Silent Archimedes

Why we still don’t like soccer and the World Cup

Posted by silentarchimedes on June 20, 2010

I really enjoy watching and playing soccer. I’ve been looking forward to the World Cup ever since the last one. And it’s nice to see that soccer has developed more of a following in America, and there seems to be more excitement this year. However, when you look at some of the things that has already happened in South Africa, you start understanding more why professional soccer still hasn’t taken a foothold (pardon the pun) here. In no particular order, here are reasons that can make a fan flabbergasted at soccer.

Vuvuzela

1. Vuvuzelas – Ok, seriously… I understand that if it’s part of a long tradition in South Africa, it’s fine, but it’s just not true. They became only popular in the 1980s, and introduce in the past couple years to international soccer play. It would be fine too, if it was a few vuvuzelas that provided added excitement and atmosphere, but it is soo loud that players have complained about how it affects their communication and concentration on the pitch. Watching on TV, I can’t even hear the typical sounds of competition, such as cheering, yelling, chanting, ref whistles, etc. It’s a continuous annoying buzz that drowns out all other noise. How is that a respect for the game? If you want to talk about African tradition, how about some drums or African music? That would a really nice atmosphere.

2. Low scoring games and draws – There’s nothing specifically wrong about low scores, but when clean sheets (shutouts) are more the norm than not, it gets a bit boring. Look at these stats for the first round of the knockout phase

- Only 25 goals were scored in the 16 games.

- An average of 1.56 goals per game.

- Thirteen times a team did not score, 15 times a team scored only 1 goal, 3 times – 2 goals and Germany scored four goals in their game.

Which leads to the abundance or high chance of a draw. Of the 16 games in the first round, six ended in a draw (two 0-0, four 1-1). That means 37.5% of the games ended in a draw.

3. Subjective refereeing – Due to the low scores of soccer games, so many issues that normally would be minor are magnified because they can affect the outcome of the game. There have been so many bad calls by referees it’s hard to really appreciate the game. Two that already stand out are the denied US go-ahead goal in the Slovenia game (not to mention all the other bad calls in that game), and the two missed handball fouls (on the same play) on Brazil’s second goal against Ivory Coast.

Bob Bradley – “There are times when a referee blows a foul and now thinks either he didn’t make the correct call on the foul or a previous play,” Bradley said. “Then literally, as soon as the free kick’s taken, he blows his whistle.”

Since writing this post, there’s been two other obviously bad calls by referees that have impacted the game. The phantom off-sides call on Clint Dempsey’s goal against Algeria and the disallowed goal off the crossbar against England’s game tying goal against Germany. Unbelievable.

4. Jabulani – The controversy over the playability of the ball every single World Cup is absurd. Just play the game! Imagine hockey players complaining about the puck, or NBA players complaining about the ball (ok, it did happen once), but stop being so sensitive. Either that, or FIFA needs to establish a standard ball, like in the NFL, and stop making everything a marketing campaign.

Dutch women - Guerilla advertising campaign

5. Orange mini-skirts – Ok, I had to throw this in there, even though I understand FIFA’s reasoning in protecting sponsors and making sure guerilla advertising campaigns don’t occur, but still, who arrests beautiful girls in miniskirts at a sports game?? Kick them out if you have to, but arrest? Go after the beer company if you have to, but to arrest the pawns of the campaign? All FIFA did was bring more attention to the guerilla advertising campaign, and show more the heavy-handedness of FIFA.

6. FIFA – The FIFA governing body reminds me too much of the International Olympic Committee – business suits with big egos and a lack of understanding and sensitivity to its fanbase. FIFA has always enjoyed the subjectivity of soccer because it believes controversy increases awareness and passion for the game. Well, not really. Not if you are trying to break into the United States market. Americans want fairness and want calls to be called right. The controversy surrounding USA’s third goal in the Slovenia game does not make casual fans follow soccer more, it makes them more skeptical of soccer’s fairness. FIFA needs to get off its high horse.

FIFA also hates technology in the game, but when the entire stadium sees the ball cross the goal line in the England-Germany game and the refs disallow it, it’s obvious that simple replay to determine if the ball crossed the goal line must be added. All these horrible calls by refs are ruining the sportsmanship and integrity of the game.

7. Penalty kicks – Penalty kicks are fine, if they were rewarded similarly to penalty shots in hockey, but they are not. They are given for hand balls in the penalty box, if the ref thinks there is any hint of intention. And the subjectivity of whether the hand ball denied a scoring chance is absurd. Even if there was going to be a scoring chance, the chance of a goal is so small. Usually a penalty shot in hockey is only awarded on an obvious breakaway. Of the 28 games through Sunday, June 20, five penalty kicks were given out (4 scored, 1 missed). Two of the five had an impact in the game, whether it was the winning or tying goal. Considering how low scoring the games are, it’s somewhat unfair that penalty kicks play such a big part in a soccer game.

8. Inaccuracy – Sometimes you wonder if the players are kicking a soccer ball for the first time in their lives. These guys are professionals and they practice kicking a soccer ball in all possible scenarios so often, whether it’s at the goal in or outside the penalty box, or a through ball to the striker. So why do so many balls sail waaaaay high over the crossbar or to the side of the goal? Why do so many corner kicks go so far to the other side and out? Why so many through kicks go either too far or too fast? I understand that many times players are trying to be too perfect or they are under too much duress, but seriously? So many of them are just pathetic.

When you look at the precision of other sports, such as Kobe draining a perimeter shot at the buzzer, or Ovechkin putting on evasive maneuvers to score a late winning goal, or Alex Rodriguez crushing a 96mph fastball into the seats for a walk-off homer or many other sports, it just makes soccer look somewhat random regardless of skill and experience. Especially to the casual observer.

