A Trip to Amsterdam – II

Well, now that I’m arrived and settled in, it’s time to check out the sights.

It’s always good to get out of the city and visit the countryside (such as it may be). The Netherlands is (Are?) one of the more densely populated countries in the world, so there isn’t really that much “countryside” to speak of. And what there is, is flat and damp.

However, there’s still a good deal of “countryside” to see.

I booked a tour at Experience Waterland (through Trip Advisor) to see the windmills of Zaanse Schans, a “cheese farm” and wooden shoe maker, and the villages of Volendam and Broek in Waterland. It was a small group tour, and turned out to be even smaller when half of the people who signed up for it didn’t show. Their loss.

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A Trip to Amsterdam – I

It was time once again to flee from work and most other responsibilities, and journey away to strange and distant lands. I realized I hadn’t used my passport in ages, so I felt it was time to blow the dust off it and head off to someplace interesting.

I asked around a little: Which place is more fun for a single adult male – London, Paris, or Amsterdam? The answer was clear, and given the title of this post, you should be able to figure out which city won.

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On the 2018 All Star Game

Well, another “Midsummer Classic” has come and gone, and will be forgotten in due time.

Much of what I said last year still holds. FOX using their robot football guy to introduce a baseball game, not showing the names of the players as they are being introduced….

I hope the people at the game got more information about the Medal of Honor recipients than we did. The announcers could have at least sent us to a website to learn more.

Anyway, while there are official regulations governing who is eligible for the award (they were finally put in writing in the early 60s), there are some unwritten, unofficial requirements:

* There must be at least two eyewitnesses to the incident. Got to have proof.
* You must put your life in danger. Fair enough.
* It must be something that if you didn’t do it, no one could blame you.

Go check out the official citations of the honorees, and hope that if you do find yourself in such a dangerous situation, you behave with even a fraction of their courage.

The game itself? A perfect example of baseball these days. Homeruns, strikeouts, and practically nothing else.

Total plate appearances: 90
Total home runs: 10
Total strikeouts: 25
Total walks: 9

Half the plate appearances didn’t need a fielder to do anything.

I get it’s an exhibition, so the pitchers are all throwing flames and the batters are all swinging for the seats. But good heavens, it’s dull viewing. Major League Baseball really needs to make some changes in the off season.

By the way, Nationals Stadium did have its traditional President’s Race in the middle of the fourth inning. This time, Theodore Roosevelt jumped out to an early lead, but was blindsided by a flying rabbit. George Washington dashed past the ensuing pile-up and won handily.

They had a couple of players hooked up with microphones for in-game conversations again. Mike Trout and Bryce Harper were rather dull (except for Trout’s in-game weather commentary). Thankfully, Francisco Lindor and Charlie “I check my hole for gloves” Blackmon made up for it. If they do it again, get talkative and fun players like those guys.

Speaking of weather, MLB must have contingency plans in case there’s a rain delay or a rainout. Right?

By the way, what’s the deal with those wild socks that some players were wearing? And do enough people (other than collectors) buy those silly special All Star Game caps to justify making them?

All Star Week

Next week is when baseball’s annual All Star Game is played. Major League Baseball tries to make a week-long festival out of it, but for some reason they schedule the game itself on Tuesday night, which means all the pre-game stuff gets compressed into two days, while there are two days after the game when there’s absolutely nothing going on.

That seems rather inefficient to me. I know the players want and deserve a couple of days off, but there should be a better way to do it.

Like moving the All Star Game to Wednesday.

Here’s what that would allow:

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The Places I Go

A lot of blogs will have over to the side a list of other blogs that they follow. I’m not an official “follower” of many blogs, but there are quite a few websites I visit regularly.

And because I’m rather stuck for a topic at the moment (I have a bunch of book reviews in draft format, but I’d rather not throw half a dozen books at you one after the other), I thought I’d waste spend some time sharing them with you.

Over at Forgotten New York, Kevin Walsh has been strolling the streets of the five boroughs, finding odd, unusual, interesting, and forgotten bits of the Greatest City in the World. He (well, with a little help from a few friends) has been posting something every day for nearly twenty years. If you want to know who that street is named for, or what’s the story behind that building, check him out!

Also worth checking out every day are the Astronomy Picture of the Day and Universe Today. They are how this old astronomer keeps up on the field.

