Monthly Archives: May 2009

In which Matt Wieters isn’t special

Matt Wieters got his first major-league hit tonight, a stand-up triple.  I wondered:  was he the first catcher ever to have a triple as his first hit in the bigs?  This is the kind of question that the amazing Baseball Reference Play Index is made to answer, and the answer is nope:  in fact, Yorvit Torrealba did it — in his first major league plate appearance, no less! — in 2001.

Update: In fact, want to know another catcher whose first major-league hit was a triple?  Dane Sardinha, the opposing catcher in tonight’s game!

Update:  In case you’re not reading the comments — know who the opposing catcher was when Dane Sardinha got his first major-league hit?  Yup — Yorvit Torrealba.  Now that is a piece of baseball trivia for true connoisseurs.

Guthrie has 10 strikeouts in the first 6 innings but keeps getting in trouble; I think of it as being kind of hard to pitch a bad game when you strike out 10 batters, but in this connection B-R PI pulls up last month’s stinker of a start by Toronto’s David Purcey; 10 strikeouts, but 6 walks and 5 runs allowed, and he didn’t make it out of the 5th.



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Koberda on dilatation and finite nilpotent covers

One reason dilatation was on my mind was thanks to a very interesting recent paper by Thomas Koberda, a Ph.D. student of Curt McMullen at Harvard.

Recall from the previous post that if f is a pseudo-Anosov mapping class on a surface Σ, there is an invariant λ of f called the dilatation, which measures the “complexity” of f; it is a real algebraic number greater than 1.  By the spectral radius of f we mean the largest absolute value of an eigenvalue of the linear automorphism of H_1(\Sigma,\mathbf{R}) induced by f.  Then the spectral radius of f is a lower bound for λ(f), and in fact so is the spectral radius of f on any finite etale cover of Σ preserved by f.

This naturally leads to the following question, which appears as Question 1.2 in Koberda’s paper:

Is λ(f) the supremum of the spectral radii of f on Σ’, as Σ’ ranges over finite etale covers of Σ preserved by f?

It’s easiest to think about variation in spectral radius when Σ’ ranges over abelian covers.  In this case, it turns out that the spectral radii are very far from determining the dilatation.  When Σ is a punctured sphere, for instance, a remark in a paper of Band and Boyland implies that the supremum of the spectral radii over finite abelian covers is strictly smaller than λ(f), except for the rare cases where the dilatation is realized on the double cover branched at the punctures.   It gets worse:  there are pseudo-Anosov mapping classes which act trivially on the homology of every finite abelian cover of Σ, so that the supremum can be 1!  (For punctured spheres, this is equivalent to the statement that the Burau representation isn’t faithful.)  Koberda shows that this unpleasant state of affairs is remedied by passing to a slightly larger class of finite covers:

Theorem (Koberda) If f is a pseudo-Anosov mapping class, there is a finite nilpotent etale cover of Σ preserved by f on whose homology f acts nontrivially.

Furthermore, Koberda gets a very nice purely homological version of the Nielsen-Thurston classification of diffeomorphisms (his Theorem 1.4,) and dares to ask whether the dilatation might actually be the supremum of the spectral radius over nilpotent covers.  I have to admit I would find that pretty surprising!  But I don’t have a good reason for that feeling.

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R.I.P. Kipp’s

Kipp’s Down Home Cookin’, my dependable local Southern take-out, is a recession victim. CJ referred to this place as “the cornbread restaurant” and thought theirs was the best in town; I can’t disagree.  Also notable for mac and cheese, fried chicken, and creamed spinach, the last of which achieved one of my most exalted food classifications — “worth the heartburn.”

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Baseball like it oughta be

I’m jealous that Tom and Mack were at OP@CY in person today to to see the Orioles’ crazy comeback victory, which ended when Nolan Reimold socked a three-run homer in the 11th for the gwaribbie.  I was going to post that he was already the best Nolan in Oriole history, but when I looked it up, I realized that Joe Nolan was actually not bad!

CJ and I also saw some baseball today  — “Baseball Like It Oughta Be,” as the sign says over the Duck Pond, home of the Madison Mallards.  The Mallards played an exhibition game against Sweden’s national side, in a slight drizzle in front of a few hundred fans.  Jordan Hershiser, son of Orel, started for the Mallards.  He walked the first two Swedes; the next batter bunted to third, the throw sailed past the first baseman, and somehow both runners scored.  It was a lot like Atari baseball.  Even more so in the bottom frame, in which the Mallards batted around and scored 8 runs on 5 hits and 3 HBP, including two straight with the bases loaded.  Not much risk of Sweden taking baseball bragging rights from the current champs of the blonde part of Europe.

CJ still hasn’t grasped the rules of baseball but he liked when the umpire yelled “Strike!” And nachos.  He liked the nachos. Mostly he followed the progress of Maynard and Millie Mallard around the stadium, shouting “Go Mallards!” whenever one of them came near enough for a fist bump.

