On This Date: Photo taken 7/20/2004

Babcock State Park’s a pretty place in West Virginia’s New River Gorge where Joan and I have often vacationed. On various trips we’ve camped in a tent, camped in a popup trailer, and stayed in cabins. Obviously we enjoy the place.

The park’s mostly a rather steep wilderness on the side of the gorge, but its most famous feature is Glade Creek Mill. This is that mill, as the sign testifies, but it’s none of the usual pictures. I’ve taken those photographs, too, but….

This is the only digital photograph surviving from that vacation. I’ve film pix from that week, but I can’t confidently date those.

I’d bought my first digital camera in late 2002, and while I was still predominantly a film SLR photographer it was clear by the summer of 2004 that I needed to back up my digital images. So I began burning the pix to CDs. After a false start or two I came up with the system I still use, though it’s been augmented over the years. I began with the oldest digital pix and worked through 2003. At that point I took a break.

Then my laptop’s drive failed. The only digital pix that survived that failure were duplicated, for one reason or another, and stored away from that computer. This photo was one of those. But the larger reality is that I lost most digital images I took between Christmas of 2003 and October 2, 2004.

There’s a lesson in there….

And a new camera note: One year ago today I bought my D500. It’s been fun, but I’m still figuring it out….

Number of pix taken on various July 20ths: 1266
Year of oldest photo: 2004

How I Rated the Date’s Photographs:

  • 1 Star: 0
  • 2 Stars: 91
  • 3 Stars: 934
  • 4 Stars: 206
  • 5 Stars: 35

Revision History:

The Broken Maple

The Broken Maple

On This Date: Photo taken 6/8/2003

June 8, 2003, was a Saturday. We worked in the yard and I photographed some flowers with my digital point-n-shoot. Then we went out to dinner. While we were away a storm blew through; it sounded pretty impressive in the restaurant.

Got home; found the neighbors out in the streets. Seems a twister’d hit Mulliken. A quick survey of our yard showed three young trees ruined, a wee bit of damage to our garage, and a bunch of knocked down flowers. We were fortunate.

The whole town was fortunate. Except for two large trees downed a bit north of us, no serious damage was done. But ’twas certainly a thrill.

Photographing that sort of damage is really quite difficult. When you think of a tornado you think of broken buildings; what our town had was mostly broken trees. My pix show pieces of trees here and there around the yard, the damage to our siding, and the flattened flower beds. Totally unimpressive.

This photo was taken with my film point-n-shoot and scanned from a negative.

Number of pix taken on various June 8ths: 637
Year of oldest photo: 1994

How I Rated the Date’s Photographs:

  • 1 Star: 2
  • 2 Stars: 53
  • 3 Stars: 524
  • 4 Stars: 53
  • 5 Stars: 5

Revision History:

The Last Tulip

The Last Tulip

On This Date: Photo taken 4/25/2012

I like Tulips.

A year or so after buying this house I planted a lot of flowers in a bed behind the garage. A few years later we converted the plot into Joan’s veggie garden, and the flowers mostly went elsewhere–some to other locations in our yard; others to a neighbor’s place.

A few stubborn plants refused to move. This was the last; the photo was taken nearly two decades after I made the original plantings.

Over the past couple days the Tulips we moved elsewhere in the yard have begun to open. They’re quite lovely, delivering color as the Daffodils and Windflowers fade.

There’s another, somewhat different, remnant of the original set. One bulb somehow migrated under the neighboring Forsythia, and flourishes still. We root for it, and relish its stiff-necked survival.

Number of pix taken on various April 25ths: 511
Year of oldest photo: 2005

How I Rated the Date’s Photographs:

  • 1 Star: 3
  • 2 Stars: 68
  • 3 Stars: 368
  • 4 Stars: 62
  • 5 Stars: 10

Revision History:

Of Old Baseball Gloves and Sabermetrics

This post begins with a fifty-year-old memory. While I’m certain I’ve got things essentially right, I’m nearly as sure there’s some detail that’s wrong. That’s OK; the main point is the memory.

