Archive for the 'books' Category

14
Oct
08

On tying ties

When I was in high school, I had a mental block about tying ties. My dad was really good at it, so instead of putting forth effort myself to learn how to do it, I just had my dad tie my ties and then I kept them in my closet pre-tied. At some point during college, I had either gotten a new tie or I had accidentally untied one of my pre-tied ties while taking it off and I found myself needing to tie a tie myself. Naturally, I did a quick web search to see if there was anything online about tying ties. What I found is really interesting and has helped me a lot over the years, so I thought I would share it with you. Continue reading ‘On tying ties’

04
Jul
08

A question

Why is it that reading the encyclopedia was regarded as really dorky when I was growing up but browsing Wikipedia is now cool?  Maybe it’s because, when I was growing up, I spent my time with “normal” people and now I mostly spend my time with dorks (no disrespect to my current friends/colleagues intended).

12
Jan
07

The computers of Middle-Earth

This post will pretty much out me as a huge nerd, though I’m guessing that all my previous posts have probably taken care of that already.

Yesterday, I registered my fourth static IP address and hostname with MIT. I needed a fourth because I now have 3 computers and a Wii at home, all of which access the network using static IP addresses. Yesterday’s new hostname also marked the third The Lord of the Rings-related hostname I’ve registered. The hostnames I’ve chosen are as follows (in chronological order):

  1. rechner“: I chose this in the fall of 2003 when Heather and I got our then-new home desktop machine. It has nothing to do with Tolkien because I wasn’t into The Lord of the Rings at that point. Anyway, it simply means “computer” in German, which I think is pretty appropriate for a machine we use for general computing.
  2. imladris“: This is the machine that hosts this blog. Imladris is the Elvish (Sindarin) name for a refuge and home for the Elves in Middle-Earth, more commonly known as Rivendell. I chose this name because this machine would be my online home, hosting my family’s photo galleries and my blog. Also, I chose Imladris instead of Rivendell, because Rivendell was already taken… (Update: Imladris no longer hosts this blog. In fact, Imladris has been retired.)
  3. ainulindale“: I honestly have no idea how to pronounce this. This is the Elvish (Quenya) word for the song sung by Iluvatar and the Ainur that created the world, which is discussed in The Silmarillion, rather than any of the Lord of the Rings books. I chose this for my Apple AirPort Express, which I bought to stream iTunes music from my computer to my stereo. I have since retired my AirPort Express due to the unreliable nature of our building’s wireless network and its inability to stream audio sources other than iTunes. It has since been replaced by a Griffin RocketFM. When I got my Wii, I used this hostname for it, which is still somewhat appropriate given the ethereal music that plays on the Wii menu.
  4. orthanc“: This is the Elvish (Sindarin) word for the tower at Isengard, where Saruman lived. I chose this name because the corresponding computer is a black tower, just like Orthanc. I also considered the name “palantir” or “palantiri”, which are the so-called “seeing stones” in The Lord of the Rings, since it will be used for recording television, which itself means “far sight”. However, I haven’t fully decided if the long-term purpose of this machine will be for running Linux and MythTV or whether I will convert it to a Windows Home Server machine when that comes out. So, I thought it would be better to name it according to its appearance rather than its function.

Owning a copy of Robert Foster’s The Complete Guide to Middle-Earth helped immensely with the choosing of these names. Not only that, if you’re interested in reading any work by Tolkien, I would recommend having a copy of this book next to you at all times, so you can look up unfamiliar terms as you read. It will help you get a lot more out of his books than you would get without it.

Finally, lest you think I’m really strange, I would like to point out that lots of people choose names from literature (or other realms of knowledge) to name their computers. For example, my advisor has a policy of naming all the computers in his research group after characters from Dickens novels.

30
Oct
06

Fantasy Camp?! His whole life is a fantasy camp!

Yes, I’m a Seinfeld fan. Therefore I find it necessary to reference the quote(s) related to whatever topic is at hand. Right now, the topic at hand is Fantasy Camp.

