Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Baby Shaker Furniture:

I enjoy the TV quiz show “Wheel of Fortune”, especially their use of “before & after” phrases. WoF is a quiz show in which contestants gradually discover phrases by guessing the letters in them. “Before & After” refers to run-on phrases, like “May I spend a penny for your thoughts.” The show's writers are very clever at thinking up before & after puzzles.

Monday, April 27, 2009

This is dedicated to the one I ...

My cousin Michael, about five years older than I, had a wry sense of humor. But on one occasion, instead of dealing a gently acid punch line, he fed me a fine setup. I'm almost embarrassed to toot my own horn here, but in the interest of Historical Accuracy, I shall relate this incident.

Michael was visiting my family. While he talked to my father, I sat at the piano, attempting to play the beginning of Beethoven's Moonlight Sonata. The first four bars are far and away the easiest part of the sonata. In fact, my grandmother told me that this is the way to appear to be a fine pianist: you learn to play those first four measures. At the end of the fourth bar, you rise up from the piano and say, "I'm just not in the mood."

So there I was at about measure three. My father said, "That's a little composition my son is writing. what do you think of it?"
"It reminds me of moonlight," said Michael.
Whereupon I said, "I'm thinking of dedicating it to countess Julia Guicciardi."

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Fourteen runs in the second inning. Fourteen!

The Yankees suffered (or did they? See below) the worst possible insult in their brand new ballpark. Having previously scored nine runs in one inning, Cleveland did even better, scoring 14 runs in the second inning alone, as they beat the Yanks 22 to 4. This game raises an interesting question: how is it possible that the Yanks have never been maltreated like this before, in their 100+ years of history in baseball?

I beieve there's an interesting answer to this question, but let me advise you that I may not have any idea whatsoever what I'm talking about. I suggest that we divide the long, long history of baseball into three eras:
  • Up to about 1940: Leave the starter in, even if he obviously had too much to drink last night.
  • To about 1990: Quick hook, get the relief pitchers in there at any sign of trouble.
  • To the present: don't use up the pitching staff if you can help it.

Now let me explain: Historically, baseball relied much less on relief pitchers. There's an anecdote about Bobo Newsom, a journeyman pitcher who played for many teams for many years, compiling a roughly 50/50 record of wins and losses. One day he was losing 15-0 (see? No reliance on relief pitchers). A teammate said, “Just don't have it today, eh, Bobo?” To which he replied, “How's a guy going to win when his team doesn't score any runs?” Now you may ask why those starters didn't sometimes give up 20 or 30 runs, or 15 in an inning? I suspect that in the old days, every lineup had a few really bad batters, making it easier for a bad pitcher to get out of trouble. There also used to be a bit of courtesy (misguided in my view) that you don't beat up on a team when they are obviously defeated. That courtesy might make a team less likely to try to score more than seven or eight runs in one inning.

Eventually, teams fielded excellent relief pitchers, and used them quickly when a pitcher just didn't have it. Some managers are famous for their 'quick hook', their tendency to relieve a pitcher the moment he appears shaky.

Modern pitching strategy has changed, because teams now have excellent statistics about what happens, over whole seasons, when pitchers are overworked. I heard about the Yankee's game on the radio last night, and then I couldn't wait to see the box score. The game might show Cleveland, in that 2nd inning, trouncing one Yankee pitcher after another. But I suspected that modern baseball strategy was at work. And it was.

Just two pitchers – the starter and the first relief guy – absorbed those 14 runs. The starter was obviously left in there too long, but that happens sometimes; you think he's having a rough start and will settle down, and all of a sudden it's too late for that. The poor relief pitcher who followed him was stuck. His job was to use up some innings so that the rest of the staff could rest. If you follow live baseball games, you will often hear announcers explain that a pitcher is being left in to finish the inning, no matter how many runs it takes, to “take one” for the staff. And that's what obviously happened here.

