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A youth scorekeeper’s ethical dilemma

It’s the bottom of the 5th inning, my son’s 10U team at bat. They’re up 5-3. The first five batters get on base, and three score. With runners at first and second, a passed ball to the half-inning’s sixth batter advances the runners. With a 1-2 count, the batter strikes out, but it’s another passed ball, and another run scores while a runner advances to third. Nine to three. The seventh batter grounds out to third base, but the runner on third scores. A batter walks, another singles, and we have runners on the corners as the tenth batter is up. My son, incidentally, is on deck. The tenth batter strikes out. So the inning’s over, right?

I’m a scorekeeper, so I’m looking at a record of all of this. There’s another dad who’s scoring the game also, using GameChanger on his smart phone. We both understand the half-inning to be over.

Yet the umpire seems to think there are two outs. So do the coaches for my son’s team, and the coaches for the opposing team. So, apparently, do all the opposing players. The opposing team has no scorekeeper. My son says that he thought there were three outs, and started to walk to the dugout, when the umpire called out “batter up”. My son’s coaches later explain that they forgot about the sixth batter’s strikeout–possibly because a run scored on the third strike, which got by the catcher. The same thing probably happened to the opposing coaches.

Thinking the inning was over, I had started to get up from my chair to stretch, and the other scorekeeper dad and I tried to figure out what was going on. I might have looked a bit more agitated than usual, but ultimately we just said nothing. My son took his turn at bat, and grounded out, and the inning was really over. The other team didn’t score in the 6th, and our team won 10-3.

The question is: should we have spoken up? There’s a sort of easy argument why we should have, something about following the rules and making everything fair. Anyone can make that argument. So I’ll discuss the reasons why we should not have spoken up.

First, as parent-scorekeepers, we’re in sort of an ambiguous position. We’re not appointed by the league, and we’re not even a part of the team; we’re there as spectators and fans, but are also keeping fair and honest scorebooks. In a professional game, there is only one scorekeeper, who is appointed by (and paid by) the league (Rule 9.01(a)), and is an “official representative” of the league (Rule 9.01(c)). But not so in youth baseball. The rules for our league only mention a “home scorebook,” and thus implicitly a visitors scorebook, but does not mention a scorekeeper. Rules for Little League refer to a scorekeeper, but do not mandate one, and never say how a scorekeeper is appointed. Rules for the Babe Ruth League mandate each team keep a scorebook, but make no mention of a scorekeeper.

But in the Official Baseball Rules, by which MLB play, there is only one circumstance in which the scorekeeper is to alert the umpire of a mistake: Rule 9.01(b)(2) says: “If the teams change sides before three men are put out, the official scorer shall immediately inform the umpire-in-chief of the mistake.” This was not the mistake that happened in my son’s game. Although Andres Wirkmaa notes that having an inning end with less than three outs would “cause havoc statistically and otherwise,” and this is a similar situation, it’s not the same. Wirkmann states that OBR Rule 9, about scorekeeping, makes it clear that “the scorer… is a passive observer.”

This is particularly relevant in the case of appeal plays. The rules of baseball in other situations require vigilance. There are three situations that can be called on appeal: a runner who missed a base, a runner who didn’t tag up, or a batter who is out of order. In these situations, the umpire does know whether the offensive player tagged or missed the bag, but very explicitly does not alert the defensive team about the opportunity to put the runner out. The umpire will call the runner out if the appeal is made, but if the defense throws a pitch to the next batter, then they’ve lost their chance and the play stands.

The case of the wrong batting order is much more likely to be noticed by the scorekeeper than an umpire, and to this end, the Official Rules of baseball explicitly tell the scorekeeper: Rule 9.01(b)(4): “The official scorer shall not call the attention of any umpire or of any member of either team to the fact that a player is batting out of turn.” Here, Little League concurs: “The umpire and scorekeeper shall not direct the attention of any person to the presence in the batter’s box of an improper batter. This rule is designed to require constant vigilance by the players and managers of both teams.”

