It’s a beautiful day for baseball…

…or not.

It is, however, a good morning for the 2009 Cleveland Indians Preview! We’re a little less than a month away from pitchers and catchers reporting, but the offseason has felt a little bit shorter than normal thanks to a flurry of offseason activity by Indians GM Mark Shapiro.

Arrivals

  • Kerry Wood. This is the big one. I have to admit, this one pleasantly surprised me. There are several types of closers in baseball right now: Mariano “no-one-hits-me-and-I-know-it” Rivera, Francisco “God-helps-me-save-games-and-all-I-do-is-point-at-him” Rodriguez, and Jonathan “every-time-I-record-an-out-feels-as-good-as-the-first-time” Papelbon are the elite closers; J.J. Putz (who oddly enough isn’t closing this year. The Mets are so desperate to make the playoffs they need two top-notch closers.) and Brad Lidge are in the next tier. I’d put Kerry Wood below these guys, but on that third tier of quality closers. He might not dominate (and seriously, would life be any fun as an Indians fan if he did? I mean, it’d be like going to a game that was eight innings. You wouldn’t get your money’s worth, right?), but I’m penciling him to be in the top five in the AL in saves. The one risk with Wood is his health, but the Indians medical staff is pretty good and he should only be pitching one inning or so every couple games.
  • Mark DeRosa. After the Wood signing, I figured the Indians were done with the Opening Day roster, for the most part, but DeRosa figures to be the everyday third baseman for the Indians next year (at least that’s what the Indians are saying. But Jhonny Peralta DID play third in Winter ball, right?). DeRosa hits for good average (a lifetime .279 hitter) and I’d say he’s an upgrade in run production from Casey Blake (and definitely Andy Marte). Assuming he adjusts well to the American League, pencil him in for about 20 HR and 80ish RBI.
  • Joe Smith. The lesser known bullpen acquisition, this guy’s a submariner who had a decent ERA last year. I think the most important thing about building a bullpen is to have options so that when some guys don’t work out (think Guillermo Mota or Roberto Hernandez or Jorge Julio). Shapiro’s got his bases covered, so to speak.
  • Carl Pavano. I’m not sure quite what to say about this one, but if it works I’ll sing Shapiro’s praises some more. For only $1 million, if Pavano gets 10 wins the Indians can call it a steal. It’ll be interesting to see if he pitches in the new Yankee Stadium in the first series the Indians play there (and the first one the Yankees play there), and maybe he’ll pitch against Sabathia.

Overall the offseason earns a solid A. In a time when many teams are scaling back the Indians managed to (smartly, in my opinion) spend some extra money and not only fill holes in the roster, but upgrade them as well.

Departures

  • Franklin Gutierrez. Of all the outfield prospects to go, I guess this was the one guy I’m okay with getting rid of, even though I would have preferred to not give him up either. The Indians still have good outfield depth, but if Grady Sizemore needs a break, there will no longer be a defensive specialist waiting on the bench to expertly fill the position. Trevor Crowe could fill this role in the long term, but expect Shin-Soo Choo to fill it in the short term.

Questions

  • Can the real Travis Hafner please stand up? I expect that Travis Hafner is somewhere between his monster 2006 year and his, shall we say, subpar 2007 year (and 2008 we’ll discount due to injury). I think a key for Hafner is to get off to a good start, and starting the year in Texas can only help that. He also needs to work on his selectivity at the plate: in both 2007 and 2008, he was chasing pitches that were way out of his comfort zone in 2006.
  • Can Fausto Carmona bounce back? Honestly, his 2008 year wasn’t that bad, if you discount the injury and early control problems. However, we saw hints of his brilliance from 2007, but it never really came back. Let’s face it though, one of the highlights of last season was Fausto punching Sheffield’s lights out. If he has that kind of fight in him this year, I think he’ll be back to his normal self.
  • Can Cliff Lee replicate his success? I’m not expecting 22-3 again, but I’d take it.
  • Can Ben Francisco and Shin-Soo Choo be reliable, everyday outfielders in the Major Leauges? Again, a lot of it is getting off to a good start. I’d hate to see David Dellucci in games at all this year, but he’s there as a safety net in case some “veteran leadership” is needed.
  • Can you get anything more out of Carl Pavano? This guy’s been beaten down by injuries and New York hardships most of the last few years – is there anything left?
  • How will the Indians manage Victor Martinez, Kelly Shoppach, and Ryan Garko? I’d like to see a lot of Shoppach at catcher and Martinez at first, but Eric Wedge really likes Martinez behind the plate (and so does Martinez). As for Garko, I think he’s got a lot to prove this year, but if he’s hitting I think there will be a space for him in the lineup.
  • Can Josh Barfield do something offensively? It’s been two years, he needs to start adjusting to the AL soon, or he might have a ticket out of Cleveland soon.
  • Is this the year the Indians avoid a prolonged offensive slump? Let me just say this: I hope so.