I’m in the middle of reading Fantasy Camp: Living the Dream with Maz and the ’60 Bucs by Jim O’Brien, a sportswriter based in the South Hills of Pittsburgh. This book relates some of his experiences while he attended the Pirates’ Fantasy Camp in Bradenton, Florida in January of 2005, where many of the players in attendance were members of the 1960 World Champion team (plus Steve Blass of the 1979 World Series champion team). While the book is titled Fantasy Camp and it does relate some stories about the 2005 Pirates’ Fantasy Camp, it is primarily about the characters who took part in the fantasy camp. It paints a picture of the personalities that made up the 1960 Pirates team and it gives the players a chance to talk about their experiences over the 40+ years since they won the World Series. One of the most interesting things that I’ve found from reading the book is how many people associated with the Pirates live or lived in Upper St. Clair, which is where I went to high school. I knew there were some Steelers affiliates (Myron Cope used to live down the hill from our house and Chuck Noll probably only lived like a mile from our house), but I hadn’t realized that so many former Pirates live there. These include Steve Blass (won two games for the Pirates in the 1979 World Series), Kent Tekulve (I went to school with his son), Lanny Fratarre (long-time Pirates broadcaster – apparently no longer lives in USC), Grant Jackson, and some others, I think.

In addition to the Upper St. Clair connection, I have found that I have a geographical connection with some ex-Pirates based on where I lived during college: Webster Hall in Oakland.  It turns out that a number of Pirates lived in Webster Hall during the 1960’s. Since, during that era, the Pirates played at Forbes Field in Oakland, Webster Hall would have been a convenient place to live. In fact, it is no more than 3 blocks from Webster Hall to the site of Forbes Field. Talk about an easy commute! By the time I moved in, I’m pretty sure there weren’t any Pirates still living there, but I find it neat to think that I lived in the same building as many former Pirates.

Anyway, it’s interesting to read a book about a local sports team and hear about the players’ everyday lives and how they could easily intersect with your own – like Steve Blass looking after his grandson at the children’s play place at South Hills Village Mall. I could bump into a guy who contributed greatly to the Pirates World Series victory while I’m out shopping for underwear! That’s pretty wild.

A final side-note: if we’re talking about people who have been in the World Series and are affiliated with Upper St. Clair, we need to mention Sean Casey, who went to Upper St. Clair High School, graduating in 1992. He played most of his career in the Major Leagues with the Cincinnati Reds, but began this season with the Pirates. Just before the trade deadline, he was sent to the Tigers, managed by Jim Leyland, the former Pirates manager who led the Bucs to 3 straight division titles in the early 1990s. Anyway, Sean Casey came up big for the Tigers during the World Series, hitting 2 home runs and a few doubles. Unfortunately, the wretched St. Louis Cardinals won. With the way they played, the Tigers didn’t deserve to win, but still, who wants to see the Cardinals win?

I’m only about 150 pages into the book and it weighs in at a little over 500 pages, so I still have quite a bit of reading ahead of me. When I’m done, I’ll post my concluding thoughts on the book.

13
Oct
06

Happy Birthday To Me

Some of you may know that I just had a birthday.  It was a good time – my parents were in town and we had a good time together.  I also got some cool presents, including the official Pirates away jersey, Fantasy Camp by Jim O’Brien (about going to Pirates Fantasy Camp in Bradenton with members of the 1960 Pirates), and The New Tetris for my N64.

Now that things have settled down a little, I hope to begin blogging again with increased frequency.  This will require that I don’t spend the entirety of my evenings watching baseball and playing The New Tetris

Oh, and I finally cut my hair again for the first time since June.

pirates_jersey.jpg
10
Sep
06

The Official Rules of Baseball

Last week I finished reading The Official Rules of Baseball: An Anecdotal Look at the Rules of Baseball and How They Came To Be by David Nemec. While the book is very interesting, the level of detail and the amount of time spent on subtle, seldom-invoked rules probably make it too esoteric for the casual fan. However, for students of the game – those interested in better understanding the infield-fly rule or other widely-misunderstood concepts – it is ideal.

The book basically follows the structure of Major League Baseball’s Official Rules document, with chapters titled Objectives of the Game, Definitions of Terms, Game Preliminaries, Starting and Ending a Game, Putting the Ball in Play, The Batter, The Runner, The Pitcher, The Umpire, and The Official Scorer, respectively. In a narrow column on the left side of each page, the relevant text from the official rules is included. On the right, a description, often accompanied by an anecdote describing the rule’s evolution or a noteworthy instance in which the rule came into play, is included. This layout is logical but because the rules are not meant to read like a book, the result is that this book reads more like a collection of brief articles than a cohesive whole.

