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Monday, January 31, 2005

Drug War Clock

Ever wonder how much money our enlightened neighbours to the south are spending on their endlessly philanthropic drug prohibition campaign (because you know it worked so well with alcohol)? This site claims to keep an up-to-the-second account of the dollars spent so far this year. I don't know how reliable they are. Here's their mission statement.

Sunday, January 30, 2005

More Sammy

Just want to point out that the Sosa trade I talked about in a previous post is not yet official. It awaits approval from the BS himself (Bud Selig, MLB [de]commissioner), and is also contingent on the players involved passing physicals.

Also, despite my guessing in the final paragraph of that post, there are not yet any actual hard details on how much of Sosa's contract the Cubs will pick up if the deal goes through so we don't yet know what kind of dollars the Orioles intend to bet on Sammy putting more asses in Camden seats (thanks to Off WIng Opinion for that link to Baseball Savant). An ESPN story has this

Reports say the Cubs will pay $12.5 million of the $25 million Sosa would be owed in salary for this season and for buyout and severance costs in 2006.

Sosa isn't even asking for an extension, either, meaning he'd be eligible for free agency after the season unless the Orioles propose a new deal.

While MLB.com says

Sosa was to be paid $17 million this year, and the Cubs have an $18 million option for 2006 with a $4.5 million buyout. If Sosa was traded, his 2006 salary became guaranteed, which had been a stumbling block for teams interested in acquiring him.

There were reports that Sosa was willing to void the 2006 portion of his contract, which would require approval from the Players Association. The Cubs also were believed to be willing to pay a portion of Sosa's 2005 contract.
So it's possible that the O's are just looking at a one-year fling with Sammy. That's the best scenario for them as a team. I still don't understand why they'd make this deal, though, except to make a publicity splash as the Baseball Savant says. But I still don't think the return they'll get is enough to justify the cost of that splash.


update: Although exactly how much the O's and the Cubs each intend to pay Sosa in '05 is still unclear, Ivy Chat has this to say about what Sammy's giving up to go to Baltimore

Sosa has agreed to waive the clause of his contract that causes the 2006 option year, at $18 million, to automatically vest in the event of a trade. He gave up $13.5 million to leave Chicago. As it stands right now, Sosa is a free agent at the end of 2005.
Hmm, this is looking like a better and better deal for everybody. If the O's don't want to keep Sosa after the season but do have the guts to offer him arbitration and some other team signs him they could end up with two draft picks in '06 for him. Even if they don't offer arbitration, they get to take the gamble that he'll have one last real good year and keep the turnstiles turning.

Meanwhile the Cubs shed some salary, leaving them within budget, as Ivy Chat also points out, and able to look at signing and/or trading for another outfielder or two. Of the three mentioned, Aubrey Huff and Magglio Ordonez (if he's healthy) would be great choicess. Between them they'd be about a (prime) Sosa and a half. If the choice ends up being Jeromy Burnitz ... well, Cub fans should run screaming from Wrigley Field in protest.

Staring into the Singularity

Throwing this out for anyone with an interest in artificial intelligence and/or science fiction: Staring into the Singularity 1.2.5.¹ The site gives the following as the short version of the extended essay that it contains

If computing speeds double every two years,
what happens when computer-based AIs are doing the research?

Computing speed doubles every two years.
Computing speed doubles every two years of work.
Computing speed doubles every two subjective years of work.

Two years after Artificial Intelligences reach human equivalence, their speed doubles. One year later, their speed doubles again.

Six months - three months - 1.5 months ... Singularity.

Plug in the numbers for current computing speeds, the current doubling time, and an estimate for the raw processing power of the human brain, and the numbers match in: 2021.

But personally, I'd like to do it sooner.
Yeah, you and me both, pal. Difference between us is, you're an optimist and I ordered a cheeseburger.²

Actually the essay contains, in some parts, a fair amount of math and technical terms, which is to be expected in even a minor treatise on AI. But it's not as completely dry a read as you might imagine. Still I've got to do some more knocking of my head against it before I consider myself to have a real clue about what's being said in it.


¹
"The Singularity" is a term coined by science fiction writer Vernor Vinge to describe a point at which artificial intelliegences are not only possible, they are capable of reprogramming themselves faster and better than we can. In other words, it describes a point when truly sentient life will appear. I'm really not expecting to see AI's in my lifetime, let alone The Singularity. And I plan to be around another day, or two.

Vinge's novel, A Fire Upon the Deep, is a damn good read.


² Remember Gary Larson?

Saturday, January 29, 2005

Baseball Salaries, Revenues, etc., in Perspective

Perhaps this John Brattain article at The Hardball Times will be of interest to anyone who might think that baseball* players are greedy, whining, overpaid bums who should be happy to be getting paid for playing a game. He says

If you read the mainstream media, you’d get the impression that the players and their agents do little more than behave like pigs trying to find truffles, sniffing around looking for top dollar regardless of where it leads them and being willing to lie, connive, misrepresent, extort and manipulate their way to riches caring little of who is hurt along the way. You’d guess that if Jesus Christ were to join mankind again, Scott Boras would make bloody sure that he’d get more than a lousy 30 pieces of silver for him. Oh the poor owners -- shackled to a system where they’re forced to pay tens, and even hundreds of millions of dollars to greedy players who just want more, more, more.

