Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Books I Read In 2008

I spent a lot of time on a train this year, which for me translates into spending a lot of time reading. Here are the books that stuck in my head well enough that I remember something about them at the end of the year.


Mind Game, Baseball Prospectus

Actually, I just finished this one yesterday. It's a great book if you're a somewhat geeky sports fan. It covers the 2004 Red Sox season from start to finish, with a slant towards the underlying baseball analysis that drove many of the team's decisions. The story is a fantastic one (seriously, if you made this shit up you'd get laughed out of town, but it actually happened), and they do a good job of looking at the numbers behind the action. Well worth reading.

Now I Can Die In Peace, Bill Simmons

A collection (with extensive highly amusing footnotes) of Bill Simmons' Red Sox related articles. Quite amusing if you like his writing style, it's clearly written from a fan's point of view, not from a sports reporter's, which is both good and bad depending on what you're looking for.

Patriot Reign, Michael Holley

I started paying a little more attention to Football this year, and this was my first attempt to dip my toes in the water of Football writing. All in all it was ok, but not spectacular. I'm a huge fan of the author's general method (embedding himself within the team and observing what goes on), and I've enjoyed several other books that do largely the same thing (Moneyball and 3 Nights in August, for example), but in this case it didn't really do it for me. The subject matter was interesting, but I just don't think Michael Holley measures up to Michael Lewis or Buzz Bissenger as a writer.

Red Sox Rule, Michael Holley

Ironically, I didn't realize that this was written by the same guy who did Patriot Reign until I started making this list. It was once again some pretty decent subject matter (Terry Francona has had an interesting life), but the book fell a little short of my expectations. It felt like it left out or glossed over some of the most interesting parts of the story. For example, the details of Francona's interview with the Red Sox were extremely interesting, but there are a number of other places I would have liked to see similar depth (the 2004 and 2007 playoffs, for example) and it just wasn't there. Once again, the writing was serviceable, but nothing spectacular.

Baseball Between the Numbers, Baseball Prospectus

If you've got any interest in the application of statistics to baseball you should read this book. The baseball prospectus authors never cease to impress me, and this is clearly some of their finest work. Highly recommended.

Watching Baseball Smarter, Zack Hample

I think I would have enjoyed this book more if I'd read it earlier. It's a great introduction to the dizzying amount of baseball jargon that's out there, but by the time I'd read it I'd already picked up a lot of the information on my own. I'd definitely recommend it for someone who's just starting to get into baseball though.


Red State Blue State Rich State Poor State, Andrew Gelman

If you're the kind of person who was frantically reloading through the last few months of the 2008 elections, you'll probably love this book. It's a fascinating look at how red states got to be red, and blue states got to be blue, and lets be fair, on top of that it's got a kick ass title. Well worth reading.

Liar's Poker, Michael Lewis

Michael Lewis is a fantastic author, and this book, despite talking about events that happened 20 years ago is still extremely relevant today. Highly recommended to anyone who wants some insight into how Wall Street actually works.

Einstein Never Used Flashcards, Kathy Hirsh-Pasek, Roberta Michnick Golinkoff and Diane Eyer

For someone like myself, who's never really known much about childhood development, this book was quite eye opening. I mean really, it's incredible how many things kids need to learn that adults take totally for granted, and this book gives a great overview of how the process works. Good stuff.


Bridge For Dummies, Eddie Kantar

As a rule, I hate the "For Dummies" series of books. I think the title alone helps to perpetuate the idea that it's ok to be dumb, which is exactly the wrong message to be sending. That said, I got this book from my wife as part of our plan for me to learn bridge as part of a present for her father. Her parents met playing bridge in college, and their family used to play together up until her brother moved down to DC and they were stuck with only three players. I was drafted as their fourth, and it turns out that I actually really enjoy the game.

