Sunday, August 5, 2018

I've found the right one, baby! Uh huh!

And I'm proud to say I'm not alone. 

If it weren't for a coworker at the plastics factory where I'm employed hipping me to Markus Heinsohn's Out of the Park Baseball seven years ago, I wouldn't have been able to experience what so many of the computer game's users have been raving about all these years. 

I've been playing computer sports games since 1992 (the very year I bought my first PC- a used Commodore 64); all this time, I've been trying to put my own pro sports leagues to the test.
[Each circuit consists of teams whose Real Life players had brief (or solid-if-not-spectacular) pro playing careers or didn't get to make it to big leagues at all. And the clubs largely represent sizable American and Canadian cities that don't have major-league pro teams in this or that sport. Nonetheless, the leagues I've made up also have squads in New York City, Los Angeles, and Chicago...America's three biggest media centers.]
 


Out of the Park Baseball came on the market in May 1999, a year after Heinsohn wrote the text-based game up in an effort to wed a realistic baseball simulation with career play...and gain the favor of hardcore gamers and casual ones.
 

Markus developed his own product after four years of playing computer baseball games couldn't yield a management-based simulation he liked.
  

A sportswriter named Sean Lahman teamed up with Heinsohn to get OOTP into people's computers, and at first, you could buy a copy of the new game through Lahman's own Website, www.baseball1.com. 

OOTP gained the attention of several online gaming sites, but didn't really break through until 2001, when OOTP 3 came out. 

Over the next decade, improvements got made to Out of the Park; along the way, Computer Games Magazine bestowed the 2006 version of OOTP with that year's "Best Sports Game" award.

The first OOTP copy I received (the coworker I mentioned gave it to me on a CD) was 11 (released 4-14-2010). 

I just couldn't get over the game's statistical accuracy. In fact, it beats that of the three other baseball simulation games I've tried.

I really liked how I could replay a past American League-National League baseball season in a minute or two...but I was still unable to set up my own Continental League-Federal League baseball seasons, the way I wanted to.

That finally changed with OOTP 18 (out since 3-24-2017). 


I'm perfectly content with 18...and I'm glad to stick with it.



With OOTP 18 and the current version (OOTP 19 was introduced 3-22-2018), you can stock your baseball leagues with fictional players or with historical, Real Life ones...be they actual AL-NL players or ones who never made it out of the minors. 

Any era in baseball's long history is, well, game. And that means you can see what Satchel Paige would've done to Babe Ruth...or see if Walter Johnson could prevent Hank Aaron or Barry Bonds from driving one out of the park. (On top of that, you can see if Jose Altuve or Giancarlo Stanton could hit Roger Clemens or Bob Gibson.)


Now that I'm actively playing OOTP, I've developed a rule of thumb for stocking CL-FL rosters: If a player isn't listed in www.baseball-reference.com, I won't put him in.
 

Unlike the three other computer baseball games I've tried, OOTP entices you to think about a baseball team's front office. As a result, I've been busy poring over my copy of Baseball America's 1998 Directory (subsequent directories are available online) in order to populate the CL-FL teams' front offices with people who actually were in professional baseball.


After all, if a team's going to have historical players, why shouldn't it have historical executives?

All I've got to do is go to an in-game database (it recognizes www.baseball-reference.com) to get players...and that way, I can use OOTP's artificial intelligence to control the squads. 


And since an entire schedule can take as little as a minute or two to play, I'm able to play a season per day if I want to...
but since I'm trying to keep such a tight rein on personnel and trying to keep the fictional players out, I've decided to play a season per month.


I've just completed the 1998 CL-FL campaign, and this month, I'll launch the 1999 season.

At this rate, I'll be caught up by May 2020...when I'll be able to get my 2020 Continental-Federal campaign off the ground. 

If you'd like to learn more about a baseball simulation game even lots of people inside the majors (like Boston Red Sox owner John Henry) rave about, just log onto www.ootpdevelopments.com.

And once you start playing OOTP, you'll start raving about it, too. 

[By the way...I'm curious to see how OOTP handles the 2001 CL-FL baseball season (especially when September comes around).]

