April 15th, 2014
|10:15 pm - People who don't like sports movies or Wes Anderson will like Draft Day and Grand Budapest Hotel |
April 12 was the anniversary of the opening of Candlestick Park. People are waxing nostalgic over the old place, which is due for demolition now that the Giants and 49ers have
Saw a couple of outstanding movies at the downtown multiplex last week. "Draft Day" is about the National Football League college draft, and "The Grand Budapest Hotel" is by Wes Anderson, a writer/director who isn't everyone's cup of tea. I think they're both so good that people who don't like sports movies or Wes Anderson movies will be glad they went.
Budapest Hotel is mostly about the hotel's super-competent concierge and the wartime friendship he forms with a lobby boy. There's an art heist, a prison break, a ski chase, and lots of macaroons. It's as quirky and deadpan as Anderson's earlier work, but the personal relationships are deeper than before.
The prison break gave me this hope: The conference rooms in my office are named after prisons (Shawshank and Akzaban, for instance) — Grand Budapest Hotel is in the Shawshank neighborhood of quality, so if the prison had a unique name, I was going to glue it on an office door. Unfortunately, it's named "Checkpoint 19", which is boring, and too close to "Area 19" to be memorable.
One doesn't have to like football to like "Draft Day". I don't like football, but the maneuvering and scheming that goes on during a sports draft makes for a dramatic movie. (How the Phoenix Suns were conned into taking William Bedford on NBA draft day in 1986 will always be a mystery.)
Kevin Costner was the perfect actor to play the beleaguered NFL general manager — he's under fire for *firing his dad*, at odds with the new coach, pressured by a famous player with a son in the draft, and threatened by the owner (who wants a high-profile quarterback or else). If Costner's character in "Bull Durham" were in football, he would've ended up in a place like this.
April 4th, 2014
|12:44 pm - One call that Hall of Fame baseball broadcaster Jon Miller might like to do over|
At the top of a San Francisco Giants radio broadcast, KNBR host Gary Radnich chats with Hall of Fame play-by-play man Jon Miller. Today Radnich said he was tired, so he let the audience phone in questions for the Ford Frick Award winner. I called and asked: "Were there any calls that Miller would like to take back?".
Radnich and co-host Kate Scott said that was a great question (because the others were akin to "What did Miller have for dinner last night?").
Miller's answer: During every game there are one or two that make him think think he could've done that differently or better, but a few especially stuck in his mind. For instance, he was calling an Orioles game, and the Birds trailed 5-1 in the bottom of the 9th. Baltimore scored a run, and got a couple of hits and whatnot. Lee Lacy came up with a couple of men on base, and he hit a shot to right, the kind you knew was gone if it was fair. Miller called "There's a blast to right, it's gone if it stays fair! It's hooking…" Then he thought 'Wait a second. Lacy is right-handed batter, so that ball isn't hooking, it's slicing.' He corrected himself while the ball was in flight: "It's slicing… It's gone!".
Since Lacy's homer was the game-winner in the 9th, it had to be among the highlights Miller replayed during the post-game show. "There's a blast to right, it's gone if it stays fair! It's hooking… it's slicing… it's gone!". What an amazing flight that ball took, he said, hooking then slicing then flying out.
Furthering Miller's embarrassment, the radio station included the call during its promotional spots on the next day.
Y'know, if one were writing the Jon Miller page for the Society for American Baseball Research biography section, one might find a way to draw on that, because otherwise the thing might come off like a Wikipedia knockoff. Who's supposed to be writing that, anyway?
Current Mood: relaxed
March 29th, 2014
|06:30 am - "The $1000 Tan Line: An Original Veronica Mars Mystery" a worthy extension of the VM media culture|
When I was a kid, if your mystery novels starring young detectives sold millions, then you made a movie. These days, the TV series and movies are presented first, and if they do well, then come the books.
"Veronica Mars" the TV series ended in 2007. "Veronica Mars" the movie is still in theaters, while The $1000 Tan Line: An Original Veronica Mars Mystery the book debuted four days ago.
The Veronica Mars juggernaut profited greatly from online technology. I (and probably thousands of other cult members) contributed to the film's Kickstarter — the reward for which included a set of the series DVDs — then saw the film and bought the audiobook on the first day for each.
The critics' biggest knock on The Movie was that it was essentially a two-hour episode of The Series, indecipherable by newcomers, and a reward for cult members, some of whom chipped in enough Kickstarter to get speaking parts. To which the fans replied 'that is what we wanted'.
