The long, long wait for Metallica’s new album

In September of 2008, Metallica released Death Magnetic. While I wouldn’t argue that it rivals their best work, it was at least a return to something aggressive, and was much more cohesive than its predecessor, St. Anger. In spite of the terrible clipping problems, I did enjoy it.

Since then, they’ve toured. They were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. They made a non-Metallica record with Lou Reed. They celebrated 30 years with a set of shows in San Francisco. They “made a movie.” They’ve toured. They’ve talked about recording, and how they either can’t wait to make another record, or how they’re not feeling obligated to thrash one out for the sake of having a new record. They’ve toured. James Hetfield has 800 riffs for the new album, and Kirk Hammett has 400. They played Antarctica, “forgetting” to play “Trapped Under Ice”… They played “One” at the Grammys with Lang Lang. They’re going to write and record a new album soon. They’ve toured. The latest news is that they’re writing the songs, hoping to get into the studio to record them in 2015, and have the new record out in 2016.

2016.

Let that sink in for a minute.

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Touring the new song

In March, Metallica began a short “By Request” tour in South America. Fans voted on the songs they wanted to hear, and Metallica used the survey results to create their setlists. As the tour approached, the band teased the possibility of a new song, and they delivered “The Lords Of Summer” at the tour opener in Bogota, Chili on March 16.

Beyond that, there’s little for fans to go on, other than nebulous indications that Metallica are working on the next record, and the aforementioned vague talk about not really getting down to recording until next year, and releasing it in 2016. According to this article, they have presumably reconvened (or will do so shortly) in order to continue working on the album.

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Thoughts on the new song

As a fan who’s been interested in hearing the next Metallica album since 2010, I have to say that the “late 2015/early 2016″ thing has had me feeling a bit down about the whole thing. “Lords Of Summer” didn’t really ease that feeling. I like the concept of melding fast, thrashy parts with slower, melodic ones, so that idea has potential. But I wasn’t really moved by the song. In fact, I found it kind of boring. The thrashy part was fast, but was essentially one note chugged repeatedly with little variation with a stock riff thrown in at the end of each bar. The chorus was okay but generally uninspiring, and the beginning and middle sections were too long. The main riff sounded like a simplified take on the main riff from “That Was Just your Life,” and it got old for me during my first listen, before the vocals came in. Kirk’s solo started very simply and repetitively – and that bit lasted too long as well – although it got better when he started playing like he normally does. And the lyrics left me baffled.

I did like the little motif that starts at approximately 3:10 of the video above, and I liked Hetfield’s vocals in general. However, I hope that the song was, as Hetfield told the crowd in Bogota, written “for the shows” – hastily thrown together and recorded in demo form without the usual refinement that historically goes into their composition process.

I understand that it’s probably going to either be disassembled and reassembled in some other form, or gutted for parts to be integrated with other material on the new album, or jettisoned altogether. While it’s a better song than the two new songs that they performed before they recorded Death Magnetic, it’s so much more “stock” than “The New Song” from 2006 – a much heavier and more interesting song musically, riffs from which turned up in “The End Of The Line” and “All Nightmare Long” – that my guess is that they will likely either A) build up and refine the tune (and write new lyrics) for the album, or B) abandon the song mostly or entirely.

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Megadeth and the Big Four (and more)

What’s frustrating for fans like me is that, while Metallica keeps itself in the public eye by touring and participating in a variety of other non-Metallica-album-creating activities (Lou Reed, Through The Never, etc.), their pace of album creation has been slowing for the last 20 years. After the epic touring that took place in the wake of the Black Album, they put out two albums in two years. Since then, they’ve put out two albums of original material (and an EP, Beyond Magnetic). That’s two albums in, at this point, 17 years. Since the Black album, they’ve done four albums in twenty years.

To strike the most extreme contrast possible with their thrash brethren, one needs to look no further than to Megadeth. Dave Mustaine has put out nine albums since Countdown To Extinction (1992), and will soon be working on another one. And that one will probably be released before the next Metallica record. A very likely scenario is that, between the releases of Metallica’s ninth and tenth albums, Megadeth will have released at least four records.

