, and how he had transformed into an entirely different pitcher than he was coming out of college, but that he’d been able to maintain his dominance despite the shift in skills. Specifically, I remember telling Erik Manning that we could start worrying about Lincecum’s velocity loss once it started affecting his performance.

Well, commence worrying.

Last night, Lincecum faced the Dodgers, and while the game was more notable for what happened later, it was probably the worst he’s ever thrown as a major leaguer. Results wise, he didn’t even make it through the fifth inning, gave up five runs, walked three, hit a batter, and only managed to strike out two of the 24 batters he faced. Stuff wise, it was even worse.

His fastball averaged 89 MPH, and the hardest pitch he threw all night was 91.8 MPH. He wasn’t even able to sustain that, however, as he was down to sitting in the 87-88 MPH range by the end of his performance. Via BrooksBaseball, the graph of his velocity from last night tells the story.

It was notable that his fastball was down when he was throwing 91-94. Last night, he was several ticks below that, and since a brilliant April, it’s been a struggle for Lincecum. Here’s his splits by month:

April: 1.78 BB/9, 10.85 K/9, 49.4% GB%, 2.25 xFIP
May: 5.70 BB/9, 9.91 K/9, 50.5% GB%, 4.10 xFIP
June: 3.38 BB/9, 9.56 K/9, 41.6% GB%, 3.23 xFIP
July: 3.38 BB/9, 7.09 K/9, 44.3% GB%, 4.06 xFIP

From 2007 to 2009, Lincecum had two months (June 2007, September 2007) where his xFIP was over 4.00. He’s now done it two of the last three months. He’s never had a month with a strikeout rate as low it is right now in July.

In his start prior to last night, he threw a complete game shutout, his fastball averaged 92 MPH, and he hit 95 a couple of times. It looked like he might be getting back on track, even though he only had five strikeouts. But, after last night’s no stuff/no command outing, it seems clear that something is going on. The Giants are in the midst of a pennant race, but they also owe it to their ace to make sure he’s alright. And right now, he doesn’t look like alright.

Perhaps, like Madison Bumgarner, he just needs a few starts to get some things straightened out and the velocity will come back. We can’t conclude simply from lessened velocity and poor performance that Lincecum is hurting – only he and the doctors know that. If I’m the Giants, though, I’d want to know 100 percent that there’s nothing structurally wrong before I let him take the mound again. The version of Lincecum who pitched for San Francisco last night won’t help them win anything anyway.

The Key to 'Inception': It's a Movie About Making Movies

ON THE 'SET'I should love to claim the credit for having figured out what Inception is really about, but Devin Faraci of C.H.U.D. is the one who started the ball rolling for me. I don’t know whether or not the essential clue was in Faraci’s possession before he wrote his review, but even if it was, all I can say is, dang. I can’t remember the last time a review succeeded in making me change my mind about a movie so absolutely, and so satisfyingly.

The clue is this: in recent a red-carpet interview, Leonardo DiCaprio compared Inception not to The Matrix or Dark City, but to .

It’s the merest cliché, that a movie is itself a shared dream. The lights go down, and the audience shares a vision created by others. We are the real targets of the inception, here.

After I read the Faraci review, I had to go and see the movie again. And having done that, it now seems to me that Faraci did not go nearly far enough with the analogy. Like, Inception is a movie about making movies; it’s not that the whole movie “is a dream," though, but rather that the whole movie is an allegory of creation. It’s the story of Dom Cobb/Christopher Nolan, and his struggle with his own youthful, self-absorbed aesthetic in order to return “home,” where he can be united with his “real” children—his works, his films.

People have asked: why are the children generally wearing the same clothes, and why are they mostly the same age, throughout this movie? It’s because they’re the perfect vision of his creation, the ideal works of his mind’s eye; they symbolize the movies Nolan would like to make, or to have made.

The easiest way to access this interpretation is to examine the character of Mal, the wife of Dom Cobb. She represents Cobb’s personal inspiration; the Greek kind of muse, not just the beautiful-girl kind. Young artists conceive a passion for their métier that is analogous to a love affair. “He’s wedded to his work,” people will say. The indescribable beauty of books, paintings or music that strikes us with such brilliance and force when we are young; we fall in love with that. Some fall in love to such a degree that nothing will suffice but that they too must become painters, writers, musicians.

Young artists often come to feel that that great love will provide all the inspiration they’ll ever need to fuel their own works, that they can call on the muse and she will come, like a bolt of lightning, and then they will create works of equal brilliance out of the passion they’ve felt for the works of others. That feels inevitable, because the love is so colossal, so perfect, so overwhelming. Nothing so beautiful and fulfilling can possibly be mistaken; it is hard not to feel that.

OH OOHHH DREEEAAAM WEAVERBut no artist who relies on passion alone is ever going to create meaningful work, it turns out. The world of personal inspiration is sealed to the outside. In the movie Mal, the symbol of inspiration, says this directly to Ariadne: “Do you know what it is to be a lover? Half of a whole?” Please note, there is no room for children or anything else in that formula. Then, to Cobb, in distress: “You said we’d be together! You said we’d grow old together.”

(By the way, in Greek mythology, Ariadne provided Theseus with the ball of thread or “clew” he uses to escape from the maze after slaying the Minotaur, you will recall. This Ariadne is the same.)

The artist has to struggle and eventually to break with his muse, however seductive and beautiful she may be, if what he wants is to move an audience. The muse will always be tempting him to indulge his own vision, rather than trying to reach outside himself for it. This is the real story of Inception.

The deficiency of pure inspiration is illustrated quite baldly in the first scenes with Mal, at the cocktail party of Saito, the tycoon (or, studio honcho) whom Cobb is hoping to persuade to hire him. Cobb asks her to sit in a chair; he’s begun to fashion his illusion for Saito, in furtherance of which he fastens a rope to the chair’s leg, and then uses the rope to climb down the outer wall to a lower window. Stay there, he tells her, before he pops out the window. Mal immediately displays the caprice and unpredictability of inspiration: she betrays him instantly, lets him fall. We see her empty chair, the fleeing rope, and Cobb plummets far lower than he’d intended. He can’t rely on inspiration to help him get where he wants to go. This disturbs him, but it doesn’t stop him; he climbs up to the intended window, muse or no muse. He has a larger purpose, one that doesn’t include Mal.

Eventually that purpose will lead Cobb to Fischer, who represents on one level you, a single viewer, and on another, the audience and the culture at large. It’s Fischer that Cobb must reach in order to “go home.” Tellingly, Cobb doesn’t care much about Fischer, to begin with. But by the end he is fully invested in Fischer’s responses to all his machinations. As “Mr. Charles,” Cobb takes the risk of revealing to Fischer that they’re both in a dream. That’s like letting you know that you’re watching a movie; a directorial aside, a lifting of the curtain. There’s a leap of faith required from Fischer, too. When he makes that leap, even though Cobb is deceiving Fischer, it’s as though Fischer’s story has now got a certain hold on Cobb; now Cobb cares about Fischer, and will even dream Fischer’s dream, in a sense.

By the end Cobb will have to choose, explicitly, between Mal and Fischer. This is a very exact analogy: who are you doing this for? For your own vision, or for the audience? By then, reaching Fischer has created its own justification for undertaking such a risky enterprise. For Fischer’s epiphany, however artificially-induced, however staged, is strangely moving, beautiful and sad: it’s real, for lack of a better way of putting it. Note also that it comes to Fischer alone. Cobb doesn’t see this redemption; he only has to have faith that it’s happened. How sad it is that no director can ever really see into the heart of a viewer who is seeing and understanding his work for the first time!

As much as I like Faraci’s conceit of the various characters mapping to the various roles in a film production, it also appears that Nolan is a total auteur who writes all his own stuff. He’s married to his producer, even. So I prefer a reading where the different roles here are played by the different parts of Nolan’s own psyche (not that these readings are mutually exclusive; far from it.) In this case Arthur represents the director’s reason, experience or conscience—as well as the idea of “producer,” Eames, the “thief and forger,” represents daring, playfulness, invention—“actor”; Yusuf, the technical, illusionist’s part—“production design”; Ariadne represents craft, curiosity and intuition—and, perhaps, “writer." (One need not even mention the striking resemblance of the film's star to its director.)

"MAL"All these are played off against the Other represented by Mal. She is the enemy, here. Why? Because the Muse wants only Cobb, Cobb alone. She could care less about anything but the private magic between them—not even their children. Their “real” children, she claims, are beyond the veil. So Cobb’s destruction of Mal provides the real climax of the movie.

“Fischer is real,” says Ariadne, the leader out of the maze. “Mal is just a projection.” Cobb has to follow Fischer, whose catharsis is now revealed to be the real reason for Cobb’s work, down into the deepest part of himself: the intuition that guides his craft (in the form of Ariadne) leads him to believe that success can be achieved, Fischer reached (and all brought out of the maze!); otherwise even Cobb himself would have given up.

Cobb goes home, where his mentor and father-in-law Miles is waiting with his “real children.” (It’s no accident that Cobb first meets up with Miles in Paris, the old capital of art, and of film, and then he magically shows up at “home.”) Cobb sees his children’s faces for the first time in the movie and, also for the first time, he doesn’t care whether or not the top, his totemic indicator of “reality," ceases to spin. Audiences have been moved to speculate on the ultimate fate of the top, as if what were being said is merely that “reality” is in question. Which sure, that is being said. But the real point is that Cobb leaves the top spinning, in order to go outside and find his children waiting for him. Whether or not reality is “real” has stopped mattering to Cobb, and that final leap of faith is what redeems him.

All the seeming inconsistencies that bothered me on a first viewing evaporated instantly on the second, after I had read Faraci’s review. Every line of the movie finds its place, viewed through this lens. Take Saito, the studio executive who is willing to give Cobb a job, but just a job isn’t enough; Saito must tempt Cobb with the promise of reaching his children: creative autonomy. “How do I know you can deliver?” Cobb asks, and Saito responds: “You don’t… but I can.” That didn’t mean much to me when the players were rival titans of industry, but when I saw Saito as a studio head extending the offer of creative control to the director of the movie I was watching, whoa. And line after line, it was the same.

“A man possessed of radical notions.”

“The world needs Robert Fischer to change his mind.”

“How do you translate a business strategy into an emotion?”

The most fun part of this whole thing is that Nolan’s attempt at Inception has worked really beautifully, so far. He’s made an idea, “like a virus,” enter millions of minds, and we don’t quite know what it is, not yet.

Maria Bustillos is the author of Dorkismo: The Macho of the Dork and Act Like a Gentleman, Think Like a Woman.

In praise of tardiness

In praise of tardiness:

A short story on the value of tardiness:

One day in 1939, Berkeley doctoral candidate George Dantzig arrived late for a statistics class taught by Jerzy Neyman. He copied down the two problems on the blackboard and turned them in a few days later, apologizing for the delay — he’d found them unusually difficult. Distracted, Neyman told him to leave his homework on the desk.

On a Sunday morning six weeks later, Neyman banged on Dantzig’s door. The problems that Dantzig had assumed were homework were actually unproved statistical theorems that Neyman had been discussing with the class — and Dantzig had proved both of them. Both were eventually published, with Dantzig as coauthor.

“When I began to worry about a thesis topic,” he recalled later, “Neyman just shrugged and told me to wrap the two problems in a binder and he would accept them as my thesis.”

Early, late, or in between, it is everything.

Not so perfect: Braden, Halladay, and Galarraga since their perfect games

Check out the cumulative pitching numbers for the two guys to throw perfect games this season, as well as Armando Galarraga, since each of their gems:

Player GS CG W L IP H R ER 2B 3B HR SO BB IBB HBP GDP SF ROE ERA BF BA OBP SLG OPS BAbip Pit Str StL StS SB CS PO aLI WPA RE24
Braden 9 1 0 5 52.2 69 30 24 16 0 6 36 10 0 2 3 0 2 4.10 233 0.319 0.355 0.477 0.832 0.362 817 66% 19% 8% 1 1 3 0.97 -0.265 -0.16
Halladay 9 2 3 5 68.0 71 24 22 11 1 10 61 7 0 3 7 2 0 2.91 277 0.271 0.296 0.435 0.731 0.316 954 70% 18% 12% 5 1 0 1.03 0.990 10.78
Galarraga 7 0 1 2 41.0 51 25 25 8 4 5 17 14 0 1 2 1 2 5.49 186 0.300 0.355 0.482 0.837 0.309 696 63% 17% 7% 2 2 0 0.94 -0.503 -2.02

Braden has been decent, allowing few walks but a lot of hits and an ERA close to league average. He has yet to get a single win since his perfect game.

Halladay has been very good, with a 61/7 K/BB ratio in 68 innings but has earned only a 3-5 record thanks in large part to the terrible slump the Phillies' offense was in.

Galarraga hasn't been all that good. His WHIP isn't terrible but 17 strikeouts in 41 innings isn't going to get it done. He's got just 1 win since near-perfecto.

