Archive for July, 2006


Pirates win series against Brewers

The Pirates took another victory from the Brewers yesterday afternoon, defeating Milwaukee 8-4. Incredibly, this represents only their 2nd series victory in games played away from PNC Park, the other being their victory against the Giants June 8-11. This game was interesting because it saw the Pirates exorcise some of the demons that had been plaguing them this year. In his wrap of yesterday’s game, Pirates reporter Ed Eagle notes the following difficulties the Pirates have had this year, all of which applied to yesterday’s game:

A 7-27 record in day games.

A 6-28 mark in games when an opponent starts a left-handed pitcher.

A 1-9 record in series-deciding finales.

A 12-40 overall mark on the road.

Generally, when this type of data is presented by sports writers, there is some implication that these past performances have predictive power for the future. To take an example from above, the implication is that the Pirates are predisposed to losing in, say, a series-deciding finale. While there may be some causal behavior at work with the above set of data, I believe that most of it is coincidental. While the Pirates may have some difficulty hitting against lefties, there is no way that that alone can account for such a terrible record against lefties. Generally speaking, teams perform better at home, so I’m inclined to believe that the Pirates’ road struggles may be real, though, again, not to the extent that their record would indicate. However, I do not believe that there is anything real in their record in series-deciding finales or day games. It would be interesting to look at the ERA of the pitchers they faced in these games. It could be that they just had bad luck going up against dominant pitchers in these games. Or, their own pitcher could have melted down in these situations. Coming up with an explanation for this behavior will take more work than I can devote to it this morning, but I’ll be on vacation (in Pittsburgh!) next week, so maybe I’ll take a look at these trends then. Stay tuned.


Countdown to Wii

I admit that I have been out of touch with the world of video games for awhile now. There have been times that I have thought about getting a video game console, but it seemed like it was going to require too much effort to figure out which console to get and what games are worth paying $50+ for. In the past, it seemed like there wasn’t that much to distinguish one console from another.

However, the next generation of gaming consoles is shaping up differently. The PS3 appears to be the ultra high end, including a Blu-Ray player and HD output. The XBox 360 is the middle of the road, including HD output but no HD-DVD or Blu-Ray capability. These two consoles follow the general pattern of the last few years, which is to do exactly what’s been done since PS1, only with better graphics. The controller hasn’t changed significantly, the games haven’t changed significantly. Really only the graphics have changed.

Nintendo, however, has chosen not to jump on the HD bandwagon and has forged their own path with their new system, dubbed “Wii”. Wii’s motion-sensing controller is a radical departure from the dual analog stick controller that has been the norm for the last 5 or more years. It will enable a player to swing the controller while playing a tennis game, instead of simply pressing a button at the right time. This new approach to the controller promises to be a lot of fun, and by most accounts I’ve read, it works well. Another attractive aspect of the Wii is that a large catalog of old Nintendo games will be available for Wii from an online download service for $4.50-$8.99 apiece. Getting these games for the console will be a marked improvement over the emulator + ROM approach of the last 7 or 8 years, which has suffered from control/timing difficulty. Additionally, new Wii games will be cheaper than PS3 or Xbox 360 games and the Wii itself may cost as little as $200, where the PS3 will cost at least $500 and the Xbox 360 $300.

The big question everyone has been asking is, “When can I get my hands on a Wii?” Nintendo has been frustratingly silent on Wii’s release date, but a recent press release has people speculating that Oct. 2 is the magic date. That would be perfect – just in time for my birthday! If people are right and Oct. 2 is the release date, then we have just 68 days to wait!


Pirates’ bats provide fireworks in the 8th to back Snell

Ian Snell demonstrated again tonight why he’s got the lowest ERA of the Pirates’ rotation. He pitched 7 innings, allowing only 1 run on 4 hits, striking out 9 while walking only 1. Though dominant, his dominance was matched by the Brewers’ Ben Sheets, who made his first appearance after a nearly 3-month stint on the DL with shoulder tendonitis. Sheets’ performance was better than the Brewers could have hoped for, as he allowed only one run on 6 hits and struck out 5 without issuing a single walk. Both starters pitched seven solid innings, each allowing just a solo home run.