It’s not like Megadeth are abnormal in averaging a record every two years or so – they’re certainly not the Beatles with their eleven albums and two soundtracks in eight years - but they’re the most prolific of the Big Six Or Seven of American Thrash over the past two decades. Additionally, Slayer may release their second post-Death Magnetic album late this year or early next, in spite of the death of Jeff Hanneman and split with Dave Lombardo. Same with both Anthrax and Exodus. Overkill’s third post-2008 album arrives in July. And Testament has released two albums and a live album since Death Magnetic, and a third is in the works, tentatively scheduled for release later this year.

Metallica, Megadeth, and albums

When we’re treated to releases every few years from many of the bands in the genre, we fans tend to wonder why Metallica doesn’t pick up the pace.

Everyone knows that record sales are way down from where they were ten years ago. With that in mind, it’s certainly understandable that a band in Metallica’s situation as a huge band that can make boat loads of money from touring would be less interested in taking a year or so to write and record an album – itself, an extravagant time- and money-sink that most of the other bands listed above don’t have.

However, I look at Megadeth, a hard-working, successful band that keeps pumping out records which are always well-recorded and are sometimes excellent (like 2009′s Endgame). Megadeth have managed to alternate efficiently recorded albums with lots of time on the road, themed tours, lots of fan interaction, and other creative outlets. Mustaine has always been driven creatively, and the fact that he is out-producing Metallica music-wise by maintaining the same cycle he always has can’t have gone unnoticed by someone as obsessed about his past with Metallica as he has always been. It’s certainly something that I’ve thought about, and I’m sure that others have done so too.

Anyway, with David Ellefson back playing bass, drummer Shawn Drover serving as a rock in so many ways both musically and otherwise, and an extremely talented creative partner in guitarist Chris Broderick, Mustaine hasn’t let neck surgery that has seemingly made it difficult to sing on the road stop him from going year-round, and keeping up his recording schedule.

When they do record an album, by the way, there isn’t any of Metallica’s six-months-to-a-year overanalysis that goes into the process. Perhaps this is because Mustaine is the unquestioned leader of Megadeth; at the end of the day, it’s his creative vision. Whereas in Metallica, James and Lars drive the car, and they’ve butted heads over the decision-making process so many times over the years that in some ways it’s no wonder that it takes them aeons to write and record an album, as opposed to Mustaine’s weeks…

That isn’t to say that every Megadeth album is great – although that’s subjective, of course – but many reasonable people thought that Endgame was very good, and that 2011′s Thirteen was also good. In my opinion, when Mustaine gets it right, he’s writing interesting, riffy, heavy tunes, and both of those records have those elements (if not in every song). And it doesn’t take him five to seven years, six to nine months in the studio, and “1200 riffs” to get there every couple of years.

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I wonder

This leads me to wonder what else is weighing down Metallica, with respect to the long lapses between albums over the past decade-plus…

1. Family?

All four of the guys have kids. All four are family men, in that they seem utterly devoted to their children. This is a good thing. And if the guys in Metallica are simply spending a ton of time with their families, I have every respect for that.

2. Stardom/money/Lars?

You’re James Hetfield. Every few years, you think about making an album. And you think about all of the other albums you made, and how long it took, in part, because both you and Lars are really anal about stuff, and sometimes it’s not the same stuff. But Lars has his hands in every pie – that guy is really, really anal about stuff. Do you really want to go through that again any time soon? Maybe. Maybe not.

Maybe, an alternative would be to play two-three dozen shows this year, make a ton of money from them, and spend the rest of your time playing guitar by yourself, hanging with the kids, tinkering with your cars, and doing the occasional interview.

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I’m sure that’s an oversimplified, negatively assumptive view of what may go through the head of someone that I don’t personally know. I’m sure the guys are busy, both with family and with other things. Many other things.

And hey, James did have that 4-hour-per-day rule when they made St. Anger…

3. Lars?

But seriously. I don’t want to be one of those guys who dumps on Lars about everything. I actually like Lars, and its obvious that he’s a huge part of the personality and creative makeup of the band. He’s also its biggest fan.

