When someday never comes

Cliff LeeNormally, when I write about the Indians, I try to keep a pretty neutral voice. After all, I’m an Indians fan, but more than that I’m a baseball fan. Even if the Indians are losing I still love and enjoy the game.

But this one hurts.

As I read, listened to and watched coverage of the Cliff Lee trade to the Phillies, I was reminded of what the Indians were doing two years ago at this time. Do you remember?

  • After a disastorous start against the Red Sox, Cliff Lee stormed off the field, sarcastically tipping his hat to the crowd as he left. The Indians ended up losing 14-9 (I happened to be at that game), and he was sent to Buffalo the next day, and came back only for September call-ups.
  • On July 27, the Indians traded Single-A catcher Max Ramirez to the Rangers for former Indian Kenny Lofton. That night, he returned to a standing ovation and sparked the Indians to a 10-4 win.
  • CC Sabathia lost his 6th game on July 29, 2007, en route to a 19-7 Cy Young Season. His ERA was 3.58.

The Indians, of course, went on to the ALCS that year and were within one game of the World Series. Two years, two Cy Young winners traded, and one (soon to be two) Octobers on the golf course (i.e. not in the playoffs), the Indians are in rebuilding mode. What happened?

  • The bullpen implosion. In 2007, the bullpen was a strong point for the Indians. Rafael Perez and Rafael Betancourt did great getting the ball to Borowski in the ninth, who would either completely blow up or completely dominate, most of the time the latter. In 2009, Betancourt is on the Rockies (after a decent, but injury-plagued first half), Perez is in Columbus (oh yeah, we switched AAA teams since 2007) and Borowski is out of baseball. It’s been downhill since then.
  • Injuries. Grady Sizemore, who hadn’t missed a game in two years in 2007, has been on the disabled list once and now has a recurring elbow problem. Travis Hafner had a miserable 2008 and is now only starting to get his form back. Victor Martinez (who may be next to depart) disappointed in 2008 as well due to injuries. Jake Westbrook hasn’t pitched in the majors since June of 2008. The Indians’ stars have just had some bad luck injuries.
  • Inconsistent offense. When you roll out a different lineup for almost every game in a season, it’s usually a telltale sign that a team isn’t getting on any kind of a roll. That’s been the Indians’ case the last two years. Early last season, the pitching was phenomenal but the Indians just couldn’t score runs. They seem to go through those stretches where no one in the lineup is hitting.
  • Pressure. The Indians collapse when the pressure is on. Only when there are few expectations for the season (i.e. when they’re 15 games under .500) do they seem to play well. (Trot Nixon did a great job in 2007 of keeping the young guys loose and not putting too much pressure on themselves.)

Now what? Unfortunately, the analysis is that the Indians got a pretty good package of prospects, but they won’t be ready for a couple years. Let’s face it: right now, the only Indians starters that are starters on most other teams are Grady Sizemore, Victor Martinez, Asdrubal Cabrera, Shin-soo Choo, and maybe Jhonny Peralta. Everyone else (and now that Lee is gone, this includes pitchers) are probably out of their element in the majors.

Even worse news: in the article I linked above, the word out of the Indians front office is that this was a move in order to make some room in the payroll this off-season; ownership won’t be chipping in more funds to sign players. Hey, with the Indians last in the league in attendance, can you blame them? The Indians aren’t winning enough games to fill the seats, so the Indians can’t afford to pay for players to win games, and the cycle perpetuates. I’m hoping Shapiro is right, and that in 2011, the Indians will be competitive again, but if the economy doesn’t improve, I don’t think there’s much of a chance of that.

Did anyone notice the year Franklin Gutierrez is having? The Indians traded him to Seattle in the offseason for Joe Smith (who, every time I turn around, is blowing another game. Seriously, what were we thinking bolstering our bullpen with someone from the Mets, the master of bullpen collapses?), because they thought Francisco had more upside. As it turned out, Francisco is gone too, but Gutierrez is having a nice year with Seattle, hitting nearly .300. Francisco was hitting .250. It’s the Brandon Phillips syndrome: what is it with playing in Cleveland?

Well, Indians fans, all you can do is wish Lee, Francisco, Ryan Garko, Rafael Betancourt and Mark DeRosa the best and hope that at some point soon, we’ll be trade deadline buyers, not sellers.

