Thursday, December 01, 2011

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Language Wars

A short list of ubiquitous language tics that make me crazy.


"My eyes literally popped out of my head when I saw his outfit."

Your eyes figuratively popped out of your head. If they had literally popped out of your head it would be a medical emergency. Stop using the opposite of the word "figuratively" to mean "figuratively."


"We had a meeting around upgrading our accounting software."

No you didn't. You had a meeting around a table. You didn't sit in a circle surrounding a physical manifestation of the idea of "upgrading our accounting software." You didn't have a meeting a block from "upgrading our accounting software." The word "around" is an adverb or preposition that describes your physical proximity relative to a THING.


"What a gutty performance by LeBron tonight."

Either you meant "gutsy" or you are an Irish person colloquially referring to a street urchin who lives in the "gutter." Gutty is not a word.

Wednesday, November 09, 2011

Injury to All

A popular pundit opinion these days is "The NBA players are not going to get a better deal from the owners than the one on the table and every canceled game is money that they lose forever."

I haven't heard a single person say "the canceled game next week doesn't matter for the future union brothers - those who haven't even set foot on an NBA court. They are your brothers too, and they have a stake in this negotiation. However, they have no voice at this table and you can't sell them out for a handful of game checks."

This sort of stuff is even worse when it comes to "grandfathering" in negotiations - everything from union contracts to a new medicare system. You placate the existing stakeholders by saying they can keep what's theirs and then you sell the future stakeholders out. When it comes to environmental matters, we're particularly adept and unthinking in practicing this method repeatedly, every day.

I feel like a hundred and twenty five years of right-wing messaging about unions has turned the populace into a bunch of feeble ciphers, trained to regard unions as inherently corrupt and unnecessary in this world of corporate utopianism. Unions, as with any organization, have their aims subverted by their entrenchment and the people who see their jobs primarily as personal security rather than as a means towards serving their stakeholders. That's all well and good to say, because there is corruption and rust in the apparatus of many unions, but it's so far from being unique to unions that it's kind of a strawman.

Back to the NBA. I don't follow league finances particularly closely, but it's undeniable that the league uses star players and their personalities to drive sales. The players are obviously owed a big piece and rightly so. I can't speak to how big that piece should reasonably be, but just make sure that the part that goes to the future Kobe Bryants isn't sacrificed for a handful of checks for present Kobe in December.

Thursday, October 06, 2011

What He Did, and What He Didn't Do

Steve Jobs died yesterday. I read an article that Malcolm Gladwell wrote earlier this year in the New Yorker about how Jobs had a reputation as a pure, Edison-esque inventor that he hadn't quite earned. Gladwell recounts Jobs' visit to a Xerox facility in the 1970s where engineers were building what would later come to be called a Personal Computer. And it had a mouse. Jobs would later perfect the idea, and the rest is history.

The article recounts a number of instances where companies were developing technologies but didn't realize their application, and let them fall to the cutting room floor. If it weren't for guys like Jobs, inventions like the mouse and the laser printer would have collected dust in a warehouse.

If you think about it, Jobs didn't invent the PC, or the touch screen, or the smartphone, or any of the things that we think of him as "inventing." What Jobs did was probably more difficult - he was able to package and present technologies in a way that impacted the way people lived.

Malcolm Gladwell - Creation Myth

Friday, July 01, 2011


I saw Cliff Lee pitch this week - he faced the minimum 27 Red Sox, giving up a couple of hits but getting as many double plays from his D. Complete game win, 29 straight scoreless innings. Turns out he is the 3rd starting pitcher in the last century to drive in more runs in a month (2) than he let up (1). Crazy shit.

He still is, statistically, the third best pitcher on his own team. According to Baseball Reference, up until this point in the season, Halladay's WRP (wins compared to replacement player aka WAR) is 4.6, Hamels' is 4.0 and Lee's is 3.8. I did an analysis on the "great rotations" of all time over on Just Sayin after the Lee acquisition. Here is a brief review:

1927 New York Yankees
Waite Hoyt (22-7, 2.63, 5.6)
Urban Shocker (18-6, 2.84, 2.7)
Herb Pennock (19-8, 3.00, 3.0
Dutch Ruether (13-6, 3.38, 1.6)
George Pipgras (10-3, 4.11, 1.3)
Avg WRP = 2.84
Total WRP = 14.2

1954 Cleveland Indians
Early Wynn (23-11, 2.73, 5.2)
Mike Garcia (19-8, 2.64, 5.1)
Bob Lemon (23-7, 2.72, 4.2)
Art Houtteman (15-7, 3.35, 1.3)
Bob Feller (13-3, 3.09, 1.7)
Avg WRP = 3.5
Total WRP = 17.5

