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Friday, November 28, 2003

Good News from KC

The Royals signed their top 3 free agents! Great news. So now the Royals look as follows:

1B - Harvey (might still be shopping for a platoon)
2B - Relaford
SS - Berroa
3B - Randa
RF - Guiel
CF - Beltran (for one more year)
LF - DeJesus (maybe looking at White or Jordan for everyday as insurance)
C - Nobody (Looking at Mayne as a backup and possibly Santiago?)
DH - Sweeney

SP - Anderson, May, Asencio, Appier, Snyder
RP - Affeldt (should be full time closer), MacDougal, Leskanic, Carrasco

Thursday, November 27, 2003

Not a SABR Member

As a counter point to my previous post, the author of this article is certainly not a fan of sabermetrics. I thought it sounded just a wee-bit bitter. I especially liked "Clearly, the easiest positive statistic for mediocre hitters, one that requires keeping the bat glued to your shoulder, instead of the traditional hand-eye induced ball-whacking (which is far more exciting), is the ability to draw walks."

I think this reflects the underlying and non-thinking of so many traditionalists that walks are something the pitcher does and not something the batter has any responsibility for. I would argue that the reverse is really the case and that if you looked at the standard deviation of walks/per plate appearance for pitchers and hitters, the pitcher's spread would be smaller. Hmmm, I'll have to get to that someday....

Patience and Its Effects

Interesting article on patience on Baseball Prospectus. Basically, the author concludes that the difference between teams that take alot of pitches (Red Sox, A's) and teams that don't (Devil Rays, Tigers) doesn't really have much effect on wearing out pitchers and causing extra relievers to enter the game. Although this is the reasoning that you'll sometimes hear a manager use when talking about plate discipline. Two comments:

First, I was most impressed by the author's comment which hits the nail on the head:

"If a team's intent is to seize on the minor advantage of facing middle relief, it's important to realize that getting more pitches is never more important than hitting those pitches. And that's what good hitters do: work the count in their favor, so they can reach a favorable hitter's count and whack the ensuing fat pitch. The best-hitting teams are the ones that pile patience together with batting ability. Sounds simple, yet too many teams still struggle with the concept."

In other words, its not overall patience that matters but "patience with a purpose", i.e. to hit cripples. My brother brought this point to my attention last year when he noted that what impressed him most when sitting right behind the dugout at a major league game was the difference between good hitters taking bad pitches and bad hitters swinging at bad pitches. All major leaguers can hit pitches in the sweet zone, some hitters are simply better at getting the pitchers to throw those kinds of pitches. Ted Williams in The Science of Hitting was of course right on when he labeled the locations within the strike zone with averages ranging from .240 to over .400. Second to getting good pitches to hit (and in some ways simply a by product) is the extra walks piled up by patient hitters that serve to not consume outs and put more runners on base leading to more runs.

Second, while the overall effects of team patience don't support the idea of using it soley or even primarily as a means of wearing out a starter, the small differences between teams (3.9 pitchers per plate appearance for the Red Sox and A's versus 3.6 for the Devil Rays) are likely masked for three reasons. 1) Having some players who take alot of pitches and some players who don't take very many. 2) A high number of walks may not be that strongly correlated with seeing a lot of pitches. Some players who strike out alot see alot of pitches because of the number they swing through. For example, Jose Hernandez, who struck out 177 times this year and walked only 46 saw 3.95 pitches per plate appearance, a very high total. 3) Some patient hitters, who even though they walk alot, don't see an extremely high number of pitches since they don't run alot of 3-2 counts. Bonds of course is the extreme example since he gets intentionally walked so much and almost always puts strikes in play hard somewhere.

Isaac Newton

I recently read James Gleick's short (190 pages) biography of Newton simply called Isaac Newton. I thought it was perfect for giving you a capsule view of his life and his research that went into his two famous books, the Principia and Opticks.

Gleick paints a picture of Newton as someone who couldn't stand criticism and so hid many of his ideas about the nature of light and "the calculus" for many years. He also does a good job explaining Newton's other (and arguably principle) passions for alchemy, prophecy, and Arianism (the belief that the Trinity is an invention of the church and that God is not distinct in three persons) that were not widely known until the 20th century.

I liked the book because it didn't go into great biographical detail and doesn't try to do much psychology but concentrates instead on his research and relationship to the scientific establishment of the day (the Royal Society in England had just been formed during Newton's youth).

A couple of other things that were interesting to me included the fact that Newton was the first to propose that white light was the combination of the other colors that were separated by a prism or raindrop instead of the idea that the prism somehow created the colors. He also noted the various angles of refraction for the colors of light. I'm sure this information passed by me in some course somewhere but I had forgotten it if it did.

Also I didn't realize that the idea that the force exerted on an object was inversely proportional to the square of the distance was being discussed at the time although Newton derived it independently. But it was Newton who then generalized the idea to include planets and comets and therefore proposed universal gravitation.

Finally, Gleick lays out the controversy between Newton and Leibniz regarding the discovery of the calculus. Newton clearly had priority by over 25 years (Newton did not use calculus in his Principia even though he could have since he wanted the book to be understood based on existing and accepted mathematical principles) but failed to publish first. However, 2 small points that I found interesting were that Newton, in correspondance with Leibniz, and sensing that he was about to be scooped, wrote him a letter in which part was encrypted. Newton then took the code and dated it in a sealed letter so he could later decode it and prove his priority. Second, Netwon used totally different symbols than Leibniz but it is Leibniz's symbols (for integrals for example) that ended up winning the day by the 19th century and that we used today (another fact I probably heard before).

Now if I could just remember anything about calculus from college other than that you can use it to compute the area under a curve and rates of change........

Wednesday, November 26, 2003

Lee vs Choi

Well, the Cubs acquired Derreck Lee from the Marlins for Hee Seop Choi and a player to be named later. While I don't think the trade is terrible for either team I think the Marlins got the better of the deal.

  • Choi is younger at 24 than Lee at 28

  • Choi has the potential to be a 100 walk, 25 homerun player for the next 10 years

  • Lee is likely at or very near his peak production although his homerun totals should go up some in Wrigley Field

  • Lee walks a good amount which is great and is solid at 1B and to that extent the Cubs are getting a known quantity

  • Lee makes $4.5M and Choi $300K so what the Cubs are essentially doing is paying for a known quantity rather than taking the risk on a player that very well might be better

  • In the end, for the difference you're going to get between the two (Lee may outperform Choi the next year or two) it's probably not worth it in the long run. I would have stuck with Choi.

