Category Archives: personal

Baseball’s All-Star Game

I‘ve always had a quirky relationship with baseball’s All-Star game. It’s premise is to bring together the best players from both leagues (the “all stars”) to play a game against one another. From 1935 – 1946, the team managers selected the players who would be all-stars. From 1947 and on (for the most part) fans selected most of the players. The problem becomes obvious pretty quickly. Popular players, good overall, but perhaps not the best performers of the current season, get picked because they are popular players. This can lead to a game in which popular players play while lesser known players are excluded.

This does not mean the popular players aren’t also All-Star quality players. It doesn’t necessarily mean that lesser-known players are not All-Star quality. The game is called the “All Star” game, implying that all of the “stars” will plays. Stars, by definition, are popular players.

Growing up, however, I always felt (intuited, perhaps) that the All Star games contained the best performing players. I remember with a great deal of pride the first time I made my Little League All-Star team. I think I was playing for Scungio Oil in the Appanaugh Little League in Warwick, Rhode Island. I played first base, and I made the All Star team. It felt great to be considered good enough to make the team.

But, looking back on it, maybe everyone made the all-star team. My memory isn’t good enough to recall this clearly. Maybe I somehow simply intuited that the best players make the all-star team, and that being part of the team meant I was one of the best players. But being a “star” does not necessarily imply quality.

What surprises me most of all is that the statistics that form the foundation of modern baseball are good enough to make selections to the team an objective no-brainer. I’m not even talking about old school stats like batting average and ERA. I’m talking about newer stats like runs created or runs saved or wins above replacement. It should be fairly straight-forward for someone with the knowledge to generate two teams, an American League team and a National League team, based on an amalgam of advanced baseball stats that indicate who the best players really are. It would be interest to see such a list compared to fan picks.

In some respects, baseball is lucky. There are objective measures that can be used to judge relative quality, performance, value added (or taken away) in just about every area of the game. It is far more difficult in other areas, where the relationship between popularity and quality is less certain, and for which no real objective measure are available to make comparisons.

Sure, fans stuff the ballots for the All Star games, and big market teams are better represented than smaller market teams. But I have to constantly remind myself that it is not the players I come to see at the All Star game. It’s their performance together that I enjoy, and I enjoy it regardless of who happens to be on the field. Can this particular infield combination work well together? What happens when you have two league leading hitters in the #4 and #5 spots in your lineup? I can’t speak for all fans of baseball, but I certainly feel that performance trumps personality . And so while I occasionally grumble at the system in place to select baseball’s All-Stars, I still tend to marvel at the performance when the players hit the field.

More Things Before 10 am Than Dreamt of In Your Philosophy

I am mostly offline this weekend, Getting Things Done. I was up early this morning, even for a Saturday, even considering the kids who usually wake us by 6:30, so that I could get to Home Depot before it got crowded.

I picked up 10 bags of mulch, some Scotch Guard, and door bell wire. Came home, and put the new mulch down, then fixed the wiring for the doorbell, which has been broken for over a year. Then Scotch-Guarded the new sofa. All successful, all before 10 am.

Kelly and I left the kids with their grandparents (who are in town for a visit) and went to the store to shop for Easter dinner. We decided to forgo the ham this year and instead got a nice salmon, some asparagus, mashed potatoes, some nice ciabatta. I’ll grill the salmon and asparagus tomorrow.

I cleaned up some stuff in the office, and I still have some writing to do later today, but I’d say that this has been a very productive day. I knocked for big things off my to-do list before 10 am, and that felt good.

While we stood and line at BJs, the nice couple in line ahead of us told us we could skip ahead as we had very few items.

“Aw, that’s okay,” I said, “we’re not in a rush. The grandparents are watching the kids, so this is a little break for us.”

Hope everyone else is having a great weekend!

Susan Straight and the Los Angeles Times Book Prizes

I learned this morning that Susan Straight was awarded the Robert Kirsch award as part of the Los Angeles Times Book Prizes. Back in my college days at the University of California, Riverside, I had Susan Straight as a creative writing instructor for two advanced fiction writing classes. She was one of the best instructors that I had, and by far, the most encouraging. This was twenty years ago, and in the two decades since, I’ve tried to write, eventually succeeded, and have, to-date, about 10 short fiction credits and half a dozen nonfiction credits to my name.