I would note the use of the word “the” in the Little League rule. That’s for the case where there is one scorekeeper, a representative of the league, whose job is to be neutral. That’s generally not the case in youth baseball and is not the case for our league either. Rather, each team needs to maintain its own scorebook, whether it’s kept by a coach, player, or parent. As parents, we’re there unapologetically of fans of our kids’ team, doing our bit to help.

So I will (and have) alerted our coach when our players are about to bat out-of-order, and would let them know if I saw the other team out-of-order. We only have two coaches; unlike a professional game, there is no bench coach who is keeping track of the opposing roster. In fact, despite rules which instruct coaches to give lineup cards to the umpires, most umpires don’t want the lineups, and the exchange of lineup cards is often handled entirely by parent-scorekeepers. All total, our role is more akin to that of a junior bench coach than that of a league official.

Certainly I would speak up if our team was on defense, put three out, but the umpire thought there were only two. And if the umpire, or opposing coach, or scorekeeper for the other side asked what I had for the number of outs, for the inning, for the score, or even for the count, I would say completely truthfully what I had logged in my scorebook, which I strive to make as accurate as is possible. And I would expect the same of an opposing scorekeeper. But here, nobody asked. It’s not my place to bring errors in our favor to anyone’s attention, except perhaps our own coaches, if I can alert them confidentially. This is a league that doesn’t compile statistics, much less appoint a scorekeeper to gather official statistics, and thus there’s much less to cause havoc with in the case of an extra out.

So what could have prevented this? The coaches are always reminding the players to talk to each other on defense. “Play’s at first and second, two out!” That sort of thing. Make sure everyone on the defense is aware of the situation. Constant vigilance. What was the defense not doing this weekend in the bottom of the 5th? Talking to one another. They weren’t calling out each out after it happened and they weren’t reminding each other of the the game’s situation. Now our team has a first-hand look at what can happen when you don’t talk. And if this episode can convince them that they do need to talk, then we certainly did the right thing by remaining passive observers.

September 19, 2017   No Comments

Tasks for youth baseball scorekeepers

There are three distinct tasks that baseball scorekeepers perform:

  1. Base charting
  2. Judgement of errors
  3. Compilation of statistics

Base charting is the act of recording plays as they happen, on the players/innings grid of the scorecard. It is, by far, the most important part of scorekeeping for youth baseball.

It is the scorekeeper’s responsibility to judge whether a particular play is counted as a Hit or an Error or a Fielder’s Choice, and in the case of a batter reaching a base beyond first, whether it is some combination of these. The scorekeeper determines whether a run is an Earned or Unearned run, which can include a reconstruction of the way an inning would have proceeded had an error not taken place. The scorekeeper also decides between a passed ball and a wild pitch, and whether a baserunner advances on a steal or defensive indifference.

In leagues where statistics are important, where statistics feed into salary negotiations, or where scouts for professional teams look over them, these judgements are tremendously important. In youth baseball, this is not the case. Assigning errors is of little use, and it is complicated by the often terrible field conditions on which youth games take place. It is really not fair to charge a fielder with an error when the ball takes a strange bounce on a stray rock on the field. And what should define “ordinary effort”–the benchmark by which errors are determined–when youth games have such a wide range of skill?

The compilation of statistics is to be done after the game is over–confusingly, not all instructions point this out. Most commercial scorecards have separate columns for recording player statistics, after the columns for innings. Typically, these include At-Bats, Hits, Runs, Runs Batted In, and Errors. These are a subset of the 18 separate statistics that the official scorer is required to provide to the league, as defined by Rule 9 of the Official Baseball Rules1

In a youth game, statistics may be useful to a coach, but they also may be a distraction. It may be useful to have a count of a player’s total plate appearances, if a coach wants to organize the batting order to give players as close to equal chances at bat as possible. The coach of my son’s travel team didn’t want any statistics, with the occasional exception of pitch counts. But in any case, the compilation of statistics is done after the game, and since the numbers will end up on a computer one way or another, one might as well start that way. That is to say, in a youth scoresheet, I’d rather devote extra space to clearer base charting than to the post-game compilation of statistics.

