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Archive for May, 2008

Friday Fun: Wellgames

Posted by Fred on May 30, 2008

There’s nothing particularly novel about Flash-based casual games on the web, and there’s nothing particularly novel about online multi-player games. Wellgames does a good job putting the two together, creating fun casual games that you play against total strangers without seeming like Facebook surgically grafted onto the PopCap site. I’ll grant that I’m a misanthrope, but I’d much rather play a game against someone I don’t know than chat with them. Wellgames gives you the former but doesn’t try to force the latter (the way Yahoo and MSN and Shockwave do). Here are two games I like:

Clusterz is a variation on your standard Match 3 game. Shoot a colored ball at some other colored balls and make a match to remove the cluster. Fail to make a group of at least three and a whole bunch more appear, which can sometimes actually work to your advantage. If the balls reach the bottom of the screen, you lose. Get rid of all the balls and you win. This is one game improved by being multiplayer – you’re racing against an opponent and can see how much they’ve cleared on your screen. If you win, you get bonus points based on how many points they had at the time.

Patchworkz plays like a combination Tangram and jigsaw puzzle. Six pieces appear in a tray at the bottom of the screen and you have to figure out where they go in the picture at the top. You get points based on how fast you finish the puzzle. The pictures are pretty in an abstract sort of way. There are a large number of levels, but be aware that between level 60 and level 80, the game gets much harder, as there are hundred of tiny pieces to place (zoom in to at least 150% or get a migraine). After level 81, it gets easier again. This is one that isn’t improved much by being multiplayer – Shockwave has a single-player version.


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Lost Season 4 Finale: Forward and Back Again

Posted by Fred on May 30, 2008

I’ve never really been one to recap the TV I watch – after all, if you wanted to watch it, you would have watched it yourself.  Last night’s season four finale of Lost, however, truly begs for comment.  At times in season three, the show appeared to be wavering, unable to find its feet, lost in the Should We Stick With This Nikki and Paulo Storyline or Kill Them Because the Fans Hate Them shuffle.  Last season’s ratings suffered as well, perhaps as a consequence of deviating from what the show does best.  This season, the producers found their feet again, with the freighter story arc introducing some great new characters (and introducing them in a way that discouraged fan backlash).  Lost may well be the series that suffered the most from the writers’ strike – clearly the writers wanted to do a lot more with Daniel Faraday, Charlotte Lewis and Miles Straume.  With all three presumably present wherever (or is it whenever?) the rest of the survivors who are not part of the Oceanic Six happen to be, next season should be able to explore all the questions last night left unanswered.

This is still not a recap – go read Jeff Jensen at EW, which you really should be doing anyway.  I come not to recap Caesar but to praise him, or something. Here, in no particular order, are the Wow Moments from the finale that were of particular note (needless to say, if you haven’t seen it yet, fire up your DVR or watch it online):

  • Sun’s anguish as she watched the freighter blow up with her husband presumably still aboard was perhaps the single most impressive acting moment in the four seasons. It takes some effort to pull off the wail without veering sharply into melodrama, but Yunjin Kim pulled it off. The difference between that moment and the flash-forward where she confronts Widmore was impressive.
  • Ken Leung had my favorite line delivery of the entire series when Straume retorted to Charlotte Lewis “yes, what do I mean?”  Plus, I really want to know the answer to the question.
  • That John Locke is/was the mysterious Jeremy Bentham is both obvious (the man in the coffin had to be either Ben or Locke) and loaded with symbolism. Locke could have picked any pseudonym he wanted to, and would have been better hidden had he not traded one philosopher’s name for another.  Nothing on the show is without meaning, of course.  Jeremy Bentham was a British philosopher most famous for the Panopticon, a cylindrical prison designed in such a way that a single observer can watch all of the prisoners without the inmates knowing they are being observed, and for the Auto-icon, a wooden display cabinet in which Bentham’s body (with a wax head in place of the original) is displayed to this day at University College London. Both have obvious connections to the show – the Dharma Initiative’s Pearl Station embodies many of Bentham’s principles, although it is not clear whether the Pearl staffers were the observers or the prisoners.  Locke/Bentham is now in his own version of the Auto-Icon, although one presumes he will keep his original head.
  • The real Bentham and Locke were not contemporaries, but Locke’s view of self, that man is born with an empty mind (a tabula rasa), to be shaped by experience, had obvious influence on Bentham’s philosophy of utilitarianism, with the influence even more apparent in Bentham’s successors, such as John Stuart Mill.  Locke believed that sensations and reflections are the source of all our ideas, deviating sharply from both the Augustinian (man is innately sinful) and Cartesian (man is innately logical) view of self.  At first glance, Lost’s Locke appears to be less Lockean than his counterfoil Jack, but his change of self based on his experiences on the Island is in keeping with the philosophy.  Is the post-season 4 Locke thus a utilitarian?
  • Although Locke, Bentham and Mill are associated with ideals of individual liberty, some modern critics say the utilitarians were really collectivists. Does this presage Locke’s leadership style now that Ben is in a Tunisian desert ten months later?
  • I loved all the ice on a show set in the tropics.  Michael tried to freeze the bomb’s battery, but ultimately ran out of nitrogen, leading to a visit from your favorite harbinger of death, Christian Shephard. Ben somehow made his way from a lab located deep under a tropical greenhouse to a ice-covered chamber containing a frozen donkey wheel.  This may explain the polar bear that showed up on the Island and in Tunisia.
  • What’s with all the ghosts?  Good thing we have a fake/not fake psychic phenomena investigator in Miles.
  • At the same time the narrative was jumping forward (presumably “the present” is now the time of Caveman Jack and Dead Locke, and not the Time To Which The Island Was Moved), the episode itself was replete with allusions to earlier episodes.  Jack rescuing Desmond after the helicopter crash recalled Jack rescuing the middle section survivors in the pilot. The appearance of Penny’s boat was virtually identical to The Others’ tug appearing out of the mist in first cliffhanger.

