Sunday, July 31, 2011

Next in Line

Since I started this site last year, I have occasionally played with the "Next Blog" link located in the Navbar at the top of the page. The "Next Blog" link specifically and the Navbar in general seem to be more of the hotly debated features of Blogger. According to the Blogger help page, the "Next Blog" link "takes you to a random, recently-updated Blogger blog." According to other sites, pages linked by "Next Blog" are grouped by common topics. Still others say that the list of other sites linked as "Next Blog" from a specific site is limited and the same sites repeatedly cycle. I have found that to be the case with the "Next Blog" sites linked from my site.

When there was less content on this site, the "Next Blog" pages seemed to be more random. Recently, my site seems to be grouped with mostly beer-related sites, particularly sites of bars of the brewpub-variety and a long list of guys (and a surprising number of ladies) that enjoy beer. (Although I am not religious myself, I am happy to see the Catholic folk are enjoying their beer.) Home brewing is another frequent topic, and more recently, the sites of people who enjoy coffee have been appearing.

As one would expect from the Internet, links can be from far-flung locations. I know a west coast-style brewpub in Brooklyn which I assume is quite similar to these two pubs in the Seattle area. I also know where to find beer in Baltimore. There is a brewpub in Flossmoor, Illinois (it's just south of Chicago), that has its own Mug Club. A few times, the "Next Blog" has been the Local Taphouse Blog which is blog site for two bars in Australia. One of the pubs is in St. Kilda, Victoria, which is a suburb Melbourne. The other is in Darlinghurst, New South Wales, which is a suburb of Sydney. I have never been to Australia, but when I get around to visiting that fine country, at least I will know a couple of places where I can stop for a beer.

Some unrelated sites do appear as the "Next Blog". There is one repeated site that would seem to be either about beer or coffee based on the word "brew" in its title but actually seems to only focus on electronics. Another site is by a guy who enjoys tattoos and cycling. The only thing that he and I seem to have in common is that we have both visited Oregon and Colorado, although for completely different reasons (outdoor sports for him, friends, family and beer for me). This guy also like bicycles, but he is also into beer.

I will end my little tour of "Next Blog" sites with a visit to this site by a Gonzo journalist.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Random Coffee Post

I have been running low on K-Cups. Yesterday, I ventured to the store, and I bought some KahlĂșa-flavored coffee from Timothy's Coffee. Unfortunately, the coffee is non-alcoholic, or fortunate since I do have to go to work this morning.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Proposals for Baseball

While my proposal for renovating the NFL is currently up to four parts with a few more thoughts in the pipeline, I also have a few ideas about reorganizing Major League Baseball. This is appropriate because MLB is currently considering some form of realignment. That change would most likely be small with only one National League team, possibly the Houston Astros or Florida (soon to be Miami) Marlins, moving to the American League.
Team Salaries

There is one major difference that separates baseball from the three other major professional team sports, and that is the salary structure of the players. The NFL, NBA and NHL all have salary caps and floors which place limits around how much teams pay their players. MLB teams, however, have no such restrictions and are free to spend as much or as little on player salaries as they feel appropriate. Instead of a salary cap, Major League Baseball has a luxury tax which affects the decisions of teams in regards to salary but does not include firm upper or lower limits.

Here is a ranking of the thirty MLB teams in terms of average salary over the last three years. I pulled these numbers from the sports section of USA Today (2010, 2009, and 2008). My primary thought is to divide the teams into two tiers based on average total salaries. Of course, there could be some exceptions to factor in team performance and avoid breaking up longstanding rivalries. Please note that because teams are not required to funnel a fixed percentage of revenue into player salaries, my proposals focus on total player salary and ignores actual revenues for the teams.

In regards to the number of teams in each tier and the number of divisions in each tier, the most obvious solution is to have fifteen teams in each tier with each tier being split into three five-team divisions. I will leave the fleshing out of that proposal as an exercise for the reader. Instead, I will focus on two even more radical configurations, each including five six-team divisions. I will refer to these two proposals as the bottom-heavy configuration which has two upper-tier and three lower-tier divisions and the top-heavy configuration which has three upper-tier and two lower-tier divisions. In both cases, eight teams would make the playoffs.

Bottom Heavy Configuration

Upper Tier with Two Divisions

My first proposal is a configuration that has more teams in the lower tier. The top tier would contain the twelve teams with the highest average salaries. Those teams would be assigned to eastern and western divisions. The remaining 18 teams would be in the lower tier and be split into three divisions, West, Central and East. Here are how the divisions would look based on the salaries listed in the chart above.

Lower Tier with Three Divisions
Four teams from each tier would make the playoffs. For the upper tier, the regular season-winner of each division would play the second-place team from the opposite division with the first-place team having home-field advantage. The winners of the two first-round series would play in the upper tier championship series. If the two teams are both first-place or second-place teams, the team with the best regular-season record would have home-field advantage. The lower tier would follow the current playoff format with the team finishing second in its division and having the best regular-season record making the playoffs as the wild card along with the three division winners. Here is an example of a playoff format.
Bottom Heavy Playoffs

Top Heavy Configuration

Upper Tier with Three Divisions

In the top-heavy configuration, the 18 teams with the average highest salaries would be in the upper tier and be divided into three six-team divisions, East, Central and West. The 12 teams with the lowest salaries would be in the two lower-tier divisions, East and West.
Lower Tier with Two Divisions