 

Sunday, July 15, 2018

Now that's more like it!

For a while, the 2018 Ragtime to Riches Festival looked as if it was going to be a bust.

Only six people showed up to each of the last two early-July old-time piano celebrations here in the Omaha/Council Bluffs/Bellevue area. 

Fifty chairs were set up for spectators in Memorial Hall at the Big O's First Central Congregational United Church of Christ. The stage was set up with the greatest of care. 

The doors to Memorial Hall at Omaha's oldest currently-practicing Protestant church were opened at 1:00 PM (Central time) on 7-8-2018.

Nobody came.

About ten minutes into the festival's open-piano session, I went over to the church's turn-of-the-20th-Century Anderson & Newton upright to go over the tunes I wanted to do as part of the event's workshop: "Four Ragtime Composers You Might Not Have Known About."

Well, 2:00 PM came...the very time the workshop was to begin.

Still, nobody came.

2:10 PM came and went. So did 2:20 PM.

And yet...nobody came.

Not even the two featured performers I was scheduled to play alongside. 

Finally, at 2:31 PM, one of my fellow members of another local church (St. Paul United Methodist) walked inside First Central's Memorial Hall.

Marc May and I shot the breeze for a while as he and I wondered if this was going to be it...despite all the work to get the word out about the fourteenth annual Omaha ragfest.

One thing was for sure: The workshop had to get canceled. 

Then...BOOM!

Between 2:45 PM and 3:10 PM, twelve people came inside...including featured performers Faye Ballard and Diana Stein.

At 3:05 PM (five minutes later than scheduled), I went up to bat first with R to R 2018's initial concert.

This time, instead of using songs whose titles include the names of states of the US (last year's personal R to R fare), I went for some tunes that were in the Number One spot on the various US pop music charts on Independence Day. And the first number in the concert was a ditty from 1892, "Throw Him Down, McCloskey," written by J.W. Kelly and recorded by a man named Charles Marsh. (Charles was one of music's first one-hit wonders: His wax cylinder made it up to the Number One spot on 6-18-1892 and stayed there for three weeks.)

My next number turned out to be Tin Pan Alley's first blockbuster hit: "After the Ball," the Charles K. Harris tune that sold six million pieces of sheet music once it hit the streets in 1892...and became a smash recording the next year when George J. Gaskin put his lips to it (and made it Number One for ten weeks, beginning on 4-29-1893). 

Those were the only tunes where I used sheet music.

The remaining eight songs in my set were all done from memory..."Golden Slippers," "Sweet Rosie O'Grady," "Hello, Ma Baby," "A Bird in a Gilded Cage," "The Preacher and the Bear," "Sweet Georgia Brown," and two from outside the 1890-1929 period: "Sentimental Journey" and "I Can't Stop Loving You." 

Well, the crowd liked it. (Whew!)

Had to cut my set short so that Diana (a Memphis, TN native who, six weeks earlier, was one of the first finalists in the newly-created Senior Division competition at Mississippi's World Championship Old-Time Piano Playing Contest and Festival) could make her Ragtime to Riches debut on time...4:15 PM. 

Actually, Diana launched her set at 4:10 PM...when she took to the church's 2015 Yamaha grand piano.

It was great not only to see her again (first time since the 2012 OTPP Contest), but also to hear her again. The audience really enjoyed Diana's robust, powerful blend of rags, stride, boogie woogie, and blues...and she kicked it all off with two Scott Joplin numbers: "Magnetic Rag" and "Pineapple Rag." (Diana added two more of Scott's compositions later on in her thirteen-tune set: "Solace" and the one that kicked syncopation into high gear, "Maple Leaf Rag.")

Diana's versions of "Nickel in the Slot," "Singin' in the Rain," "Monkey Strut," and "Memories of You" stood out, too, as did her version of James Scott's "Climax Rag." 

The community-college instructor closed out her concert with two Fats Waller tunes: The famous "Ain't Misbehavin'" and the not-as-well-known "Viper Strut."

Diana, what a debut you put on! You tore that Memorial Hall down!