Red card

9. Two yellows -> red card -> missed match – Just like the handball-penalty kicks, the way soccer handles yellow cards, red cards and automatic missed match has hints of unfairness. Once again the penalty is too severe for the foul. Not only do you get kicked out of the current match, but you also cannot play in the next game. Since yellow cards are already subjective, it seems so unfair if someone was to get a second yellow early in the game (the first one from the last game), that means an automatic red card, which means he’s ejected from the current game and the next game. For all intents and purposes, a foul in two separate games has cost him and his team two matches.

Oh, and not to forget, when he gets ejected, his team cannot replace his position in the game, which means his team must play a man down! Three penalties for two yellows on a player, and we know some yellows are pretty minor fouls. For reference, if you get a game misconduct in hockey, the other team gets a power play (man advantage) for a few minutes, and the player is ejected only for the current game. Umm, soccer might want to adopt a similar penalty system.

10. Racism – Unfortunately because of the passion, alcohol and whatever other reason, we still hear stories of players having to deal with raucous fans shouting racial and derogatory phrases at opposing players. There’s no place for racism in sports, especially in this day and age. Sports in the United States are more integrated and the population is more diverse than most international cultures. To read about this in soccer, the supposedly most popular sport in the world, it simply turns us off from the sport.

11. Too much passion – Americans are passionate about their sports, especially their football, but we don’t kill a player simply because they messed up. We might affect them psychologically to the point their careers and lives are destroyed, but we won’t take their lives away. There’s already been a couple instances of this occurring in soccer, and it just seems like the sport is a little over the top.

12. Egos – Players not wanting to train (French team this World Cup)? Player getting kicked off the team in the World Cup for cursing out the coach (Anelka of the French team)? That’s just the most obvious in this World Cup, but because the players are national and international heroes and they are one of the highest paid athletes in the world, their egos are also the size of, well, the world. Some of the players have more loyalty to their club team or themselves than their national teams. For example, there were so many questions of the Brazil national team because most of them play on the European club teams now.

13. Lack of sportsmanship – When flopping and diving is considered an art, something is wrong with the sport and the sportsmanship the players exude. Because the players know they can get away with it, sportsmanship goes out the window and they want that instant unfair advantage. What about the Ivory Coast player getting elbowed in the chest by Brazil’s Kaka, only to fall and cover his face as if his face is in pain? Seriously, is this sportsmanship? What about players diving in the ending minutes of a game to waste time only to see the other team drag him off the pitch? Sportsmanship, guys!! Have some! In football, if you waste time, you get a 15-yard penalty. No one wants to see that. Oh yeah, not to mention Zidane’s headbutt from the last World Cup.

14. Soccer is 90 min + ? – Another referee subjectivity. They determine how much injury time to add to each half, but they only have to tell the rest of the world roughly how many minutes it is. Only he knows the exact time the half or game ends. What the…

It’s unfortunate because the game is actually very tactical and requires a lot of teamwork and skill. However, because of the subjectivity, the rules and the commercialization of the sport, it has turned off the big casual market in America.

What other reasons do you guys think can turn off the casual fan from soccer?

Posted in Opinion, Sports | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Why I think LeBron James will go to the Knicks

Posted by silentarchimedes on December 5, 2009

Here are the many reasons, in no particular order, why I think LeBron James should and will sign with the Knicks in the summer of 2010:

1. Madison Square Garden – He has said many times that Madison Square Garden is one of his most favorite places to play ball. Also, MSG continued to sell out and maintain the aura of a playoff game many times during this year (and the last few years) even when the Knicks (and Rangers) stunk it up. What other city has this atmosphere even when the team(s) has been horrible for 10 years? Most cities give up on the teams.

Madison Square Garden
Knicks playing at Madison Square Garden.
(source: Wikipedia)

2. NYC badly needs a basketball savior – Giants won in 2007. Yankees won in 2009. Rangers won in 1994. The Knicks have not won since 1972-3, and only reached the Finals twice since then. Everyone saw how NYC treated the 1994-5 Rangers when they finally won. Imagine how the city will treat whoever gets the Knicks to the promised land.

3. The Canyon of Heroes – There is nothing like going down Broadway and the Canyon of Heroes in a ticker-tape parade, being celebrated by three million+ fans. The history of the Canyon of Heroes goes beyond sports and New York. It is a big part of all that America stands for – valor, freedom, intelligence and bravery (Eisenhower, MacArthur, Glenn, Statue of Liberty, Einstein, Olympians, Lindbergh, Earhart, Jesse Owens, Armstrong, just to name a few of the 100+ parades). No other city comes close to offering that experience. None.


Apollo 11 astronauts honored in
Canyon of Heroes Tickertape parade in 1969.
(Source: Wikipedia, NASA)

4. Time to leave the nest – As much as people say he won’t leave Cleveland because he’s a hometown kid, that reason may also be why he leaves. All college kids remember having to decide between going to a state school versus going out of state. The visions and dreams of leaving the nest grow stronger as you mature. It is a natural process to want to leave the nest and prove you are capable of taking care of yourself. Many of those that were hesitant about leaving home, end up loving the experience away from home. LeBron will be 25 next summer.

5. It’s just a part-time job – People make it seem like if he leaves Ohio, he is naked and all out in the world alone. Basketball season is from October to April. He has 4 to 5 months each year to live back home with his mom and friends, if he wants. Additionally, there is so much traveling going on during the season, most players see the team city as a job location and not necessarily a family-nest location. It’s more important that the city and fans embrace you. He will be embraced like no other in NYC.