Sheets’ exit from the game marked the beginning of the end for the Brewers. Dave Bush, who is normally a starter, came in and surrendered a lead-off single to Nate McLouth. Things started to get ugly for the Brewers when Bush’s throw on Jack Wilson’s attempted sacrifice bunt sailed past the first baseman, enabling Wilson to reach second and McLouth to reach 3rd. Bush followed up his throwing error by giving up a single to Freddy Sanchez, scoring both McLouth and Wilson. Bush managed to strike out Jason Bay before giving up another single to Sean Casey. Then, with two aboard, Jeromy Burnitz lofted Bush’s offering over the fence in center to put the score at 6-1. Having already surrendered 5 runs, Bush fortunately secured the last two outs of the inning and put an end to what was a truly ugly performance.

In the bottom of the 8th, the Pirates sent in Salomon Torres, who allowed a single hit but prevented any runs from scoring. The top of the 9th saw Derrick Turnbow pitching for the Brewers. Turnbow, who recently lost his closer role with the Brewers after blowing 4 consecutive saves, made a good case tonight for his reinstatement. He delivered fastballs as fast as 98 MPH and made good use of his breaking pitches. He struck out one and induced a pop-up foul out and a fly out, preventing any baserunners. Not being a save situation for the Pirates, Matt Capps came on in the bottom of the 9th instead of the Pirates’ closer, Mike Gonzalez. Capps made short work of the Brewers, retiring them in order.

The Pirates’ win tonight brings their record to 6-6 after the All-Star Break. It was refreshing to see the Pirates in top form, providing dominant pitching, excellent fielding, and timely hitting. The biggest offensive producer of the night was Jeromy Burnitz, who helped the Pirates’ cause by going 2 for 4 with two home runs and 4 RBIs.


New Pedro the Lion/David Bazan

This demonstrates how out of the loop I am: I hadn’t even known that David Bazan had officially retired the “Pedro the Lion” name until I read a blurb about his new album on eMusic. His new EP, titled “Fewer Moving Parts” is basically 5 songs done in two different versions, once electric with a full band and once acoustic. I haven’t listened to it yet but I might in the future. I used to be a big Pedro the Lion fan, but after awhile, I realized that listening to his music was a depressing experience. So, I more or less stopped listening to it – especially the most recent stuff. This is the same reason I stopped listening to The Magnetic Fields. I appreciate that he is willing to grapple with the tough issues in life, as opposed to most Christian musicians, but I don’t want to be left bereft of hope.

Anyway, the blurb on eMusic contains a quote from what is probably a very interesting book on Christian rock: Body Piercing Saved My Life by Andrew Beaujon. In the book the author describes David Bazan thusly:

“Sort of the house cynic — the guy at work who’s like, “This place sucks” and never gets fired.”

That seems about right. I should check this book out sometime – not that I’m a big fan of Christian rock, per se, but I am interested in how Christian culture interfaces with secular culture and music is one of the most visible interfaces.

Final note: if you are looking for Christian music that is willing to admit that life is not all smiles and sunshine but does not insist on wallowing in the pits of despair, check out Andrew Peterson. I saw him open for Caedmon’s Call in 1997 at Grove City College and I’ve kept track of him ever since. From my perspective, his best albums are Love and Thunder, Behold the Lamb of God (which is a Christmas album with mostly original songs) and The Far Country (his three most recent albums, not including his recent B-sides collection). He is a talented musician and songwriter and his songs will help to connect you to the love that God has for you in the midst of your imperfection and weakness.


Pirates lose 4th straight

After a promising start to the second half of the season, the Pirates have dropped their last four games to bring their second half record to 5-6. Tonight’s loss followed an all-too-familiar pattern:

  1. Give up lots of runs in first few innings
  2. Score lots of runs, but not enough to overcome deficit

This game further accentuates what I have been complaining about all season: we need some decent starting pitching. You can’t expect to have success without a couple of solid starters and we have no solid starters. Ian Snell, with a 4.84 ERA, has the lowest ERA of any of the Pittsburgh starters. Every other starter has an ERA above 5. Here’s an interesting tidbit I gleaned from tonight: Pirates starting pitching has an ERA of 5.46 over 555 innings pitched, which is good for 27th place out of 30. This is why the Pirates are not winning games. In contrast, the Pirates bullpen has a 3.93 ERA over 325 innings, which is good for 9th place in the Majors. The Pirates’ offense is fine, their defense is fine, and even their bullpen is fine. However, if they can’t get some decent starters, we will be forced to endure the recurring nightmare of games lost almost before they have begun, due to our starting pitching.