My first baseball glove had originally been my father’s. Since Dad was a kid in the 1930s, you can imagine what that was like: An uncomfortable pancake thing which didn’t appreciably improve my (negligible, to be sure) fielding prowess. Dad eventually bought me a better glove: A Ted Williams model, probably a late Wilson model before he became part of the Sears empire. Teddy Ballgame not being known as a particularly good fielder, the packaging talked mostly about his accomplishments with a bat. This is where I first encountered On Base Percentage, as the summary of his 1941 season mentioned his .553 OBP.

"What," I asked my father, "is this mystery statistic?" Dad actually had a response, which I don’t recall in detail but was certainly along the lines of "It’s what his batting average would be if you included his walks." In retrospect, that Dad knew what OBP meant is probably as delightful as the glove. Of course, I didn’t recognize that at the time.

Fact is, when I was twelve I didn’t know much about Williams. I knew he (had) played with Boston, and that Topps seemed to think he was the best ballplayer of his generation (evidence was awarding him the #1 card in 1957 & 1958, which certainly seemed like an endorsement). I discounted that endorsement as ignorant bias. Nowadays, like everyone else, I’m certain they likely had it right. The Splinter was Splendid.

But today’s essay’s about Sabermetrics, not about old ballplayers. I’ve been rereading Baseball Between the Numbers by the Baseball Prospectus staff, which was published a few years back. It’s set me to thinking about The March of On-Base Percentage (as Alan Schwarz titled a chapter in his book The Numbers Game), and about other things sabermetric.

I was slightly aware of Bill James some years before he became famous, I think because I devoured The Sporting News. When Bill’s Ballantine-published 1982 Baseball Abstract hit the newsstands, I immediately purchased and devoured that. I’ve have been collecting similar books ever since. My library now contains nearly everything James has published, all of the recognized Sabermetric classics, complete or nearly-complete runs of most James-influenced publications, and other books which resemble those. The quality’s quite variable, and there’s no book I fully agree with. But I’m definitely part of the sabermetric camp.

Anyway, the thing which strikes me about Baseball Between the Numbers is that it’s largely grown obsolete in just a half-decade. For almost 20 years, baseball management largely resisted serious statistical analysis. Management largely consisted of former players, and few were inclined to take outside analysis seriously. This was partly willful blindness–“He never played the game”–and partly statistical ignorance. But a generation later, baseball’s management’s (unexpectedly) become more businesslike, and a newer generation of baseball players–and coaches and field managers–includes a sprinkling of folks who grew up reading James, Pete Palmer, or authors influenced by James and Palmer. Some of those players have moved to front office jobs. And while fans still have blind spots, they’re generally more aware that many numbers are influenced by ballpark and batting order, and that there are legitimate reasons to debate baseball’s accepted wisdom.

The result is a new baseball culture. While people still argue about the value of statistical analysis vis-a-vis other forms of baseball knowledge, basically everyone agrees with the fundamental tenets which have driven sabermetric analysis and many managers, announcers, and fans are comfortable using some of the sabermetric toolkit. OPS and SLG are commonly understood. In the front office, it’s clear that many teams’ decisions are informed, if not driven, by Runs Created-like formulas and more realistic analyses of the context and consequences of their options. The result’s better baseball on the field, and better decision-making at all levels.

There’s no calling in life which isn’t influenced by fashion. Baseball’s new sabermetric fashion is, on the whole, a good thing, and benefits all of us who care about the game.

OK, back to Baseball Between the Numbers. Reading it has been a bit frustrating. Because I’ve followed these discussions for many years, much of what’s covered here seems pretty basic. The book has some good research, but on the whole I’m clearly not–and never was–the target audience.