6. James Dolan – He might be one of the most incompetent owners in sports, but there is one thing that he has, money. And he’s not afraid to spend it on the Knicks. Now that the management is sound with Walsh, LeBron can come here knowing the management will do whatever it takes to surround James with whoever he wants to win it all.

7. LeBron as pseudo-GM – LeBron will have a lot of input in which players the Knicks sign or let go during his whole contract. The Knicks entire hope is that LeBron signs with them. You think once they do, they will go against his wishes in bringing in a supporting cast? With Dolan’s money and Walsh’s management, LeBron does not have to worry about the current Knicks players being bad.

8. Don’t forget 2011 – Too much is said about how the Knicks will only be able to get one max player (and recently cleared space for two!). No matter what the cap is and whether they can unload Curry and/or Jeffries, both contracts come off in 2011. LeBron is not signing for one year, it’s a multi-year investment.

9. Mike D’Antoni – Every player, including LeBron, loved playing for D’Antoni on the US National team. His style is almost playground style – open, fast-paced and focused on athleticism – which Lebron loves. You can see how the Cavs offense slows down when Shaq is stuck in the paint. versus someone more fleet footed like Varejao when he’s in the game. LeBron is taking more fade-away jumpers instead of driving to the net. Additionally, the Cavs don’t do many pick-and-rolls which would greatly increase LeBron’s ability. D’Antoni’s whole premise is the ability to efficiently do pick-and-rolls.


Mike D’Antoni coaching the Suns.
(Source: Wikipedia, Bobak Ha’Eri)

10. CC Sabathia, Arod, Jeter and others – LeBron’s friends on the Yankees and Giants will simply tell him there’s no other city to be a champion in. That’s gotta be at least in his head seeing his friends enjoying the glory of being champions and beloved by the city. Not to mention Jeter winning SI’s Sportsman of the Year. If LBJ brings home the trophy in NYC, good chance he will be just that.

11. New York Yankees - LeBron is a big Yankees fan. Yankees will be contenders for the foreseeable future. If he sticks around in the offseason, he can enjoy many games in the new stadium and watch his buddy Sabathia pitch to his heart’s content. Not to mention the playoffs.

12. Giants and Rangers – Don’t know if LeBron is a big football or hockey fan, but it’s always nicer to be in a city where all the sports teams are contending and supported by the city. The Browns have been a mess for a long time. The Indians seem to be in constant rebuilding mode, having let Sabathia and Cliff Lee go. Not to mention that the Cavaliers were nothing for many years before James.

11. Charity – Yes, it’s true that charity can be done in any city, but charity done in a big media city like NYC just means more exposure and publicity for it. Look at Jeter’s Turn2 Foundation or Joe Torre’s Safe at Home foundation which he has not moved to L.A. and he still flies back to every year.

12. NYC media – Which brings us to the media. James loves the spotlight. He is accommodating to the media. Seriously, what athlete entertains the hypothetical idea of going to another city for so long before finally saying no more questions until after the season? He understands being a true superstar means winning over the local media. Winning over the crazy media of NYC is another challenge I think he finds exciting.

13. Local marketing – People talk about how going to NYC will not make him a bigger global icon. They talk about how he is already as big as he can get in the world. They talk about how he is second in China and fourth in Europe in jersey sales. One thing they are all forgetting is the local marketing of LeBron. Yes, he is already an icon in NYC with large billboards, but he is seen as an icon like Jordan, but not an icon they can call their own. Big big difference. Imagine the marketing prospects of that of a metropolitan area of 18 million versus Cleveland or even Miami. Only Los Angeles, Chicago and possibly Boston can compete with that. The added local marketing revenue is something he can not get anywhere else. And don’t forget Wall Street and the many Fortune 500 companies there. Everyone assumed that just because Nike doesn’t have a bonus clause in the new contract LeBron just signed that it means they don’t prefer to have him in New York. It would be too obvious, but trust me, they definitely prefer him in NYC. If LeBron does sign with the Knicks, they can mutually tear the current contract up and sign a new one.

Think about it. Knicks have been horrible for many years. Yet they are fifth in Most Popular Team Merchandise and David Lee is 12th in jersey sales (and Nate Robinson is 11th!). It’s not little kids in the midwest buying the merchandise and jerseys, but the millions of fans in the NYC area. Don’t tell me local marketing doesn’t matter.

14. Basketball legends reside in Los Angeles, Boston, Chicago and New York – The stars from the big cities still command the most attention in basketball (and sports) history. Going back to sales rankings, 7 of the top 14 in jersey sales are players from the four cities, and the four cities are in the top 5 in team merchandise. An example is Tim Duncan. He has been such a consistent force for the past 13 years, and yet no one really cares or hears about him. I know he likes it that way, but if you want to be remembered, you have to go to the big cities.

15. It’s 5 players per team, not 9 or 22 – Unlike baseball or football where one player cannot take over a game day in and day out, in basketball, it can happen. Even a roster of 12 is much easier to improve than 25 in baseball or 53 in football. The Cavaliers is a perfect example. They were 17-65 the year before James was drafted. James single-handedly generated an 18-win improvement his first season, 35-47. What James wants to see is cap flexibility in the first and second years he is there, and also a willingness to spend by the owner. Knicks fit both.