At 7:00 PM, OTPP's contest coordinator kicked off this year's R to R anchor leg by firing off two medleys- one consisting of the theme songs of America's five Armed Forces branches, the other medley devoted to George M. Cohan's music. 

Staying at the Yamaha grand piano, Faye changed the music to "Puttin' on the Ritz."

She likened her set to a party...and what a party it was!

To substantiate that, the Champaign, IL native went back to the medley well to join "Beer Barrel Polka" with "Too Fat Polka." And Faye showed two of ragtime's Big Three composers some love by doing James' "Frog Legs Rag" and Joseph Lamb's "Cleopatra Rag." Plus, the former University of Illinois-Champaign-Urbana office manager put in old favorites like "It Had to Be You," "Mack the Knife," "Harlem Rag," and "Sailin' Away on the Henry Clay."

Faye's one of the first people to tell you that the Illinois-turned-Mississippi get-together is, at its core, a cutting contest. And as a case in point, she played her famous version of one of the rags Diana put in her own set: Luckey Roberts' "Pork and Beans."

After playing ten ditties, Faye turned it over to one of this year's C&F Junior Division finalists: Rich Bliesener, a thirteen-year-old who lives in and goes to school in Burlington, IA. (Rich's number was "Humpty Dumpty," a rag written in 1914 by Charley Straight...one of the coauthors of "Mockingbird Rag.")

Faye's fifteen-tune set ended with "Charleston Rag" and "12th Street Rag." 

And then...the fun spilled over into the afterglow party, where Rich and Faye took to the two pianos. 

In fact, Faye and Rich made this year's R to R afterglow the most successful one in the festival's history.
What's more, the Great Plains Ragtime Society took in $90 in ticket sales...a 50% increase from 2017.

Those of you who came to R to R 14.0, well...all I can say is: 

Thanks for picking this festival up off the floor...and thanks for bringing the FUN! 

Sunday, June 17, 2018

Overlooking and letting go

When I'm not writing blogs or getting involved in music, I work in a plastics factory here in Omaha. 

This company recently hired a new director of human resources after firing her much-appreciated predecessor, a long-time company executive.

This past Wednesday, a question the firm's new HR chief asked me got under my skin...big time.

At 4:55 PM that afternoon, I was trying to leave the break room at the plant I work at in order to resume production. A fellow machine operator of mine (a middle-aged woman) was talking with the new head of HR about trying to recover items stolen the previous day from the machine operator while she herself was in the women's restroom at the same plant. 

The operator was attempting to find the culprit.

As I was trying to get back to the machine I was assigned to run, our company's new exec asked me: "Did you do it?" 

I felt stunned.

Nevertheless, I answered: "No, I didn't! I was raised better than that." 

WHAT THE HELL MADE THIS DIRECTOR OF HUMAN RESOURCES THINK I'D GO INTO A WOMEN'S RESTROOM AT ALL...LET ALONE TO STEAL FROM ANYONE IN IT? 

When I returned to the break room that night to eat dinner, I told another machine operator about the incident...and this coworker asked me to "let it go."

I WON'T!!

I'm still stunned by this question.

In fact, three days ago, I regained enough composure to write down what had happened in the break room and submit the report to the supervisor's office...then got a copy made for personal safekeeping (and to provide documented proof that this HR honcho asked me this inane question). 

By the way, I learned that this isn't the first time said executive popped off like this to a rank-and-file employee.

Every late summer or early fall, the firm holds a picnic, and all the executives within the company get involved in it. (And that means the head of human resources will be there...to, among other things, help conduct an employee raffle.)

This year, I'm not going to show up.

And I'm going to continue to boycott the company picnic as long as this new HR leader is part of the firm I'm still with. 

You know, all of this overlooking and letting go has, in recent decades, led America to the point where- let's not kid ourselves- a dictator is in the White House (and his fellow Republicans, especially the ones on Capitol Hill, are fighting tooth and nail to help him convert America from the constitutional republic it was founded to be into a police state). 

During 2016, 231.6 million of America's 323.1 million people were eligible to cast ballots. 