Millie Mallard has a green head, by the way.  I don’t know much about ducks, but I know that means Millie’s a man.  Who cares what the Wisconsin constitution says?  This is gay marriage like it oughta be — encased in a big padded suit and dancing, carefree, on the dugout.

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Which teams in the AL East are for real?

Not the Blue Jays — and I knew it before the Orioles beat them twice in a row.  They’ve been leading the division all season; but half their games have been against the woeful Central, while the other good teams in the East have been beating up on each other.  If you keep their winning percentage against each division constant, but change their number of games played against each division to match the Orioles’ totals, the Jays wind up in fourth place at 21-25, only a game ahead of Baltimore.  (To be fair, our interleague games were against the even more woeful Nationals, while Toronto drew the Braves.)

Not the Yankees — they’re outscoring their opponents by about a quarter of a run per game, which means they ought to be a shade over .500.  They won’t win 70% of their one-run games all year long. (Though their scoring will improve with Rodriguez back in the lineup.)

Anyway, none of this matters, since Friday is Matt Wieters Day and the Orioles are playing .750 ball from then on.

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Made me feel like I was Paul Verlaine

All fans of the Flying Nun sound will enjoy “Heavenly Pop Hits,” a documentary about the New Zealand label, available in its entirety on YouTube.  In installment 3, Stephen Malkmus talks about reusing a vocal line from the Verlaines’ 1983 single “Death and the Maiden” for a Pavement song.  Malkmus doesn’t say which song, but as soon as he starts humming the melody — the Verlaines are singing “Is there any less pessimistic thing to say?” — it’s instantly revealed as the “made me realize I was on a train,”  from “Box Elder.”  One more secret of Pavement revealed.

Here’s “Death and the Maiden,” whose opening guitar, I now realize, is also identical with that of “Box Elder”:

And “Box Elder” (no video):

And here’s part 1 of “Heavenly Pop Hits”:

It seems I’ve already mentioned that I love Prickly’s cover of “Death and the Maiden” with the heat of a thousand suns.  That version doesn’t exist on the whole wide Internet, but here’s Malkmus himself singing the song.

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Don DeLillo to David Foster Wallace, on reading math

Kottke has a scan of some correspondence between Don DeLillo and David Foster Wallace: a DDL->DFW letter from 1997 and a DFW -> DDL from 1992.

This from DeLillo is striking:

Once, probably, I used to think that vagueness was a loftier kind of poetry, truer to the depths of consciousness, and maybe when I started to read mathematics and science back in the mid-70s I found an unexpected lyricism in the necessarily precise language that scientists tend to use  My instinct, my superstition is that the closer I see a thing and the more accurately I describe it, the better my chances of arriving at a certain sensuality of expression.

So work hard on your papers, folks — a great American novelist might be nicking your prose style.

There’s also an interesting and strange bit from DeLillo about how he pays attention to the shapes of individual letters on the page, trying to make a pleasing pattern of “round” words and “tall” words.  I wouldn’t be surprised to hear this from a poet, but in a novelist it seems (to use DeLillo’s own word) superstitious.  Is it possible this is really contributing to the effects he’s trying to achieve?  Look, I’m a hardliner on the point that how a sentence sounds is more important than what it means.  But this comes off fussy, even to me.

Wallace’s side of the correspondence is mostly a fan letter.  I was pleased by his love for End Zone, my favorite DeLillo novel and undeniably the funniest.  He suggests that a piece of Infinite Jest “owes a rather uncomfortable debt” to End Zone; which piece?

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The entropy of Frobenius

Since Thurston, we know that among the diffeomorphisms of surfaces the most interesting ones are the pseudo-Anosov diffeomorphisms; these preserve two transverse folations on the surface, stretching one and contracting the other by the same factor.  The factor, usually denoted \lambda, is called the dilatation of the diffeomorphism and its logarithm is called the entropy. It turns out that \lambda, which is evidently a real number greater than 1, is in fact an algebraic integer, the largest eigenvalue of a matrix that in some sense keeps combinatorial track of the action of the diffeomorphism on the surface.  You might think of it as a kind of measure of the “complexity” of the diffeomorphism.  A recent preprint by my colleague Jean-Luc Thiffeault says much about how to compute these dilatations in practice, and especially how to hunt for diffeomorphisms whose dilatation is as small as possible.

Continue reading

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We also offer unlimited permutations of side dishes

This week’s Onion features an ad for Zander’s Capitol Grill promising “Over 10 different kinds of gourmet burgers, salads, wraps, fresh salads, 1/2 and 1/2 combos and more!”

If the point is to advertise the breadth of the menu, it seems a bad sign that they have to include convex linear combinations of previously mentioned items.

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In which CJ is goth

CJ was on the phone with my mom for about fifteen minutes today. They were talking about my late grandfather, my mom’s dad, from whom CJ takes his middle name.

I wasn’t sure how much CJ had understood, so after the conversation I asked him what he and his grandma had been talking about.

“About people and how they’re dead!”

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