Back then, I was a nobody, but Susan was always encouraging. Here is just one example. At the end of the second class I took with her, I asked her to sign her (then current) book, I’ve Been in Sorrow’s Kitchen and Licked Out All the Pots. This is what she wrote:

Susan Straight

I was delighted to see Susan get her award for her fiction set in Riverside, and feel fortunate to have had her as an instructor.

Throwback Thursday, April 10, 2014 #tbt

For Throwback Thursday this week, I present me and my brother holding up our certificate of completion for Safety Town, while standing dangerously close to a passing car1 back in Somerset, New Jersey. This would have been 1978 or 1979.

Safety Town

People often comment with some surprise that my hair was once so light. This baffles me. My hair was very light as a child, grew a little darker for about 5 minutes, and then went even lighter. Or, as we in middle like to say, gray.

Notes

  1. Not really, the car was parked people!

Three Jobs I Think I’d Love To Do in Professional Baseball

Aside from being, you know, a baseball player, since that ship has pretty much sailed.

  1. Announcer. There is something wonderfully appealing about getting up every day to go to the ball park and call a baseball game. A scorecard in front of you, the game spread out before your eyes, the smell of hot dogs. That would be a pretty cool job.
  2. Sports Writer. Baseball columnists and writers appeal to both the writer in my and the baseball fan and so this seems like it would be a good match for both passions.
  3. Sabermetrician. Because, you know, I like numbers.

(The Little Miss was home sick this afternoon, so while she was being her sick little self, I caught the home opener of the Washington Nationals today. They lost to Atlanta, but it was a good game.)

What I Was Doing 14 Years Ago Today: Getting My Pilot’s License

It’s hard to believe, but it was 14 years ago today, April 3, 2000, that I took the day off work, drove over to Van Nuys airport, and (with thankfully good weather) took my oral and practical exam for my private pilot’s license.

The oral exam lasted about an hour or so and seemed to consist mostly of the examiner talking about the movie script he was planning to write. Intermixed in that monologue, were questions about weather, night flying regulations, flight planning and various certification requirements. Then I was instructed to head out to the plane to get it ready for our flight.

I had to plan a flight up to Paso Robles, but we quickly diverted to Oxnard Airport. I did my hood work (instrument work) while enroute to Oxnard. My first landing was a short field landing, and so I got that out of the way pretty quickly. I did a short field takeoff and then headed out over Thousand Oaks where I did some turns around a point. This is where the examiner tried to distract me, complaining that I couldn’t hold my altitude in the turn (I knew the tolerances were +/- 100 ft and I was well within +/-50 feet so it didn’t bother me much. We did a few more maneuvers and then headed back to Van Nuys airport.

On the downwind leg, the examiner told me that I’d just experienced an engine failure and needed to make an emergency landing. I did this on th Van Nuys’ long runway 16R, and was off the runway at the first high-speed taxiway. I taxied the plane carefully back to Group 3 aviation. When the plane shut down, the examiner said to me, “Nice flying. You lock things up here while I go write up your certificate. A little while later, he gave me this:

Airman Certificate

I was pretty thrilled. It was my Dad who first got me interested in planes. It was my cousin who first took me flying in a private plane. As soon as that happened, I knew I wanted to fly. I was 28 years old on that day, 14 years ago, but I still think of it as one of my big accomplishments, right up there with selling my first story.

New Furniture, Delivered: Before and After

The new furniture has arrived. Our window of delivery was 10 am – 3 pm and the truck showed up just before 11 am, beating the guesses of most of the folks online who seemed to think the truck would show up at 2:59 pm. The delivery guys were quick and efficient and had everything setup and cleaned out within a few minutes.

This furniture officially completes the conversion of what was our office into our living room. (The office was moved into a room upstairs.)

Here is the before shot:

Furniture Before

And here’s what it looks like after:

Furniture After 1

And from another angle:

Furniture After 2

This room conversion was the first of two home improvement projects we’re working on. Next weekend, we visit the showroom of a contractor we selected for a kitchen remodel. We are putting in new cabinets, countertops, backsplash, floors, sink, and pantry. I don’t think the work will begin until sometime in May on this one, but the ball is already rolling.