    Royals Rumors

    Ron Hostetter reports that the Royals may be interested in:

    Brian Jordan (OF)
    Robert Fick (1B)
    Raul Mondesi (OF)
    Matt Stairs (1B)
    Rondell White (OF)
    Todd Walker (if they fail to sign Randa)

    I'm not too excited about any of these guys. Mondesi is overrated and Stairs can't hit lefities although he does get on base and might make a good platoon with Harvey. Fick might also be a serviceable platoon player but he doesn't walk enough or hit with enough power to make him valuable. Jordan and White are injury prone and are getting up there in years. Todd Walker is vritually the same player as Randa so I guess you would take whichever one came cheaper.

    Two Slices of Bacon

    In reflecting on the assasination of JFK I wondered what it was that caused people to believe in the conspiracies in the abscence of evidence. In the First Book of Francis Bacon's 1620 Novum Organum he identified several impediments, which he called idols (aphorisms 38-44), to human reasoning in the pursuit of a correct interpretation of nature. One of the idols he defined is "Idols of the Tribe" (idola tribus). These are impediments grounded in ways of thinking common to the human species. Of these Bacon says that they are "inherent in human nature and the very tribe or race of man; for man's sense is falsely asserted to be the standard of things; on the contrary, all the perceptions both of the senses and the mind bear reference to man and not to the universe..." One might say that idols of the tribe reflect the way our brains are hard-wired to interpret our immediate environment. As a result, some things that may seem to be "common sense" may lead us down the wrong path.

    One particular example of this kind of idol (discussed by Gould in several essays) is our inability to grasp vast distances and long timespans. Our minds are suited to deal in feet, miles, days, and years, not millions of miles and billions of years. As a result, we can't intuitively feel what these distances and time spans are like although our reason in some sense overcomes this deficiency and allows us to perform calculations and calibrations to deal with them numerically, for example, in space flight and paleontology. In another example, our inability to think intuitively about large numbers makes people ripe for believing in "Bible Codes".

    Related to conspiracies, perhaps the most studied and well-known way that humans process information is to see patterns and make connections. My conjecture is that conspiracy theorists employ this particular idol and are trapped by it when they identify a causal relationship in a set of connections (a pattern) between individuals. For example, A) the Florida mob boss Carlos Marcello was known to have harboured ill will for the Kennedys, B) Marcello knew Guy Bannister who was an anti-Castro figure in New Orleans, C) Anti-Castro people were also generally disappointed with Kennedy for his failure to support the insurgents at the Bay of Pigs and subsequently, D) Guy Bannister knew David Ferrie, also an anti-Castro militant, E) Guy Bannister had an office in the same structure as the address printed on the flyers Oswald handed out on the streets of New Orleans (an alternate route is that Oswald was in the Civil Air Patrol at the same time as Ferrie was an instructor), F) Oswald killed Kennedy. Follow the chain and you come to the obvious conclusion that Marcello must have ordered the hit on Kennedy and Guy Bannister and David Ferrie recruited Oswald to do it since it coincided with their own hatred of Kennedy. There certainly appears to be a pattern here and common sense seems to dictate that we take the results of this view seriously. Should we?

    While connecting causality with a pattern like this in a world of just a few individuals might make sense, it doesn't in a country will hundreds of millions of people. This is the so called "small world" effect that allows you to link any actor to Kevin Bacon in less than 7 films. The conspiracy theorists are thereby caught just where our idol (the ability to make connections and see patterns) runs into our inability to deal with large numbers and so a likely statistical artifact is mistaken for causality (see this site for a great version of the Bacon game for baseball players). Let me be clear that the pattern may indeed record a chain of causality. However, in order to show that it did we would need evidence. Unfortunately, there is no documentary evidence tha bridges the gaps between these facts in the case of the JFK assassination (see this excellent site for a clear thinking view of the JFK assasination.
    ). So we've gone from Bacon to Bacon. I wonder if my breakfast is ready....

    Monday, November 24, 2003

    Whidbey Enterprise Tools

    Some good prelimanry information on the enterprise tools that will be going into VS .NET Whidbey next year.

    Any tools that assist in writing boilerplate like code or that handle infrastructure issues are the wave of the future. Writing anything but business logic by hand is a waste of time.

    Cubs prospect named AFL MVP

    I see that Jason DuBois in the Cubs system was named AFL (Arizona Fall League) MVP after hitting .358 with 9 homeruns. Ken Harvey of the Royals was the AFL MVP last year. Not sure if DuBois will really get any shot next year since he is an outfielder and those spots are set. This also may just be a bit of an outlier for him since he was in AA last year and hit only .269. The AFL of course has a very short season along the lines of 35 games and so the statistics will always have a larger spread and therefore be more difficult to index.

    Appier Still a Royal

    The Royals signed Appier to a one-year deal for the $300,000 minimum. Not a bad deal and that still leaves room to go after Anderson.

    Sunday, November 23, 2003

    Conspiracies, conspiracies, and not a thing to wear

    Like most people I took in some of the retrospectives this week on the JFK assasination on this 40th anniversary. Although both the Frontline piece on PBS and the Unsolved History program on The History Channel were both solid and well documented, The Men Who Killed Kennedy series that the Histroy Channel ran was a farce. In Unsolved History they validated that:

    A) Oswald could have gotten the 3 shots off in 8 to 8.4 seconds as the evidence now indicates was the time span (the Warren commission got the timing of the first shot wrong and was taken over 2 seconds earlier than first believed)
    B) The shots were not as difficult as some believe. They had a marksman duplicate the shots and was able to do it everytime the gun didn't jam or malfunction (which was 23% of the time)
    C) Oswald could have hidden the gun and proceeded down the rear stairs to the 2nd floor breakroom in 90 seconds without being winded where he was seen by a police officer
    D) Oswald could have walked from his boarding house to the spot where officer Tippet was killed in under 15 minutes (they timed it at 11 minutes)
    E) That other locations for the shooter were unlikely (the storm drain, the bridge) because of visibility and angle

    The Men Who Killed Kennedy, however, has so many holes its hard to know where to start. In particular though I was struck by the treatment of Judyth Barker, the self-proclaimed mistress of Lee Harvey Oswald. Her story is so implausible, linking almost every character mentioned in any conspiracy theory, so as to be laughable. A quick web search produced this document that effectively debunks her delusions and adds to the list of incredible claims, many of which don't even relate to Oswald. This same filmmaker pinned the assasination on 3 french guys back in 1988 in earlier installments of the series.

    In my reading Case Closed by Gerald Posner is still a great source that effectively debunks many of the leading claims of the conspiracy theorists. Many volumes would be needed to debuk them all but Posner makes a good start. Certainly, the book has been much criticized but its basic message remains intact. If just half the people were in on the murder of a sitting president as is supposed by most conspiracy theorists, then the conspiracy would have long ago been exposed and all would be known. On top of that no actual counter evidence to the lone gunman theory has ever been validated. One of the interesting facts that often gets forgotten but is documented by Posner as well as the Frontline piece is that no less than 3 people saw the barrel of the gun out the 6th floor window, one saw Oswald very clearly (he gave the description to the Police that was broadcast on the radio 15 minutes after the event), and two actually saw the gun fire. In addition, employees on the 5th floor clearly heard the shots above them as well. They were all interviewed within minutes of the assasination. Reactions of people on the Zapruder film also clearly show that the shots were coming from behind.