Why New Yorkers Should Still Be (Kind Of) Excited About The Knicks

Man of the hourI could have changed the history of the city of New York. Back when the Mayor was busting his pockets trying to land the NBA's prime free agent—back when anything was possible and any team could land LeBron James—I got recruited to help. A friend of a friend asked me to select soundtrack for part of the campaign, presumably because I write about basketball and the perils of Ikea's Expedit, exclusively.

But journalistic ethics got the best of me, and I politely declined. So if you're still looking for a scapegoat, I'm your man.

In the end, though, I'm happy with how things turned out for the Knicks, and you should be, too. That's kind of my specialty: convincing fans that their uneven, flighty team is in fact a thing of beauty. And, with a dark age about to fall where next to no team, other than Miami, has a shot at a title, this kind of off-beat charisma and a sense of danger is about the most you can hope for. Forget the competitive pressures of playing in New York; in large part, New York City athletes just need to justify their celebrity status.

Many will miss David Lee, even though studies have shown that the man never was, and is unlikely to ever become, Jewish. Amar'e Stoudemire has at least made a valiant effort over the last few days, vowing to travel to Israel and issuing a guilt-laden statement about leaving Phoenix. He also instinctively gets that the bigger the personality, the easier a Knicks team can divert attention from its play—and build up its own kind of legend. As in, Danilo Gallinari is now free to go from franchise player to sneering, three-point drilling I-talian growing up in public.

And then there's Anthony Randolph.

Randolph is the quintessential NBA cult figure: lost, found, and pitied back into oblivion several times over after only two seasons in the league. As a player, his skills are limitless. Coach Mike D’Antoni talks about the twenty-two year-old like Weapon X; if Amar’e is like a volcanic eruption around the basket, and Gallo a tall, hot-and-cool international emissary, Randolph is several thousands theories of basketball colliding in the same place at the same time. He’s a 6’11” gawky slingshot of a player born on the wrong side of the Berlin Wall, drafted out of LSU in 2008 after one inconclusive year, and projected as a raw, bouncy beanpole. Instead, within weeks he revealed that he could pass, handle, and terrify all manner of opponents with his shot-blocking and speed-demon response time.

Randolph has been picked up and discarded by, almost simultaneously, both the notoriously gut-driven Bill Simmons and the statistics electorate at Basketball Prospectus. On the court, he was busy being yanked around by washed-up innovator Don Nelson, dealing with injury, and generally lacking the guidance to turn raw promise into the 21st century version of Lamar Odom or young Kevin Garnett. Odom predicted the kid would surpass him. You also have to imagine KG nodded with approval when one night, Randolph became so worked up, so distressed, he went to the bench just to cool down his core temperature. There were tears, fumes, grimaces of anguish, and the sense that if the future ever arrived, it would destroy us all.

Now Randolph has gone from Nellie to fellow avant-gardist D’Antoni—who, incidentally, is desperately seeking to prove he’s still relevant. Maybe Mike D, who once predicted a future where everyone was 6”9’ and could pass or shoot, sees Randolph as his chance for redemption.

The Knicks should crack .500 and have a brief taste of the postseason. Raymond Felton, the most beloved Tar Heel of the last decade, hasn’t thrived as a pro. But he has to be better than Dookie Chris Duhon. Nature demands it. And, as for all the “who plays the off-guard?” blather, let me introduce you to Kelenna Azubuike, another seeking refuge from Nellie’s chaotic whimsy. The Knicks should have traded Wilson Chandler when they had the chance, just like Channing Frye before him. Hope dies hard in this town!

With world domination off the table for the time being, though, this is a chance to watch a team laden with intrigue light up (and occasionally tear down) the Garden. That’s got to be worth something, right? If you don’t see, the exuberant Ronny Turiaf will light the way. And he will lead you straight to Randolph.

Anthony Randolph, it’s all on you. Your revival—if you ever really arrived in the first place—is the key to the city’s sanity. Or at least its distraction. Forget about Randolph’s potential on the court; to whom does such a man get linked romantically?


Bethlehem Shoals, a regular contributor to NBA FanHouse, is a founding member of FreeDarko.com, whose Undisputed Guide to Pro Basketball History will be published by Bloomsbury, USA in November.

Code for America Fellowship PSA

Courtney Love's New Fashion Blog Is Off-The-Chain Nuts

courtney-love-fashion-blog-main.jpg

"There were, like, nine pages on Google that were f—g me at my worst, and it took me until page 12—well, page nine had an Avedon one&mdash'to find a decent one," so said Courtney Love to WWD while discussing the reasons for creating her new fashion blog, whatcourtneyworetoday.com. The inspiration for the site stemmed from the sad fact that Love did not have one good photo on the internet (big surprise). Thus, she and T, L, and X, started a blog about Love's fashion sense (or, umm, in our opinion the pretty distinct lack thereof). If anyone is confused, T, L and X are co-bloggers who edit and update her blog, though for some weird reason Love doesn't know who X is (we don't get it either). Her fashion perspective has suddenly had a jolt, thanks to a gift of an Hermès Birkin: "Having a Birkin makes you read every part of Emily Post etiquette book," says Love, who apparently thinks she is the new Jackie 'O. We're not so sure about this nonsensical fashion blog—this is a chick who literally burned a Marc Jacobs' Perry Ellis collection in the '90s, contemplated cutting up a John Galliano couture gown, and admits to just learning the meaning of the term A/W! But, the changed women says that her "kook" style days are done and she's now sporting beige and nude, Rick Owens and Emilio Pucci (Pucci...WTF?!). Is this the fabulous work of some unknown insane asylum, a new prescription drug that is not yet on the market, or perhaps, her Birkin possess some mystical power that creates taste. We doubt we'll ever understand the machinations of Love's addled brain, but to get some fashion insight whatcourtneyworetoday.com is definitely worth a browse, if only to decide what you won't be wearing. (WWD)

The Soft Innovations of London’s “Cycle Superhighways”

trixi.jpg"Trixi" mirrors help drivers of large vehicles see cyclists at intersections. Physical infrastructure is only one component in London's "cycle superhighways" initiative. Photo: I Bike London

Earlier this week, London launched its first two "cycle superhighways" to decidedly mixed reviews. First announced by then-mayor Ken Livingstone in 2008, the cycle superhighways haven't quite lived up to the expectations for safe and fast bike travel implied by their name, as you can see in this BBC News video.

The superhighways are quite vulnerable to intrusion from motorists and they look like pretty standard bike lanes -- albeit with improvements at intersections, enhanced way-finding and some nifty new safety features like "trixi" mirrors at traffic signals, which improve cyclist visibility for the operators of bigger vehicles like trucks. They're also a very bright blue, which at the very least will raise awareness about cycling.

The current mayor of London, Boris Johnson, has a lot riding on the cycle superhighways. He's declared 2010 the "Year of the Bicycle," and the new bikeways will be paired this summer with an ambitious bike-share system -- 6,000 bicycles at 400 stations. Together, these two projects are expected to result in an extra 62,000 bike trips per day in London, making a big contribution toward the mayor's target of a 400 percent increase in cycling by 2026. But the question remains whether the superhighways will justify the hype and the investment. The first two superhighways cost about $35 million to implement.

If you only look at the bright blue bike lanes, though, you're only getting half the picture. The real innovation behind the cycle superhighways may not lie in the improved physical infrastructure but in the supporting "softer measures" to promote their use. Transport for London (TfL), the mayor's transportation agency, has been working closely with businesses, schools and households along the route of the superhighways to encourage people to cycle.

With businesses, TfL has shared expertise to help develop workplace travel plans which encourage staff to use more sustainable forms of transport, including cycling. A lack of workplace amenities for cyclists has been identified as a major barrier to people commuting by bike, so grants have been given to provide additional workplace bike parking and changing facilities such as showers and lockers. Businesses have also been encouraged to join "Dr. Bike" programs, where companies hire mechanics to help their employees maintain and repair their bikes.

For many potential cyclists, safety is the biggest barrier, so TfL has provided additional funding for cycling education and training for households near the superhighway routes. To encourage novice cyclists who might not be used to riding on busy roads, group rides led by experienced cyclists have been organized along the superhighways.

This approach builds on Transport for London's existing "smarter travel program," which has been very successful in promoting more sustainable transportation through extensive use of personalized travel planning. In a three-year pilot in the London Borough of Sutton, these kinds of initiatives have supported a six percent mode shift away from cars, increasing cycling by 75 percent and bus use by 16 percent [PDF].

It will be interesting to see how much of an impact these softer measures have and what other cities can learn from them. Transport for London is closely monitoring the impact of the cycle superhighways on bicycling rates and will report back when the initial findings are released. 

Jacob Dunbar is a London-based transportation planner living in New York.

PHOTO: This is a cool visual metaphor on the Flipboard…

flipboard-metaphor.jpg

This is a cool visual metaphor on the Flipboard for iPad site. Screenshots from websites are rendered like pieces of paper in a stack under the iPad.

29 Things You Don't Know About Refinery29

Happy Birthday...to us! We're five, and while we might still have our baby teeth, we've definitely grown up lots from our once-a-week, newsletter days. We hear that five is the year that you start learning how to share, so we thought it'd be fun to divulge some things that you might not know about our website and our staff. From office traditions to strange factoids about our editors, here are 29 glimpses into Refinery29 HQ!

ATMs in Antarctica

There are two ATM machines in Antarctica. They are located at McMurdo Station and operated by Wells Fargo. Here's an interview with a Wells Fargo VP about the unique challenges of operating those machines.

You know, the other thing too that you may find interesting -- I don't know how much you know about folks that need to go down to Antarctica -- it's a huge process to do it. So when we're preparing for the vendor visit, it's like a ten-month process. The reason being is, they obviously go in the off-season when it's obviously warmer because no planes fly onto the ice in their winter months. And so anybody that goes to Antarctica has to be cleared with a physical, a dental, and a psychological evaluation, because if for some reason the plane can't get out, you're trapped down there until the next season.

(via jimray)

Tags: Antarctica   finance

A Virtual Tour of Kenji Alt's Food Lab Kitchen

VIEW SLIDESHOW: A Virtual Tour of Kenji Alt's Food Lab Kitchen

After the great tours we've been getting of the Serious Eats office, you asked for it, so here it is: a virtual tour of the Food Lab's kitchen.

If you're expecting fancy gear, lab coats, a sterile environment, and a multi-million dollar laboratory, I'd recommend you look elsewhere. As you'll see in these photos, I'm just a normal guy with a pretty normal kitchen, some nice (but still consumer-level) gear, and a couple of exceptionally cute taste-testers.

Follow Kenji on Facebook or Twitter. About the author: After graduating from MIT, J. Kenji Lopez-Alt spent many years as a chef, recipe developer, writer, and editor in Boston. He now lives in New York with his wife, where he runs a private chef business, KA Cuisine, and runs the collaborative blog GoodEater.org about sustainable food enjoyment.

Ginter Code was cracked

By Nick Jacoby once again! You can see just how he done it here. Nice job, Nick! I have to admit that Topps was quite clever this time. After having to examine a bunch of confusing parallels last year, a code breaker didn't really need to look at a single card this year. The code, a checklist and Baseball-Reference would suffice. In honor of this feat, I'm going to hold a special contest just for Topps. Introducing...


THE JUNKIE CODE


Here are the instructions: All Topps has to do is crack my special near-impossible-to-decipher code, follow the instructions in the code and they win! The prize: A bunch of boxes of junk wax doubles I've got cluttering up my basement. Topps can try to build their own set of 1989 Topps, or they can give them away on the Transmogrifier! Topps will have to earn it though. Ok, don't look now, but.... HERE'S THE CODE

INGBRAY

ACKBAY

OPPSTAY

OTALTAY

Get crackin' Topps... you'll need your finest minds working on this one...

Drawing All the Time: Week 33

I am making a bunch of drawings and sculptures of "plausible inventions." Here is one of them.
07-21-10.jpg

How a 15-yo Kid Tricked Apple With a Disguised iPhone Tethering App [IPhone]

Oh, Nick Lee, you clever boy you. See, Nick here tricked Apple with a very simple iPhone application: Handy Light. On the surface it looked just like any other $0.99 flashlight application. But, secretly, it was a lot more useful. More »


July 20, 2010

Yahoo Post: “Multi-Core HTTP Server with NodeJS”

The Yahoo! Developer Blog has a nice post about node.js on how they’re running node.js A good comment on news ycombinator: Node.js lets you write server applications in a server container that can handle tens of thousands of concurrent connections in a loosely typed language like Javascript which lets you code faster. It uses the [...]

Goings On About Town: Venues: ZÜrcher Studio



33 Bleecker St., New York, NY 10012
212 777 0790

Scribble: Closing the Book on Ad Hoc Documentation Tools

Scribble: Closing the Book on Ad Hoc Documentation Tools. Matthew Flatt, Eli Barzilay, and Robert Bruce Findler. ICFP '09.

Scribble is a new system for writing library documentation, user guides, and tutorials. Scribble builds on PLT Scheme’s technology for language extension, and at its heart is a new approach to connecting prose references with library bindings. We have built Scribble libraries that support standalone documentation and papers, JavaDoc-style API documentation, and literate programming. Thanks in large part to Scribble’s flexibility and the ease with which we can cross-reference information across different levels, the documentation that is distributed with PLT Scheme now runs into the thousands of pages. This paper reports on the use of Scribble and on its design as both an extension and extensible part of PLT Scheme.