1993 Atlanta Braves
Greg Maddux (20-10, 2.36, 6.2)
Tom Glavine (22-6, 3.20, 3.8)
Steve Avery (18-6, 2.94, 4.0)
John Smoltz (15-11, 3.62, 2.8)
Avg WRP = 4.2
Total WRP = 16.8
(Avg = 3.4, Tot = 17 with Pete Smith: 4-8, 4.37, 0.2)

1971 Baltimore Orioles
Mike Cueller (20-9, 3.08, 2.7)
Pat Dobson (20-8, 2.90, 3.1)
Jim Palmer (20-9, 2.68, 4.1)
Dave McNally (21-5, 2.68, 3.1)
Avg WRP = 3.25
Total WRP = 13

2003 Oakland A's
Barry Zito (14-12, 3.30, 4.9)
Tim Hudson (16-7, 2.70, 6.7)
Ted Lilly (12-10, 4.34, 2.0)
Mark Mulder (15-9, 3.13, 5.1)
Avg WRP = 4.675
Total WRP = 18.7

1998 Atlanta Braves
Greg Maddux (18-9, 2.22, 6.1)
Tom Glavine (20-6, 2.47, 5.6)
Denny Neagle (16-11, 3.55, 2.0)
Kevin Millwood (17-8, 4.08, 0.6)
John Smoltz (17-3, 2.90, 3.2)
Avg WRP = 3.5
Total WRP = 17.5

I used those averages just to balance out the 4 vs. 5 man rotations, but the WRP stat is cumulative (I think?), and at this point in the year, Roy/Cliff/Cole have accounted for 12.4 wins relative to a replacement (read- bargain) pitcher. The season is only half over. Toss an oft-injured Oswalt in there, with his 1.1 WRP, and spot starter Vance Worley with his 1.1 and you are talking about a rotation that has provided more value to its team over half a season (14.6 wins) than the entire rotation of the 1927 Yankees or 1971 Orioles did over the course of a whole year! If they keep up the pace, or even pitch half as well as they did in the first half, it will be the most valuable pitching staff in the modern history of baseball. Since the Phillies hit like shit now, the timing couldn't be better.

Monday, May 02, 2011

On Yesterday's Events

In the wake of last night's news that Osama Bin Laden was killed by American special forces in Pakistan, some scattered thoughts, some of which are distilled from conversations I have had over the last 12-14 hours:

-I don't think it's appropriate to rejoice over the deaths of others, even if they were very bad people. Bin Laden had this coming, but dancing on his grave is wrong. At a Passover Seder, you remove a drop of wine from your glass for each one of the ten plagues as a reminder not to take joy in the suffering of your enemies. It's important not to lose your humanity in the moments when extreme circumstances force a resort to violence.

In mentioning this sentiment, I've had a few people say this is somehow a sympathetic viewpoint, which is ridiculous. I believe that our greatest potential asset in combating violent extremism is exerting a goodness of character and comporting ourselves in a way that suggests that using violence is something that we do not enjoy or wish to do willingly except under the most grave circumstances.

-I think that it is unclear whether this diminishes the operational capacity of Al-Qaeda or changes the political momentum in favor of the United States, but it is most certainly a better outcome than NOT killing Bin Laden and it provides some closure. Al-Qaeda is designed to be decentralized, and I can't help but think that although political events since 9/11 may have lionized Bin Laden in the Arab world, they may have made him less relevant because of the other, similar organizations that coalesced around American military intervention and detention policies.

-Conspiracy theorists are boring. I'm not saying that politicians don't hide things or offer misdirection from time to time, but I don't have time for people who think that grand orchestrations like fake moon landings, inside-job 9/11s or fake Bin Laden assassinations are worth the time or risk. Why would you fake killing Bin Laden, only to have him pop up later and make you look really really really bad? Impeachably bad. Dumbasses.

I really wonder about the folks that distrust anything that an "authority figure" says, but offer near blanket acceptance of pretty much any jerk who writes a book about how the symbols on currency imply some sort of cabal to poison you with MSG and cell phone brain rays.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Bout It Roll Call


21: The Illustrated Journal of Outsider Baseball

Issue 1 - Jewish Baseball Pioneers and Stars

Looking forward to Issue 2, which is apparently a 1933 Pittsburgh Crawfords yearbook.


John Legend - Rolling In The Deep (DJ Apt One Remix) by DJ Apt One


Hennessy Youngman's Art Thoughtz rolls on, into the woods.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Don't Drink The Water?