    It makes you wonder at the psychological factors that lead people to believe such implausible theories on the basis of no evidence. In the case of JFK I've heard it said that for that generation anyway, it was hard to accept that a nobody like Oswald could kill a somebody like Kennedy without a vast conspiracy.

    I don't think its quite so interesting why people like Judyth Baker and the step-daughter of John Ligget (the supposed mortician who reconstructed the Presiden'ts head in The Men Who Killed Kennedy) might make false reports. Their motives probably have to do with personal recognition, faulty memory (reading themselves into the story 40 years later based on fragmentary memories), and plain old mental problems. Its more interesting why otherwise rational people would buy into the theories and promote them (i.e. Oliver Stone). Does it simply make life more interesting? Does it fulfill a need to see larger forces at work in a world that is full of contingency? Can people not analyze and separate fact from fiction? Your guess is as good as mine.

    Friday, November 21, 2003

    Royals, Rob, and Rany

    Check Rob and Rany for more Royals talk.

    Thursday, November 20, 2003

    Royals Redux

    Thanks to Ron Hostteter again for pointing out that Hernandez underwent Tommy John surgery at the end of last year and won't be available until 2005. Also, Ascencio was almost ready at the end of last year but the team didn't want to push him. So for the 5th starter that leaves:

  • Jimmy Gobble - I've not been impressed with him in the least. He's a flyball pitcher who doesn't throw very hard which is not a good combination, although maybe the deeper fences at the K this year will help him out more than the others.

  • Brad Voyles - Not impressive either. At least he's a power pitcher but he walks sooo many its hard to get excited about him.

  • Zack Greinke - Promising Royals prospect drafted out of high school. Great A numbers last year but struggled a bit in AA, except for his walks/inning which was very good. Should see him in AAA this year and probably called up at some point

  • Jose Lima - I doubt the Royals will resign him after injuries and the way he was shelled at the end of the year. Of course if he signs for peanuts that would help

  • So the core of the staff shapes up to be:

    SP - Asencio, May, Snyder, Anderson (hopefully the Royals can sign him), Gobble/Voyles
    RP - Affeldt (should be full time closer), MacDougal, Leskanic (the Royals need to sign him), Carrasco

    Overall, the Royals aren't in bad shape financially. Getting rid of the contracts of Tucker, Ibanez (who signed with the Mariners yesterday), Grimsley, Mayne, Randa and a bunch of others leaves (see the free agent tracker on them $12-15 million to sign Anderson, Leskanic, and a third baseman. In my previous post I said Randa would be resigned based on the fact that I doubt he can get what he's going to ask on the market and so he'll have to come back to KC for the same or less as last year. Taking a chance on Fernando Tatis wouldn't be all that bad if you can get him cheap.

    Also you could see DeJesus in CF and Beltran in LF. I don't know anything about DeJesus's arm and we didn't see Beltran's last year at all after his injury.

    Wednesday, November 19, 2003

    Around the Hot Stove

    Here is some good analysis of the Cubs offseason. Great comments on Choi and Bellhorn. Dusty gave up on both way too early and was fortunate that Hendry stepped up and got Lofton and Ramirez. Probable lineup for 2004?

    1B - Choi, Simon as backup and pinch hitter
    2B - Grudz (free agent but likely resign although Castillo would be interesting)
    SS - Gonzales (unfortunately but still has a contract)
    3B - Ramirez (should try and lock him up for a couple years)
    RF - Sosa (just exercised his option)
    CF - Patterson (injury free and with some patience, who knows?)
    LF - Alou (1 year left on contract)
    C - Miller (should look hard at Rodriguez or someone else)

    SP - Prior, Wood, Clement (Cubs picked up option), Zambrano, Need a fifth starter
    RP - Borowski, Remlinger, Farnsworth, Cruz

    Clearly catcher is the position to upgrade as well as shortstop if you could get somebody to take Gonzales.

    The Royals are another story. Here's what looks probable thus far:

    1B - Harvey (not great but could improve)
    2B - Relaford (better as a utility man but the best the Royals have for now considering Matos, Ordaz, and Abernathy)
    SS - Berroa (solid, solid)
    3B - Randa (Royals will try and resign)
    RF - Guiel (impressive season in 2003, could get better in 2004)
    CF - Beltran (for one more year anyway)
    LF - DeJesus (with Ibanez in Seattle, this makes sense. Dee Brown might slip in here once more but I hope not)
    C - Nobody (Mayne and DeFelice are free agents though I'd hate to see them sign either one)
    DH - Sweeney (Royals over .500, he stays)

    SP - Hernandez, Asencio, May, Snyder, Anderson (hopefully the Royals can sign him)
    RP - Affeldt (should be full time closer), MacDougal, Leskanic, Carrasco

    Everyone else is expendable.

    News from the culture war

    I received an email today that said in part:

    Subject: They are going to allow the "F" word on TV

    I don't normally do this, but this is important, so if you feel strongly about this, please respond online to your local government.


    It is soooo easy to do....I did it! We need to start taking action!!!!!

    ********** CLICK LINK BELOW **********

    Thinking that the report must be an urban legend I tracked it down. However, it was not a legend and the FCC did approve of Bono's use of the word at the Golden Globe Awards. In part, the FCC's Orwellian reasoning was:

    "As a threshold matter, the material aired during the "Golden Globe Awards" program does not describe or depict sexual and excretory activities and organs. The word "f--" [my edit] may be crude and offensive, but, in the context presented here, did not describe sexual and excretory organs and activities. Rather, the performer used the word "f--" [my edit] as an adjective or expletive to emphasize an exclamation. Indeed, in similar circumstances, we have found that offensive language used as an insult rather than as a description of sexual or excretory activity or organs is not within the scope of the Commission's prohibition of indecent program content."

    Doesn't this miss the whole point of obscene language and turn it on its head? In fact, one could argue that had the word been used to describe a biological function, it would have a claim to legitimacy since it was used in context and as slang would be most understandable to some segment of the viewing audience. Instead, the FCC says you can only use the word out its natural context as an exclamation or an insult? Am I missing something? Which is worse, having a character on "Boston Public" demean someone by calling them a penis or using the word on the Discovery Channel when describing the sexual reproduction of primates? Continuing with their tortured logic, admitting that the use of the word may be "crude and offensive" simply makes the point. Using offensive language as an exclamation or insult is the context in which obscenity occurs.