This introduces a cute and well thought out syntax for writing technical prose and for escaping back into the PL for typesetting operations and cross-references to PL values. It looks reminiscent of TeX, but has a direct transformation to S-expressions. Scribble also makes great use of PLT Scheme's modular and polyglot programming facilities.

A nice twist on the classic Scheme ploy:

A documentation language should be designed not by piling escape conventions on top of a comment syntax, but by removing the weaknesses and restrictions of the programming language that make a separate documentation language appear necessary. Scribble demonstrates that a small number of rules for forming documentation, with no restrictions on how they are composed, suffice to form a practical and efficient documentation language that is flexible enough to support the major documentation paradigms in use today.

(P.S. To which I'd like to add, somewhat OT, that compared to PLT Scheme, Common Lisp is starting to look teeny.)

Apple donates MacPaint source to museum

Filed under:

MacPaint was one of the first big "wows" of the graphical UI. Before the early days of Mac OS, operating systems were strictly text affairs, and creating graphics was done mostly by writing code. But MacPaint helped to change all of that, putting image creation in a graphical user interface (creating standby design ideas like the "marching ants" selection indicator), and allowing those images to be used in other programs and applications. Now, Apple has donated the MacPaint source code to the Computer History Museum in Mountain View, California.

Andy Hertzfeld (who writes about the MacPaint code here) is perhaps the one most responsible for the donation -- he hunted down some original floppy disk copies of the app, and then installed it on a networked Lisa computer to obtain the source code, and then came upon the idea of getting it donated to a museum so everyone could see it. After poking around Apple for a few years, he finally talked to Steve Jobs in January of this year, and Jobs fast-tracked the approval process so the donation could happen today.

Very cool story, and it's excellent to see a little piece of Apple (and computer) history enshrined in a museum. You can get both the MacPaint and QuickDraw source code right off of the museum's website.

[via Clusterflock]

TUAWApple donates MacPaint source to museum originally appeared on The Unofficial Apple Weblog (TUAW) on Tue, 20 Jul 2010 18:00:00 EST. Please see our terms for use of feeds.

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It's taken me 10 years, but I think I may love New York now.

Acting Like Adam Dunn Is Ryan Howard

From the Chicago Sun-Times:

According to a major-league source, Williams spent the last few days trying desperately to pry Adam Dunn from the grasps of the Washington Nationals, offering up “anyone and anything he has in the minor leagues in a package.” And no one is untouchable, including pitcher Daniel Hudson or infielder Dayan Viciedo.” The problem Kenny is finding out is that [Nats GM Mike] Rizzo is acting like Dunn is Ryan Howard,” the source said.

I suppose that on the surface, this comparison might seem kind of ridiculous. Adam Dunn wasn’t even offered arbitration upon leaving the Nationals and is in the final season of a two year, $20 million contract. Ryan Howard, on the other hand, has an MVP award and has three more top-5 MVP finishes. He has parlayed that into a 5 year, 125 million dollar extension, on top of his most recent arbitration award of $19 million. One would certainly think that this kind of disparity in contracts, as well as the reputations that have led to them, would be reflected in the numbers.

On the contrary, however, the numbers support Rizzo’s comparison, particularly in terms of hitting. Given that the White Sox would play Dunn at DH, this would be the primary concern of Kenny Williams. Here’s how Adam Dunn’s career compares to Ryan Howard’s, without park adjustments.

Particularly notable is the stretch from 2007-2010 – the significant stretch for predicting a player’s future, as when you start getting more than four years out, those stats are hardly predictive of what a player can do now. And you’ll notice, that even without park adjustments, that Adam Dunn has been just as good or better than Ryan Howard for four years. The parks aren’t much of a factor for the years that Dunn was with the Reds (LHB HR park factor of 123) or the Diamondbacks (118), but Nationals Park (95) is much harder for lefties to homer than Citizen’s Bank Park (116). Dunn has a wRC+ advantage this year of 152 to 134, a pretty significant difference – although it is worth noting that it is easier to hit doubles at Nationals Park than it is at Citizen’s Bank Park, which mitigates much of the difference in parks.

ZiPS projects Dunn and Howard for .400 and .399 wOBAs respectively. Dunn is 10 days older than Ryan Howard. Basically, the only difference in these players is that Dunn is a worse fielder. Yes, Howard is slightly more valuable, but Rizzo isn’t too far off base in this comparison.

However, where Rizzo is completely off base is in his expectation that the return for Dunn should be that of a superstar. The simple fact is that neither Dunn nor Howard are superstars – their positions in particular and their defensive issues (an average defensive 1B has a net defensive value, including position, of -12.5 runs per 150 games, over a win) make them above average players but well below the elite of the league. Given that Dunn will be a rental, Rizzo is going to have to severely tone down his expectations if he wants to move the slugger before the deadline. Maybe, if Rizzo values Dunn so highly, the Nationals should just give Dunn the 4 year, $60 million contract he’s seeking.

Park factors from StatCorner

CouchDB: A Perfect Fit for Twitter Apps

CouchDB: A Perfect Fit for Twitter Apps:

In the past I’ve covered extensively NoSQL-based Twitter apps — since that post I’ve added some more: here, here and here — but interestingly enough not many of these where using CouchDB, the NoSQL database for the web that recently released its 1.0 version.

Things can definitely change after reading the article written by Mark Headd explaining what makes CouchDB a perfect fit for Twitter applications:

  • You interact with a CouchDB instance the same way that you interact with the Twitter API — by making HTTP calls. This can help keep the code for your application clean and simple, and provides lots of opportunities for code reuse within your application.
  • The structure of documents in CouchDB are JSON, which is one of the formats returned from the Twitter API when searching for Tweets (or “status objects” in Twitter parlance).
  • Documents in a CouchDB database are assigned a globally unique ID — it’s how documents are distinguished from one another. Twitter also uses unique identifiers for status objects, so using the ID of a Twitter status object as the ID for a document in CouchDB makes life pretty easy for a Twitter app developer.

While not directly related to this, there’s also another connection between CouchDB and Twitter: Gizzard framework can be used for scaling CouchDB.

Apple details location information sharing

Filed under: ,

Apple had to do some explaining recently -- after a House of Representatives probe into the company's privacy policy came up, the company sent a twelve-page letter to the members of Congress, going into detail on what all of the legalese in the company's privacy policy actually means. The biggest takeaway is that Apple does collect location data from your iPhone -- every 24 hours, an encrypted batch of locations for cell towers, Wi-Fi access points, and GPS coordinates are hooked up to a zip code and sent back to Apple. This is all true -- we've heard from customers who've noticed the daily batch of information sent out over their iPhone's data plan.

Why does Apple do all of this? The company claims that it's all necessary to account for "the ever-changing physical landscape, more innovative uses of mobile technology, and the increasing number of Apple's customers." Of course, if you don't want to be a part of this system, you can shut all of the location tracking down right inside the phone's preferences -- either phone-wide, or on a per-app basis depending on what version of iOS you are using. Version 3 and below requires a visit to each app, iOS 4 allows you to shut it off at the OS level. Just go to Settings>General>Location Services and turn location data on or off. The problem then, of course, is that you won't have access to those services while you use your phone.

Apple also notes that it collects the same data from Macs who use location-based services (like automatically setting your time zone), and the iAd network also sends location information every time an ad is requested. In short, Apple knows where you are, and in return, you get the benefit of location-specific information. Worth it?

TUAWApple details location information sharing originally appeared on The Unofficial Apple Weblog (TUAW) on Tue, 20 Jul 2010 15:30:00 EST. Please see our terms for use of feeds.

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Apple donates MacPaint/QuickDraw source to Computer History Museum

see Folklore.org's evolution of MacPaint and the long, great oral history  

Breaking: 4Chan Taking Down Gawker


The titanic battle between 4Chan and Gawker seems to have shifted in 4Chan's favor, with many of the Gawker media sites available only intermittently today. Can't we all GET ALONG? Seriously, if I miss today's Gawker etiquette piece on "How To Blow Your Nose On The Subway (For Gays)" because of this I am gonna be pissed.

Violet for the iPad: an interactive children's book

Filed under:


Violet for the iPad (US$2.99) from My Black Dog Books is the latest entry in the emerging field of interactive books for children. Geared at children ages 4 and up, Violet is the first of a series of stories about a charming little girl with a big secret. The 20 page book tells a nice little tale, along with a moral, and it introduces elements that will be continued in future books.

Allison Keeme's illustrations are beautifully drawn, and they take full advantage of the graphic capabilities of the iPad. If you like, you can take a look Allison's process of building the graphics. I'm positive that small children will enjoy reading about Violet and her secret identity. The world of Violet has a consistent look and a great attention to detail. When the family gathers around the breakfast table after one of Violet's exploits, they look absolutely exhausted, but you'll have to read the book to see why. There are two specific tasks to perform in the book, and I think it was a good design choice to have the book do it if the child doesn't.

Unfortunately, I found a number of problems with the execution of the app, which may frustrate small children. There is scant interactivity to be found. With many possibilities for interaction, only a small number of things that you can tap on actually do anything. There are quite a few pages that are static. In fact, outside of credits on the first page, the first bit that does anything appears on page five, and you might easily miss it. There is a spider that swings when touched. If the accelerometer was used, as in Alice, it would be much more apparent. I can imagine small kids getting frustrated by tapping on everything and not getting paid off very often. A real design problem is that you need to tap on a page in order to display an arrow that, when tapped on again, gets you to the next page. I think the arrow should be persistent and eliminate an unneeded tap on every page.

TUAWViolet for the iPad: an interactive children's book originally appeared on The Unofficial Apple Weblog (TUAW) on Tue, 20 Jul 2010 13:00:00 EST. Please see our terms for use of feeds.

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Eliminating Errors with Little Languages

Jamie McCarthy made an interesting point about type safety in embedded SQL on String-Plus:

SQL is a great example for this. Relational databases are more useful with strong typing, so EMPLOYEE_ID is incompatible with PRODUCT_ID even if they are both implemented as INT. It'd be a great idea to see those constraints implemented at the perl level, presumably by giving perl more knowledge of the database schema than even the database engine has.

Imagine that you have, or can write, a little language parser for a SQL-like language. My simple example was:

SQL {{
    UPDATE users SET address = { Address $address } WHERE user = { User $user }
}}

This can decompose into several operations:

  • Get the value of the $address variable.
  • Get the primary key of the $user variable.
  • Prepare a database query with a rewritten query string which uses placeholders for the $address and $user variables to avoid SQL injection and other interpolation errors.
  • Execute the query.

That's a nice interface, but you can do better. As I suggested, you can add error checking if you know the structure of the database:

  • Get the metadata which describes the users table.
  • Verify that the required fields (address and user exist).
  • Get the value of the $address variable.
  • Get the primary key of the $user variable.
  • Prepare a database query with a rewritten query string which uses placeholders for the $address and $user variables to avoid SQL injection and other interpolation errors.
  • Execute the query.

You can take advantage of type checking too:

  • Get the metadata which describes the users table.
  • Verify that the required fields (address and user exist).
  • Verify that the type of $address is compatible with the type of the address field. Repeat for $user and user.
  • Get the value of the $address variable.
  • Get the primary key of the $user variable.
  • Prepare a database query with a rewritten query string which uses placeholders for the $address and $user variables to avoid SQL injection and other interpolation errors.
  • Execute the query.

If you know the structure of the database when the program starts, you can start to push some of this type checking to the point of compilation. (You may not be able to perform all of the type checking at compilation time, but you can do as much as possible as early as possible to prevent as many errors as possible.)

That's simple and easy. Now imagine something more interesting:

SQL {{
    SELECT name, address FROM users, addresses GIVEN { User $user }
}}

It's obvious from the syntax of the query language that the database needs to perform a join operation, and it's obvious that the primary key of the $user object is the important key of the operation. If the program knows the relationship of the users and addresses tables, it can join them effectively as well.

Don't get caught up in the syntax or the semantics of the remainder of examples here; they exist to demonstrate possibilities, not the final form of battle-tested code. Even so, imagine a dynamic query:

SQL {{
    SELECT @fields FROM { Table $table_one }, {Table $table_two } }
}}

Again the structure and intent of the code is obvious. The operations are now:

  • Find the primary keys for $table_one and $table_two.
  • Verify that they're joinable.
  • Verify that all members of @fields are present in either $table_one or $table_two.
  • Construct the query.

If I were to implement this, I'd make a join_tables multimethod. It takes two arguments (generalizable to more, but follow along with two for now). Imagine that it looks something like this:

multi join_tables( Table $t1, Table $t2 ) { ... }

multi join_tables( Any, Any ) { fail() }

Given two Table arguments, the first multi candidate matches and gets called. Given any other combination of arguments, the second candidate matches and produces an error.

Knowing that you have two Table objects isn't enough, however. The tables might have no relationship to each other. Imagine if you somehow could verify that the tables have an appropriate relationship. If I were to implement this, I might check that the keys of the tables matched types, perhaps with a syntax something like:

multi join_tables ( Table $t1, Table $t2 where { $t1.primary_key eqv $t2.foreign_key( $t1 ) } ) { ... }

That is, the keys must be of equivalent types. If one key is a user_id and the other is an Integer, the where clause won't match for this candidate, so a different multi will get called.