Back to base charting. In the best-case scenario, nobody needs to ask the scorekeeper anything throughout the entire game. But questions do arise, and by far, the most important thing a scorekeeper keeps track of in a youth game is the score. The coaches and umpire usually know the score, but it isn’t the umpire’s job to know the score. You need to know the score in a close game, of course, but also in a blowout, to determine whether a mercy rule applies. A scorekeeper should adopt a system that allows the immediate recall and announcement of the score at any time, without needing to tally up runs.

It is the umpire’s job to keep track of balls and strikes, and of outs and innings. Very rarely, an umpire has asked me as a scorekeeper to verify the count. More commonly, but still rarely, a scorekeeper will verify the number of outs, when, for example, a coach and the umpire disagree. When I’ve needed to do this, I give a brief narrative summary: “lead-off batter was number 53, who struck out. Number 6 walked, number 8 hit a double, number 9 grounded out to short, number 9 walked, number 13 struck out.” Umpires and coaches alike are often unsure of the inning, and will ask the scorekeeper where the game is.

For any aspect of the game, the clearer one’s scorebook is, the better evidence one can supply to bolster one’s version of the game, even in the face of rules that give preference to the home team scorebook. I’ve had a case where, as the visiting team scorekeeper I kept a full scorebook, while the home team just used tally marks to record runs; the umpire trusted my book. Fortunately, in the end, it was a decisive win for our team, so it didn’t matter much.

Finally, the scorekeeper is a check on the batting order. Despite rules that say to give an umpire a copy of the lineup, most youth umpires don’t want a copy and don’t check for inconsistencies.2 A travel team usually knows its batting order, even if it changes from game to game, but on rare occasion I’ve seen the wrong batter on-deck and alerted the coach.

  1. formerly, Rule 10, before the 2015 reorganization of the rulebook. Most publications about scoring, having being written before 2015, refer to it as Rule 10. []
  2. Catching out-of-order batters is the opposing team’s responsibility anyways. []

June 15, 2017   No Comments

You should score youth baseball, even when you don’t need to

Back when I started this blog, I could have hardly imagined that baseball would be what brings me back to blogging after several years of blog dormancy. But my older son has become obsessed with baseball and has been playing since the second grade.

I’ve been keeping scorecards of his games, even back in the machine-pitch league where there is no record of scoring and no standings. It might seem against the recreational spirit to keep a scoresheet for a game where there isn’t supposed to be a winner or a loser. But even in such a game, there are many things to keep track of, and keeping a scoresheet using some version of the traditional scorekeeping methodology is the best way to do this.

Without an electronic scoreboard, it turns out to be easy to lose track of the inning, and even the number of outs. Youth baseball innings can last a long time; in the bottom of the 2nd you might wish it was the bottom of the 4th. In a machine pitch game, there are no balls or called strikes. There is usually a maximum number of pitches per plate appearance, but if your pitching machine keeps placing balls way out of the strike zone, you’re reluctant to charge the batter with pitches if the adult pitching machine operator is struggling to tweak and adjust the machine. Your memory can only hold so many events, and before you know it, you’ve forgotten how many are out.

Likewise, games can tediously drag on in the first season of kid pitch as well, when most pitchers are wildly inaccurate. You’ll have a sequence of several walks in a  row, occasionally interrupted by a strikeout and maybe a hit-by-pitch. Youth baseball games have a two-hour time limit, and even so, I’ve been at games that barely get into a third inning. And most everyone–players, coaches, parents–would expect that more of a game could have been played in that timeframe. And so without a scoreboard to glance at, one loses track.


So at the youngest levels, it’s not so much scorekeeping, but outs-and-innings-keeping. One could do this with the sort of click-wheel counter that umpires use. I’ve used these, but it’s not that difficult to get an extra errant click. Or to forget whether you’ve clicked, especially on a drawn-out play.

