Monday, April 15, 2013


Annually, my buddy Kenny comes to Boston to visit and watch the Boston Marathon.  Patriots Day, the day of the marathon is a festive time, one that is difficult to describe.  The Red Sox play a game that starts at 11 in the morning.  The marathon begins at 930 a.m and runners stream across the finish line from one o'clock until 5.  Kids are there with balloons cheering on their mothers and fathers.  Runners have cheering sections.  Some wear signs that read Joan, so that spectators can shout "Go Joan Go" for 26 miles.   Racers draped in aluminum covers are exhausted but are smiling as they have completed the race and are embraced by their loved ones.  Fans who have exited the Red Sox game parade around in their Red Sox caps, jackets, and sweatshirts.  It is a big party.

This year we got a late start out of the house and were en route to the finish line when we got the news that there had been an explosion.  We continued downtown, parked at my university which is about a mile from the bomb scene. We walked towards the finish line.  We saw people sobbing; runners draped in their aluminum shawls were subdued; spectators stunned.  We got into the Sheraton where at least 100 maybe 200 runners and their families congregated in the lobby.  A fellow from Toronto told us that his wife had just crossed the finish line when the bombs went off.

Not sure coward is a strong enough word to describe the gutless individuals who decided to plant a bomb in a crowd.  An 8 year old is dead.  Body parts and blood littered Boylston street.  For what?  Some political statement?  Very likely to persuade me that a cause is just by spinelessly killing innocent people and maiming others.

I look forward to next year.  I will try to get an early start.  I want to be sure to get a spot on Boylston street and cheer for the runners and spit in the face of the gutless chumps who think their cowardly act is justified.  And I know I will not be alone.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

technology and sport

The conference I am attending is winding down.  It has been about using new technology to enhance education and implementing on-line courses and programs.  It has been illuminating.  I've learned about new technologies and best practices.  I've a new vocabulary--often acronyms--and met vendors who are offering services that I would not have thought are available.  Also, implicitly, and sometimes explicitly--hazards of new technology in education have been identified. Implicitly, in that nearly every session that I attended that relied on technology to explain new technology had some failure of technology that impeded and retarded the progress of explaining the value of the new technology.  Still, on balance, there is a need to explore and examine how to use on-line learning to complement conventional learning.

When yesterday's sessions ended about 6 pm Pacific time, I went down to watch the end of the Red Sox game.  The Sox led 5-3 going into the ninth.  The closer came in and gave up a homer to the first batter. 5-4.  He then got two quick outs.  With two strikes on the next batter, the Oriole hitter fisted a seeing eye single between third and short.  The pitcher walked the next hitter.  The Red Sox were still ahead 5-4, first and second, two outs.  The next batter worked the count to 3 and 2.  One strike away from a victory. The pitcher then threw a beautiful pitch on the inside corner, strike three.

Except it wasn't., The umpire called it a ball.  The replays showed that the pitch was a strike. Not a subjective call. It was in the strike box.  Still the umpire called it a ball. The pitcher glared in at the ump and then shook his head incredulously.

Bases loaded.  Next pitch traveled about forty feet as opposed to the 60 feet 6 inches. It bounced away from the catcher and the tying run came in.  Next pitch was a meatball that the batter hit to the moon.  Red Sox lose 8-5.

What about new technology.  In tennis a machine can determine if a ball is in or out, in football a machine is used to assess the legitimacy of a touchdown.  Why not in baseball?  That was strike three in the Red Sox game as even a primitive machine could determine.  In the same way that technology can enhance education, can't technology impove our game.

Not so fast.  I like the Red Sox, but I think you have to be careful when employing technology in sport.  I find, for example, the replays in college football enough for me to change the channel during games.   The capabilities of new technologies, in sport, like in education, should be used not simply because they can be used.  The question to ask is will the effect of using new technology--recognizing all of the limitations-- enhance the overall objective of the activity.   When you fall in love with technology you sometimes overlook limitations that surface subsequently and undermine the ostensible value of the tool.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013


While waiting for my flight out to this conference I spotted a fellow with whom I work at the University.  He was going out to the same city but for a different conference.  He saw me and came over to where I sat.

"Belichick's on the plane." he said.

