Archive for October, 2007


Pumpkin is done

I spent this evening working on the details in the face and scraping out the inside some more so that more light would shine through. Here’s a picture of the end product:


I’m not really sure why the colors look so bad. I’m guessing it’s a white balance issue. Anyway, even if the picture doesn’t look that great, I’m really happy with the way the pumpkin turned out.


Wii Heads-up

If any of you are looking for a Wii, be advised that they will reportedly be available on Amazon at 10AM Pacific time tomorrow (Oct. 31st). Now is probably the time to try to get one, since demand will only get worse between now and Christmas and Nintendo has already stated that they expect to not be able to meet holiday demand.


A Halloween Project

We’ve had 2 pumpkins in our apartment for a couple of weeks now and they’re begging to be carved.  With Halloween coming up in 2 days, I thought that I better get cracking (or, carving…).  Anyway, after watching lots of postseason baseball and not getting too excited about the Red Sox, the fact that the Pirates are “my team” was confirmed again.  So, I decided to carve a pumpkin with the Pirates’ logo on it.  Here’s how I did it:

  1. I got out my Pirates hoodie (with a nice, embroidered logo) and photographed the logo:


  2. I opened up the GIMP and applied a Gaussian blur to make the colors a little more uniform, then I posterized the image to get just white, black, red and yellow (plus a little residual junk):


  3. I printed out the image and cut out the details in the face so I could use it as a template on the pumpkin:


    Seen here taped to a little curtain thing we have.

  4. I taped the template to the pumpkin and, using a permanent marker, marked in black all the stuff I was going to carve away.  I still have a lot of work ahead of me, but I’m pretty happy with it so far.


When I get it all done (hopefully before Wednesday night), I’ll post a picture of it all lit up.  I hope it’ll look decent.  I may wind up needing a giant lightbulb to put inside it in order for a decent amount of light to shine through.  We’ll see.  Anyway, it’s been awhile since I’ve worked on a project that involved using my hands in ways other than pressing keys on a keyboard, so I’ve had a good time with this.


I’m back.

So, I haven’t posted in a while.  You can blame that on postseason baseball.  You might be surprised to find that my reaction to the Red Sox winning the World Series was “meh”.  I was rooting for the Indians to beat the Red Sox.  Then, when the Indians lost, I was rooting for the Rockies.  Here’s why:

  1. I like to root for the underdog.  The Red Sox have been favorites since the beginning, at least in the Boston media.  Hence, I wasn’t that interested in rooting for them.
  2. I hate the sense of entitlement that surrounds some teams.  This is one of the primary reasons I dislike the Yankees.  With all the success the Red Sox have had recently, I found more and more of this sense of entitlement creeping into coverage of the Red Sox.  This turned me off big time.
  3. I disliked the arrogance of the coverage here relating to the Red Sox.  People acted as though beating the Indians was a trivial formality.  Obviously, the Red Sox won, but not before finding themselves in the hole 3 games to 1.
  4. I guess my interest in the Pirates has made me resonate more with small market, low payroll teams.  So, I just find it harder to get excited about teams who have a huge payroll.

The end of an era

I’m thinking about quitting eMusic.  I’m tired of having to find music each month to download and I’m tired of having to keep track of which day my month’s songs will expire so they don’t go to waste.  They’re definitely still the best deal in town but the selection isn’t fantastic and, with the launch of Amazon’s new MP3 download store, I can get reasonably priced, high quality, DRM-free tracks elsewhere without a subscription.

Right now I have 50 downloads to use on eMusic.  I’m thinking that after I use those up I’m going to quit and use the money I would have paid to eMusic to pay for the online backup service Mozy.

Anyway, this is where you come in.  How should I use my final 50 downloads?


Another year begins

Monday was my 29th birthday.  I may have mentioned this last year, but I’m definitely getting outside the realm of plausible deniability when it comes to my status as an adult.  Actually, I think this year’s birthday was less traumatic than last year because I’ve become more comfortable with being an adult and I’ve started to appreciate some of the perks.  Maybe it was also made better by a heartfelt birthday wish I got from a friend:


Ok, actually, that’s just the greeting I got when I started playing Brain Age for the Nintendo DS – a birthday gift from my wife.  It didn’t help me feel any better about my birthday when it turned out that my “brain age” was calculated to be 66, based on my wretched performance on some of the tests.  My only solace is that when I last played Wii Sports, my “fitness age” was in the low 20’s.  If my body is so much fitter than my brain, maybe being a graduate student isn’t a great occupation for me…

As the final present of my birthday, I was glad to see the Yankees lose to the Cleveland Indians, ending the Yankees’ hopes of advancing in the postseason.  I guess I just have a real problem with fans and organizations that have such a pervasive sense of entitlement.  Of course, they probably don’t see it so much as a sense of entitlement, but rather as a sense of getting their money’s worth.  Either way, it’s satisfying to see Goliath fall.  Nice job, Cleveland.


