Archive for June, 2010

Flight Control

June 17, 2010 Leave a comment

In my last post, I explained what I’ve been doing the last twelve days with the time I might otherwise have spent writing blog posts. But what I described there hasn’t been the only distraction. There’s also Flight Control HD. I’ve never been much of a video game player. But three weeks ago I was browsing on-line at MacWorld for any articles about iPad apps when I came upon Essential iPad apps: 10 great games and decided to investigate. I’ve long been fascinated by flight controllers, so it was no surprise that the one game to catch my eye was Flight Control HD. (HD is the standard suffix to indicate that an app has been designed to take advantage of the iPad’s screen. There was a pre-existing version of Flight Control for the iPhone, though I don’t have it and didn’t know about it. Like all iPhone apps, it will work on the iPad, but only in a small space on the screen, or enlarged with poor resolution. The HD version is designed specifically for the iPad.)

In the MacWorld game round-up, James Savage explains:

Flight Control for iPhone is one of the greatest App Store success stories, and Firemint could have easily phoned in the iPad version by just giving us the same game with higher resolution graphics. Fortunately for Flight Control fans everywhere, the developer didn’t—the $5 Flight Control HD takes all the greatness from the original and adds loads more. Gameplay is still just as simple to learn and as addictive as ever—direct planes and helicopters safely to the ground by drawing their flight paths with your finger. With the extra screen real estate, this job is much easier on the eyes and ultimately a better experience. In addition to the four original iPhone airfields, you get four more with three of those in a higher-resolution format. With the bigger screen, there is now room to share control responsibilities with two-player co-op and versus modes.

That pretty well explains it all. I have nothing to add. Except that I’ve been controlling flights lately. Lots of crashes. Watch out.

Categories: Computing, Games

The Toad

June 17, 2010 Leave a comment

I’ve been pretty quiet the last two weeks. Sorry about that. It’s not for lack of topics to write about. Have I been traveling? Making progress on my backlog of novels? Proving theorems? No. Mostly, in time I might have spent writing posts, I’ve been planning my life. That’s too generous. Really, I’ve been immersed in the inane endeavor of planning how to plan my life.

You know Arnold Lobel’s wonderful children’s book characters Frog and Toad? They are good friends, and their adventures are told in four books published during the 1970’s, each comprising five short, easy-to-read stories. Frog and Toad Together, the second volume, opens with A List. Many years ago, when my old friend Dan had two young boys, he had me read it. Perhaps he arranged for me to read it to one of the boys. I didn’t realize it was a setup, with Dan knowing that I would recognize myself as the living embodiment of Toad.

If you don’t know the story, you can read part of it at Google books here. Or, with more time, you can see an animated version in two parts, starting with the embedded youtube clip at the top and continuing below. Pay special attention to the part in the second and third minutes of part 2.

[Spoiler alert: In this paragraph, I’ll give away some of the plot.] The story opens with Toad waking up and making a list of things to do for the day. He starts with “wake up,” then immediately crosses it off. The climactic moment occurs later, during Toad’s walk with Frog, when a gust of wind blows the list away and Toad is paralyzed. He has no idea what to do next, so he resigns himself to sitting where he is and doing nothing. Hours later, Frog suggests to Toad that they should go to sleep. Toad exclaims, “Go to sleep; that was the last thing on my list!” Calm is restored. He scratches the words on the ground with a stick, crosses them off, and goes to sleep.

What does this have to do with me? I could write pages on the matter, but I don’t want to get too personal. Here are some highlights of my list-making evolution: Read more…

Categories: Computing, Life, Stupidity

Our Master Speaks

June 7, 2010 Leave a comment

I couldn’t make it down to San Francisco for this year’s Apple Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC10). But thanks to live bloggers, I can follow Steve Jobs’ opening keynote address, which started 45 minutes ago. Right now I’m following via Engadget’s Joshua Topolsky.

What a great experience! We get to learn, virtually live, about our lord and master’s next gift to us. These days, Gail and I spend our evenings side by side, iPads in hand. (She got hers a week ago.) Soon we will be able to replace our second-generation iPhones with iPhone 4’s, which is what Steve is revealing to us now. And Topolsky’s live blog includes photos, such as the one above.

Gotta go. I’m missing the latest.