16. This year’s Knicks record doesn’t matter as much as people make it out to be – People keep focusing on that LeBron says he wants to play on a winner. With the Knicks mired in the basement of the league, people wonder why LeBron would want to go to a loser team. Umm, most of the players are not going to be on the team next year. Even LeBron knows that the Knicks record is not reflective of the potential of the team next year. The key is seeing the players that are in the Knick’s long term plans play hard and improve. This is why it’s important D’Antoni plays the young core like Gallinari, Douglas, Hill, Lee, Robinson, and Chandler. (Umm, ok, let’s leave KryptoNate and Hill out of it)


LeBron James in a Knicks uniform.
Those crafty New Yorkers. (source: web)

17. LeBron’s personal attention to Gallinari and Robinson – I know LeBron occasionally will whisper advice to the young players on several teams, but he has done it very obviously with Nate Robinson last year and with Gallinari this year right after the only Cavs visit to MSG. Why bother? He knows it will only add fuel to the fire.

18. LeBron’s quotes about NYC and MSG – LeBron has given so many positive quotes about playing in MSG and NYC. Seriously, if I was a Cavs fan I’d be peeved that he speaks so highly of another city that way. Either he is a big tease or there is something there…

19. He’s not playing second fiddle to Dwyane Wade - Yes, Wade and James have mentioned how great it would be play on the same team, and how they would tear up the court. But this works best when both of them go to a new team together. That means the new team is both theirs equally. No second fiddle. Let’s be clear. The Heat is Wade’s team. If LeBron goes to Miami, he’s going to Wade’s team. Just like when Shaq went to L.A. It’s Kobe’s team.

20. Cleveland has no great rivalries - Kobe said it best on Christmas that there is no rivalry between the Lakers and Cavs.  Frankly, no team has a strong rivalry with the Cavs. They were so bad for so long. And the nearest teams in Chicago and Philly have more natural rivalries with other teams than the Cavs. Great rivalries are beyond current players, they are built over many years. The Knicks have rivalries. If Wade stays in Miami and LeBron comes to NYC, that’s a rivalry waiting to continue from the Riley days of the 1990s. Not to mention rivalries with the Bulls, Celtics and Sixers. And I bet Knicks-Nets becomes an interesting rivalry after Prokhorov’s purchase.

21. Lebron is not a Miami kind of guy - I just don’t see LeBron as a South Beach kind of guy. Basketball is a winter sport (unless it’s playground ball, of course). Wade, I see as a Miami person, so I don’t think Wade will leave the Heat.

22. If it’s only about money, how come he hasn’t signed an extension already – People talk about how the Knicks can’t offer him more money than the hometown Cavs and so they are not as attractive. If that is the case, why hasn’t he signed a max extension with the Cavs by now? It is apparent that LeBron, at a minimum, is excited by the possibilities of free agency. This can only help the Knicks. Plus, I think this hometown max contract being more than what other teams can offer is overblown. The annual max percent raise is 6% vs. 8% (or something like that). Yes, it makes a difference, but for someone like LeBron that can easily overcome that in external opportunities in NYC, I don’t think it’s an issue at all.

23. Winning, loyalty or immortality – Bill Simmons of ESPN said it perfectly, “It’s one of the greatest sports decisions I can remember: LeBron can choose winning (Chicago), loyalty (Cleveland) or a chance at immortality (New York) (ESPN link)”. I think if most of us had a chance at immortality, we would take the risk and go for it. It will be interesting to see which of these three traits he goes for.

“Let’s get this clear: I said the max contract doesn’t mean more than winning,” James said. “I didn’t say, ‘I don’t need a max contract’ or ‘I’m not going to get a max contract.’ All I’m saying is that winning is more important to me than money at the end of the day.”

-LeBron

“As big of stars as those guys are now, it would be even more magnified if they went there [New York]. You become a household name to everyone if you play in New York City. It’s a magical place that goes well beyond basketball. You’re up there with legends like Ali and Sinatra. A franchise can be rebuilt quickly through free agency and the Knicks might be one of those now.” (NBA Fanhouse)

-Bernard King (former Knicks great)

“They’re in the lead, they just have to make it [attractive] for him. LeBron will come to New York if he knows they’re gonna win. . . . So, if they sign a free agent first, that would probably seal the deal, I believe. They should have somebody else on their radar to make him want to come. He could really be a ‘King’ if he could revitalize the Knicks. You got some of the best basketball fans in the world, and now you could be responsible for bringing a championship back to New York. Now, it’s gonna take a few years, because you still gotta add more pieces. He’s got more talent in Cleveland, but he can do more incredible things in New York… If he said he wants to be a billionaire, or close to it, you gotta go to New York.(New York Post)

-Magic Johnson

And here are additional reasons why I think he will at least leave the Cavaliers.

1. He did not pick the Cavs, they picked him – People seem to forget that LeBron did not choose to go to Cleveland. The Cavs notoriously tanked the two season prior to the LeBron draft in order to get the highest chance to win the lottery. They needed him more than he needed them. LeBron had no choice. He would’ve simply gone to anyone that won the lottery. Now is his first chance to choose where he wants to go.

2. His loyalty lies with Akron, not Cleveland – It was interesting that at his MVP Award ceremony this year, he pledged his loyalty to Akron, not Cleveland and not Ohio. This might be a subtle choice of words in distinguishing where his ultimate loyalty lies. Additionally, he choose to have it at the University of Akron, instead of somewhere in Cleveland.

3. Cleveland had seven long years to give LeBron a title – As much as people say Dan Gilbert, the Cavs owner, has an emptyless pocket to surround LeBron with the pieces to win, the truth is all the moves have been more like 80% effort. Bringing in Shaq as sloppy fourths after the Heat, Lakers and Suns had a turn was not the wisest choice. Plus, the addition of Jamison was also suspect. Here’s a guy that has played for only Golden State and the Wizards in putting up his numbers. His age and lack of playoff heroics made him a risky addition, considering how much they gave up for him.

4. Mike Brown and the coaching staff – Brown’s a nice guy and all, but he really is way over his head. By the end of the Cavs-Celtics series, it was obvious LeBron just didn’t respect the guy and the coaching staff’s ability to get the Cavs to the promised land.