"Belichick's on the plane?"

Belichick's on the plane.

Two women came up to my colleague.  Apparently, the three of them had met in the restaurant near the gate.

One of the women said.  "You weren't kidding. He is right there."

"I told you" said my colleague. "He was right behind me on the security line."

The plane we were on was full, and who knows who was on the flight.  High powered physicians, millionaires, authors,  professors of all stripes, ---all "nobodies" in terms of celebrity.  When my colleague mentioned that Belichick was on the flight I stood up and scanned the area. I saw him sitting with his companion away from the crowd.  I also noticed a police presence by the gate accompanied by someone who appeared to be doing some sort of security work.

When we boarded he went on first.  He smiled warmly to all those looking at him.  I thought it must be difficult to be known wherever he goes.  And to have absolutely no anonymity at least in New England.   When I got on the plane he and his girlfriend were in the front row and, so help me, he was reading one of the magazines you can buy at a newstand, a magazine that I always thought was just for fans--PRO FOOTBALL.

I forgot about him during the flight.  It was an easy but long ride and I was beat when we landed.  Now, it was after 2 a.m. my time with a guaranteed extra hour to get my bag and go to the hotel.  I followed the signs to the baggage claim and was reminded of the celebrity on the flight.  I thought that there was no way he was going to be by the baggage claim.  But he was there, waiting with the rest of us, for suitcases.  Again there was a security presence around him and while he did not seem to be offputting there was nobody within a ten foot radius except his companion.  When the bags finally arrived, the security folks picked up the bags and they walked towards whatever ground transportation that had been arranged.

I've got to think that gets old after a spell.  Can this guy buy a doughnut without having to  bring an agent with him to keep the fandom away?   More than most of the players, this guy's mug is familiar to nearly everyone who watches football games.  There are the perks after all. He has some shekels and I bet he did not have to wait on the line I waited on to get a cab.  But still, my guess is that he would like to be left alone every once in a while to read his Pro Football magazine.

Monday, April 8, 2013

on line education

At the airport waiting for my flight to a conference that will describe new technologies in on line education.  This is a big ingredient in contemporary university success.  A while back I was involved in creating an on line version of an on ground program.  I understand that the on line version is more than twice as popular as the on ground version.  Universities across the country are exploring how to deliver courses meaningfully using this format.  This is why I sit in the airport.

What has been particularly educational thus far is the horrific traffic jam I endured on the way to the airport having selected a departure time from work which coincided with the end of a Red Sox 3-1 victory at Fenway Park, a neighbor of my university.  The traffic was the bad news.  The good news is that the Logan airport folks had plenty of attendants at the bag check in as well as the security lines so despite the crawling traffic I am comfortably by the gate.

There is some interesting entertainment nearby.  A family of what I take to be triplets sit to my left. The kids look to be about four, two girls and a boy.  The mother, moments ago, came by with huge hamburgers for the clan to consume.  Watching these kids wrestle with the hamburgers might prove to be more entertaining than the finals of the NCAA tournament tonight.  Las Vegas would not have laid odds that these kids could finish the burgers without a mess, but they appeared to do so.  Very happy looking quintet my neighbors.  Also a literary bunch. Two of the three kids are reading Harry Potter novels which makes me wonder about their age, though they truly are pipsqueaks.  The third is nibbling on his last french fry and at the clip of his nibbling, it ought to last the transcontinental flight.

I want to be dispassionate about on line education possibilities. My gut reaction is that for serious students it can be great for a number of reasons.  You can work at your own pace; you do not have to live near the university where the course is being offered; you can engage in a way you might be reluctant to if you were in person and on-ground.  Instructors who are shy or poor speakers in a classroom setting, can plan intelligently and avoid problems that oral communication apprehension might create.

I remember, however, reading an article several years ago about the benefits of high touch vs high tech. For good on-ground teachers, on-line would eliminate their skill of generating discussion based on nonverbal perceptions and familiarity with students that you can gain only by regular contact.  And how do you deal, as an instructor, with testing and corner cutting wise guys.  Looking forward to seeing how that might be addressed by the presenters at this conference.

The couple who has parented these three kids who manhandled their burgers moments ago, I wonder how they met.  In a class maybe.  They didn't produce these kids on line.   If they are showing some technology for that at this conference I imagine it will be tough to get a seat at the workshops.