62.9 million people voted to turn these United States into a fascist nation. (I mean, let's face it. They're getting what they've been on their knees begging for.)

They sold out their country...and, in the process, trashed the Allies' 1939-45 efforts to keep full-fledged fascism from spreading beyond Germany, Italy, and Japan (let alone hit America's shores in a complete and total way). 

In addition, according to the United States Election Project, 108.6 million citizens stayed away from the polls on 11-8-2016...but 21.0 million of them were forced to do so on account of voter-suppression laws enacted in state after state after state after Barack Obama picked up his second term of office (and because the Supreme Court ruled against the 1965 Voting Rights Act in 2013). 

So...87.6 million citizens are, like it or not, just as complicit as the aforementioned 62.9 million folks in saying "yes" to the nightmare we entered into on 1-20-2017.

That's right...the self-inflicted nightmare. 

After all, when you don't vote, you give the other side the choice. That's all there is to it. 

Do you enjoy GOP efforts to take away more and more of your rights- especially the right to speak out against injustice? Are you okay with the Republicans' drive to capitalize on Russia's heavy hand in the 2016 US election? [By the way, do you remember when US Sens. John McCain (R-AZ), Lindsey Graham (R-SC), and Marco Rubio (R-FL) talked about how much they admired Russia's Vladimir Putin? This was just four years ago!] 

You cool with families being torn apart at the border...
with the children thrown into cages? 

Well, if you don't like this Great American Nightmare, all you've got to do is make sure you get out to your neighborhood polling place on 11-6-2018. 

Vote to take Congressional control away from the Republicans. Today's Elephants keep proving that they don't give a crap about America.

They just care about power.

Come on now...you can't really expect a Graham (or a Mitch McConnell or a Paul Ryan or a Steve Scalise) to call Donald Trump out when they have the same basic core beliefs Trump has.

And you can't expect the heads of this country's biggest media companies to call DJT and his fellow Republicans out on the carpet when Big Media helped bring all of this garbage about. 

It's up to us rank-and-file citizens to save this country.

We won't do it by overlooking and letting go.   



Thursday, May 31, 2018

Guess what I'll be doing on Sundays this fall?

Well, I won't be watching National Football League action, that's for sure.

It's all because the owners of the league's 32 clubs have decided to ban kneeling during the singing/playing of "The Star-Spangled Banner."


Players must now stand during Francis Scott Key's claim to fame...or risk getting fined. 

The only other option for the NFL's athletes: Stay in the locker room until the song's finished.

I remember all the letters that appeared in the Omaha World-Herald during the 2017 NFL campaign...letters that asked those protesting football players to air their grievances "on their own time" rather than in front of stadiums full of people (as well as in front of millions of TV viewers).

Well, those Americans who gave their newspapers such letters have now gotten what they've been on their own knees begging for.

And it probably won't take long before some of those same letter writers attack any NFL players who actually use "their own time" to address issues such as police brutality. 

In time for last Wednesday's Washington Post, Shaun R. Harper (a professor at USC who runs the school's Race and Equity Center) turned in a heck of an editorial about the circuit's new kneeling ban. 


Harper talked about how the new edict is all about ethnicity. 

Out of over 1,700 NFL players who suited up last season, 70% are Black. Seven of the teams had African Americans as their head coaches.

Every last squad in the league is owned by White people.

And starting with head honcho Roger Goodell, most of the people who make up the power structure at NFL headquarters in New York City are Caucasian Americans.


Add it all up. 

Harper did just that, talking about how the kneeling ban signals that the team owners don't give a good, good hoot about fighting racism in America. In addition, he stated that "the league is only interested in Black men as laborers and entertainers, not as citizens with the right to use their influence to awaken our nation's racial consciousness, disrupt racism, and improve circumstances for members of their communities who are harmed by racist policies and practices."

The key word is "citizens."

Later on in that editorial, Harper (he's written a dozen books; his most famous one: "Scandals in College Sports") called on NFL players to sue the league over its efforts to hold back gridders' freedom of expression (we're talking First Amendment rights, you know!).  

SRH also talked about how he joined many other African-American football lovers in boycotting last year's NFL contests to show solidarity with Colin Kaepernick and other activist players.