But I wonder if there’s something about Lars. Post-Black Album, when the entire band started loosening their playing styles a bit, he arguably loosened his the most. He’s become more the guy who thinks globally rather than locally. He’s concerned with the big picture with respect to Metallica and art and other things. As such, he often seems to be openly at war with his drum kit (not in a good way), to the point where, when a video shows up on YouTube where he plays a lot of double kick drum on an old song, people get all excited: “All right! Lars using a lot of double bass drum! Awesome!” I don’t know of another situation in metal where people are so impressed by a drummer not playing sloppily, playing his old songs even just close to correctly, or by double kicks being used on a new song, but honestly? That’s how I’ve felt too. In those situations, it’s like there’s a whiff of a promise of “return to form,” and you want to feel good about it… even if it’s a fleeting thing.

And so I get a sense that, more than anything, Lars is less interested in making a new record than the other guys*, and more interested in playing live and being Lars From Metallica. I know that’s a trite, possibly cruel way to put it – and I don’t intend it that way, because I’m a fan of him – but fans (and people who care about the music so much) only see a certain amount of what is made public, and can only infer thereafter. And remember, he’s one of the guys who drives the car.

4. *About that asterisk in the above paragraph…

When we’re told that James has 800 riffs at his disposal, we’re not surprised. The guy is known to be a riff master, and he has “RIFF/LIFE” tattooed on his fingers. The Metallica catalog is littered with his riffs. Sure, some are Hammett’s or Cliff Burton’s, a couple are Jason’s, and several are Mustaine’s. But the vast majority are James’, and so many of them are extremely good.

I was reminded of this while watching footage from Metallica’s Guitar Center Sessions, which were released on YouTube earlier this year.

Watching James play, talking about his love for music and throwing out some riffs along the way, makes me excited about this new album. If there’s anything holding back the making of this album, it’s not the James of thirteen years ago, who seemed to be at a loss for virtually any inspiration at points during the Some Kind Of Monster film. This is the James of today, one of the three guys in the band who seems to really get off on doing his thing.

As for Kirk? We’ve been treated to several recent examples of his love for metal. He invited Exodus, Death Angel, and Carcass to play at his Fear FestEvil, and jammed with the first two. And his Guitar Center Session interview, while not as lengthy (or riffy) as James’, showed just as much love for music.

He’s not the riff master that James is, but the guy is passionate about making music.

As for Rob Trujillo, I don’t know as much about him, but he seems to be someone who would play with anybody, at any time (and he kind of has!). He’s talented and innovative, and shows both fire and fluency with his instrument during Metallica shows. I don’t know that he has played any part in preventing the band from making a new album.

5. A lack of creative juice?

Having said all of that, it would be difficult to infer that there is a lack of creativity from individual members of the group. However, I recently read a terrific article by The Metal Pigeon, who has an interesting theory on the subject.

The Metal Pigeon doesn’t consider Death Magnetic to be a good album, and posits the following:

So what was it that made Metallica’s new music come off to me as uninspired and clunky?

I think the answer, ultimately, is that there was little in the way of artistic continuity. Metallica’s writing sessions for the Black Album took place in 1990, and after its gargantuan mega-tour the Load/ReLoad sessions occurred around 1995 with some touch-ups in the two years afterwards. Touring and various projects such as S&M and Garage, Inc took up the intervening years. Metallica wouldn’t work on a collection of new material until those dysfunctional, therapist guided, captured on documentary sessions for St. Anger a whole seven years later. It would be nearly six years before they reconvened once again for Death Magnetic —- simply put, this is a band that tours and tours and tours, and I’ll argue that despite its financial benefits their incessant touring has come at the cost of their artistry. I’m not suggesting that its wise for Metallica to scale back its touring, these guys obviously understand where their huge paychecks come from. What I am saying however, is if the band is interested in making continually better original music, they would do well to realize that they need to attempt its creation more often. How do they relate to one another musically speaking when they haven’t attempted to write new material in half-decade long spans? At what point do you overdo touring?

I don’t know that I could argue with this idea. While Metallica has some great creative forces in its ranks, they’ve written and recorded just two albums in the past seventeen years. Whereas other groups gather to write and record on a (relatively) much more regular basis, Metallica tours, or records covers or a live album or with another artist. They do jam in the tuning room, of course, but if that were a recipe for writing new albums, I would imagine we would have seen at least one more album by now. So I think there is definitely merit to the idea.

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By now, this post is firmly in longform land. I obviously think about this subject too much!

