2019 Prognostication

Once again, it’s time for me to peer into the future, using Science! and Mathematics! to predict the results of the MLB pennant chases and playoffs. As I did last year, I’m combining the two predictions into a single post, because it just works out better that way.

To refresh your memories, the playoff teams are those with the largest margin of victory in their first games, and the playoff predictions are based on the teams’ run differential over the first week of the season.

Unlike last year, when two games were rescheduled, all of the Opening Day games were played. Hooray for a cooperative Mother Nature! The gotcha–there’s always some complication–is that darn overseas “Opening Series” between the Mariners and Athletics. As I said a couple of weeks ago, I find it difficult to accept those games as part of the regular season. The conditions are just too different from the other 160 those teams will play. And, let’s be honest here, I don’t want to have to account for the fact that the Ms and the As didn’t play each other on the real Opening Day. I can’t figure out a way to handle that without doing at least one of the four teams involved a serious misjustice. So as far as my predictions go, March 20 and 21 Didn’t Happen.

Once again, the American League team won the World Series; consequently, they’ll be leading off.

  • East – Regrettably, there’s no competition here. By virtue of their status as the only team to win their first game, the Yankees will be the AL East champions.
  • Central – What a mess. Three of the five teams won their games by a two run margin. Even worse, two of those three games finished 2-0. My devout thanks to the Royals for scoring five runs and breaking the tie. They’ll be this year’s AL Central winners.
  • West – Would you believe it’s the Mariners? The team widely predicted to finish dead last in the division? Can’t argue with their 12-4 pounding of the World Champs, though. The numbers say this is the year the Mariners break their playoff drought.
  • Wild Cards – We’ve got another tie here. The Astros and As both racked up victories by four runs, they’ll be our AL Wild Card teams. Houston wins the tie-breaker, five runs to Oakland’s four, so they’ll get the home field advantage in the Wild Card Game.

Turning our attention to the National League, matters are much less complicated.

  • East – The Phillies 10-4 victory is the weakest of any of the NL division winners, but any Philadelphia fan will cheerfully assure you that the important thing is to make the playoffs.
  • Central – Cubs fans, on the other hand, will point to their +8 run differential and loudly proclaim themselves to be the class of the league.
  • West – And the Dodgers’ fans will tie their brains in knots trying to figure out a way to justify claiming a +7 result is better than a +8. Good luck with that.
  • Wild Cards – The Rockies fans will breathe a sigh of relief at learning their three run victory on Opening Day earns them the first NL Wild Card slot. The Mets, Reds, and Padres provide the NL’s only real playoff drama, all claiming two run victories. As in the AL Central, two of the games finished 2-0, allowing the Reds to grab the second Wild Card by virtue of a 5-3 Opening Day victory.

There you have it. Get your bets down now, seeing as how sports betting is no longer a federal crime.

Parenthetically, our long-suffering (last year must have felt like at least three seasons) friends in Baltimore may get some relief this year. While the Orioles lost their first game, and their run differential is currently negative one, they’ve still managed to put together a 4-2 record. Keep that up all season, and they’ll finish with 108 wins. Not good enough for the playoffs, unfortunately, but still a nice turnaround from last year’s dismal 47-115 record.

Oh, you want to get a World Series bet down as well? No problem.

Here’s the information for our ten playoff teams after a week of play. Again, the Mariners’ two games in Japan are not included.

Won/Loss

Run Differential

Yankees

2-4

20-20 (0)
Royals

2-3

26-27 (-1)
Mariners

5-1

42-28 (+14)
Astros

2-5

15-22 (-7)
Athletics

5-3

31-23 (+8)

Won/Loss

Run Differential

Phillies

4-1

39-22 (+17)
Cubs

1-4

32-37 (-5)
Dodgers

5-2

55-34 (+21)
Rockies

3-4

17-25 (-8)
Padres

4-3

23-24 (-1)

Clearly, the Mariners will have no problem making it to their first ever World Series. The As will beat the Astros, then be eliminated by the Mariners. The Yankees’ offensive/defensive equivalence will get them past the Royals, but be no match for the Mariners.

Meanwhile, the Dodgers will stroll past the Wild Card winning Padres. The Phillies won’t even break a sweat when they face the Cubs, but will go down to a hard fought defeat against LA.

