Monthly Archives: October 2010

Reader survey: writers and their baseball teams (also Joan Jett)

Almost World Series time!  I’m supporting the Giants — I still feel low about the title Bonds and the Giants should have won in 2002, and while Bonds is gone, my affection for his team remains.  Also, the Giants have more ex-Orioles.

I was just reading about Marianne Moore and the Dodgers and wondering what else we know about writers and the baseball teams they loved.  Offhand, besides Moore, I can think of

  • Delmore Schwartz:  Giants
  • Don DeLillo:  Yankees
  • Stephen King:  Red Sox

As for the Orioles, I’m not sure.  Tom Clancy owns a piece of the team but I don’t know whether he has a rooting interest.  Joan Jett likes us!

Baltimore Orioles:
I follow them everyday. If I could watch them everyday I would. I call Sports Phone every 10 minutes when the Orioles play whether I’m on the road or at home. I’m following them very closely as always. It seems like every time I write about them in a song they do well. Bad Reputation was dedicated to the Orioles and they did well in 1979. On Notorious, in the song, “I Want You” there’s a lyric that says “I want to go and see the O’s never lose.” I want to go to Baltimore sometime this year and see the new stadium.

Theme song to the greatest television program ever aired and dedicated to the Orioles?  Sometimes the world is too good.

Anyway, please contribute your literary baseball fans (or baseball-loving rock icons) in the comments.

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Facts about Kyoto

  • The outskirts of Kyoto look more like the outskirts of an American city than they do like the outskirts of a European city, but downtown Kyoto looks more like a European downtown than it looks like an American downtown.
  • There are a lot of soda machines in Kyoto.  Soda machines in untrafficked corners where you would never expect to find a soda machine.  You can buy little cans of cold coffee out of them.
  • Eel livers are delicious.
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Non-ridiculous things that sound ridiculous

New York Magazine this week features a dopey listicle, “The Ten Most Ridiculous-Sounding Math Classes Currently Offered at Liberal-Arts Colleges.” Many are not math courses at all, but literature courses studying the use and depiction of mathematics in novels and plays.  I approve.  Others are perfectly reasonable math courses, whose only sin seems to be that the course-catalog writer tried to make the class sound reasonably accessible:  “In particular, we will ask such questions as: How do you model the growth of a population of animals? How can you model the growth of a tree? How do sunflowers and seashells grow?”

This prompted Nathan Collins to tell me this great story (Gerald B. Folland, American Mathematical Monthly, Oct. 1998, page 780)

On April 9, 1975, Congressman Robert Michel brandished a
list of new NSF grants on the floor of the House of
Representatives and selected a few that he thought might
represent a waste of the taxpayers’ money. One of them
(on which I happened to be one of the investigators) was
called “Studies in Complex Analysis.” Michel’s comment
was, ” ‘Simple Analysis’ would, hopefully, be cheaper.” I
shudder to think of what might happen if certain members
of the current Congress discover that the NSF is supporting
research on perverse sheaves.”

It’s also reminiscent of the high placing of math books in the annual Oddest Book Title competition.  In my opinion, Kowalski was robbed.

Orioles predictions revisited

Well, the baseball season is over and the October exhibition games are well underway, so it’s time to look back at 2010 and see how our Orioles pre-mortem looks in retrospect.

Not too bad!  But I made it easy on myself.  I agreed with the general consensus that the Orioles had the talent to win 75-80 games, but remarked that because the uncertainty about young players is so great, they could win 85.  Or they could lose 95.  And they did! Then they lost one more to make it 96.

I wrote that the Orioles could win 85 games, 10 games over projection, “if Tillman comes up and excels, if Markakis returns to 2008 form, if Wieters continues to grow as a hitter, if a non-prospect like Hernandez reveals himself to be a good pitcher.”  In fact: Tillman was awful. Markakis brought his walks back up a bit, but hit fewer home runs than last year (as he’s done every year since 2007, a bizarre trajectory for a player his age.)  Wieters actually took a step back.   Hernandez continued to struggle as a starter but was adequate in relief.  Since every one of these things went the wrong way, it’s not so shocking the Orioles finished under projection.

Here’s what I said near the end of 2009:

Players on the Orioles who are very likely to produce more in 2010 than in 2009:  Matt Wieters, Nolan Reimold, Adam Jones, Nick Markakis, Felix Pie, Brian Matusz, Chris Tillman, Koji Uehara, Brad Bergesen.

Not a great prediction.  Matusz, for sure.  Wieters produced more just by playing more. Reimold and Tillman were awful and spent most of the year in the minors.  Bergesen was slightly less terrible and spent the year getting beat up in the majors.  Pie spent most of the season hurt.  Jones and Markakis delivered about the same; Uehara went from being an adequate starter to an effective reliever, which I think is also a wash.

But the story of the 2010 Orioles is obviously the story of the great August turnaround when Buck Showalter took over as manager.  When Showalter took over we were 32-73 and appeared en route to the franchise’s worst season since 1939.  After that, we played .600 ball the rest of the way.  I have never been a big believer that managers matter.  (Though I see I did give Trembley part of the blame at the end of 2009.)  But my belief in these matters is now in question.

So:  Orioles 2011?  As always, I feel good about the team!  People who follow the Orioles aren’t gloom bunnies like Cubs fans or Red Sox fans.  Whatever dreck1 we’re putting on the field, we see the upside.

1: Yiddish for “Garrett Atkins.”

October 2010 linkdump

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Partha Niyogi has died

I’m sorry to report that Partha Niyogi of the University of Chicago died last week, at 43, from brain cancer.  Partha gave a beautiful lecture at UW last spring as part of our MALBEC series on machine learning.  My description of his work in the linked blog post is inadequate; here’s his paper with Smale and Weinberger from which his talk here was drawn.



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David Lynch/parenting protip

Don’t watch “Inland Empire” while holding your baby.  Your baby won’t mind, but if you watch a David Lynch movie for ten minutes and then look down at your baby, your baby’s face will freak you out.

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