Sometimes, I wonder what would happen if there were different drummers involved. If, for instance, Hetfield, Hammett and Trujillo hooked up with Dave Lombardo, who seems to be completely comfortable with his drums, it’s easy to imagine that Hetfield would drive the car, and Lombardo would have an answer, drum-wise, for every idea that James bounced off of him. In this hypothetical situation, the members who have guitar straps slung around their necks would be able to offer their ideas, and James and Dave would hone them to a razor edge with less head-to-wall moments and dithering. Listeners would be treated to more albums, more adventurous albums, and better shows. More riffs. More double kick drums and more interesting fills.

But that’s not going to happen – it’s just the occasional fantasy of an occasionally frustrated fan. Lars is Metallica, just like James is. They’ve been friends and creative partners for more than 30 years, and my hypothetical situations don’t mean a damn thing to them. And that’s 100% as it should be.

Hopefully, the new album will come out sooner than later. I’m betting on later, myself, given the band’s history and the fact that they will be playing several more shows over the course of the rest of the year. As I said, the fact that they’ve been talking about this album for three years, and are just now starting to piece some songs together, rankles me. On the other hand, it’s not like we fans aren’t used to this. Remember: two albums, seventeen years.

I’ll be there when it does come out. I’m still looking forward to it, and I’m pretty sure that I’ll enjoy it, even if it isn’t the “return to form” that so many fans want. I’ll listen to it in the spirit that it deserves, which is that it is the next step in a journey (whenever that step happens). To me, Metallica is like an old friend at this point. The band has aged, grown, and changed with time, and I have as well. But its members and songs are still welcome.

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Thanks for reading this post by Russ at Dischordant Forms. Follow me on Twitter at @DischordantRuss. Comments are welcome!


“A denial!” – a listening experience, verbalized

April 10th: April Joan Jett nails “Smells Like Teen Spirit” with Nirvana at the 2014 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremony. I proceed to write about how it made me cry.

Weeks later: I revisit my blog after weeks of not posting anything.

I replay the video of Joan Jett and Nirvana’s performance at said ceremony.

I still get chills watching that video.

Then, I bring up iTunes and listen to “Smells Like Teen Spirit” – the original recorded version from Nevermind.

I revel in the greatness that is the original song, disregarding with every ounce of my being any diminishing effects wrought by over-saturation of the song on radio and everywhere else.

The final chorus starts. I nudge the volume level – which is already high – a little higher.

The chorus resolves to the song’s finale – “A denial!…”

I slam my hands to my headphone-covered ears, as if I am trying to drive the song even more emphatically into my brain and my soul.

As a result, the highs are somewhat muted. Some of the lower mids are somewhat muted. I let up on the phones a bit, and – in doing so – reach as perfect a balance as I can muster with such an impromptu, primitive mixing endeavor (and such crappy headphones).

The mantra repeats.

“A denial!”

The guitar and bass move in concert.

The drums have effectively doubled their urgency. I live by the beat of the drums, while I ride the repeating vocal…

“A deniaaaalll!!….”

It can never be like the first time… or, for that matter, like hearing it the first time after Kurt died. But it is still a heavy, powerful song.

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Thanks for reading this post by Russ at Dischordant Forms. Follow me on Twitter at @DischordantRuss. Comments are welcome!


Nirvana and Joan Jett

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Thursday night (April 10th), Nirvana* was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. They were inducted by Michael Stipe, who is one of my favorite singers, and they played four songs with four different vocalists:

  • “Smells Like Teen Spirit” (Joan Jett)
  • “Aneurysm” (Kim Gordon)
  • “Lithium” (Annie Clark)
  • “All Apologies” (Lorde)

Of course, the induction ceremony was not televised live; rather, HBO subscribers (not me) will be able to watch it when it premieres on May 31st. Which is more than seven weeks after the ceremony. Which is annoying, because I would have loved to have watched the whole thing.

Fortunately, I did get a chance to watch the band’s performance of “Smells Like Teen Spirit.” I came across an article on HuffPost on Friday that included** audience recordings of “All Apologies” and “Teen Spirit.” While the title, Lorde Covers Nirvana with Joan Jett, Kim Gordon and Annie Clark, was obvious click-bait (and the post itself barely mentioned the other three singers), it did include a video of Jett’s performance.

