Saturday, August 30, 2003


Michael Lewis is another author whose new releases I eagerly await. His latest, Moneyball, did not disappoint. It's the story of the Oakland A's, and how they've managed to stay competitive despite one of baseball's lowest payrolls. Billy Beane, the general manager, was a hot high school prospect who turned into a great baseball bust. As an executive, he's searching for a way to evaluate players that will avoid wasting money on players like him.

He and his cohorts have reduced baseball down to a science. Not only do they pick out good players based on statistics (rather than who "looks like a baseball player" -- there's a funny scene where some old scouts discuss a player's butt), but they have figure out which statistics matter. For example, stolen bases "look good", but getting caught stealing is one of the most damaging things that can happen. Walks, on the other hand, are a much undervalued commodity for hitters.

I'm not a huge baseball fan, but I really appreciated the idea that some people are trying to bring careful analysis to a superstition-riddled environment. I wonder how it would do with something more important -- like, say, football. I suspect smaller sample sizes and the more team-oriented nature of the game would make such an analysis impossible. On the other hand, lots of the analyses cited in Moneyball were counter-intuitive, so who knows...

Lewis comes across as a complete Beane and A's partisan in this book -- it's not the most objective work. I have a long-standing prejudice against the A's from the days the obnoxious Bash Brothers competed against my Twins. (Science is never going to come to fandom.) But since finishing this book last week, I've been checking the baseball standings and rooting, just a little bit, for the As.

5 out of 5 stars.

Friday, August 29, 2003

A Brief History of Nearly Everything

I recently finished A Brief History of Nearly Everything by Bill Bryson. I have mentioned before reading Bill Bryson books. He's one of the authors I make sure to read whatever new he has out. Usually, that's been some sort of entertaining travel writing (or perhaps something on language). His current book is a departure from that, which can be a dangerous thing. You don't necessarily want to see a travel writer thinking, "Hey, how hard could it be to write about science?"

As it turns out, Bryson does a pretty good job in the science popularization biz. About twenty years ago, I used to read Asimov's science popularization. It's interesting to see what's changed in the science world in the past twenty years (or more, since the Asimov anthologies tended to be dated). Also, as someone without a science background, Bryson takes a little different perspective. Fortuantely, he sticks to his strengths of finding interesting stories about the unusual personalities that the history of science has produced.

I only have two main complaints with the book. The first is the organization. It seems intended to take you from the formation of the universe up to the dawn of humanity. Somewhere in between, though, you find yourself reading about plate tectonics, entertained, but wondering where Bryson is going with all this. The second is that Bryson has a tendency to rely on secondary sources. Some things clearly get muddled along the line.

4 out of 5 stars.

Thursday, August 28, 2003

Summer in Minnesota

Last spring, I posted pictures I took at a stoplight in Minnesota. Yesterday, I took some more pictures at that same stoplight.

This time, Christina's driving. In the background, you can see the parking lot where the police takedown took place.

The following picture can be compared with this shot from winter.


I'm #20!

My recent trivia playing while traveling has moved me up to the No. 20 slot on the Santa Fe Cafe's NTN rankings. Christina and I went a couple of times at the Park Tavern Bloomington, where I wouldn't even make No. 50. It's a tough place. Still, I somehow won Sports IQ. We left that evening with three free drink coupons and a free appetizer coupon, bringing my haul to 5 drinks and 1 appetizer in two
nights that they've been giving stuff away. They're good for a year, so I intend to have quite the evening before they expire. Christina won 1 of the drink coupons, I picked up a drink and an appetizer for winning Sports IQ, and I got another drink coupon for "winning" a horse-racing thing they had. (They give everybody chips with numbers, play a videotaped horse race, and give you a drink if your horse wins.)

If a Tree Falls While We're Flying Home, Does Anybody Hear It?

We just got back from Minnesota. (Small number of pictures to follow.) We only were delayed about an hour, by storms in Baltimore. The captain went on about how we could take off, except the government wouldn't let us. Darn government. I don't know whether he blamed some cloud-seeding project, or the air traffic controllers for not letting all the planes fly into the storm at the same time.

When we came home, we found evidence that the storms had been serious, in the form of our next door neighbor's front yard...


Monday, August 25, 2003

Hail to the Redskins

OK, we got the season tickets. And we enjoy them. Well, we did for the first preseason game. For the second preseason game, there was such a dearth of people wanting to go that we ended up with Ben's parents' tickets on the 50-yard-line. (Well, maybe the 45.) Ben had club-level seats for the game, but he came down and joined us for the second half.

I took the digital camera along, and we ended up with some pictures to share.

"Honey, do we really have to go back to our seats up there for the season opener?"

A little pre-game entertainment...

Christina in her Champ Bailey jersey...

While some of us are partial to Fred Smoot...

The Redskins take the field...

Ground level view of the Redskin victory...

All in all fun, and I was glad to see them win, but I'll be glad when the real thing rolls around.