By the way, did anyone see who is replacing Lee in the rotation? You got it, Fausto Carmona, who was 19-8 in 2007, injured last year and sent to Single A this year. My, how times have changed.

So how high of a price will you pay?

One of the hallmarks of any liberal running for office is their stance on government-subsided health care insurance. Recently, President Obama has tried to push his universal health care plan as one that will create jobs, stimulate the economy but most importantly, give every eligible American government-provided healthcare. This is a touchy issue; not one Democrat, Republican or otherwise truly want to see a single person have medical conditions untreated. Clearly, it’s a tough problem to solve, but I don’t think the answer involves the government.

First, in the interest of full disclosure, I’ve been very blessed in that throughout my life, I’ve had health care insurance through my parents or through my full-time employer. I’ve also been blessed in that I haven’t been sick or needed a doctor all that much, but when I did, I know I felt worried enough without worrying about how me or my parents were going to pay for it. In essence, I’ve never had to worry about when it was worth going to a doctor – when I felt like I need to, I could go. I’ll concede that while I do my best to understand both parts of this issue, I may never truly understand.

President Obama’s plan, which recently stalled in the House, is a lot like most of his other plans because it involves taxing the well-off to help out the not well-off. It calls for a 5% tax on all private health care insurance and an additional trillion dollars over the next ten years. This doesn’t sound terrible, but again, like most of Obama’s plans, this plan hits the hardest at corporate America: regulations on insurance providers against pre-existing condition exclusion and mandating more health care coverage.

Before talking about this, I think it’s important to touch on the debate that has come up in the last few days regarding doctors and how much they’re worth. Let’s get one thing straight: doctors have every right to earn as much money as they want. Mike Huckabee puts it best in his recent blog, and they’re probably not even paid enough. No one (in Cleveland) cares that LeBron James makes as much money as he does; no one (in New York) cares that Derek Jeter makes as much as he does. And why is that? LeBron and Jeter are both products to sell: they’re world-class athletes who are entertaining to watch. LeBron has probably never thought this, but at some point he made a decision to say, “you know what, I can make a lot of money playing basketball because people will want to see me play.” It worked. Doctors do the same thing: at some point, they say, “you know what, I can provide for my family comfortably being a doctor because people want to be healthy.”

"The product that you’re selling is good health, it shouldn’t be a tough sell." -- Edward Vogler

"The product that you’re selling is good health, it shouldn’t be a tough sell." -- Edward Vogler

In essence, all you an accuse doctors of are being good businessmen. You might think this is a little bit like oil companies, who are the most hated corporations in the world because of how much they control our life. However, unlike doctors, there are no good oil companies vs. bad oil companies; when it boils down to it, gas is gas. Good doctors, though, are hard to come by. Doctors are more analogous to the computer industry: sure, that $300 computer from Wal-Mart will probably do the trick, but can’t you accomplish more with a $2300 MacBook Pro (this is not the place for a platform war, but I think we can all agree Apple makes excellent laptops, even if their software isn’t everyone’s…preference)?

So the good doctors have us right where they want us. The best thing to do is to regulate salaries that the hospitals corporations can pay them, so that lesser doctors make more and better doctors make less, right? Would you work hard and go the extra mile in a system that doesn’t recognize it? I think a lot of people would be inclined to selflessly say “of course,” but most doctors have families to provide for, houses to pay for, and student loans (a lot of them) to pay for.

Sure, some of them might take the cut in pay, but perhaps they’d be more on edge at work and miss something important. You see this in Silicon Valley from companies like Google and Facebook: comfortable, luxurious work environments so that employees are able to focus on the job at hand without any distractions. That same principle can’t be directly applied to the medical industry (doctors should really wear lab coats, unless of course they have a Vicodin addiction and walk with a cane), so the perks translate out of the office, where doctors can be allowed to relax as much and as comfortably as possible so they’re ready for work.

President Obama’s plan doesn’t necessarily call for cutting salaries of doctors, at least not directly. However, by regulating that insurance companies cover higher-risk patients, his plan raises the cost of providing health care. Since the health care industry will still have to provide health care (and to more people, now that the plan is universal), the cuts will come out of doctor’s salaries. In fact, maybe hospitals will have to lay off doctors and nurses, meaning lower-quality health care. The money has to come from somewhere.