5. Kevin Garnett’s strong words on loyalty – I know this is just some other player’s words, but it’s hard to ignore the truth behind Garnett’s words. ”Loyalty is something that hurts you at times because you can’t get youth back” Garnett said.


Posted in List, Observations, Opinion, Poll, Sports | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments »

Goof: CNN.com confuses Obama with Bush

Posted by silentarchimedes on May 5, 2009

The writing quality of online news websites is getting worse compared to print newspapers and magazines.This is a little understandable because of the instant rush to get it online first. However, usually if there is an obvious goof in print media, the respective paper or magazine will print a correction in the next issue. Online mistakes seem to be ignored and sometimes you wonder if an editor ever reads the articles before they are put online. One of the most obvious and pathetic goofs was on CNN.com on Saturday. On their front page, main article, the headline story has a picture of President Obama and Mexican President Calderon. The headline underneath it? “Bush, Calderon huddle over flu”

Are you kidding me?? How did this make it to the front page without someone catching the mistake. It took at least seven minutes before it was fixed. Either someone was playing a trick or that’s just pathetic editing.

CNN confuses Obama with Bush

CNN confuses Obama with Bush

Posted in Observations, Politics | Tagged: , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Book Review: The Yankee Years

Posted by silentarchimedes on April 29, 2009

The Yankee Years

Authors: Joe Torre and Tom Verducci

yankeeyearThere was a lot of pre-release chatter for this book. The snippets that were released led people to believe that Joe Torre, the Yankees manager during their 1996-2007 dynasty, was bitter about being let go by the Yankees and the book was his way of getting back at the team. There was also chatter of Torre breaking the unwritten code of leaving what happens in the locker room behind the scenes instead of revealing them to the public. The release of the book seemed untimely considering that Torre is still managing and most of the players he discussed in the book are still playing. Torre, in his defense, said he isn’t the only author of the book, and the book is actually written in third person. He also mentions that there’s really nothing new mentioned in the book that’s not already out there, especially about Alex Rodriguez.

As a big time Yankees fan, all the above reasons, in addition to wanting some insider analysis of the dynasty years, were enough to check this book out of the local library and give it a read.

THE REVIEW

This book is loooong. Considering that Torre says it doesn’t reveal anything new, at 477 pages, there is a lot of regurgitation of obvious in-game details. Maybe it’s because I came in wanting to read about things fans don’t get to read about in the papers, especially about what happens in the locker room and what does not. I was not interested in reading, “Chuck Knoblauch hit the first pitch of the game for a home run. Jeter doubled. O’Neill doubled. After a brief pause on a strikeout by Williams, Martinez singled. Darryl Strawberry hit a home run. After Tim Raines grounded out, Jorge Posada hit a home run.” (pp.46-7). I watched the game, I read about it in the newspapers and internet when it happened. I sure don’t need to read it again in a book. This type of detail was plentiful throughout the book. After awhile I started scanning those sections.

So what else is in the book, besides in game details? Let’s just say, the book makes Torre look like the most righteous guy in the world. His encounters with players always resulted in his favor. And there are plenty of little stories that demonstrated how adept Torre was at handling The Boss Steinbrenner. Now it’s very possible that all those stories are true, but it’s hard to fathom that there weren’t other stories that resulted in Torre being wrong. None were talked about in the book. Most bothersome was that all the stories do support the notion that Torre does have an inner circle of players he has an affinity to and everyone not really in this inner circle has issues. He definitely throws people under the bus. He talks about players (by name) crying. (I’m sure Roger Clemens was happy that this book revealed how he “cried uncontrollably” aftter the Mike Piazza bat throwing incident in the playoffs in 2000.) And this is where I think is over the line and breaking the unwritten rules. He analyzes players’ personalities as if he is an expert. It’s fine to talk about Kevin Brown punching a wall after a rough outing because it did happen and it’s a fact. But to really talk about how he was weak as a person, to me was unnecessary. He talks about how this player had these issues, or how this player is mentally weak. There are definitely some pretty mean things he says in there about players that couldn’t hack it in New York. And it always seemed like it was their fault and not Torre’s. Then he talks ever so glowingly about the dynasty years. The players that were in his inner circle. Of course, Derek Jeter. And Paul O’Neill and Bernie Williams and David Cone. Finally, I’m surprised how often Torre curses, especially the F-bomb, in the book.

The problem with reading a book that has two contrasting authors is that it is hard to separate what parts of the book are Verducci’s and what parts are Torre’s. Since most of the book features Torre as the prominent character, it’s hard not to associate all comments and analysis to Torre. That might be unfair but there’s no other way.

Joe Torre

Joe Torre

After Torre talks about the 2000 World Series, the book becomes a slow explanation of the demise of the Yankees dynasty, from the management, the scouting, the players and the rise of the Red Sox and other statistics conscious money-managing teams. It’s not that fun to read as a Yankees fan, but it is worth reading once to really realize that the Yankees have become a very misdirected team for the past eight seasons or so. Once you get past the game details, the already public ribbing (especially about A-Rod, Clemens and Knoblauch) and the throwing of some players and people to the wolves, there are some interesting new information about this book. There are details about Clemens and Randy Johnson that the fans didn’t really know about. It was also nice to see the players and people that contributed quotes and information to the book. David Cone is frequently quoted in the chapters surrounding the dynasty years. Even Theo Epstein offers insight of the rivalry and the rise of the Sox.

