Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Buehrle Sets Record...and I Have the Scorecard!

I often keep score when I go to the ballgame. Not always, but often. I find it to be an elegant and satisfying art. Unfortunately, throughout the years I've discarded all of my scorecards, at one time or another. Some of these losses are very regrettable, and make me wish I were more of a pack rat--notably the scorecard from the game in which Eddie Murray collected his 3000th hit.

Well, I'm going to make it a point to hang on to this one.

Chicago White Sox pitcher Mark Buehrle retired the first seventeen Minnesota Twins he faced last night (in a game attended by myself and my girlfriend). Combined with his perfect game against Tampa last week, he set a Major League record for consecutive batters retired, with 45.

Here's the scorecard:

As the article I link to above mentions, the record was broken when Joe Crede grounded out to short in the fifth. Alexi Casilla (of all people) finally broke the streak when he walked in the bottom of the sixth.

Immediately after walking Casilla, the wheels came off for Buehrle in a big way. Any time you give up a two-RBI hit to Nick Punto, you know something's going wrong. But I don't think this diminishes the accomplishment.

Anyway, it's pretty cool to have a scorecard from a game in which a reasonably important Major League Record was broken. If you've never scored a ballgame, I encourage you to learn how.

Friday, July 3, 2009

Missing Twitch

Last year, I became a big fan of the dance competition show So You Think You Can Dance, to which I was introduced by my girlfriend. In a way, I suppose you could think of it as American Idol for dancing, but the analogy requires some qualification. The overall quality of the performances is much superior on SYTYCD--even the poorest performances on any given night are quite good, especially when one considers that the contestants must master radically different styles (from hip-hop to waltz to Broadway) from one week to the next. And, as was pointed out on Television Without Pity, the difference between the judges on Idol and the judges on SYTYCD is that the latter actually seem to know what they're talking about.

This week's episode boasted some of the best performances that I've seen since I've been watching the show; the decision of who to eliminate each week has become very tough and is only going to get tougher. However, despite the quality of the dance my girlfriend and I both agree that something is missing this season, when compared with last season. That something is, in a word, personality. All of the contestants are excellent dancers, but none of them pop off the screen and threaten to become full-fledged stars. I am hard-pressed to identify a dancer that is a favorite of mine this year...I would have trouble identifying any more than a handful of them by name. This is a sharp contrast to last season, when by this time I had not just one but a number of favorites, and I can still name them today, without even having to Google "SYTYCD Season 4"...popper Joshua (who won last year), the brilliant Katie (who should've won), breaker Gev, ballroom dancer Chelsea, and the indefatigably charismatic hip-hopper Twitch.

The closest to a personal favorite of mine this year is Phillip Chbeeb, wildly entertaining within his native hip-hop element and impossible to dislike, but unfortunately beset with difficulty when attempting dance styles outside his own genre...I honestly have to say I think he is probably the least-skilled dancer left in the competition. Hopefully one of the more technically proficient dancers will demonstrate some genuine pizzazz in the next few weeks, and provide a strong rooting interest for me down the stretch.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

I Approve of Vulcan Bullies

The recent film reboot of the Star Trek franchise includes credits for three characters described as "Vulcan Bullies". This single fact captures why the movie is so much more enjoyable than any of the previous installments (film or television) in the series.

I've never really been much of a Star Trek fan. The posited future in which the stories take place has always been, to a greater or lesser extent, too antiseptic, too optimistic, too sexless, and too humorless to be believable or even enjoyable. Okay, so the ultimate goodness, generosity, and wisdom of the human race has finally created an egalitarian society in which war is nonexistent and money is unnecessary, because everyone learned to stop being greedy, too. First of, that sounds like an environment just ripe with interesting conflicts that can be leveraged for producing exciting stories, doesn't it? Second of all...HA! Tell me another one! Until now, Trek has taken place in a universe in which everyone finishes first in their class at Starfleet Academy, in which no one is a ditch digger, and which is apparently devoid of nasty things like slums, slaughterhouses, and Vulcan bullies. It's been more of a vehicle for tedious moralizing about the potential of humankind than something...well, fun and watchable.

That's not to say that J.J. Abrams' new version is as gritty a space story as, say, Alien, but at least the environment looks a bit lived-in. The movie is often funny, occasionally even sexy, and almost uniformly enjoyable. Some of the casting decisions seem a little odd at first, but I would say they pretty much all work. Simon Pegg (of Shaun of the Dead fame) is fun as Scotty, although every time I saw John Cho as Sulu I wondered where the helmsman keeps his weed. Special props to Zachary Quinto as Spock and Chris Pine as Kirk. The latter tackles the old swaggering-young-hotshot chestnut and manages to keep it fresh, a non-trivial accomplishment.