Please.

I might be able to shed a tear for the poor blighters if I could grate a large onion and stick the pulp up my nose and rub it into my eyes -- but even that’s a stretch.
Brattain then goes on into some interesting details about payrolls, bookkeeping practises, stadium funding and the luxury tax.


*In the background of everything baseball there's a bony man with bad hair shuffling a gleeful dance while he presses his lips firmly to his wallet.


Will Camden Yards be Sosa-ble?

Baseball Musings is tracking the rumoured trade of Sammy Sosa to the Baltimore Orioles. The entry over there, and its links, cover the details of the trade itself so I won't bother with that. Instead I'd like to take a look at Sammy's past few seasons, and try to figure out whether moving from Wrigley Field to Camden Yards will make any major difference in his production.

Sosa is 36 years old, an age at which most players are in decline. And Sammy seems to be no exception. I looked up his last nine seasons using The Baseball Cube's Stat Machine. I've excerpted the following stats from the last four of those seasons

Year G AB Total Bases 2B HR BB SO Avg SLG OBP
2001 160 577 425 34 64 116 153 .328 .737 .437
2002 150 556 330 19 49 103 144 .288 .594 .399
2003 137 517 286 22 40 62 143 .279 .553 .358
2004 126 478 247 21 35 56 133 .253 .517 .332

In all fairness, 2001 was the peak season of Sosa's career. But, as the numbers at The Baseball Cube show, the past three season's stats are also a significant drop from the numbers he'd put up from '98 to '00. So I'm convinced the decline seen above is real — a real steep slope down that looks like it might become a cliff. Sure, time missed due to injuries over the past couple of years has played a part in the diminished counting stats. But the rate stats have also dropped. And not just the AVG/SLG/OBP, there is more of the story hidden in less obvious ratios (seasons in same order)

AB/TB AB/2B AB/HR AB/SO SO/BB
1.36 16.97 9.02 3.77 1.32
1.68 29.26 11.35 3.86 1.40
1.81 23.50 12.93 3.62 2.31
1.94 22.76 13.66 3.59 2.38

Those numbers drive home to me the southward trend of Sosa's power and batting eye.

Now how about the switch from Wrigley Field to Camden Yards? Wrigley has played as a hitters' park five times in the last ten seasons, although the last time it did so before the 2004 season was in 1999. Oriole Park at Camden Yards on the other hand has played as a hitters' park exactly twice in ten years — in 2004 and 1995.

From that I think we can assume that only once in the past four years could Sosa's stats have been helped by his home park. But his stats for that season were still down from the previous year, so I suspect the decline is even steeper than it looks (I could be wrong about that; I haven't looked at how his numbers at Wrigley last season compare to what he hit on the road, or how many games he played at home).

I think we can also assume that last season was an anomalous year for hitters at Camden Yards, and that it is more likely to return to being a pitchers' park in 2005 than it is to favour hitters.

Given those two assumptions, combined with the cliff-edge that Sosa looks to be teetering on, I'd conclude that Camden Yards is not going to be very hospitable statistically for Sammy. Now even Sosa in decline is going to hit some home runs, but he won't get anywhere near his '98 - '01 numbers. I'll go out on a limb and say right now that 35 home runs represents the absolute uppermost limit of what we can expect him to hit this season, and I wouldn't be at all surprized if the number fell somewhere between 25 and 30.

I don't think the Orioles are getting a ballplayer who's worth $17 million in the baseball economy, not even a player who is worth $11 million (if the Cubs are really picking up $6 million for '05) in that economy. What they're getting, I'd guess, is a player who's worth about $5 million (come on, he's an old, slow outfielder with possible injury concerns). If the Orioles get Farnsworth, too, and he finally harnesses his ability, I don't think this deal will hurt them in 2005. But in 2006, even if it's possible renegotiate Sosa's contract to a more sensible sum (I can't see him accepting less than $11 million, if he'll even bend that far) than the $18 million his current contract says he'll get if he's traded away from the Cubs, the O's are going to be paying him at least twice what he'll be worth.



Emily D. Filtered Through Wikipedia

Below are a few Emily Dickinson poems that have caught my eye tonight. Don't know that I'll have much to say about them. Don't know that I can say much about them. Perhaps a few hyperlinks to Wikipedia on occasional words will have to do. These numbered versions are from The Complete Poems.

891

To my quick ear the Leaves — conferred —
The Bushes — they were Bells —
I could not find a Privacy
From Nature's sentinels —

In Cave if I presumed to hide
The Walls — began to tell —
Creation seemed a mighty Crack
To make me visible

I think the above poem and the following one might be best read one right after the other. It seems to me that Emily's in the process of dissecting Plato here, about ready to rip him a new one. The first stanza, and how its last two lines seem to resonate in their counterparts in the second stanza, makes me think that she was leaning more towards realism than idealism. I suspect the second last line to be full of puns and irony: seemed/seamed; usages for the word crack that she would have or could have known include a sharp sound, an opening, an attempt, and superior (as in "he's a crack shot").

1233

Had I not seen the Sun
I could have borne the Shade
But Light a newer Wilderness
My Wilderness has made —
And the irony continued through the use of sun and light here.