In addition to outs and innings, a scorecard also tells you who is up next to bat, and if your team uses a different batting order each game (which it probably should), then the players will likely not always be aware of their turn to bat. There is a lot of sitting around in baseball, and young players will often find ways to amuse themselves which don’t involve paying attention to the game. So somebody needs a definitive record of who is up next to bat.

Many leagues have rules to keep a game from becoming too lopsided: a team might be restricted to hitting once through the batting order in an inning, or there may by a maximum number of batters. There’s also a common rule that limits a team to scoring 5 runs in any inning that’s not the last inning. In all of these situations, you’ll need some sort record of what’s happened, and they’re automatic if you’re keeping a scorecard.

Perhaps one could come up with an alternative method of tracking outs, innings, runs, and batters, but it’s hard to imagine a system that would be simpler than the traditional baseball scorecard. At its essence, a baseball scorecard is a grid with columns for each inning and rows for each batter. Defensive players are numbered 1-9, and a strikeout is a K. The result of a batter’s plate appearance in a particular inning is recorded in the appropriate box on the grid. There are many common conventions but little else is standard. As a player grows older and the game becomes more competitive, you might need to track more things; the scorecard can become as complex as need be. And an advantage of using a traditional scorecard from the start is that it gives you practice for the more sophisticated scorecards that will come later.

So, keep a scorecard, even if you aren’t keeping score.


May 25, 2017   No Comments

March Meeting 2017

Back when I regularly updated this blog, I’d post about the APS March Meeting. I’ve been going to the March Meeting since 2003, only having skipped 2014. Every year since 2006, I’ve scraped parts of the program with some evolving Tcl scripts in order to re-format them in ways that make sense to me and let me sort through the immense schedule and figure out which talks I want to see. This year I could 734 sessions and 1030 Invited speakers. I estimate there are 8300 contributed talks and 1175 posters.

It’s too much to read through all the titles (let alone abstracts) of all the contributed talks, so the first step is to nicely format the session titles. I put them on one page, use typography to distinguish Focus Sessions and Invited Sessions, and indicate the total number of invited talks.

It is feasible to skim through all the invited talks, if presented correctly. I group them by time block and session, and include the author name and talk title. This way, I can look for topics that look interesting and speakers I know to be good. And I do look through the whole thing. The APS does have a list of invited speakers, but it’s listed alphabetically by author, which might inadvertently lead one to pick conflicting talks to attend, and also makes it hard to search for interesting topics.

Finally, I make a session/block grid, to show the overall structure of the meeting.

Here’s what I have for the 2017 March Meeting:




March 12, 2017   No Comments

Backing up the blogs

Although this blog has been mostly dormant for quite some time now, my two other blogs–the Matthew Picture of the Day and the Peter Picture of the Day–have been plugging along, barely missing a beat. I do have all the photos on my home computer, of course, which I back up twice (continuously via Time Machine and also to CD-ROM). But I’ve been a bit cavalier about backing up the blog. I’ve periodically done manual backups before major upgrades, but I’ve sort of naively trusted in Bluehost not to lose my content. A year ago or so, Bluehost had a substantial hiccup and MPOD was offline for several hours. They did rebuild everything, and all was well, but the episode did give me pause. Also, I remember Photopoint.

So it was time to get serious about backing up the blogs. These were my criteria:

  1. The backup must be stored by a different hosting company than that which hosts the blog. After all, I want to be able to recover if Bluehost has a catastrophic failure.
  2. The entire site must be backed up. As of now, the MPOD is at about 800MB and the PPOD is about 500MB (until the debut of the PPOD, I uploaded only the small size photos to the MPOD, but now I upload the full-sized originals to both, which is why the MPOD archive is not much larger). This is particularly important because PhotoQ, the photoblog plugin that I use, stores the photos in two directories of its own creation within wp-content. So the backup solution must be able to see and archive these.
  3. The backup must be automatic. I don’t want to be required to start each backup and I especially don’t want to have to use my home computer as an intermediary in transferring the archived files.