Surprisingly enough, Bridge for Dummies is actually a pretty highly regarded introduction to the game of bridge. It helped me along quite a bit when I was getting started, although to be fair I probably should have spent more time going through it before we actually stuck me in a game. I finally did end up giving up on it though, but it was largely because of the form factor of the book, not any issue I had with the content. It was simply too large to carry around in my laptop bag, which meant it was impractical for reading on the train. That said though, the content is quite good, and if you want to learn to play bridge you could certainly do worse.

Bridge Basics 1: An Introduction, Audrey Grant
Bridge Basics 2: Competitive Bidding, Audrey Grant
Bridge Basics 3: Popular Conventions, Audrey Grant

These are the books I switched to when I gave up on Bridge For Dummies. They were definitely a step up, at least for me, but they're not perfect. First, the good points. The form factor is considerably more convenient, and they are in color, so the hearts and diamonds in the hand diagrams are actually red, which in my opinion makes them easier to read. The style of writing is also quite good. When teaching bridge it's easy to just lay down a series of rules that the player should follow (i.e. you've got 13 points and 5 spades, so you open the bidding at 1 spade), which may simplify the process of getting someone playing, but it doesn't do much as far as helping them understand why the rules they're following actually helping them to win. These books do a good job of splitting the difference between teaching you a fairly standard set of guidelines so you can actually play the game while ensuring that you've got at least some understanding of the theoretical principles that went into choosing those guidelines.

This isn't to say that the books aren't without their flaws. The bridge system (Grant Standard) they describe is a little different from modern Standard American, and while that isn't necessarily a bad thing (these are just conventions, after all, as long as you and your partner agree on them that's the important part), there are a few points where the differences stand out. The big one is the point counts Grant uses for dummy points. Basically everyone else uses 3/2/1 for void/singleton/doubleton scoring, while she uses 5/3/1. In that particular case I remain unconvinced that her way is better. To be fair, when you do encounter these sort of differences of opinion, there are usually footnotes that point it out, which is nice to see. Finally, the printing of "Popular Conventions" that I've got is FULL of typos. It really feels like it was pushed out the door without sufficient editing. If you're paying attention you can see what the author was getting at, but honestly, there's really no excuse for this may errors. I hope there's a second printing that fixes some of these, because the series really is quite good otherwise.

The Backwash Squeeze and other Improbable Feats, Edward McPherson

This book is different from the other bridge books I read this year. It's about the larger game of bridge (i.e. the people who play it and the various organizations who run the large tournaments), not the mechanics of the game. It's similar to Word Freak, which tackles the competitive Scrabble world, but with a game that has a much richer history behind it. I enjoyed it immensely, and I'd recommend the book even if you aren't interested in actually playing bridge, as the history of the game and the people who play it are quite fascinating. Interesting footnote, the Backwash Squeeze (a particular technique for winning a hand of bridge) never actually happens in the book, as far as I can remember.

Speculative Fiction

Anathem, Neal Stephenson

I'm a big fan of Stephenson's work, so as you might expect I was anxiously awaiting this book. It didn't disappoint. While it takes a little effort to get things moving, Stephenson spins quite the interesting story, filled with his usual array of interesting ideas on a wide variety of subjects, ranging from musical theory, the many worlds theory of quantum physics and how religion and science interact in society. As has been the case with Stephenson's past few books (Cryptonomicon, The Baroque Cycle) it's long, but has an actual ending (unlike some of his earlier books), and if you've enjoyed any of Stephenson's past work I'd recommend picking this one up. If you haven't tried any of Stephenson's stuff yet, then what are you waiting for?

Old Man's War, John Scalzi
The Ghost Brigades, John Scalzi
The Last Colony, John Scalzi

I've been reading Scalzi's blog for some time now, but I hadn't gotten around to reading any of his books until a couple of months ago. All in all I enjoyed them, although you've got to go in with the proper expectations. They're quick sci-fi reads, lots of fun, a neat world with interesting characters, but nothing earth shattering. I definitely enjoyed them, and I'll probably pick up his new book (Zoe's Tale) once it hits paperback, but I wouldn't put him at the same level as say Stephenson.