Now Cleveland did score eight more runs, but I suspect that rest of the Yankee pitchers were not exactly bearing down in concentration, pitching in a lost cause. So all this game proves is that the Yankee's starter, and his first reliever, had a terrible time; even though it looks like an embarrassment for all of baseball history.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

In Which Howard Stern appeared Ridiculous (in 1989):

One day in 1989, I listened to a Howard Stern radio program with some excitement. Intel had demonstrated its first full “DVI” product to Stern, specifically the ability to see motion video on a PC. We knew that Stern was going to plug the product. (I had managed Quality Assurance for parts of the software.)

In the radio show, Howard Stern mentioned the product, and said how excited he was about it. He looked forward to seeing movies and TV on his PC. His sidekick, Robin Quivers, broke in at this moment with a skeptical question: “Howard, where is your PC?”
He answered, “In my bedroom.”
Listening to this, I was really puzzled. What was bothering Robin?
She continued, “And where is your TV set?”
“Right next to my computer,” he answered.
“So?” she said.
“That's not the point,” Howard responded. “I want to see TV on my PC.”
At that time, his words appeared to be a bold bluster, an attempt to keep his mention of our product positive. I had long forgotten this little exchange, but it came back to me today as I thought about all the advantages that are developing now, for TV on the PC. The screens can be bigger, the quality excellent. And there are tons of TV shows available on demand on the Internet. Within a few years, I, even I, may be watching TV on my PC.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

A la recerche du temps perdue:

This story is exactly like Marcel Proust's experience with Madeleines, except for the considerable differences.

When I was young, my mother sometimes served canned yellow wax beans. I have always believed that these are the most disgusting food that anyone has ever made me eat, or even offered to me. I can still remember the metallic taste, plus ... euchh ... something else.

When I was about age nine, I categorically refused to touch them, and I never ate them again. I've had nearly sixty years of peace from canned yellow wax beans. But recently, I got to thinking: Might they taste better these days? After all:
  1. My taste buds don't work as well as they used to, and:
  2. There have been a few billion advances in food processing.

I decided to cook some canned yellow wax beans, to see if, just maybe, they wouldn't be so bad.

So there I was in the aisle of my favorite supermarket, looking for canned yellow wax beans. and not finding them. That does it, I said. Evidently they were so bad, that they just don't sell them any more. Wrong. Eventually I found exactly one brand of them.

While checking out, I told everyone nearby about my plan to revisit this awful food. The woman on line behind me -- she was about my age -- said, "They haven't changed the recipe." I brought them home and forgot about them for several days. Of course I forgot them! Why would I want to eat them?

Then I remembered them. I drained them, heated them in water, and performed the great taste test.

Memories of childhood came flooding back to me. The beans had hardly any taste at all, but I remembered what taste they had very well, and I clearly remembered the titanic fights with my mother when I tried to refuse to eat them. But that faint wax bean taste: it wasn't so bad. I'll tell you what I think:
  1. My taste buds don't work as well as they used to, and:
  2. The awful, awful metallic taste doesn't leak out from the can into the beans anymore. After all, there have been a few billion advances in food processing.

I ate a lot of the beans, actually. Now please, pass me a Madeleine.

Sunday, April 05, 2009

Diverse Remarks:

While cleaning house, I came across a notebook in which I recorded a few pithy words and sayings. I think they make a good blog entry. I have carefully attributed them (or not) as appropriate:

This remark was said about a computer system that we had developed, and were supporting:
Some of our users are not as friendly as they would like our system to be. – Rich Klepacz, further edited by me.

This remark was said about a rather tragic software development project:
We have too many people to do this project the right way, and not enough people to do it the wrong way. – me again.

Creeping Elegance” is effort directed solely toward making work more eyecatching. – Craig Martin. Today we would say: Creeping Elegance is effort directed solely toward making eye candy.

This remark was said about a completely undocumented software project:
You've heard of the paperless office? This is the paperless project. – Tony Alfieri

99% compatibility is like closing your front door 99% when a maniac is coming up the front path. – John Bear

An unhelpful VAX system error message:

He reminds me of a time when I had bad taste. – Unattributed:

Here are a few handy made-ups. Please remember them and use them:

Jubilant Sardine: – unknown The sort of person who can squeeze into a jampacked celebration.

Huggly – Frank Naranjo

Intertwingled – Howard Lang