With this, I evaluated four automatic backup plugins. Rather, I installed and tried three, all of which failed in one way or another, before I found one that worked. My present solution is XCloner, stored on Amazon S3. Here are my experiences with the four plugins:

The first one I used was Automatic WordPress Backup. I do have to give this one credit: it was the first one I heard about that used Amazon’s S3 service to store the data. So it’s a pioneer of sorts. It has its own website and a slick demo video. Like many folks, though, I’d start a manual backup, it would finish, but nothing would have happened and there would be nothing stored on S3. Eventually I found the log file and discovered that it was running out of memory. This problem I could actually fix: I had inadvertently left about 10000 spam comments in the WordPress database, and clearing those out allowed the plugin to finish. But seriously, 10000 comments is not really all that many for a high volume blog. So the first problem with this was that it didn’t look like it could scale. (Note further that the flashy promotional videos and postings on the blog were not done by the programmer, and that the programmer is working on a different plugin now with similar functionality.)

The second problem was that AWB backed up the database and a few set directories, but not arbitrary directories introduced by other plugins. So only the database structure of the photoblog was backed up, not the photos.

And it also seemed that, despite all the flashiness of the website, it was quickly becoming abandon-ware. There hasn’t been a new version since August 2010. I had posted a question on their product blog asking if there was a way to backup other directories, but it was forever stuck in moderation and has never been posted. I think they had expected more people to buy premium support (which is no longer for sale). They were also upset that WordPress’s rules prohibited them from automatically inserting a link to them in the footer of each of your blog pages. And they also insisted that, instead of being controlled through the ‘plugins’ or ‘settings’ menus in WordPress, they needed to add their own menu to the main sidebar. And, I think it’s lost compatibility somewhere around WordPress 3.2.

The next plugin I tried was wp Time Machine. It has a very simple interface and does back up all files. It’s designed so that you just type in the minimal information needed and then click “generate archive,” so it’s a little counter-intuitive that you need to first click ‘Show Plugin Options’ to switch from the default Dropbox to Amazon S3. The instructions are found within the plugin interface, but it sends you to a blog post to get the details of setting up the cron job needed to run the backups automatically.  It also automatically includes, in the files it saves on Amazon S3, an instructions file for recovering after a crash.

I initially had file compression turned on while making the archives, and when adding the photo files to the archive, it would ungloriously quit running after about 330MB, leaving an incomplete and corrupt archive file. Turning off compression I was able to get the PPOD site successfully backed up–I saw the full file archives appear in the Amazon S3 console–but the plugin page display just indicated that the backup was in progress. (Turns out, JPEG files are already pretty well compressed and ZIP won’t make them much smaller.) In fact, several times I left it for hours thinking it was still working on the backup, because that’s what the screen indicated, while in fact it had hung up somewhere. Trying both PPOD and MPOD, I variously got failures to finish building the archive file, a finished archive file that failed to transfer to Amazon S3, and successful transfers to S3 that failed to indicate completion in the plugin dashboard. Perhaps it runs better via cron job, but it seemed like this plugin had troubles with lots of files.

The third plugin was pressBackup. They sell their own cloud storage service, but their plugin is free to use with Amazon S3. It uses a wizard to walk you through the setup process in a completely intuitive manner. It just asks you what service you’re using, how often you want to backup, and how many previous copies you want to keep stored. But the problem: they allow you to backup the database, themes, plugins, and uploads. Not arbitrary files and directories. So, like Automatic WordPress Backup, it wouldn’t save the photos. That, and its easy configuration was perhaps too easy: although you can have a daily backup, there’s no way to set the time at which the backup will execute; it will always execute at the same time as your first backup. I sort of imagine that servers are more idle and bandwith is more plentiful in the middle of the night, which is when I would want to schedule backups. But you don’t need to configure your own cron jobs.