It’s a sign of a good show that the summer seems like a punishment.  What are Damon Lindelof and Carlton Cuse going to do know that they have six main characters, a toddler and a corpse on the mainland and all the rest who knows where? Are they going to screw up the wormhole/time travel storyline, rife as it is with paradox? Is Jin dead or alive? Where was Charlotte born? What’s the connection between Widmore and Mr. Paik? How did Walt get so big? What happened to Sawyer’s shirt and is he going to rebound with a rum-sodden Juliet?  I want to know all of these things and I want to know them right now.

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Tribe Homestand (Pale Hose and Rangers) Wrap: Trendspotting

Posted by Fred on May 29, 2008

Question: When is a 2-4 homestand something to cheer about?

Answer: When the homestand features an offense that appeared to be in permanent hibernation.  In the just-wrapped six-game set against Chicago and Texas, the Tribe collected 55 hits and scored 31 runs.  On the preceding road trip to Chicago and Cincinnati, the Indians managed only 37 hits and 13 runs.  As a club, the Tribe hit .248 against Texas and .265 against Chicago, their best performance since an April trip to Kansas City that featured wins of 15-1 and 9-6.

With the exception of the trip to Chicago, the offense has been steadily improving in both batting average and OPS:


Individually, many of the Tribe’s regulars swung the bat much better in this homestand.  Six hitters hit better than .275 for the homestand, and seven had an OPS above .750:

Player AVG
Jamey Carroll .385
Andy Marte .333
Victor Martinez .316
Asdrubal Cabrera .308
Ben Francisco .296
Jhonny Peralta .280
Player OPS
Jhonny Peralta 1.013
Jamey Carroll 1.000
Grady Sizemore .955
Ben Francisco .866
Andy Marte .833
David Dellucci .813
Victor Martinez .771

Now if we could only do something abouth the pitching…

Up Next: The Tribe starts a brutal 11-game road trip in Kansas City Friday night.  Cliff Lee (7-1, 1.50) looks to continue his splendid 2008 against Gil Meche (3-7, 5.35).  Lee has been shakier his last two starts, but appeared to find control of his fastball against the Rangers, settling down after a couple of rocky innings.  Meche only gave up two runs his last time out against the Blue Jays, but struggled to throw strikes, needing 115 pitches to get through six innings.  C.C. Sabathia (3-6, 4.74) battles Brett Tomko (2-6, 6.11) on Saturday.  C.C. took yet another hard-luck loss in his last outing, a 2-1 loss in which he gave up one run on five hits in seven innings.  Tomko has a tendency toward the big inning this year, and gave up four runs in the second inning in his last start.  Sunday’s finale features Paul Byrd (2-4, 4.10) and Brian Bannister (4-6, 4.97). Byrd got hit hard by the White Sox his last time out, but managed to limit the damage to three runs, thanks to some timely double plays.

If the Tribe hopes to stay in the AL Central race, they really need to take at least two from the Royals, with Sunday being on paper the hardest one to win.  The White Sox are in Tampa bay to face the Rays, who (somewhat amazingly) sport the best record in the majors at 32-21.

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Install Ubuntu 8.04 LTS from USB [HOWTO]

Posted by Fred on May 23, 2008

I decided it was time to move my Wubi install onto a dedicated partition, in order to speed up disk operations a tad and enable hibernation/suspend on the laptop.  At the time, LVPM, which automates the process of doing just that, was not available for Hardy Heron, but there was a script on the forums to make to process easier.  Unfortunately, my attempts at creating new partitions with Gparted hosed the master boot record of my hard disk, and the Compaq didn’t come with Vista install disks, so I ended up restoring the original disk image, losing the Wubi install.