1243

Safe Despair it is that raves —
Agony is frugal.
Puts itself severe away
For its own perusal.

Garrisoned no soul can be
In the front of trouble —
Love is one, not aggregate
Nor is Dying double.

I find the fifth and sixth lines of this one difficult. She's using garrisoned in the sense of fortified for defense. Is she saying there's no way to defend against trouble, or saying that trouble is not to be faced alone? The second one, I suppose.

1301

I cannot want it more —
I cannot want it less —
My Human Nature's fullest force
Expends itself on this.

And yet it nothing is
To him who easy owns —
Is Worth itself or Distance
He fathoms who obtains.

And this one I'll just let folks enjoy. I like it.

Thursday, January 27, 2005

Full o' Beanes, or Snake-oil?

Billy Beane, General Manager of the Oakland Athletics, is no stranger to lionization or to demonization. Even before the publication of Michael Lewis' book Moneyball, about Beane and the 2002 Athletics team, many followers of the game of baseball held strong opinions about Beane's way of running a ball club. And since Moneyball, almost every transaction his team makes is variously 1. scrutinized 2. analysed 3. criticized and 4. praised by members of both the mainstream sports media and of the ever-expanding baseball blogosphere, as well as by committed (maybe I do mean certifiable, so what?) baseball fans.

That's a lot of attention focused on a small market club that was rumoured to be under consideration for contraction in one of Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig's more controversial (read idiotic) attempts to shoot in the foot the game which he professes to love.

So what about Beane? Is he a genius, an evil genius, one lucky s.o.b., a consummate salesman (and more subtle showman than Bill Veeck), or a pragmatist determined to have his team succeed consistently and finding a way to make it happen by mining veins other teams have ignored or under-exploited?

Decide for yourself after reading these transcripts of an interview (Part 1. Part 2. Part 3.) with Beane, who recently sat down for a long chat with the Athletics Nation blog's
Tyler Bleszinski.


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(Gonna) Shine Up My Boots

One of my favourite albums is The Corb Lund Band's Five Dollar Bill (2002). You can check out a couple of their videos here (site requires Flash). Fronted by the hard-drinking, poker-playing (even his singing voice is pokerfaced) Corb Lund (formerly of The Smalls), these guys, who describe what they do as roots-country, grabbed me the first time I heard them. The album's third song, Short Native Grasses (Prairies of Alberta), stopped me in mid-stride as soon as it began playing and had me frozen in place by the first time through the chorus

The prairies of Alberta, they ain't never hearda
The things that are keepin' you down
And the short native grasses don't care that the ashes
Of your dreams match their dry shade of brown

A little while after I first heard that song I saw their live show at the bar where I work and I was hooked solid. That's a couple of years ago now and I can still shove in the album, as I did today, and it sounds as fresh and powerful as it did that first time. There's not a bit of pretentiousness on it. It's a well-produced, solid, simple (in the best sense of the word) sounding album with well-written lyrics that say what they want to say without ever taking themselves too damn seriously.

I can never decide which song I like most (besides Short Native Grasses). At the moment it's the one I've used as the title of this entry

I'm gonna shine up my boots
I'm gonna go into town
I'm gonna scrape up twenty dollars
I'm gonna throw it around...

I'm gonna find me a game
Of hold 'em if I can
And fold 'em all night long
Till I got me a hand



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update: edited because for some reason I tried to describe Lund's voice as laconic — oh, the handle I have on the language

Did Byron Deserve This?

No, he did not. What is this? Well, I ain't gonna look for a link to it. Because it's crap. Ranks right down there with Terry Brooks' The Sword of Sha-na-na or whatever the hell that book was called.

What am I talking about? A book left behind when a room mate moved out in October. I was searching around for something to read today and there it was sitting looking at me. The Lord Of The Dead, it's called, by a guy named Tom Holland (a Byron scholar according to the jacket). The premise is that Lord Byron somehow became a vampire while traveling in Greece and still lives, brooding in his darkened London digs, becoming infatuated with a female descendant (or she with him).

Okay, as a premise, it could be maybe almost bearable if the prose would move along the colour spectrum even as far as purple. But it doesn't. It justs sits there grey and stiffening, like lumps of cold porridge.

Wednesday, January 26, 2005

I've Tasted My Blood; and Poem (two Milton Acorn poems)

this is an audio post - click to play

It's odd — at least I find it odd — and wonderful that two of the best poems that Milton Acorn wrote both depend on images of his mother's beauty and sadness. In I've Tasted My Blood, the first poem in his collection of the same name, he writes in the second stanza

But my mother's look
was a field of brown oats, soft-bearded;
her voice rain and air rich with lilacs:
and I loved her too much to like
how she dragged her days like a sled over gravel.
I suppose a fellow could have some fun getting all freudian on that, but fuck the freudians — I'd argue that the figure of Acorn's mother is a pragmatic, perhaps inevitable, choice made in order for this poem to achieve its full strength, you might say the figure tempers it — let's look at those images and how they might work together.