There was a story in a number of media outlets today about high levels of radioactive isotopes of Iodine in Philadelphia drinking water detected last week - amounts as high as 2.2 pCi/L (picoCuries per liter of water). The EPA's limit is 3.0 pCi/L Obviously, the first thing that comes to mind is the Fukishima nuclear disaster in Japan, which has just been upgraded to a level of severity on par with Chernobyl.

In a number of the articles I have read, experts are saying that the amount of radiation measured in Philly's water is not a big deal, and somebody is always quoted as saying the opposite "for balance." With trust in government at quite a low in the last 40 years, skepticism is natural, but with a lot of my friends wondering if the water is safe (myself included), I think it's a good idea to break down some of what we know and figure out what this means for public health.

Disclaimer - I am not a chemist, physicist or public health expert, merely a guy with an ecology degree and a blog, so I welcome anybody to correct any errors I may make or add to my comments.

First off - there are several kinds of radiation measures, a number of which you have probably heard on the news. These measures can tell you the radioactivity of a substance, the amount of dosage a human has absorbed or several other things. The Curie (Ci) is a non-metric measurement of radioactivity. Although I strongly prefer metric units, the Philly Water Dept measured in Ci, so let's talk in Curies to make life simple.

Second - all objects continuously emit electromagnetic radiaton, even human beings. This is how we're able to date archaeological objects - by measuring the decay of radioactive isotopes of carbon in formerly living objects.

Third - the water measurement was in pCi/L, picoCuries per liter of water. The prefix "pico" denotes a 1 in a Trillion multiplier (1/1,000,000,000,000 or 1x10-12)). This is important because there are lots of radioactive objects and substances that would be useful as points of comparison. Many every-day radioactive objects have levels of radiation measured on different orders of magnitude: nano (1/1,000,000,000), micro (or milliCuries per weight or volume. At the risk of being insulting, this is worth explaining a bit. This chart gives a little rundown - keep in mind that these prefixes denote immense changes in magnitude of ONE THOUSAND. A centimeter is less than an inch, a meter is a few feet, a kilometer is a few blocks, a megameter is twice the width of Pennsylvania.

Now based some figures from various health departments and universities (links provided), here are the equivalents in water volume from the Queen's Lane facility:

1 Coffee = 12.27 nCi/lb
One pound of coffee has the same radioactive content as 5335 Liters of Philadelphia water.

Animals, plants = 6 pCi/g

One gram of any living animal or plant has the same radioactive content as 2.6 Liters of Philadelphia water. That means that a one pound steak has approximately the same amount of radiation as 73.8 Liters of Philadelphia water.
Beer (dry weight) = 390 pCi/kg
One kg of the solids left by dehydrating beer (which is probably equivalent to about 10 kg of beer by wet weight, not sure of the volume because I don't know beer's density) has the same radioactive content as 170 Liters of Philadelphia drinking water.

So I guess these levels of radioactivity in Philly water are not really that high, and the EPA standards seem awfully strict. Apparently, in August there were elevated levels of radioactivity in Philly's reservoirs but this went more or less without comment. I would be interested to see how much radioactive Iodine from Fukishima is being deposited in the Delaware watershed relative to elsewhere. I don't know how high the radioactive particles ride in the air across the Pacific, because my expectation would be that much of the radioactivity will condense over the western mountain ranges and fall as rain in the West or Midwest before it reaches here.

Anyways, I hope this was helpful, I'm gonna go get a drink.

Wednesday, April 06, 2011

The Philadelphia Experiment

"I ain't talkin bout chicken and gravy mang"

My homie Drew Lazor wrote a piece in a recent Grid issue (which is not available online yet) profiling "The Minimalist," Mark Bittman. In the interview, Bittman revealed (to me at least), that he was about to move from writing about cooking to writing about food politics. In his new role, and possibly as a result of his conversation with Drew or perusal of the Grid "Food Issue" that contained his interview, he developed an awareness of Philly's attempts to improve access to healthy food. His most recent entry is a glowing recounting of Philadelphia's nascent efforts to localize its food systems and discourage economic discrimination that is manifested by food-related health consequences.

As most know, Philadelphia has large swaths of concentrated poverty, even after decades of relatively impressive and innovative experiments with mixed income housing, transitional housing and public housing redevelopment. Most of these areas are defined by their relatively poor access to jobs, services and goods, including healthy food, which generally costs more than processed food. This arrangement is not a coincidence - decades of neglectful and racially or economically discriminatory policies by business and municipalities combined with market forces that created "food deserts."