So both World Series teams will be from the West Coast. Nevertheless, their fans will miss the beginnings of every game of the series, as MLB will insist on 5pm starts, ensuring empty seats and unwatched televisions until everyone gets through the rush hour traffic, along about the third inning.

That said, the imbalance in the teams’ run differentials suggests we won’t be getting a full suite of seven games. The Dodgers should win three of the first five, and wrap up the title in Game Six.

Disappointing for the Mariners, certainly, but greed is bad. Breaking the longest current playoff drought, making the World Series for the first time, and winning the Series in the same year? Definitely a bit too grabby.

There you go. Good luck in Vegas.

Still the Best of Friends

Five years and eleven months ago, I wrote about how, two years before, we had become a five cat household, blowing right through all sensible limits regarding proper human to feline ratios.

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Yuki and Watanuki, I said then, had been hanging out together at the shelter, and it seemed far too great a sin to break up such a promising friendship. Now, here we are, more than eight years after the Ookis graced us with their presence in our lives, and they’re still great friends.

To the extent that ‘Nuki has friends, anyway. But leave his thuggery for another day.

They can often, as you see here, be found hanging out on the bed together.

They share common interests. Home security (“Ooki Brothers’ Security is on the case!”). Treats. Drooling.

Mutual grooming is far from unheard of.

And they have similar reactions to being photographed. “You get one shot. After that, I’m going to shift to a less photogenic pose.”

So it was an exciting day when I not only got the shot of the two of them sharing out the pillows, but even persuaded them to hold still long enough to get individual images.

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Mr. Floof isn’t actually gazing into your soul. I don’t think so, anyway. More likely, he’s assessing the odds that you’ve got a cat treat in your pocket.

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Mr. Knuckles, on the other paw, is definitely sizing up your soul and finding it lacking. He’s not using his eyes, though. Those whiskers of his are multipurpose implements whose utility goes far beyond mundane navigation. They weigh souls, field dress prey, and tune in FM radio.

State of the Fourth Estate 07

And here we are again. Tradition must be honored, and since the tradition is that the “State of the Fourth Estate” post shall be late…This is, by the by, a tradition I find it annoyingly easy to follow–which is why one should always consider the ramifications before establishing a tradition.

(All mutterings about not quitting day jobs will be cheerfully ignored. But remember kids: don’t try this at home.)

Anyway.

My thousandth blog post has come and gone. Contrary to what I predicted last March, it wasn’t greeted with celebration, modest or otherwise. The truth is, I didn’t even notice. But let’s be honest: my ramblings about Microsoft’s semi-nefarious designs on your hard drive space probably aren’t on anyone’s list of their favorite blog posts. I enjoyed writing it, which is the main point–this blog is where I try out ideas and techniques as well as give myself a break from the novels that get most of my writing time–and I think it turned out well. But I’d be the first to admit it’s not champagne-worthy.

This post is Number 1031. Assuming I average around 500 words per post, that means the blog has about six novels’ worth of prose. Or, allowing for multiple drafts, one readable novel. I think I’ll halt that line of speculation before it goes downhill.

Speaking of novels, in a break with tradition, I don’t have one in beta at the moment. Like Herding Cats is finished and is making the rounds of agents*. The next book, Demirep, is about halfway through the second draft.

* Though, as readers of my newsletter can tell you–but why should they, when you can subscribe to it yourself–my querying is currently on hold while I rework the query letter.

Of course, the biggest news of the year was about my acquisition of a new day job. To answer the obvious question first, yes, it does mean that work on Demirep is going more slowly than before I started dividing my attention.

On the other hand, the rewriting is going faster than it would if we had run out of money for Kitty Krunchiez and I was trying to write while fending off small, fuzzy carnivores with designs on my fingers.

Life’s a series of trade-offs that way.

And–insert usual disclaimer about unexpected events here–Demirep should still be ready for beta readers in a few months. Editors and agents aren’t the only ones responsible for the notoriously slow nature of the publishing industry. Fair’s fair.

As usual, once Demirep goes out to beta readers, I’ll be starting a new project. I don’t know what it’ll be. As usual, my ideas folder has several promising entries. Whichever one does the best job of grabbing my attention when the time comes will get the nod.

That’s one of the joys of not having signed a contract for a series. Mind you, I’d love to experience the joys of having a series contract, but one thing at a time.