There’s another thing, too. Things have moved beyond the issues discussed in this book. The cutting edge research nowadays is based on play-by-play, and even pitch-by-pitch, data. While the authors make some reference to play-by-play, on the whole the book’s based on summary statistics. So there’s a sense that they were summarizing the state of the art just as the research practice moved somewhere else. That was certainly worth doing, but clearly more valuable to a new reader than to someone who’s been following the discussion.

March 30th addition: BP’s recently published a two-volume "Best Of" book, drawn from their website; it’s heavily weighted toward recent work, so likely they’re in agreement about this. They’re also apparently working on a successor to Between the Numbers. I’m looking forward to it.

(I wrote this essay last July, filed it, and forgot it. Posting it now, with slight editing, because it seems worthwhile….)

Revision History:


The cover story on the latest edition of Macalester Today, Mac’s alumni magazine, features Jim Dunn and Sam Ernst, executive producers and writers of SyFy Channel’s Haven. They’d previously written for The Dead Zone, which led to their current gig. All in all this is your typical alumni magazine success story, of course, but it’s always nice to know someone made good.

It says here that “they first met as computer-assigned roommates at Macalester in 1984…”–well, that caught my eye. I’ve written elsewhere today about the summer of 1981, but that note didn’t mention my summer job. After our little excursion to Fayette and other Upper Michigan places, my sister dropped me off in Saint Paul, where I spent the summer assigning freshmen to rooms. Since those rooms were shared, I made some effort to match folks by interest. I was afforded some slight help by preference cards, on which they may or may not have indicated favorite books, faith, musical interests, hobbies, expected major, home town, and similar information. Not much to go on, but I was double-checked by the admissions office, who occasionally vetoed a pairing. A few roomies later sought me out to thank me; no one cursed me to my face. All in all it was a fun summer. I’ve always claimed this was my favorite job.

Three years later, I gather, I’d been replaced by a computer. Hmmm.

Now What?

“OK. Now what do we do?”

By far the most common question I’ve heard since September 30 is “What are you going to do?” I’ve routinely said “Don’t know, but I’ll figure something out.” I’ve several hobbies: I’m a decent photographer, I’m a bicyclist, I read several books a week. I’ve a national reputation as a baseball researcher. In earlier lives I’ve organized political campaigns, written software, officiated at bicycle races, and won a prize for a paper focused on transportation history. I’ve been a bicycle club president, I’ve helped run a computer bulletin board, I’ve been active on church committees, I’ve organized a national convention for a volunteer organization. And I haven’t even mentioned music. I really don’t think finding things to do will be an issue.

What’s less clear, right now, is what I will actually do. I’m planning to get serious about bicycling again, but I don’t expect or want that to take over my life. Photography will likely remain a hobby; it’s always been something I practice diligently for extended periods, then almost completely abandon. I’ll continue to attend baseball games; that’s a lifetime constant. I’ve contributed to The SABR Encyclopedia in the past, and plan to resume doing so. There’s work to do around the house, but neither Joan nor I expect that to be my main pastime. I also have a few long-standing commitments, here and there, that I aim to wrap up, but those are finite projects and none are a life’s work.

Beyond that, there are certainly options. I have baseball research projects I’d like to tackle. There’s some Great Lakes history I expect to research; perhaps there’s a book or two in that. Perhaps Proposal 1 will pass today; I’d certainly consider running for Con-Con Delegate. I might rekindle my railfan addiction, and perhaps build a model pike in the attic. There are places I’d like to (re)visit, books I’d like to read, people I’d like to meet. I probably can’t do all of these things, so I’ll need to make some decisions.

Anyway, I’m confident I’ll find useful things to fill my day. But I’m not hurrying to solve this puzzle.

Although they’re also eligible to retire, some of my colleagues are not sure how they’d fill their days without the pattern of a daily job. So they are staying on. This is good, as their experience will be valuable as new staff joins, and the new leadership reorganizes, state government. Note, though, that they read absence of routine into the "Now What?" question, and vote for structure. There’s another reading for the question. I see a multitude of opportunities.