Beware the VRM

Sometime this spring our research group acquired a rack of Compaq ES40 server machines for free courtesy of MIT’s reuse email list. During the last few months we’ve been working periodically on getting it set up for our purposes. This has included installing Debian GNU/Linux and getting two 30 amp plugs installed in the room where it sits. While this machine is pretty sweet (4 nodes; 4 Alpha processors/node), it does have some shortcomings. Most notably, it is very low on hard drive space: each node has only a 9GB hard drive. To remedy the storage problem, I had been thinking about putting together a fileserver on which we could mount each user’s /home directory over NFS. Toward that end, I recently acquired a Dell GX300 with a Pentium III 800 MHz processor for free from the MIT Equipment Exchange.

Since our “new” fileserver came with only a 15GB hard drive, I bought a new 80GB boot drive and two 160GB hard drives to serve as a RAID1 array. Given that the motherboard supports two processors, I figured I could upgrade the computer on the cheap by adding another processor. This turned out to be a little tricky because I had to make sure that the two processors would work together. The easiest way to do this is to make sure that the so-called sSpec number is the same on both processors. (See this link for useful information on the whole line of Intel processors.)  After locating the sSpec number on the existing processor, I located some other SL4BX processors on eBay and ended up buying one for ~$28. This was not the cheapest SL4BX I found but it was the only one that was guaranteed to have a heatsink compatible with my computer case, so it seemed like the best choice.

This morning, after receiving my new used SL4BX, I installed it only to find that it didn’t work. While both processors work individually, I got a strange error message about a voltage failure when I tried to use both at the same time. So, I consulted the online documentation only to find that, in order to use two processors, an additional component is needed: a voltage regulator module (VRM). I had noticed a strange-looking plug on the motherboard before and wondered what it was for. It’s for the VRM. Back to eBay.

I looked around for quite awhile simply trying to figure out what part I needed. This useful piece of information was conspicuously absent from the Dell online documentation. Gradually, it became clear that I needed Dell part number 7649D, which is apparently identical to part number 11GEF, which is the same as part number 05S2020A-4 from some company named Delta, which apparently made these parts for Dell. I called Dell Spare Parts and the guy confirmed that the part I needed was the 7649D. From looking at photos online I was able to convince myself that the 7649D is the same as the 05S2020A-4 and that the 11GEF is the same as the 05S2020A-4. In any case, after pricing the 7649D and 11GEF, I came to the disheartening conclusion that the VRM was going to cost at least as much as the processor. In fact some used equipment retailers were asking as much as $100 for this part. In the end, I lucked out and found an 11GEF for the “Buy it now” price of $17.95 + $8.60 shipping. Thus, I managed to get the VRM for about $1.50 less than the processor. Despite finding the VRM for a reasonable price, this upgrade turned out to not be as cheap as I had anticipated.

I should have the part on Monday or Tuesday and the moment of truth will present itself. I really hope that everything works, otherwise I will have wasted scarce research funds on a wild goose chase for old computer parts. However, if everything does work, I’ll have a pretty sweet server machine on the cheap: Dual Pentium III 800MHz, 512MB (Rambus) RAM, 80GB boot drive, 160GB RAID1 Array for ~$250. Acknowledgements: MIT Equipment Exchange (base machine), Microcenter (hard drives), eBay (SL4BX, 11GEF).


The future of the Pirates’ roster

The Pirates’ July 29th game against the San Francisco Giants is Sean Casey Bobblehead night. It’s ironic, then, that Sean Casey could be playing for the Giants and not the Pirates that day. As the trade deadline approaches, trade rumors are swirling and one of the rumors that appears most credible is that the Giants are looking to fill a gap at first – with Sean Casey. According to this article, if the Pirates aren’t able or willing to sign Casey to a contract extension before the trade deadline, then he will be traded, likely to the Giants.