And right now, that one thing is Writing Year Seven.

Onward!

Right on the Edge

There is one small fringe benefit to the Mariners having gone to Japan for that pseudo-Opening Day.

In a normal preseason, Seattle plays San Diego about five hundred times. Okay, maybe that’s a slight exaggeration. While it feels like five hundred, the actual number is closer to four hundred.

Anyway, the over-Padreization is due to a combination of factors. Most importantly, the Mariners and Padres share a training facility, so it’s convenient for them to play each other. And then there’s MLB’s late, unlamented effort to force every team into a “natural*” rivalry with a team in the other league.

* The problem, of course, is that not everyone has a natural rival. Prior to Houston switching from the NL to the AL, they were an obvious rival for the Rangers. Similarly, Angels versus Dodgers and Giants versus Athletics made perfect sense. Seattle got stuck with San Diego because they were the Wests’ leftovers. After Houston moved, it got even worse. Houston got saddled with the Arizona Diamondbacks, and the Seattle and Texas shared the Padres and the Colorado Rockies. Thankfully, MLB has mostly abandoned the whole concept.

But I digress.

Thanks to the Japanese excursion, the Padres and Mariners only play three preseason games this year–more like two and three-quarters, actually, since the March 5 game was a split-squad matchup* for San Diego.

* A split-squad game is where half the team plays in one game and half in another. This is often done in the early stages of Spring Training when a large chunk of the minor league players are still in camp. The idea is to give them a chance to show what they can do in something that resembles a real game without shorting the playing time of the guys who are either already slotted for the big league club or in competition for a spot.

The Mariners tied the split-squad game, lost resoundingly last night, and will play again this afternoon with a chance to finish the preseason 1-1-1 against their unnatural rivals. Tomorrow will be an day off for everyone, and then the season starts for real on Thursday.

Nobody puts in much effort in the last preseason game. The roster is largely set and getting hurt right before the season starts would be awful, personally and professionally. So everyone gets a little in-game action, goes at about three-quarters of their ability, and calls it a day. It’s generally a relaxed affair, and–benefits to the players aside–a good way for the fans to wrap up their own Spring Training.

None of which is to say that the last few games are devoid of excitement, good and bad. Boston pitcher Rick Porcello took a line drive off the side of his head yesterday. Fortunately, he wasn’t seriously injured–I presume he’s been getting follow-up medical exams since he came out of the game, though the news media aren’t saying anything about it–but it’s not the way anybody wants to wrap up their preparations for the season.

While the Mariners and Padres are facing off for the third time, the Red Sox and Cubs will be playing for the second time this year. Wednesday’s off day will be a travel day for both: the Cubs will start the season in Texas and the Red Sox–with Rick Porcello–are heading cross-country to Seattle.

Regrettably, I won’t be able to watch the real Opening Day festivities this year. I’ll be at work when the Mariners and Red Sox take the field. Oddly, my request to take the day off as a religious holiday was denied*. But I can listen to the middle innings on my way home and watch the end of the game. Hopefully the Ms can stretch their lead over the rest of the AL West.

* No, not really. But I did consider asking.

(Guess what: it’s still early enough for everyone to be optimistic. Yes, even fans of the basement-dwelling Oakland As.)

See y’all at the park.

For the Fancier

By my count, we’ve had three straight weeks of the Fabulous Formerly Feral Felines, so it’s time to give some attention to the rest of the gang again.

Unfortunately, feline cuteness and/or silliness have been in short supply lately. Or maybe I’ve just been oblivious to it. Either way, my supply of photos is a little light at the moment.

I do have this charming shot of Watanuki.
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Note the corner of the blanket neatly folded across his abdomen. He’s always been a burrower, and we take great care in checking any lumps in the blankets when we come into the bedroom.

Lately, he hasn’t been digging deep under the covers–perhaps a sign of warmer weather approaching. Instead, we find scenes like the one above, or on days when the temperature drops again, something more like:
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Devoted students of the toe bean are welcome to requests higher resolution images.

Yes, that is a bit of his leg visible toward the left of the picture, but it didn’t stay in sight long. Shortly after I took the shot, ‘Nuki twitched the covers down over his leg.

We still don’t know what the purpose of the exposed paw was. It might have been a form of temperature regulation or, since this is ‘Nuki–who’s forever leaving body parts lying around–it could just as easily have been an oversight or an artistic statement.

