Page Three

Chris Ballard on Pop-A-Shot


I have witnessed some unlikely sights in my day, but this was surreal. There on TV was Kobe Bryant, perhaps the most competitive man alive, losing a shooting contest. Not just losing, either, but getting his ass kicked. By a short, bald, middle-aged busboy.

Jan. 5, 2011 basketball sports

LOTR Unleashed

One of my sisters is a huge Lord of the Rings nerd. (It’s not as bad as it used to be, though; you should have seen her room in high school.) I’m just a casual fan of the series. So, as a gag gift for Christmas, I recorded an audiobook of Fellowship’s first chapter. Preceding the book were a few goofy trailers, which elicited both chuckles and horrified looks. A success! Here’s one:

LOTR Unleashed:

Jan. 5, 2011 audio humor lotr

Bob Feller

Rest in peace, Bob, and thanks for putting up with a gawky kid reporting for his high school newspaper. That Echo story is buried in a closet somewhere, but here’s my Cub Town writeup from January 2007:

I had the pleasure of attending the 10th annual Opportunity Through Baseball Charity Dinner and Auction on Sunday night. The event is run by Robin Renner, Varsity baseball coach at Neuqua Valley High School, to fund his week-long summer camp for underprivileged youth in East Aurora. The camp is a spin-off of the nationwide Opportunity Through Baseball summer camp in Denver.

As I happen to know Robin, I was able to talk with one of the evening’s guest speakers, Hall of Fame pitcher Bob Feller.

Feller, far from feeble in mind or body at 88 years old, is quite an interesting fellow. Unwavering in his opinions on everything from baseball to politics (he later went on an anti-Iraq tirade during his talk), Feller exemplifies an old-time ballplayer, or even simply an old man: full of memory, pride, and, at times, disdain for what the game has become.

Pitch counts, five-man rotations, and a bullpen with designated relievers have all become standard practices since he left the game, Feller said. Lost today is the art of the complete game. “Back then, we paced ourselves,” he said. “Half of the kids today don’t even know what that means, to save up a bit extra for the 8th or 9th inning and the toughest hitters.”

When I asked him about the Veterans Committee, of which he is a member, Feller said, “We’re trying to get some veterans in,” in contrast to the perception that the Committee has no interest in voting in new members.

When I brought up Ron Santo’s name, Feller retorted, “I think Riggs Stephenson has a much better chance of getting in than Ron Santo. Ron Santo is borderline, and he may make it. I predicted it and hope he does. … I have put his name on my list … I hope he can make it, and I hope Riggs Stephenson makes it, as well as Lefty O’Doul and two or three others.”

Feller continued: “We’re going to find out in a few days who makes it, and I think we’re going to lower the standards, and when we lower the standards, I think [Ron] will have a better chance.”

Dec. 21, 2010 baseball cubs sports


Thibaut Sailly:

This article is for the curious among you as it details the ideas and choices gone into the conception and the process used to get Bureau on its feet, back in september.

Great piece on some great design work.

Dec. 15, 2010 design webdev

Ellen Sirot, Hand Supermodel

That is one creepy lady.

Exhibit two.

Dec. 8, 2010 videos


Read the stories of early space exploration from the original NASA transcripts.

Brilliant idea and execution. (Via Jeremy Keith.)

Nov. 30, 2010 NASA space

Animated Films for Grown-Ups

Preach it, Mr. Baldwin, preach it.

Nov. 29, 2010 animation movies

The James Franco Project

Sam Anderson:

James Franco will not stop bouncing around.

Nice profile. He was great in 127 Hours.

Nov. 23, 2010 jamesfranco movies profiles

Steve, Don’t Eat It!

I’ll never complain about cafeteria food again.

Nov. 23, 2010 food

Miami Heat Lose Again, Fall to 8-6

A bad loss at home to the Pacers. Eat it, Van Gundy.

Scott Raab’s next dispatch should be good.

Nov. 22, 2010 basketball sports

Growing Up Digital, Wired for Distraction

Matt Richtel, for the New York Times:

On the eve of a pivotal academic year in Vishal Singh’s life, he faces a stark choice on his bedroom desk: book or computer?

