Hey! My new website is Section 411. It's a lot like this site, except it's about 100% newer. Click here to check it out!

UPDATE: Developing Socially

Just a quick post to let everyone who’s interested know that I’ll be giving a talk tomorrow at Refresh Columbia. More details can be found in this post, but I’ll be talking about Facebook development and how it can impact your Facebook Page. I’ll post some source code and my slides on this post once it’s over. Hope to see you there!

UPDATE: Code and slides after the jump.

My brain is hanging upside down

1977 was a tumultuous year for the city of New York: the soap opera feud between Billy Martin, George Steinbrenner, Reggie Jackson, Thurman Munson and other Yankees dominated the baseball season, the upcoming mayoral election promised change, and the record-setting climate led to a major blackout and riots.

Oh, and the “Son of Sam“, arguably the most infamous serial killer in history, rampaged the city.

All of this sets the stage for Jonathan Mahler’s book Ladies and Gentlemen, The Bronx is Burning, and from that, the ESPN mini-series Bronx is Burning. I’ve seen the series before but recently acquired the DVD set and below are a few of my thoughts.

Bronx is BurningWhile the series is primarily about the Yankees and their pursuit of the first World Series in the Steinbrenner era, the Son of Sam subplot is substantially and capably covered. What sets Bronx is Burning apart is the way they interweave the two stories: Steinbrenner is shown (in typical fashion) worrying about the Son of Sam scaring off fans, and the detectives on the Son of Sam case are shown working on reports while half-watching the Yankees grind through their season.

Speaking of Steinbrenner, Oliver Platt’s portrayal of the eccentric, obsessed owner is simply a joy to watch. Platt not only nails the accent, but he nails the facial expressions and body language too. It would have been easy to paint the picture of Steinbrenner as a demon, but Platt makes him a very believable guy who wants to win, no matter what the cost. Even his costumes are excellent (particularly the suit with white shoes, and the suit with the turtleneck sweater).

Steinbrenner’s main rival, Billy Martin, is played by John Torturro, who also excels in his role. Scenes which Steinbrenner and Martin share are easily the most compelling, and that’s due in large part to Torturro’s ability to mimick Billy Martin’s bi-polar personality. He comes across as extremely passionate and extremely old school, a guy who doesn’t like the prima donnas generated by athletes (one in particular) in the 70s (wonder what he’d think now?).

(Interesting sidenote: Howard Cosell, the man who originally said, “ladies and gentlemen, the Bronx is Burning” while calling Game 2 of the 1977 World Series, was played by John Torturro in another great docu-drama, Monday Night Mayhem.)

Reggie Jackson (the aforementioned “one in particular”) and Thurman Munson are also tremendously cast and played, and the two actors do a great job of being almost complete opposites, setting the tension for many of the conflicts in the series.

Another thing I liked about the series was how it mixed in 1977 era video in with the new video. Most of the baseball action shown is from 1977 video, but rather than show the faces of the real players, the modern video is edited in nearly seamlessly and with no distraction. While most of the modern video looks authentic (great set design and props), the baseball video is a little bit suspect, as it appears to be shot in front of a green screen. But let’s be clear: this isn’t just a story of the players on the field, it’s a story between players on and off the field, so while a larger budget could have made the baseball video more believable, the compromise they made works very well.

Finally, since 1977 was around the birth of punk, The Ramones are heavily included in the soundtrack during montages, while an understated score is present for the Son of Sam murders and investigation scenes. The music choice is excellent, giving the impression of an ominous present but a hopeful future. If you’re a baseball fan, if you’re a history buff, or if you’re a fan of New York, you owe it to yourself to watch this incredibly enjoyable mini-series.