"...A field of brown oats, soft-bearded." Now that's got a lot going on in its autumn image of ripe grain ready for harvest; you can go right back to Greek mythology with that line, to Demeter and Persephone and the cycle of the seasons. The next line is spring, spring in the sense of the season of freshness, birth and new growth, and spring in the sense of a source of water nourishing all that grows, so I find it quite apt that this line comes immediately after and is allowed to seep up into the the field of brown oats. The last two lines are a stark, guttural depiction of how harsh and wearying life could be in the 1920's and 30's (Acorn's childhood) which are the years to which the poem sinks its deepest roots. Acorn delivers all this texture in five short lines and in simple, direct language.

The rest of the poem is much harder-edged and aggressive, full of anger and sadness at the things the world allows itself to compass and condone so that a person, any person, might be what is described in the first few lines of the second stanza and still be brought in the end to dragging their days "like a sled over gravel." That stanza is the poem's point, its pivot, and its bedrock; its tenderness is also its hard, ultimate truth.

Now Poem (p. 30, I've Tasted My Blood : poems 1956-1968. Selected by Al Purdy. Ryerson, 1969; Toronto : Steel Rail Educational Pub., 1978.), Poem is a reiteration and expansion of the theme around which the previously discussed poem turns. The expansion being the juxtapositions of Acorn's memory of himself as a child and how he saw his mother then

...a goddess of green age
and

...the whole room full of that smile

And how he also remembers her — at what would be an only slightly older age for her — at the time of the poem's writing as

...young
with hair red as a blossom

And of course all of those things also juxtaposed with the final stanza's image of an old woman filling her days with what she has and doing the small things that need to be done. It's a poem of knowledge of change and inevitability, of knowledge of the wisdom and necessity of duty, and of wonder at possessing those bits of knowledge.



update: edited for sense, realized I hadn't finished a paragraph

Tuesday, January 25, 2005

So What If He's A Yankees Fan?

I'm sure you have your distasteful aspects, too. But did your apartment building burn down last night? Well, Larry Mahnken's did. Larry runs the Replacement Level Yankees Weblog. If you can spare a little bit for a fellow baseball fan in need, you can make a donation on his site via PayPal (I found out about Larry's misfortune via Baseball Musings).

One of the things that Larry does for little, if any, reward or recognition is to provide his fellow fans, gratis, this DIPS worksheet (the DIPS system was originally created by Vörös McCracken, who now works for the Red Sox) as a means of evaluating a pitcher on the basis of factors that the pitcher actually controls (BB's, K's, HR's) rather than trying to determine the pitcher's value solely by the traditional measure of ERA which fails to screen out the white noise created by the performance of the fielders surrounding him.

Monday, January 24, 2005

Truth, Science and Deus Ironicus

So folks are gearing up for next month's hearings on GMOs and P.E.I. agriculture.
"It's a controversial issue, and everyone has an opinion," says Mike Nabuurs, executive director of the [P.E.I. Federation of Agriculture].

"But we need to make sure that any decisions that affect farmers are based on truth and science. . . . Right now, GMOs are legal crops in Canada, approved by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency."

Nabuurs says it has yet to be proven that there is a market for non-GMO products.
He says most island crops are exported to the United States, where there are not the same anti-GMO restrictions as in Europe and some parts of Asia.

"If the P.E.I. government decides it want to seriously consider a GMO ban, it had better make darn good and sure those markets really do exist for the non-GMO products, enough to sustain producers who are currently making a living on GMO products."
Nice. Nabuurs gives that little spiel about basing decisions on truth and science, and then moves right on to the bits about GMOs being legal in Canada, and that it's not proven there's a market for non-GMO crops which takes him right to his real worry; that being that the Theocracy of Texas, Sacerdotal, Holy and Righteous Right Hand of God in the World
(formerly known as the United States of America), might not allow non-GMO crops to enter their dominions.Yep, it's all about truth and science.

Speaking of truth and science, leaving aside any ethical and medical issues having to do with the genetic modification of food plants and the human consumption of such, what concerns me most about GMOs is the possibility of single strains of crops being planted to exclusion of all others. What happens when organisms, whether they're diseases or pests, adapt to those crops' defences and there's a crop failure? Where do you go from there? Where's the diversity, where's the redundancy necessary to adapt to disaster?



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Sunday, January 23, 2005

Out, Out, Damn Code!

Goodbye Haloscan comment code, and I'm not in tears to see the back o' ye. Ye did nothing but cause me trouble since I installed ye. Damn my eyes for lookin' at ye in the first place.

(And at least this time I've managed to save the comments that were here. I'll get those back with the posts they go with asap.)

Broadsheets of Richard Outram

A Thinking Fan (yeah, more baseball, deal with it)

Bouncing around the web this morning I found this review of a book called The Thinking Fan's Guide to Baseball: Revised and Updated. Good reading, as are most of the baseball posts I've since been reading at Dan Agonistes.

It's obvious that the blogger, Dan Fox, is a thinking fan himself. For instance, he has a look at what OPS is and why it is a good shorthand stat for comparing the relative values of players. And not only comparing players who are/were contemporaries, but also, with some adjustments for context, comparing players of different eras.

Saturday, January 22, 2005

Under Renovation

Like Dodger Stadium, the L.A. Dodger's '05 lineup is under renovation. Unlike the Stadium, there is no clear outcome yet in sight for the lineup.