My Technology Ecosystem, April 2014 Edition

I get questions, every now and then, about the technology ecosystem I use. I figure it’s pretty obvious from my posts, but in order to be perfectly clear, and in order to have a post I can point people to, I’m documenting my technology stack as of today, April 1, 2014. I’ll do this in layers from hardware, up through software ecosystems.

The Hardware Layer

Desktop Computer: Commodore 64

I recently upgraded from the VIC 20 to the Commodore 64, and I must say that it is a huge improvement. Having the additional memory is great, because I can now type in longer programs from the pages of BYTE Magazine. And, it’s got a 320×200 display, which is almost double what my old VIC had.

But an even better advantage of the upgrade has been…

Laptop Computer: Commodore 64

It is small enough to carry with me when I go places. I don’t even need batteries because this thing has a plug that I can snap right into a wall outlet. I mean, it’s cutting-edge.

Tablet: Etch-a-Sketch

The Etch-a-Sketch has been a life-changer for me and the family. It’s portable, requires no battery, and can do just about anything. I’d post a picture of our family Etch-a-Sketch, but it turns out we left it in the car (which my wife has driven to work). We use it a lot in the car to keep the kids entertained. They can watch their favorite movies on the Etch-a-Sketch, which I painfully draw for them, scene-by-scene, and which they then criticize. It’s a wonderful family-bonding experience.

Printer: My Royal QuietComfort DeLuxe Portable Typewriter

Granted, it is a little difficult to find toner ribbon for this device today, but when you do, it produces copy that harks back to the golden age of journalism, when newspapers were king, and on April Fool’s Day, columnists would wryly opine on how television was the wave of the future–nod, nod, wink, wink.

Truth is, finding decent typing paper is almost as difficult as finding ribbon, but I make due. Turns out it’s even easy to print multiple copies with this printer…

Copier: Carbon Paper

…because, carbon paper!!. This stuff is pure genius. Slip a sheet of it between two pages of typing paper, and type away. You come away with two copies of your document, each copying duplicating with precision every typo you make along the way.

Now let me discuss the software layer of my technology ecosystem.

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No Going Paperless Post This Week, and Other Updates

Last week I posted my 100th Going Paperless post, and I think that, coupled with a cold that I am still fighting off, has earned me a week off. I hope you’ll forgive me, but things will resume next Tuesday, which just happens to be April 1.

I took a sick day from the day job today. I stayed in bed until around noon, sleeping and trying to let me body recover from this cold. I’ve found that, for me, a day of doing absolutely nothing usually does the trick. Indeed, by 1 pm, I was feeling better. I even managed to get my writing done early today, extending my streak to 246 consecutive days, and 388 out of the last 390 days since I first started trying to write every day. Moreover, I’ve beaten my daily goal for 10 straight days now, which is the first time I’ve done that in a while.

Later this week I’ll hit my Life, the Universe and Everything1 birthday milestone, but birthdays just kind of flash by now. More exciting is some new furniture we’re having delivered in a week, so that we can complete the transformation of our living room from an office to a living room. We haven’t had a real living room since we bought this house more than 4 years ago.

We are also in the process of wrapping up our evaluation of contractors to have some kitchen remodeling work done. And while we’ll likely hire a contractor in the next week or so, the work on the kitchen won’t start until mid-May. It’s not a complete overhaul, and is probably considered a “minor” remodeling, but it will including new cabinets, granite countertops, a new sink, new floors, a new pantry and some other odds and ends.

I’m working like mad to finish up the novella that I’ve struggled with on and off again because I have a big project that will follow that one–and I’ll have more to say about that in due course.

Today, however, I’m just trying to take it easy, and get through this cold.

Notes

  1. If you don’t get the reference, it shouldn’t be too hard to find online.

A Bit Under the Weather

I‘ve been a bit under the weather these last few days, a cold that I picked up from the kids, I suspect. Not terrible, just a little lethargy, a runny nose, etc., etc. I’m trying to take it easy this weekend so things may be a little quiet here on the blog front. It’s supposed to be beautiful here today, and maybe the nice weather will help. Of course, there is snow in the forecast for Tuesday. Not much, but it’s still a spring snowfall and those are never as much fun as winter snowfalls.