While Casey is probably the most prominent Pirate ostensibly on the trading block, he’s certainly not the only one to be discussed in trade rumors. According to this article, the list includes Craig Wilson, Joe Randa, Jeromy Burnitz, Kip Wells, Salomon Torres, and Damaso Marte. I also saw a different article that mentioned that Roberto Hernandez would probably be traded to the Yankees. So, basically, everyone the Pirates signed in the offseason to one-year contracts could be gone by the end of July. Honestly, I wouldn’t be that sad to see any of these guys go, except for Torres, Casey, and, to some extent, Craig Wilson. However, if they traded both Casey and Wilson, it’s not clear to me who would play at first. Ryan Doumit? Jose Hernandez? The Pirates’ depth chart lists Casey, Wilson, and Eldred at first, but Eldred had season-ending surgery a little while ago, so, while they’re probably targeting him as their first baseman for next year, they need someone to play this year.
We’ll have to wait and see what happens, but it’s certain to be an interesting 10 days leading up to the trading deadline.


Pirates break symmetry but keep winning

The day I wrote my last entry, the Pirates lost, thus breaking the symmetry I had pointed out. However, they have won the two games they have played since then, bringing their record to 5-2 since the All-Star Break. Interestingly, in the 7 games prior to the All-Star Break, the Pirates went 2-5, so, while the game-for-game symmetry has been broken, in aggregate, over corresponding periods, the Pirates are still matching pre-All-Star Break losses with post-All-Star Break wins. Let’s hope we see this trend continue. They’ve got another 6 road games against beatable teams (3 more against the Marlins and 3 against the Brewers) before they have another home stand. The first home series is against the Giants, whom they manhandled earlier this season in San Francisco. Given the Pirates’ strong performances against the Brewers (including a 4-game series sweep earlier this season) and Giants, I think we may see the Pirates continue to rack up wins over the next few series.


The Pirates’ record and symmetry

Of the four games the Pirates have played since the All-Star Game, 3 have been victories. Interestingly, two of the three victories have been won by a single run. More interesting, however, is the pattern of wins and losses in the 2nd half compared to the first half.

In my studies thus far I’ve taken a couple of classes on symmetry primarily as it applies to crystallography. This exposure to symmetry has enabled me to recognize it in everyday life as well: like in the Pirates’ record. Take a look at the Pirates’ record in the 4 games before and the 4 games after the All-Star Break:


There is a symmetry operator known as a mirror plane that reflects an object on one side of it to the other side and simultaneously changes the object’s handedness.  This is what a mirror appears to do when you look at it.  If, instead of wins and losses we drew the above diagram labeling handedness instead, we would have:


So, it’s clear that the All-Star Break functions as a mirror plane with respect to the outcome of Pirates’ games.  If the Pirates are able to keep this pattern intact for the rest of the season, they will get a win for every 1st half loss, and a loss for every 1st half win, putting them at .500 for the year.  Let’s hope they can pull it off, though I wouldn’t mind if they broke the symmetry a little and wound up above .500, but that might be too much to ask for.


More recent aquisitions

I went to the MIT Swapfest today and picked up a few pieces of computer hardware:

  • 2 Promise PCI UltraATA 133 Hard Drive Controllers (breaking the 137GB limit!): $10
  • 2 UltraATA ribbon cables: $2
  • 2 Dell 230W power supplies that could replace the power supply in the server hosting this blog: $2.

All in all, I feel like I did pretty well.

File this under desired future acquisitions:

Yesterday, I played a Nintendo DS Lite for the first time. We took a family trip to Target at like 8:30 in the morning, since my daughter had woken us up at 6am. I found myself alone in the electronics department, and was thus free to play the normally mobbed DS Lite. I enjoyed the game (Super Mario whatever) but I didn’t really enjoy holding the device, since it had clearly been gripped by an army of greasy-handed juveniles prior to my arrival. I’ve been wanting a portable gaming device for a while now and the DS Lite seems like the way to go. I can’t decide if I should buy one now or hope to get one for my birthday or Christmas or if I should save my money for the Wii. I’ve been trying to convince my wife that we should get his and hers DS Lites. She seems less than convinced at this point, but I’ll keep working on her…


July 2006

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