ALL ABOUT: Doubleheaders

Most of the time, baseball teams play a single game on any given day. However, a few times a year they’ll play two games in a day. This is called a “doubleheader”, and it comes from the railroad term double-heading, in which two engines are used instead of one. This allows the train to carry a much larger load, or carry a standard load over steep inclines.

Most doubleheaders happen because an earlier game was rained out or otherwise postponed. So if the New York Mets travel to Atlanta to play the Braves and one of the games is rained out, one of their future games in Atlanta will be changed to a double-header. Nowadays this is usually called a day-night doubleheader, because one game is played during the day and the other at night. Such games are treated as two separate events. The games might be an hour (or more) apart, spectators are cleared from the stadium, and tickets are only valid for one of the games.

Sometimes, however, doubleheaders are scheduled on purpose, as a kind of “2 for 1” deal for the fans. These are called twi-night doubleheaders. Games are usually only 20-30 minutes apart, and tickets are valid for both games. Although twi-night games aren’t nearly as common in Major League Baseball as they used to be, they’re still popular in college and minor leagues. However, they don’t last quote as long, as doubleheader games only last 7 innings each in college and the minors.

And, just to be complete, you have the classic doubleheader, in which the first game starts early in the afternoon and the second game starts late in the afternoon. This came about due to the lack of stadium lights in baseball’s early years. Thus, the contrast with the day-night or twi-night versions of the game.

Continue reading “ALL ABOUT: Doubleheaders”

Twitter Weekly Updates for 2012-07-29

Powered by Twitter Tools

RETRO TECH: Sharp Dial Master

My dad loves gadgets. But he only seems to actually use a handful of them. Some of his gadgets just sat in a drawer for most of their lives, like the circa 1977 “portable” TV that weighed 35 lbs. Or the “check printer” that looked like a personal organizer and was supposed to keep track of your spending. It actually printed the payment details onto your checks (kind of like how Walmart used to just ask you for a blank check, the cashier would stick it in the printer and let it print the date, amount, etc. on it). But it was so much work to use that it ended up being useless.

There was one gadget I bought him back in 1989 that he actually used all the time… the Sharp Dial Master:


It was an electronic address book, memo book and calculator. It had a staggering 8KB of memory. But the cool thing about it (at the time) was that it had a speaker on the back. You’d scroll through the address book and find the number you wanted to dial. You held the back of the device up to the microphone of the telephone handset and pressed DIAL. The device would then generate the DTMF tones and dial the number. It sounds kind of silly in today’s world of smartphones, but this was actually pretty nifty back in the late 80s.

The problem with the device was that the “UI” – such as it was – was needlessly complex. My dad, born in the late 40s, didn’t grow up with electronic devices and isn’t a “computer genius”. But if you let him play with something, he’ll figure it out pretty quickly. But he always had to have me add new numbers or edit old ones on his Dial Master. And it would take me several minutes to remember how to do it. If you have a simple device, but have to go back to the manual to remember how to do something, your UI has failed.

So yeah… my Dad was a big user of the Dial Master. Which put him in unique company. Because you know who else used the Dial Master? Agent Cooper from Twin Peaks. You might remember this scene where he and Sheriff Truman interview Laura’s beau Bobby Briggs:




The 50 Greatest British Bands of All-Time

So something really awful happened recently, and to take my mind off it I decided to make a list of the 50 greatest British bands of all time. The actual list only took an hour or so to make, but it’s taken me a couple of weeks to write the necessary paragraph or two about each artist.

I did my best to keep my personal tastes out of this list, insofar as that’s even possible. This isn’t a list of my favorite British bands of all time. I’ve tried to use record sales and chart performance to justify my positions as much as I could. But, at the end of the day, my musical tastes did dictate at least a little of the list. Not many of these lists would include the Cocteau Twins over, say, Squeeze, but hey – it’s my list and I’ll do it as I please.

Keep in mind that the list implicitly includes spin-off acts. If you’re wondering how I could leave Peter Gabriel and Phil Collins off the list, note that they’re included under “Genesis”. My reasoning is that if I gave Gabriel his own entry, I’d have give Collins one, too. And if I did that, I’d have to have separate entries for Joy Division and New Order, Bryan Ferry and Brian Eno, and maybe Marc Bolan. And if I did all that, my list of “50 Greatest British Bands” would become the “15 Greatest English Bands, and their 35 Spin-Off Acts”.

Of course, the list also includes artists who are primarily known for being solo acts, like David Bowie. You typically wouldn’t call Bowie a “band”, but “50 Greatest British Musical Artists of All-Time” just doesn’t have the same ring that “50 Greatest British Bands of All-Time” does.