    This is similar to discussions about violence on TV and in the movies. Which is more acceptable, the violence in Saving Private Ryan or in Kill Bill? In the former, the violence is in context (being historical) and serves to underscore the bravery and sacrifice of soldiers willing to follow orders and lay down their lives for a comrade. The violence in Kill Bill or the Matrix is pointless and adds nothing to the story (what there is of it anyway). That's also why I don't object to some obscenity in movies. If in context it can add to the story, if not it is at best distracting and at worse makes the movie a farce (see Pulp Fiction).

    While I agree with snopes that the AFA bulletin is not strictly correct, can anyone doubt that this is the beginning of a slippery slope? The F word will undoubtedly become maintstream as other former obscenities have because of the "community standards" aspect of the FCC enforcement (in the words of the FCC the material must be "patently offensive as measured by contemporary community standards for the broadcast medium"). Without a standard with a clear definiftion, simple inertia will inevitably pull the "standard" down to the lowest common demominator (how's that for mixing metaphors). I can almost hear the writers and producers salivating over using it in the same way for shock value in an upcoming drama like "The Practice" or "West Wing".

    Tuesday, November 18, 2003

    Contrary Data

    Here's a little push back on the Indian outsourcing sent to me from Ron Hostetter. Especially interesting was the quote:

    "Indeed, 66 percent of companies surveyed were disappointed with their outsourcing contracts, said PA Consulting Group. The survey shows only 39 percent of the companies would renew contracts with their existing outsourcing suppliers, and 15 percent planned to bring services back in-house."

    Monday, November 17, 2003

    The Future of IT: India

    Read some disturbing stuff on the outsourcing of IT jobs to India and one CEO's perspective. Hard to complete with labor costs 1/12 that in the US and a huge population where high IQs can bubble to the top.

    So that raises the question: What kinds of IT jobs will there be in the US in 10 years? As with most trends the big players are getting there first and so consultancies and developers working for mid-tier and small companies will be affected later (although not in all cases for sure). True consultants rather than those who perform staff augmentation will also survive longer as well as architects and project managers who can manage the remote team. In the end, with the increase in bandwidth and innovations in collaboration technology only the enconomic development of India will stem the tide. But of course once that happens the jobs will migrate to Indonesia or some other country. Welcome to globalism.

    Berroa and Neyer

    I was suprised that Rob Neyer thought that Matsui should have gotten the Rookie of the Year award over the Royals Angel Berroa. His main arguments are:

  • Berroa played in a better hitter's park. In fact, over the last 2 years Kauffman has produced 30% more runs than when on the road. Not only did Berroa hit better on the road, he also hit 11 of his 17 homeruns on the road. Although Neyer dismisses the premise that some players don't take advantage of park factors it seems absurd to think (as Neyer apparently does) that Berroa would have hit very poorly at home if not for the park factor. In only 288 plate appearances I would think that whatever goes into making a park a better hitter's park (prevailing winds, good weather, short fences, fast infield, good visibility) might just be swamped by luck (especially for a player who is obviously not going to take advantage of short fences at Fenway for example). For example, assume Berroa gets lucky and gets 5 more hits at home (or has his bad luck reversed). Now his home/road split is .306/.288 and it looks like he indeed "took advantage" of the park. In the end I think a single player's half season data is too small to make such an evaluation.

  • 2 voters left Matsui off their ballots as a protest to Matsui's rookie status. While I agree that Matsui is not a rookie in the true sense he shouldn't have been left off the ballot since he qualified under the archaic rules of MLB. However, he also mentions that 2 voters left Berroa off the ballot but "at least we can guess they did so on the merits (unless they happened to be New York writers, in which case they probably left Berroa off to curry favor with the Yankee brass)." I don't buy the argument that you can excuse stupidiy more than stubborness. Voters who left Berroa off the ballot should also be stripped of their voting privileges. However, its more likely that the 2 voters in question weren't stupid but had some political/racial or other non-baseball reason for doing so.

  • Finally, Neyer doesn't address that Berroa, being a shortstop, is clearly the more valuable of the two players. After a shaky start Berroa's fielding was far above average. Berroa also played in an environment where he was more relied upon offensively, which should count for something.

    Sunday, November 16, 2003

    Rhoids Baseball

    Ok, here is the site that applies the game state information and cranks out the results. Very cool stuff.

    Pennsylvanian Fossils

    Went on a very quick (1/2 hour) fossil hunt with my kids and their cousins on Saturday. Looked at a road cut among Pennsylvanian (323-290 my b.p.) limestone and shale. Apparently, the shale represents periods when the sea water receeded and may contain river and lake deposits while the limestone represents the shallow sea of the period. Found some brachiopods and bryozoans (a net-like colony of fenestella) to be sure and perhaps a bivalve or two.

    Also found two very nice sites on the fossils and geology of the area here in northeastern Kansas when looking to determine what we found.

    Geology of Kansas

    Friday, November 14, 2003

    Antiquarian Books

    I was recently able to view some wonderful and rare antiquarian books at the rare book room of the University of Iowa Medical Library. This is the front cover and two pictures from Ulyssis Aldrovandi's 1599 "The Histroy of Monsters". Aldrovandi (1522-1605) was a first class scholar of the reniassance and collector of curiosities. He published 13 volumes based on his collections, reading, and information he picked up from others. I think this copy was from 1642 and shows mr. fancy long ears (fanesius auritus) and mr. four eyes (quatuor oculis).

    The front cover says in part:

    Ulyssis Aldrovandi
    Native (patrician) of Bologna (Bononeinsis)

    Monstorum Historia (The History of Monsters)

    with Paralipomenis's(?) History of all animals

    Bartholomeus Ambrosinus
    (and then some stuff about this guy I think like his titles, he may have been Aldorvandi's successor in Bologna who edited this volume)

    To the fair (sereniss) and unconquerable (invictum)
    Ferdinand II
    Great and manly(?) leader

    With an exceedingly large index (I love that part)

    This is the only illustration in the first edition 1628 book "An anatomical disquisition concerning the motion of the heart and blood" by William Harvey (1578-1627). In this little 68 page book Harvey was the first to publish the idea of the circulation of the blood and so this book is sometimes said to be the most important book in the history of medicine. Harvey's book is very rare and exceedingly valuable since it was printed on bad paper.