Sundiver, David Brin

Oddly enough, I picked up this book because of a card game. The concept of "uplift", where an advanced species uses genetic engineering to grant sentience to another, less evolved, race plays a part in the Race for the Galaxy, a Sci-fi themed card game we play over lunch at work. This book is the first from the uplift universe, which appears to have spawned the concept. Lots of interesting ideas here, and I enjoyed the book quite a bit. The next two books in the series are currently sitting in my list of books to read, and I'm looking forward to them.

The Risen Empire, Scott Westerfeld
The Killing of Worlds, Scott Westerfeld

These two are actually two halfs of one longer story, just published in two separate books. I was incredibly impressed with Westerfeld's work, the world building he's done is fascinating, some of the best I've read in quite some time. I particularly like how his futuristic technology is relatively grounded in real science, with no unforseeable advances necessary to hold his universe together. Interstellar travel has real relativistic effects, and communication between the stars is handled by means of quantum entanglement effects. On top of the fascinating and realistic world is a great story, well worth the time to read. Unfortunately, this was the last adult oriented work Westerfeld did. After this he started writing for a young adult audience, where he's been incredibly successful. I wish him well there, but I can't help but wish he'd come back and write a few more books for an adult audience.

Little Brother, Cory Doctorow

This is Doctorow's first foray into young adult fiction, but I'd recommend it for adult readers as well. It's also noteable in that all of the technology mentioned in the book is pretty damn close to actual reality, if it doesn't actually exist right now there's at least no reason it couldn't if someone put some time into it. The story centers around a bunch of high school students with
hacker tendencies and their reaction to a terrorist attack on San Francisco and the resulting civil rights violations that come from the Department of Homeland Security's response. All in all it's incredibly realistic, and I'd say it should be required reading for any slightly
geeky high school student. Good stuff.

Friday, December 12, 2008

New Cell Number

It's been multiple years since I lived in Connecticut, so I'm finally making the plunge and moving to a new cell phone number. The old number will keep working at least through the end of the month (just let it keep ringing, it'll eventually forward on to the new one), but from then on you'll have to use my new number: 781-471-4627.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Feed Moved to FeedBurner

So, a little while back I moved the RSS and Atom feeds for my blog over to FeedBurner. I'm thinking about eventually moving from TypePad to another blog host, and when I move I'd like to avoid any disruption for the three people who actually read my blog ;-)

At the moment, if you're subscribed to the old feed URLs (i.e. or TypePad's FeedBurner integration is causing you to be redirected over to my new FeedBurner URL (, but unfortunately the redirect is temporary. TypePad doesn't issue a permanent redirect, so if I ever actually move away from TypePad anyone subscribed to the original TypePad feeds will stop getting redirected, which would be sad, because they would lose out on the approximately 3 halfway interesting things I post per year.

Is this annoying? Yes, very much so. It's extremely uncool that TypePad (which I do pay for by the way, it's a great service) doesn't give some way to make the redirect permanent. I'd like to think it's just an oversite, but deep down I expect they simply don't want to jump through even the smallest hoops to make it easier to migrate your blog away from them without losing your audience.

Anyway, to make a long story short, if you want to keep reading this blog for the forseeable future, I suggest migrating any feed readers you use over to the new url:

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Abdera Graduation

A couple of years ago (way back on May 22nd, 2006) James Snell posted on the Apache Incubator General list about a new project he wanted to bring to the incubator. That project ended up becoming Abdera, and now over two years later it's finally graduated to become its own new top level Apache project. It took a really long time, and a lot of people put in a lot of work, but I'm happy to say that Abdera has become a nice little community built around some neat code, and I'm quite proud to see it moving on from the incubator to bigger and better things.

The actual move from the incubator to our new home at will happen over the next few weeks, but for now lets just give the Abdera developers a round of applause. They've really done something great.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Minor League Fun

So Joanna and I went to the "Futures at Fenway" double header yesterday.