*     *     *

50) The Verve: They weren’t my favorite band (“No shit? Your #50 band isn’t your favorite?”), but there’s no denying that The Verve had a certain degree of magic when they weren’t busy arguing with each other. These guys were tight, but seemed to have more personnel issues than Spinal Tap. And it’s kind of ironic that their most popular song… is now a Rolling Stones song. The band worked out an agreement to sample an orchestral version of the Rolling Stones’ song “The Last Time” for their single “Bitter Sweet Symphony”. Originally, the deal called for a 50-50 profit split between The Verve and the license holder. But when the song turned into a major hit, Allen Klein sued (he’s the former Stones manager who managed to steal the rights to most of their pre-1970 catalog), saying that The Verve had sampled it “too much”. Unbelievably, a court agreed. All profits were given to Klein, and songwriting credit was given to Mick Jagger and Keith Richards. This led Verve frontman Richard Ashcroft to quip that “Symphony” was “the best song Jagger and Richards have written in 20 years” (and it was true: “Symphony” was the highest-charting Jagger\Richards single since 1971’s “Brown Sugar”!)

The Verve

49) Japan – One wonders what British pop music might have been like had Yuka Fujii never existed. She was the girlfriend of Japan’s bassist, Mick Karn. In the early 80s, she packed up her things and, without telling Karn, moved in with lead singer David Sylvian. Not surprisingly, the band broke up shortly thereafter. Japan’s catalog is inconsistent, pretentious, and slightly dated. They started as a glam rock knock-off, moved in to disco for an album, then settled into art pop. But they did create some of the most unique pop music in British pop culture history. Their “Ghosts” single hit the Top 5 in 1982, and is one of the most… unique records to ever chart that high. And Sylvian’s solo work varies from esoteric to brilliant.


48) Bananarama – I know what you’re thinking: “Bananarama?”  But hear me out on this one. Until the Spice Girls came along, Bananarama had sold more records than any girl band in history. The Go-Go’s… The Supremes… Salt-n-Pepa… Bananarama outsold them all. And the band still holds the Guinness World Record for the most chart entries by a girl group: Destiny’s Child and the Spice Girls might have sold more records overall, but Bananarama have had more hits than any girl group in history. Ever. And it’s a sad, sad soul who doesn’t perk up when “Venus” or “Cruel Summer” come on the radio. The girls are still together after 33 years too, so they’re one of the few bands on this list that are still making new music!

Bananarama Continue reading “The 50 Greatest British Bands of All-Time”

Twitter Weekly Updates for 2012-07-22

Powered by Twitter Tools

My Favorite IT Disasters!

I’m an IT guy, and I’ve seen my share of colossal failures in the workplace over the years. Recently there have been some “IT disaster” threads at Ars Technica and Reddit which got me thinking about my own disaster stories. Here are four of my favorite. Note that all but the last one come from the same job at a third-party IT company I used to work for.


I was sent to a real estate firm to swap out a failing drive in a RAID 5 array. Thanks to the LEDs on each drive, I quickly spotted the drive I was to replace. I opened the RAID utility on the server to make extra-sure I was replacing the correct drive. The software verified that yes, the drive with the blinking LED is failing. I removed the old drive, put the new drive into the slide, and placed it in the array. The software recognized the new disk and asked if I wanted to rebuild the array. I clicked yes, and for the next 20 seconds or so everything seemed normal. But then the server BSOD’d. When I tried to reboot it I got the dreaded “SYSTEM DISK NOT FOUND” error message.

Come to find out, this server was one of the first my boss built himself after he started his company. For reasons only he knows, he installed Windows 2000 Server on to the RAID 5 array itself. Now this isn’t a “disaster” per se. The RAID software should have been able to rebuild itself without taking down the entire array. But installing an operating system onto a RAID 5 array is just something I’ve never seen done, ever. I’ve only worked with small and medium-sized businesses (SMB). In an SMB environment, you’d typically install Windows Server onto a regular hard drive or possibly a RAID 1 array. You then create the RAID 5 array as a separate disk to store vital data. And you do it this way because the operating system files just aren’t that valuable, and installing Windows on a standard (or RAID 1) drive is significantly less complicated (as a general IT rule, the fewer points of failure or complexity the better). If you have no idea what I’m talking about, imagine installing Windows on a regular hard drive, and putting all your important data on a heavy-duty, “guaranteed to never fail” external hard drive. If the Windows drive dies, it’s no big thing to go to Best Buy, get a new hard drive, reinstall Windows, then reinstall the external drive, right? Same theory, different implementation. And this real estate agency had tried to become as paperless as possible, so everything was on the server… which was now dead.

The icing on the cake was that the owner, an attorney with zero sense of humor but a giant sense of ego, flipped out because… “[my boss at the IT company] told me that we didn’t need backups because of this RAID thing!” I tried explaining that RAID is not a backup, just a way to make hard drives more fault tolerant. But he seemed to be of the opinion that my boss told him otherwise. Which put me in a pickle. Anyone who’s worked in IT knows that you can say one thing, even in as simple English as possible, and clients hear another. So it’s possible that my boss said no such thing, but the client interpreted it as such. On the other hand, I knew my boss would tell clients anything he felt they wanted to hear to make a sale. Perhaps my boss was afraid that the client wouldn’t sign the contract if he added a $1,200 tape drive into the mix. Maybe my boss was planning to sell him some kind of tape or online backup later on. Whatever the case, I had a dead server and a highly pissed off attorney to deal with. And it wasn’t pretty. I took the server back to the office and rebuilt it from scratch – not installing Windows Server on the RAID 5 array this time. My boss claimed to have recovered more that half the data off the old array… but the recovery software only pulled the file names; the actual files themselves were just a bunch of binary gibberish. So the firm started over from scratch.