I'm continually frustrated by the prevailing studio business model of producing so many sequels and remakes of existing properties, but I'm not dogmatic about it and even I will admit that occasionally there is a franchise that can use a reboot. I think Dawn of the Dead warranted being remade with modern production values, just because in my opinion George Romero's ambitious reach tended to exceeded his frankly rather limited grasp (both in terms of budget and simple filmmaking ability). Similarly, I think that Star Trek has definitely been improved by being revisited. Let's hope they manage to get a few good movies out with this cast and setting before it gets lame.

Friday, June 19, 2009

More Fun With Wikipedia! (Cheat-free Version!)

Follow-up to this post...

John Macdonald (British Politician) to Streptomyces clavuligerus in nine moves:

John Macdonald (British Politician)
Great Britain
United Kingdom
Medical school
Streptomyces clavuligerus

No cheating whatsoever! I'm so proud...

Cool! Birds!

Recently my girlfriend and I bought a hanging plant for our yard and a shepherd's hook upon which to hang it. Unfortunately, it transpired that the structure of the hook was insufficient to support the weight of the plant (Buckling 101), so instead we bought a stand capable of carrying the compressive load of the plant's weight in a stable manner and a bird feeder to put on the hook.

Fortuitous. The plant is great, but I've enjoyed the bird feeder even more, and I'm not sure we would've acquired it if we hadn't been looking for a use for our shepherd's hook.

Spotted in the yard so far (since I started paying attention):

White-breasted Nuthatch
Black-capped Chickadee
House Finch
American Goldfinch
Northern Cardinal
Common Grackle
American Robin
Red-winged Blackbird
Blue Jay

(The last four don't really eat at the bird feeder, but I've seen them in the yard.)

Now, I know that reporting to a birdwatcher that I've seen an American Robin in my backyard is akin to telling a numismatist that I've found a Jefferson Nickel in pocket change, but my purpose isn't to brag up the exoticness of the birds in my neighborhood. Indeed, these are all pretty common birds. What's eye-opening to me is the variety...that's nine species of very different birds in our little backyard in the suburban Twin Cities. And those are just the ones I've been able to identify.

I guess the moral of the story is, If you think that one Suburban Bird is just like another, a tiny amount of attention and an ordinary bird book will teach you to think again. It's worth doing.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Fun With Wikipedia

Here's something fun to try with Wikipedia...

Hit the Random Article link from the main page.

Then, do it again.

Now, try to find your way back to the first page from the second page using only searching!

I made it from Canegrate culture (a civilization of Prehistoric Italy, apparently) to Perry Township, Clinton County, Indiana in twelve moves:

Canegrate Culture
Prehistoric Italy
Category: History of North America
Category: History of the United States
Category: United States
Category: States of the United States
Category: Indiana
Category: Geography of Indiana
Category: Indiana Counties
Category: Clinton County, Indiana
Perry Township, Clinton County, Indiana

As a refinement, I think that next I'm going to try to use links that only go to other actual articles...using category pages seems like cheating.

(I would be unsurprised to learn that there exist world championships for this sort of thing.)



Prime Minister of Laos to Canarias class cruiser in five moves...

Prime Minister of Laos
World War II
Spanish Civil War
Battle of Cape Espartel
Canarias class cruiser

No category (or list) pages this time, but I did cheat by using "What links here" to find the intermediate link between Spanish Civil War and the goal.

Clearly the rules of this game need to be codified...

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

I'm Sad Ace of Cakes is Over

I gained a new favorite TV show this season, and I discovered it in an unusual corner of the galaxy. Ace of Cakes, if you've never seen it, follows a bakery in Baltimore called Charm City Cakes that specializes in creating custom cakes that resemble anything but cake. Although it's clear that much of the bakery's day-to-day business lies in crafting relatively traditional tiered wedding cakes &c, the show focuses on the creation of cakes--really as much sculpture as food--in the shapes of spaceships, baseball stadiums, zombies, and Lord knows what else. You can see a few of them on the bakery's website. The work is truly extraordinary, and often involves a not insignificant measure of engineering. You'll never see so much attention paid to the structural properties of food.

I suppose you could call it a reality show, but Ace of Cakes is devoid of all of the characteristics of that genre that irritate me. Everyone in the bakery is completely likable, from goofy owner Duff Goldman, to the wry and ironic office manager Mary Alice, to the phlegmatic professional Geof, to the various decorators and carvers and artists who make the place run. There are no manufactured villains--there is sufficient narrative drama in the bakery's attempts to continuously top its most ambitious designs. It's really more of a documentary than a reality show.

Ace of Cakes is one of those shows that, upon discovery, I couldn't get enough of (much like Buffy the Vampire Slayer, back in the day). Not long after I learned of its existence, Food Network had a Saturday marathon, and my girlfriend and I watched it for hours, each episode brand new (at least to us). When the new season began, I looked forward to it every week.

Alas, the season just ended last weekend, with the Charm City gang flying to Hawaii to create what must've been the most expensive cake in history for the 100th episode of Lost. So I'm feeling a little sense of loss right now. But it's tempered by the knowledge that there must be tons of reruns out there I haven't seen yet, and Food Network will no doubt air them all at one time or another over the summer.

Thank goodness for DVR!