Had an acquaintance from the health club.  Guy was a nice fellow but spent a lot of time moaning about how he had not met anyone  (Interestingly, a lot of the women at the health club would complain similarly making me wonder at times if one group could hear how it was implicitly insulting the other).  Point is, one day about ten years ago he was bouncing around the locker room like a guy who had caught the love bug.  Because he had. He met someone on line, and the two discovered they were meant to be. Never saw her before the electronic connection.  Anyway he started talking to anyone within twenty lockers about how great things were. He told all that he planned to drive down to North Carolina I think it was, pick her up, and then get married a week after they arrived in Boston.

I did not know the guy that well, but I suggested a more conservative course. He waved me away as if I was a fly landing on his nose.  Why wait he said without any sense of anything that I could identify as logical.   Haven't seen the guy in years, so I don't know how it all came out.

Can you learn meaningfully on line? Fall in love?  The former will be explained in the next two days.  Don't think the couple to my left with the three extraordinarily well behaved kids would answer affirmatively to the latter.

Saturday, April 6, 2013

horrible call

The jump ball call giving Louisville the ball with 6 seconds left is one of the worst calls of all time.

This gave Louisville the game.  The call should have been a "no call" and a play on. If a whistle had to be blown on that play it could have been a foul on Hancock.

It was a shame for this excellently played game to be decided by such a decision.

Gone for Good: Book Review

Now that novelist Robert Parker has passed I am on the lookout for fast reads that are similar.  Parker was the author of the Spenser novels (as well as two lesser known crime series) and his books were very easy to read and often--but not always--left you with some lesson to contemplate.  The stories could get repetitive and his depictions of Susan Silverman (Spenser's sweetheart) and Hawk (Spenser's friend) were stick figures with a bad case of anorexia.  Still, you could breeze through the novels and they more often than not were more than just a tale.

I've enjoyed some of the Ed McBain 87th precinct series. Kiss is a real good one.  McBain is also Evan Hunter and, I'm guessing, wanted to keep his cop series (authored by McBain)  and other writings (authored by Hunter) separate. One of the best 87th precinct novels, however, is called Candyland which is brilliantly presented in two parts, the first written by "McBain", the second by "Hunter".

Had good luck with a few of the John Sandford books too, but some of the Prey series are just too bloody for me.  Worked with a fellow in the post office once who asked me if a movie I'd seen had "a lot of killing in it."  He went on to explain his inquiry by adding "I don't like any movies without any killing."  This guy would love the Prey books.  The Virgil Flowers offshoot are sometimes fun but the stories are often very repetitive. Flowers goes to a town where there is a murder. It involves some sexual activity. He gets involved with someone sexually. He solves the crime with the help (or not) of his bed mates.

There are other authors I've tried too, but I have not found a consistent winner among the whodunit yarns-- haven't found a lock as we say in the casinos--an author you can turn to and know that you can pick her/his book up, you will like it, it will not be ridickalus in terms of plot or a character's superhuman qualities, and the story will hang around in your head for a while.

A few weeks back, there was a two page ad in the Times about a new Harlan Coben novel.  I never heard of the guy.  Looked him up on the internet and apparently I don't read enough because this guy has written many novels and has quite a loyal following.  I found the reviews from Amazon and picked out the Coben books that had the highest rating.  Gone for Good was one of them.  Coincidentally a local library was having a used book sale.  I brought the list to the sale, found Gone for Good and started reading this past Monday.

It is, as advertised, a page turner.  But the twists and turns while engaging are so unlikely that I can't hang the story anywhere when I think about it.  If you think you might want to read the book, you might want to skip to the next paragraph, but it's not essential. I will not give the whole thing away. Here's the frame. Guy is in love and trying to find his missing brother who, eleven years ago, was accused of killing the main character's ex sweetheart.  The brother ran from the crime scene and is thought of as dead, but the brother is told by his dying mother that the brother is alive.  So, the main character tries to find his brother and then lots of stuff happens involving his current love, his former girlfriend's sister, a transformed redneck, a couple of ne'er do wells who like killing people, a cop seeking personal justice, a seedy ex doctor in las vegas, and a child.

