Friday, March 30, 2007

Season Preview

With baseball season nigh, it's again time for some baseball blogging. Here are a couple of notes from the baseball offseason wire this past winter.
December 7, 2006

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. (AP) -- The Atlanta Braves swapped a starting pitcher for bullpen help Thursday, sending oft-injured lefty Horacio Ramirez to the Seattle Mariners for reliever Rafael Soriano.
December 13, 2006

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Second baseman Jose Vidro would be sent to the Seattle Mariners by the Washington Nationals for two prospects in a tentative trade that is pending physicals for all players involved, a person with knowledge of the deal told The Associated Press on Wednesday night.

If you follow the Mariners at all (hi, Greg) you know that the trades listed above were widely reviled in the online Mariner fan community. The problem wasn't so much that they were terribly lopsided trades (they were), but that these trades revealed a fundamental difference between the business philosophy of Mariner management and that of sane people.

In the Mariners' division, the American League West, is a baseball team called the Oakland Athletics. Since 2000, the Athletics have finished first, second, first, first, second, second, and first in their division, and made the playoffs five out of seven seasons. In every one of these seasons they had a payroll that was roughly half that of the Seattle Mariners, and in the bottom half of payrolls across baseball. The Mariners, after making the playoffs in 2000 and 2001, have finished second, second, fourth, fourth, and fourth in the division. In business speak (and I am paraphrasing the words of another Mariner blogger), the Mariners have a competitor who year after year puts out a (frequently vastly) superior product at half the cost.

The way that the Athletics do this is a mystery to absolutely no one. Michael Lewis wrote a very popular book about it. This book rubbed a lot of people in baseball the wrong way because, in short, they thought it threatened their jobs. The baseball blog linked above is an excellent analysis of Moneyball as it relates to the Mariners vis-à-vis the Athletics, so I won't do that here.

If some things go right for the Mariners this season--if Felix Hernandez develops into an ace, Raul Ibañez keeps hitting, Adrian Beltré hits a little more, and the bullpen isn't quite as terrible as it looks like it might be--the Mariners could contend for a division title. However, if pretty much any one of those things doesn't happen or any starter gets injured, the Mariners are looking at finishing fourth out of four for the fourth year in a row. The problem with that is that the M's are sporting a payroll of $111 million, which is third highest in baseball behind the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox (both of whom, while prognosticators are universally picking the M's to finish last in their division, are expected to make the playoffs). What the Mariners did this offseason was to trade away young, cheap, actually or potentially good players for old, expensive, mediocre veterans who were once good (well, Horacio Ramirez was never good, so I don't know what they were thinking there). The Mariners have the third highest payroll in baseball and they're going to break camp with Rey Ordoñez on their roster, a player who's been out of baseball for two years, and proved over the course of over 3000 at bats that he simply can't hit Major League pitching. $111 million dollars ought to buy one hell of a baseball team, but the Mariners have taken it and bought a baseball team that will have to be lucky not to finish last in their division.

Next: More Frequent Blogging!

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Variable Interpolation

Latest thing posted in the kitchen at work (above the coffee maker, asking people to make coffee if they take the last cup). Hilarious only to people as dorky as I:
Oh no! Only half a cup! Who did this to me? WTF? Life sucks!!! Why $DEITY Why?

Next: Humor for the masses!

Monday, March 05, 2007

be minus

teaching is a very very great job. very very great. however...
the problems with grading are myriad and insurmountable.
here is a brief list:

1) i suck at it. it takes me forever. then i feel guilty about how it takes me forever and how i suck at it and how if only i were better/smarter/cleverer/more focused/more efficient/of greater will, well surely it would take me only a third the time.

2) if ever it doesn't take that much time, i feel guilty about how it doesn't take that much time, and if i really cared, i'd spend more time at it.

3) this never happens.

4) if i don't feel guilty about its taking too much time and i don't feel guilty about its taking too little time, i feel guilty about the evidence it offers. clearly, i am not a very good teacher. if i were, my students would write better papers. at the least, they would do the things we spend hours and hours in class and in my office chatting about the relative wisdom of their doing. such as employing commas. or support for their arguments. grading is like those horrible exaggerated claims about sororities where they make you take off all your clothes and then they circle the places you need to lose weight. it is like being naked and someone circling the parts of me that are no good -- the part that taught about introductions and conclusions, the part that talked about integrating quotations, the part that offhandedly mentioned proofreading when clearly that part needed at least half a class session.

5) it does no good. it doesn't help people learn. it just upsets them.

6) seriously, the lowest possible grade one can reasonably give to a paper that isn't a total disaster is a B-. and i give lower grades than that. and then they freak out and scream and cry and get mad and sad and upset. and i do not like conflict. a C+ is not an ever so slightly above average paper. it is a pretty poor paper. then i feel guilty about grade inflation. then i spend an hour making margin notes and filling out a rubric and making lengthy end comments with praise as well as gentle suggestions. then i invite them to come chat with me about their grades in my office. then i feel guilty about how much time it takes. see #1.

7) all that said, there is really no way to communicate about writing in writing. ironic. at our favorite restaurant where, the other night, we were ordering cheese based on descriptions such as "earthy," "smooth," "balanced," and "barnyard" (by which they mean "smelly"), we were remarking to the waiter about how odd those descriptors are, and he said cheese is even harder to describe than wine. know what's harder yet to describe? why B papers aren't A papers. do students think, "hey, i got a B. B means good."? no. they think, "this paper is good, so why the hell isn't it an A?" one therefore needs must spend a lot of time answering this very question rather than going out to dinner for smelly cheese.

8) it is boring.

9) it is cold. especially when your husband turns off the heat so he can record music without also recording the blower.

10) oh the many many many other things i could be doing with my time which would be more productive or more fun or more entertaining.

11) blogging, however, is not one. i am so totally procrastinating right now. odds are, well, one that you can guess what i should be doing instead.

-- mtg (obviously)

The L.P.

As roughly half of you know, I spent much of my free time in February engaging in the RPM Challenge, which is the musical equivalent of National Write A Novel month. Thursday last being the deadline for having the thing postmarked, I burned the 11 songs I recorded in the month in their somewhat raw state, mocked up some liner notes, and dumped the thing in the mail.

I was working off a couple of themes for this project: it's a collection of songs, under my new Nom D'Art The Calculus Affair, that don't really fit my usual musical idiom (for the, you know, four of you out there who know what my usual musical idiom is), and it's also a musical tribute to a guitar: a 1955-ish hollow-body Gibson that I purchased a couple of years ago from Fronesis Père. I also played drums for the first time, which is a) harder than you think it's going to be, and b) way fun.

The official release party for RPM Challenge albums is March 30th, in a variety of locations, and at that time they'll stream all the albums from their website. I, on the other hand, have released the thing, mistakes and rushed mixing and all, here, with cover art/liner notes here. If you're in a singles frame of mind, people so far seem to be liking these:
Alexandr (You Forgot To Be In Time)
The Man Who Used To Hunt Cougars For Bounty
(long song titles are all the rage these days, I hear). I plan to eventually revisit and clean up the songs and post them to my site on (which is semi-officially how I release music these days), but who knows when that will ever happen. One other small piece of musical news from Calculus Affair central is that Men Of Luggage, the song I posted here a couple of months back, is to be featured on a compilation put out by these folks, an organization that supports Heifer International (a favorite charity of the Gadflies) via music. I have no idea how certain this album is to ever appear in stores near you, but you'll hear about it here first if and when it does. In the meantime, a somewhat improved mix of the song appears from the speaker button on the MacIdol page linked above.

Next: Self-aggrandizement, but less blatant!