Categories: Technology

Torture: Ho-Hum

June 4, 2010 Leave a comment

Two days ago, in a speech to the Economics Club of Grand Rapids, Michigan, George Bush spoke about waterboarding. As reported, for instance, at AOL:

Former President George W. Bush says he has no regrets that the mastermind of 9/11 was waterboarded while under interrogation, and he would allow it again “to save lives.”

Bush made the comment in a speech Wednesday to the Economic Club of Grand Rapids, Mich.

“Yeah, we waterboarded Khalid Sheikh Mohammed,” Bush said. “I’d do it again to save lives.”

The notion that waterboarding Khalid Sheikh Mohammed saved lives is repeated relentlessly by Republican torture defenders, who also insist that waterboarding is, in fact, not torture. See, however, the opening passage from this press release yesterday:

A group of thirteen retired admirals and generals meeting in Philadelphia today to talk with Congressional candidates from both parties about the importance to our national security of treating detainees in accordance with our laws and values responded with disgust to comments made last night by the former President that he would resort to waterboarding in the future.

“Waterboarding is torture. John McCain has said it’s torture. We have prosecuted foreign and American military personnel for waterboarding. We even prosecuted a sheriff in Texas for waterboarding. Waterboarding is torture and torture is a crime. It cannot be demonstrated that any use of it by U.S. personnel in recent years has saved a single American life. To the contrary, the misguided belief that torture saves lives has cost America dearly. It is shocking that former President George W. Bush said he would use waterboarding ‘again to save lives.’ When he authorized it the first time he sent America down the wrong road, battering our alliances, damaging counterinsurgency efforts, and increasing threats to our soldiers.”

Alas, as Obama has so famously said, “my instinct is for us to focus on how do we make sure that moving forward we are doing the right thing. That doesn’t mean that if somebody has blatantly broken the law, that they are above the law. But my orientation’s going to be to move forward.”

I can do no better than quote Scott Horton’s comments this morning in his Harper’s blog (emphasis mine):

Bush’s statement amounts to an admission of his role in a serious crime. He can speak and act without concern because the Obama White House has announced its intention not to enforce American domestic law, under which this conduct was a felony, and not to comply with the unequivocal treaty commitments of the Convention Against Torture, under which the United States is unconditionally obligated to undertake a criminal investigation. In this way, the sins of one regime have been assumed by its successor.

Categories: Torture

The Imperfectionists, 2

June 4, 2010 Leave a comment

Tom Rachman

I wrote yesterday about how I came to find myself reading Tom Rachman’s new novel The Imperfectionists, which had been reviewed in the NYT last month by Christopher Buckley and by Janet Maslin. I finished it today and wanted to add a few words.

I loved it. It tells the story of the final months of an English-language daily newspaper published in Rome, each of its eleven chapters focusing on a different character. Following each chapter is a short piece detailing some moment in the history of the paper, from 1953 to 2007, with the chapters and the intermezzi ultimately converging.

Each chapter works well as a stand-alone short story, with Rachman immersing us quickly and deeply into one richly drawn (and imperfect) human after another. The story typically captures just a single moment in the character’s life, but always a revealing one, simultaneously comic and painful, allowing us to understand how the character’s connection to the newspaper fits into the broader context of the character’s life. As well as these stories function in isolation, they mesh magically to form a complex and beautiful novel.

In reading the book, I was reminded of Joshua Ferris’s 2007 novel Then We Came to the End, which also tracks employees of a firm nearing its end. Ferris’s humor was broader; it took longer for the pain to sink in. But both authors are masters at capturing office life, the connections formed by people not by choice but because they find themselves working together. If you haven’t read Ferris’s book, I suggest you read the two in succession.

Categories: Books

Smile of Joy, Smile of Grace

June 3, 2010 Leave a comment

Big baseball day yesterday. Historic day. You know why. Ken Griffey’s retirement. Armando Galarraga’s perfect game. Much has been written about both. Here’s my two cents.

1. Griffey. Last August, I wrote about career RBIs and how odd it is that so little attention is paid to the leaders in this statistical measure. At the time, Griffey was 18th on the list. I speculated about how high he might climb.