Is it a good read?  Well, it doesn't pass the ridikalus test.  Lots of  stuff happens zip zip that could not happen so quickly.  Guy gets the crap beat out of him and the next day is out bouncing around town following clues.  Guys make it from New Mexico to New York in no time.  People pop out from behind trees conveniently.  So, it does not pass the ridickalus test.  And, as I wrote, I don't think it will pass the hanging around in my head test either.

What will hang around in my head is not the story, but the title.  Gone for Good.  A number of times I looked at the book cover and the words stared back at me.  One particular night the words seemed especially ominous when my cat decided to hit the late bars and did not come back until around midnight causing some distress in the household.  Must have had a hot date. But he came back.  The thought of him gone for good was not comforting. Nor is it comforting when you face the reality or even possibility, like the character had, that someone you love may be gone for good.  You'd have to read the book to know who among the many characters in this novel is indeed gone for good and who you might think will be, but is not.  Maybe this is an applicable message from the novel. In life, we have to live it out to know for sure who in our lives among the living are in fact gone for good.

Friday, April 5, 2013

Willie Mays or Duke Snider? It's incontrovertible

My best guess is that I was somewhere between 4 and 6 when this incident occurred.  I was having one of my regular debates with my good friend Gregory who lived on the first floor.  We lived on the 5th. The topic du jour was who was better Willie Mays or Duke Snider.  Gregory a Brooklyn Dodger fan contended that Snider was better.  I, a NY Giant fan, argued that Mays was better.

Why was I, a kid from Brooklyn  a Giant fan at the age of 4, 5, or 6.  Here is how.  When my father was about nine someone asked him who he rooted for in baseball.  At the time my father did not know much about baseball. One of the teams he had heard of was the Giants.  So, he told the inquirer that he was a fan of the Giants, then became a fan of the Giants--a serious fan.  And, then of course, my brother and I became serious fans.

In Brooklyn--and knowing my mother I do not know how this passed inspection--I scotchtaped on the wall above my bunkbed, the baseball cards of all the Giant players in the shape of a diamond.  So, Johnny Antonelli was on what would have been the pitcher's mound, Wes Westrum the catcher, Whitey Lockman at first, the great Willie Mays at center, Don Mueller in right.  I can't remember all the players now, but I know that I had them scotch taped on the wall.

Tales of the 1951 playoff series with the hated Dodgers are among the first stories I ever heard. Bobby Thomson hitting what would now be called the walk off homer heard round the world was a regular thing to joyously reconsider.

My father was crazy about Willie Mays.  No matter what you hear from whippersnappers, Willie Mays was the best baseball player ever to live.  Nobody went to third from first on a single if Mays corralled it.  A fly ball anywhere was made to look easy as Mays got such a good jump on the ball. He could hit, and hit with power.  Every time he got up to the plate was a time to get excited about the possibilities.

So, the debate with Gregory was frustrating.  Four, 5, or 6 year old me was trying to explain to 4, 5, or 6 year old Gregory why Duke Snider was nothing compared to the great Willie Mays.  Gregory would hear nothing of it.  The Duke was better.

To prove my point, I contended with all seriousness and not a speck of what would be considered hyperbole that Willie Mays could hit a homer anytime he wanted to.  The ensuing discussion took the form of a very mature give and take.

Could not.
Could to.
Could not
Could to.
I'll make you a million dollar bet.
I'll make you a gazillion dollar bet.  (probably felt certain that there was a numerical value to a gazillion).

This kind of repartee is not that different from what I hear as a university administrator during high power meetings, but there, some of the language, is more dignified--and discussants tend to elaborate.

Anyway, here we were around 1954 discussing something important. Who was better Willie Mays or Duke Snider. I had taken the stand that Willie was better and I had proof: Willie Mays could hit a homer whenever he wanted to.  Ha.  Gregory was wrong to dispute this.

Fortunately, to put an end to the discussion (and to allow us to move on to more substantive issues like which candy store had the best Italian Ices) my father happened to our location.

Okay well now Gregory was cooked.  I had the proof.

"Daddy." I said.  "Can't Willie Mays hit a homerun every time he wants to?"