Now imagine that for those embedded SQL minilanguage statements where table name is available at compilation time and sufficient type information exists to verify the statements themselves at compilation time:

SQL {{
    SELECT name, address FROM { User users }, { Address addresses }
}}

... then everyone who uses this minilanguage (and has set up the table information appropriately) gets safety and correctness by default. Some of that can even occur before the program runs. The rest of it can occur as the program runs.

(A really, really good type checker and optimization system could infer that some errors are impossible even if it can't prove the use of a single type in every case.)

Now imagine that you have a language which allows you to build minilanguages like this, to build APIs which specify correct operations and fall back to good error reporting on incorrect operations, and which do so without interfering with other code and other extensions.

Welcome to Perl 6.

Education's Goal to Give the World a Shape

Examiner column for July 24.

            Technically, my education ended with my Ph.D. nearly 30 years ago. Yet spending the past three weeks at Oxford University with George Mason University students reminds me that education continues all our lives as we make sense of the world.

            Most students think in pragmatic terms: an education is a ticket to a better job and a better life. Even on this basic level, education gives life some shape. But seeing education as a more complex marriage of thought and history, the coherent shape that emerges reveals necessary connections between science, the arts, language, history, and politics. Each subject is part of the world’s shape, just as the continents, though separate, form the shape of a sphere.

            If this sounds overly abstract, it reflects a perspective Oxford encourages in its students and faculty: knowledge is not composed of discrete parts, but of interlocking pieces. It is deeply satisfying to walk away from a lecture with wise words floating around in your head that, as you continue to think, begin to fall into a recognizable pattern. I wish that happened every day in our educational system.

            At Oxford, giving a shape to the knowledge offered is exactly what papers and classes are all about. In recent lectures, open to the entire International Summer School at Exeter College, professors have spoken of modern literature as a reflection of the disintegrating political and social situation early in the twentieth century. Many countries experienced divisions, and literature also took on fragmented approaches to time--such as the stream of consciousness narrative technique.

            Einstein’s and Freud’s theories were part of this fragmentation, as were the seemingly disjointed works of the Cubist painters Picasso and Braque. The whole seemed fractured at all levels—including, of course, the political, as Europe felt increasing unrest.

            What happened to the coherent view of the world that students hoped to obtain in their studies? It never really was lost; the world simply became more inclusive in its scope, and welcomed disintegration as well as integration in its fabric. (Any scientist will tell you disintegration and fragmentation are as necessary to nature as new growth and life.)

            Decades after my education has “ended,” I have learned to think of the modern world in a new and different way—one less simple, perhaps, but one that makes far more sense as I look at divisions and paradoxes all around me.

            Is this worldview a harmonious entity? Far from it. But this summer I’ve learned to see literature and politics as part of a spherical whole—hanging together, against all odds, with a type of gravity holding all parts together.

            Are our children encouraged to make sense of the world in the classes they take daily in high school? Most of them aren’t, and teachers should encourage students to form theories on what gives the world coherence.

 

            It is no accident that the shapes of perfection are circles and spheres. What the GMU students and I have learned at Oxford is that “perfection” must be redefined to reflect what we see, even when the whole contains disparate parts. And that redefinition is just what a good education should lead us to do.


An Excerpt from 'Mad Men Unbuttoned': Selling the "Nazi Car" to the Jews

LEMONIn advance of the new season of Mad Men starting this weekend, today Mad Men Unbuttoned is released! Written by your friend and mine, Natasha Vargas-Cooper, the book launches way out from her cultural exploration project, The Footnotes of Mad Men. Here's a little chapter on some history of advertising in the period of Mad Men, from Doyle, Dane, and Bernbach, the real-world firm that haunts the halls of TV's Sterling Cooper.

West Germany v. Detroit: The Volkswagen Campaign
It was a "Nazi car" repackaged by a Jewish-owned advertising agency and sold as an underdog option to the bloated cars out of Detroit. It became a symbol of consumer counterculture. It was ugly, it was cramped and it was named after a bug.

"But we learned that Hitler's 'people's car' had a lot going for it," George Lois wrote after returning from Volkswagen's factory in Wolfsburg, Germany, with copywriter Julian Koenig. "Julian saw it as a dumb, honest, little car—but a marketing enigma. New York was our biggest market for our new account, and that's what made it so tough."

If David Ogilvy exploited the class aspirations of consumers to get them to spend money, and Leo Burnett's campaigns spoke in a lingua franca so that products reflected American sensibilities, then Bill Bernbach's greatest—some hail it as the greatest—contribution to advertising's creative revolution was counterintuitive marketing. Bernbach took the perceived disadvantages of a product and turned them into their most desirable aspect. With the Beetle, Bernbach position the little car as a revolt against American excess. The vulgar Detroit cars were oversized, larded with unnecessary accents that increased their prices (fins, chrome, etc.) and every few years you would have to buy another to stay current.

Koenig's copy acknowledged the Beetle was homely, squat, and had been derisively referred to as a lemon, but argued that the compact car's lack of flare was because German car inspectors—3,389, to be exact—spent more time perfecting an efficient product than adding frippery to a car that could only depreciate over time.

Thanks almost entirely to the campaign, sales went up to 500,000 a year.

Bernbach's (and his disciples') ability to challenge consumers' beliefs about a product while simultaneously enticing them to buy it distinguishes him as one of the most influential forces of modern advertising.

"Now I'm not talking about tricking people," Bernbach said. "If you get attention by a trick, how can people like you for it? For instance, you are not right if, in your ad, you stand a man on his head just to get attention. But you are right to have him on his head to show how your product keeps things from falling out of his pockets."

Lois summed up the legendary campaign this way: "We sold the Nazi car in a Jewish town by junking all the rules of car advertising. It could have only happened at Bill Bernbach's agency."

Penthouse called it "a dazzling pop-culture history of the 1960s"! What more could you want? Also: it features contributions by Awlers Matthew Gallaway, Alex Balk and more!

Bill Murray Keeps In Touch With The Other Ghostbusters

"Is the third Ghostbusters movie happening? What's the story with that?
It's all a bunch of crock. It's a crock. There was a story—and I gotta be careful here, I don't want to hurt someone's feelings. When I hurt someone's feelings, I really want to hurt them. [laughs] Harold Ramis said, Oh, I've got these guys, they write on The Office, and they're really funny. They're going to write the next Ghostbusters. And they had just written this movie that he had directed.

Year One.
Year One. Well, I never went to see Year One, but people who did, including other Ghostbusters, said it was one of the worst things they had ever seen in their lives. So that dream just vaporized."
—This is actually one of the least interesting parts of GQ's interview with Bill Murray, which you should for sure go read, but I do love how he refers to the "other Ghostbusters." There's something strangely charming about that.

Brandon Schaefer: Le samouraï film poster


-> See more --> The Accidental Optimist

The FanGraphs Live Discussion – NYC

Last week, we announced our first ever Live Discussion, which will take place in Manhattan on Saturday, August 7th. Today, I wanted to expand on the announcement, and explain why we’re pretty excited for this event.

Over the years, I’ve hosted quite a few events similar to this, and they’ve always been tremendously well received. There are few places in our everyday lives where we can get together with other people who share a similar interest level in baseball and talk about the game in depth for several hours at a time, and that is what this will offer. The variety of topics we’ll be able to cover with our assortment of guests is just tremendous.

The discussion about the changing face of baseball media should be fascinating. Jonah Keri will moderate a panel that will include Will Leitch, Michael Silverman, Alex Speier, and David Biderman, all of whom have different perspectives and roles in reporting on the sport. The way the game has been covered has changed dramatically over the last ten years, and it will continue to evolve as the world moves away from printed products. Perhaps no one personifies “New Media” more than Leitch, and it will be fun to listen to those guys talk about how they view coverage of the sport.

We won’t just talk about how the game is perceived through the lens of those who cover it, however. With Mitchel Lichtman (or MGL as he’s generally known) joining us, we’ll have one of the more interesting statistical analysts in the country available to share his thoughts on where the sabermetric community is at and where its going. FanGraphs will also be represented by myself, David Appelman, Carson Cistulli, Bryan Smith, and Joe Pawlikowski, so along with MGL, we’ll be able to have some interesting discussions about what’s next in nerd stats.

Speaking of Joe P, he’s bringing the whole crew from River Ave Blues, so if you’re a Yankee fan, this will be your chance to hear the crew of the best Yankees blog chat about your team in person. If you’re a Mets fan… we’ll hopefully have an announcement about one of yours attending the event as well – that should be coming soon. As we’re holding the event in NYC, we’ll definitely spend some time talking about the local teams, and it’s been an interesting season for both.

We’re not holding this in a bingo hall, either. If you haven’t checked out The Florence Gould Hall, you’re missing out. We’re really excited to have such a tremendous venue for this event – the kind of place that will offer a relaxed, comfortable environment that still will allow everyone who attends to be able to see and hear what is going on, no matter where they’re sitting.

If you haven’t yet purchased your tickets, do so now. We’ve made every effort to keep costs down, so for $15, you’re getting tremendous value. Whether you’ve been reading the site for years or you just stumbled across it, you’ll have a good time.

I look forward to meeting you all there.

Joss Whedon’s new Dollhouse comic revealed  With a great...



Joss Whedon’s new Dollhouse comic revealed 

With a great cover featuring Mag, the character played by our friend and web video superstar Felicia Day, who starred in both of the season-ending “Epitaph” episodes.

Surly Blogger Paul Krugman Wants You To Click The Goddamn Links, Okay?

We've all been there, Paul: "If you don’t understand a brief post like this one, CLICK ON THE LINKS. I’m not putting them there for decorative purposes."

Best sites for film criticism

An annotated list of the best film criticism blogs. (via the house next door)

Tags: best of   lists   movies   weblogs

5 Questions With… Know Your Meme's Kenyatta Cheese

5 Questions With… Know Your Meme's Kenyatta Cheese:

My great pal Kenyatta, one of the people who got me into web video in the first place, has a great Q&A on NewTeeVee.

kenyatta:

I responded to NewTeeVee’s 5 Questions with about 10 answers. Also, today is Blog About Your Own Press Mentions Sunday.

Q: What’s the one big issue/law/attitude/restriction that you think is holding back the industry?
A: Is there really something holding us back? Is there some imaginary finish line somewhere in Hollywood that we’re all looking to cross? Web video has this inferiority complex, as if we have to explain away why we’re not television. Meanwhile, we forget that television had the same exact anxiety, going 30-plus years before TV stars were held in the same regard as film stars.

Word.

Happy "Be Conscientious With Beverages Around Your Laptop" Day

THIS COULD BE YOUSince time immemorial, human beings have loved to consume beverages—and loved to use computers. So I hereby declare today to be an important annual holiday with regard to laptop and logic board safety. How many laptops have we seen destroyed by a forgotten cup of coffee or a dripping bottle of Vitamin Water? This is especially true for those who foolishly keep iguanas and cats and other pesky critters in their homes. So many. So take time today to move those beverages back! Let's set a two-foot perimeter today. Maybe you can create a special beverage place farther from your typing area? The future-you will thank today-you when you both catch up in the future. Let us know how this goes!

Bloops: Patrick Flood’s Mets Blog – Exile on 126th Street: WAR problems and the Mets Crazy Horse.

Patrick Flood's Mets Blog - Exile on 126th Street: WAR problems and the Mets Crazy Horse. / Part 2: the Pitchers

If you are a serious stathead and are curious about the differences between our WAR numbers as produced by Sean Smith and those on Fangraphs.com check out this two part (very extensive) set of posts by Patrick Flood. Very worth your while if you are into this sort of thing and written in an entertaining way as well.

weathernear.me

WeatherNear.Me is a prototype that got built as part of a larger weather based project Jasmine and I were working on. It’s a “single serving site” that displays the weather near you. I had hoped to knock out a v2 with a bunch of new features during the break, but there were fun distractions.

Still it’s a straightforward example of using the W3C Javascript Geolocation API (geoloc) that works in Chrome, Firefox, and Mobile Safari, and it has a super cute iPhone home screen icon that Jasmine designed.

V2 with more trending info, and personalization some day.

Canabalt makes learning touch typing fun

Educational games are notoriously dreary, but here's a model that more studios should emulate: Game developer Adam Saltsman retooled his popular platformer to require players to use a changing set of letters in order to win. The result is a FUN touch-typing tutorial, Canabalt: Typing Tutor Edition. (thanks, jjg!)

For the love of our people

MalcolmX_400px.jpg
I just released my new art print about Malcolm X, the revolutionary who has most influenced my political framework. His most powerful lesson for me was around self-determination, that is, the belief that we as people of color should be in control of our own destiny. Check it out by clicking here.

What Happened to M. Night Shyamalan?

Has any recent director begun with greater promise or had a worse trajectory of achievement?