    Tony Pena

    Nice little piece on Tony Pena who won the manager of the year award in the AL. The article does fail to mention that the 16-3 start was against the White Sox, Tigers, Indians, and more of the Tigers, Indians, and White Sox. Once they went on the road against better teams they started to fail and lost 27 of their next 41. Still, a great season and a lof of fun to watch (I attended over a dozen games). From my scorebook:

    3/31/03 White Sox 2-0 W - over in 2 hours and 5 minutes, 40,302. Great performance by Hernandez, 6 IP 2 hits, McDougal gets the save and looks sharp
    4/05/03 Indians 3-1 W - 44 degrees at game time, Tucker 2b, 3b, Hernandez again 7 ip, 2 hits, McDougal Ks 2 in the ninth for the save
    4/24/03 Twins 2-1 W - Only 11,981 in attendence, Sweeney homers and the Royals are 16-3, save by McDougal again, exceptional DP turned by Febles and Berroa
    5/27/03 Mariners 6-15 L - 19 hits by the Mariners, Ichiro bats in the first 5 innings, Royals now 26-23
    6/10/03 Giants 3-7 L - Some good defense by Randa and Lopez, HR by Sweeney, Bonds walks twice, Royals now 32-31
    6/30/03 Indians 5-10 L - 2 great catches by Beltran, 3 run HR by Blake in the 8th is the backbreaker
    6/30/03 Indians 5-7 L - Royals swept now 42-38, gave up 2 HR in the first and 2 in the 6th
    7/21/03 A's 0-10 L - I'm on a losing streak here. Durazo hits 2 HR, 80 degrees and perfect weather 1:05 game
    8/26/03 Rangers 9-2 W - Royals now 1/2 game out. 3 run HR by Sweeney, 2 r HR by Palmeiro, 31st of the year. 2 great catches by Beltran, only 12,917 in attendance
    9/4/03 Diamondbacks 5-6 L - in 10 innings. Had Randy Johnson on the ropes but gave up 3 in the 7th. Bad use of pitchers by Pena. Beltran scores tying run in the 9th with a walk, steals of 2nd and 3rd and score on a sac fly. Also threw out a runner at the plate
    9/10/03 Indians 9-7 W - Royals now 74-70, 4 games out, 21,581 in attendance. Affeldt 2 scoreless innings in relief
    9/23/03 Tigers 6-15 L - Now 84-73, 5.5 games out and officially eliminated. Lima is shelled. Tigers get 3 bunt hits in a row in the 5th.

    I also attended at least 2 games I didn't score, a win over the A's in late July or early August and a win in July when Beltran saved a homerun and then hit the game winning homerun in the bottom of the 10th on a 105 degree day. Sat in the upper deck dousing myself and the kids with water.

    What's a player worth?

    Interesting article in Business Week on measuring player's performance. The buzz on the article on the SABR list and that can be summed up as saying that this technique is nothing new being developed in 1970 and called Player Win Averages (PWA). Bennet and Albert go through the technique and add to it in Curve Ball talked about previously. Interesting that the Mets are said to be interested in hiring these guys to help them. So, my unofficial list of current teams that at least have shown an interest in sabermetrics (the Rangers did way back in the 70s) include:

    1. Red Sox - Theo Epstein and hiring Bill James
    2. A's - Bill Beane
    3. Blue Jays - JP Ricciardi
    4. Cardinals - from a post on
    5. Mets - scuttlebut from this most recent article

    I'm drawn to these types of stats because they actually measure what really happened rather than having to assign weights to various events which is always going to be more of an approximation. Of course, stats like PWA (and RC/G for that matter) don't have that much predictive value on a per player basis. I think teams should be using these play by play stats to formulate general principles of strategy for their organization. For example, when should we sacrifice, when should we steal, when should we bring in a closer (ahead or tied and what inning?), when should we pinch hit etc. They should then hand these principles to the manager to implement and evaluate him on those. Play by play data would also be one way of quantifiably evaluating a manager's performance.

    Tuesday, November 11, 2003

    RSS Now Up and Going

    This blog now has an RSS feed provided by I hope since I don't write about baseball only that this is ok.

    The RSS feed is

    Wilson, Consilience, and Postmodernsim

    Very interesting article Back From Chaos by Edward O. Wilson on postmodernism that chronicles the rise and fall of the Enlightenment project of bringing together all of human knowledge. Of course he views the increasing specialization of knowledge and the crumbling of a liberal education as an impediment to solving pressing issues of the day and looks for consilience (a term coined in the 1840s that means "a jumping together" and the title of one of Wilson's books) to address the problem through reductionism to a materialist core leaving only natural science and the creative arts as branches of human knowledge. In this view all other pursuits in the humanities can be reduced to brain chemistry.

    Although I don't subscribe to his reductionist views, he provides a succint definition and good arguments in attacking postmodernism (although he is willing to tolerate it as a form of dissent that sharpens rationalism). For example:

    'If these premises are correct, it follows that one culture is as good as any other in the expression of truth and morality, each in its own special way. Political multiculturalism is justified; each ethnic group and sexual preference in the community has equal validity and deserves communal support and mandated representation in educational agendas—that is, again, if the premises are correct. And they must be correct, say their promoters, because to suggest otherwise is bigotry, which is a cardinal sin. Cardinal, that is, if we agree to waive in this one instance the postmodernist prohibition against universal truth, and all agree to agree for the common good. Thus Rousseau redivivus."

    And I think he accurately locates the fall of the Enlightenment in the Jacobin Terror. However, he doesn't note how enlightnement principles survived in America largely because their basis in America was not on the "general will" of Rousseau that leads to mob rule but rather the "all men are created equal" of Jefferson that leads to accountability.

    Interestingly, when Stephen Jay Gould, evolutionist and agnostic died in May of 2002, he was working on a book that was recently published called The Hedgehog, the Fox, and the Magisters Pox. Towards the end of the book he reviews Wilson's Consilience. Gould rejects Wilson's strict reductionism which preaches that all knowledge can be reduced to a materialist core and that hence the arts, religon, poetry etc. can ultimately be grounded in brain chemistry. Gould rejects this notion on two grounds 1) Emergence - the idea that whole is not the sum of the parts and so complex constructs can't be fully explained by understanding lower-level consituents, and 2) Contingency - he views the development of these more complex systems as having a strong historical component so that even if an understanding of first principles were available, you could not explain the "how" of their development.

    The most interesting and sad part though is that he says very strongly that a total materialist philosphy cannot explain the "ought" but only the "is" or morals and ethics (sounding very much like C.S. Lewis in Mere Christianity). He calls it our "moral sense" which Lewis would call our God-given sense of the divine or the Tao. Sadly, Gould then admits that though he has struggled with this issue his entire life, he has no resolution regarding the origin of "moral sense". He therefore seems to have died a true agnostic when in fact unlike so many atheists he saw the flaw of reductionism and materialism but couldn't find his way to the alternative.

    Culture of Aesthetics?

    Interesting column by George Will that talks about the increasing importance of aesthetic concerns to our culture and economy. Hadn't thought of these apparently disparate threads in a common way before.

    Sunday, November 09, 2003

    The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt

    This is the first of the two books on TR written by Edmund Morris (also the author of Dutch), which won the Pultizer Prize when first published in 1979. This book covers Rooselvelt's birth to the day McKinley died in Buffalo in September 1901. The edition I read was revised in 2001 to conform to the style of the second book.