Season of dreams: my 2009 NFL predictions

Santonio Holmes

On February 1st, 2009, Santonio Holmes’ Pittsburgh Steelers won Super Bowl XLIII in thrilling fashion, beating the Arizona Cardinals 27-23. Starting Thursday night, that championship won’t matter anymore – the Steelers and Titans will usher in the new season in Pittsburgh and start from scratch. While I’ve done baseball predictions the last couple seasons, I’ve never felt like I watched enough football to make intelligent predictions about the NFL. This year, however, I decided that making uninformed predictions that may be wildly false is what blogs are for, so, therefore, ahem, therefore, I give you…my 2009 NFL season predictions! (…after the jump.)

The space that’s in between insane and insecure

One thing I’ve noticed about all politicians: all of them are pro-education. Honestly, how could you not be? Do you really want to be that guy who campaigns with the message: “we’re investing too much in our future, let’s cut back spending a bit”? What about “let’s privatize K-12 education! We’ll let Microsoft do it!” (actually I say that as a joke, but Bill Gates donates a ton of money to education every year. So we’ll say Steve Ballmer.) Since public education started, there’s always been room for improvement, and I think it’s gotten worse as the kids of the eighties start to have kids and send them to school. In essence, the government can spend all the money it wants, but the most productive and important learning happens at home. If parents aren’t teaching kids, kids aren’t learning.

What brings this up is President Obama’s planned speech to children all across the United States next week. I’ll say this: it’s a radical idea. I don’t mean that in a completely bad way – clearly, the system is broke. However, the article linked above mentions vehement opposition by some parents to having their kids watch the speech.

At first, I dismissed this as just more knee-jerk “whatever Obama does, I don’t like” reaction. You can’t please everyone. Then I thought about it for a moment and remembered a court case I learned about in school: Engel v. Vitale, the court case that banned prayer in schools.

A couple things here. First, while my blog tends to be somewhat secular, I am a Christian. I don’t consider myself a nut; that is, I like to think I understand the ways of the world well enough to see both sides of this issue. That said, I believe that while mandated prayer is unconstitutional, banning prayer in schools is also unconstitutional. That is, if you’re a Christian, Muslim, Jew, Hindu, Buddhist, whatever, it shouldn’t be wrong for you to pray in school, provided you don’t disturb others; if you’re atheist, you shouldn’t have to participate in prayer as long as you’re respectful.

So here’s the thing: if it’s unconstitutional to mandate prayer in schools, why is it constitutional to mandate that students not have the choice to not watch a speech? It’s largely the same principle. Like believing in God, a lot of US citizens (a majority, last I heard) believe President Obama is doing the right things for our country, and a lot don’t. Like belief in the afterlife (eternal life, as we Christians call it), the only way to know for sure that President Obama’s ideas will work is to simply wait for history to decide. Additionally, opponents of prayer in schools claim that kids can pray before or after school at home; opponents of Obama’s speech claim that kids can DVR it or watch it online later on.

To someone outside the Obama hype looking in, the debate is largely the same in both cases. One apparent difference is that as far as we know, President Obama’s speech is a one-time occurrence, where prayer was a daily occurrence. In essence, this speech is no different (and actually, less frequent) than “See You At The Pole”, a popular prayer event at high schools around this time every year. However, events such as See You At The Pole are not mandatory and are opt-in, meaning that students don’t need to excuse themselves from the meeting, they need to take initiative to attend.

So with all that, where do you go from there? If it were up to me, it’d be up to the students to watch the speech, and more importantly, it’d be an opt-in thing. That is, schools should set up their auditoriums with the speech and all students who want to watch the speech should leave class and attend. Students who don’t watch the speech could use the time however they wish, provided that it’s respectful, and students who do watch couldn’t be penalized in any way for choosing to attend. Finally, it would be up to the parents to guide their children how to choose, but ultimately, it would be up to the children.

And finally, if you made me choose between liking or disliking Obama’s approach here, I’d have to go dislike. The speech could be the same words at 8:00 PM, when the kids are home, and they can watch it with their parents if they and their parents so choose. Instead, it almost feels like Obama’s campaigning for the under-18 vote (or the “Mommy, Mommy, vote for Obama!” vote). I’ll be interested to see what he has to say, and how he says it to elementary, middle and high schoolers.