Six teams from the upper tier and two teams from the lower tier would make the playoffs. In the first round, the winners of the two lower-tier divisions would meet in the lower-tier championship series. The team with the best regular-season record would have home-field advantage. The top two teams from each of the upper-tier divisions would make the playoffs. The division winners would be the top seeds and have home-field advantage. After the first round, teams would be reseeded to give preference to division winners and teams with better records. Here is an example of a playoff format.
Top Heavy Playoffs

It is interesting to note that in this format, there would normally not be a separate upper-tier championship series. When two upper-tier teams meet in the World Series, that series would also double as the upper-tier championship. When a lower-tier team makes the World Series, their opponent would be the remaining upper-tier team which would be the upper-tier champion by default. The only time there would be a separate upper-series championship series is when a lower-tier team defeats their upper-tier opponent in the second-round before the other second-round series is completed. In that case, the other series would then become the upper-tier championship series.

Anticipating Criticism

It should be easy to anticipate criticism against these two proposals. I think the primary criticism will be that teams with higher player payrolls are clearly favored in regards to available playoffs spots. For the top-heavy configuration, six out of the 18 upper-tier teams make the playoffs which is one third (33.3%). Two of the 12 lower-tier teams go to the postseason which is only one sixth (16.7%). The bottom-heavy proposal is slightly better with four of the 12 upper-tier teams (33.3%) and four of the 18 lower-tier teams (22.2%) making the playoffs. However, the current alignment is already unbalanced with four of the 14 American League teams (28.6%) and four of the 16 National League teams (25.0%) making the postseason. Since the American League has fewer teams, those teams have a better chance of making the playoffs. The inequality is magnified when comparing the National League Central Division with six teams to the American League West Division with only four.

I feel the uneven nature of my proposals would serve as motivation to teams. In a future post, I will discuss the process by which teams could transition between tiers. This will be similar to the process of promotion and relegation used by soccer leagues. Teams in the lower tier would be motivated to move into upper tier while teams in the upper tier would be motivated to maintain their advantage by remaining in their current spot.

Another criticism will be that traditional rivalries, such as Yankees-Red Sox, Cubs-Cardinals, and Dodgers-Giants, could be affected by these proposals. In a future post, I will discuss tweaking my proposal to protect existing rivalries and possibly promote new geography-based rivalries such as Orioles-Nationals, Rays-Marlins, and Astros-Rangers.

I will also try to outline how the regular-season schedule would be laid out in a future post. By the way, I personally prefer the bottom-heavy configuration primarily due to its simpler playoff format. I will be focusing on that proposal going forward.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Review: Jump Gate Twist

Jump Gate Twist
Jump Gate Twist by Mark L. Van Name

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Full disclosure, I have met the author, Mark Van Name, in a professional setting. The company with which I am employed has a working relationship with his company, Principled Technologies. I received a copy of Jump Gate Twist as a gift after meeting with him and the company's other founder, Bill Catchings. Prior to our meeting, I had no knowledge of Mr. Van Name, and prior to receiving this book, I was not aware that he was a published science-fiction author. My copy of the book is signed by the author and has a nice sticker on the inside front cover with my name. I would like to thank Mark and Principled Technologies for the gift. That being stated, I had no expectations for the book. I was a huge fan of science fiction when I was younger, but as I have grown older, my tastes have ventured into other areas, currently spy fiction, particularly James Bond novels, and hardboiled crime fiction.

The book is compilation of two novels and two short stories plus additional tidbits from the author. The main protagonist is Jon Moore who was mentally challenged as child due to some unique properties of his home planet. Jon's first change is the subject of the first short story, "My Sister, My Self." His enhancement was done by his sister with healing powers that were the result of the same properties of their world. At some later point, Jon's body is further enhanced with nanotechnology as part of a corporate experiment which eventually goes awry and possibly makes his home world uninhabitable. That topic is only covered piecemeal in various flashbacks throughout the two novels. Returning to his home planet and finding his lost sister are Jon's overall goals in the series which currently includes four novels.

In the first novel, One Jump Ahead, Jon finds an intelligent attack vehicle named Lobo which has been left as a monument in a city square on a far outpost world. Lobo has its (or "his" since Jon comes to refer to Lobo in the masculine) own back-story in which he was damaged in battle. Through some negotiation, Jon is able to acquire Lobo from the head of the planet for services rendered. He is later able to have the damaged ship repaired. The main plot of the novel is the rescue of a kidnapped girl that comes to involve a couple of competing megacorporations and a less-than-forthright arms dealer.

The second novel, Slanted Jack, has even more twists and turns than the first. The Jack from the title is an accomplished con man who reappears from Jon's past. Jon agrees to help with protecting a gifted boy whose family originated from Jon's lost home world. After the initial plan falls apart, Jon has to run an intricate triple con that involves a mobster, a group of religious fanatics with a stash of weapons, and the local government who wants to catch both. The boy and Jon's not-quite-friend Jack serve as bait in the scheme.

Finally, the second short story, "Lobo, Actually," focuses only on Lobo and takes place during his period of downtime in the city square. It is a Christmas story that explores some interesting thoughts on religion and deity. The story is also interesting in that it is told from Lobo's point of view and not that of a human.

Overall, I found Jump Gate Twist to be a solid example of space opera, and I mean that in a positive sense. With tons of action and continually unfolding plot twists, Jon Moore very much reminds me of a futuristic James Bond.

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