    Like Theodore Rex this book is very detailed on relies on personal letters, news accounts, and diaries for much of the narrative. I like the fact that there is very little interpretation and the author lets the events speak for themselves. However, you can tell the author is quite impressed with TR's almost super-human intellectual and physical energy. Several times he almost apologetically mentions some feat of TR's by assuring the readers that the best information available indicates that he indeed performed the task being described.

    Among the interesting aspects of TR Morris highlights is the dichotomy between his literary pursuits and great appetite for physical extertion. In one highly entertaining vignette Morris notes that when TR and two ranch hands tracked down and captured two thieves in the wilderness of the Dakotah territory in the early 1880s, TR occupied himself between guard duty and slogging through the wilderness for weeks by reading Tolstoy and several Greek classics he had brought along. The author's description of the blizzard of 1886-87 is also very well done.

    In short, before becoming President TR was a state assemblyman from New York, a rancher in the Dakota territory, a Civil Service commissioner under two Presdients, police commisioner of New York, Assistant Secretary of the Navy, Colonel in the militia (the Rough Riders), Governor of New York, and Vice President, and author of approximately a dozen books and scores of magazine articles. A faily active life that leaves one thinking that in the latter part of the 19th century the days must have been much longer.

    In many ways the book leads up to the charge up San Juan hill in 1898 and the description of the events rings true by balancing TR's self deprecating descriptions of his actions with quotes of those around him at the time. Morris describes TR's experience in Cuba as a catharsis of his bloodlust (also exhibited in his desire to hunt). I also liked the author's descriptions of TR's views on expansionism and "Americanism", many of which, while not politically correct by modern standards, are more nuanced than I would have expected.

    Anyway, some great insights into an interesting man. Highly recommended.

    Friday, November 07, 2003

    TechEd 2003 Talks

    Here are the TechEd 2003 presentations on MS Producer.

    Thursday, November 06, 2003

    Paper on value of SB

    SAF Day - 2.2

    This afternoon's keynote was about Indigo, the communication infrastructure in the Longhorn release of Windows that was unveiled at PDC. The SDK can be found on the longhorn site. The plan is that WSE v2 and the Indigo Beta in will be released in 2004.

    The data point that caught my eye was the following: To code a demo that integrated web services with IBM WebSphere using advanced protocols the Microsoft team had to do the following:

  • In VS .NET 1.1 write 56,296 lines of code

  • In Vs .NET with WSE write 27,321 lines of code

  • In VS .NET with Indigo write 3 lines of code

  • Here's an example of a web service using Indigo:
    [Reliability(Gurantees.ExactlyOnce | Guarantee.InOrder)]
    class HelloService

    Note that all of the infrastructure code is abstracted in attributes and that there is a difference between a simple web service and a Service as defined in Indigo.

    All the implementation details are driven through policy configured in configuration settings. Policy can specify multiple settings (i.e. security for different clients). Policy is retrieved from a remote service in a secure fashion and then cached and referenced when a call is made.

    In Indigo behavior is WSDL, structure is XSD, and policy is WS-Policy and the services execute asynchronously but may explicitly synchronize. They all require explicit credentials for all communications.

    One of the most interesting items is that Indigo scales down to within an app using an interprocess communication channel and can also be used for peer to peer apps as well.

    Some of the Indigo terminology:
    Connector: messages, services, ports, channels

  • Messages are soap but can be encoded as binary

  • Port is a location in network space, has one or more channels

  • Messages flow through a port via channels

  • Channels may add additional processing code (i.e. reliable messaging)

  • Indigo also includes a [RemoteObject] attribute which is very similar to .NET Remoting.

    The presenter then showed an example of an app that uses Indigo that Merck is working on. This is the same app they showed at the PDC.

    SAF Day - 2

    In this morning's keynote by Dave Campbell, Dave carried on the message that Pat started yesterday called "Metropolis - Part 2".

    The major topics Dave covered can be summarized as follows:

  • Space Between Services. In this topic he covered the ideas of messages acting as the only go-between for services that are fully encapsulated. He stressed that a request/response model is the most common message model but there may be others. The response may include reference data that the request uses to make other requests. As a result, the reference data has identity and needs a versioning scheme.

  • Schema Between Services. In this topic he stressed the need for messages to be immutable once written and that each message should have a schema. The schema (typically XSD) must be able to be found in order to validate messages. Messages should have Ids as well. The schemas can themselves be extensible and so you should publish a cannonical schema and allow individual apps to build on that. However, you need to save the entire message and only process what you can understand. The design of the schema can also take an early or late bound approach. Obviously the latter allows for more flexibility at the cost of performance and complexity.

  • Service-Agents and Service-Masters. The former manages Activity related data while the latter manages Resource and Activity data. Activity data is the data required for a long running transaction, i.e. the data associated with the process of creating an order. The Resource data is the longer term business type data. Activity data should be persisted in the database because it will be needed to correlate responses in long running transactions.

  • Ownership of Data in the Enterprise. Here, Dave discussed the fact that each piece of data needs an owner and that the owner publishes changes to others who receive the update and cache it. The idea is to have a single owner and multiple copies and version the data. If changes are to be made non-owning services need to make a request to change the data which changes the version.

  • Representation of Data. This was the most interesting part where he defined 4 kinds of data: Activity, Resource, Reference, and
    Request/Response. He then talked about each type's characteristics and whether it can be normalized etc. For example, Resource data is normalized and highly concurrent whereas Reference data may not be normalized and is not updated. He then talked about how the different types of data can be represented in SQL storage and the typical formats they take (XML, objects, SQL) when used. Basically, Reference and Request/Response data should be modeled as XML whereas Activity and Resource data can be modeled as objects.

  • Tying it all together. The big three recommendations from the talk are: 1) use XML-Infosets between services, 2) Use objects to implement the business logic encapsulated within a business service, 3) Store private data and messages in SQL Server

  • At the end he covered some thoughts on business processes that covered the semantics of tentative operations, cancellation and confirmation, reorderability, and interchangeability of resources and went over a few good tips for how services should be architected to be more loosely coupled.

    After the keynote I attended two breakout sessions on Service Oriented Architecture (and a trip to the Microsoft Company Store for some $10 software) which were small groups of 15 architects and a couple Microsoft folks. Very interesting discussion that made me realize that there are more questions than answers in this space at the moment. I walked away with alot more to think about.

    One more keynote today and then back to the hotel for more work...

    SAF Day - 1

    Good keynotes from Pat Helland and Bill Gates yesterday on day 1. There are a couple hundred folks at the event and I thought Gates (and Eric Rudder) was very candid in answering questions for almost an hour. I was particularly interested in Gate's comments on the investment they've made in India for outsourced development (3 large firms). Also talked with other attendees from large ISVs that have also outsourced portions of their development to India and other places.