Too Soon?

The season has started. At least, that’s what MLB is saying. I’m having trouble believing them.

Not in a “The Mariners have the best record in baseball‽” way. (The complementary observation that “The As have the worst record in baseball!” has to be pleasant for fans of the Orioles and Royals: they now know it’ll be at least another week before their teams fall into the AL basement.*) Nor does it have anything to do with the games having been played in Japan in a stadium few of the players know. It doesn’t even have anything to do with my inability to watch those two games** because they’re played in the middle of the night***.

* Actually, since the MLB scoreboard sorts teams with the same record alphabetically by location, Baltimore is currently on top in the AL East. Not bad for a team that finished last year with a historically bad record. May this be a sign of things to come.)

** To be strictly accurate, I did manage to catch the radio broadcast of the last inning of the second game. Twelve innings stretched the game just long enough for me to hear the Ms break the tie.

*** Yeah, there’s a bit of East Coast envy happening. A 5:30 AM game would be a little easier to deal with than 2:30 AM.

I don’t get to watch the first few Mariners games in most seasons. For reasons known only to MLB’s schedulers, the As and Mariners often open the season against each other. Since I’m in the As’ broadcast territory, the games are blacked out on MLB.TV. Sure, I could watch the local broadcast on real TV, but how awkward and uncomfortable would that be, especially if the Mariners lost? So I content myself with radio–which isn’t blacked out–and wait for the second series of the year.

But I digress.

The truth is, an overseas Opening Series is just Too Damn Early.

There’s a rhythm to the seasons, whether you’re talking Earth-around-the-Sun or baseball. Shifting a few days, as has been done recently to keep the playoffs from running into November, is a little uncomfortable, but no worse than switching from Daylight Savings Time to Standard Time. You feel disoriented for a few hours–a day at most–but then your brain and body catch up.

But this year, MLB is trying to convince us that two games played a week and a half early are real. That’s more like a serious case of jet lag. The kind you get flying from, say, Arizona to Japan. It takes several days to get yourself back in sync with the rest of the world.

It’s nice that MLB wants to give us an opportunity to see what things are like from the players’ perspective. I suppose handing out VR headsets with a batter’s-perspective video of an Aroldis Chapman sinker* with every MLB.TV subscription would be prohibitively expensive.

* Or, to be fair, a pitcher’s perspective video of a Giancarlo Stanton comeback line drive.

It’s a well-known fact that some players need a longer spring training than others. Position players are generally ready before pitchers, even though the latter report to camp first.

But it’s also true that fans need a certain amount of time to be season-ready. We need to fine-tune our attention. Toughen up our throats and palms for maximum volume cheers and boos. And yes, even get a sufficient look at the minor league players who won’t be making the majors this year, but might feature prominently in our “Wait’ll next year!” fantasies.

So we’re a bit off center. Maybe next year MLB will give us that week and hold off the games that count until the last week of March or the first week of April.

As for this year, it’s okay to acknowledge that you’re not quite ready. Remember, there are millions of us in the same position.

Close your eyes, picture an outfield filled with summer sunlight. Think late September, a one game division lead, and the shade of Ernie Banks saying “It’s a beautiful day for a ballgame…Let’s play two!”

That’s the goal. We’ll get there.

Oopsie!

Oof. Just, like, wow, man.

Sorry. I don’t get a chance to talk about the theory and practice of QA very often, so when an opportunity like this comes along, it’s a bit overwhelming.

According to the Transbay Joint Powers Authority, four different groups of inspectors missed the construction goof that caused the Transbay Terminal closure. Four!

Granted, my QA background is in software, but I can’t imagine that construction is greatly different, at least in terms of the methodology. The basic idea is that QA sits down with the specifications–ideally, QA is involved in the process of creating the plans, helping to root out ambiguities and spot danger points early, but I’m trying to keep this simple–and produces a plan.

The plan describes what QA will test and how they’ll test it. The level of detail varies, but the intent is that it covers all the different types of tests in language that non-QA people can understand. QA then designs the specific tests, executes them, logs bugs (defects, places where the product doesn’t match the design), and eventually produces a final summary that describes what was actually tested, summarizes all the bugs, and documents any changes between the test plan and what was actually done.