Projected Opening Day starting lineup

  1. CF Grady Sizemore
  2. 3B Mark DeRosa
  3. RF Shin-Soo Choo
  4. SS Jhonny Peralta
  5. 1B Victor Martinez
  6. DH Travis Hafner
  7. LF Ben Francisco
  8. C Kelly Shoppach
  9. 2B Asdrubal Cabrera

Bench

  1. 2B Josh Barfield
  2. LF David Dellucci
  3. INF Jamey Carroll
  4. 1B Ryan Garko

Rotation

  1. Cliff Lee
  2. Fausto Carmona
  3. Aaron Laffey
  4. Anthony Reyes
  5. Carl Pavano

Bullpen

  1. Kerry Wood
  2. Joe Smith
  3. Rafael Perez
  4. Rafael Betancourt
  5. Jensen Lewis
  6. Masahide Kobayashi
  7. Scott Lewis

Predictions

  • AL East: Yankees, Red Sox, Rays, Blue Jays, Orioles
  • AL Central: Indians, Twins, Tigers, White Sox, Royals
  • AL West: Angels, Athletics, Mariners, Rangers
  • AL Wild card: Red Sox
  • NL East: Phillies, Mets, Braves, Marlins, Nationals
  • NL Central: Cubs, Cardinals, Brewers, Astros, Pirates, Reds
  • NL West: Dodgers, Rockies, Diamondbacks, Giants, Padres
  • NL Wild card: Mets
  • ALCS: Yankees over Red Sox
  • NLCS: Phillies over Cubs
  • World Series: Yankees over Phillies

So there you have it. Feel free to mock me when the season’s over, I’m sure these predictions will be completely wrong (and actually, I hope they’re wrong because then the Indians might get past the ALDS). Anyway, on January 21, here’s hoping for a great season! I’m looking forward to it – hope to see you at the stadium this summer!

This just in: unpatched computers are unsafe

I meant to post something about this five days ago, when this story was fresh. About five days ago, Slashdot reported that 1 in 3 PCs are still vulnerable to an attack on the Windows Server service that runs on all computers running Windows XP or later. Slashdot runs a snippet from the article where a CTO claims that the patch cycle is too slow, and then questions Microsoft’s Patch Tuesday as no longer being acceptable.

At first, you might think they have a point. Then you read the article and find that this particular worm is actually the same one that was patched almost three months ago. In fact, when Ars Technica fretted in early December that many PCs were still unpatched, I wrote a post suggesting managed PCs for most users so that updates would be handled automatically.

Another thing that’s clearly wrong about this argument: this flaw was patched ON A THURSDAY. Not only did Microsoft patch this months ago, they patched it outside of their normal patch cycle. And yet, people claim that Microsoft didn’t do enough to fix this flaw, because 1 in 3 people have not updated their PC in 3 months.

Security flaws happen. When they happen, the software producer can either leave it unpatched or patch it. In Linux, when flaws are discovered, it’s true that they are normally patched up very quickly – but how often do Linux patches break existing functionality? Even Apple can’t get this right – every patch they release seems to break something, and Apple has the one of the slowest patch cycles out there. (By the way, read that article: Microsoft is fastest.) Microsoft seems to have mastered the art of pushing patches out quickly but making sure they’re sound and play nice with everything else (and lately, they’re avoiding the need to patch at all).

Patch Tuesday works, for people who know what they’re doing. Even if people don’t, would it really help if Microsoft was releasing patches daily? Would people actually click that icon once a day even if they don’t click it in three months? Like many supposed problems with Windows, the main issue here is that Windows attracts the uneducated computer users (Apple does too, but to a far lesser extent). If the masses of people that used Windows suddenly switched to Linux, assuming they got their system to work, eventually you’d see articles on Microsoft blogs with titles of “Linux: vulnerable to a brute-force attack on user accounts with two characters or less”.

Slashdot is biased, but at least most of the time they have a valid opinion. This time, they were way off.

Already standing on the ground

So I’m writing today for one reason, and one reason only: because it is too cold to walk back to my apartment. Yes, despite global warming’s best efforts, it is 10 degrees outside, with -6 degree windchill. People always think global warming is such a bad thing; I think the grass is always greener on the other side. Except in this case, of course, because the other side is a world with no global warming and thus another ice age, apparently.

  • Barack Obama’s inauguration (which is next Tuesday, finally. Doesn’t it seem like this whole coronation has been going on for years?) is going to cost a lot of money. For those too lazy to read the article, the figure is $160 million, according to this and a few other sources. (Interestingly enough, you can’t find a cost of the inauguration anywhere on CNN, NYTimes, etc. Weird, eh?) For a nation with an economy that “is in a crisis not seen since the Great Depression,” this seems a little excessive, particularly when the same Democrats who are okay with this huge party were not in the same free-spending mood when Bush took office in 2004.