On the other hand, the book has to work as a book, with hundreds of pages available for backstory and character development, so a new reader can jump in at any time, and be acclimatized. Above all, the book has to provide a story that gives a reason to turn all those pages.
The $1000 Tan Line succeeds as serial installment, and as mystery novel. Authors Rob Thomas (the TV creator) and Jennifer Graham introduce the cast and the settings in careful measure while unraveling a compelling whodunnit. Conveniently, The Novel picks up right where The Movie ends.
Great serial television that gets screwed by the business of television survives handsomely in other media. The "eighth season" of Buffy has gone on in comic book form for years, while Firefly cultists wait on the edge of their chairs for issue #3 of the six-issue "second season". (I've always liked comic books more than television, and love the idea that Serenity can keep flying in comics.)
The Veronica Mars canon is perfectly suited to live on in novels. Her hometown is so starkly class-conscious that it's fit for long exploration, while its mysteries are hard-boiled pulp fiction at heart. More, please.
March 25th, 2014
|08:10 am - Dodgers offered Puig to Sydney Zoo |
The Sydney Zoo ended talks with the Los Angeles Dodgers over the trade of Dodgers outfielder Yasiel Puig for a koala, a source close to the negotiations said Monday. "We recognize the young man's talent, but we had questions about him reliabilitywise, maturitywise, and intelligencewise," said the source. "The koala is stoned on eucalyptus most of the time, but he'll start climbing down from his tree minutes before his caretaker arrives with a basket of fresh leaves."
"And when the koala limps around, we know he's really hurt," said the source, perhaps alluding to the mysterious injury that caused Puig to leave Sunday's game following two baserunning gaffes.
|02:23 am - Chess960 — Gains and losses of time|
White: ronnieski (1357)
Black: friscodelrosario (1715)
Event: Chess.com: St.Patricks in space - Round 1
There are probably some 960 positions in which 1. b4 is most preferable, but if 1. e4 frees the same number of pieces, then this 1. b4 is as reproachable as the Sokolsky/Polish 1. b4.
1 ... e5 2 e4 Nb6 3 Qb3
Some early queen moves in the standard start positions held up with experience, but in 960, they're just unprincipled.
3 ... Nc6 4 Bb2
4. c3 is logical, after which White might gain space advantages in the center and queenside.
4 ... Bxb4 5 c3
It's kind of an Evans Gambit.
5 ... Bc5
Like a standard Evans Gambit, …Bc5 asks for the bishop to be jabbed again. 5 ... Be7 saves a move.
6 Nc2 a6
This is the kind of move players make when they're trying to cover up a dubious move. Black threatens to trap the queen with …Na5, and if a7 serves as a haven later, then 6…a6 doesn't look as dumb.
7 a4 Na5 8 Qa2 Nc6
By nudging the queen to a2, Black can squirm with 9. d4 exd4 10. cxd4 Nb4, but it's a dumb move that can't be camouflaged.
9 a5 Na8
If Black had played 5…Be7 and 6…d6, 9…Nd7 would be there.
10 Bc4 O-O 11 d4 Ba7 12 Ba3 d6
Black's three developed pieces are improved by this exchange, while Black's cramped position is relieved in general. The side that benefits from a materially-equal swap is the side whose pieces move forward as a result. 16. Bxe6 is the same type of slip.
13 ... Nxe5 14 Bd5
Another miscue, enabling …c6 to gain time for …Na8-c7, which Black should play now.
14 ... Be6 15 Nb4 c6 16 Bxe6
White loses time with 16. Bb3, but Black gains time after 16. Bxe6 — there's a significant difference.
16 ... Rxe6 17 O-O Nc7 18 Kh1 Qd8 19 Qc2 Qh4
White's three queen moves resulted in nothing, while Black's two are directed. White lost a little time here and a little time there — it adds up.
20 Ne3 Rh6 21 h3 Ne6 22 Nf5?
Black was lucky that his major pieces landed on forkable squares.
22 ... Qxh3+ 23 gxh3 Rxh3+ 24 Kg2 Nf4+ 0-1
March 24th, 2014
|09:34 pm - The 10-year-old writing tool we've all been waiting for|
I miss my PowerBook 2400c. It was the smallest PowerBook Apple ever made, which made it a hit in Japan, but most ham-fingered Americans couldn't deal with the smaller keyboard. I wrote my first book with the 2400c, and carried it in a neoprene sleeve. The entire package couldn't have weighed more than five pounds.