For some reason, I was never able to burn an install CD properly, but was able to install from USB via this guide.  I’ll summarize the steps, in case you want to do the same thing.

First, download some software for your Windows machine.  Get an Ubuntu Live CD image of 8.04, a copy of 7-zip to decompress the ISO file and syslinux to make your USB stick bootable.  Install 7-zip and unzip syslinux to the Desktop.  For ease of use, rename the syslinux folder syslinux.

Go into My Computer and right-click on the drive letter of your USB stick (in my case, it was G:). Choose format… and make sure to format as FAT32 and not NTFS.

Now open a Command Prompt by clicking Start > All programs > Accessories > Command Prompt or Run > cmd.  In the command prompt window, issue this command:

Desktop\syslinux\win32\syslinux -ma g:

If your USB drive is something other than G:, change the command accordingly. Close the command prompt window.

Back on the Desktop, right-click on the Ubuntu ISO and choose 7-zip > Extract to ubuntu-8.04-desktop-386.  This will decompress the installation files into a folder on your Desktop.  Open this folder and copy everything to your USB stick.

Now we need to make a copuple of changes to the file system.  On the USB drive, open the isolinux folder and copy all the files to the root of the drive.  In my case, that meant everything in G:\isolinux had to be moved to G:\.  Also, rename the file isolinux.cfg to syslinux.cfg.

Now we’re ready to boot into the USB installer.  On my laptop, I had to go into the BIOS by hitting [F10] and boot and change the boot order so USB HDD came before Laptop HDD.  Some BIOSes are already set up to boot from USB.  Some, like an old Toshiba I have, can’t boot from USB at all.  On the Compaq, [F9] will let me temprarily boot from a different device, but that is [F11] or [F12] on some machines.  You’ll just have to experiment.

Once booted, the Live USB acts just like a Live CD, so help abounds on the Ubuntu site. 

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

Tribe-White Sox Wrap II: Mostly Ugly

Posted by Fred on May 23, 2008

Another series of offensive ineptitude, another three-game sweep. This time it was the White Sox doing the honors, as the Tribe’s losing streak reached six. The offensive numbers truly do tell the tale: .145 batting average, .202 OBP, .229 slugging percentage, .431 OPS. The Indians had as many strikeouts (18) as baserunners(12 hits and 6 walks), and managed to score only 4 runs. The Detroit Tigers, who actually seem to have figured out how to hit, scored 30 runs in their most recent series; Cleveland has scored 26 runs in their last 11 games. This team simply has no chance of contending unless serious changes are made, and Eric Wedge’s claim that the team just has to battle through it looks more ridiculous by the day – one or two guys can be in a slump; when it’s a whole team and the “slump” has lasted for 47 games, it’s a serious defect in personnel, coaching or both.

The Good

One is tempted to say “nothing”, but there actually were a few decent performances against Chicago:

  1. C.C. Sabathia.  C.C. has clearly put his horrible start behind him, and had another good start on Friday night, giving up 2 runs on 7 hits over 7 innings.  He walked only 2 while striking out 8.  Unfortunately, he also gave up two solo homers, and with the current Tribe offense, that was more than enough to condemn Sabathia to another hard-luck loss.
  2. Aaron Laffey.  The good news is Laffey had another good start, also giving up 2 runs over 7 innings, yielding 6 hits while striking out 6 and walking 1.  The bad news is the offense couldn’t score runs for him either, and he also took a hard-luck loss.  The better news is that his value as trade bait continues to increase, and a healthy Jake Westbrook may mean the club can package Laffeyfor a hitter with a batting average actually north of the Mendoza Line.
  3. The Rafaels.  The bullpen wasn’t anything worth bragging about in this series, but Perez and Betancourt showed flashes of their 2007 form, pitching 1scoreless innings.
  4. Ryan Garko and Michael Aubrey.  The closest thing the Tribe had to offensive heroes against Chicago was the first base combination of Garko and Aubrey, who combined to hit .333 with a solo HR.

The Bad

  1. The rest of the bullpen.  Outside of Perez and Betancourt, the bullpen was pretty bad, which is doubly dangerous when the offense can’t score any runs.  Masa Kobayashi gave up a run charged to Laffey and a run of his own yesterday, breaking a 1-1 eighth inning tie. Craig Breslow had as many homers (1) as outs on Wednesday. Jensen Lewis gave up two eighthinning runs on Monday, eliminating any chance the Tribe had of a ninth inning comeback against Bobby Jenks. In all, the bullpen gave up as many 8th inning runs as the offense scored in 27 innings.