When it comes to webcomics, there’s XKCD, Dinosaur Comics, and Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal. Hey, I like some intelligence with my humor. And there’s Texts from Superheroes and The Worst Things for Sale. It’s also good to start the day laughing at other people’s stupidity and incompetence, as displayed at Not Always Right and Cake Wrecks. Surely we’d never do anything that would cause us to appear on those sites, right?

Speaking of humor, Cracked is worth a daily visit, too. And if you like your news commentary with a liberal slant and a healthy dose of snark, check out Wonkette. I visit a lot of news sites every day, but the only ones whom I give money to are the Washington Post and Mother Jones.

I get my movie tips from The B-Masters Cabal. It’s not your usual movie review site; they focus on old SF/fantasy/horror – not the sort of things you’d typically find. Liz “And You Call Yourself a Scientist” Kingsley, for example, is in the process of reviewing every “Amityville Horror” movie – there are nine so far. They don’t have as many active cabal members as they used to, but there’s almost twenty years of reviews archived there. Linked to, actually. The members maintain their own websites and just announce new reviews here. I’d apply for membership, but I don’t think my reviews are good enough – or frequent enough.

I’ve learned a good deal about residential architecture at McMansion Hell. The old role-playing gamer in me loves the essays on gaming and writing at Mythcreants.

The Art of Manliness isn’t just for men who want to be better at being, well, men. Anyone can enjoy their essays on philosophy and literature, and their many “how to” articles. Like fun things to keep the kids entertained and automotive tips.

I don’t care at all for podcasts; I can read faster than you can speak. Similarly, I don’t subscribe to any YouTube channels, but I always watch the new ones from Brady Haran (Periodic Videos, Numberphile, Deep Sky Videos, Objectivity, Sixty Symbols, et al.).

When it comes to music and online radio, the only “station” I listen to is WFMU. The best description I can give – which they themselves have provided – is “like college radio, but without the basketball games”. They are a freeform station, which means the DJs are free to play what they want (within FCC guidelines, of course). So there’s a polka hour, an hour of “old school” country, an interview show (aside from the frequent artist interviews), a reggae show, a gospel show…..all done by DJs who know and love their music.

OK, I’d better stop now before I dump my entire browser history at you.

Overrated – Underrated 3: Simpsons Guest Star

Assuming you haven’t been living under a rock somewhere, you probably have heard that The Simpsons recently became the longest running prime-time scripted TV series, beating out Gunsmoke for that honor.

Of course, real TV fans know that the honor simply refers to the number of episodes. Gunsmoke was a full hour show while The Simpsons is only half an hour. So it will be a good long time before the latter can produce the total amount of airtime that the previous has to its credit.

Over its many years since it began as a simple cartoon on The Tracy Ullman Show, a heck of a lot of celebrities have appeared on The Simpsons. Some provided the voices for characters (Kelsey Grammer as Sideshow Bob is one of the recurring appearances), others played themselves. With so many guest appearances, there have got to be some who are Overrated and others who are Underrated….

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Baseball’s Other Issue

There’s been a lot of talk over the past few off-seasons about “pace of play” issues. Dawdling during the game has caused the average game time to grow by an excruciating five minutes or so over the past couple of years!

In an effort to speed things up, rules have been introduced that turn the Intentional Walk into a simple “go ahead and take your base”, compel batters to stay in the batter’s box during an at-bat, and limit the number of “meetings on the mound” a team can have.

This is all well and good, but there’s something else that needs attention. As the number of strikeouts continues to rise, it’s not just the pace of play, but the lack of play that’s affecting the game.

Percentage of Plate Appearances Ending Without a Ball In Play:
(strikeouts, walks, hit batters, and intentional walks)

2013 – 29.2%
2014 – 29.4%
2015 – 29.4%
2016 – 30.7%
2017 – 31.7%

2018 (as of the start of play on April 30) – 33.3%

One in three plate appearances ends with nothing happening in the field! The fielders could take naps out there, and very few people would notice. Much of it is due to the significant rise in strikeouts, which is the downside of increased use of bullpens and more “swinging for the seats”. It affects the pace of play too; a study from a few years ago found that it takes 4.5 pitches on average to strike out a player, compared to an average of 3 when the out is recorded on a ball in play.

I’m not sure what can be done about this; tinkering with the strike zone and pitcher’s mound are obvious places to look.

But something probably should be done. Speeding up play is nice – but there need to be actual plays first.

ADDENDUM (5/2/18)

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On the Matter of GQ and The Bible

So the editors over at GQ have started a bit of a kerfuffle by listing The Bible as one of the books you don’t have to read.