The Real Super Mario Bros. 2

Last week Nintendo released a couple of games for the Wii Virtual Console that had been only available in Japan when the games were originally released. Among these Japan-only titles is what could be called the “real” Super Mario Bros. 2. According to the Wikipedia pages on the subject, Nintendo decided not to release the Japanese version of Super Mario Bros. 2 in the US because it was extremely difficult and very similar to the original. Rather, Nintendo took a different game they had been developing for release in Japan, replaced its characters with Mario, Luigi, Toad, and Peach, and released that game as Super Mario Bros. 2 in the US. This was a bit of a controversial move on Nintendo’s part and the US version of Super Mario Bros. 2 has never been fully accepted by fans as the proper successor to Super Mario Bros.


The release of the Japanese version of Super Mario Bros. 2 on the Wii Virtual Console makes it easy for enthusiasts to satisfy their curiosity and see what the controversy was all about. I downloaded the game today and, as a result of an hour or two of playing, I can verify that it is both very similar to the original Super Mario Bros. and very difficult. As an example of the difficulty, let me present an exhibit:


Observe that I am in world 3-1 yet I am being presented with a warp to level 1. I went down a pipe, came back up a pipe, proceeded to the right and found myself in this situation with no escape except for the little hole on the left there. So, my choice was to either warp back to world 1-1 or die and start level 3-1 again. I wasn’t too pleased.

As an example of the similarity, take a look at the screen shots. Or, recall the bug in Super Mario Bros. that allowed Mario to climb up walls by sandwiching himself between a column of bricks and the left side of the screen and then jumping repeatedly. That bug is also present in Super Mario Bros. 2.

Despite its similarity to the original Super Mario Bros. I think this is a must-buy for Nintendo enthusiasts. It occupies a special and interesting place in Nintendo history and it’s a fun and challenging game. If you have a Wii, you can pick it up from the Wii Shop Channel for 600 points ($6). If you don’t have a Wii, you can convince your Wii-owning friend to buy it.



Pirates clean house

This year has been a year of upheaval for the Pirates’ leadership. In January, it was announced that Bob Nutting was replacing Kevin McClatchy as the controlling owner of the ballclub. Furthermore, in July Kevin McClatchy announced that he would step down from his position as CEO of the club at the end of the 2007 season. It’s not clear to me if they are seeking a replacement for this position or if its responsibilities will be shifted to others.

Fast forward to September when the Pirates announced that they had relieved Dave Littlefield of his responsibilities as General Manager. This announcement was followed quickly by the announcement that the Pirates had hired Frank Coonelly as the new President of the Pirates. Just under 2 weeks later, the Pirates announced that they had hired Neal Huntington, formerly of the Cleveland Indians, as the new Pirates’ General Manager. That seems like a lot of changes, right? Well, the Pirates weren’t finished.

On Friday, they announced that they had relieved Jim Tracy of his managerial duties. In addition to Tracy, they also announced that they had fired Brian Graham, senior director of player development, Ed Creech, senior director of scouting, and Jon Mercurio, director of baseball operations.  So, when the 2008 season starts up next spring, almost the entire top leadership of the club will be different than it was this year at the start of the 2007 season.

I’m not really sure what to think about this. If I thought it were definitely going to result in better performance, I’d be all in favor of it. However, I’m not convinced that this will make any difference. This is mostly because the Pirates’ payroll is so far below that of other teams in their division. This year the Pirates payroll was $38.6 million. The next lowest payroll in the NL Central was Cincinnati, with a payroll of $69.7 million, which is almost twice as high as the Pirates’ payroll. It only goes up from there. Milwaukee had a payroll of $72 million, Houston had a payroll of $87.8 million, St. Louis had a payroll of $90.3 million and Chicago had a payroll of $99.9 million. So, the Pirates have a payroll of between 1/2 and 1/3 that of all their competitors.  In order for the Pirates to succeed in that environment at least one of the following conditions must be true:

  1. The Pirates leadership is brilliant and vastly outperforms its opposition in management of the team.
  2. The leadership of all other teams in the division is consistently grossly incompetent.
  3. Key players on all other division rivals have serious injuries, thus greatly reducing the teams’ ability to win.
  4. The Pirates must be very lucky for the entire season.

It seems unlikely to me that any of the above conditions will be true.  So, if you ask me, the Pirates won’t win the division until they bring their payroll in line with other teams in their division.  Some of you may point out examples of teams who were successful with a low payroll.  Let me suggest that those teams’ successes are noteworthy because they are unusual and not to be expected.  Thus, while it is theoretically possible for the Pirates to succeed with a low payroll, in practice it is unlikely that they will see much success as long as there is such a disparity in payroll between them and their division rivals.


October 2007

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