LESSONS FROM THIS ORDEAL: RAID is not a backup. Don’t lie to clients, and make them understand, no matter what you have to do, what they’re signing up for.

Continue reading “My Favorite IT Disasters!”

RETRO TECH: Microsoft Mira

Poor Microsoft can never seem to get a break. Any time they mimic an existing product (like say, their Zune to Apple’s iPod) critics say they’re just copying someone else’s work. But when they do come up with something cool, no one seems to buy it. That’s exactly the case with Mira, a “Smart Display” device:


Here’s how it worked: the tablet computer ran Microsoft Windows CE for Smart Displays (thankfully shortened to just “Smart Display OS”). It was nearly instant-on, and it would automagically connect to a desktop PC running Windows XP via Remote Desktop. So you could be sitting at your desk working on something and suddenly decide to go sit on the downstairs sofa, or the back deck, or the big comfy bed. You’d bring your Smart Display with you and BOOM! in seconds you have your desktop on the screen, and can continue what you were doing.

While it was a really cool idea – hell, I still like the idea of a Smart Display… imagine a 19″ model with today’s thin hardware that could sit on a stand like a regular monitor until you wanted to leave your desk – the actual implementation of the device left a lot to be desired.

For one thing, the 802.11b Wi-Fi of the day simply wasn’t fast enough to allow wireless videos, and Remote Desktop didn’t have any video optimizations at the time. The touchscreen tech was subpar at the time. The battery life wasn’t nearly as good as a modern iPad or Android tablet. The tablet was as thick and heavy as a notebook, but was useless without a desktop PC to “mate” with. What’s worse, Microsoft desperately wanted vendors to sell them in the $500 range, but devices were introduced at between $1,000 and $1,500… at at time when a decent notebook with far more functionality could be had for $600.

But the funniest thing about the devices was Microsoft’s own licensing issues. Because only Windows XP Professional (or higher) allowed Remote Desktop connections, millions of consumers running Windows XP Home were out of luck. But even if you were lucky enough to run XP Pro, that OS only allowed a single session, meaning that once you connected to your computer with the Smart Display, the desktop would be locked and no one else could use it until you shut down the Smart Display device. And because of XP’s RDP limitations, only one device could connect to a PC at a time. So Mom, Dad, Johnny and Susie couldn’t use their Smart Displays at the same time… unless they had individual computers to connect to.

Of course, Microsoft probably could have fixed the RDP\licensing issues if Smart Displays really took off. But they didn’t. They were released in early 2003 and discontinued in December of that year.

Top 10 Tunes

Here’s my top 10 song chart for the week ending July 15, courtesy of the home office in London:

1) His Name Is Alive – “Blue Moon”
2) Lisa Gerrard – “Largo (from Händel’s Xerxes)”
3) This Mortal Coil – “Mr. Somewhere”
4) Enya – “Caribbean Blue”
5) This Mortal Coil – “You And Your Sister”
6) This Mortal Coil – “The Lacemaker”
7) Brian Eno – “1/1”
8) Brian Eno – “1/2”
9) Brian Eno – “2/2”
10) New Order – “True Faith”

Twitter Weekly Updates for 2012-07-15

Goodbye Old Friend

I first met my girlfriend, the love of my life, back in 1995. But we didn’t start dating until 2002. She lived outside of Charlotte, and I lived outside of Atlanta. We eventually decided to move in together, and since she had a mortgage and my lease was almost up, it only made sense for me to move in with her.

One of the first people I met after I moved to Charlotte was my neighbor. Let’s call him Tom. Tom was in his late 50s, with a head full of white hair and a little beer belly. He almost looked like Santa Claus minus the beard.

Tom and his wife had lived in our townhouse complex since the late 1980s, and Tom knew every little eccentricity the builders indulged themselves when building our townhomes. So I often asked him for advice with home improvement projects, or borrowed some tools from him, since he was the kind of guy who always had the 9/32″ drill bit or handful of #10 deck screws you needed to finish a job. Tom even came over and helped when we had a couple of minor emergencies, like when the upstairs toilet sprung a leak or when the pipe leading out of our hot water heater cracked, spewing water all over the crawlspace. I also remember stopping by his house one time to ask if he knew a good local place to get my kitchen knives sharpened; Tom told me to save my money and did it himself instead, and did a great job.

Because our complex has a huge common back yard, Tom received a fair amount of money from the homeowner’s association each month for cutting the grass. The yard is so big that it would often take him two or three days to cut it all. And since I work from home most days, it drove me insane to hear that lawnmower running all the damn time as I tried to concentrate on creating a batch file, or troubleshooting a wacky IIS server, or figuring out why desktop clients weren’t resolving DNS names correctly.

Continue reading “Goodbye Old Friend”