People who seem to have missed the point of their essay have leaped to the defense of that anthology (well, they’ve written counterpoints to it), which have gotten responses and comments from anti-theists1 who blame religion for everything that is evil in the world (including how their favorite sportsball team lost their last game).

Rather than a dismissal of The Bible as a boring piece of junk, the GQ essay actually is a version of an “Overrated-Underrated” essay. The writers list some 20 books that they feel aren’t really worthy of being included in the list of “Books You Must Read Or Else You Are Somehow Lacking As A Civilized Human Being” – but also books that they believe are more deserving of being read in their place.

They’re rather on target with their short assessment of The Bible. It’s really boring in spots, and is often confusing and even contradictory. You can live quite well without ever having read it. But one cannot deny its influence on philosophy, the arts, and society – so it most certainly deserves to be listed as one of the “Great Books”.

Having read seven of the books on their list, I do have some quibbles with their reasoning behind some selections. Others, I agree with wholeheartedly. Tolkein really does spend too much time in his Lord of the Rings trilogy worldbuilding instead of telling an exciting story. But heck, it’s their collective opinion. And instead of getting into arguments with anyone over just how racist The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is2, I’d rather be reading a good book.

One other point that they touch on quite briefly in passing is the whole absurdity of “checklists” of Stuff You Absolutely Must Do Before You Die. 100 Books, 1000 Movies, 200 Places – if you spend your time reading, watching, or traveling, you’d never get anything else done – even sleeping! I’m so far behind on the list that I figure I’m going to live forever!

There is actually only one of these “bucket lists” that I’ve come across that seems actually worthwhile. Instead of sitting alone reading books or watching movies, or traveling to a place just so you can say you’ve been there, it’s a list of things to DO.

40 Things Every Drunkard Should Do Before He Dies
By Frank Kelly Rich

I think it a sad sign of the times that, in this age of entrenched nannyism and political correctness, a person is more likely to be judged by what he refrained from doing than what he actually did. It’s no longer important that you climbed the mountain, but rather how many boulders you didn’t “accidentally” dislodge and let roll down on the less daring hunkered in the valley below.

Fortunately, imbibers have historically been immune to popular opinion, so hence this list. If you manage all forty3 before you take a barstool at St. Peter’s Pearly Gate Lounge, you may feel secure in the fact that you’ve lived a rich and full life, even if only the boys and girls down at happy hour think so. And when you do belly up to that big open bar in the sky and the bartender asks: “What sort of life did you lead?” you can look him right in the eye and say, “Pete, baby, I’m glad this is eternity, because I’ve got a helluva lot of stories to tell.”

Notes:

1. An “atheist” is someone who does not believe in the existence of a supreme deity. An “anti-theist” is someone who also doesn’t believe in the existence of a supreme deity, but also believes – often quite loudly – that anyone who does believe in one is an idiot.

2. This argument has been happening since the day the book was published. It’s only superficially racist. Read – and understand – the whole thing, and it’s actually against racism.

3. I’ve done six – so far. And I’m not going to tell you which ones….

The Greatest World Series Ever

With Spring Training underway, baseball is back in the news!. One of the many things we’re pondering (Will Mike Trout ever get another MVP award? Are the Rays and Marlins really trying to lose?) is the eternal question: Who is going to win the World Series this year? It’s a teeny bit too early for predictions – so I won’t make any.

Instead, I’ll note that we’ve had some really great series recently. Exciting games, teams ending championship droughts, classic matchups, the works. It leads one to ponder – just which WS was the most exciting of them all?

Seems like one cannot quantify “excitement” in that manner. Surely, it’s an objective matter. But hold on a minute. The huge body of statistical records in baseball, with details down to individual pitch counts, makes it a bit easier than one would expect. There’s something called “Win Probability” which, as it suggests, gives a team’s chance of winning a game at any specific point in any given game. Atfer a play, the difference in Win Probability becomes “Win Probability Added” (WPA). The bigger and more important a play, the greater the WPA. (more on WPA in this post ) In a World Series or other playoff game, one can calculate the odds of a Championship Probability – the chance a team has of winning the actual series – for each situation. The Championship Probability Added (cWPA) is therefore how important a given play was in determining the outcome of a series.

Naturally, people have done this to figure out the biggest and most important plays in World Series history. Over at The Baseball Gauge, Dan Hirsch has crunched all the numbers and made the database.

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