The Ugly

  1. The offense, of course.  Other than Garko,Aubrey and David Dellucci (2-of-7), no Indian hit better than .200 for the series.  No hitter managed more than 2 hits in the 3 games. Asdrubal Cabrera, Franklin Gutierrez, Johnny Peralta, Kelly Shoppach, Travis Hafner and Victor Martinez were a combined 2-for-38 (.053) with one run scored and one RBI. 

Up next: The Tribe comes home after a road trip (in which they scored 13 runs in 6 games) for three against the Rangers.  Fausto Carmona (4-1, 2.25 ERA) starts against Kason Gabbard (1-1, 3.12) tonight. Carmona is coming off his best start of the season, in which he gave up no walks in a 4-2 loss to the Reds; prior to Saturday, he had issued 35 walks in 48 2/3 innings. Better yet, all but three of Carmona’s outs in the game came on the ground, which is absolutely vital for a sinkerballer like Carmona.  Cliff Lee (6-1, 1.37) tries to rebound from his only subpar start of the year on Saturday against Scott Feldman (1-1, 4.10).  In his five starts, Feldman has posted a 3.45 ERA, pitching at least six innings every time.  He’s never started against the Tribe, but has an ERA of 1.42 in five relief appearances.  C.C. Sabathia (3-6, 5.14) faces Doug Mathis (1-1, 10.13), who is filling in for injured ex-Indian Kevin Millwood.  Sabathiahas pitched well in May, posting a 2-2 record (that probably should be 4-0) with a 2.25 ERA.  Mathis pitched well in AAA (5-0, 3.42), but did not fare so well for the big club, giving up 9 runs (6 earned) in 2 innings against the Twins.

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Tribe Fans: Time to Panic

Posted by Fred on May 22, 2008

I’ve been holding off pushing the panic button, given that the 2008 season is only 46 games into a 162 game season, but after yet another inept offensive performance that wasted an adequate start from Paul Byrd, it’s time to start thinking about running around in a circle screaming. The offensive statistics for the season to date are really awful. A .234 team batting average (last in the AL). A .313 OBP and .362 slugging percentage (next to last in the AL). Last in hits, 12th in runs, last in triples, 10th in homers, 11th in strikeouts in the 14 team AL. The only offensive category the team leads the league in is times hit by a pitch, which is truly pitiful. In 26 of 46 games, the Tribe has scored 3 runs or fewer, and hasn’t scored more than 4 since a 12 run outburst on May 10th against Toronto. The current 5 game losing streak includes losses of 4-3, 4-2 and 4-1.

So now that we’ve decided to panic, what next. The team has three basic choices: some new blood from the minors, in the hope of providing the same sort of spark that Asdrubal Cabrera did in a similar situation last year, a trade, or something even more major. They’ve tried the first approach already. Michael Aubrey has a couple of homers in his brief, just-until-Borowski-comes-back trip from Buffalo, but his .250 average isn’t a hyge improvement. Ben Francisco is the only hot hitter on the team, and has relegated Franklin Gutierrez to a platoon role for which he is extremely ill-suited (his average against lefties is worse than against righties). Shin-Soo Choo should be ready to come back soon, and has hit .353 in 17 AB over 5 games since May 15, with a 1.009 OPS. Other than that, pickings are sort of bare – Brad Snyder has 10 HR, but do we really need another .211 hitter in this lineup?

A trade is a more promising possibility, although the action won’t really pick up until teams are ready to give up on the season. The most persistent rumor has Aaron Laffey going with Josh Barfield to Colorado for Garrett Atkins. Any trade with Colorado has an element of risk, given the Coors Field Effect, but Atkins actually has a higher OPS on the road (.903) than at home (.822) and has hit 5 of his 7 HR away from Denver. Colorado’s pitching staff is horrid, with a 4.57 ERA that is 14th of the 16 NL teams, so they may be willing to pull the trigger on the trade. I’d do that deal in a heartbeat if Jake Westbrook shows anything close to his pre-injury form.