Night2
 

NoSQL databases Should Support SQL Queries

NoSQL databases Should Support SQL Queries:

Nati Shalom uses the old CS saying “Any software problem can be solved by adding another layer of indirection” to suggest that NoSQL databases could support SQL queries (and not only):

The key is the decoupling of the query semantics from the underlying data-store as illustrated in the diagram below:

SQL engine indirection

While it’s difficult to strongly argue against it, the real question is: how difficult will be for such a layer to calculate the costs of such queries? Or differently put:

The two software problems that can never be solved by adding another layer of indirection are that of providing adequate performance or minimal resource usage.

— Jeff Kesselman

July 19, 2010

On Basketball - Traded by Knicks, David Lee Was Still a Team Player - NYTimes.com

On Basketball - Traded by Knicks, David Lee Was Still a Team Player - NYTimes.com:
The funeral for Scott Jaffer, a longtime N.B.A. security official whose primary post was Madison Square Garden, was held July 11. [David] Lee had been in St. Louis, his hometown, after being dealt by the Knicks to the Golden State Warriors in a sign-and-trade transaction that was announced soon after LeBron James’s all-about-me ESPN extravaganza.
Lee was stunned to hear that Jaffer, 63, had died.
After five years in New York, Lee had one final act of hustle on behalf of the Knicks, flying into town on Saturday night and getting in his car Sunday morning for a one-hour drive to Airmont, N.Y., from his apartment on Manhattan’s West Side.
He knew much of the Knicks’ basketball staff would be working at the summer league in Las Vegas and he wanted to make sure that the team — given its extreme state of transition — would be represented.
The same team, of course, that could not wait to replace him with its latest high-end acquisition, Amar’e Stoudemire.

There are some players who, even after they leave the team, I will always consider a Knick.

Love the photo. (via inky)



Love the photo. (via inky)

Design Guidelines

I’ve been working on TypePad’s Developer Resources and my main contribution so far (other than a slight reorganization of the homepage) is the design guidelines. Although they’re meant for the TypePad platform specifically, the guidelines should be general enough to be adapted and applied almost anywhere.

The first of the entries is about favoriting and the different states a favorite button might need. The guidelines are an ongoing project and I’m hoping to add another entry soon.

The guidelines focus on common user interface and usage patterns, such as displaying most recent blog posts or leaving a comment.

Yeah. I found this on my hard drive. Kind of crazy.

  Pyra_ad

Yeah. I found this on my hard drive. Kind of crazy.

The Future of C#

One of the future additions to C# announced by Anders Hejlsberg in this entertaining video from 2008 is Compiler as a Service. By that he means the ability to eval code strings (and I'm guessing that this will also be integrated with C#'s built-in AST objects).

He shows this off at around minute 59, to great effect and great excitement by the audience. It feels like an inflection point. There probably won't be another REPL-less language from now on.

I predict that after that, they'll add hygienic macros and quasisyntax.

Brad Aaron: An Appreciation

brad_waves.jpgIf you read Streetsblog regularly, you know something's been missing the last few weeks. Our most tenacious voice for a rational, effective legal system to keep city streets safe from dangerous drivers has been absent.

Brad Aaron stepped down as deputy editor earlier this month, but you'll be seeing his byline here again before long. After decompressing down South for July and August (note: it's hotter in NYC right now than Georgia), Brad will be back as a contributor, covering stories for Streetsblog while following a few other journalistic pursuits.

So this is no time for a eulogy, but I would like to submit a few words of appreciation for Brad and his service as a Streetsblog editor.

Brad has written about every type of transportation story under the sun for Streetsblog. When I came on at the beginning of 2008, he was adept at pulling out the weak points in legislators' excuses for opposing congestion pricing. As our eyes and ears in Upper Manhattan and the Bronx, he stayed on top of the Yankee Stadium parking scandal and was there for the launch of Select Bus Service on Fordham Road.

But Brad's also got an undeniable specialty -- the traffic justice beat. His inner sense of how the rules of the road should be enforced and applied is unswerving and incredibly strong. I can't think of a better term for it than "moral clarity," though I know he'll object to the connotations. Brad writes about the preventable loss of life on our streets as an ongoing transgression against human dignity and ethical standards of behavior. A lot of his best work has helped explain why our legal system consistently fails to protect or provide justice for victims of traffic violence.

Before Brad came to Streetsblog, he founded and ran a weekly paper in Athens, Georgia. Now that he won't be with us every day, I'm going to miss his editorial eye and knack for sharp headlines. A little bit of background on how the blog operates: Almost all the content we post runs through more than one set of eyes before we publish it. Headlines, in many cases, aren't written by the person with the byline. My favorite headline penned by Brad, attached to a post with my name on it, has to be this one from 2008, about a lowpoint in Anthony Weiner's posturing on transit policy.

Also, I'd be remiss if I didn't mention this vintage Ad Nauseam post. Something about the kicker made me laugh until I had tears streaming down my face. Thanks Brad.

A Storied Presentation

We communicate with other people every day. Over the course of our lives we’ve developed verbal, written and visual communication skills that help us convey our thoughts. From time to time, we find ourselves in a position to share these ideas in a business context, often in the form of a presentation. And, it’s usually at this point where we completely forget how to talk.

I remember in 4th grade, I desperately wanted to ask Jenny Grubb to dance at a school event. Like every other 4th grader, I was plastered against the wall with the boys, while the girls giggled against the other wall. My friends pushed me to ask her as they wondered why I couldn’t do it. Jenny and I hung out all the time. Why couldn’t I ask her to dance?

In my heart, I knew I could just go up to her, but my head told me that was totally wrong. I had convinced myself that asking someone to dance was different than asking them to sit with you at lunch. I was sure that I should talk to her differently in that situation.

When we stand in front of a boss or a group of strangers, we transform into boring, fact-spewing robots. We do this out of a perception that “businesslike” is appropriate and required. We’re embarrassed to share how we personally relate to the information on the screen for fear of letting our guard down. Whether we’re providing an update to our superiors, conveying a new idea to a team or training a group of people, we’ve become accustomed to reporting on what’s on the screen.

Now, imagine telling your spouse or friends how your day went in that same tone. Would that person have any reason to become vested in your needs? Could you convince them to do something for you through a series of soul sucking facts?

No.

We’re most effective when we converse and tell stories. Our best stories use anecdotes to move people from one event to another as they wait to see how things unfold.

The Power of the anecdote is so great… No matter how boring the material is, if it is in story form…there is suspense in it, it feels like something’s going to happen. The reason why is because literally it’s a sequence of events…you can feel through its form [that it's] inherently like being on a train that has a destination…and that you’re going to find something…

— Ira Glass

Stories give deeper meaning to facts and satisfy an emotional need in your audience to connect with what you’re telling them. They allow you to add emphasis on key points by tying them to real-world examples. Stories provide inspiration, hope, fear – qualities that motivate people into taking action.

When designing your presentation, remember that good stories offer questions and answers and key moments of reflection. Your audience didn’t come to see you, they came to find out what you can do for them. Your stories provide depth to the facts and figures that they would not get by simply reading by themselves. Your delivery makes their experience successful.

I never asked Jenny Grubb to dance with me, but I recall that story every time I need encouragement to try something new and break away from what I think I should be doing.

On Losing

by Charles Simic

Getty Images/Popperfoto

Vladimir Beara, Yugoslavia's goalkeeper, circa 1950

Now that the World Cup is over and the Spaniards and everyone else who admired their elegant way of playing soccer is happy, and the few nations whose teams either exceeded expectations or did okay in the month-long tournament have returned to their normal lives, the fans in underachieving countries are still fuming, many of them destined to recall for the rest of their days how their side either disgraced themselves, or were the victims of gross injustice. For those of them that have been following their national team for years, they’ve most likely already suffered more than any holy martyr in the history of the church, and yet it’s doubtful that even one of them will go to heaven, because they cursed and swore till they were blue in the face each time their team lost.

I speak from experience. The first World Cup I followed closely was held in Brazil in 1950 where Yugoslavia, the country I was rooting for, was eliminated from the cup by the host nation with the score 2-0 in front of 142,000 spectators in Rio. I still remember that the Brazilian goals were scored by Ademir and Zizihno and that our top player, Rajko Mitic, injured his head before the game as he was exiting the tunnel that led to the field, which, needless to say, was the sole reason we lost. After I listened to the game on the radio, or rather tried to listen to it since the broadcast was live and full of static, I couldn’t fall asleep for hours afterwards hoping vaguely that the next morning, when I bought the newspaper, the score would be different and we the winners.

Although I was only twelve years old, I already had my own view of how we should play the Brazilians and which players should be on our team. I don’t remember the particulars, but I imagine I wanted them to shoot all the time. We played soccer in the street with a ball made of rags, which one really had to kick hard, so dribbling around defenders and shooting is all we knew. (Yugoslavia had a star player, Dragoslav Šekularac, who played with me a few times in the street. He was a dribbler in the style of Lionel Messi and they always said it was because he started with a rag ball.) One of my teachers, who ordinarily regarded me as a numbskull, once called on me in class before an important game and said that he heard I knew a lot about soccer and wanted my opinion. I rose in my seat and delivered a lengthy lecture about our chances against Russia and had the teacher’s and the class’s undivided attention.

There are kids and grownups like that in every country where soccer is an obsession. Months before the World Cup, they argue with friends over the chances of their national team, alternating between high hopes and premonitions of utter failure, which is what most of them got. (I myself wanted Serbia to win, but I knew their attack was too slow so they wouldn’t go far. Otherwise, being a fanatic Arsenal fan for many years, I have no energy left after the long English season to root for any national team. I just love to see a well-played game.) This, as far as I’m concerned, is one of the great unsolved mysteries of the universe: how is it possible that eleven more-than-competent club players, who stand together before the start of the game with solemn faces and even tears in their eyes as the national anthem is played, turn out to be completely clueless during the next ninety minutes on the field? How could France self-destruct, England play such uninspired soccer, Italy be so predictable, Brazil fall apart after some rough play by the Dutch, Argentina, who until that moment appeared invincible, watch helplessly as the Germans scored four goals?

The obvious explanation, that a better team won that day, is never good enough for the tens of millions of disappointed. Here, then, are some excuses the fans universally rely on to explain defeat:

1. It was all the fault of the referee. He was either incompetent, or was pressured not to see what was being done to us, since the FIFA leadership and the big money aligned behind them have their own ideas about whom they want to see in the final.

2. Our coach is an idiot. He left our best players at home or on the bench, ordered the team to attack when they ought to have played defense, and made them play cautiously when they ought to have gone for broke.

3. Our players are overpaid prima donnas who are unable to fully concentrate on the game because they are thinking about their girlfriends, their vacation homes, and the millions in their bank accounts.

4. For the nationalists, the decline of the nation is the primary cause. Immigrant players of all races have diluted the native stock and turned us into a bunch of sissies. We no longer know how to work and fight together as we once did.

Except for the completely inane reason four, these excuses each contain an element of truth. Thanks to modern technology and the ability of TV broadcasters to show every play from multiple angles, the bad calls of the referees, which are not unusual in soccer, looked in this World Cup even more outrageous and costly than usual—as indeed, they often were. Among the coaches, even some of the best, like England’s Fabio Capello and Brazil’s Dunga, failed to read the game in decisive moments and to make right tactical substitutions. As for the lackadaisical way in which whole teams and many star-players performed, what were these men on the sidelines supposed to do?

Maradona, the Argentine coach, hugged and kissed each player, like an old friend he hadn’t seen in years, after he scored a goal or was substituted, but these public declarations of love did not help his side against the Germans who always seemed to be exceptionally motivated even though their coach, Joachim Löw, sat through most of the games with no expression on his face. In France, following the team’s early-exit fiasco, the legislature initiated an inquiry and President Sarkozy summoned one of the older players on the team for a tête-à-tête at the Élysée Palace. What a waste of time when every waiter and taxi driver from Paris to Marseille already had the answer: the national coach—who apparently relied on an astrologer to guide his selection and tactics—was a pompous half-wit.

nike's world cup ball man


image: nike

as part of their presence at the recently closed world cup, nike created a 21 meter installation using over
5,500 soccer balls. the ‘ball man’ as they called it weighed over 4.5 tons and was hung from the ceiling
in johannesburg’s carlton centre. the sculpture was made by transforming a 3-d image of a soccer player
into a pixilated representation. these pixels were represented by yellow balls which were hung from
cables. the installation took 3 weeks to complete and will be on show until august. once dismantled
the balls will all be donated to the local community.

http://www.nike.com


image: nike


image: nike


image: nike


image: nike


image: nike

“And another circle here and… At last....



“And another circle here and… At last. Perfection.”

Origins of “Inception”

Among the many interesting things about Christopher Nolan’s superb new movie “Inception” is the fact that it borrows so clearly from so many genres and yet seems to belong to none of them in particular. Its premise of dream-surfing pyrotechnics is heavily sci-fi and yet the movie is conspicuously absent of any specific technology (as cannily observed by Jeremy Keith). In many ways it’s a modernized espionage thriller of the sort perfected in recent years by Tony Gilroy, including of course the “Bourne” trilogy he wrote as well as the corporate cloak and dagger of “Duplicity,” the underrated romantic spy comedy he directed. It clearly owes a debt to heist films as well, but feels less like a romping caper like “The Italian Job” (in either of its two incarnations) than the comparatively quiet and primitive choreography of “Le cercle rouge.”