As another analogy, say the Obama administration passed a universal MP3 player program, where everyone in the country would get an iPod Nano for only $75 each. That’s $75 that Apple is losing in profits per iPod sold. That extra $75 would have to come out of R&D (if everyone’s buying iPods anyway, why bother innovating?) and Apple would be forced to raise prices in the iTunes store to keep everyone at Apple employed. Since most music buyers spend more on music than they do on music players, eventually they would lose money. Under a universal health care system, hospitals would cut funding in R&D to pay the higher costs of running the hospital, higher-income doctors would not be paid as much, meaning the quality of care could suffer (why would a high-income doctor work here for less than he could overseas?).

Universal health care doesn’t work for the same reason communism doesn’t work: there needs to be a merit-based incentive system, otherwise there is never innovation or improvement. Let’s keep the system private and let the mechanics of capitalism figure out how to best reform the health care industry. The American health care industry is the finest in the world, thanks in large part to it being private. Let’s keep it that way.

It’s Zuckerberg’s world, we just have to live with it

Since Facebook announced their plans for an application platform in 2007, it’s been one of the more hyped and exciting development APIs available. (In my book, it goes iPhone SDK first, then Facebook platform.) Before last month, I had only dealt with it in the fall of 2008 when writing Atonia’s (which was soon to become Zaphiri) “Import from Facebook” code. Since last month, however, I’ve modified existing Facebook Connect code and written bits and pieces of several testing/proof-of-concept apps and a full app which is powering our current Big Prize promotion. Below are some of my impressions with the second most popular platform out there.

  • It’s fast and easy to get started. There’s no waiting for a developer account, there’s no waiting for a key, you just name your app and get your keys and you’re good to go. You can quickly download a PHP-wrapped version of the API client for including, and, in what I think is a stroke of genius, there’s a quick link to download sample code relevant to your app. For the Zaphiri code, I literally started with the sample code and copied and pasted it into my app. With some minor modifications, it worked exactly how I needed it. I eventually improved it a bit, but the structure is exactly the same. Even for someone who had never touched the platform, it was very easy to dive right in and immediately produce something useful.
  • There are many shapes and sizes for an app. In just over a month I’ve made apps that lived by themselves, apps that lived inside the Facebook canvas, apps that lived in Page tabs and even an app that appeared on a user’s profile. I have yet to make a desktop app for Facebook (I don’t really see the point here), but the point is that the platform is expansive enough to give you lots of options how you want to solve your problem.
  • Deployment is just as easy as creating. Ready to deploy your app? Simply take it out of sandbox mode. Done. You can, but are not required to, submit your app to the directory and get it verified. It’ll work either way. Hearing me, Scott Forstall? Quit screwing up the iPhone App Store and take a page from the Facebook playbook. (Heh. Facebook playbook.)
  • And now it starts getting bad: the documentation is abysmal. The developers wiki, which lives at developers.wiki.facebook.com wiki.developers.facebook.com (our CTO and I can never remember the order of the subdomains), is just a modification of the MediaWiki software and is the most official Facebook platform documentation you can find.

    Seriously, whatever happened to companies actually having their own documentation and then letting other sites spring up? This never seems to happen anymore, where companies release a full API reference. Want an example, Facebook? Check out MSDN. The directory structure of MSDN, admittedly, has gotten bad lately. But, more importantly, searching works reliably. Most of the time, even if I was looking for a specific tag, I would have to take four or five clicks from the home page to the article I was looking for. This is immensely annoying.

  • The developer community for Facebook is Rails-esque. In that, I mean the community hasn’t really matured and isn’t yet big enough to be a help to a new developer. I’m on #facebook on IRC most days and most days there are a couple stretches where there isn’t much chatter at all. Questions go unanswered (and not dumb questions either, legitimate questions that should be answered). I’m not sure how many actual Facebook developers (i.e. employed by Facebook, Inc.) hang out on that channel, but if they’re there they should be more vocal and engaging the community. That’d make me much more at ease that we’re developing for a platform that’s not only popular, but improving.
  • Facebook is unreliable. Facebook has been up and down a lot over the last few months. This is understandable, as they race to adapt and keep their skyrocketing growth numbers high. Using the site during periods of instability is frustrating enough; developing during periods of instability is downright maddening. When we launched the Big Prize app it was during one of those periods. As a developer, seeing your baby app go from the womb of your developer machine and into the World Wide Wild Web and seeing it break suddenly is a little bit like sending your kid off to preschool only to watch him turn around from your car and get hit by a bus. Except in this case, we weren’t sure if the bus was being driven by someone from Facebook or…was it us? Who were we supposed to sue, ourselves or the Facebook bus driver?