Which brings me to XCloner, which I’m currently using. It is tremendously flexible and the configuration is both more involved and less obvious than with other products. It has a PDF manual, which seems to be a few releases behind. It did take a bit of work for me to get it up and running, but once I figured it out, configuring it for subsequent blogs was completely straightforward. But it was far from obvious which configuration options needed to be set and which didn’t need to be.

A few notes: you need to create your own directory structure, preferably in the blog’s top level directory, for it to store the backup files (which will then get transfered elsewhere). In order to transfer to Amazon S3, it needs to be run from a cron job; a manual backup will only create and store the backup file. There are quite a few settings that one doesn’t need to bother with (for example, cron configuration names). And the plugin itself has a username and password, that it wants you to configure right away–I suppose this is useful for a multi-author blog. If you want to do things like doing a nightly backup of the database only to be stored locally and a weekly backup of the whole site transferred to an FTP site, then XCloner can do that. It didn’t have any trouble with the large number of files I needed to back up, but if it did, then it has an option for an incremental backup that works on a smaller number of files at a time.

So in the end, there are no circumstances in which I’d recommend Automatic WordPress Backup. If you don’t want to mess with cron jobs, and the limitations to pressBackup don’t deter you, I’d recommend it first. If you need more flexibility–say with when the backup executes–and if the size of your site doesn’t trip up wp Time Machine, I’d recommend that. And if you have having things configured for you and want lots of settings available for tweaking–or if the other options won’t work for you, then XCloner will certainly get the job done, once you figure it out.

November 13, 2011   No Comments

Diagnostic post

This is a second diagnostic post, to see how the WordBooker plugin settings work. This is supposed to show up as a status update in my facebook.

November 11, 2011   No Comments

Blogging again?

Yes, this blog has been idle for many months now, but that doesn’t mean I don’t have dozens of potential blog posts mulling around in my head. This is my second diagnostic post, to see if the WordBooker plugin works, which is supposed to be a way to post my new blog posts to my Facebook wall. (The first diagnostic didn’t post to Facebook, do it’s been deleted. Sorry if that interfered with your RSS reader.)

November 11, 2011   No Comments

Announcing the Peter Picture of the Day

Peter Quinn Metcalf was born January 27th, 2011, at 8:56pm. I’m pleased to announce the Peter Picture of the Day, a photoblog featuring pictures of Peter. It’s modeled after his brother’s photoblog, the Matthew Picture of the Day, which has been running for three and a half years. Although the blogs look alike, there are a few subtle changes to the PPOD, some of which I hope to incorporate into the MPOD.

Most notably, the full scale picture is now available: simply click on the picture and you will be able to download the full picture. This should make for much better prints for those who wish to print out PPOD pictures. Warning: if uncropped, these pictures are about 3MB apiece. That seemed much too large back when I established the MPOD, and so it has used the display size only of 720 pixels wide. But these days, a 3MB image doesn’t seem so unreasonable.

I’m also now posting the date that each photograph was taken (a feature I should be able to add soon to MPOD), and I’m also putting the comments section on the main page, instead of in a pop-up window. As with MPOD, each commenter’s first comment must be approved by the moderator (me), to avoid spam postings.

I’ve loaded a couple of pictures to start things off, after which there should be one new picture each day, posted at about 6am Eastern Time.

January 29, 2011   No Comments

The New Sierra Club Executive Director

A recent (January 30, 2010) episode of Sierra Club Radio begins with an interview of the new executive director, Michael Brune, which was the first I’d heard in detail about him. I found it quite encouraging, in part because of what Mr. Brune said, but more refreshingly, in his tone. The outgoing executive director, Carl Pope, periodically recorded commentaries for Sierra Club radio, which I never really cared for. Mr. Pope’s tone was brash, smug, and confrontational, and his messages were needlessly political: hyping up small or incidental or Phyrric victories, spinning away the setbacks, never allowing that an issue might have subtleties and complications. There were good guys and villains, and the good guys were always winning, most likely thanks to the Sierra Club and its allies. Carl Pope’s commentaries always sounded like a slightly disingenuous pitch. Mr. Brune, by contrast, sounds very much like a thoughtful person.