I watched the video twice.

The first time, during the second chorus, I found myself welling up. For the first time in years, a Nirvana song had moved me in some way other than simply making me want to move my head/hands/body with the music.

A few minutes later, I watched it again, and I cried almost the whole way through.

I loved Nirvana as a teenager. The first time I remember hearing “Teen Spirit” (etc.) was in the early spring of 1992, in my friend Mike’s car one afternoon after track practice. Mike went on to the Naval Academy and eventually became a commander in the Navy Seals, and he died in 2005 in Afghanistan when his chopper was shot down during a search and rescue mission.

I went on to different things. I grieved, like so many did, when I heard about Cobain’s death in 1994, and watched MTV Unplugged all day. I listened to, and devoured, whatever Nirvana music I could get my hands on until it dried up. And I eventually moved on to other music.

Nirvana’s music is awesome, but I saturated myself in it to a point where it ultimately didn’t move me like it had before, and I decided to give it a rest. I rarely purposely listen to Nirvana anymore – although “Drain You” (live, From The Muddy Banks Of The Wishkah) is a more-than-occasional favorite – but the love and appreciation of their music is still here within me.

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Watching Joan Jett with Nirvana on Friday was a catharsis of sorts.

Joan, well, she nailed it – she was the perfect choice. Her voice fit the song so well, and she was in complete command.

Krist Novoselic was the rock, the steady rumble beneath Nirvana’s howl. He bobbed and bounced and rocked out in his Krist-like way, and it was wonderful.

And Dave Grohl absolutely killed it on the drums, as always. One of my life’s great pleasures is watching him play drums, because he gets such obvious pleasure from it. Seeing his huge grin always brings me joy.

And as I watched that performance, I lost control. Kurt died 20 years ago, and he took his future with him. Many have speculated about what he might have done, had he lived: would Nirvana have continued? If so, what would their future albums have sounded like? Michael Stipe invited Kurt to work with him; how would that have turned out?

Those things will never be definitively answered, because sadly, he died before they could come to pass. But here I was - 20 years later – watching Dave with his big grin, and Krist rocking out, and Joan kicking ass… Suddenly, I was grieving again, for Kurt and his band and the people who knew and loved him. And for my friend Mike, and probably for other things. And the tears ran down my face, and my chest shook, and it felt like a relief.

In some small way, Joan Jett fronting Nirvana was the most perfect coda to Nirvana’s career.

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Notes:

Along with Kiss, Linda Ronstadt, Peter Gabriel, The E Street Band, Hall & Oates, and others.

** I say “included” because I very much expect audience recordings to be removed for copyright infringement sooner than later. I fully expect to have to remove the video at the top of this post at some point soon for that reason…

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Thanks for reading this post by Russ at Dischordant Forms. Follow me on Twitter at @DischordantRuss. Comments are welcome!


Digging into “Black Hole Sun” and Superunknown

My introduction to Soundgarden’s “Black Hole Sun” was via the song’s video, which I first saw during the early summer of 1994:

This video was both awesome and, at the time, quite possibly the most fucked-up thing I had ever seen. As a result, the song creeped me out a bit whenever I heard it, because I always associated it with all of the bizarre, psychedelic stuff going on in the video. To this day, if I watch the video, my hair invariably stands on end at points, especially when the black hole sun starts making things turn even more chaotic and weird than they were during the first couple of minutes…

Eventually, I bought Superunknown – which was released 20 years ago this month, and is being re-released as a Super Deluxe edition on April 19th (Record Store Day) – and I got to know the song and its companions a whole lot better.

This was back when the Walkman and its ilk were beginning to approach their death throes, but to a college student with little in the way of pocket money, the Walkman was great. I bought blank cassettes, dubbed my favorite music onto them, and listened to them through headphones at high volume as I fulfilled my work-study obligations. I worked a job that required virtually zero personal interaction, which made it a perfect opportunity to shut off the world and listen to rock and metal without bothering anyone. I became good friends with the likes of Machine Head, Testament, Alice In Chains, Metallica, and Soundgarden during those (many, many) sessions.

As I made my way through my college years, I developed some pretty specific memories of “Black Hole Sun.” The details of what I was doing while listening are both fuzzy and irrelevant by this time; what I remember vividly is the small epiphanies I would have while listening to Superunknown (which is an album that, if you’re in the right mood, will blow your mind in many very pleasant ways the first several times you listen to it).