Shaun, I'm a year late to the "party," but here I am.

I'll continue to read about the games in the paper and online.

I just won't watch the games on TV anymore...until the Jerry Joneses and Daniel Snyders lift that stupid kneeling ban and stop cozying up to a man who wanted one of those NFL teams earlier in this decade.

That's right...Donald John Trump.

Even if Trump and his enablers/supporters don't really get it, patriotism involves more than standing at attention when you hear, as George Carlin put it, the world's only national anthem that mentions rockets and bombs.

Much more. 

Saturday, May 26, 2018

"Are you good?"

Been down in the dumps a lot this month...some of it due to things at my job and some of it because of things going on at the apartment building I live in (to say nothing of the crap still going on in Washington, DC).

Take this past Wednesday.

At about 2:10 PM (Central time), I was coming back from music practice at the church I go to, and was trying to hurry up and get out of said apartment building in order to rush out to my factory job when I saw three little boys (each roughly five to seven years old) sitting on the stairs inside the apartment building. 


I was heading up the stairs to my own apartment when one of the boys asked me: "Are you good?"

I told him: "Yes. I live here."

And as 5-23-2018 wore on and I was fighting to pack only high-quality products at that factory in Southwest Omaha, I got to thinking about something else that happened a month earlier.

One day back in April, as I was heading to my car to drive to work, another little boy was playing among the cars, SUVs, and trucks in the upper parking lot of the same apartment building.  

Out of the blue, that boy proclaimed to me: "I'm a police officer."

As if I needed to know that. 

As far as I'm concerned, the two incidents stemmed from just one thing:

The parents of the two boys taught them how to hate. 

That's all there is to it.

What hurts even more is that the boys and their folks come from lands such as Myanmar and Nepal...two of the nations Donald Trump labeled as "s***hole countries." (In recent years, the Omaha/Council Bluffs/Bellevue area has built increasingly strong Karen and Nepalese communities...as well as increasingly strong Hispanic, Somali, and Sudanese ones.) 

And with television and this here Internet teaming up to give some of America's newest naturalized citizens (as well as lots of people who came into the world right here in these fifty states) a crash course on who to hang out with, it doesn't take long to learn bigotry.

I've lived in the same neighborhood since 3-29-1997...the very day I moved back here to the Big O after spending the previous eight years and nine months residing in Sioux City, Iowa.


All this time, I've seen the apartment building I've lived in since I moved back to Gabrielle Union's birth city turn from half-Black, half-White residency to predominantly Yellow. 

The building has changed hands twice, with the second sale having taken place this past February.

As long as I'm able to pay the rent, I've got a place to live. 

And I've got to admit the truth: Like the vast majority of human beings, I've tried my best to be good. When not at the factory or at church, I've tried to keep to myself and mind my own doggone business.

When it comes to that, I'm someplace between the middle of this long, long line and the very back of the line.

And I'm going to keep trying my best to be good...and be myself.

Monday, April 30, 2018

Under new management!

The famed Pink Poodle Steakhouse in Crescent, Iowa, that is.


I went there yesterday for this month's Great Plains Ragtime Society "meeting+music," and found out that the new owner is a man named Joe McNeil.

And Joe's presence at Crescent's legendary eatery keeps things all in the family.

Joe's mom, Doreen (formerly a food server there), bought the steakhouse in 2003 after its previous owner, Mary Jo Paulison, passed away. 

From 1973 to 1985, the Pink Poodle was a husband-and-wife venture: Mary Jo married Art Paulison (the man who teamed up with a business partner in 1966 to buy the place) in '73...seven years or so after she herself became a food server at the Poodle. In 1971, Mary Jo inherited some money and used the loot to buy out Art's partner...only to see the place burn down a month later (January 1972).

What was left was a motel...so Art and Mary Jo remodeled it into apartments for a place they could live. Then, a year later, the newly-married couple took out a small business loan to rebuild the restaurant (this time, around some arches Art bought after the 1975 Omaha tornado knocked down that city's Prom Townhouse and left that eatery's arches available). 