The best solution, however, may be something more radical. Hitting coach Derek Shelton is a disciple of the Yankees/As-style approach that calls for taking opposing pitchers deep into the count. In theory, this should lead to walks and a higher OBP and elevated pitch counts. Most teams have weak middle relief, so getting the starter out in the 5th or 6th inning should be an advantage. It has worked, to an extent, as the team is 9th in the AL in walks, certainly better than most other offensive categories. Unfortunately, the approach hasn’t led to hits or runs. Whether this is an error in approach by the coaching staff or an error in execution by the players is unclear, but it is clear that something isn’t working. In 479 games under Shelton, the team has struck out 3,484 times (to 1,642 walks). In 539 games under Eddie Murray, the team struck out 3,407 times (to 1,768 walks). This year’s performance looks remarkably similar to the first part of 2005 that led to Shelton’s hiring in the first place:

2005 53 1811 209 437 87 12 57 203 154 336 .241 .307 .397
2008 46 1503 186 351 78 2 37 182 147 321 .234 .313 .362

It also seems fairly clear that Shelton’s approach has led to a power outage in Cleveland. Victor Martinez is still looking for his first homer of 2008. Travis Hafner has hit far more groundballs than he used to over the past couple of years. Grady Sizemore’s HR totals are up, but his statistics would suggest he hasn’t really taken Shelton’s approach to heart, as he remains a free swinger who strikes out too much.

Is firing Shelton the answer? Probably not the entirety of the solution, but this is a team that has been in a year-long funk, not just a few games in 2008. Over the past 162 games, the Indians have hit just .258 as a team, putting them squarely in the middle of the pack in the AL. In 2004, Cleveland was fourth in the AL at .276; in 2005, they were 5th at .271. After peaking at .280 in Shelton’s first full year, it has been all downhill.

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Use Internet Connection Sharing on WM6 with Hardy Heron [HOWTO]

Posted by Fred on May 20, 2008

The reason I have a Motorola Q9 Global instead of a Blackjack II is that AT&T in its infinite wisdom eliminated Internet Connection Sharing from the BJII (I think it’s actually still there, but the interface isn’t, but I digress). Up to now, I’ve been piggybacking off the open wi-fi connection from the Richmond Omni, which is in and of itself amazing as the Omni is 0.4 miles away, but the connection has gotten flaky.  So I decided to use ICS instead (kind of like tethering, but free of the otherwise-applicable AT&T fees).  Here’s how:

First, you need to make sure you have the right Ubuntu packages installed:

sudo apt-get install subversion build-essential

Now do the following in a terminal:

svn co
cd usb-rndis-lite/
sudo ./
sudo make install

That should be all you need on the Ubuntu side. On the phone, start ICS. There’s no shortcut on the Start Menu, so use the File Manager to browse to /Windows and look for IntShrUI.exe. To make things easier, you can click Menu>File>Create Shortcut and create a shortcut in Windows/Start Menu. Once you start ICS, click the left soft key (“Connect”) and plug in the USB cable. That should be it.

I know this works, as I am posting this via ICS and WM6.

Posted in Linux, Technology, Ubuntu | Tagged: , , , | 9 Comments »

Tribe-Reds Wrap: Good, Bad and Ugly

Posted by Fred on May 19, 2008

The Indians have to be happy that the first interleague series is over and they can flee Cincinnati for the friendlier confines of the American League, following a truly ugly series at the Great American Ballpark.  The Tribe once again couldn’t score any runs, managing just 9 over the 3 games.  This series also saw the first bad start from Cliff Lee, the first blown save from Masa Kobayashi and a pitiful appearance by Jensen Lewis.  On the upside, there was the first hit from Michael Aubrey, a solo homer yesterday.  Overall, the hitting wasn’t that bad (.245 BA and .780 OPS), but with runners in scoring position, the Tribe managed just 3 hits in 27 tries, all coming yesterday. On Friday and Saturday, the boys were hitless in 16 AB with RISP.

The Good

  1. Fausto Carmona.  Carmona’s problem all year has been control, but his start on Saturday was by far his best of the year.  In 7⅓ innings, he didn’t walk anybody and gave up only 1 earned run on 4 hits.  For the first time, he showed signs of the form that led to 18 wins last year.  Unfortunately the bullpen couldn’t hold the lead, as Masa Kobayashi gave up a walk-off three-run HR to Adam Dunn.
  2. Jorge Julio and Rafael Perez.  Other than Carmona, pitching stars were in short supply.  Julio and Perez, however, combined to throw 3⅔ innings of scoreless relief, allowing 2 hits and 2 walks (all by Perez) while striking out 5.  Perez appeared in all three games, notable mostly because Rafael Betancourt appeared in none.
  3. Grady Sizemore.  In this series, Grady looked more like a leadoff hitter than the #3 hitter he sometimes seems to be.  In 15 plate appearances, Sizemore was on base 6 times on 3 hits and 3 walks.  He also only struck out twice.  The offense couldn’t pick him up, however, leaving Sizemore stranded on base 5 of those 6 times.
  4. Ben Francisco.  More and more it appears Francisco’s subpar AAA numbers this year were an aberration and his hot spring more indicative of his ability.  Against the Reds, Francisco hit .455 with two doubles and a home run.  Add in one HBP and he had a team-high 1.409 OPS for the series.  In 12 games since his most recent arrival from Buffalo, Francisco is hitting .378 with a 1.010 OPS.  He’s also riding a five-game hitting streak in which he’s hitting .500 with a 1.359 OPS.
  5. Travis Hafner.  Yeah, it’s only two pinch-hit ABs due to loss of the DH in the NL park, but Hafner was on base both times with a walk and a home run.  Pronk continues to show signs of heating up (finally) at the plate. Over his last 10 games, Hafner is hitting .318 with a 1.028 OPS.  The big DH also has more walks (6) than strikeouts (4) during this period.  In the 30 games before that, he managed only 14 walks to 34 strikeouts.