The problem: Most people don’t like being challenged in an area of non-interest, even if the struggle and new perspectives are good for them. That’s why Vishal can spend eight hours, almost entirely uninterrupted, editing videos, but can’t be bothered to write a short economics essay.

Someone has to moderate. The rule in my house on school nights was homework first. It had to be done before I could watch TV or play a computer game, and someone could kick me off the PC if he or she needed the machine. The result: my siblings and I got good grades and still had plenty of time for fun. But giving kids unlimited access to distractions—regardless of the medium—has always been a bad idea. They won’t learn self-moderation unless someone teaches them, and they’ll never see that what gratifies in the short term so often has little value in the end.

Nov. 21, 2010 education


I’ve got the heat blasting as I try to warm myself. Before the sun set, the day was crisp but not too cold; afterward, I shivered often. Or maybe it was shuddering. I could have used a stiff drink, and not just to keep warm.

Illinois soundly beat Northwestern today behind a mind-boggling 519 rushing yards, including 330 (!) from Mikel LeShoure alone. NU could not stop the run, from the very start, and the Illini never stopped running—they threw 14 times for just 40 yards. Everyone knew what was coming, but it made no difference. Pathetic.

Dan Persa, out for the season, was sorely missed. His replacement, redshirt freshman Evan Watkins, played about as well as I’d hoped. He made the inevitable miscues, and his nerves got to him at times, but it could have been worse. The defense cost the ‘Cats the game, not Watkins.

I had seen the pictures of the Wrigley Field makeover, but only when you see the field in person do you really feel the weirdness. Wrigley hadn’t hosted football in 40 years, and seeing a big white rectangle wedged inside the diamond felt so very wrong. In my bleacher seat behind the east end zone, I sat stunned for a while. The goal post jutting out of the wall twenty feet to my left and the ushers dressed in Cubs garb made my brain misfire even more.

The setup grows on you, though. Wrigley’s still Wrigley. A couple of obnoxious girls seated behind me complained about the lack of a video screen—“How am I supposed to see what’s happening?” they said while the players stood so close they’d respond if you called their names—but Wrigley doesn’t need one. It demands your attention like few other parks; give it, and you won’t miss a thing. It’s a shame that many people choose to experience the world through screens when the magnificence of the real is right in front of them.

A few miscellaneous notes:

Nov. 20, 2010 football northwestern slicedlife sports

Wrigleyville Classic

Northwestern hosts Illinois tomorrow in the first football game at Wrigley since 1970.

I’ll be there, of course. NU at my favorite ballpark in the world? No way I’d miss it.

Nov. 19, 2010 football northwestern sports


Jonathan Harris:

One photo a day, beginning on my 30th birthday.

He’s been at it for more than a year now. The photos are always stunning, but the writing is even better.

Update: And, of course, he shuttered the project just a few days after this was posted. Go forth to the archive!

Nov. 8, 2010 photography storytelling


An instant xkcd classic.

Oct. 26, 2010 humor

All Programs Considered

Bill McKibben:

About one in ten Americans tune in to public radio each week; if you landed in a spaceship someplace in America searching for thoughtful and nonpartisan culture, your first stop would be the public radio stations that usually show up below 92 on the FM dial. […]

And yet very little gets written about public radio.

(via @walter_biggins)

Oct. 22, 2010 radio

How to Have an Idea

A semi-sort of comic by Frank Chimero.

Oct. 18, 2010 creativity ideas

Kindle Singles

Today, Amazon is announcing that it will launch “Kindle Singles”—Kindle books that are twice the length of a New Yorker feature or as much as a few chapters of a typical book.

Love it. Great opportunities here, especially for long-form journalism. With digital text, there’s no need to shoehorn stories into legacy categories. That’s no excuse to eschew editing—a tighter story is always a better one, in ink or pixels—but it does allow for richer pieces: what would have been a stretched-thin book condenses into a powerful long read; a magazine narrative, begging for twice the words, develops fully.

I haven’t read The Accidental Billionaires, but Orson Scott Card did:

Mezrich faced a nearly insurmountable difficulty in writing the story of the founding of Facebook. After all his research, he had about fifty pages worth of story, and that’s not long enough for a book.