Over the last several years, working a sort of consigliere to my fiancee's career efforts in community garden organizing, urban agriculture and sustainable food systems, I have gained an appreciation for the momentum this movement has in Philadelphia, and it's nice to see recognition from a national news outlet.

All in all, there have been some great accomplishments that I have personally witnessed, big and small. I've helped build two gardens, one of which is a community farm where young men and women from West Philly learn about food systems and business skills. Mainly through these efforts, and meeting my fiancee's acquaintances in this field, I have met a lot of people from a broad range of backgrounds who have come together because they care about food with an intensity equivalent to its importance in each of our daily lives. Alex Mulcahy, publisher of Grid, deserves a lot of credit for creating a well-produced publication that has communicated much of what I already knew to a broad audience.

I could list the accomplishments of the fine Philadelphians in this field in this space - new supermarkets deep in the ghetto, farms and farmstands and green roofs - but instead, I'll just direct you to some choice links at the bottom and let you explore some of what's going on in the 215.


Mark Bittman "Better Food in Philadelphia"
Grid Magazine
Philly Rooted
Farm to Philly
Philadelphia Orchard Project
The Food Trust

Friday, March 18, 2011

Worthy Causes

So micro-fundraising has seen a huge surge in popularity the last few years. I remember talking to Skinny about setting up a Kickstarter for some record label projects a few years back and it just seemed way to novel to get anybody interested. Now it's pretty normal, and that's a great thing.

The last few weeks I've been hipped to three different micro-fundraising projects that I think are worthy of your attention.

Apologies for the wonky video embedding:

Philly Rooted is working with UC Green and the Philadelphia Orchard Project to plant lots of fruit and nut trees along the West Philadelphia streetscape. In exchange for donations, you can get all kinds of gift certificates and coupons to local businesses.

Link: UC Green Kickstarter

Nic Esposito is my fiancee's business partner. Together with Nic, Erica and I have started two gardens in West Philadelphia - a community garden in the Woodlands Cemetery and a grower's co-op and community farm behind the 46th Street El station. Erica and Nic have conspired to become quite the big-wigs in the Philly gardening and sustainability scene the last few years.

Nic is writing a book, in which Erica and I are characters - he's self-publishing and he's asking for donations to finance the printing. In return he's offering various benefits - from a copy of the book to a storytelling salon at your house.

Link: Nic Esposito Kickstarter

Mariposa Co-Op - My neighborhood food Co-op is moving from it's teeny-tiny, members only location into a big space in what used to be a church, just down the block at 49th and Baltimore. The new Marioposa will be much more like a full-service supermarket offering lots of healthy, organic and/or local food options to a neighborhood underserved in all said commodities.

Link: Mariposa IndieGoGo Campaign

Tuesday, March 08, 2011

Video Roundup

I'm playing in Vegas for a few days, and while I'm gestating on some ideas for long-form stuff in this space, here's a roundup of videos to amuse you b/w infuriate you:

A classic John Stewart "gotcha" on double-talking talking-heads. This one compares defense of high-paid bankers during the crisis points of the last few years to attacks on (relatively) low-paid teachers as fat cats.

If you wanna throw up in your mouth a little bit, go to the youtube page hosting this video and read the comments. Wonderful.

Thursday, March 03, 2011

State Properties

I'm kind of an American history buff, and I've been following the NYT series on the 150th anniversary of the war. Today marks the 150th anniversary of the other emancipation proclamation - the emancipation of Russia's 23 million serfs by Alexander II. This was somewhat of a political blow to the south, because they were able to point at Russia as being another major western society with a codified social order of servitude.

In recent years, I've been amazed at the way in which America has been unable to resolve some of the disputes over our nation's philosophical and political framework which have persisted since 1776. Although slavery is in the rearview mirror, the recent healthcare debate has sparked calls for "nullification" of Federal statutes by the states - an issue at the heart of the debates over states rights in the context of slavery. If the greatest catastrophe in the nation's history can't put that one to bed, who knows what can?

Friday, February 25, 2011

Hello, is this thing on?

I've decided that in the interest of keeping my mostly career-focused Facebook page and free of stuff that requires serious thinking, I should probably start updating this space with my "thoughts in excess of a paragraph." As a self-employed, quasi-public figure in the entertainment industry it's bad business to go airing your opinions on complicated matters through the channels you've set up specifically to tell people how they should patronize you.

I'm going to start using this site to post more than just science stuff from here on out. Instead it's going to take the place of Just Sayin for lots of stuff - random thoughts about science, politics, sports and music. Basically my willy-nilly mindspray. So, apologies in advance, and happy reading.