Naturally, I’ve massively simplified this process. In the real world, many of the steps will be executed in parallel. There’s buy-in at multiple points in the process. Each test is documented: when it was run, who ran it, and what the results are.*

* In the software world, QA kills a lot of trees. I imagine it’s even worse in the physical world.

None of which explains how three separate groups–the outfit that made the beams, the company that installed them, and the general contractor who oversaw the whole process–apparently failed to confirm that the beams had been properly installed. Specifically, that holes cut in the beams had been ground down to prevent exactly the sort of cracks that developed over Fremont Street.

I have to wonder whether it was a planning failure–nobody said “Hey, we’ll test the welding access holes,” and none of the parties involved noticed the omission–or a failure to execute planned tests.

It’s worth noting that the holes in the First Street beam were cut differently, so that grinding wasn’t necessary. Why didn’t anyone notice the discrepancy? Was the change by design or error?

I’m less bothered by the failure of the fourth group involved. According to the Chron, a separate company did spot inspections. On the one hand, they specialize in QA. On the other hand, spot inspections will miss things. That’s part of the definition. They’re designed to give you a big picture; in the software world, you might do a spot check–a small fraction of your tests–to confirm whether a new module is ready for the full test. If, say, five percent of your tests (chosen to hit the areas of highest risk) show a lot of bugs, you’ll probably send the module back to development and say “try again.”

In this case, the Transbay Joint Powers Authority wanted checks to be sure the proper process was being followed. So, whether the tests were planned but not run, or never planned in the first place, it’s easy to see how the omission could have slipped through the cracks (sorry) of the spot check.

Anyone got an inside view of the TJPA? I’d love to know where the fault actually lies.

Scandalous

I’ll admit to some surprise over how much press the college university scandal is getting. It’s proving to be a remarkable distraction from whatever it is our darling president is up to today. And have you noticed that he’s been unusually silent about the subject? Sure, his usual crew of proxies, including DTJr, have been all over it, but as far as I can tell, he’s kept his own Twitter fingers out of the fuss.

Maybe he thinks the dignity of his former position as proprietor of a pay-for-play education institution would be compromised by taking sides on the issue.

Never mind.

Anyway, I really am surprised about the amount of attention being paid to the story. Is anyone actually surprised that the rich have a perk denied to the rest of population?

Is it because of the high public profile of some of the accused? Everyone loves a good scandal involving well-known actresses*, right? Or is it only because of the rather staggering quantities of money involved. Twenty-five million is a significant sum of money. On the other hand, annual tuition at Stanford is currently around $50,000. Add in living expenses, materials, and all of the other expenses of going to school, and you realize that $25,000,000 wouldn’t even cover the costs of a four year degree for all of the students involved.

* I have to wonder if there would be as much gloating and finger pointing if the big Hollywood names were men. But I digress.

And, speaking of the students… The Chron quotes US attorney Andrew Lelling as saying “For every student admitted through fraud, an honest, genuinely talented student was rejected.” That’s arguable, but if the goal of the investigation is to seek redress for those rejected students, why are all of those fraudulently admitted still attending their schools?

Granted, most schools probably don’t have a ranked list of candidates, and even if they did, it’s far too late to offer a slot to the top few who just missed the cut because their slots had been filled via fraud. But it would free up spaces that could be added to the available pool for next year.

Come to think of it, the goal of the parents involved was to get their kids into those colleges. Even if they’re eventually convicted of crimes, the punishment is going to be in the form of fines and jail time. The children are still going to be in school, benefiting from their parents’ misdeeds. And if someone was willing and able to pay half a million bucks to get their child into an Ivy League school, are they really going to quibble about a few thousand dollars more to satisfy the justice system?

Really, though, the most vexing thing about the scandal is that the schools themselves are unlikely to see any repercussions. A few employees have been fired and more probably will. It’s vaguely possible that the universities will be fined, but even if they are, they’ll likely be a tiny fraction of their operating budgets–but a great excuse to raise tuition. Maybe the NCAA will sanction a few sports programs–but who’s going to notice a loss of scholarships or forced forfeits in sailing and other minor sports?

What’s not going to be affected is the schools’ collective reputation. None of this year’s high school seniors are going to withdraw their applications. Nobody’s going to miss out on a post-graduation job because their diploma comes from one of those schools.

That, IMNSHO, is the real scandal.