I remember his response and his facial expression clearly.  I must have gotten him at a time when he was tired and not interested in responding to such an idiotic query. Usually he would be far more diplomatic.

"Of course not," he said.  "If Willie Mays could hit a homerun every time, then he would hit a homerun every time."

To both Gregory and me that logic was stunning.  We had not gone that far in logic at PS 194.  Gregory did not exalt. He, like I, took it in.

We both got it.  You could not deflate that logic. It was incontrovertible.  (a word I know largely because of listening a gazillion times to advertisements for Castro Convertible furniture as a child. First lines of the jingle,

"Who's the first to conquer living space. It's incontrovertible.
That the first to conquer living space it's Castro Convertible." 

If you lived in Brooklyn in the fifties I can almost guarantee that you can recite the rest of the jingle. Sing along with me, "Who saves you space with fine design? Who saves you money all the time? Who's tops in the convertible line? Castro Convertible").

Sofas aside, the point dad made was incontrovertibly logical.  Willie Mays could not hit a homer every time, because if he could he would.  This did not mean he wasn't better than Duke Snider. It meant that the argument I used had been refuted.

I wish that politicians or religious extremists who debate the wisdom of this act or that would accept logic that is incontrovertible.  I am exasperated reading articles of zealots on the right or left who will make transparently bogus claims and hang onto them regardless of incontrovertible evidence. 

If my dad told Kool Aid consuming fanatics some equivalent of "Willie Mays would hit a homer every time if he could, so therefore since he did not hit a homerun every time, he cannot hit a homer every time." the fanatics would find a way to dispute the logic. 

That is because they are older than 4, 5, or 6. 

And because they have adopted a hidden agenda.  I read a very disturbing article yesterday about a Congressman from Kansas who is against spending and aggravates even Republicans by voting against every compromise measure.  This Kansan who was described in the article as representing the reddist county in the reddist state, is against all federal programs EXCEPT farm subsidies to his district and federal inspection of beef which, if eliminated, would affect constituents who benefit from these federal programs.  So ALL spending is bad UNLESS it is spending for me.

Incontrovertible evidence is valueless when dealing with someone who has let the Kool Aid course through the system.

P.S. Willie Mays was a gazillion times better than Duke Snider.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

The Club

I receive, daily, a thought for the day via e-mail from my father.  I love getting these.  He sends them to me, his other son--my brother, and my brother's son, my dad's grandchild. 

My father is an unusual man.   He thinks and writes clearly and  his daily thoughts often send me musing in a direction that yields insights that had either been previously buried or never existed.

Today he was writing about a club that his buddies in the condominium complex claim they are in.  The club uses the acronym, CRAFT.  Group members contend they cannot remember anything.

In terms of short term memory, I belong in CRAFT and deserve to be considered for a high post in this organization. I have walked around the house holding my glasses looking for them.  I do reps walking the stairs in the morning getting items that I have forgotten to pack for work.  I'm in the car and I realize I forgot my tee shirt for working out, I go upstairs get the tee shirt, come downstairs. Downstairs I pat my jacket and say, "Where's the cell phone". Go upstairs.  Get the cellphone. Go downstairs.  Need the checkbook.  Go upstairs... You know the drill.

 But this is just short term. My long term memory is so good that it is startling to old acquaintances.  I've turned a head or two at college and high school reunions by reminding someone of something they've forgotten.

But what set me to thinking about memory after reading my dad's e-mail was not my horrible short term capabilities or accurate long term recalling.

I think that the biggest problem with memory is not so much memory loss, short or long, but the selective recollection of events to permit a comfortable historical narrative.  Let's say you don't want to remember something that would be disturbing to recall. Instead you selectively forget the incident or create another more palatable version.   Then when you get to thinking about the past, you remember the fiction as fact, and bingo, the waves on the water are less turbulent.

Of course, I contend, that the sense of calm sea is temporary or an illusion. Accrued falsehoods lurk in our consciousness and pop up poisoning us like some toxic ball.  Regardless, in terms of every day consciousness, the bogus version is what passes for history.  It's later when we get some sort of sick because of the deception.

My sense is that this selective memory club has so many members that they would have to hold the annual convention in the Astrodome and pipe in the keynote speaker's remarks to those watching on tv in dozens of satellite locations.