Since then, the MacBook Air conferred a huge advantage in utility and performance, and even weighs less than the 2400c — though the Air is not half as cute, with its dumbass-Steve-Jobs-edges-sharp-enough-to-cut-fish. Even so, the writer on the move is always seeking tools that are smaller and lighter (and inexpensive — easier to leave alone in public).
I've long suspected that AlphaSmart keyboards might be ideal. Before grade schools could give kids real computers, they used to dole out AlphaSmarts with Blackberry-based utilities and six inches of screen. The AlphaSmart was light years from a PowerBook, but connected easily to the teacher's box by USB or infrared, and was cheap and rugged enough for a kid to use, with extraordinary battery life (there are reports of *years*).
The hard part about landing one of these antiques was finding one that was guaranteed to work, and not among a lot of 100 scholastic discards. Tarpon, a tech warehouse in Texas, offered guaranteed Neos for $20, and I'm typing on it now. (They got wise. I bought mine on Feb. 18. Since then, they doubled their eBay price to $40. I might buy another one or three anyway.)
The AlphaSmart Neo is all I hoped for (the Veronica Mars movie was also all I hoped for — it's been a good month except for basketball). It fits within my lap without a lid (less likely to annoy fellow passengers). I blithely left it behind in the coffee shop while adding cream to my tea. The words zip from Neo keyboard to Macintosh text editor with prehistoric ease of use. Anyone could handle the transfer technology: connect by USB, tap the send key.
This is wonderful. A real word processor in a one-pound shell, and so primitive that the Internet cannot distract. That feature alone ought to send today's writers running to find one.
|01:07 am - Baseball audiobook review #1: Ball Four — The Final Pitch |
Ball Four: The Final Pitch
Written by Jim Bouton
Read by Jim Bouton
Baseball value *****
Saturday, March 8, was Jim Bouton's 75th birthday. The newspaper said "Actress Camryn Manheim is 53." Yay, she was so good in The Practice. "Singer Gary Numan is 56." He was on tour recently, where it was rumored that he played more than Cars. "Baseball player and author Jim Bouton is 75."
I thought that notable, because whoever compiled the list thought Bouton's writing is as noteworthy as his pitching. Or maybe it's the other way around. Bouton was on a championship Yankees team, and appeared in the 1963 All-Star Game, but his book Ball Four is on Time's list of 100 greatest non-fiction books.
I never read Ball Four. When I was a kid, I read that baseball commissioner Bowie Kuhn said the book was bad for baseball. Since I was a kid, and hadn't yet learned that baseball commissioners — and other commissioners — are nitwits, I shied away. And as time passed, I learned that sports figures' memoirs mostly suck. They're not written as much as transcribed, and few want to say anything controversial (unless it's shtick).
Today, I'm an old man who gets that Bowie Kuhn was a tool, and moved by David Halberstam's quote — "A book deep in the American vein, so deep in fact it is by no means a sports book" — I purchased the audiobook. Halberstam is my favorite journalist/baseball writer; if Halberstam praises it, bring it.
Regarding the book: Bouton couldn't have chosen a better season than 1969 for his diary. A 20-game winner and All-Star before an arm injury started his slide back to the minors, Bouton's story starts in Triple-A Vancouver and surfaces in Seattle with the expansion Pilots for their one and only season. What better cast of characters for a baseball book than the castoffs and discards that comprise an expansion team?
Bouton lived through the entire professional baseball experience — as bad as minor league bus travel plus months with an expansion team, as grand as winning two World Series games with the Yankee. It makes for a much better book than a superstar memoir with an "as told to" credit.
He's an exceptional writer. In the introduction to the third edition of Ball Four, Bouton described his career transition from hard-throwing phenom to sneaky veteran knuckleballer as "literally" — I cringed because who uses that word effectively, or correctly — "hanging on by my fingertips". I winced again, reflexively, but then I thought about what he said. His pitching career was hinging on the dips and dives of a pitch he threw off his fingertips. I think that's the best use of "literally" I've ever read — exact and artful at once.
In 1970, Bouton landed in hottest water for Ball Four. He talked about more than half the major leaguers gobbling "greenie" amphetamines when that was outrageous, 25 years before Ken Caminiti won an MVP award while juiced to his ears. (Bouton's Houston Astros teammates were discussing greenies when Pete Rose one-hopped a line drive. "Five more milligrams, and he would've had it," said pitcher Tom Griffin [later a Giant].)
He talked about the sex that was so available to ballplayers — one guy made a date between hotel checkout and the team bus departure — when ballplayers were still being held up as paragons of virtue.