The Bad

  1. Cliff Lee.  For the first time, Lee looked mortal, giving up 5 earned runs on 10 hits in 5⅔ innings.  The Reds hit .385 against Lee, who also gave up 2 home runs in watching his ERA swell to 1.37.
  2. Jensen Lewis.  Pitching for the first time in front of his hometown fans, the Cincinnati native clearly appeared to be affected by nerves, particularly in relief of Jeremy Sowers on Friday night, when he walked in the eventual winning run. Overall in that inning he gave up a bloop double and three walks.
  3. Asdrubal Cabrera.  Cabrera remains mired in a massive slump, as he is hitless in his last 13 at bats, and is hitting just .113 over his last 16 games.  Against Cincinnati, Cabrera was hitless in 10 ABs.
  4. David Dellucci and Victor Martinez.  Dellucci and Martinez combined to go 3-for-22 (.136) for the series.  Victor’s power outage continues this year – after hitting 25 HR last year and at least 16 each year for the past four years, Martinez is still looking for his first HR in 2008.

The Ugly

  1. Masa Kobayashi.  With the failures of Joe Borowski (18.00 ERA) and Rafael Betancourt (7.36 ERA) as closer, Kobayashi looked like the leading candidate for the back end of the bullpen with two straight converted save opportunities.  On Saturday in relief of Fausto Carmona he looked terrible, however, allowing a 3-run homer to Adam Dunn to lose the game.  At this point, he still looks like the best candidate for the job, unless the 3 ER, 2 hit, ⅓ IP is a sign of things to come.

Up next: Having watched the White Sox turn a 1½ game deficit into a 1½ game lead over a weekend, the Tribe travels to Chicago after an off-day today.  C.C. Sabathia (3-5, 5.47 ERA) faces Jose Contreras (4-3, 3.35) on Tuesday.  Sabathia appears to have put his horrible start behind him, as he is 3-2 with a 1.49 ERA over his last 5 starts, including a complete game shutout in his last oating against Oakland.  Paul Byrd (2-3, 3.61) matches up against Javier Vazquez (4-3, 3.53) on Wednesday.  Byrd’s problem has been the long ball, but he kept the ball in the yard in his last start, holding the A’s scoreless.  Aaron Laffey (2-2, 1.35) makes what may be his last start for a while on Thursday against mark Buehrle (2-5, 5.27), as Jake Westbrook is due to come off the DL soon.  Laffey has been fantastic, so Eric Wedge could take his time and let Westbrook have an extra rehab start or two.  Buerhle has had real trouble against Cleveland, with a lifetime record of 8-11 and a 4.93 ERA.  On Opening Day, Buerhle lasted just 1⅔ innings and giving up 7 runs on 7 hits.

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Tribe Homestand Wrap: Jays and As

Posted by Fred on May 16, 2008

[I missed the wrap-up for the Jays series, so we’ll do a combo edition – too bad the East leaders weren’t in town, or we could do Jays, As and Rays]

The Tribe has now surged to the top of the AL Central (not that the Central has been a beast so far in 2008 or anything), thanks to a 6-1 homestand that really should have been 7-0. The story was, of course, the pitching, particularly the starters.  The run of scoreless innings fell yesterday when Aaron Laffey allowed an unearned run, but the starters haven’t allowed an earned run since C.C. Sabathia gave up a single run on May 9.  The offense wasn’t horrible (largely due to a 12-spot hung on the Blue Jays), but the story was pitching and defense, which included four shutouts and an unassisted triple play.