But it is long enough for a Single.

Oct. 12, 2010 ebooks kindle publishing


Sundry tales of awesome adventure by Joshua Allen.

Oct. 11, 2010 storytelling

Hunter S. Thompson’s Vancouver Sun Application

From 1958:

And don’t think that my arrogance is unintentional: it’s just that I’d rather offend you now than after I started working for you.

One of my favorite writers.

Oct. 2, 2010 huntersthompson journalism writing

Narrative and the Social Web

Narratives resonate because of their humanity. They are people laid bare. That’s the magic of baseball: the pitches and plays, themselves little tales of triumph and failure, connect to form spectacularly human stories spanning games, seasons and eras.

When I’m feeling cynical, I wonder if today’s youth are too busy writing their own narratives in real-time to hear those of others, even the ones that really matter. Can Facebook evoke empathy when its focus is so firmly on yourself?

But status updates and tweets aren’t so different from pitches. Each is a tiny story, from which we can glean only a little. It’s the aggregate that matters.

Social media sites don’t handle long-term narrative well. The stories get lost in streams and archived on pages in the deep and the dark. And how long will any of it last?

The narratives are there, though, if you take the time to find them. But it shouldn’t be so hard.

How can we use the social web to weave new stories, in ways never told before?

Oct. 1, 2010 socialmedia storytelling

Jim Henson, Making Muppets

Fifteen magical minutes. You left us much too soon, Jim.

Sep. 29, 2010 creativity design jimhenson muppets


I was 17 and playing basketball thousands of miles from home with kids whose halting English still made a mockery of my infantile Mandarin. But it didn’t matter; it never does.

It’s a hackneyed thread, about sports as a global language and cross-cultural connective tissue. It’s true, though.

What did they think of us? Two American teenagers, dribbling a basketball on an empty court outside a school in Beijing. Heads popped out of dormitory windows, from floors high and low, as if the students had been waiting for something to shatter the monotony of a languid mid-week afternoon. “What the hell?” they must have said, before rushing downstairs to play.

I most remember their faces, so exuberant and curious. We were just kids playing ball. Nothing else mattered.

Distant music flitted on the air as the sun set in China.

Sep. 29, 2010 basketball china slicedlife sports

A Responsive Design

It’s no secret: The Baseball Chronicle isn’t just a celebration of baseball and the narrative. It’s also a place for me to experiment with the latest in web design and development.

I’m a tinkerer by nature, and the Chronicle has become, perhaps even more than this site, that with which I tinker. After months of reading about HTML5, CSS3 and @font-face, I started on a redesign incorporating all of them. What better way to learn? What good is unapplied knowledge?

So after I read Ethan Marcotte’s spectacular “Responsive Web Design” at A List Apart, of course I had to implement it at the Chronicle. I’d long thought about creating a mobile version of the site, but it always seemed excessive. I didn’t need to add content or functionality for mobile users. The site simply needed to be a little more usable for readers with small screens. Enter media queries:

Rather than quarantining our content into disparate, device-specific experiences, we can use media queries to progressively enhance our work within different viewing contexts.

I started in July on a rudimentary responsive front page, but vacation and other happenings shelved the project until mid-August, while designing “Sunday Fly,” the second story of the bespoke era. (As part of the redesign, I create original designs for every story, using Movable Type logic to search for and apply a style sheet whose name matches the post’s title. Pre-redesign posts, as yet lacking custom styles, inherit a base design.) I tack on the responsive code to the end of each post’s style sheet.

The responsive styles for “The Man on the Mound” begin:

@media screen and (max-width: 750px)

Screens less than 750 pixels wide receive any subsequent styling, which eliminates floats, resizes type and margins, and adds many a width: auto;. The effect is a legible and usable design at any screen size, across devices, without a dedicated mobile subdomain or new style sheet.

For more on responsive design, read the A List Apart article and check out the websites of Dan Cederholm, Simon Collison and Jon Hicks for further inspiration and guidance.

Sep. 13, 2010 css design webdev

The Pale Blue Dot



Sep. 2, 2010 carlsagan perspective space