Overall, I was a bit disappointed about the book. I wished that Torre was not an author of book because there seems to be a lot of self-serving stories in there. The writing of the book is also not as smooth as I’d expect from Verducci. A lot of quotes seem blunt, too direct and fake. I’m not sure if they are really a word for word quote of what happened. And Torre is right, there really aren’t that many new interesting mind-blowing things in there that aren’t already known. The whole chapter on steroids really seems like a collection of information from the Mitchell Report, Clemens-McNamee Congression hearing and other media stories.

However, as disappointing as the book is, it’s hard to argue that Torre was not a great manager. His personality and ability to handle Steinbrenner and troubled players were perfect for a baseball dynasty. That plus the combination of completely team-oriented win at all cost players like O’Neill, Jeter, Bernie, Brosius, Tino, Rivera, Cone, Pettitte, Posada and other bit players resulted in a 6 year span of baseball success that would be hard to duplicate in the coming years.

The Yanke Years: 6 stars

The Yankee Years: 6 stars

Posted in Books, Reviews, Sports | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments »

Netflix Watch Instantly Silverlight workaround for Windows XP

Posted by silentarchimedes on March 29, 2009

Netflix Watch Instantly Silverlight 2.0 workaround for Windows XP

I might have a pseudo-workaround for this problem… At least it worked for me.

Like many people, I have been having choppy streaming video using Silverlight on Netflix’s Watch Instantly on my Windows XP computer. The problem appears to be that Silverlight does not buffer ahead enough. The next problem is that Silverlight dynamically determines the play speed (500, 1000, 1500 Kbs) and the accompanying buffer rate (500, 1000, 1500 Kbs) so the user has very little control over it. This is the sequence I noticed every time:

1. Start Netflix player

2. Video is smooth for the first 10 sec or so.

3. Video begins to become choppy (frame dropping) and unwatchable.

And it never recovers.

DIAGNOSTICS

So SIlverlight comes with a hidden diagnostic menu. On my XP, press Shift-Alt at the same time and click on the video with the left mouse button. A Diagnostic menu shows up under the mouse pointer (Figure 1).

Press Shift-Alt and click on video

Figure 1: Press Shift-Alt and click on video

Click on the A/V menu item. What I noticed was this:

1. Start Netflix player.

2. Press Shift-Alt and click on the video with mouse (Figure 1).

3. Bring up A/V menu item. I noticed the Playing video bitrate was 500, and the Buffering video bitrate was 1500 (Figure 2). Sounds good right? Well…

Figure 2: Initial play/buffer rates when player starts

Figure 2: Initial play rate is 500 and buffer rate is 1500 when player starts

3. After about 10 sec, the play rate started to dynamically increase from 500 to 1000 to 1500. I noticed that the instant the play rate went up to 1000 and then 1500, the video became choppy. I also noticed the buffering bitrate dropped to 1000. Now the play rate was faster than the buffer bitrate! At the bottom of the A/V Stats, the Dropped Frames (/sec) had also increased to 15-20+ (Figure 3).

Figure 3: Video becomes choppy. Play rate:1500, buffer rate:1000

Figure 3: Video becomes choppy. Play rate:1500, buffer rate:1000

SOLUTION

So the key here is how to decrease the play rate or increase the buffer rate. This worked for me:

1. Press Shift-Alt and click on the video with mouse.

2. Click on Stream Manager and check the Manual Selection box. Then check the 500 bitrate box (Figure 4).

Figure 4: Open up the Stream Manager Menu

Figure 4: Open up the Stream Manager Menu

3. Now bring up the A/V menu item again. You will notice that the playrate is still 1500, but the buffering rate is now 500.

4. The video will remain choppy until Silverlight recognizes this major discrepancy. For me, the playing bitrate eventually dropped to 500 to coincide with the buffer rate. This could take a few minutes. What worked really well for me was moving the playbar back to the beginning. When they are both even at 500, the video was no longer choppy and was watchable for the rest of the video. When it works, the Dropped Frames (/sec) never goes above 2.

Figure 5: Smooth video. Rates both at 500.

Figure 5: Smooth video. Rates both at 500.

If this didn’t work, look at the important notes below:

Important note 1: I noticed that clicking on the Manual Selection box and 500  doesn’t always update the rates right away. The A/V Stats still showed play rate at 1500 and buffer rate at 500. I would go to the Stream Manager, and although the Manual box is still checked, the bitrate had reverted back to 1500. Try moving the play bar around… maybe to the beginning of the video. For me, this would instantly switch both rates to 500.

Important note 2: If it still doesn’t work, try clicking again on the 500 box. Get out of the menu. Check the A/V Stats, and the play rate should eventually drop to 1000. When it happens go back to the Stream Manager, and the 500 bitrate box should now be checked and set. When it works, the Current at the top should say 500, and the play rate and buffer rate in A/V Stats should both say 500.

If the playrate is not automatically dropping to 500 after a while, try moving the play bar to the beginning of the video. Or restart your browser and try again.

Important note 3: If both rates say 500, but the video remains choppy and then the play rate goes back up to 1000, it is because the video is so far behind, it it is having a hard time catching up. So what I do is either move the play bar ahead or to the beginning.  I usually do that anyways,so I can watch the video from the beginning!

Important note 4: You will have to redo the whole syncing process if you watch another video, so it’s a crude workaround. Also, sometimes I noticed if I watched another video in a sequence (like a sitcom) by clicking on the arrows at the bottom; although both rates were at 500, the dropped frames/sec was still somewhat high (~10). One work around for this is to close and open your browser again. When it works, the Dropped Frames (/sec) should never go above 2 or 3.

This method seems to work for me every time and playing at the 500 bitrate was very watchable. It gets faster too once you get the process down.