The Good

  1. The Starters.  Cliff Lee has been doing it all year, but apparently the great pitching was contagious.  For the 7 game homestand, the five starters were 6-0 with a 0.16 ERA.  In 55⅓ innings, the starters had 43 strikeouts to only 12 walks and a 0.92 WHIP.  No starter threw less than 63% strikes, and Paul Byrd hit 70%. Opposing batters hit only .206, and of the 39 hits, 34 were singles (the remaining 5 were doubles).  Were it not for a complete absence of offense in Cliff Lee’s start (a 3-0, 10 inning loss), the crew could have been 7-0.
  2. Relievers not named Betancourt.  Take away Rafael Betancourt’s two disastrous appearances, and the bullpen is left with an ERA of 0.00 with 8 strikeouts to one walk.  Masa Kobayashi had two saves in two tries. Craig Breslow and Jensen Lewis each pitched a pair of scoreless innings, and Rafael Perez got out the only batter he faced.
  3. Asdrubal Cabrera.  His hitting wasn’t great (.238 BA with one HR and 4 RBI), but he was incredible in the field.  His unassisted triple play got all the press, but it may not have been his best play of the series – the glove flip to Jamey Carroll to start a double play in the first game of the May 12 doubleheader brought back memories of Alomar and Vizquel, and the diving grab in shallow center on Wednesday against the As was even better.
  4. Grady Sizemore, Ben Francisco, Travis Hafner and Victor Martinez.  The offense wasn’t all bad, although it was mostly bad.  Grady Sizemore is now only 4 leadoff homers behind Kenny Lofton for the franchise lead in that category.  For the series, Grady looked like the #3 hitter in a leadoff body that he is, hitting .286 with 3 HR, 2 doubles, 6 RBI and 9 strikeouts.  He posted a team-best 1.012 OPS over 7 games.  Ben Francisco emerged from his mini-slump with 5 hits in 15 AB, plus 4 RBI.  Victor Martinez hit .316 in 6 games, with a .458 OBP.  For the season, Victor has reached base in 27 of the 32 games he’s appeared in.  The best news of all, however, is that Pronk is actually starting to hit.  In 7 games, he hit .300 with a .462 OBP.  Hafner is still hitting only .222 with a .675 OPS, but he’s rebounded since being moved down in the order on May 1. In the 26 games before that (when he hit 3rd or 4th), he had a .210 average and .642 OPS.  In the 12 games since, he’s hit .257 with a .766 OPS.

The Bad

  1. Andy Marte.  As good as Aaron Laffey has been filling in for Jake Westbrook, Marte makes the rumored Laffey and Josh Barfield for Garrett Atkins trade look really good.  In 3 games, Marte managed 2 hits in 13 AB.  Combined, Marte and Casey Blake had 6 hits in 27 AB for the homestand (.220). Over his last 7 games, Atkins has 11 hits in 26 AB (.423), with a double, triple and home run (1.083 OPS).
  2. David Dellucci and Franklin Gutierrez.  While Sizemore and Francisco played well, the Tribe’s other two outfielders did not.  Dellucci and Gutierrez combined for 4 hits in 34 AB (.118) in 5 games apiece.  They also struck out a total of 8 times, with only 1 RBI.
  3. Kelly Shoppach.  While the Indians’ backup catcher was good behind the plate, he was 1-for-9 as a hitter, with 4 strikeouts in 3 games.

The Ugly

  1. Rafael Betancourt.  The Tribe’s current fill-in closer had an ERA of 27.00 in 1⅓ IP.  He gave up 5 hits and 2 walks for a .714 BAA and 5.25 WHIP.  If Wedge hadn’t yanked him after he loaded the bases yesterday, he likely would have added a blown save to the blown tenth inning he had in Cliff Lee’s start.  Not every lights-out setup guy is a good closer, and Betancourt really hasn’t been a very good closer.  I’ve said all along that Masa Kobayashi would be a better closer, given his track record in Japan, and it appears I may have been right.  With the offense’s struggles, Eric Wedge may not have the luxury of waiting to see if Betancourt straightens himself out.

Up next: Interleague play (abomination that it is) starts tonight, as the Tribe heads down I-71 for three games at the Great American Ballpark.  Thanks to a rainout/doubleheader against the Jays, Jeremy Sowers (0-0, 5.06 ERA) likely gets a spot start tonight against Reds rookie Johnny Cueto (2-4, 5.91).  Cueto has pitched well overall, but got shelled in his last start against the Mets, when he gave up 6 runs on 8 hits (5 for extra bases) in 4⅔ IP. Fausto Carmona (4-1, 2.40) faces Aaron Harang (2-5, 3.32) on Saturday.  Carmona still walks too many, but managed to get enough ground balls in his last start to pitch a complete game shutout.  Harang has pitched pretty well with abysmal run support in 2008, although he gave up 3 HR in his last start (an 8-7 win over the Marlins).  Cliff Lee (6-0, 0.67) looks for his seventh win on Sunday against Reds ace Edinson Volquez (6-1, 1.12).