“Black Hole Sun” has several interesting elements, some of which are:

  • It’s a slow, steady, heavy rock song, but is well-polished and multi-layered, both vocally and instrumentally.
  • The lead guitar melody has a somewhat haunting, yet beautiful and ethereal quality that contrasts nicely with the heavy parts of the song.
  • The “black hole sun!” screams in the last chorus are pretty awesome.
  • The hard alternate-panned “black hole sun!” vocals during the “won’t you come?” part at the end of the song are pretty remarkable to listen to on headphones… especially the first time you hear them.
  • The John Lennon-inspired vocal harmonies in the choruses sound great.

And there are others – those are just off the top of my head. I didn’t discover each of them on the first listen. When you hear the song come at you from directly in front – as with a music video on TV – you don’t necessarily hear everything. But on headphones, the stereo space revealed nuggets such as the ones I listed above, and from a musical perspective, it was heaven.

Superunknown has several gems. I’m not usually partial to the big hits by an artist – and “Black Hole Sun” was probably Soundgarden’s biggest – but in this case, the song stands on its merits. But there are other great songs on the album. “Like Suicide,” for instance, is not only a great song, but has one of my favorite Soundgarden treats: Chris Cornell singing/screaming at the beginning of Kim Thayil’s guitar solo… and the solo itself is, in my opinion, one of the most emotionally powerful solos I’ve ever heard. He does a smiliar thing at the beginning of the solo in the album’s opener, “Let Me Drown,” which I also love. Other favorites abound… “Head Down” has a great intro; “Fell On Black Days” is just a great song; “Spoonman” needs no explanation; “Fresh Tendrils” (the “shame! shame! throw yourself away” chorus-y part is incredible); and “4th of July” with its down-tuned sludginess that I struggled to comprehend at the time.

From front to back, it’s one of the strongest albums I own. In my humble opinion, there isn’t another Soundgarden album that’s as dynamic and well-written as Superunknown, and 20 years later, it’s still an album that I can enjoy from start to finish.

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Thanks for reading this post by Russ at Dischordant Forms. Follow me on Twitter at @DischordantRuss. Comments are welcome!


On-Base, Slugging, and their absence from MLB.com’s box scores

For several years, I’ve been disappointed by one thing in particular about MLB.com – “The Official Site of Major League Baseball” – and it has to do with the box score. Mind you, this isn’t my only complaint, but this one sticks in my craw.

My issue is this: if MLB.com is MLB’s official site, why is it that they have some of the most basic box scores on the interwebs? I’m referring to the fact that MLB.com doesn’t show updated On-Base Percentage (OBP) and Slugging Percentage (SLG) in their box scores.

Here’s a screenshot from their site for Saturday’s Dodgers/Diamondbacks Opening Day game box in Australia, as seen in a mobile browser:

IMG_0007

Regrettably, the box score is on the right side within the mobile format. OBP and SLG would normally take columns slotted to the right of AVG on a site that included them… But I didn’t crop it there just to make a silly point; that’s actually where the page ends. It’s the same on the regular website, which is formatted differently (and very clearly illustrates what I’m talking about):

Los Angeles Dodgers at Arizona Diamondbacks - March 22, 2014 I MLB_com Box 1

(Really? LOB gets a column, but OBP/SLG don’t? And look at all that space! Plenty of room for a couple more columns…)

Like many fans, when I’m having my morning OJ and Golden Grahams, I do like to peruse the box scores during the season. It’s been this way for decades. And for years and years, I’ve been reading box scores that had OBP and SLG in them.

Also, for years and years, MLB.com has omitted them from their box scores.

What I want to know is, why? Why, if they are the Official Site of Major League Baseball, do they not provide basic percentage stats in the box scores?

OBP and SLG have been around for a long time. They weren’t back-of-the-baseball-card stats when I was growing up (although they are now), and they are often left out of the box scores we see in newspapers, but they’ve been part of common baseball language for as long as I can remember. And they aren’t “new” Sabermetric stats, like Wins Above Replacement (WAR) or weighted Runs Created plus (wRC+). They’re basic stats that help measure a player’s offensive production:

OBP = (Hits + Walks + Hit-By-Pitches)/(At-Bats + Walks + Hit-By-Pitches + Sacrifice Flies).