I've meaning to link to this post at Tom Meagher's The Fourth Outfielder for a few days now. It's mostly about Cesar Izturis and how best to use him offensively, which leads to a very quick take on possible ways to construct the Dodgers' lineup. Meagher's look at Izturis' baserunning is educational for any baseball fan, as the principles he works from are applicable to all players. He also includes a great link to Tom Ruane's work on baserunning (a pdf file, Adobe).

Meager intends to do a detailed analysis of the Dodger lineup in the near future. Very near future I hope, as lineup construction is a fascination of mine and there doesn't seem to be a lot of good analysis of it available.

Here's how I'd set the Dodgers' batting order (after the players' names are their career AVG/OBP/SLG stats, and their number of career at bats)

  1. Milton Bradley        .265/.350/.416 AB — 1610
  2. Jayson Werth         .255/.329/.461 AB — 384
  3. J.D. Drew         .287/.391/.513 AB — 2415
  4. Jeff Kent         .289/.352/.505 AB — 6604
  5. Hee Seop Choi         .234/.356/.429 AB — 595
  6. Jose Valentin         .243/.321/.452 AB — 4842
  7. David Ross         .207/.292.411 AB — 299
  8. Cesar Izturis         .262/.293/.342 AB — 1801
  9. Pitcher
That concentrates on-base percentage and power in the top 2/3 of the lineup. The obvious question marks here are my placements of Werth, Choi and Ross. As you can see they are the least experienced players. I don't think we've really seen their upside yet.

I put Werth in the two-hole because he has some power and he sees a high number of pitches. I think he should hit for a better BA in the future, and draw more walks, making him a good bet to move Bradley, whose on-base skills are also rising, along.

I put Choi in the fifth spot because with Drew's patience and power and with Kent's contact skills and power in the 3 and 4 holes in front of him, there's a good chance Choi will come to the plate either with runners in scoring position, or as the lead-off batter in the second inning. In either case, you want someone with patience and power at the plate. Choi has both those things.

Ross? I'm hitting him 7th because he hit better in the minors than he did in L.A. last year, and any upside from him at all makes him a better bet than Izturis to drive in runs.

The change I might make in that lineup would be to switch Drew and Kent. But what do I know?


update: Edited title and first paragraph for sense. Apparently I don't know the difference between renovation and construction. I need a good copy editor; I can pay in nods and grunts of appreciation.

If You Ain't Got It, Get It

Get what? Couple of things. One is StumbleUpon, because it finds places like these: The Elegant Universe; the dullest blog in the world ("I was standing quite near to a wall. I turned my attention towards it for a few moments. Having done this for several seconds I turned away from it and carried on doing something else").

Another is the Firefox browser. I've been using Firefox since it was known as Firebird, and it's only gotten better. See the screenshot in the preceding entry for what it can look like. It don't need to look like that, just my preference. A lot of power and speed. Available for just about any platform. And it's free.

Firefox Screenshot Posted by Hello

Thursday, January 20, 2005

Stray Thoughts on the Difference Between Yeats and Stevens

Yeats once wrote in an essay, "...but all that is personal soon rots; it must be packed in ice or salt." That line takes me back to my childhood where gallon bottles of salt herring in their brine sat on the shelves in the cold pantry, and salt cod hung from the ceiling, both bought from the fishman on his final round of the fall. If he were being paid by check, he'd say, "Alvin Gallant. Eh ell vee eye en."

Alvin came round every week or so through the summer, in a pickup truck with its bed full of fish and shellfish packed in ice. "I got fresh herring, fresh mackerel, fresh cod. I got quahogs, clams, bar clams, scallops. Nice firm fish, good prices. Anything special for next week, I'll look for it."

Or late in the year he might say, "Done next week for the season. Need salt fish? Git ya through the winter, nothing like it. Good salt herring, good salt cod. Some left here, I can bring more next week. And canned mackerel, no bones. Good price."

I don't know that Alvin ever heard of Yeats, or Stevens. I don't know that he didn't. But I'm thinking tonight that he knew the difference between ice and salt; that he'd feel the chill of Stevens' poetry and know it'd be fine for the summer, but he'd bring Yeats to get you through the winter.


update: edited to fix a couple of things

Wednesday, January 19, 2005

Nonsense

The dolphin is a fancy fish,
but it has no use or porpoise.
Every one I've ever known
just lived from fin to orifice.


A slightly different version than I posted in this Unaboard thread.

Font Funk

You know, I'm not real happy with the minimal selection of fonts that Blogger provides. I've been mostly going with Arial with the occasional lapse, through carelessness, into Times New Roman which seems to be the default setting. I guess that one way around the problem is to write every post in my preferred writing tool, an open source program called OpenOffice. With OpenOffice, for work I intend to print out to get an idea of how stands up on the page, I generally use Verdana, but I find that on the screen it seems clumsy, sprawling, even strangely aggressive to the eye. For the same reason, I'm sure you will never find me using Courier New here. How about Calisto MT, Lucida Console or Tahoma, you ask? No. No. No.