The computer I tried this on is a pretty old computer:

Dell Precision Workstation 420 MT, 512RAM, Pentium IIIE, 1000Mhz
Microsoft Windows XP Professional with SP3
Matrox Graphics Millennium G400 MAX AGP
Dell 17″ monitor at 1280×1024

My Internet connection is Fast Ethernet. And it worked with both IE6 and Firefox 3.0.8. It did seem that this method was more reliable for IE than Firefox though.

Let me know if this method worked for you or if it didn’t. If you also have other experiences regarding this method or suggestions, please post a comment so others can learn from it.

Good luck!

Posted in Computers, Technology, Windows | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , | 60 Comments »

Book Review: The Walmart Effect

Posted by silentarchimedes on March 20, 2009

The Walmart Effect

How the World’s Most Powerful Company Really Works – and How It’s Transforming the American Economy

Author: Charles Fishman

walmart-effectWHY I READ THIS BOOK

I do not like Walmart, yet I shop there. It is messy and dreary, yet I plan a trip to Walmart every few weeks. It is expansive, yet crowded and claustrophobic. I feel like I’ve spent just as much time there looking for either a product or an employee to assist me as I have actually shopping. I try to minimize my time there but the trip always ends up over an hour and I’m beat by the time I leave. Why do I keep going back there? To make things worse, all these stories about Walmart’s secrecy and unethical business practices keep popping up. Yet that has not stopped me from shopping there. The fact that Walmart has become ubiquitous with middle-class (and poorer) shopping has led most people to subconsciously accept it. So what is going on with Walmart?

THE AUTHOR: CHARLES FISHMAN

It must take someone with guts to take on the Walmart behemoth; especially after you read the book and realize that for most of its  history, Walmart has considered any type of publicity and media a threat to its business model. But Fishman has been known as an investigative reporter that attempts to bring to light the workings of institutions or groups that have been relatively unknown. According to the book’s website, Fishman has spent the past 20 years investigating organizations such as NASA and Walmart. He was also the first reporter to be allowed inside a Tupperware factory, and first in 30 years inside the nation’s only bomb factory.

SHORT SUMMARY

walmart_lowpricesIn an attempt to understand the inner workings of Walmart Inc. and its effects on job creation, global economy, work environments, suppliers, competitors, communities and other issues, Fishman talks with everyone that might be affected by Walmart but Walmart itself. Due to the secrecy of Walmart and the lack of transparency in its statistics, Fishman is forced to rely specifically on his investigative acumen. What he finds out is that Walmart is the ultimate definition of a dichotomy, a contradiction that baffles all levels of society; from the individual to the community to the country to the global economy. On one hand, Walmart is unpretentious, is no frills, provides hundreds of thousands of jobs, provides the cheapest prices for consumers and has always stuck to its core values. However, on the other hand, it has a dictatorial grip on its suppliers and competitors, kills almost as many jobs as it creates, indirectly destroys local natural ecosystems, promotes cheap labor and unfair labor practices, has no transparency or guilt and chips away at the core values of the free market system. It pushes the limits of good and bad capitalism and is the poster child of globalization.

REVIEW

This book really does a good job of trying to understand the Walmart effect. However, although Fishman tries to stay neutral on the positives and negatives of the issue, it is more common that his investigations lead to a negative perception of the company. It’s hard not to have a more negative view after reading the book. There is only one major positive about Walmart, it provides the lowest prices for many of the things families need. However, this is a huge positive and is shown even more during this recession. Walmart’s growth in same store sales have been increasing for the past 22 months while Target’s have fallen the past eight months (Source: Walmart vs. Target: No Contest in the Recession, Time Online). It’s not even a contest and shows that this positive is all that consumers need to turn a blind eye on all the other issues. And for sure, there are a lot of other issues, which Fishman does a great job of detailing and bringing out.

The book flows really well, from the beginning to the end… although the last chapter is the required “so after all this investigative work, what should we do or care about Walmart to make this world a better place?” The first chapter is pretty much a summary of Walmart’s influence on society. The rest of the book goes into detail about each issue by discussing academic studies on the company dating back to the mid-1980s, successful and failed interviews with former supplier executives from big and small companies, the impact of Walmart on things we take for granted now (like deodorants that sell without the useless boxes they used to come in) and talking to opponents of Walmart, from environmental groups to factory workers of their suppliers.

The most damaging against Walmart has to be that a lot of the investigation leads to the same conclusion, Walmart is a big cheapskate. Which was fine when it was a small company, but now that it is the biggest in the world, this sense of being cheap at all costs seems somewhat unfair. Unfair to other companies and unfair to the ecosystems and poor countries’ lax labor laws it depends on to produce such massive quantities of products. Fishman tries hard to not take a position, but the writing is in the book. There are no positives about Walmart that can be concluded from the Chilean Atlantic salmon farms, or the countless companies mentioned in the book that went belly-up after becoming a supplier of Walmart. There’s just too many examples to list. And it’s quite obvious that even the large companies that work with Walmart are under the control of Walmart.

There are some interesting stories in the book. The one I like best is about the company that decided supplying to Walmart was detrimental to its future existence, so it decided to end the relationship. However, Fishman argues that companies that don’t supply to Walmart are highly affected by them anyways because of the devastatingly low prices. Another interesting tidbit was that Fishman believes Walmart may hit a ceiling at some point and there could be, what he calls, Walmart saturation and exhaustion.

VERDICT

This is a very insightful book. Although there are only a few unbiased and encompassing studies on the Walmart effect, Fishman does a good job of investigating and doing his own research. This book sums up my initial motivation for reading  about the world’s largets non-oil company. Walmart is such a dichotomy it’s really difficult to come to a conclusion on whether it is good for society or bad. It has changed so much of everything that it is beyond anyone’s control. Many of the numerous statistics in the book are downright unbelievable. The book is a quick read, very interesting to read and will make you think twice about globalization and also your personal moral responsibilities to it.