Because the book deals with the same concepts repeatedly, the author tries to add some variety by using different words for the same concepts. This is a common practice in sports writing, where authors use words like “dinger” or “tater” as a substitute for “home run”. However, I found the author’s efforts to avoid repetition somewhat annoying.

Despite the book’s shortcomings, I found myself mesmerized. It is thoroughly researched and presents many highly interesting examples of obscure rules making a huge difference in important games. In addition, it paints a picture of baseball as it was originally: gritty and rough around the edges. In the early years of the game, all sorts of trickery was employed by managers and players in order to gain a competitive advantage. Many of today’s seemingly inexplicable rules were written in order to explicitly forbid the most prevalent or most philosophically objectionable of those tricks.

If you consider yourself a student of the game and you’re interested in understanding many of the game’s most subtle and confusing aspects, this is a great resource. It certainly has some shortcomings, but overall it is a very interesting book.

Other books that I can recommend to those with a keen interest in baseball include The Numbers Game by Alan Schwarz and Curve Ball by Jim Albert and Jay Bennett.

Having completed this book, I have moved on to another. This time, I’m leaving baseball behind and have started reading a photography book, so I’m prepared to take pictures when my Pentax K1000 arrives. I checked out two books on Tuesday, I think, and I’ve already finished the first: Understanding Exposure by Bryan Peterson. Today I’ll be starting on the second: Learning to See Creatively: Design, Color & Composition in Photography, also by Bryan Peterson.

03
Sep
06

A baseball game I wish I had experienced (from a distance)

When the same thing comes up in two distinct contexts it’s often worth taking notice. Today, I happened upon references to one particular 1974 baseball game in two different places. This game sounds like it would have been an experience to behold, so I thought I should write about it. Let me explain how this unfolded.

Heather has a Cleveland Indians shirt that she got for signing up for a credit card while attending a game at Jacob’s Field in Cleveland 5 or 6 years ago. The Indians’ mascot is printed on the back of the shirt and Elizabeth was asking us today what the mascot’s name is. We didn’t know, so I looked to Wikipedia for an answer. On the Cleveland Indians’ Wikipedia page I found a reference to a game known as “Ten Cent Beer Night”, which was described by the author as “ill-conceived”. This was interesting, but I still had not found the name of the Indians’ mascot, so, prompted by urgent pleas from Elizabeth I searched further, leaving any exploration of “Ten Cent Beer Night” for another time.

Tonight, I was reading The Official Rules of Baseball: An Anecdotal Look at the Rules of Baseball and How They Came To Be. One section describes the various responsibilities a home team has and how the failure to fulfill those responsibilities can lead to the home team’s forfeiture of the game. One of the responsibilities of the home team is to provide an adequate police presence to enforce order during the game. If the fans become unruly and venture onto the field, the visiting team can refuse to play. At this point, the home team and the police have at most 15 minutes to restore order or they forfeit the game. As an example of a game in which fan unruliness led to the home team’s forfeiture, the author describes “Ten Cent Beer Night” – the 2nd reference today to this game that happened more than 30 years ago. I figured this time I should look into it.

While the book provides some information on the event, I turned again to Wikipedia for more details. It turns out that there is a Wikipedia article dedicated just to this game. You can read it for yourself here. You should really read it. After you’ve read that, you can follow the link to the article on Disco Demolition Night – another game that ended in the home team’s forced forfeiture due to fan unruliness. There have been some crazy games in the history of baseball but I think these two rank right up there at the top.

29
Aug
06

Pirates walk off with victory

People who talk about baseball are fond of saying that good teams are able to take advantages of mistakes made by the other team. This was true tonight at PNC Park where the Cubs botched 3 potential double plays, including a potential game-ending double play.

