The road of excess leads to the palace of wisdom. - Wm. Blake

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Where I should be today

I've mentioned it here before, but because it's on my mind, here's a nice story about Bill Mazeroski's epic, Game 7, World Series-winning homerun, which was struck 49 years ago today, at 3:36 p.m., about a mile and a half from where I sit. As I type, a few dozen faithful are gathered there around a boombox playing a tape of the game. In half an hour, they'll cheer, and 17 years of losing, and half a century of aging, will be washed away.


Friday, October 02, 2009

My 2010 Pirates Forecast

Just for the record. I'll probably revisit this next April, once we know what happens in the offseason.

Oh, and to establish a baseline: my prediction for 2009, emailed to a friend on Opening Day, was 72 wins if the pitching held up, 62 wins if it didn't. The pitching has been OK this year (although it could be argued that Snell and Gorzo together represent a failure), but of course they traded away all but 2 of their most talented position players. I don't think I'm on the hook for having foreseen that last spring.

If the Pirates start 2010 with this group of starters (including, possibly, Clement coming up to platoon with Garrett Jones at 1B), I expect them to play at a sub-.400 pace – that is, about 100-loss baseball. Improvements due to youth development and Doumit returning at least somewhat to form should make this a team that can score at least 3.5 runs/game, which should get them within sniffing distance of 60 wins (note that a team with 3.5 RS/game and 4.5 RA/game is a 61 win team). I expect aggregate performance from the starting pitchers to about match what we’ve seen the last 3 months; the big question mark is the bullpen, which is costing us something like half a run a game relative to a mediocre pen. If Neal Huntington cobbles together a professional pen around a resurgent Hanrahan and Capps, then I think we could get above .400 – if nothing goes wrong. If Jones turns into a pumpkin, if Cedeno regresses, if Doumit misses 2 months again – if anything along those lines happens, then I think we could comfortably be on pace for 110 losses.

That said, I don’t see any way that the whole season plays out like that. Among Tabata, Alvarez, Lincoln, and Alderson, I expect at least one to reach the bigs and make an impact. Depending which one it is, that’s worth 5-10 wins. In other words, if none of the better players on the existing roster blow up (due to injury or general failure), I expect to see ~95 losses, plus or minus 5.

To do much better than that, either 2 of the MiLers need to make an impact or Milledge and/or someone else needs to take a big step forward (or a FA needs to really pan out). I think it would take only a couple things going wrong to do much worse than that: 110 losses is in reach if none of the minor leaguers step up.


Architects as Problem Solvers

A professor of mine who was also the onetime head of the CMU architecture department used to say that architects are, primarily, problem-solvers. She had a well-worn talk on the topic, titled "The Twelve Professions of Architecture," outlining all of the different jobs for which architects are well-suited (only a couple of which look like what we think of as "being an architect"). But the thesis was that (and I apologize for my 15 years later paraphrase) the skillset of the architect is only incidentally building materials and the like; it's primarily and fundamentally problem-solving.

I'm currently involved with a couple of projects (one only potential right now), both sprucing up existing, pretty crummy commercial/industrial buildings. The Equipment Co. is in a really nondescript cinderblock building, constructed in 3 campaigns on 3 lots with 3 different wall heights and no consistency in window sizes or symmetry or any of the other things we rely on for making buildings look "good." My job is to figure out — within a tiny budget — some way to make it look good anyway.

The Appliance Co. is in a crumbling old building, once kind of Tudor-ish, with a 1950s storefront that is also crumbling, plus aging and outdated GE and Frigidaire signs. How to make it look good?

There are various other constraints, but those are the nuts of the problems (note that I've already done a lot of sifting through issues to identify the key components that need to be solved). The Appliance Co. is actually pretty easy — take out the clutter, pull the whole thing together with a cornice above the storefront height, and use all new materials above (stucco) and below (??) the cornice. Easy peasy. The Equipment Co. is really really hard. Even if we reskinned the whole thing, it's still a mess compositionally. So what I need to do is to think about ways of tying things together or, alternately, acknowledging differences. One way to do this is through almost-literal "narrative" — part of the building is offices, the remainder is shop space. Use materials and colors to explicate that. Another way would be to impose a "narrative" — define a line, even if it doesn't correspond to any function, and use that to establish what gets metal panels and what gets paint.

But my point is that building-knowledge is only incidental to the problems I need to solve here. My first task is to identify the moving pieces that make up the problem — where does the sign go, how do we direct visitors to the office door? — and the next task is to identify the narrative that will tell me how to place the pieces. And while the architect's problem-solving skills are honed for dealing with buildings (both as objects and as containers of space), they are readily applicable to broader sorts of problems. I've actually long though that it would be good to have more architects in politics: the job already includes some of the prerequisites (public speaking, flattery of the rich), but, more importantly, the problem-solving approach is radically different from that of lawyers, who of course dominate American political life.