Well, we went to the first 15 innings of it anyway, the first game (Lowell Spinners versus the Hudson Valley Renegades) went 12 innings until Lowell managed to drive in the game winning run with a bases loaded single, and since we're dog sitting this weekend and needed to get home in a fairly reasonable time we decided to bail early on the Paw Sox. We figured that we were going to have to leave early in order to get home in time to let the dog out before her bladder exploded, and if we weren't going to be able to stay until the end of the game we might as well bail after the third inning, since at that point we'd been sitting in the sun for over 5 hours.

In any event, things we learned from the game:
  1. Man Fenway park really lets you get up close and personal with the players. We had seats a few rows back from the visitor's duggout, and it's astonishing how close that really is to the action. It's easy to lose track of that from the bleachers or grandstand seats we usually end up in for Red Sox games.
  2. Minor league games are fun, although the number of silly games and distractions they did between innings for the first game were a bit much in my opinion. I mean are people there to watch baseball or to see some kids dance with the mascots?
  3. Wow the single A players look young. The triple A guys look pretty much the same as any major league player, but the single A guys look like they're practically right out of high school.
  4. This is probably the most cost effective way to see a game in Fenway park from the really nice seats. We payed 30 bucks a ticket for our seats on stub hub (face value was 20), and the closest equivalent seats I can find there for the next Red Sox home game are over 400 dollars each.

Anyway, well worth the money, and a good time was definitely had. I'll post some pictures on Flickr once I've had a chance to get them off my camera.

Monday, June 30, 2008

Home Owners

Well, as of this morning Joanna and I are now officially home owners. After far too much stressing over the last few months about obtaining a mortgage and getting appraisals and whatnot we finally closed on our house. We signed and initialed a ridiculous number of forms ("Here, this one is in triplicate, please initial all 15 pages and sign and date at the bottom of page 14"), and handed over the largest check I've ever held, but it's done and we're extremely happy about it.

It's a little weird, we've been living here since November so we don't have the traditional "get the keys at the closing and run over to unlock the door and go into your house for the first time" kind of experience. On the bright side, we don't actually have to move anything in, which is always nice ;-)

Monday, May 19, 2008

Two In A Row

So, I don't know what the odds are of this happening, but I've gotta think that they're pretty slim.

Joanna and I just got back from seeing our second consecutive no hitter at Fenway Park. The final game we went to last year was Clay Buchholz's no hitter, and today's no hitter by Jon Lester was the first game we managed to get tickets for this year.

We're pretty sure that it goes without saying that the Red Sox should really start sending the occasional pair of tickets our way, just to see if we can keep this streak alive ;-)

Monday, April 14, 2008

We Got Married

Joanna and I got married on Saturday, and despite some weather related drama the evening was a resounding success. Hopefully I'll find the time to post some more detailed recollections later, but for now I just wanted to point people to some preliminary pictures.

We had our reception at the Museum of Science in Boston, but the museum itself was closed by the time the reception started, so we couldn't take any of the obligatory "Bride, Groom and Dinosaur" pictures. Not ones to let something like that get in the way, we went back on Sunday afternoon, and here are the results.

Anyway, we're off to San Diego tomorrow for our honeymoon. Talk to you guys when we get back!

Sunday, April 6, 2008

A Textbook Example

Is it just me, or was today's Red Sox v Blue Jays game just a textbook example of why it's freaking stupid to save your best relief pitchers for the 8th and 9th innings. I mean for crying out loud, Okajima and Papelbon were used anyway because they needed the work, is it too much to ask that you put one of them in for the bases loaded situation in the 5th? Instead we get Manny Delcarmen who happily gives up a grand slam, and by the time the decent pitchers are put in the game is already out of hand and there's nothing they can do to help win it. Sigh. I mean we're talking about a team that employs Bill James, you'd think that this idea would at least be kicking around in their heads, and in situations like today when there's zero down side to trying it out they would at least give it a shot.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Grrr. Argh.

Why is it that people in the various industries associated with weddings lack the ability to a) give a clear answer to questions when asked and b) actually answer more than one question at a time. This doesn't seem like too much to ask, but clearly we're setting the bar a bit too high for these geniuses...

Saturday, March 1, 2008

Well, That Was Different...