I've written the majority of this post in a font called Abadi MT Condensed Light which seems to have the clean look I want, though I wonder if, in the end, it is not too crowded, too cramped to truly satisfy me. I may consider going with News Gothic MT, though again it seems to sprawl a bit. Maybe, to find the best font for this blog, I should talk to someone who has a firm grasp on and a trained eye for font variations and sizes. Someone like Christine Trainor of Hazeltree Press and Paper. Someone who, besides painting the most hauntingly beautiful winter landscapes I've had the pleasure to stare into (sadly, that link [the images are clickable] is unable to show their full power), has an extensive and expert background in bookbinding, papermaking, printmaking and letterpress.

I think that, whether or not we are always conscious of it, the right font adds an important dimension to our reading experiences. And, of course, the wrong font can detract significantly from those experiences.


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Oops

Sorry folks. I lost the few comments that had been made on posts when I installed Haloscan commenting and trackback tonight.

Tuesday, January 18, 2005

The Slow Sky Shuts

The title of this entry is from the last line of the fifth poem in John Thompson's book of ghazals, Stilt Jack, as the poem appears in John Thompson, collected poems and translations (edited by Peter Sanger), published by Goose Lane Editons (1995). The poem itself

Don't talk to me of trifles; I feel the dirt in these:
what brightens when the eye falls, goes cold.

I have so many empty beer bottles, I'll be rich:
I don't know what I'd rather be: the Great Bear, or stone.

I feel you rocking in the dark, dreaming also
of branches, birds, fire and green wood.

Sudden rain is sweet and cold. What darkens
those winds we don't understand?

Let's leave the earth to be; I'm asleep.
The slow sky shuts. Heaven goes on without us.

I'm not going to try to dissect or deconstruct this poem. I'm not going to go on a long ramble about ghazals, a form I'm partial to when it's kept tight (as Thompson kept this one tight). I'll leave the ramble to the link above. I'm not going to talk about Thompson's career, or tragic (some would say pitiful) end — if you buy the book, its introduction covers that.

I'm not going to talk about the disillusionment, distrust and loneliness I find seeping out of the poem above, nor the extreme and perfect dichotomy between the Great Bear and stone, nor about the poem's tenderness, its confusion, nor its final grasp at stoicism.

So what am I going to talk about? Well, one of the things I want to cover in this blog is poetry that has affected me, influenced me. And Thompson's poetry has done that. I first read his work in the late '80s, and felt an immediate and deep connection to it. The connection remains, perhaps deeper than ever. Thompson is one of the poets I return and return to, never feeling that I've fully digested him or that his poems have lost their salt sting.

Thompson's work was my first brush up against the ghazal form. My first attempts to use it, to fit it to my own hand, were deformed and miserable and are now long gone into a dark landfill of unrecyclable [ugly word] crap. Ten or more years later, after having left the form to its own devices in whatever strange basement corner of the subconscious such things play in while a writer matures a little, I found that, whether I was ready for it or not, the ghazal was what I needed as the form for a sequence of poems which became the core of my first book.

I wanted to put a Thompson poem on here as a tribute to him, and as recognition of how he (among many others) has informed and influenced me as a poet. I chose ghazal V from Stilt Jack not because it was the biggest part of his influence, but because that was where the book opened when I sat down to choose a poem.


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Monday, January 17, 2005

It Ain't The Sirens of Titan....

Sorry, Kurt Vonnegut — I like your stuff and all, mostly — but it never entranced me the way these sounds and sights from the Huygens Atmospheric Structure Instrument (HASI) Titan approach and landing do. (Those links found via Hassenpfeffer.)

"Hey, I'm living in the future," as my friend John Cox can sometimes be heard to say in a surprized tone. And as a person with open-mouthed wonder at the first moon landing as one of my earliest memories (along with an image of my maternal grandmother in her white casket in the livingroom of her West Point, P.E.I. home — a story for another day), John's words fit me as well. I'm very pleased with the profound awe I still feel every time I come across new information about humanity's exploration of space.



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The New and Improved Baseball Cube

It's -5°C and snowing, with the wind at 57km/h out of the NE. Nothing is moving on the roads around here. All kinds of time on my hands. A perfect time, I thought, to revisit The Baseball Cube of Montrealer Gary Cohen, a site I hadn't visited for quite a while because it had become slow and clunky to the point of frustration, which was too bad, because the data available is nearly the equal in breadth and depth of anything on the web.

I say was too bad. Things have changed;
there has been some hard work done on The Baseball Cube lately and, while it's still not particularly beautiful to look at, its functionality has improved. Although the individual player pages can still be somewhat slow to load, the searchable, sortable Stats Machine with batting and pitching stats for every year back to 1903 is a very versatile tool. (For instance, it can be used to look at the past 3 years combined stats for the Blue Jays winter trading mistake.)

You will also find minor league stats, college stats, high school stats, and a comprehensive and searchable history of the MLB draft, as well as information on managers and stadiums.

Whether you're purely a baseball fan, or you have some interest in doing a bit of baseball research of the sabermetric variety, or you are a fantasy baseball player looking for an edge, the Baseball Cube is a useful and enlightening site.


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Sunday, January 16, 2005

Another way to tag team

For commentary on the Louis MacNeice poem in the audiopost below go to Brenda Schmidt's blog. You won't regret it.