Parts Is Parts

In fact, what it reminds me of, more than any one of these obvious influences, is the kind of virtuosic fusion of cinematic patterns that Quentin Tarantino is known for, in which the director resoundingly echoes not just genres of movies but also very specific movies. Much as every Tarantino movie quotes with abandon from films that have come before, Nolan pays prominent homage to Stanley Kubrick’s “2001: A Space Odyssey,” the Wachowski Brothers’ “The Matrix,” “Planet of the Apes,” any number of James Bond installments, and, allegedly, Alain Resnais’ “Last Year at Marienbad,” among several other works.

Inception

The cliché is to say that rather than just stealing, Nolan creates something new out of these pieces, but it might be more accurate to say that he concocts something potent and irresistible from the familiarity of what he has assembled. The trailers and teasers for “Inception” showed us bits and pieces of many of these influences while offering almost no details about its characters, plot or ideas. Yet the hinting familiarity of what we did see was compelling enough in its promise of some novel configuration that it produced a notably feverish anticipation among nearly everyone I know. In one respect we didn’t know what it was about, and yet in another respect we already did know what it was about — which made us want to see it all the more.

In many ways, “Inception” might suggest that the only viable way forward for a particular kind of blockbuster movie is this further maturation of the Tarantino approach. Meta films such as these — films that are about films as much as they are about ideas — may be the only films that can hold their own financially against the onslaught of sequels, remakes, comic book properties and franchises of every sort that dominate the multiplexes in this day and age. In a summer film season filled with more direct derivatives of other films, “Inception” is likely to stand alone among top grossers as being the product of an ‘original’ idea. Its fighting chance and apparently healthy early returns owe a lot to the fact that we’ve seen lots of it before. What’s more, it’s probably no coincidence that the “inception” concept of the title posits that it takes a paramilitary-style assault on the subconscious to plant an original idea.

How Consumer Reports got Apple's attention when no one else could

Re: the iPhone 4 antenna hubbub, Apple held firm in the face of constant coverage from tech blogs, a class-action lawsuit, and vocal customer complaints. So it’s interesting that the company finally blinked in response to an old school media outlet: Consumer Reports.

In large measure, the article in Consumer Reports was devastating precisely because the magazine (and its Web site) are not part of the hot-headed digital press. Although Gizmodo and other techie blogs had reached the same conclusions earlier, Consumer Reports made a noise that was heard beyond the Valley because it has a widely respected protocol of testing and old-world credibility. Mr. Jobs acknowledged as much, saying: “We were stunned and upset and embarrassed by the Consumer Reports stuff, and the reason we didn’t say more is because we didn’t know enough.”

Consumer Reports got taken seriously because it’s so different than other media outlets. It’s been around since 1936. It’s part of a nonprofit organization. It has a mission (“to work for a fair, just, and safe marketplace for all consumers and to empower consumers to protect themselves”). It doesn’t allow advertising or accept free samples. It doesn’t go for a snarky tone. It does tons of extensive lab testing. It doesn’t focus just on glamourous products (for every iPhone it tests, there are tons more mops, air conditioners, and other “boring” products it examines). It doesn’t rely on page-view-pimping bloggy business as its bread and butter. Instead, it sells thoroughness and trustworthiness.

And that’s why when CR raised its red flag, it was taken seriously.

Consumer Reports’ approach is working too. It’s one of the top-ten-circulation magazines in the country. And its various outlets have a combined paid circulation of 7.2 million, up 33 percent since 2004.

Reminds me a bit of how Cook’s Illustrated thrives while other food publications are going down the drain. Everyone’s wringing their hands about the fate of media outlets, but these two publications show how a strong philosophy and a willingness to buck trends can lead to success.

Tangent: The CR site has a neat archive of vintage photographs showing its tests of consumer products over the decades.

shirts

car

Video: Baby in a Watermelon

20100719-babywatermelon.jpg

Why is this baby in a watermelon? To provide the world with 35 seconds of entertainment. Watch the video after the jump.

Baby in a Watermelon

[via Buzzfeed]

2010 Trade Value: #5 – #1

Introduction
#50-#46
#45-#41
#40-#36
#35-#31
#30-#26
#25-#21
#20-#16
#15-#11
#10-#6

#5 – Dustin Pedroia, 2B, Boston

Whether it is his size or the fact that he is overshadowed by other players on his team, Pedroia still hardly ever gets the recognition for being one of the best players in baseball. But he is one of the best in baseball at making contact while still hitting for power, and he rounds out his game by drawing walks, stealing bases at a high success rate, and playing excellent defense at second base. Over all, the package adds up to a +5 to +6 win player in his prime. Oh, and he’s under contract for the next five years at a total of $44 million – the last year is voided if he’s traded, but still, 4/33 for what Pedroia brings to the table is a huge bargain.

#4 – Hanley Ramirez, SS, Florida

Yet another guy for whom it was pretty tough to find a final spot. Ramirez obviously brings positives to the table, as he is an offensive monster for a shortstop, especially compared with the current group that comprises his peers. He’s a five tool player producing at a premium position, and at just 26 years of age, he could get even better. And yet, he’s had some pretty public issues with management and is still not considered the hardest worker around. Further his contract is no longer dirt cheap, as he’ll be paid $57 million over the next four years. The performance and talent, however, is too impressive to have him any lower on this list, as teams would gladly put up with Ramirez’s warts in order to get a shortstop with a career .394 wOBA.

#3 – Stephen Strasburg, SP, Washington

This may be as high as any pitcher will ever rank on this list. Strasburg has been nothing short of sensational so far in the big leagues, posting a ridiculous 2.11 xFIP in his first eight starts. His stuff is better than anyone in baseball, and it’s hard to see hitters figuring him out as long as he keeps throwing this hard. Oh, and the Nationals control his rights through 2016. He won’t make any serious money for another three years, so for now, the Nationals get one of the game’s best pitchers at about 5 percent of his market value. But, as with any pitcher, the risks are significant. The superlatives could all disappear with one pitch, as it has for so many phenoms before him. Pitcher attrition would keep other teams from giving up the kitchen sink to get Strasburg, but as good as he is, the refrigerator is probably on the table.

#2 – Jason Heyward, OF, Atlanta

The year’s other phenom, Heyward isn’t as good as Strasburg right now, but he’s a hitter, and that makes all the difference in the world when assigning risk. At just 20 years old, he’s already shown he’s ready for the big leagues, flashing both patience and power at the plate. He’s far from a finished product, but the skills are there for him to become the game’s premier outfielder. It may come sooner than later, in fact. Because the Braves brought him up at the start of the season, they “only” control his rights through 2015, but that’s still five more years of team control for the game’s best young talent who still can’t drink. Almost everyone who is this good at this age becomes a superstar, and few doubt that Heyward is headed that way.

#1 – Evan Longoria, 3B, Tampa Bay

In May, when Heyward was going nuts, I asked my fellow FG authors if they thought there was an argument for Longoria to get displaced from the top spot. The answer – no, that contract is still too ridiculous. And,upon a another look, it is. Despite being one of the game’s premier players, Longoria will make $2 million next year. Over the next six years, he’ll be paid $42 million, or about 25 percent of his market value, which is just crazy. No player in the game provides the same performance for anything close to this kind of cost, and I don’t know that there’s an offer out there that would make Tampa Bay trade their third baseman. Unless Heyward turns into the best player in the game next year, I’m not sure Longoria will be ceding this spot to anyone for quite some time. His contract is the most team friendly deal any player has ever signed.

So, that’s the 2010 Trade Value series. I’ll do another post at 5 pm talking about some of the questions that arose from the list, such as why I left off Roy Halladay and Dan Haren, and look at some of the guys who disappeared from last year’s list.

Camera phone inventor makes a FaceTime call from racing yacht

Filed under:



In a fitting tribute to a technology that he had a hand in creating, entrepreneur and sailing yacht racer Philippe Kahn recently used a satellite hookup and his iPhone 4 to make a FaceTime call to his office from dead-center between Santa Cruz, California and Honolulu, Hawaii.

While the video isn't as smooth as what we're used to via land-based Wi-Fi and broadband networks, it's pretty incredible to see Philippe talking to a co-worker from the deck of the racing sailboat Pegasus in the Pacific Ocean.

Kahn is a pretty bright guy. He was one of the founders and former CEO of Borland, an early programming tool development company, is credited with the invention of the mobile camera phone in 1997, and is now the CEO of FullPower Technologies, the company behind the MotionX GPS apps for iPhone and iPad.

Kahn's invention of the mobile camera phone was triggered by the birth of his daughter Sophie in 1997; he mentions during the video that he called his "camera phone baby" at home using the same setup.

Thanks to Richard for the tip!

TUAWCamera phone inventor makes a FaceTime call from racing yacht originally appeared on The Unofficial Apple Weblog (TUAW) on Mon, 19 Jul 2010 11:00:00 EST. Please see our terms for use of feeds.

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Surviving Success

Apple is taking a beating, even while at its most victorious.

After the launch of the iPhone 4, a well-designed device with one easily-demonstrable flaw, the company is losing its famous control over the emphasis of press coverage. Apple is typically brilliant at walking the line between humility and pomposity, adjusting its tone to suit the current situation.

When Apple was suffering in the late 1990’s, it played to historic core values with campaigns like “Think Different,” but held on to the sliver of confident superiority that helps to sell its brand. Now that it’s on top of the world, it tends more toward a triumphant strut, with just a dash of idealism. Recent blunders paint the company as both arrogant and user-hostile, two attributes that incite pundits to attack without mercy.

Nobody likes a sore winner. Whatever the fight, struggle, ambition, the odds are good that judgement will be harshest on the one who emerges victorious. Anybody who ever received an A+ on an exam in grade-school, only to have the teacher publicly celebrate it among classmates, knows that success turns you into a target. Surviving that success requires careful management of one’s own image, as perceived by the audience that was most invested in the outcome.

Imagine you’ve just achieved something incredible. Bystanders will react with one of three reactions: praise, indifference, or scorn. You can ignore the majority, who don’t care a whit one way or another. Your fate will be decided by the passionate minority, so you must inspire fans to be more passionate and tireless than detractors. A small, energized core of supporters can outlast even a large, committed group of critics. At its best, Apple inspires passionate users to identify more with the company’s egalitarian rhetoric than with the billions of dollars that are flowing into the company’s bank accounts. (The billions are pretty inspirational to stockholders, however).

Apple makes fantastic products that are, by and large, defect free. In my opinion, they deserve to win. I applaud the the company, and in particular, its employees. As the years go by, almost every part of the company seems to be improving. They routinely launch new products that stun and delight us with a combination of obviousness-in-hindsight, and that futuristic “Apple magic.” Kudos to them.

Apple is also brilliant at public relations. They produce beautiful, inspiring advertisements. Their web content strikes the balance of confidence and customer-centric humility. And their rank-and-file employees show off their passion for the company in email lists, internet fora, and on Twitter. But at the height of success, the fact that critics are gaining the upper hand is evidence that the company is failing to control its image.

Most of Apple’s recent PR gaffes trace back directly to Steve Jobs. His famous arrogance was exactly what the company needed while it restored itself to, and then surpassed, its former glory. During Apple’s recovery, detractors belittled and dismissed Apple as an “also-ran” company, suggesting they should give up and yield to the obvious victories of companies like Dell and Microsoft. But Jobs ignored the critics and spoke to the fans, inspiring us to stand by and loudly defend Apple.

Now that Apple is on top again, Jobs seems to be losing that knack for inspiring fans. He’s turning into a sore winner. He defensively chides his own customers for holding their iPhone 4 “the wrong way.” He tersely defends questionable Apple practices in one-liner email responses. He spins the truth in that barely plausible manner that used to be celebrated as the “reality distortion field,” but now comes off as purposefully dishonest and manipulative.

I believe Jobs is an idealist product visionary who wants the best for Apple and for its customers. But he’s lost his ability to manage his own image, and thus the image of the company. Apple’s PR department is in charge of manipulating how the company is perceived, but their efforts are being drowned out by the live-wire personality at the helm of the ship. Jobs needs to quiet down now and let cooler heads speak. No more arrogant, terse email replies. No more defensive press conferences. No more snarky interview quips. Just chill out and try to get your groove back.

At his best, Steve Jobs is a brilliant, inspirational spokesman for the company. At his worst, he is the pompous winner who begs to be taken down a notch. Jobs is the kid who, having been celebrated for the A+ exam grade, reacts by chiding his classmates: “You all are a bunch of idiots.” Fans lose their faith, detractors gain momentum. This guy’s in for a rough victory.


This entry was inspired by Michael Tsai’s Tone.

Sarah Palin’s Cromulency

Apparently, being a fucking moron is just like being a genius!



Panasonic Note

Designed by Scholz & Friends | Country: Germany

A beautifully minimal and memorable design for Panasonic Note headphones.

via Fubiz

Diary of a Losing team: Batting Champs

You may or may not know this but the Kansas City Royals lead all of baseball in hitting. Anyway, that’s how the expression goes. When you lead the league in batting average, people will say you lead the league in hitting. It doesn’t make much sense, really, since the goal of hitting — the offensive goal in baseball — is certainly not to get more hits per at-bat than other teams. But “leading the league in hitting” is what people have called it since the dawn of time.