So, I just bought tickets to a San Diego Padres game, since Joanna and I are going to be out in San Diego in April for our honeymoon, and it turns out the team will be in town.

As a Red Sox fan who's been frantically trying to buy whatever tickets were available over the past few years, can I just say that this was a totally different experience. I mean, tickets went on sale today, and I was actually able to buy them! Field box seats, third base line, right up close, and actually paying face value, this is a bit of a change of pace for me. I know in theory that there are places where it's actually possible to buy tickets for a baseball game without having to take out a second mortgage or sell your first born child, but every time I actually encounter it I'm completely blown away.

Anyway, since we're saving for the down payment on the house it's looking like we won't be getting many chances to see the Red Sox this year, so at least we'll be getting some in person baseball in, even if it's the Padres versus the Rockies.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Email Migration

I'm in the process of switching my main email setup over to Google Apps for Domains, which means there are currently some DNS changes making their way through the internet. So if you have trouble getting in touch with me via email over the next day or so that's probably why.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Adventures In Cooking: Beef Stew

So, for Christmas Joanna and I got a copy of the New England Soup Factory Cookbook. We've been a big fan of the restaurant (which has a location right down the street from her office) for a long time now, and were anxious to give some of the recipes a try at home.

So far we've made their Chili Con Carne (short version: it came out great, although you have to mess with the seasoning a bit to get the flavor they have in the store. It was also better after freezing and thawing out a few weeks later) and their Spicy Chicken and Rice Flu Chaser (short version: awesome, it tasted great, and while it wasn't as spicy as the version from the store I'm almost convinced that was better, as the store's version may be a little too spicy). Anyway, last week we decided to try out the Hearty and Rich Beef Stew. Here are a few notes on how the process went.

First note: It turns out we didn't have the required equipment. They want you to precook the meat in either a dutch oven or a braising pan, which you will later use to cook the actual stew. So, we ended up cooking the meal at Joanna's parents house. They did have most of the required equipment, and were going to be getting home from a vacation that night anyway so we were able to surprise them with a nice dinner when they showed up. We did vary things slightly by cooking the actual stew in some large casserole dishes instead of in the same pan we used for the meat though. It still worked.

Second note: It's annoyingly easy to end up with an overly smoky kitchen searing the meat. Make sure the olive oil doesn't burn, or you'll be venting the room out for a while like we did. I think it was a combination of the stove being hotter than the recipe intended and the cast iron pan we were using to brown the meat being less than entirely level, resulting in some parts of the pan with way less oil on it than intended.

Third note: The recipe (this holds true for all of the NESF recipes actually) makes a LOT of stew. We ran out of room in the first dish we were cooking it in and had to use two. Good thing Joanna's parents have a well stocked kitchen.

Fourth note: Next time we might go with the frozen onions instead of fresh ones. The fresh ones require substantial time spent peeling, and since we don't like onions overly much it seems like a bit of a waste. On the other hand you do cook everything with them when they're fresh, so they may add some useful flavor. The frozen variety get added in at the end, so you get less of that. We''ll see.

Anyway, other than those small issues everything worked out well. It tasted great, both the day of cooking and the next day reheated. We'll definitely make this again. On a sort of meta note, this is an awesome cookbook, and I highly recommend it.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

A Furry Visitor

Joanna's parents are out of town this week, so we're dogsitting.

It has become somewhat clear that our house is not well equipped for a dog. There are far too many things at mouth level, so Sierra keeps ending up chewing on things that really shouldn't be chewed on. It's not her fault though, I mean she is a dog, and she at least makes up for it by being really cute.

Particularly amusing is when she stands over the vents in the floor looking down into the heating system. She seems convinced that there's something interesting down there, and if she looks hard enough she'll find a way in. Similarly she is very very interested in finding a way up into the loft above our bedroom that doesn't involve the not-available-to-dogs spiral staircase. There isn't actually another way up, but that hasn't kept her from devoting some serious time to the problem, when she hasn't been occupied with sniffing every square inch of the house.