    The whole attitude with Obama taking office really disturbs me. Not only is CNN covering Obama’s rise to power like ESPN covered the Boston Celtics and New England Patriots last season (“Isn’t it great kids? Now you know that all it takes to have a winning team is millions and millions of dollars and a league that gives you the calls you need to win!”), but it’s almost like the nation is at a standstill while we wait for Obama to take office. And why wouldn’t we be, when when he states that all we need to do is wait and the government will bail us out?

    The attitude should be completely different: if you’re down and out, work your way up. If you’re at the top, think of the people who are down and out and make sure you keep working so you stay up. I think the biggest stereotype of conservatives is that we don’t care about the people who are less fortunate than us. This is completely untrue: instead, we rely on ourselves and our churches and our communities to help out the less fortunate when they need it, instead of waiting for the government to do it. And unlike the government, we expect that our resources are used wisely, not squandered away before getting in line for the next check.

  • In other “one-guy-is-treated-as-a-savior-when-really-he’s-not-all-that-great” news, Steve Jobs is taking a leave of absence from Apple. Coupled with modest sales in the holiday season, Apple is now without its leader at least until June (but who knows).
  • It’s really cold outside. Like, really really cold.
  • I don’t really follow the Cavs much, but its hard not to notice their impressive start: 30-6, after Tuesday’s win in Memphis. It would be really nice if LeBron stayed in Cleveland, but I honestly don’t see it. One benefit of the NBA vs. MLB, however, is the salary cap: LeBron, the Cavs, the Knicks, the Celtics, etc. know that there is an absolute ceiling, so if LeBron is able to win the eastern conference with the Cavs this year (or maybe win it all) he’ll know that Cleveland gives him one of the better (if not best) shot at being a perennial contender.

    As an aside, I recently attended a Cavs game for the first time in a couple years (last Wednesday, against the Bobcats). It’s a completely different experience than any baseball game I’ve ever been to; baseball games, I think, let you just kind of blend in and enjoy the game, where the Cavs game (and maybe all basketball games in general) are constantly fighting to keep you engaged in the game. I have no problem watching the game with my full attention, but I don’t particularly like being shot at with T-shirts every timeout. And I think this is mostly a function of being in a smaller space indoors, but I left the Cavs game with a headache.

  • Expect my pre-season report on the Indians soon, including my projected starting lineups, rotations and bullpens.

I think that’s all from the frozen tundra that is Cleveland, Ohio. Hope you’re all staying warm, wherever you are, and it’s good to be back in the blogosphere.

DRM-free downloads for everyone!*

Everyone seems to be really excited about Apple finally announcing that songs in iTunes will now be DRM-free. I’m not.

To start, let’s review what DRM is. DRM, or digital rights management, is a nasty little bugger that prevents you from listening to songs that you don’t have rights to listen to. Additionally, it prevents you from listening to songs that you feel you DO have rights to listen to (because, you know, you BOUGHT them). Apple’s iTunes Store has had DRM since its inception, largely because the labels (understandably) didn’t want one person to simply buy the music and then share it on KaZaa for everyone to download.

A couple years ago, Apple introduced “iTunes Plus”, a special upgrade for some songs that would supposedly have no DRM, and better sound quality. Initially, these special songs were $1.29, $.30 more expensive than the normal song. A couple months later, Apple announced that the iTunes Plus versions would be available at the normal price for artists who chose to release their songs like that.

Then, conveniently, for you, me and everyone who had ever bought a song before, we were offered a chance to “upgrade” our previously-downloaded songs to iTunes Plus at the low low price of $.30 a song (and $3.00 an album). What a deal, right? So now, Phil Schiller (just think of him as Steve Jobs plus a couple hundred pounds and a lot less charisma) comes out an announces that the entire iTunes library would soon become DRM-free, and that the same deal would apply for every artist: you could upgrade your existing library for about 30% of what you paid for it.

First of all, what is this crap about making us pay an extra 30% for a song we’ve already bought? That song is MINE. I bought it. Apple is fixing a “mistake” or imperfection with the system, and we’re expected to foot the bill? That’s absolute garbage. For someone like me, who has made quite an investment in the iTunes Store, 30% of your money spent to upgrade is no small figure (for me, it’s $106.78), and there’s no way to do it in pieces either: it’s one-click, and poof, the upgrade occurs.

I guess that means it downloads new copies of each song? That’s a brilliant move. A couple years ago there was a piece of software called the Hymn Project that was available for free and would strip all your downloaded music of its DRM, leaving you a completely anonymous, free MP3 file. In typical Apple fashion, instead of using what is out there and let the problem solve itself, the Hymn Project got served with a DMCA takedown, and here we are, a couple years later, and iTunes gets to serve over 100 billion new song upgrades.