    Helland's talk was called "Metropolis - Part 1" where he made an analogy between the evolution of cities (and associated commerce) and the evolution of IT. Within this major analogy he made 8 other analogies to individual pieces of the physical infrastructure in the evolution of citieis to pieces within IT. These included:

  • Applications as cities. Started independent. B2b is still limited. Both are big complex evolving environments

  • Applications as factories. Like factories in the late 1800s apps are mostly independent. Useful interconnection is difficult. Tomorrow there will be rich interconnectedness. App independence is essential to get work done but interconnection has advantages in order to leverage the work of others

  • Railroads as Communcation. Movement of commodities on the railroads led to the expansion of retail. Money is in the browsing, mps, chat, images, email. Will lead to the bandwidth necessary for interconnectedness. End result is that organizations that can handle structured data will prosper

  • Manufacturing and standardization. Early 1800s = hand crafted goods, late 1800s de facto standards per industry. Standard data structures have their basis in a Web services foundation. Need horizontal and vertical standards as well. Lead to increased compatibility

  • Manufactured Assemblies and Virtual Enterprises. Requires detailed standardization and produces high value goods. Virtual enterprises rely on business function outsourcing (Logistics, HR, benefits). Leads to better quality and price. Requires standards. Allows companies to do what they do well

  • Retail and distribution as bandwidth. People coming to the stores versus bringing standardized goods to stores. Created department stores (Walmart). Mail order was driven by standardization. Today in IT we have Swivel-chair integration, Fax and pray integration, and Alt-tab integration. Tomorrow we'll have Data and operation standards, Need interchangeability, Allows pre-allocation of resources, Makes biz process efficient, Business process will grow to drive the applications as standardization grows and so Apps become commodities

  • Urban infrastructure and dealing with legacy apps. Requires retrofitting buildings. IT infrastructure issues: How do you federate identity, security, naming, directory? Retrofit will happen and web services offer hope in this regard. Who pays for this?

  • City Governance and IT Governance. Vision, planning, strategy, funding. Issues with IT governance: Who makes decisions? What are priorities? Metrics

  • Pat's assessment is that IT is currently at 1880! This is the case since Business process a gleam in our eye, Virtual enterprises getting going, and Communication and browsing well established.

    Pat then went through some practical advice for implementing services today (in the pre WS-* world). Some of his most interesting points were in regards to the need for creating a conversation ID, message ID, version ID, and sequence numbers inside your messages. In that way services can ensure once only processing of messages and processing messages in the appropriate order. Another point he made is that messages should be timestamped for validity (perhaps for infinity). The service should then log requests (before sending the response) and responses so it can replay responses if the same request comes in again. This ensures idempotence or the ability to handle a message arriving multiple times. It also improves performance by essentially caching the message in the database (storage is cheap). He also recommended not implementing distributed transactions in business services and to model each message as an atomic transaction. Reference data should also be versioned and immutable so messages can reference a particular version of the reference data. When designing a business service from existing apps you need to look for idempotent sequences of messages and define a message interface (XSD schema) for each sequence.

    At the end Pat sang a couple songs about messaging, very funny! Had a nice reception at the hotel afterwards and received a signed copy of Simon Guest's new book on J2EE interoperability with .NET.

    PDC Sessions

    Are available here. Lots of new info on Whidbey and Longhorn.

    Wednesday, November 05, 2003

    Curve Ball Info

    Here is an interview with the authors of Curve Ball and one of the author's web pages.

    Curve Ball: Baseball, Statistics, and the Role of Chance in the Game

    Just finished this excellent book by Jim Albert and Jay Bennet originally published in 2001 but updated after the 2002 season. This book starts out with a discussion of models that tabletop baseball games such as Cadaco All Star Baseball, APBA, and Strat-o-Matic use. The authors then go on to discuss statistical models and how they apply to baseball. I'll summarize some of their interesting (although not all of them definitive) conclusions:

  • Chance plays a larger role in baseball statistics than most people think. For example, using simple confidence intervals if a player has a .422 OBP in 682 plate appearances you can only conclude with 95% confidence that his true ability to get on base falls between .385 and .459. As a result, regression to the mean always needs to be considered when evaluating a player based on a single season. (chapter 3)

  • There is no general effect for the situational stats that break down a player's performance by half seasons, day and night, and grass versus turf (chapter 4)

  • Home/road differences, ground ball/fly ball differences, and hitting against the opposite handed pitcher show evidence of a general effect where the differences are +12 points, +12 points against groundball pitchers, and +15 points against the opposite hand respectively. In other words, these effects are roughly the same for everyone. Some players may have truly enhanced ability in such situations but it is not typical. (chapter 4)

  • Hitting in a specific pitch count and hitting with runners on base show some evidence for differences based on ability. Particularly the former where high homerun/strikeout hitters hit worse when down in the count. (chapter 4)
  • There is some evidence that some hitters may be streaky (chapter 5)

  • RC/G more accurately predicts team runs/game than other systems including TA (Total Average), BRA (Base Run Average) , OPS (On base + slug), DX (Scoring Index), SLG, OBP, and AVG. In fact, the accuracy of these systems is reflected in the order. Note that AVG is the least predictive but the stat that most baseball fans follow. It would be interesting to see how Extrapolated Runs would figure in this analysis. (chapter 6)

  • The authors then use regression to come up with their own system that is slightly more accurate that RC/G (Least Squares Linear Regression). Interestingly, their system is derived directly from team data from 1871 to 1999 while Runs Created is an intuitive calculation (chapter 7). They then go on to show how their model is basically the Linear Weights system developed by Pete Palmer based on ideas originally put forward by George Lindsey in 1963. Interestingly, Lindsey and Palmer's system were developed based on run production probabilities in the 24 base-out situations. Originally Lindsey used partial data from the 1959 and 1960 seasons while Palmer ran computer simulations. The regression model, however, overvalues sacrifice flys while the Linear Weights System seems to overvalue stolen bases. (chapter 7)

  • The authors go on to show that RC/G tends to be a little unrealistic (overvaluing) for players at either end of the offensive spectrum. By inserting the player in the context of an average team this bias goes away and essentially mimics the Linear Weights model. (chapter 8)

  • The authors include a great Run Potential Table from 2002


    They then include a probabality of scoring table from Lindsey's 1959 and 1960 data (I can't seem to find a more recent version of a table like this although the authors showed that Lindsey's data in general was fairly close to more recent compilation although Lindsey's sample size is not that large since there were only 16 teams during that era):


    With this data it is relatively easy to evaluate when to steal bases, when to bunt, and when to intentionally walk a batter. In short they find that stealing 2nd base is advantageous as long as the runner has a probability of success of greater than 60%. Of course, the probability threshold goes down (into to the low 50s) in the later innings when the team is simply trying to score 1 run. This is interesting since most common wisdom I've always heard says that the SB % needs to be around 67% to be effective.