That I picked up on this contrast is perhaps a bit ironic, as Mr. Brune as an activist was known for a rather confrontational style, as elucidated in a Living on Earth interview, a KQED Forum interview, and in a Grist article. Prior to the Sierra Club, Mr. Brune was executive director of Rainforest Action Network, where his most notorious stunt involved the campaign to get Home Depot to stop buying wood from endangered forests. Sympathetic Home Depot employees contacted Mr. Brune and clued him in to the code for the Home Depot intercom system, by which Rainforest Action Network activists could go into any Home Depot, find the intercom stations, and broadcast messages storewide about the source of the wood products for sale. This campaign worked, although I’m not really sure this is the sort of thing I’d like the Sierra Club to start doing more of.

Mr. Brune made what I think is a salient and subtle point in praising the Sierra Club for “evolving” over the past decade or so, of doing a good job of “holding onto its roots”–protecting wild places and the like–but at the same time “being responsive to the great threat of climate change.” This phrasing speaks to me–it signals an understanding that the environmental challenges we face and our responses to them are not identical to those of twenty or thirty years ago. Urban environmentalists often note a disconnect with what we might call “traditional” environmentalism, manifested as an insistence in saving every tree, and in opposing every development, and in always primarily characterizing the principals involved in any development as greedy, even if the trees that would have to be cleared to make way for a development would enable its future residents to live in ways–without cars, for example–that could drastically reduce their overall environmental impact when compared with what they might need to end up with should the traditional environmentalist’s protests be successful and should the greedy developers choose to build their buildings instead on some further-flung plot of land that’s less dear to said environmentalists. I’m oversimplifying the issue here of course, and I don’t want to presume that when Mr. Brune says the Club is evolving that he necessarily means that it will evolve exactly the way I want it to.  But it does seem to me that Mr. Brune is acknowledging the need to look at environmental challenges in a different way than has been considered traditional.

Two years ago, he wrote Coming Clean–Breaking America’s Addiction to Coal and Oil, published by Sierra Club books. That energy was the topic on the mind of someone employed to save the rain forests is, itself, encouraging. He was interviewed on Sierra Club radio for September 6, 2008 upon release of the book, and this earlier interview is perhaps more insightful than the current one. He struck a thoughtful and diplomatic tone, giving respectfully detailed answers to complex topics. He discussed, at some length, the problems with biofuels, beginning with a remark that the idea of growing your own fuels is, no doubt, very alluring. He concludes that “biofuels can only at best be part of the solution” and further noting that if we were to turn every single last ear of corn produced in the United States into ethanol, it would provide a scant 12% of our fuel needs. He resists the temptation to simply classify biofuels as “good” or “bad,” and he uses a quantitative figure in a proper and meaningful way, which is more than can be said of much of what passes for environmental discourse these days. The urbanist will also note that he also understands that biofuels are an attempt at a solution to what is in many respects the wrong question–instead of asking how we’re going to keep fueling our cars in a post-carbon age, we should also be asking whether we need so many cars to begin with. Brune mentions, several times, that “we need to promote ways of transportation that are not centered on the automobile.” When asked for ways in which individuals could get involved in breaking our oil addiction, he suggested getting involved with your local bicycle advocacy organization, to get more bike lanes and to encourage office buildings to offer bicycle parking.

It also appears–although not having read his book, I’m not certain–that he wants to play down the role of individuals greening their own lives and instead look towards action for large-scale, widespread institutional change. In the 2008 interview, the host specifically asks him about a claim in the book that individual actions, like turning down your thermostat and changing out your lightbulbs, won’t be sufficient to solve the climate change problem. And although he’s not as polemic as Mike Tidwell’s Washington Post Op-Ed, the sentiment is the same: to make the changes that matter, we need large scale, collective action. And Brune makes clear in the current interview that be believes that there is no organization better suited to lead this action than the Sierra Club.