Despite the membership, this CRAFT is the club not to join.  When your mother told you not to hang out with juvenile delinquents she should have added "and don't join the Selective Retention Craft Club either if you know what's good for you."

I've written the following before, but it is worth repeating for this  blog.  In sport, you cannot join the Craft Club, if you want to stay with the ball club.  Convince yourself that the reason you lost was because the left fielder is a stiff, when the fact is you can't hit in the clutch--and you are likely not to stay on the team because you're likely not to work on your hitting. The teams that have prevailed in March Madness, the teams that will excel in this year's baseball season will be composed of those who knew the Craft Club, provided only temporary comfort.

Monday, April 1, 2013

"Where you at 5?"

A friend of mine, my hockey buddy from the epilogue to The Madness of March, once had a job as a cab driver.  His cab was always cab 5.  Whenever he was out on a call and another call came in, he'd hear the dispatcher through his radio,  "Where you at 5?"

I use the expression with him now and again. When we are together and I don't know what room in the house he's in, I'll shout, "Where you at 5?"  And sometimes it is less about physical location and more about what he might feel like doing, "Where you at 5?"

Lately, I have been saying it to myself. I don't drive a cab (and he hasn't for thirty plus years), but I say it to myself when I am considering more than location.  You hear people speaking about all activities being part of the journey that is life.  I recall when Bobby Valentine the manager of last year's Red Sox would be asked about the horrific year he had managing the team, Valentine nine times out of ten seemed to be at peace.  The Sox were a train wreck last year, but Valentine's refrain was nearly always, "this is all part of the journey."

Well, yeah, but sometimes you figure you must have made a wrong turn.  You find yourself in the Bronx and the address was Brooklyn. Sure it is part of the journey but it would have been better if you paid attention to the map.  I have at various times over the years, heard a crony tell me that he did not know how he got to where he was at. 

When I am driving somewhere every once in a while I check the map to make sure I am on course.  Same thing with my head, but lately as the times around the track have added up I am stunned when I do the arithmetic and realize how long I have been (a) at the job (b) in the same house (c) driven the Element (d) known my buddy Ken (e) exercised at the same health club, etc.

I figure if you don't, every so often, say, "where you at 5?" then before you know it, you are getting sick and can't believe how much time while you were well you may have plodded along seriously in the wrong direction.

 As the baseball season begins today, I wonder about the self assessment of some clubs. Did they really ask themselves where they were at when they retooled for the season.  Or like, for example, perennial failures like the Cubs, were their reflections inadequate or superficial. 

If you are a cab driver, a baseball team, or just someone looking to get the most juice out of our ride, you need to be able to respond intelligently when either someone else or you, yourself, asks, Where you at?

the last three-the final four--and one

The first weekend of March Madness features 48 basketball games that result in the 64 teams being reduced to 16, the sweet sixteen.  Divide the 48 games played during the first week by 4, and you have 12--the number of games that were played this past weekend during which the sweet 16 (divided by 4) is reduced to the final four.

Now take the twelve games played last weekend and divide that by 4, and you are left with the last three games of the college basketball season.  Divide the final four by 4 and you are left with one, the one winner of the tournament.

So the last three games, played among the final four, will yield one--4/4=1.

One might think that if arithmetic is not your strong suit, maybe you should not be wagering on college basketball games.  My point is that even if arithmetic is your strong suit, you are foolish to think wagering on college basketball games is lucrative. (Unless you own the casino).  I know more than the average bear about college basketball and went 5-7, for the twelve games in the sweet sixteen.  I would win 2 out of 3 this coming weekend.  The first two are on Saturday.  Take Louisville against Wichita State giving up the points unless the spread is greater than 12.  Take Syracuse against Michigan regardless of spread.

The horrific injury in the Louisville game was sobering.  I was out taking a walk when it happened. When I returned I could only see the trainers huddling around the injured player.  I searched youtube and google for an image and finally found one.  Saw him shoot and fall, but then could see not see the player's leg.  Did not need to.  What I saw was the reaction of the bench, turning away in anguish as if the sight was too much to witness.  I saw Pitino tear up in a way that seemed very genuine.

Best wishes to the young man and his family.