The Sunlight on the Garden (a Louis MacNeice poem)

this is an audio post - click to play

StumbleUpon

For me, the StumbleUpon toolbar is better than google. For instance, I found this (needs Flash) just now. It's of absolutely no use to me whatsoever, whereas this Open Source site is something that will never stop giving. I like 'em both.


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Saturday, January 15, 2005

Steroids, Baseball, and American Screams

David Pinto of Baseball Musings has an interesting post on the new MLB/MLBPA agreement on testing for performance enhancers.

Let's take testosterone as an example. It's a banned substance under the CBA (see page 160 of the CBA, page 171 of the PDF). Here's a research paper on the subject of developing a new way of testing for exogenous testosterone use. You see, you can't test for testosterone (T) directly, because we all make testosterone naturally. The standard test looks at the ratio of testosterone to epitestosterone (E). The ratio (T/E) should be about 1.0. The IOC used a cut off of 6.0 for the Los Angeles Olympic games. But, as the paper reports:

The overall incidence of urinary T/E in the general population of healthy males not abusing steroids is <0.8%

In other words, .8% is the upper bound of how many people are going to test positive for testosterone abuse falsely. In other words, if you test 1000 baseball players using this criteria, 8 may come up positive, even if no one is using steroids!

In the comments on the post, someone immediately points out that the policy will probably allow for retests before any results are made public. I sure hope that's the case, and that the players association has taken steps to ensure it. But considering the lack of foresight, as well as the foot-in-mouth disease, foot-shooting syndrome, and the slipshod approach to detail (if not outright dishonesty) that has been displayed by MLB in the past few years, I'd be surprized if the agreement, at least as first presented to the players, had any such safeguard in it. And if it did, I'd suspect it was accidental.

And, really, until someone can point me to a definitive study of what effects, if any, that steroids or other substances actually have on a ballplayer's statistics and, by extension, on the outcome of any games in which he participates, I'm inclined to think that this is just one more witch hunt. One more high horse for railing reactionaries to ride instead of enjoying what's in front of them.


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Fields of Light

A friend linked me to April Gornik's site a while back, and I was immediately enthralled by her virtuosity with light. I sat and stared at her paintings, drawings, and prints for a long, long time wishing I had a larger screen, wishing I could transport myself through the screen to stand in front of one of her works until I collapsed from dehydration and hunger. A melodramatic response? Perhaps, but I don't think so. And I intend to see at least one of these works in person some day in order to fully appreciate the layers that my instant visceral response tells me exists in them.

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Word

I was bouncing around The Word Spy, looking for curious new words and phrases, when it occurred to me that I have never thought about the origin of word. Surprise, surprise — it's been around and active in somewhat similar forms for a long time.

Ah, words. Where would we be without them? Which reminds me, Neal Stephenson's science fiction novel Snow Crash is an entertaining and occasionally thought-provoking riff along the lines of that question. I'll refrain from saying anything more about the book (except that when I first started reading it I thought that naming the main character Hiro Protagonist was somewhat clever but might get old in a hurry. I still get a chuckle from it, though).


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Tag Teams?

I ain't a techie — I might be a geek — and I don't intend to devote a whole lot of space in this blog to tech matters. However, there are some cool things bouncing around the blogosphere as bloggers team up to broaden their readerships. For instance, earlier this evening I was checking out Rob MacD's blog because he's a man of diverse tastes and he had posted a link to a Technorati tags bookmarklet developed by the oddiophile. What it does is allow bloggers to categorize their posts using tags, thus making the content more visible, more easily searchable (you'll also find a Technorati tags search marklet at the oddiophile link).

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Friday, January 14, 2005

He's On the Mac, He's Talking Smack

Has this man seen the light, or joined the dark side? You decide (but first step outside your PC, or your p.c.ness, preferably both). Just one of several strangely satisfying videos Lo-J has put up over at Shizamo in her continuing, noble quest to ninja-fy you.

Yes, today, I'm having another bout of Mac envy. It just doesn't stop, if one friend ain't buying an iBook, others are buying a franchise.

This post brought to you by a PC (98SE), damnit.

The Plowshare

So last night I'm making the long walk home across the bridge, and I'm thinking about Seamus Heaney's poem, A Kite for Michael and Christopher, wondering why that poem is my favourite of his work. I was going write a post about it today, using for a title the line from it that echoes and echoes in me, but of course Loren Webster has already done that.

Instead of opening ground that Loren had covered (his take on the poem is quite similar to mine, anyway), I went looking for audioblogger and recorded the poem itself (you can listen to it in the entry immediately preceding this one).

I'd like to say a few words about these lines
yet the soul at anchor there,
the string that sags and ascends,
weigh like a furrow assumed into the heavens.
Heaney's inverted everything, turned the world upside-down with the words "weigh" and "furrow," because we have to consider all the meanings of those two words — the combined weight of those meanings forces the two words into a wedge, a plow.




update:
I just realised that, in my rush to explain the audio post, I had forgotten to put the title on this entry. I like titles. So I took care of that.

A Kite For Michael and Christopher (a Seamus Heaney poem, as read by me)

this is an audio post - click to play

Thursday, January 13, 2005

Why Salt Melts Ice

General Chemistry Online: FAQ: Solutions: Why does salt melt ice? Or go here if you'd like to read the same answer with more and bigger words, and with equations.