The Royals are hitting .281 as a team, which is three points better than the Texas Rangers, and it’s 22 points better than the major league average of .259. A couple of guys in the lineup — David DeJesus (.320) and Billy Butler (.317) — are among the Top 10 in hitting and others like Scott Podsednik (.302) and Mike Aviles (.300) are right around .300.

So … with all that … why is it that the Royals are a pretty lousy offensive baseball team?

Well, they are well below average. They are 10th in the American League in runs scored and going backward. The last month or so they are averaging about three and a half runs per game. Toronto, the Royals opponent for three games starting today, is hitting 38 points worse than the Royals. The Blue Jays have scored more runs.

The easiest and most obvious answer here is that batting average is a bad way to judge a team’s offensive production. And it is. After all, you don’t have to be a statistical wizard to look at the Royals numbers and understand why they aren’t scoring runs. Sure, they’re leading the league in batting average and are second in hits … but they are dead last in walks, which blunts the advantage. Dead last … so, even with all those hits, the Royals are still only in the middle of the pack when it comes to getting on-base. They are seventh in the league in on-base percentage.

The Royals also don’t hit with power — the Royals are 12th in the league with only 62 home runs as a team (and they have hit only 21 homers in their last 42 games). They are ninth in slugging percentage. So — mediocre on-base percentage with below average power, yeah, you’re not going to score many runs. You can top that off with the fact that the Royals are also once again a dreadful base-running team — according to the Bill James base-running system they are -35 bases, worst in the American League, and they have been caught 33 of the 88 times they have tried to steal a base,* which means they’re just giving away outs.

*They are being caught stealing 37.5% of the time, much higher than the league average of 27.6%. I think even the most aggressive of baseball people would admit that when you’re getting caught about four out of 10 times, it’s past time to quit trying to steal bases.

But I think there’s something else going on here beyond the numbers. It seems to me the Royals have a motivation problem. I think the problem is not that the Royals lead the league in hitting — it is that they seem to WANT to lead the league in hitting, like it is their goal. And that would be a real problem.

I think back to the Dick Vermeil Kansas City Chiefs of the early 2000s. Vermeil loved offense. He lived for offense. He was the coach of the original “Greatest Show On Turf” St. Louis Rams who bludgeoned teams with their preposterous speed and fast break attack — and it seemed like Vermeil’s main goal was to recreate that in Kansas City. And, to a surprising degree, he was successful. His Chiefs, after many years of offensive stagnation, scored a bajillion points, amassed a bajillion yards, set a bajillion team records.

The one thing they didn’t do, however, was win. They only made the playoffs once in the Vermeil years, and they were outscored by Peyton Manning in that playoff game. The main problem (some would say the only problem) was a historically awful defense that Vermeil and his coaches did not know how to fix. Now, this is not exactly like the Royals situation because scoring a lot of points (unlike getting a lot of hits) IS a viable strategy for winning football games. The similarity comes from the last couple of years of the Vermeil era when the team missed the playoffs but he would give us daily updates of the offense’s success. It just seemed like the Chiefs main focus was not so much on winning games but, instead, on having a great offense.

That seems like the Royals to me … like they are more interested in having a good batting average than in having a good offense.

What makes me say this? Well, there are a few things. One has been the Kila Conundrum. For years now, Kila Ka’aihue has been one of the more interesting and argued about prospects in baseball. The reason: He walks. A lot. That’s his most obvious skill. He has walked 100 times each of the last two minor league seasons, and he walked 97 times as a 21-year-old. He is closing in on 700 minor league walks.

Different people see those walks in different ways. Some think Kila’s plate discipline make him an outstanding prospect … especially because he’s a big guy (6-foot-3, 233 pounds) who has shown some signs of big-time power (he hit 37 homers in 124 minor league games in 2008). The feeling — and I’m in this camp — is that his great pitch recognition would translate really well to the big leagues … a younger Travis Hafner comes to mind.

Others, though, think that Kila is TOO patient, TOO passive, not aggressive enough, and that lack of aggression combined with a slowish bat does not project as an every day first baseman (especially because his glove seems quite a bit below average).

I don’t know who is right and who is wrong — but I do know this: The Royals refuse to give Ka’aihue a chance. They SAY he’s part of their future (and say it, and say it), but he’s 26 years old and absolutely nothing they DO suggests they really feel that way. In 2008, Kila hit .314/.456/.628 with those 37 home runs — one of the great minor league seasons in Royals history — and the Royals went out and got Mike Jacobs to play first base instead. A depressed Ka’aihue went back to the minors, struggled (though he walked 100 times), and he did not get a single big league at-bat in 2009.

Then, Ka’aihue had a great spring training this year (.347/.448/.673 with four homers) and was sent back down. He crushed the ball down in Omaha and finally got a call up — at which point he was given all of four major league at-bats before getting sent back down again. Four at-bats. He is now hitting .304/.459/.570 in Omaha.

The Royals will tell you that they simply don’t have a spot in the lineup for him — Billy Butler already plays first base and the Royals are paying Jose Guillen a lot of money to be the team’s DH. But my point here is not the Royals’ roster management but their judgment. My point here is that the Royals simply do not value Ka’aihue’s talent for getting on base, certainly not enough to find out what they have. They see those walks as more of a negative than a positive. They do not value his talents.

You know whose talents the Royals value? Scott Podsednik. He has been the Royals left-fielder and leadoff hitter all year. HIS OPS+ is 98, one of only two American League left fielders with a sub-100 OPS+. He has been caught stealing 11 times. He has only three homers all year and he has struck out almost twice as often as he has walked (54 strikeouts, 29 walks). His UZR and the John Dewan plus/minus both suggest he’s been well below average defensively in left.

But … well, as mentioned, he’s hitting .300. Meanwhile, down in Omaha, one-time Royals savior and newly minted left fielder Alex Gordon is hitting .320/.447/.577, has 13 homers in 66 games, has played well enough defensively that everyone seems to feel he would be fine in the big leagues … and even though he’s 26, and (you would hope) a part of this team’s future, and he cannot get the call up.

Then, there’s Jason Kendall. Oh. Jason Kendall. There is a Royals theme that has never quite become clear to me until Jason Kendall. Through all the years that I have followed the Kansas City Royals, they have had a knack for finding veterans who seem to intimidate everyone in the organization. Jason Kendall, at age 36, is on pace to start 155 games at catcher this year. I’m going to repeat that in italic letters just so you will know I’m not joking:

Jason Kendall, at age 36, is on pace to start 155 games at catcher this year.

As far as I can tell, the last player to catch more than 150 games in a season was Benito Santiago in 1991. The last to start 155 games at catcher? That would be Randy Hundley in 1968.

Now, this says two things. One, it says that Kendall really is a marvel of fitness and stubbornness … to physically be able to play that much and to mentally want to play that much is both remarkable and admirable. How can you not admire a 36-year-old man playing for a team going nowhere who refuses to come out of the lineup? It is inspiring in a way.

Two, though: What could the Royals possibly be thinking? Jason Kendall has an 80 OPS+. He has now gone 354 plate appearances without hitting a home run OR a triple … and if he can keep that up he will be in rarified air.

Most plate appearances in a season without a triple or home run (live ball era):

1. Frank Taveras, 598, 1980.
2. Jo-Jo Morrissey, 568, 1933.
3. Woody Williams, 534, 1945
4. Mike Tresh, 532, 1945
5. Ron Hunt, 531, 1972

Jason Kendall, 638, 2010 (projected)

Kendall’s on-base percentage is a barely league average .334 and yet he is now hitting second in the lineup. He has made nine errors and is barely throwing out a quarter of the stolen base attempts and the Royals pitching staff ERA is 13th in the league, which may not be his fault but he isn’t helping. And still he plays every … single … day. So what is it that Jason Kendall offers this team?

1. That much acclaimed “Veteran leadership.”
2. A tolerable looking .271 batting average.

The other day, on the Royals television broadcast, I heard my friends Ryan Lefebvre and Frank White say that, hey, in a tough season it’s a nice thing to be able to say that at least Kansas City leads the league in hitting. I understand and appreciate the point, but I disagree. I think a good batting average is empty if you don’t back it up with it up with other skills (such as taking walks, hitting with power, not giving away outs). I think batting average can be a very selfish stat. I think leading the league in hitting, if you allow it, will cover up a harsh reality*.

*The Royals — and maybe all bad teams are like this — have an amazing knack of closing their eyes to reality. For instance, they had a 50-game stretch this year where they won 27 and lost 23, a nice stretch that coincided with the hiring of new manager Ned Yost which seemed to give it added weight.

The trouble is … winning 27 of 50, while nice, doesn’t mean a whole lot in the larger picture. In 2007, the Royals had a 28-22 stretch … and lost 93 games. In 2002, the Royals had a 50-game stretch where they played .500 ball … and they lost 100 games. Bad teams still have stretches where they play moderately good baseball. Even the putrid 2005 Royals had a 52-game stretch where they went 25-27.

But the Royals took that 50-game stretch as a sign that this team is emerging … even leading Yost to say the Royals can contend this year. I understand that you are always looking to build on success — and you have to BELIEVE that you are contenders even if you aren’t — but it does seem that the Royals have a long history of declaring victory based on very shaky and minimal evidence. They have now lost six in a row and are trying to hold off the fifth place Indians.

The Royals’ future has some real promise — they have numerous promising players in the minor leagues who can, over the next two or three years, change the face of this franchise. I think Yost has energized this team … and I think his history of working with young players makes him a good candidate to become the Royals full-time manager.

But it seems to me that to get to the future, they have to leave behind the past. They need to get a lot younger. They need to walk more, hit with more power, give away fewer outs, and worry a whole lot less about their batting averages.

Bill Murray Thought Garfield Was a Coen Brothers Movie


It's a question that's baffled Bill Murray fans for most of the past decade: Why did the actor, usually so discerning in picking his roles, agree to provide the voice for the title character in 2004's universally hated Garfield? He couldn't have needed the money that badly, right? In a delightful interview with Dan Fierman in the new GQ (not online, tragically), Murray finally clears everything up: He did the movie because he confused Garfield writer Joel Cohen with Coen brother Joel Coen, and consequently thought he'd be making the Miller's Crossing of half-animated, Breckin Meyer–starring kids' movies about lasagna-loving house cats.

From the interview:

Well, how about Garfield? Can you explain that to me? Did you just do it for the dough?
No! I didn't make that for the dough! Well, not completely. I thought it would be kind of fun, because doing a voice is challenging, and I'd never done that. Plus, I looked at the script, and it said, "So-and-so and Joel Coen." And I thought: Christ, well, I love those Coens! They're funny. So I sorta read a few pages of it and thought, Yeah, I'd like to do that. I had these agents at the time, and I said, "What do they give you to do one of these things?" And they said, "Oh, they give you $50,000." So I said, "Okay, well, I don't even leave the fuckin' driveway for that kind of money."

And it's not like you're helping out an indie director by playing Garfield.
Exactly. He's in 3,000 newspapers every day; he's not hurtin'. Then this studio guy calls me up out of nowhere, and I had a nice conversation with him. No bullshit, no schmooze, none of that stuff. We just talked for a long time about the movie. And my agents called on Monday and said, "Well, they came back with another offer, and it was nowhere near $50,000." And I said, "That's more befitting of the work I expect to do!" So tehy went off and shot the movie, and I forgot all about it. Finally, I went out to L.A. to record my lines. And usually when you're looping a movie, if it takes two days, that's a lot. I don't know if I should even tell this story, because it's kind of mean. [beat] What the hell? It's interesting. So I worked all day and kept going, "That's the line? Well, I can't say that." And you sit there and go, What can I say that will make this funny? And make it make sense? And I worked. I was exhausted, soaked with sweat, and the lines got worse and worse. And I said, "Okay, you better show me the rest of the movie, so we can see what we're dealing with." So I sat down and watched the whole thing, and I kept saying, "Who the hell cut this thing? Who did this? What the fuck was Coen thinking?" And then they explained it to me: It wasn't written by that Joel Coen.

And the pieces fall into place.
[shakes head sadly] At least they had whats-her-name. The mind reader, pretty girl, really curvy girl, body's one in a million? What's her name? Help me. You know who I mean.

Jennifer Love Hewitt?
Right! At least they had her in good-looking clothes. Best thing about the movie. But that's all ugly. That's inappropriate. That's just... [laughs] That's why, when they say, "Any regrets?" at the end of Zombieland, I say, "Well, maybe Garfield."

Fair enough. But this doesn't explain why he returned for the 2006 sequel, Garfield: A Tail of Two Kitties, which was also not made by the Coen brothers.

Elsewhere, Murray says that Harold Ramis's Year One might have killed Ghostbusters 3, since it was written by Gene Stupnitsky and Lee Eisenberg (who were to write GB3) and "people who [saw it], including other Ghostbusters, said it was one of the worst things they had ever seen in their lives." So, to conclude, Bill Murray is a terrific interview subject.