I have some new projects to report on, and I’ll do that over the next week or so. In the meantime, for March Madness folks, I don’t get much into basketball, but I am taking Gonzaga1 over Arizona on Sunday. And if you have a perfect bracket so far, and think you might still take a billion dollars from Warren Buffet, you should check out what Nate Silver’s FiveThirtyEight has to say about that.

Have a great weekend!

Notes

  1. Why Gonzaga? I’ve probably said this before, but I am a huge Bing Crosby fan, and Gonzaga was Crosby’s alma mater. I always pick Gonzaga. Which is a terrible reason to pick a team, by the way.

Moments of Truth for Writers

Back in 1997 or maybe 1998, I took a customer service training class from a fantastic company called Ouelette & Associates1. The class focused on customer service for technical people, IT, etc. It was a seminal course, taught by an amazing instructor, Anita Leto, and it lead to a completely new way of thinking about the interactions I have with others. A central tenet of the course was something called “moments of truth,” a phrase that comes from a book of the same title by Jon Carlzon, CEO of Scandinavia Airlines.

A moment of truth is an outcome of every interaction you have with someone else, no matter the form it takes or how big or small it is. In the customer service realm, the interactions are, of course, with customers. There are generally two outcomes: a “positive” moment of truth and or a “negative” moment of truth. In thinking about interactions with customers you always strive to make positive moments of truth. The course (unscientifically) posited that it takes ten positive moments of truth to wipe out a single negative moment of truth. Not scientific, but concept rings true. You have a bad experience with an airline, and wild horses and free trips might not drag you back to fly with them again.

As a professional freelance writer, I’ve been thinking about moments of truth in my interactions with other writers, readers, editors, publishers, anyone really. I look at Facebook occasionally, and am often dismayed by how many negative moments of truth I see out there. I’ve avoided Facebook more and more for this reason, but having spent more time than usual on it yesterday, it got me thinking about my own interactions as a professional writer in the same way I have interactions as a professional software developer. I aim for positive moments of truth.

This goes from the story level on up. When I write a story (or a blog post, or an article) I try to make it the best it can be. I want it to be a positive moment of truth for the reader. I am not always successful. Occasional typos slip in and readers (almost always kindly) point them out to me. I used to think, ah, well, not a very big deal, I’ll do better next time. But I realized that while a few little typos might not bother me, they act as negative moments of truth for the reader. It doesn’t matter why. All that matters is that I’ve caused a negative moment of truth for a reader.

A story is an objective thing and some readers won’t like a story for highly personal reasons. Those are negative moments of truth, as well, although they are far beyond my control as a writer. These I just have to leave with, in the same way I live with customers that can never be pleased. What I do have control over, however, is further interaction with those readers. Once a story of mine is published, I feel that it is no longer mine, in the sense that I’ve said what I wanted to about the story and moved on. A reader may not like a story, may despise a story. I usually just let that stand. No need to muddy the water and risk a negative moment of truth by replying.

That said, if a reader writes to me to tell me that they didn’t like a story, I will reply with regret, and say that I can understand that, I don’t like everything I read either, you win some, you lose some, etc., etc., but thanks for at least giving me a shot. It’s remarkable the effect this type of reply has. I may not have gained a new reader, but I’ve gained a fan nonetheless.

My professional interactions go far beyond readers, however. Even before a story gets to a reader, it goes to an editor, who may have her own thoughts on what works and what doesn’t. Interactions with editors are just as prone to negative moments of truth as they are positive ones. When I first started out writing stories, I’d read a lot of Piers Anthony, and I liked his author notes. In them, he made it sound like if an editor bounced a story of his, they were an idiot. I might have taken that same attitude early on out of simply naivete, but I haven’t thought that way in 20 years.

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Notes

  1. I cannot recommend O&A highly enough. In the years since that first course, I’ve probably taken half a dozen other courses, ranging from project management, to requirements gathering, to testing, and they have all exceeded my expectation.