After having gone scoreless for 4 innings, the Pirates scored 3 runs in the 5th, 1 in the 6th and 1 in the 7th. With the game tied 5-5 at the end of regulation, the game went to extra innings. In the 11th, Matt Capps walked two and gave up a run on a single by Derrek Lee. This put the Pirates in a pressure situation, needing a run to stay alive. In the bottom of the inning, Ronnie Paulino grounded out to start things off. Humberto Cota then singled on a high chopper that bounced off the glove of Aramis Ramirez and headed into foul territory. He could have made it to second but played it conservatively, sticking at first. Ian Snell came in to pinch run for Cota. With one out and a runner at 1st, Castillo singled up the middle into center field, where weak-throwing Juan Pierre was unable to prevent Snell from advancing to 3rd. This left runners at 1st and 3rd. In the next at bat, Joe Randa hit what appeared to be a routine double play ball. However, 2nd baseman Freddie Bynum missed the throw from the shortstop and the ball rolled into right field, allowing Snell to score from 3rd. What looked like a game-ending double play turned into the tying run for the Pirates. Castillo advanced to 3rd on the error, leaving runners on 1st and 3rd with still only 1 out. Next, Dusty Baker opted to walk Chris Duffy to load the bases and create the force-out possibility at home. However, this move backfired when Ryan Dempster walked Jose Bautista, forcing in the winning run.

The game looked like it would be added to the long list of Pirates one-run losses this season, but through the inability of the Cubs to turn the double play, it was added to the Pirates’ growing list of one-run victories.

You’ve got to love the walk-off walk. I’ve never seen a walk-off walk live, as far as I can remember. However, I have seen a walk-off throwing error. In June of 2004, I saw the Pirates beat the Cardinals as part of 10 or 11 game win streak. In this particular game, Jack Wilson had hit what was surely a double and he was trying to stretch it into a triple. Pujols took the relay from the outfield and should have had plenty of time to get Wilson before he reached third, but his throw to third was off the mark and went out of play and into the tunnel connecting to the dugout. Wilson made it home on the throwing error to win the game.

My friend Dan has seen a walk-off balk live. He said it is possibly the most anti-climactic ways for a game to end. At least with a walk-off walk, you’re watching the count. The count gets to 3 balls and you’re thinking, “If the pitcher doesn’t throw a strike here…” But with the walk-off balk, it comes out of the blue. He could do it on a 0-0 count.

There are all kinds of crazy plays in baseball, which is one of the reasons that I love it. On any given day you could be watching and see a play that you would never have imagined could happen. This unpredictability and the interplay it has had with the official rules is one of the reasons I’m excited to read The Official Rules of Baseball: An Anecdotal Look at the Rules of Baseball and How They Came To Be by David Nemec. I mentioned that I would be reading this book after I finished the book I was reading about the Pirates. I finished it today, and, as luck would have it, I received my next book in the mail today. So, I’m all set. Maybe I’ll write about the Pirates book again. It was really interesting and definitely recommended reading for the Pirates fan who is interested in learning more about the club.

21
Aug
06

The Pittsburgh Pirates: An Illlustrated History

Those of you who knew me well in high school may remember me as someone who doesn’t really read books. I wasn’t so much into the book reading while in college, either (other than textbooks and those given as assignments). I’m not sure what changed, but during grad school I got into reading. I think I may have gotten my start with The Lord of the Rings while A) I should have been studying for my oral qualifying exam and 2) Heather was pregnant and went to bed at like 8pm every night. Anyway, I’ve read a number of interesting books over the last couple of years including, but not limited to The Ragamuffin Gospel by Brennan Manning (highly recommended) and The Numbers Game by Alan Schwarz (also highly recommended but for different reasons).

Right now I’m reading The Pittsburgh Pirates: An Illustrated History by Bob Smizik. It’s an excellent introduction to the history of the Pittsburgh Pirates for people who maybe grew up as Pirates fans and heard names being thrown around but never really knew who these people were and why they were important. It covers Honus Wagner, Pie Traynor, Paul and Lloyd Waner, Ralph Kiner and others as it recounts the history of a very fine ballclub. I would highly recommend it to anyone who would like to know more about the Pirates. Especially at a time when it is difficult to be a Pirates fan, it is refreshing to read this book and connect with the distinguished history of the team.

On Deck: The official rules of baseball: An anecdotal look at the rules of baseball and how they came to be by David Nemec. I just ordered this book and I look forward to reading it once I’m finished with the Pirates book. When I’m finished with that, I may read Bucs: The Story of the Pittsburgh Pirates by John McCollister. This book was published in 2002, whereas the book I’m reading now was published in 1991, before the Pirates took another turn for the worse.

25
Jul
06

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.




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