He exploded myths, and revealed secrets. Commissioner Bowie Kuhn wanted Bouton to retract the whole work as a lie, "for the good of baseball". Bouton lost friends after writing Ball Four, receiving no invitations to Yankees old-timer reunions (until his son launched a successful campaign). It makes for compelling listening.
Regarding the audio: Bouton read the book himself with an easy-going Midwestern voice. He inflects dialogue as it was meant to be inflected, since he was there to hear it. There's a bit of dead air when he takes a moment to recover from laughing at some genuinely funny anecdotes (Tina Fey doesn't laugh while she reads Bossypants — she expects us to judge what's funny, but Bouton lets us know, and it doesn't detract from the reading). And when Bouton breaks down while reliving the moment of his daughter's accidental death, you might cry, too.
Regarding the baseball: It's a baseball book to be enjoyed by people who don't like baseball. Bouton spent his entire time as a Seattle Pilot negotiating with the manager and coaches about his daily practice routine — he had logical reasons, but the bosses screwed with him constantly. General managers were incredible cheapskates about the average salaries of $10,000. Baseball is a business run by pointy-hairs.
His career as a fringe ballplayer meant his family might never get truly settled (there are several stories about other players with the same problem). His family included an adopted Korean son, which brought a uniqueness to his life off the field.
When Bouton really gets down to the baseball, he provides only the details necessary to summarize that day's events. Non-baseball folks won't boggle, while baseball folks will race to compare Bouton's diary entries with the boxscores at retrosheet.org.
Ball Four is maybe the best baseball book ever, clearly worthy of its recognition as a Book of the Century by the New York Public Library. It's so good that I think I might regret making it the first audiobook I mention here, because each review that follows is bound to fall short.
March 17th, 2014
|04:08 am - Chess960 — A typical Scandinavian pattern|
I annotated my most recent club games, which were not special. It reminded me that I prefer writing about 960, because even a lackluster 960 game requires writer and reader to think for themselves from move 1, like the players did.
White: ColinFromDevon (1703)
Black: friscodelrosario (1712)
Event: Chess.com: Chess 960 - Round 2
1 e4 d5 2 exd5 Nb6
Like the standard Scandinavian Defense: though the bigger piece can immediately recapture on d5, Black prefers to threaten with the smaller.
Similarly in the Scandinavian, Black is induced Black to sacrifice a pawn, but White is backward on the d-file.
3 ... c6 4 f3
Maybe White thought he couldn't accept the gambit without losing the pawn right back to 4…Qxc6, forking, and then 5. Ne3 Bf4.
4 ... cxd5 5 Bxb6 axb6 6 cxd5 Qxc1
This is the reason for 5. Bxb6: White gains a tempo here as Black reestablishes …Rxd5.
7 Rxc1 Be5
7 ... Rxd5 8 Be4 Rd8 9 Nb3 is not in the correct style.
8 Be4 Bxb2 9 Rd1
9 Rb1 Bxa1 10 Rxa1 f6 11 Ne3 is good for White.
9 ... f6 10 Ne3 e6 11 O-O f5
Sensing danger on the e-file, Black refrained from 11 ... exd5, but — this is kind of funny — in a pinch, Black can castle queenside immediately.
12 Bc2 f4 13 Ba4+
13…Nd7 14 dxe6
Losing time. There's mischief on the e-file with
14 Nc4 Bd4+ 15 Kh1 exd5 16 Nd6+ Kf8 (16 ... Ke7 17 Nf5+ ) 17 Rfe1, threatening 18. Bxd7.
14 ... Bxe6 15 Nec2 Kf7
15 ... Bxa2 is a useless pawn grab, giving White a strong initiative: 16 Rfe1+ Kf7 17 Nb4 Be6 18 Nd3.
16 Nb3 Nc5
Gift-wrapping the b-file. If both sides play well, 16 ... Ra8 17 Bxd7 Bxd7 18 Nb4 Ra4 19 Rb1 Bf6 20 Nd5 Rxa2 21 Nxf6 Kxf6 22 Nd4 Rxd2 23 Rxb6+ Kf7 24 Nb3 seems headed toward a draw.
17 Nxc5 bxc5 18 Bb3
18 Rb1 Bf6 19 Rxb7+ feels proper, but Black is slightly better after 19 ... Kg6 , when he'll recover the pawn, while enjoying stronger minor pieces.
18 ... Bxb3 19 axb3 Rd3
Most players would see this strong move — it shouldn't be hard to find, especially if one knows Paulsen-Morphy, 1857 American Chess Congress.
20 b4 Rhd8 21 bxc5 Rxd2 22 Rxd2 Rxd2 23 Nb4
White pins himself with 23. Ne1 Bd4+ 24 Kh1 Rd1. 23. Rf2 and the shameful 23. Na1 preserve the knight, though in either case 23…Rd5 should win.
23 ... Bd4+ 24 Kh1 Bxc5
Rook and b7-pawn most neatly corral the knight.
The back rank is most vulnerable, so if 25. Rb1, then 25…Bxb4.
25 ... Bxb4 26 Rb1 Rd4 27 Kg2 b6 28 g4 Bc5 29 h4 Rd2+ 30 Kh3 Rf2 31 Rb3 Ke6 32 h5 Ke5 33 Rd3 Bd4 34 g5 Kd5 35 Rb3 Kc4 36 Ra3 b5 37 h6 gxh6 38 gxh6 b4 39 Ra8 b3 40 Rc8+ Kd3 0-1
|12:41 am - Reviews of baseball audiobooks #0|
Spring training brings perennial questions: "Which AL team will the San Francisco Giants defeat in the World Series?" and "What am I going to read?".
The Giants question isn't as funny since the team won two World Series in three years.
The question of what to read is harder year because excellent baseball books come out at a greater rate than before. Research tools have improved immeasurably, while each season provides more grist for the discussion mill. Last year I settled it by picking books that relate to what I love most about baseball — radio — so I read memoirs by my favorite Giants broadcasters.
This year, I decided on audiobooks.
• Every day, it's harder to read comfortably. My eyes worsen, and reading glasses require painstaking attention: while wearing reading glasses, I can't see anything but the book, and if it's too close or too far by an inch, I can't see the book, either.
• On the commuter train, it's sometimes possible to work, but I've come to think that it's a bad idea. An open laptop takes up more personal space than one that's closed, and on a crowded train, that sucks. Also, if my nose is in the MacBook, I'm less prepared for the riders who can make the trip unpleasant.
• The weight and size of a book — even a mass market paperback — figures into the entire weight and size of the load in the messenger bag (and the bookcases at home).
Limiting the scope to unabridged audiobooks at audible.com* narrowed the choices to 155 matches for 'baseball', 19 for 'baseball history'. Even so, I thought: "Those are 19 uncertain expenditures of time and money — who's looking out for the listeners? Who'll warn us of bad baseball audiobooks, and steer us toward good?".
Well, I thought, maybe you ought to do some of that yourself.
*Consumer tip: So far, audible.com has been splendid, after they lured me in with one free book (27 hours of Sports Illustrated's Great Baseball Writing). The killer feature is that they take returns without question — when I couldn't listen any further to The Golem and the Jinni, Audible simply took it back.
March 16th, 2014
|04:45 am - Myke Troutfish's career day — a Gading Green Sox story|
In the wake of the Carter Walling incident, the Gading vampire hunters agreed that in case of a home run, Marty couldn't throw at the hitter during subsequent at-bats. Umpires and fans didn't blow their stacks if the batter turned to dust — that was such a head-scratching, supernatural circumstance that they could look the other way. But if the slayer beans him hard — and the man doesn't implode — it looks like an act of retaliation, punishable according to the rules of baseball. Manager Lancelot Barks had not succeeded with his arguments that the pitcher didn't hit the man in retaliation, but for a most regrettable lack of control.
This was on Barks' mind while the Appleton Hourmice phenom Myke Troutfish stepped up against Marty for his second at-bat. In his first, he crushed a homer that should've landed by now.
On the mound, the slayer wound up, and delivered. Troutfish smashed a hanging curve off the scoreboard for three runs, then took care to touch every base.
"Want I should talk to the kid?" said the Gading pitching coach.
"No," said Barks. "Our lead is still comfortable, and Marty doesn't look too distraught."
The phenom's third home run — another three-run job — cut the Green Sox lead to 12-9, though Marty's ratio of hit-batsmen-to-dusted-vampires had been excellent. It was a consideration that Barks had to keep secret, while sportswriters and sportstalk radio callers blasted him for never relieving Martinson soon enough; Barks must be fired! and Martinson traded for a left fielder!
In the commissioner of baseball's office, the demon who is Jonah Hill to the commissioner and head vampire Brad Pitt said: "We should bite him."
"After this performance, Martinson can never plunk Troutfish without disgrace. That's a vampire who doesn't fear the slayer."