On April 20, I took another look. I anticipated that this would be Griffey’s season, but didn’t anticipate how quickly he would decline. Just the night before, he had 2 RBIs, his second and third of the season, putting him at 1832 for his career, in 16th place but in striking distance of the next four or five:

11. Mel Ott 1860
12. Carl Yastrzemski 1844
13. Ted Williams 1839
14. Rafael Palmeiro 1835
15. Dave Winfield 1833
16. Ken Griffey 1832

Griffey would hit only four more (see here for his career statistics), enough to move him ahead of Winfield and Palmeiro, but leaving him just behind my beloved Red Sox heroes, Ted and Yaz.

A minor matter. I just wanted to bring the topic to a close. Let me move on to Griffey’s greatest moment, for which I had the good fortune to be at the Kingdome. I wrote about the game— the 5th game of the Yankee-Mariner 1995 playoff series — a year ago, so I’ll be brief. You can study the box score and play-by-play here.

The winner of the game would go on to face the Indians in the American League Championship Series. After many twists, the game entered the eleventh tied at 4. The Yankees took a 5-4 lead in the top of the 11th. Joey Cora led off the bottom of the inning with a single. Griffey followed with another single that moved Cora to third. Up came Edgar Martinez. He hit a double off the left field wall. The Kingdome went crazy. From the moment Edgar hit the ball, we knew the score was tied. But no. Griffey was waved on. He kept running. And he scored. We won! We won! It was unbelievable.

Two pile-ups ensued. At second base, surrounding Edgar. And at home plate, Griffey looking up from the bottom of the pile with a grin of joy. He was one of the great hitters of the era, and its greatest outfielder. But his most magical moment was that dash from first to home.

2. Galarraga. I wrote a few weeks ago that “Perfect games are rare. When one is thrown, attention must be paid. Today, Dallas Braden of the Oakland A’s threw the nineteenth perfect game in baseball history, against the Tampa Bay Rays. I’m paying attention.” (I also explained that “a pitcher throws a perfect game when he pitches nine innings [or more, if necessary] and retires every batter he faces. No opposing batter gets on base, whether through a hit, a walk, an error, being hit by a pitch, or any other means.) Little did I know that two more perfect games would soon be thrown, just days apart.

Last Saturday, Phillies’ new pitcher Roy Halladay threw a perfect game in a 1-0 victory over the Marlins. ESPN switched from women’s college softball to the game for the 9th inning and we turned to it from men’s college lacrosse just in time to see the end. From what we saw and what I read, he was so masterly that the outcome almost seemed inevitable from early on.

Last night, Tigers pitcher Armando Galarraga threw yet another perfect game in a 3-0 win over the Indians. Alas, as all the world now knows, it wasn’t so perfect after all, because first-base umpire Jim Joyce, to his eternal regret, made the wrong call on Jason Donald on what would have been the 27th and last Indian out. Donald hit a grounder to Tiger first baseman MIguel Cabrera. Galarraga ran to first to take the throw from Cabrera. Cabrera threw, Galarraga caught it, Galarraga stepped on first base, Donald stepped on it afterwards (thereby being out), Galarraga threw his arms up in celebration, the crowd cheered, but Joyce unaccountably called Donald safe.

[Paul Sancy, AP]

No perfect game!

I caught the replay later on ESPN and saw, as everyone else has, that the play wasn’t even close. Umpire Joyce was distraught on seeing the replay himself after the game. What stunned me on seeing the replay was Galarraga’s immediate response to the blown call. A moment after he began to celebrate, he saw the call, cut his celebration short, and smiled. It was a small smile, but a beautiful one, of enormous grace. His calm acceptance will stay with me. (He then dutifully went back to the mound and retired the next batter to end the game, officially a one-hit shutout. See here for box score and details.)

I could say more, but Joe Posnanski, in a blog post this morning, said it for me (and better).

The way he handled himself after the game, well, that was something better than perfection. Dallas Braden’s perfect game was thrilling. Roy Halladay’s perfect game was art. But Armando’s Galarraga’s perfect game was a lesson in grace.

And when my young daughters ask, “Why didn’t he get mad and scream about how he was robbed,” I think I will tell them this: I don’t know for sure, but I think it’s because Armando Galarraga understands something that is very hard to understand, something we all struggle with, something I hope you learn as you grow older: In the end, nobody’s perfect. We just do the best we can.

It was quite a day.