I look at it like this: at 0°C, water and ice in contact with each other have a reciprocal relationship which seeks to maintain a balance; they keep trading molecules back and forth, but the total number of molecules in the exchange remains the same. Adding salt or another substance to the water lessens the number of its molecules in contact with the ice, so ice begins to give up more molecules to maintain the balance — to put it another way, water gets selfish and begins to hang on to what it already has while continuing to take selfishly from ice (kind of like the way America trades with the rest of the world). Result: ice melts and becomes water.

Books

Some books worth I've read in the last few months that I think are worth mentioning:

The Possible Past, Aislinn Hunter (mentioned in my first post) — the best new book of poetry I've laid eyes on in a few years.

Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrel, Susanna Clarke — best new fantasy novel I've read in probably ten years.

Later Novels & other writings, Raymond Chandler — still the best crime fiction out there other than Dashiell Hammett's Red Harvest (and the novels of Jim Thompson, which are damn hard to lay hands on).

The Ax, Donald E. Westlake — twisted little sendup of the effects of downsizing in corporate America..

Flashfire; and Flashback, Westlake writing as Richard Stark — two recent installments in the Parker anti-hero series.

The Path to the Spiders' Nest, Italo Calvino — his first novel, a couple of months in the life of a young boy in Italy during WWII.

Altered Carbon; Broken Angels, Richard Morgan — this British author's first two novels are science fiction in the cyberpunk/noir mode; his explorations and expansions of the genre prove it still has room to grow. I wonder if he can go three-for-three?

Wednesday, January 12, 2005

Shea It Ain't So!

Here's a deal that strikes a little closer to my heart. The Blue Jays traded pitching prospect Adam Peterson to the D'Backs for Shea Hillenbrand. Apparently Hillenbrand is eligible for arbitration and will probably make somewhere around $4,000,000 US in 05. It seems the Jays intend to use him mostly at DH. The amount of money and the planned usage don't make him seem like a good deal to me. His career AVG/OBP/SLG are .288/.322/.448 for an OPS+ of 98; plus he makes outs in 71% of his plate appearances. All in all, a below average player.

This is a deal the Jays will regret.

For comparison, Richard Hidalgo, whom I mentioned in the previous entry as a good deal for the Texas Rangers, will make $5,000,000 US in 05. Hidalgo's career AVG/OBP/SLG are .273/.350/.497 for an OPS+ of 114; he makes outs in 68% of his plate appearances and hits for significantly more power than Hillenbrand. An above average player.

Makes me wonder if Jays GM J.P. Ricciardi even considered going after Hidalgo. And if not, why not?

Richard Hidalgo

What do we know about Richard Hidalgo? And what can it tell us about how he'll do as a Texas Ranger?

Well, his career has been consistently inconsistent in almost every respect. The big exception is his GB/FB ratio, which has never been greater than .79 since he became a regular in 1999. For his career Hidalgo has a ratio of .73. I don't know the exact groundball/flyball breakdowns for The Ball Park at Arlington, but I do know that it is a hitters' park conducive to doubles and homeruns. Given Hidalgo's propensity for hitting flyballs and the lineup he'll be hitting in, I feel pretty safe in saying that I think he'll do well as a Ranger. And that by the end of the '05 season, there's a good chance that he'll be seen as the bargain of the winter. If he stays healthy.

All-Baseball.com

Rich's BEAT and Dodger Thoughts are the must-reads at this site. Transaction Guy is a useful record (with sometimes humorous comments) of signings, trades etc.

bp

Hopefully, this first post — for divergent reasons — will have more in common with batting practise than with either Baseball Prospectus or the works of Canadian poet(?) bpNichol.

With Randy Johnson and Carlos Beltran starting the timers on their respective New York minutes this week, it looks like the Hot Stove season has begun to cool off. The only major remaining free agents worthy of more than a two year deal are Carlos Delgado and Magglio Ordonez, both of whom seem content to be wooed and wed slowly. So we may not know until February where they will be swinging their bats in 2005.

So I'm going to say a few words about Aislinn Hunter's The Possible Past, which just might be the best book of Canadian poetry to appear since Anne Carson's Glass, Irony and God.

What do I like about The Possible Past?

Just the intelligence and precision, the ease and grace of the language, the apparent effortlessness of the poems which disguises how much thought, work, and craft was put into their forms and structures. Lines like this
I hang roses from the rafters, it's what I do.
        Rehearse each petal's falling.
A lovely math, a symmetry, infuses this book, beginning immediately with the first poem, 'Attempts to Know the Past.' The sequence 'Barriers, in Six Parts' is amazing in its inexorable progression, its building, pacing, and restless, pacing observations of language and its difficulties.

I often find myself afraid to open a new book of poetry and begin reading — what if I don't like it? But when I do pry a book open and it marks me ... well, there are poets and/or poems — Heaney, Mandelstam, Rilke, Dickinson, Neruda, Lorca, Hughes (and Christopher Logue's versions of The Iliad) — whom I have been unable to stop myself from pushing at people and saying, "You gotta read this. You gotta hear this!" The Possible Past does that to me. It's quite a fusion of intellect, philosophy, and emotion.