The book was written in 2006 and only talks about the perceptions and actions of Walmart in the context of 2005. The major views of Walmart has not changed since then. However, the signs of Walmart exhaustion have gone out the window now that we are in a recession and most people have turned even more to Walmart for cheap prices. Walmart also has done more to improve the negative perception against it. Just a few days ago Walmart announced that they would be awarding $2 billion dollars to their employees. If Walmart decides to also target the higher end products, like Target, this might create a whole slew of new problems.

walmart_smileywalmart_smileywalmart_smileywalmart_smileywalmart_smileywalmart_smileywalmart_smileywalmart_smileywalmart_smileywalmart_smiley_gray

Rating: 9 out of 10 Walmart smileys


Posted in Books, Economics, Ethics, Reviews | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments »

Psycho cats – Why cats are just in a world of their own

Posted by silentarchimedes on March 15, 2009

This video that my friend Aniello linked to me is one of the funniest videos of why cats are just plain crazy:

If you are on Facebook, there’s a better unedited version at:

http://www.facebook.com/video/video.php?v=1105166182043&ref=nf

And just for good measure, do you like cats or dogs better?

Posted in Observations, Poll | Tagged: , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Can Alex Rodriguez jump like Cody Ransom? 60in vertical landing jump!

Posted by silentarchimedes on March 14, 2009

I must say this short YouTube video of Alex Rodriguez’s replacement while he’s out with an injury, Cody Ransom is pretty impressive. The guy is 32 years old this year and still has major ups. He IS 6’2″ so he might get thru as a small point guard in the NBA, but still… They should make the vertical landing jump a measurement in addition to the traditional vertical jump in the combines, not that it correlates well in a real football game.

Posted in Opinion | Tagged: , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Problem: Maximum number of files in NTFS in Ubuntu

Posted by silentarchimedes on March 12, 2009

So I do a lot of image processing in my work, and I ran into a problem today that I still haven’t found a logical answer to:

On my Ubuntu 8.10 computer, I have a 1TB internal harddrive /dev/sdc1 mounted in NTFS format. After the initial format, My max volume size is stated as 931.51GiB. On this drive, I have lots of folders, and many of them have thousands (1K to 6K) of small images, in formats of jpg, png, ppm. Today, one of my scripts crapped out when it tried to create a new image and returned “Operation not supported.”

Even when I used touch or a simple vi created file, I could not create any more files. The current disk usage on the harddrive is:

Contents: 704,324 items, totalling 826.3 GB

And Ubuntu tells me I still have 102.5 GiB of space left. So I started thinking if I’ve reached my inodes limit because of the number of files. However, when I do a ‘df -i‘, I am no where near the limit:

Filesystem           1K-blocks      Used Available Use% Mounted on
/dev/sdc1            108159004  706236 107452768    1% /media/sdc1

When I look online, all the documentation and search says that the maximum number of files in NTFS is 2^32-1. The only other thing is the master file table (MFT) and how it might increase it’s size if more files get created beyond those specified in MFT. However, I haven’t been able to confirm this.

Anybody have an explanation for this? It’s really bugging me that it’s happening and I can’t figure it out.

Posted in Computers, Linux, Technology | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments »

DBP, mogrify, convert – How to batch crop, resize, rename, format convert images in Ubuntu

Posted by silentarchimedes on March 11, 2009

DBP – David’s Batch Processor for GIMP

If you want to do this in the context of GIMP, download and install DBP (David’s Batch Processor). It will show up as an option under the Filters menu list. Just click ‘Batch Process’ and a GUI will pop up. You simple add files to the input list and you can do various basic image processing operations on it. They include any combinations of rotate, blur, colorize, resize, crop, sharpen, rename and image format conversion.

One drawback to DBP is that it does not allow you to add a directory or directories instead of a list of individual images. For some people that need to batch process directories of images, you will have to either manually do a directory one at a time or temporarily put all your images into one directory. This is a bit of a pain.

mogrify or convert – ImageMagick tools for Linux

If you are more of a command line guy or if you do need to batch process directories of images, mogrify or convert is the way to go. The man page of mogrify states, ‘mogrify – resize an image, blur, crop, despeckle, dither, draw on, flip, join, re-sample, and much more. Mogrify overwrites the original image file, whereas, convert(1) writes to  a  different image file.’

You can simply put a bunch of mogrify commands into a script file and let it run in the background. An example mogrify command to resize all your jpegs to 256×256 looks like:

  mogrify -resize 256x256 *.jpg

An example convert command to resize all your jpegs to 256x256 gifs with a prefix of images looks like:

  convert -size 256x256 *.jpg images%0d.gif

Look  at the ImageMagick’s mogrify page or convert page for more info. Speaking of, if you don’t have ImageMagick installed on your Ubuntu system, you should. :)

What if you want to command line convert images and put them in another directory, but keep the same names as the original images?

So at first it seemed like convert was the way to go since mogrify is supposedly only for modifying the original images in place. However, convert‘s way of doing it requires a bit of linux scripting. There is a easier in mogrify. It  has an option -path that allows you to specify an output image path.

In the following command, I want to crop out a 320×480 subimage beginning at location (160,0) in all the ppms in the tempim directory. I want the processed images to have the same names as the originals but to put them in the tempim2 directory:

mogrify -path tempim2 -format png -size 640×480 -extract 320×480+160+0 tempim/*.ppm

Posted in Computers, Linux, Technology | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments »

 
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