But wait, you say. You don’t have to upgrade, do you? It’s a completely optional purchase, your existing music works. I guess you could say that, for a while. But instead of seeing this as Apple just spreading the musical love (Steve Jobs would play a certain Beatles song about friends right now), I’m seeing this as Apple downsizing, and not wanting to worry about DRM anymore. Sometime in the future, not this year, and not next year, Apple will release an announcement that there’s a brand-new iPod that will only work with DRM-free files, not the ones that you and I downloaded until this keynote. That’ll force you to upgrade, or lose your music.

Why? Because as consumers, we will. What’s the other option, buying it all again?

I’m definitely a proponent of buying your music, but I cannot stand how many hoops I have to jump through for doing the right thing. People who illegally download MP3s don’t have this issue. They also don’t have the issue of not being able to play their natively in Linux, or on my XBox 360.

Here’s the message: if you want people to do the right thing, don’t punish them for doing so. Make the upgrades free. If something like this happens again, I’ll either take my business elsewhere or I’ll just start downloading music too.

(And P.S.: it’s not completely DRM-free – according to Slashdot, iTunes Plus files still have personal identifiers which prevent you from sharing safely. While this issue is not as reprehensible as the others I mentioned, it’s a problem that we have to put personal information in files that do not require them. Hymn Project didn’t have this problem, so clearly the technology exists.)

And Apple: please, please, please, fix iTunes. All it would take is testing on one or two Windows machines every once in a while to determine that the performance makes iTunes unusable. When you have better programs such as Winamp, Songbird, and even WMP performing better, it’s no wonder you’re having problems getting people to buy music.

Seventh time’s the charm

Hello blogosphere. Did you miss me? I’ve missed you too.

It’s been a long month or so since I’ve written last, and since I wrote last I’ve had some ideas on stuff to write about: the Indians and their acquisition of Kerry Wood, a wrap-up to 2008, the ridiculousness of both the current government and the incoming administration… but I’ve always kind of lost interest, found something better to do, rather than writing. However, on Wednesday I downloaded the Windows 7 beta from MSDN, and tonight finally had some time to play around with it a bit. In short, Windows 7 is polished enough that it could be sold today, and is probably the most revolutionary version of Windows since Windows 95.

Installation
I decided to install the beta on a separate partition on my hard drive and triple-boot it with my Fedora 10 and Windows Vista installs. A couple reasons for doing this: a) I wanted to see how well it did with hardware recognition, and b) I wanted to see real performance, not virtualized.

The install was smooth, and for the most part like Windows Vista except for a much cooler boot logo. After the install, the initial setup screen is shown, where you pick the name of your computer, your username, etc. An odd thing I noticed while choosing a password was that a password was optional, but a hint was not: you have to have a password hint. After setting those things up, I was pleasantly surprised to see the next screen which enabled me to select my wireless network right from that setup screen. It’s a small touch, but it felt like I got running a lot faster with that embedded in setup. I was also asked to setup a HomeGroup, which I assume is like a workgroup only a little more modern, so I did that and finished setup.

First impressions
Logging into Windows 7 the first time, I noticed that my resolution was correct and it had even picked up my dual monitors correctly. There was no sound, but I was able to install sound drivers without a reboot by using Windows Update a bit later. The background is a little fish stuck in some ocean. It’s a nice image, but I’d check out the other themes available. I’m using the one of the snowy mountain (it seems appropriate this weekend).

I set up IE8, which was much better than I remember it being when I tested it earlier this summer on my Vista install. Instead of directing you to a website to set up your initial settings, there are now a series of dialog boxes which are much easier and faster. Still, the first place I went to in IE8 was www.google.com/chrome. I’m willing to give IE8 a second shot, but Chrome is my browser right now.

I ran Windows Update and found only a few updates, only hardware driver installs. They installed quickly (much quicker than Vista and instantaneous compared to XP) and did not require a reboot.

Windows Media Player was nice too. They’ve seperated the Now Playing and the Library screens, so for someone like me who doesn’t like all the UI chrome and just wants the video, the Now Playing screen that is simply a title bar and video, with controls when you hover over the video is a nice improvement. I was able to install DivX and watched a How I Met Your Mother episode with no problems. Another nice touch is that the “Keep player on top of other windows” has been replaced with “Keep Now Playing on top of other windows”, because no one in their right mind wants to see their library all the time.

I also liked the “Peek” feature, which just shows your desktop and outlines of the windows so you can see your gadgets (which are largely unchanged from Vista, as far as I can tell). I played around with the docking a little bit too – it’s a nice feature that I’ll get used to.

Conclusion
So say what you want, Mac fanboys or Microsoft haters: they’re working on a product that has a ton of potential. This is what Vista was supposed to be, and I’m really looking forward to what Microsoft has in store for the final release.