Then in 1985, Art's death left Mary Jo in complete charge of one of the most interesting places to eat here in the Omaha/Council Bluffs/Bellevue area. 

And now, Doreen's battles with Parkinson's Disease have left the steakhouse in Joe's hands.  

Now...what makes this restaurant (which actually opened in 1955 as Pede's, renamed the Black Glove a few years later, and finally, in 1964, rechristened the Pink Poodle) so interesting?

First of all, there's the doll collection.


Lots and lots of dolls, starting with one from the 1860s; the majority of figures come from the 1900-39 period. Mary Jo didn't dig dolls when she was a child, but she sure grew up to be an avid collector of 'em...and she specialized in collecting Dionne quintuplet dolls. 

Second...can you name another restaurant in these United States that features three working antique upright player pianos?

The Poodle has, from left to right, a 1919 Gulbransen,
a 1913 Bellmann,
and a 1916 Ricca and Son.
(Maybe you've seen these three pianos played on YouTube.) 


Last, but certainly not least...you can't knock the food.

I like the Pink Poodle's spaghetti-and-meatballs dinner, its chicken dinners, and the eatery's ground sirloin dinner (I had that yesterday). Can't beat the "adult soup and salad" dinner, either. 

But the Poodle's real calling card is its prime rib...Omaha Magazine's Number One choice in 2004.
 

And this Crescent landmark's got a very, very friendly staff. 

If you'd like to see what Hannah, Joe, Jolene, Kolton, and Co. are up to (and if your appetite screams out for prime rib or anything else on the restaurant's menu), just come out to 633 Old Lincoln Hwy., Crescent, IA 51526. 

The restaurant's closed on Mondays, but it's open 5:00-9:00 PM Tuesdays through Thursdays, 5:00-10:00 PM Fridays and Saturdays, and 12:00 Noon-9:00 PM on Sundays. (You can go online to www.pinkpoodlesteakhouse.com or call 712 545-3744 to place a reservation...or just come on over.)

And if you like old-time piano, just come over to the Pink Poodle at 2:00 PM on the last Sunday of each month...except in December (when GPRS gets together on the second Sunday). And in May and November, there's no GPRS meeting at all. (Check http://r2rfestival.webs.com/GPRS to make sure.)

See you at the Poodle!

Friday, March 30, 2018

Well, it didn't hurt as badly as I thought

The results from the 3-22-2018 biopsy are in.

Before I tell you just what happened (what the biopsy revealed, that is) on the eve of the eighth anniversary of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act becoming law, here's a confession:

The whole procedure took only 45 minutes, and...it wasn't as painful as I'd first imagined the biopsy would be.  

A little after 8:30 AM, Cynthia (the nurse on duty at Omaha's Urology Center) had me fill out another form, then instructed me to strip down (I could keep my T-shirt on if I wanted to...and it stayed on my back), then gave me a surgical gown to put on.

She then had me lie down on my left side on the gurney...to inject an anesthetic into my hind end. (I didn't even want to see the needle. After all, it and the syringe housing the needle added up to the length of my arm.) 

That turned out to be the worst part of the procedure.

Next, Dr. Michael Kroeger came into the procedure room to team up with Cynthia. 

They joined forces to put a probe into my rectum in order to take twelve pictures of my prostate, all to find out if there was any trace of cancer in it. (I got through that phase of the procedure by counting to twelve with each click of the probe.)

And by a little after 9:15 AM, I was out of there...and ready to spend the rest of the day at home.

No strenuous exercising or heavy lifting for another 24 hours (and that meant a trip to the supermarket was out)...I finished taking the antibiotic Michael prescribed (one tablet before the biopsy and the other three afterwards)...and I got plenty of opportunities to watch some NCAA Division 1 men's basketball tournament games.

Finally got the word this past Tuesday (and, knowing my luck, it came while I was still at my factory job).

The results of the biopsy showed...no trace of prostate cancer at all.

Next time I meet up with the Urology Center staff will be Monday, 10-1-2018, at 8:45 AM, for a blood test.
All I can say is: We'll see what happens next, now that the biopsy is...behind me.