    For bunting the conclusion is that only weak hitters should bunt in the early innings (per MoneyBall and most other sabermetric research) and otherwise bunting should only be done in late innings when the objective is to score a single run.

    For intentional walks they used Barry Bonds as the test case and calculated that walking Bonds only makes sense with a runner on 2nd and 2 outs or 1st and 2nd with 2 outs (using 2002 data). Other situations either definitely call for pitching to him or are too close to call statistically. (chapter 8)

  • The authors include an interesting table on the probability of the home team winning given a score differential after each inning (again from Lindsey's data). For example, given a 3-0 lead after 7 innings the home team should win 94% of the time (much to the Cubs chagrin after game 6 of the NLCS). They use this data to weight the contribution of each play a player makes. This kind of analysis will be common with the increase in play by play data. This will lead to a true picture of each player's contribution to winning games. It would be nice if STATS, Inc. or MLB would make this data freely available (retrosheet only has 1992 and prior data). (chapter 10)

  • The authors include a table constructed from their own model for the odds of teams of various abilities getting a wild card birth, winning their division, pennant, and world series. In short they note that an average team (.483 to .517 winning percentage) should be expected to get into the playoffs 19% of the time. So it is not suprising that a Wild Card team would win the World Series. (chapter 12)

  • In all, this is a great exploration of some of the core sabermetric concepts.

    Incidentally, the tables and formulas provided by the authors vindicate my earlier rant about Dusty Baker bunting in the early innings of the NLCS. The situation was Lofton on 1st nobody out, Grudzlienack batting. If Grudz attempts to bunt the probability of scoring is 36.5% calculated as p of scoring = ((ps * pss) + (pf * pfs)) where ps is the probability of a successful sacrifice, pss is the probability of scoring with a runner on 2nd and 1 out, pf is the probability of the sacrifice failing and pfs is the probability of scoring with a runner on 1st and 2 outs. So (.8 * .390) + (.2 * .266) = .365. If Grudz does not bunt the probabilty of scoring is 40.4% (including calculating a double play). This calculation is performed simply by calculating Grudz odds of walking, hitting a single etc. and then multiplying that by the probability of scoring at least one run in the base-out situation that results and then adding the products.

    Maybe not a huge difference but bunting also takes the Cubs out of the big inning moving the run potential from .896 to .682. A no-win situation. Of course in 2003 the three teams with the lowest number of sacrifices hits were the Blue Jays (11), A's (22), and Red Sox (24). All 3 of these teams have sabermetric minded GM's. Not suprisingly, the Cardinals led the NL with 87. I wonder if that will change with their new emphasis on sabermetrics per an earlier post.

    Strategic Architect Forum

    Just arrived at the SAF on the Microsoft campus. Looking forward to a stimulating three days hearing about architectural issues and new technology. First class event all the way. There was a customer event just previously here at the Microsoft Conference Center. The breakpoints I'll be attending include:

    - Realizing SOA
    - Envisioning the Service Oriented Enterprise
    - Architectural Framework
    - Identity Management
    - Software Development Lifecycle

    More reports on these later. Today's keynotes are from Pat Helland and Bill Gates.

    Monday, November 03, 2003

    Luther - 4 stars

    We saw this movie a couple week ago. Rated PG-13 for some images of dead people but certainly appropriate and educational for older kids.

    The movie stars Joseph Fiennes who was in Shakespeare in Love, Enemy at the Gates, and Elizabeth.

    It follows Luther from his conversion in 1507 during a thunderstorm through "The Great Peasant War" around 1530. They do a lot of short vignettes that cover his time at the monestary in Augsburg, his time as a student at the college in Wittenberg, when he became a professor at Wittenberg leading to the posting of the 95 theses in 1517. They then track a little more slowly through the Diet of Worms in 1521 ("here I stand, I can do no other"), his seclusion at Wittenberg writing the NT, and then fast forward again to the peasant revolts and the Augsburg confession in 1530 with Charles V.

    I thought the movie was well acted and well done (Peter Ustinov as Fredrick the Wise of Saxony was particular good and provided the humor in the movie) although it could have been a little smoother in terms of the transitions and letting the viewer know what year it was. The actors never aged so sometimes it was hard to tell how long it had been since the previous scene.

    In all, it seemed to be fairly accurate hitting all the hight points although it certainly compressed some of the events and although they tried to bring out the political context of the time, it would have been difficult to get all the intrigue in there without making it a longer and more boring movie.

    I was most impressed by the accuracy of Luther's views towards papal indulgences and the mercy of God. They did not bring out Luther's more anti-semitic views since those came at the end of his life in the 1540s. They accurately portrayed Luther as totally against the peasant revolts but did not indict him for encouraging the slaughter of the peasants (which he did after the slaughter had already begun and then later condemned the landed class for their zeal).

    All in all a good movie although it might be hard to find. We found it on one screen here in KC in our area. After the movie there were several little groups who stayed and discussed the film (all over 40 years old of course). We bumped into a couple from our church and did the same for a few minutes. Good stuff.

    Kenyans and Running

    Interesting article on Slate today Why are Kenyans Fast Runners? that summarizes the theories on why Kenyans win so many distance (800m and beyond) races. Whatever the reason there was an interesting statistical analysis done a couple years ago on this same question. The analysis assumed that Kenyans (specifically from the Nandi tribe) are genetically superior and attempted to answer questions about the frequency that Europeans or others might medal in future Olympics. The most interesting quote was this:

    "Near the limits of human performance, subtle differences between groups become greatly magnified. In world-class competition, whether for Nobel Prizes or Olympic gold, such small variations in group abilities profoundly influence tribal representation in the winner's circle."

    The analysis then goes on to show that even if the abilities of two groups differed by as much as a standard deviation, a randomly selected individual from the inferior group would still have almost a one third chance of beating the individual from the superior group. However, at the far right tail of the distribution (near the limits of human performance) the odds decrease alarmingly quickly. According to the authors of this study and others this accounts for the dominance of Kenyans in distance running, West Africans (or those of West African descent) in sprinting (all of the more than 30 men who have run the 100 meters in less than 10 seconds are of West African descent), and even in Ashkenazic Jews in winning Nobel Prizes.

    I think most Kenyans and modern westerners like the author of the Slate article would dearly like to attribute the Kenyans success primarily to hard work and cultural differences (nurture over nature). This is especially true of events like marathons that seem to require a greater work ethic and other incalcuables. However, I tend to agree with the authors of the study and conclude that a large portion of the Kenyan's success is likely genetic supported by a culture that is now proud of its success.

    So what does it all mean? Ironically, in a culture that prides itself on diversity, Americans shy away from any discussion of genetic differences between groups and label as racist anyone who questions the premise. However, at the limits (and sports seems to show this clearly, whether in team sports like basketball and football or individual sports like track) it seems to me we see those differences and would be better off to acknowledge them than hide our heads in the sand.