But for Lee’s gaudy numbers and the win machine out in Arizona, Volquez would be getting a lot more attention – he hasn’t given up more than one earned run in any of his eight starts this year, which apparently hasn’t been done since Mike Norris did it in Oakland in 1980. In his ninth start that year, Norris gave up 6 runs in a 7-3 loss to Texas.  He finished 22-9 with a 2.52 ERA, coming in second to Baltimore’s Steve Stone for the AL Cy Young.  He may well have won it but for dropping two games 1-0 and a third 2-0.  Volquez’ big weakness is that he throws a lot of pitches, and hasn’t made it beyond the seventh inning in any start, and has a not-so-stellar 1.26 WHIP.

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Assembling a Blogger’s Toolkit in Linux: Not Good

Posted by Fred on May 9, 2008

As previous posts should indicate, I have been using Ubuntu Hardy Heron (aka 8.04 LTS) almost exclusively on the Compaq Presario laptop for a while now.  After some early hiccups related to wireless networking and printing, the setup works pretty well.  The OpenOffice suite does just about everything I need MS Office to do, browsing is almost the same experience in Firefox for Linux as Firefox for Windows, and there are applications to do just about everything else I do on this laptop.  One big problem, however, is blogging and the tools I generally use to do so.

On Windows, my basic blogging toolkit consists of:

Of these, Firefox, the GIMP and Inkscape are all cross-platform, so the experience is identical.  OpenOffice does everything I need done with number-crunching.  I miss using for lightweight image processing, but the Linux tools are adequate for that job.  With regard to the latter two categories, the Linux tools are, in my opinion, woefully inadequate.

Think what you will of Microsoft, but its free Windows Live Writer is, hands down, the best tool for off-line blogging available.  Basic features of that program that I use everyday in Windows include support for WordPress tags and categories, image uploading and manipulation (including automatic resizing, adding drop shadows, etc.), creation of tables and live preview (the application downloads your blog’s stylesheet, so you can see exactly what a post will look like).  To be comparable, a Linux app would have to have all of these features.

I looked at each of the Linux applications listed in the WordPress Codex, including BloGTK, Drivel, Flock, Gnome Blog, JBlogEditor, QTM, ScribeFire, and WriteToMyBlog. I prefer an off-line editor for various reasons, including the ability to automatically save local copies, so the Flock browser, ScribeFire extension and WriteToMyBlog web service, while interesting, are not really comparable.  All of the Linux clients are much simpler than WLW, and none offer true support for WordPress tags or the level of image manipulation offered by the Microsoft product.  I actually thought the best client was one not on the list, Kblogger, which is part of the KDE application suite.  Kblogger is still relatively featureless, and does not support WordPress tags, although it does appear to support Movable Type keywords.  Further, most of the Linux applications with the exception of Kblogger appear relatively dormant, and few have seen recent updates.

I next attempted to install some Windows clients via Wine.  Virtually all Windows blog clients use Internet Explorer DLLs, so installing via Wine just won’t work.  I was able to achieve some success by first installing IES4Linux, and then running the client installation program through IE.  BlogJet appears to run well via Wine in this way.  Unfortunately, there appears to be a conflict at some level between the version of Wine in the Ubuntu repository, the IES4Linux script and Hardy Heron, as IE will install and run fine the first time, but crashes if I exit and try to restart it.  BlogJet likewise would run once, but would fail if I exited and restarted unless I re-ran the IES4Linux script.  In any event, I found BlogJet’s most recent version to be inadequate, as it too does not support WordPress tags.  My attempts to install Windows Live Writer, BlogDesk, Post2Blog, Zoundry Raven, Qumana and Ecto via Wine all failed.

The same general experience held true for RSS clients.  I’ve written before of the reasons I prefer FeedDemon, including its support for clipping folders and watch bins, powerful feed data and feed management and the Panic Button (which allows the user to mark posts older than a certain timeframe to be automatically marked read).  On Linux, I looked at Liferea and Akregator.  Neither offered the full feature set of FeedDemon, particularly the tools for feed management and the automatic watch lists.  Neither integrated feed reading and posting as well as FeedDemon and WLW.  Of the two, I far preferred Akregator, which has a more user-friendly appearance and UI, and which organizes the feed list in a more intuitive manner.

FeedDemon did install under Wine and IES4Linux, but I found the experience to be vastly inferior to FeedDemon on Windows.  It runs more slowly, and it’s just a less coherent UI, with aspects of Windows and GTK jumbled together.

Why is blogging and RSS reading so much better on Windows and Mac than Linux?  It appears that many of the Linux offerings are, like many other small Linux apps, personal scratch-an-itch development projects.  Unlike OpenOffice (supported by Sun) and Firefox (run by Mozilla), these projects have no corporate-level support and no drive to support a large userbase with feature development.  In Linux, of course, I could just learn Python and add features myself, but I don’t have that kind of time.  So for now, I’m back to Google Reader and ScribeFire when on the laptop, but blogging is the one area I find to be inferior to Windows (but not so inferior as to make me boot back into Vista).

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