Brune, I couldn’t help but notice, is only two years older than I am, and is probably as young as one can be to also have enough experience to be considered a reasonable candidate for executive director of an organization with the size and stature of the Sierra Club. Carl Pope, I gather, is a few years younger than my parents. So there really is a transition here, a passing of the baton from one generation to the next. I’m optimistic about Brune, and will watch carefully to see where the Club goes.

February 8, 2010   1 Comment

Making sense of the March Meeting

This year’s March Meeting will be in Portland, Oregon. (See previous blog posts from 2009 and 2008, also here.) The largest of the meetings put on by the American Physical Society, this year it there will be 581 sessions and 818 invited speakers. Most time blocks–from Monday morning through Thursday mid-day–will have a full program of 42 parallel sessions. This is slightly larger than last year, in which most time blocks had 41 parallel sessions, with a total of 562 sessions. There were 832 invited speakers last year, so this year has slightly fewer. As each session can have up to 15 contributed talks–10 minutes each with 2 minutes for questions and changing speakers, or 5 invited talks–30 minutes each with 6 minutes for questions and changing speakers, that means there could be almost 6800 talks all total, but most sessions aren’t completely programmed. This year, I am not giving a talk.

With such a mass of talks going on, planning your time at the conference and deciding how long to stay take some effort. In the past, abstracts for all talks, and the 2000 or so posters that the meeting has each year and were printed in two volumes that resembled phone books, plus a pocket sized book of session titles. These days, one gets a smaller books that lists only the titles of the talks, and of course the entire program is also available online. Nevertheless, over the years I’ve found the layout of the program to be a bit wanting, and so I put together some scripts that parse the schedule and author information to print it out in a form that I find easier to work with.

My scripts and their outputs have evolved over several years, and currently they produce three files. They take as input the Epitome, which is a chronological list of sessions, and the list of invited speakers. At present, both of these must be cut-and-pasted from the meeting website into text files for my program to read. (Maybe next year I’ll have them automatically grab the files from the APS website.)

The first output file is a version of the Epitome more suitable for browsing on a printed page than the materials for APS. It skips the non-talk sessions (like receptions and unit business meetings) and makes sure all sessions of each time block are together on a single page.

The second file serves to give a sense of the structure of the March Meeting: it is a grid of time blocks versus session numbers, with symbols indicating the number of invited talks in each session. It also has a list of room numbers associated with each session number: for the most part, all sessions of a certain number (such as A14, B14, D14, and so on) will be in the same room, but not always.

The third file is a list of invited talks, sorted by session instead of by author last name. Because of the large number of parallel sessions and the high likelihood of schedule conflicts, I think it makes sense to look time block by time block.

Since this year I’ve actually got these files produced well before the meeting, I’m posting them here in case anyone else should like to use them too.

Here are the three PDF files I’ve generated:




If you like the information but want to fiddle with the formatting, here are the .tex files that generated the PDFs, that need to be run through LaTeX. Because of a quirk in WordPress, they’re all saved as .tex.txt. The APS online information already uses TeX formatting for accent marks in speaker names, and for super- and sub-scripts in talk titles. (There are occasionally errors in APS’s TeX formatting–this year, the title of Philip Anderson’s talk is missing the math mode $ characters surrounding the ^3 superscript command. Despite my efforts to automate everything with these scripts, fixes like this still must be done by hand.)




Finally, here is the Tcl script that I use to parse the files and write the .tex files. It’s not very good code, having been mucked around with once a year for a few years and in general cobbled together from earlier scripts. It works, provided the settings file is appropriately edited, on march meeting files back to 2006, when the invited speaker list was first published online. The bits that work on the epitome work on 2005, and the epitome format in 2004 and earlier years was different. As with the .tex files, I’ve needed to upload them as tcl.txt files here.



In a future post, I hope to use the results of the scripts, particularly the grid, to analyze ways in which the March Meeting has changed over the years.

January 31, 2010   1 Comment