SLG = Total Bases/At-Bats.

They’re not without their flaws, but they are important stats, and I’ve been enamored with them since I was a kid.

MLB.com isn’t alone in this: Yahoo Sports and USA Today are two other popular sports pages that omit SLG/OBP. On the other hand, Sports Illustrated, Fox Sports, ESPN.com, The Sporting News, NBC Sports, CBS Sports, and many other major sites do include them. Here’s a screenshot of SI.com’s box from Saturday’s Opening Day game:

IMG_0008

Granted, there are other flaws in this particular box, including the fact that Scott Van Slyke’s homer (and all of the game’s RBIs, and other stuff…) apparently didn’t translate to the Batting Summary for some reason, and that his SLG, which was 2.000 after this game, translates to .000 because SI.com doesn’t allocate enough space for four digits and a decimal point in their columns. But that’s an aberration. At least they try to have the information there (and normally these percentages aren’t above 1.000 anyway – one game is an extremely small sample size, obviously).

I love reading about baseball, and I do go to MLB.com regularly for the news and perspectives that they provide. It’s a part of my daily sports-site rounds, as I devour whatever baseball-related information I can get my paws on. It just baffles me that a site which features GameDay, which provides live pitch-by-pitch information for every game during the season, doesn’t list such basic and common percentage stats in its box scores. If I’m reading about a game at MLB.com and I want to peruse the box score, I have to get my OBP/SLG fix somewhere else. That’s fine, I guess; I know the information’s out there. It’s a small thing, really, but it’s also a stupid thing that has gnawed at me for a long time…

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Thanks for reading this post by Russ at Dischordant Forms. Follow me on Twitter at @DischordantRuss. Comments are welcome!


Playing around with plain text and the cloud

Template in PlainText 2

Template in PlainText 2

As I looked into options for using my new iPad Mini for what I would generally classify as “productivity,” I looked at several options for note taking and cloud syncing. Actually, it’s probably more accurate to describe the activities I’ll be using it for as a cocktail of the following: brainstorming, outlining, and rough drafting; but on a micro level, “productivity” suits me just fine. At any rate, after a few conversations with my brother about it (and after reading some posts by Christopher Mayo on the subject), I decided to go with Dropbox for cloud syncing and plain text (.txt) for my note taking format.

I had considered several other options. The most popular seem to be Evernote and Google Drive (née Docs), although I don’t really think anyone considers Dropbox to be a dark horse necessarily, at this stage of the game. I also considered OneNote/OneDrive/Office Online, but I ended up leaving that for some other time.

I’ve used Google Drive before, and I tried out OneDrive etc. several weeks ago, but I didn’t like that everything was only in the cloud with those services. In particular with Office Online in a browser, I found that there were situations where I would be writing an idea down and the auto-save function would momentarily fail. In cases like this, an error message would pop up, and getting rid of that message would cause the page to reload, reverting to the most recent save. In my opinion, this is unacceptable, because if I’m jotting down an idea, and then it’s lost, I have to remember and re-type the idea, and there’s a chance something could be lost along the way. This is particularly vexing if you’re also doing something else like watching a game or listening to a podcast, which can be distracting.

Using plain text and Dropbox eliminates this problem. I make a note locally (on either my computer or my iPad), and save it to my Dropbox folder. It uploads/updates the file online, and then syncs with the other device. There’s none of that “I’m sorry sir, I didn’t catch that last bit…” continuous connectivity garbage that I could get from an browser-based client. This means that my notes will have higher fidelity with respect to my original thoughts than they would have if I had to spend any significant time trying to recapture what I was thinking the first time.

For the PC, I’m using Notepad, Windows’ native text editor. On the iPad, I’m trying out the recently re-launched PlainText 2, which has some nice keyboarding features and syncs easily with Dropbox. It has worked well for me so far.

One odd thing happened when I created a test document in PlainText 2: all of the line breaks were gone when I opened the same file in Notepad. However, if I created a test doc in Notepad, the line breaks survived when I opened it in PlainText 2. I messed around with it a little, but I couldn’t find any option to change that. So I decided to roll with what I knew.