Revision History:

about dabbler

So: Who’s this Joel guy?

Age 56: Portrait in Blue

I’m a baseball geek and a fairly serious amateur photographer. Once upon a time I was a very serious bicyclist, and I’ve been a Democratic Party staffer. I retired late in 2010, after working for the State of Michigan for over three decades.

A List of Things about Joel Dinda

  1. I watch lots of minor league baseball.
  2. I was born in 1949.
  3. I’m a graduate of Macalester College.
    • I graduated with the Class of 1982, but was originally a member of the 1971 graduating class. Life is complicated.
    • I majored in history under Ernie Sandeen, who passed away a few days before I completed classes.
    • My senior project at Mac was about transporting iron ore.
  4. I grew up in Kalamazoo. My brother and sister still live there.
  5. I now live in Mulliken. I share the town with about 600 souls.
  6. I share a small home with Joan and two kitties (Taffy and Oreo). We used to have two other cats, Butterscotch and Peppermint.
    • Joan named the candy kitties. Oreo was already named when she adopted us.
  7. I want to retire to Marquette, or Duluth. Joan doesn’t; claims they’re too cold. There’s a good chance we’ll end up in Saint Ignace.
  8. I retired on November 1, 2010, after 33 years as a Michigan civil servant.
  9. I watch Lakers. (No, not the basketball team: Boats.)
  10. I’m a Vietnam vet: Signal Corps communications center in Pleiku [SSDP]. Before that, I was stationed at Fort Baker (California), Fort Huachuca (Arizona), Fort Gordon (Georgia), and Fort Knox (Kentucky, of course, silly). This list is in reverse order, and it leaves off Fort Lewis and Fort Dix, both of which were transient stations.
  11. Bicycles:
    • I’m a life member of the League of American Bicyclists. (The plaque says League of American Wheelmen, which is the name I actually prefer. Water over the dam.)
    • I was president of the Kalamazoo Bicycle Club from 1975 to 1977, and was host of the National Convention of Bicyclists (Escape 78) after my presidential term ended.
    • I used to bicycle. I used to bicycle a lot. My best bike has travelled over 87,000 miles.
    • I’ve begun to bicycle again, but no longer consider myself serious.
  12. I belong to the Missabe Railroad Historical Society, and was once active in the NMRA–but I now try to control my railfan addiction.
  13. I (still) own two Radio Shack Model 100s. I was an active member of Compuserve’s M100SIG.
  14. Long ago, I helped sysop a couple Lansing bulletin boards.
  15. I sing. I used to be an excellent singer, but asthma’s messed up my voice.
  16. I’m a Democrat.
    • I worked on George McGovern’s campaign and I’m still proud of him.
    • Gene McCarthy, too.
  17. I’ll tell you more if I figure out what I want to say.
  18. Oh, yeah. I used to be a government bureaucrat. I made lists for a living.

A short note about plans

I’ve got plans, but not necessarily for this page.

You may or may not want to see what I’ve said about myself on Library Thing (recommended) or Flickr (not so much).

Author’s note: This page was my first webpage, and was initially composed on January 24, 1996. It’s been moved a few times, and updated occasionally, but it’s essentially the original page.

Revision History:

Mom’s Transforming Desk

Mom & Dad had this neat desk. I’m not sure how they acquired it–probably a wedding present–but it’s been part of our lives for as long as any of us “kids” remember. At heart it’s a small executive desk, but it’s unusually well-made and has one unexpected feature–it folds out to become a dining room table. For my entire life it was the fanciest piece of furniture my parents owned.

It’s also nearly six decades old. A piece of furniture gets pretty battered if you use it every day for 57 years. Even if it cost a fortune, and even if it’s made of oak.

Mom passed away a couple years ago, and basically left everything to everyone. The desk was one of the easy pieces to settle: Debbie wanted to preserve it, while Richard and I had/have no interest in it whatever. We both recognize the quality, but it won’t fit well in our offices, it needs to be refinished, and the emotional connection’s pretty weak. Debbie’s office needs are different (she’s a preacher-in-training), and she’s clearly more attached to the desk than we are. That’s fine.