Read more posts by Lane Brown

Filed Under: bill murray, coen brothers, garfield, garfield: a tale of two kitties, joel coen, joel cohen, movies, oops

'Refudiate'

In case you missed the Sarah Palin tweet fest over the weekend:

Ground Zero Mosque supporters: doesn't it stab you in the heart, as it does ours throughout the heartland? Peaceful Muslims, pls refudiate

So many layers there. Megan Carpentier peels the onion.




Sarah Palin - Muslim - United States - Twitter - Politics

Wooly Pigs for Sale and Increase

Heath Putnam, who has spent a fortune in capital and labor to bring the Mangalitsa hog genome to North America has turned a corner.  From its inception his company "Wooly Pigs" has been selling castrated barrow hogs to farmers who want to raise these super premium lard hogs. Well, for reasons that are beyond my ken, Heath has decided to sell fertile hogs into the market at $340 for a 50 pound pig. So if you love Mangalitsa pork and want to raise pigs that can pork with progenerative effect, give Heath a shout. I'm a frenzied fan of Mangalitsa pork and would love to see more of it in the market.
The best sauce in the world is hunger.

Can't Hardly Wait

I have some of this fabric coming my way:

Echino_glasses_green 

I'm sure you can see (ha!) why I'm really looking (ha!) forward to it. 

If you want some, too, it's all over Etsy. I grabbed this image from Kallistiquilts

I haven't sewn with Echino before -- anything I should watch out for? Not quite sure what this will be yet, either. 
 

Billy Wagner Is Still Good

Billy Wagner turns 40 on the 25th of this month. His left arm, attached to a 5’10” frame, has tossed more than 870 innings and more than 8,300 pitches since 2002. The used car of free agent closers, the Braves allowed Mike Gonzalez to walk and traded Rafael Soriano for a crack at Wagner. Further, they even gave up their first round pick to sign Wagner to a one-year deal with a club option for 2011. A year ago, it would not have been the least bit surprising if Wagner retired. Right now, he could be fishing or resting that arm for good. Instead, Wagner is shining with the opulence of a newly christened game-saving prince from the nicest of Bobby Cox’s ninth inning dreams.

Velocity is a measure of speed that holds no grasp on age. That much is apparent from Wagner’s mid-to-upper 90 MPH heater. Depowering batters since the middle of the 1990s, Wagner is 39 appearances into the campaign and holds the best ERA through that mark of his career. ERA is hardly the best earmark of a good pitcher, but it works for a trivial purpose like this:

1997: 1.54
1998: 2.79
1999: 2.18
2001: 3.00
2002: 3.14
2003: 1.85
2004: 2.55
2005: 2.23
2006: 2.59
2007: 1.52
2008: 2.25
2010: 1.17

FIP supports that Wagner has pitched extremely well. His 2.12 figure would actually be the second best seasonal total of his career, which is a bit breath-taking within itself. Wagner gets lost in the shuffle with Mariano Rivera doing his thing as the premier salt-and-pepper whiskered closer, but he’s right there with him. Evidently Wagner is talking about retiring at season’s end.

Braves fans should convince him to reconsider given how he’s pitching.

daniel jo: wave + promise


'promise' clouds
5.5 cm x 14.5 cm x 7.5 cm

image © designboom


korean artist daniel jo exhibited his ceramics collection of plates and decorative pieces
at designboom's 'asia now' at dwell on design in los angeles.



'promise' collection

intended as an ornamental collection, 'promise' consists of handmade ceramic birds and clouds.
the clouds come in colors of beige, blue and white.



'wave' plates with small cup


'wave' is a leaf shaped ceramic plate. available in a set of 12, these handmade pieces also
feature a small cup intended to hold an aromatic candle. as soon as the candle has burnt out,
the cup and saucer can be reused for serving green tea and korean rice cookies.
the 'wave' plate is produced by korean cosmetics company 'amore pacific'.



'wave' plates in green
image © designboom



'wave' plates and 'promise' clouds at 'asia now' exhibition
image © designboom





'wave' greenware



the making of 'wave' plates



'wave' plate molds



installation view at 'asia now' exhibition
image © designboom




illustrations showed various contemporary production of art, architecture and design in korea.
image © designboom




detail of daniel jo's work on show
image © designboom

Staying cool when stealing cars

Photo by Flickr user sparktography. Click for sourceStaying calm is a car thief's biggest challenge, according to a study published in the British Journal of Criminology that explored the psychology of looking inconspicuous when driving a stolen vehicle.

Criminologists Michael Cherbonneau and Heith Copes interviewed 54 car thieves from Tennessee and Louisiana about their experience of stealing automobiles, particularly focusing on what strategies they use to maintain an appearance of normality while driving away with a stolen vehicle.

Perhaps the most striking point to come out of the interviews is that dealing with the psychological pressure of the drive is by far the biggest challenge. As one offender noted "that’s where the adrenalin is, it’s in the drive. The actual theft is really no big deal."

Some of these strategies were common sense, for example, not doing too much damage when breaking in or driving recklessly, but others were clearly thought out with ideas of how other people would perceive what a 'normal' driver would look like.

This can involve thinking about the sort of driver that would be in the type of car the person wants to steal - and dressing accordingly. Offenders reported that they specifically 'dressed up' to match their target car and avoided stereotypically gangsterish clothing, while another reported that instead of changing his appearance to fit the car, he made sure he stole cars to fitted his day-to-day look.

This could even take even involve thinking about the potential prejudices of the police, with one offender reporting that he avoided specific types of car "because if police see a young black person like me in a nice car they will easily pull me over".

But these more practical measures also needed to be accompanied by the right psychological approach which was seen as the most challenging aspect of stealing cars. 'Police panic', even if only internal, is common and offenders not only had to conceal the fact they were spooked but conceal the fact they were trying to hid their stress.

This often involved specific mental strategies to focus on certain aspects of behaviour to dampen the effect of emotions:

Some car thieves often respond to the physiological arousal of police encounters by ‘covering their concern with a tightly held cloak of unconcern’, but to over-perform complacency invites suspicion and magnetizes observers doubt as ‘[t]hose who treat the presence of the police as other than normal are seen as other than normal themselves’. A delicate balance must be struck.

In managing composure, some offenders prefer to focus more on the task at hand than on the interactional pressures of the abrupt threat. ‘When I see police,’ explained one thief, ‘I would just maintain my composure and do everything a driver is supposed to do.’ Attending less to the emotional sensations associated with the encounter and monitoring more controllable behaviours instead allows offenders to maintain composure and exhibit normal reactions. Doing so helps minimize the urge to immediately flee when police are in sight.

Some auto thieves were very confident in their ability to act normally, stating that ‘police are only as smart as you make them’. The ability to maintain composure by removing feelings of inferiority provided offenders with a sense of confidence, which in turn made it easier for offenders to act normally.

The study, published in 2006, counters the idea that such crimes are purely opportunistic that require little skill or ability. Instead, while the technical aspects of stealing a car are relatively trivial, the psychological challenges require significant effort.


Link to DOI and summary of study.

July 18, 2010

Top Secret America: Visualizing the National Security Buildup in the U.S.

top_secret_america.jpg
"Top Secret America" [washingtonpost.com] is an extensive investigative project of the Washington Post that describes the huge national security buildup in the United States after the September 11 attacks. More than a dozen Washington Post journalists spent 2 years developing the database, which was put together by compiling hundreds of thousands of public records of government organizations and private-sector companies. From these records, The Washington Post identified 45 government organizations (for example, the FBI) engaged in top-secret work and determined that those 45 organizations could be broken down into 1,271 sub-units (for example, the Terrorist Screening Center of the FBI). At the private-sector level, The Post identified 1,931 companies engaged in top-secret work for the government, ranging from the "nuclear operations" by AT&T to the "cyber operations" of Abraxas.

The project also seems to put the newspaper on the data-visualization-as-journalism map, still dominated by the New York Times infographics department.

The "Top Secret Network of Government and its Contractors" explores the relationships between government organizations and the types of work being done in "Top Secret America". A radial table can be rearranged according to 3 questions: "Who does the most types of work?", "Who works with the most companies?" and "Who does which types of work?" The data can be further filtered along several categories, such as Intelligence, Military or Weapons Technology.
The "Where is Top Secret America?" shows the locations of government organizations and companies that deal with security (although stops short explicitly naming them?). One can also query for specific companies, or search the data for themselves.

Via @infobeautiful.

Hands down. The best review of Inception.



Hands down. The best review of Inception.

Beak Is Dead

Sorry folks: Beak, my fledgling, ever-unfinished Twitter app for the Mac and iPhone is dead and will never be worked on again. Why? Please let me explain.

Beak's Beginnings

The first line of Objective-C I ever wrote was for Beak. Starting out in the world of Mac development with a Twitter app is pretty ambitious and I learned a lot. I didn't know what delegates were until I started using MGTwitterEngine. I never knew how to build custom AppKit user interfaces either. BeakI never opened Interface Builder before I started designing Beak's (underwhelming) Preferences window. In short, I cut my teeth on Beak and it shows. It was never really polished, nor did it represent any kind of best practices for Mac development; the main interface component is a WebView so that says a lot by itself. It was my learning tool, my first trek into Cocoa development.

Why I'm Done With It

I have a full-time job working on the web and Cocoa development is my evening & weekend passion. If I'm lucky I'll have a solid 2 hours at night to crank on some code, but many nights it's less than an hour, or no time at all. Building a fully-functional Twitter app is hard and it takes a lot of time. To build a nice offering in the market you have to implement the same 30 features as everyone else and then after that you can start to differentiate. Ever heard of a Twitter app without Favorites? Or Direct Messages? There are a bunch of things you absolutely need or else people complain. Heck, I still get a few emails a week about Beak not saving your password. (Hint: I didn't forget about that feature, I just didn't know how to store anything in the Keychain when I first wrote it.)

Besides lack of time, I broke the golden rule: I didn't build an app that filled my own needs. I don't use Beak. I never used Beak. I also never used Twitterrific or Tweetie or any other Mac Twitter app. I use the Twitter website. Why? Because my primary usage of Twitter is for finding new links and I read those in a browser. I don't like being in a desktop Twitter app, clicking a link, being transferred to Safari, reading an article, then switching back to my timeline in a different application. It's just how I use Twitter. Everyone uses it differently, and I'm probably the oddball here, but that's just how it is. Perhaps if I made Beak a gigantic, full-screen application with a built-in web browser I would've used it.

My third reason is simply a lack of interest in long, time-sucking projects. Like I said before, I do Cocoa development on the side, as a hobby, and as such I like to be entertained and to feel motivated. Dragging along to build an app for months isn't exciting to me. I like tiny projects because they keep me excited and I can always see the light at the end of the tunnel. Digital Post was a nice, concise project. I spent about 40-50 hours of work to build the 1.0 version. I could envision the entire project in my head at all points, so I was always shooting for the finish line. These kinds of projects just fit me better and they keep me motivated, excited and pushing hard at all times. It seems like a simple concept but it's taken me years to understand what motivates me and what doesn't. Beak 1.0 for Mac and, recently, Beak 1.0 for iPhone were both so complex their launch loomed far in the distance, like a mirage I could never run fast enough to touch.

Lots Of UI, Not As Much Code

I'm a designer. More specifically, I'm a user interface engineer. I design software and then I implement these designs. The main reason I write software is to make my mockups clickable and real. I have 50+ PSDs of never-implemented Beak interfaces. I have dozens of NSView & UIView subclasses with prototyped custom interface components ready to be hooked up. My brain and mouse would rush ahead to knock out the user interface and UI code but then, time after time, I'd get sidetracked and bogged down by network code, error-handling, API issues, memory leaks, 45fps scrolling instead of 60fps, caching code written & rewritten, complex text layout problems, etc. I'm good at solving these problems but after spending night after night tweaking and rewriting non-UI code I'd just get burnt out and would ditch Xcode for Photoshop just to give the other side of my brain something to latch onto. Then, inevitably, I'd start designing the UI for the next big Beak feature and would get frustrated knowing that I still had the previous feature to finish before I could move on.

Thank You

Over 30,000 people have downloaded Beak since it first debuted, a number that's just incredible to me. Even with all its flaws I still get emails and Twitter replies from people who think it's fantastic. It sounds crazy, but Beak made people think of me as an app developer and no longer just a web designer. It completely revitalized my skill set and realigned my career trajectory. It taught me Objective-C and made it possible for me to build an iPad app that launched Day 1 of the iPad App Store. It opened my eyes to real, double-clickable (and single-tappable) software development that I had never experienced when working on the web. I owe Beak and everyone who ever downloaded Beak a sincere Thank You that cannot be expressed in hypertext. Honestly, thank you.

(To answer a question before it pops up, I have no plans to open source Beak, nor do I want to hand the project off to someone else to finish. It's a project too close to my heart to give away so it will simply die an elegant death on my hard drive and in the cloud where it sleeps at night.)

Allen & Ginter Wordsmiths are great



... in bed

 

(Added something funny for Beardy)

Busy day on the Hudson. Also, I love my camera.



Busy day on the Hudson.

Also, I love my camera.

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