I made several templates in Notepad and saved them to my Dropbox folder. As you can see at the top of this post, I labeled them simply – Template 1, Template 2, etc. – and wrote a short sentence with a line break after it. (And yes, I encouraged myself, because why not?) These all looked fine in PlainText 2. So now, I can use these templates if I have a new set of notes I want to make while I’m away from my PC, and change the file names as necessary. It’s not the absolute most convenient way to do things, I suppose, but it actually only took a couple of minutes to do: make one, and then copy/paste the text into new files.

Other than that small oddity, I think I really like PlainText 2. It should be sufficient for my needs*, and if I find that I need something more robust in the future, I’m sure I’ll have plenty of options.

*It’s highly likely that I will use this method for brainstorming blog ideas on the iPad, rather than making post stubs in the WordPress app, in part because, as I mentioned, PlainText 2 has a nicer keyboard. Additionally, I can paste plain text from Notepad into WordPress on my PC and format to my heart’s content when I’m ready to publish something. We’ll see what happens, but I may have a formula here that works for me.

Also, who ever said that I go about things conventionally?

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Thanks for reading this post by Russ at Dischordant Forms. Follow me on Twitter at @DischordantRuss. Comments are welcome!


Finally entering the mobile age

It’s 2014, and I have something to admit: until about ten days ago, I was stuck in middle of the previous decade with respect to mobile computing. As in, I had no mobile computing device of any sort. As a matter of fact, I still have a flip phone, which has done very little computing for me over the years (unsurprisingly).

However, I decided to take the plunge a couple of weeks ago. I ended up buying an iPad Mini (the old school, non-retina display model) for a fairly good price. It seems to be working out fine, and I’m enjoying it.

The main reason I picked it up is this: if I want to read anything online, I have to sit at my computer. I built a desktop PC in September 2012 – and that’s working great – but sitting in front of it is not the most physically comfortable way to read for any significant period of time. But for a long time, it has been my only practical option*.

And here’s the thing: I spend tons of time reading blogs and news online. My back doesn’t enjoy it.

*After my iMac died, I tried using the Playstation Vita for mobile browsing since we already own one, but the browser speed is simply atrocious, and the app selection is pathetic. I’ve used it for Twitter occasionally, but that’s about it.

I looked at several options for tablets. For more than a year, I’ve been stifling my desire for something portable, but I could never justify spending the money on something I didn’t absolutely need. I’m glad that I didn’t make the jump to tablet ownership before this. But this month seemed to be the right time to do it. And this iPad fell within my limited price range, and will (I think) be up to my simple demands.

I like my Mini. It’s comfortable to hold, and it’s nice to be able to read or browse in an easy chair instead of while sitting at my PC. However, I have been the opposite of productive with it to this point…

I did download a few apps that I suspect will get heavy use over the next couple of years. WordPress and Twitter were the first two, along with a couple of other convenient apps. I also downloaded a boatload of classic books (Project Gutenberg and epubbooks are my friends). However, I made something of a mistake by slapping $1.99 of my credit down on the new-ish puzzle game, Threes.

Threes is a very easy game to learn, but is highly addictive. It’s easy to blow hours at a time combining ones and twos to make threes, and sixes into twelves, and so on. I’ve spent way too much time playing it instead of, you know, blogging and stuff.

However, on Wednesday afternoon I decided to break out of the spell Threes was holding on me. I sat on the couch, fired up the WordPress app and started this post, and although I am finishing it on the computer, I wanted to see how well the app worked. For my purposes – which mainly include the ability to type out and save blog ideas while physically comfortable, it should be fine. It has its limitations, including a less-than-robust tagging interface, but for simple rough-drafting, it seems fine. I could have finished this post on it and published it from my couch, but I got up for a moment mid-post to stretch my legs, and decided that I wanted to do something else for the time being. As such, I’m finishing it now at the computer.

I’m excited about my new Mini. It’s nice to have something that enables me to break away from this chair more often without completely unplugging from the news, viewpoints, and writing that I love. Hopefully, I’ll be using it more for what I would consider to be productive activity and less on puzzle games… but that’s entirely on me, obviously!

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Thanks for reading this post by Russ at Dischordant Forms. Follow me on Twitter at @DischordantRuss. Comments are welcome!