    Turned out it was a little bit of both, and the instability problems went away in about an hour. The problem with instability is that you never know when it’ll decide to be unstable again.

Those are some of my thoughts regarding Facebook development. I’m hoping to get into some Objective-C and iPhone development soon – when that happens, I’ll be sure to post the cliche “My app didn’t get accepted, why don’t they love me” rant. Anyone else out there having similar experiences with Facebook development?

Dream, America, dream

Hello blogosphere, did you miss me? It’s been an eventful couple of months, and blogging fell further and further down my priority list. It is something I’d like to stay more current with, however, so hopefully I’ll be back with a (mini) vengeance.

Until about 10:10 PM this evening I had a topic in mind, then I was struck with another idea. Before then, I was going to write about my experiences over the last couple weeks developing with and using the Facebook platform to interface with both Startlike.com and Big Prize Giveaways, with the latter using the Facebook API and the former using Facebook Connect. I was going to talk about how there are a lot of tools that make integration possibilities endless and that the functionality should be there to do a ton of cool stuff. I was going to conclude that Facebook’s platform, while cool, is a little similar to Ruby on Rails in its lack of documentation and undeveloped community and just hadn’t quite knocked it out of the park yet. It was going to be informative, relevant and have a lot of cool buzzwords to get me some Google hits (wave to the Googlebot, everyone!).

Before 10:10 PM, I went to the colossal Wal-mart on Killian Road for some items. I found my stuff and worked my way to the front of the store to pay. One thing I’ve noticed about Wal-mart, relative to Target at least: there is usually about three less registers open than there should be. They must have done some private research on the cost of opening a register and closing it (even for one customer) because if Target sees you more than one or two back in line, they’ll open a register for you and take you immediately.

Wal-mart, on the other hand, knows they’ve got you. Where else are you going to go for all that stuff, K-MART? Perish the thought. You’ve got your items, you hate shopping as it is, and you’re THIS close to once again escaping the supermarket with your life (you’ll never catch me, I’m the gingerbread man!). You’re not going to give up now.

So here I am, waiting in line behind four people with approximately 12,000 items each, with three items (and only two unique items. That should count for something, right?). After avoiding them as long as possible, my eyes finally make their way down to the magazines by the checkout line.

By rough estimation, the popular topics this week were Michael Jackson, Jon and Kate, and Jennifer Aniston’s latest boyfriend. Then, at 10:10 PM, it hit me. We want kids to be interested in science (and not the “Michael Jackson is a space alien!” science), math, technology, etc. I think we as a society expect that since we pay the schools so much money every year, that must be their job.

It’s not. Or, at least, if it was, it’s not anymore, because it’s obviously not working. Kids expect to taught that at school, they’re able to tune it out – they need to have that atmosphere everywhere. As a kid, I remember standing in grocery lines with my parents and thumbing through those magazines, not having anything else better to do.

Wouldn’t it be more beneficial to kids to have more useful magazines at the front of the store where they’re exposed? (Wouldn’t it be beneficial to us all, really?) Instead of US Weekly, what about Popular Science? Instead of National Enquirer, what about a copy of the New York Times Magazine? Popular Mechanics, Newsweek, and others spring to mind as better examples of reading material to feature in the front of the supermarket. Even Sports Illustrated serves a better purpose than Star or Seventeen.

The question is, how do we make it beneficial for grocery stores too? Honestly, it would be a tremendous step forward if we simply limited our buying of those magazines. We can also write letters, send e-mails and make calls to get those magazines taken down. From a government standpoint, what about tax credits for every educational magazine or book sold?

I hope the audience I’ve been lucky enough to get here (I’ve gained about 50 Twitter followers since the last time I blogged – I’m huge on Twitter – so that audience may have expanded) agrees that we don’t need to hear every gruesome detail of the latest Michael Jackson theory, or how Jessica Simpson and Tony Romo are fighting. As a nation we’re falling behind an economy that’s swiftly becoming more and more prone to globalization. Let’s start small – 10 minutes (or less, if you get a short line) a week of being exposed to filth. After all, one small step…