Categories: Baseball

The First Rule, The Imperfectionists

June 3, 2010 Leave a comment

I wrote ten days ago about finishing Lee Child’s latest thriller, 61 Hours (which has entered the NYT bestseller list at #1). What to read next? Since I was back in mystery-thriller mode, it seemed natural to give Robert Crais’ The First Rule another try.

Crais has been writing a series of crime novels since 1987, set in LA and centered on private detective Elvis Cole, with a featured role for his partner Joe Pike. The eleventh of the series, The Watchman, appeared in 2007, with Joe Pike as the central character. I didn’t discover Crais until Chasing Darkness, which was published a year later and had Cole back as the lead character. When The First Rule appeared earlier this year, I snapped it up. I had by then forgotten about Cole and Pike. The fact that this was another Joe Pike novel didn’t make an impression on me, since I didn’t remember that the previous one was an Elvis Cole novel.

I explained in mid-February that “I had forgotten that if one is going to read crime novels, one has to have the stomach for gruesome crimes. I started it right away, but a few pages in . . . , these guys busted into a house and I decided to put the book aside for now, just short of the gruesomeness.” Last week, I pushed past the gruesome point, only to discover that Crais ends the scene before it gets too awful, and nothing anywhere near as gruesome occurs after that. I shouldn’t have put the book down the first time.

I quickly came to appreciate Pike, strong and silent much like Lee Child’s Jack Reacher. And I appreciated Crais’ excellent prose as well. It’s a good book. Suspense, plot twists, the usual, but also excellent characters. I was sorely tempted to go back to the previous Joe Pike novel. The Kindle makes it so easy to act on such temptations. I could have downloaded The Watchman and been reading it within a minute. But I do have other things to do with my time, and didn’t want to be absorbed in yet another thriller so soon, so I resisted.

Already on my Kindle are the first two Stieg Larsson novels, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and The Girl Who Played with Fire. Gail read them in the fall, when we were in Europe. Since we share our Kindle account, that means I have access to them too. I wasn’t overly inclined to read them, other than to find out what the fuss has been about. And now the third one is upon us: The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest. Gail had pre-ordered it, so that it automatically downloaded to her Kindle last week, on its first day of availability.

Should I read them? I was considering it, but again, I wanted to get away from thrillers for a bit.

Two days ago, I saw my friend Carolyn for the first time in many months. As always, her first question was, what am I reading? I reviewed the above. I also mentioned the possibility of returning at long last to the novel I just had to read back in the fall, Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall, about which I wrote incessantly in assorted blog posts.

Carolyn, it turns out, loves Larsson and is reading his latest now. She also is a fan of Wolf Hall. Her advice — read Larsson, then Mantel.

She then mentioned yet another book, Tom Rachman‘s new novel The Imperfectionists. Molly had sent her a link to Christopher Buckley’s review of it in the Sunday NYT last month. I didn’t remember the review. Yesterday, Carolyn emailed the review’s link to me. I saw right away why I had missed the review — it came out the Sunday that we were in Gettysburg and I missed the paper that day. It was, in fact, the cover book review.

There was something familiar about the book, and that’s because I had seen Janet Maslin’s weekday review later in the week, just after we returned from DC. This time I succumbed to Kindle temptation. After a brief look at the two reviews, I downloaded the book. Time for some “serious” fiction. I can read Larsson and more Crais later. Within the hour, I had read the first chapter. I’m now just over a third of the way through it and it’s superb. Here’s a description of the novel from a Q&A with Rachman at his website:

Set in Rome, The Imperfectionists is a novel told in linked stories about the private lives of the reporters, editors and executives at an international English-language newspaper as they struggle to keep their publication—and themselves—afloat. Kathleen, the tough editor-in-chief, experiments with betrayal in her open marriage. Arthur, the lazy obituary writer, is transformed by a tragedy at home. And Abbey, the besieged financial officer, finds that that her job cuts and her love life are intertwined in unexpected ways. Out in the field, the veteran Paris reporter goes to desperate lengths for his next byline, while an inexperienced new Mideast stringer is seeking terrorists to interview. In the shadows is the isolated young publisher whose actions may determine the future of every employee at the paper. The Imperfectionists touches on the decline of newspapers and the rise of technology, but above all it is about these characters and their peculiar stories.

I still have a ways to go, but based on what I’ve read so far, I recommend it highly. I wish I were in Rome now eating with some of the characters.

Categories: Books