Saturday, May 20, 2017

Moore League showdown: Who has the best baseball website?

Wilson and Lakewood high schools are the clear winners in a comparison of  Moore League baseball team websites. Both Wilson and Lakewood have robust and up-to-date websites packed with information about their respective teams.

For most organizations, the website is the face seen by the public, and sports team are no exception.. Parents, players and fans who want to know more about a school's baseball program will likely go online first.

Both Wilson and Lakewood show what can be done by making a smart commitment to your team's site. The professionalism and thoroughness of the sites reflects well on the teams and the schools.

At the other end of the spectrum, three schools -- Millikan, Compton and Cabrillio -- have basically no baseball site at all. Each of them seems to have made a half-hearted attempt at some point to create an online presence, but apparently gave up. Anyone looking for information on those teams will find empty shells of websites that serve only as an embarrassment to the schools.

The Moore League has seven high schools -- Wilson, Lakewood, Long Beach Poly, Jordan, Compton Millikan and Cabrillo. Here's a detailed look at each school's baseball team site:

Grade: A+
This team actually has two websites. The team's page on the school's website has pictures of the varsity, JV, and frosh/soph squads, plus a varsity schedule. There are also links to game stories, photos and videos.

Even better is the team's outside website (linked to from the school site), which has full results, names and contact info for the coaches, a calendar that includes upcoming playoffs, a ton of game photos, a message board, rosters and even a page showing pictures of alumni who have gone pro.

Grade: A-
Lakewood can also be pretty happy with its baseball's team's its online presence. The team has an outstanding stand-alone outside site (separate from school's website) that features an up-to-date schedule, results, photos, videos and rosters. and biographies of all the coaches. The "team stats" and "players stats" pages are both blank, which is disappointing, but that would have been a bonus.

The team's page on the school website is modest, with only a couple photos and a schedule that's not quite up-to-date. Also, it lacks a link to the outside site, so some people who aren't aware of the other site may stop here and feel let down.

Long Beach Poly
Grade: B-
Poly takes a different route. The team's school website page is mostly blank. The link to the "varsity schedule" is broken. Oddly, the link to the frosh and JV schedule does work. The coach's name and email address are posted, but there are no rosters and no results..

But the Poly team does have a Twitter account that seems to be frequently updated.  The team should post a link to that account on the school site's page to make it easier to find.

Grade: D
The official page has a rather random collection of pictures without captions. It lists the athletic director but not the coach. There is no schedule and there are no results.

Grade: F
The team page on the school's website has nothing but two schedules from a previous year. Under "News," it lists "Millikan Dance Auditions" (huh?). If you dig around on the Internet, you can find at Twitter page that labels itself as the "Official Page for Millikan Baseball Program" but as of this writing, it has only one posting from the prior six months. And that one post dealt with University of Oregon baseball.

Grade: F
Compton has one page with a baseball schedule, but it's not going to be much use since it's not the current year's schedule. No indication what year it is. There is nothing else on the page. The coaches' names are not listed there or on a separate "Coaching Directory" page (which is "under construction").

Grade: F

The school's website directs you to an outside website for the baseball team. That link takes you to a page that says "Page Not Found."

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Book review: "The Totally Unscientific Study of the Search for Human Happiness"

In Paula Poundstone's new book, her pain is our gain.

Poundstone, a standup comic who often appears on NPR's "Wait Wait Don't Tell Me," finds her humor in the absurdities of everyday life. Large parts of her standup shows are improvised conversations with audience members.

This isn't a type of humor that easily translates to book form, but Poundstone has cleverly chosen a gimmick that offers a forum for her digression-heavy observations.

She's also chosen a mouthful of a title. "The Totally Unscientific Study of the Search for Human Happiness" does not roll of the tongue easily

In the book, Poundstone sets off a on a fitful search for something that will make her happy. There's a lot that's not right in Poundstone's life -- trouble with her kids, trouble paying the bills, no sex -- so she willing to try some "experiments" to find the secret to happiness.

"Where could it be? Is it deceptively simple? Is it on a bumper sticker?," she wonders. "Does it melt at a certain temperature? Can you buy it? Must you suffer for it before or after? It had better not be one of those rip-off answers as in 'The Wizard of Oz': 'You always had the power.' If Glinda knew that, she should have said so earlier. The Good Witch of the North had a cruel streak."

To find happiness, she tries dancing lessons, renting a Lamborghini, spending a whole day watching movies with her kids, getting a professional to organize her house, taking tae kwon do classes, and attending meditation classes. Among other things.

Some of these do bring her some happiness, at least temporarily,  but that's not what's important. What is important -- for humor purposes -- is that things don't go smoothly. Each episode gives Poundstone plenty of opportunity to wander off topic, admit her shortcomings and point out the ridiculousness around her. Plenty of laughs follow. 

At one point, Poundstone discovers a class on interpersonal communication -- that is taught online.

"We are in big fucking trouble."

Maybe she doesn't really want to find happiness, she admits.

"I have often feared that if I were ever really happy I wouldn't get a parking space for a long time." 

Poundstone revels in self-deprecating humor. It's funny to see her stumbling around as a parent, or trying to learn how to operate a computer. Still, there's an undercurrent of real sadness in this book.

She lost a home she owned, she says, and now rents. She has serious issues with two of her three children. She's shunned by other parents at her kids' school. Her underwear has holes in it. She doesn't have sex; she doesn't like it. Her house is a mess of debris and cat fur -- she has 14 cats -- and much of her daily focus is on emptying litter boxes.

Sure, maybe she exaggerates. But I'm not so sure. Maybe being famous like Paula Poundstone isn't a ticket to happiness. But you'll be happy you read this book.


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Friday, March 31, 2017

Review: A visit to the Statue of Liberty

First, let me say this: the Statue of Liberty is an amazing creation to behold in person.

Second, the National Park Service is doing its best to suck the enjoyment out of visiting the statue.

A week ago, my sister and I went to see this famous landmark. This was my second visit to this statue, which rises on an island in the middle of New York Harbor. I remain in awe of the audaciousness of the whole idea.

What was creator Frédéric Auguste Bartholdi thinking?  "I'll build a 151-foot statue, intricately designed down to tiny details, and then we'll ship all 204 tons of it across the ocean to be assembled. Hope those Americans can find a spot for it!"
Enjoy your visit to the Statue of Liberty

The statue is not the only amazing part. The pedestal, constructed in 1883-84, was the biggest mass of concrete poured in the world to that time.

You get to see the wonder of the Statue of Liberty up close when you take the National Park Service-operated boats out from New York or New Jersey to Liberty Island. There's also a nice museum inside the pedestal.

Unfortunately, the experience has some sour sides.

When we arrived at Battery Park at the southern end of Manhattan, we found a long, slow-moving line to get on  the boat. This was very cold Thursday in March -- not exactly the height of tourist season -- so I can imagine that the line could have been even longer.

Before getting on the boat, you have to go through an extensive security check. We removed our coats, jackets, watches, wallets, and belts and put them all in the bin to go through the X-ray machine (more than the usual airport check). It didn't go fast, but since it's all in the name of security, it's hard to complain.

But the next part was weird: Once we reached the island, and prepared to enter the statue, we faced another long line leading to another set of X-ray machines. This line moved even slower than the first one. The National Park Service labels this a "secondary security screening."

Really? What was the point of the first screening if they are just going to do it again? Are the first screeners just the interns and they miss a lot of stuff?

As it turns out, the second check isn't for security -- if you had bomb or gun or something like that it would have already been caught on the mainland. This second stop was to keep out food and backpacks.

Why can't you bring food in? I don't know.  Keep in mind that this was a ban on simply carrying food. If the point was to keep people from eating food, the NPS could simply post "no eating" signs like they do on neighboring Ellis Island. That would be simpler and less costly that manning X-ray machines.

Why can't you bring backpacks in?  I'm not sure, but money could be a factor. The NPS operates lockers where people can store their belongings for $2 while they go inside the statue. Multiply that by a million or so visitors a year, and you can see how operating those lockers could add up to a nice chunk of change for the NPS.


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Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Racial discrimination at Swarthmore College

High school students applying for a  program offered by Swarthmore College could be rejected because of their skin color or race, application criteria indicate. 

The "Discover Swarthmore" program -- in which selected high school students are brought to the small college outside Philadelphia for a visit -- uses race as one of its selection criteria.

Program organizers say they will "prioritize" applicants who are African American, Latino, Native American, and Asian Amercan -- in other words, every race but white. Those applicants with skin color that is too light will end up on the bottom of the consideration pile.

Is this OK?  Imagine if it was a different racial group singled out. Pretend the program said: "We will prioritize applications from whites, Latinos, Native American and Asian Americans," African Americans are left out. Would that be OK? 

In 1963, Martin Luther King Jr. said, "I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character."

Why, 54 years later, are we still judging people by the color of their skin?


Here's the announcement from Swarthmore:

Discover Swarthmore (DS) Program affords students the opportunity to visit one of the best liberal arts colleges in the country, all expenses paid! The program will provide participants with a taste of the college experience, including the opportunity to meet other talented students, learn from faculty members, eat in the dining hall, and spend a few nights in residence halls with student hosts.

While the dates have not yet been set, Swarthmore is planning to offer two DS programs to give students maximum flexibility in attending one of the programs. Last year, the programs were hosted in September and October.

Nomination and Selection Criteria

Discover Swarthmore is open to all rising high school seniors, but the selection committee will prioritize applications from students with the following characteristics:
  • Traditionally underrepresented groups (African-American, Hispanic/Latino, Native American, and Asian-American)
  • First generation in their family to attend college
  • Low-income students (Pell-eligible, free/reduced lunch, etc.), and students who might not otherwise be able to afford a trip to campus
  • Rural and small town students
  • Undocumented and DACA-eligible students
Additionally, any rising seniors (U.S. citizens, Permanent Residents, and undocumented/DACA students living in the United States) interested in attending, regardless of demographic or economic background are invited to apply. Swarthmore supports diversity of all forms including, but not limited to, racial, ethnic, ideological, sexual/gender identity, geographic, and religious diversity.

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Stop saying "seven Muslim majority countries"

Look, I get it. Donald Trump's order barring immigration from Syria, Iran, Iraq, Somalia, Sudan, Libya and Yemen is deeply flawed.

But using the shorthand to describe the targeted nations as "seven majority Muslim countries" or "seven predominantly Muslim countries" -- as many news outlets have repeatedly done -- is not only unhelpful, it's potentially dangerous.

First, choosing to describe these countries by their dominant religion suggests that they are unique in being heavily Muslim. That's not true. There are 49 countries with a Muslim majority population

Do we describe the North America Free Trade Association as involving "three Christian majority countries." Would that be helpful?

Further, these thumbnail descriptions suggest that the countries were selected because they're majority Muslim. That's not true, either. They were selected because the Trump administration -- rightly or wrongly -- believes they are a major source of terrorists. If Trump was out to target Muslim countries with this order, there are much larger targets. In fact, out of the 10 countries with the most Muslims, only one (Iran) is on the list.

The worst part of this is that by emphasizing the religion of the barred countries the media is fanning the flames of a wider religious conflict. I don't blame the people from these seven countries for being upset, but turning this into a Christian vs. Muslim issue could is inflammatory and could lead to bloodshed.

How else can news stories refer to these countries?

They could simply say "seven countries," and then list the countries in later on. You could say "seven countries in northern Africa and the Middle East," although with the same number of words you could just list the countries.

You could say "seven countries that the Trump administration believe incubate terrorism." That's a little wordy, but at least specific and accurate.

At the very least, all stories should list the countries. I've seen several stories that say "seven majority Muslim countries" or "seven predominantly Muslim countries," but never say what the countries are. That's poor journalism.

Or here's a crazy way of doing it. Just list the countries.  Consider a story from CNN that says this:

"Trump's executive order on immigration bars citizens of seven Muslim-majority countries from entering the United States for the next 90 days and suspends the admission of all refugees for 120 days."

Instead, just say this:

"Trump's executive order on immigration bars citizens of Syria, Iran, Iraq, Somalia, Sudan, Libya and Yemen from entering the United States for the next 90 days and suspends the admission of all refugees for 120 days."

That works, is specific, and is useful for the reader.

Saturday, January 28, 2017

Book review: "Best. State. Ever." by Dave Barry

It pains Dave Barry to say it, but say it he must:

"Florida has become The Joke State, the state everybody makes fun of."

As Barry figures it, Florida's joke status started with the 2000 presidential election when the state couldn't figure out who it voted for, launching a month of intensive news coverage of the state.

"This coverage did not present a positive image of Florida," he notes. "It featured endlessly replayed videos of deeply confused Florida election officials squinting at Florida ballots that were apparently designed by dyslexic lemurs and then turned over to deeply confused Florida voters, many of whom apparently voted for nobody for president, or voted for two presidents, or used the ballots to dislodge pieces of brisket from between their teeth."

From then, coverage of Florida progressed through an endless parade of weird news stories, like the shark that died in a highway accident, or the man who died in a cockroach-eating contest.

Dave Barry's heard them all, and as professional humorist who lives in Miami, he appreciates the good laugh. But he wonders: Do people really know Florida?

In "Best. State. Ever. A Florida Man Defends His Homeland," Barry takes us on a tour of all that is weird and wonderful about the state. As always, Barry is funny, but he also manages to go a little deeper.

Barry takes us to a variety of Florida attractions, such as the mermaids at Weeki Wachee Springs;  the alligators at Gatorland (aka "Orlando's Best Half-Day Attraction") and the chaotic bacchanal of Key West.

He.talks to the quirky characters that give Florida its, well, character, such as Dave Shealy, the operator of something called the Skunk Ape Research Headquarters. He draws people to his campground in the Everglades with stories of a mysterious "ape" that roams the swamps.

Barry acknowledges the strangeness of it all, but at the same time embraces it. The book offers a fond look at the state, along with plenty of laughs.


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Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Book review: "Disrupted: My Misadventure in the Start-Up Bubble"

Dan Lyons was 52, with a wife and kids to support, and suddenly needed a job.

Lyons had recently been laid off as technology editor at Newsweek in 2012. He could have sought another job in journalism, but that field was imploding. Besides, he was intrigued with the world of high-tech start-ups. He'd interviewed many people at such companies as a journalist, and even though many of them didn't seem that bright, everyone was getting rich.

He wanted a piece of it.

So Lyons accepted a job with a 5-year-old Boston company called HubSpot as a "marketing fellow." Thus began Lyons' strange odyssey that he describes in his 2016 book, "Disrupted: My Misadventure in the Start-Up Bubble."  It's a book that, at turns, is funny, disturbing and sad.

Lyons had high hopes for his new job, but from day one -- literally -- things go awry. When he arrives for work, neither of the managers that hired him are there to welcome him and no one quite knows what to do with him. He is startled to discover that a 26-year-old who he first assumed was an administrative assistant is actually his new boss.

The average age of a Hubspot employee, Lyons learns, is 26, and he is twice that. It is a workplace designed for the young. The company stocks the cafeteria with snacks, beer and a "candy wall" -- all free. There's a foosball table, ping-pong table, indoor shuffleboard, and a set of musical instruments, "in case people want to have an impromptu jam session." Some employees work while sitting on large rubber balls; conference rooms have beanbag chairs.

Lyons struggles to fit it, but he never does. He's the "old guy" in the office and at any rate, age is only one of the things that set HubSpot apart. There is a forced perkiness in the work culture -- the "HubSpotty" way of doing things  and its own HubSpeak  When someone quits or is fired, it is called "graduation."

"HubSpotters talk about 'inspiring people,' 'being remarkable,' 'conquering fear,' and being 'rock stars' and 'superstars with super powers' whose mission is to "inspire people" and 'be leaders,'" Lyons writes. "They talk about engaging in delightion, which is a made-up word, invented by Dharmesh (a company co-founder), that means delighting our customers. They say all of these things without a hint of irony."

And: "They use the word awesome incessantly, usually to describe themselves or each other. That's awesome! You're awesome! No you're awesome for saying I'm awesome.
"They pepper their communication with exclamation points, often in clusters, like this!!! They are constantly sending around emails praising someone who is totally crushing it and doing something awesome and being a total team player!!! These emails are cc'd to everyone in the department. The protocol seems to be for every recipient to issue his or her won reply-to-all email joining in on the cheer, writing thing like 'You go,girl!!' and 'Go HubSpot, go!!!!' and 'Ashley for president!!!'"

To Lyons, it seems a lot like a cult.  His unease deepens whern he realizes that HubSpot -- for all its talk about "being remarkable" -- is in the unremarkable business of helping other companies send out spam email. Billions and billions of spam emails. Except they call "lovable marketing content."

A key question is whether HubSpot is a uniquely bizarre company, or whether it is representative of other start-up tech companies. There's mixed evidence in the book. Yes, there are some cases where HubSpot seems way outside the norm -- on Halloween, everyone dresses up in costume -- but in other areas, such as a preference for young, cheap employees, it seems to fit with others start-ups.

In some ways, Lyons' difficulty in fitting in with HubSpot is due less to the company being a start-up than the fact that it is marketing and sales. This is far from the journalism that Lyons was used to.

Lyons did, in some cases, contribute some of his work problems. When a top executive asks him to assess the company's blog, Lyons responds with a detailed email critical of the blog and, by implication, the people who run it. Guess what? The email is forwarded to the people who run the blog and they turn cold on Lyons.

(A good rule for any workplace: If you are going to criticize someone, don't put it in writing.)

There are larger issues that come to mind in reading "Disrupted": ageism in the workplace, the house-of-cards nature of the whole start-up world, and why we put so much of our personal information in the hands of such ditzy companies.

Still, what I enjoyed most about "Disrupted" is that it gives you an inside look at another workplace. Most of us, buried in our own jobs, have little idea how different the culture can be elsewhere.

Lyons puts you there,  as if you yourself were suddenly working at HubSpot. As Lyons went through this experience, I felt like I was there with him, feeling the confusion, the amusement, and the pain.


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Friday, January 6, 2017

Book review: "Dan Rooney - My 75 Years With the Pittsburgh Steelers and the NFL"

By the time the 1955 National Football League draft reached its ninth round, all the big college stars had been taken. But 23-year-old Dan Rooney, who was helping make draft selections for the Pittsburgh Steelers, saw potential in a skinny quarterback out of the University of Louisville named Johnny Unitas.

"We gotta get this guy now because we don't want him playing against us," Rooneysaid.

Following Rooney's advice, the Steelers drafted Unitas, who would become one of the greatest quarterbacks in NFL history. But he never played at all for the Steelers.

Steelers coach Walter Kiesling thought Unitas was "too dumb to play" in the NFL, Rooney recalls in his autobiography, "Dan Rooney - My 75 Years With the Pittsburgh Steelers and the NFL."

Kiesling never gave Unitas a chance in training camp and cut him before the season started. A year later, Unitas signed with the Baltimore Colts and began a stellar career in which he was named the NFL's Most Valuable Player four times.

This is one of many anecdotes Rooney tells in this enjoyable book. While not perfect, the book has enough going for it to qualify as a must-read for hardcore Steeler fans and a good choice for anyone with a interest in the history of the NFL or the City of Pittsburgh.

Rooney has a unique position in the NFL. He has spent virtually his entirely life immersed in professional football. His father, Art Rooney, was the original owner of the Steelers, and Dan Rooney started early working with and helping manage the team. Dan became president of the team in 1975 and took over the organization after his father died in 1988.

"Football is in my blood," he said.

Rooney describes his early years growing up in Pittsburgh, becoming a high school football star  while simultaneously working in the Steelers organization. At that time, the National Football League was a minor sport that struggled to attract players, let alone fans. During World War II, Rooney recalls, there were so few available men to play that the Steelers temporarily merged with the St. Louis Cardinals, becoming the unfortunately named "Card-Pitts."

Professional football grew in fits and spurts, but the Steelers were rarely successful on the field. One of the big problems was that his father simply hired his friends as coaches. Another problem, Dan Rooney says, is that his father was more of a baseball fan than a football fan. Yes, the owner of the Pittsburgh Steelers preferred to watch baseball.

The book is filled with fond, warm memories. Rooney doesn't dwell on the negative, and sometimes glosses over issues when you wish he would tell you more.  He tells stories about his family, crashing his private plane, the NFL's compromise selection of Pete Rozelle as commissioner, the merger with AFL and personal clashes with Oakland Raiders owner Al Davis.

He wanders occasionally off track to tell us the biographies of players, which we could get anywhere. The book is best when he tells his personal story.  The book has two co-authors, Andrew E. Masich and David F. Halaas, so it's hard to say how much of the writing was actually done by Rooney.

If you like stories on old-time football, here are two other books you might enjoy: "That First Season" by John Eisenberg, the story of Vince Lombardi's first year coaching the Green Bay Packers, and "Instant Replay,", Jerry Kramer's diary of the Packers 1967 championship season.

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