All this came up last weekend as Joan and I were helping Debbie move. Debbie still can’t believe I don’t want the desk….

Revision History:


Spring 1974: Mom & Dad were about to leave on vacation–New Orleans, I think–when Mom handed me a couple twenties and said I should get my bike working while they were gone. Not sure what provoked the assignment, but it’s fair to say it changed my life….

The bike in question was a Schwinn Varsity. Dad had purchased it for me in 1968, for my use as transportation around St. Paul during my sophomore year at Macalester. The bike had served me well over the years, but had deteriorated to the point I couldn’t ride it any more.

The first task was simple repair. Didn’t know anything about maintaining bikes, then, so I hied off to the bookstore and collected a couple bicycle repair manuals. With their assistance I was able to get the bike apart, cleaned, lubed (with STP!), reassembled, and back on the road. It was immediately clear that the rear derailleur–a (Schwinn Approved) Huret Alvit–was past any hope of repair, and the rear wheel was similarly hopeless. Not knowing what it would cost to replace these parts, I started calling bicycle shops and describing my problem.

By far the most helpful responses came from Bernie (Baisch) Stevenson, one of the owners at Alfred E. Bike, who seconded one of my books’ recommendation that SunTour made the best shifters, reassured me that the changer would work on my bike, and quoted me a far better price than any other shop. So I found my way to the shop and spent most of the 40 bucks, came back, and had things working when Mom got back to Kalamazoo.

For the next couple years, the Varsity became my main transportation. I was working on political campaigns for most of ’74; in ’75 I became active in the Kalamazoo Bicycle Club–succeeding to President when John Busack graduated from college and moved away. Another time’s story….

Late in 1975 this bike was stolen, and the new Assenmacher replaced it as my main transportation. Can’t say I missed the old bike, but it was a trusty and reliable old friend for many years.

Revision History:

Akers Memories

My family was active in a Kalamazoo area political action group called Action Now. A fairly careful web search found only one mention of the organization. So I’m following up on that site’s mention today.

I don’t think I knew Brian Dana Akers in the 1970s, but since I was working closely with his brother and knew his parents socially it’s pretty likely I met him once or twice. Anyway, he’s grown up to write science fiction and has a lengthy online autobiography on his personal website. About a quarter of the way down the page is a word portrait of his father, Owen, which includes Action Now in a long list of organizations Owen participated in. Brian’s father was as remarkable as the portrait suggests. What I think the portrait misses is that Owen’s heavy workload was fairly seamless; I had contacts with him in several of his roles and he was always the same person, working on the same causes, and finding reinforcement from his friends and colleagues as he moved from meeting to meeting. A strenuous life, yes, and not everyone loved Owen Akers, but many did.

Brian’s summation is all too true:

When someone like this dies, it’s like standing on the rim of a huge crater. Only as the crater recedes into the past do the survivors comprehend the size of the hole in their lives, appreciate the death’s force of impact, and realize all that was vaporized.

More, though. Owen was an inspiration to his friends, and to some of his opponents. That did not end when he perished.

I spent years doing political organizing. Brians’ brother, David, was one of my colleagues in those efforts–he was the key voter registration and get out the vote organizer whose activities complemented our voter contact efforts in the early 1970s. That I had his respect was always a source of satisfaction, for Dave’s commitment to the work was far greater than mine. David Akers was a formidable organizer, bringing talent and passion to everything he touched. David was quite different from his father, but equally committed to his father’s causes.

We lost contact when I moved to Lansing. I’m saddened to learn that he died fairly young.

Postscript: While I was working on this essay, iTunes delivered Rhonda Vincent’s performance of Carl Story‘s If You Don’t Love God:

If you say you love Him while you hate your neighbor
then you don’t have religion. You just told a lie.


Revision History: