Friday, August 27, 2010

Bloomberg Sports gets into fantasy football

On Monday night I had the privilege of attending a Bloomberg Sports event at their headquarters in midtown Manhattan. Back in January they held a similar event to introduce their new baseball products. The program began with an overview of the baseball offerings and the improvements since the launch in January. I wasn't at the baseball product launch so the demonstration was new to me. The tool for baseball teams lets scouts analyze hitters and pitchers by displaying all hits by a batter or all pitches from a pitcher, scattered across the strike zone. Click and drag across a selection of pitches and a new menu appears with each pitch or hit on video. A broadcast product provides ready-for-TV graphs of player statistics, with the ability to overlay them on whatever background the TV network has in stock. The most popular part of the fantasy baseball product has been the trade analysis tool. It shows an aggregate value for each player in a potential trade, so that the casual user can just drop in a trade and get a quick answer. There are in-depth analysis options for the hard-core users as well. Based on what I saw, I think I'll invest in the fantasy baseball tools for next season. I need all the help I can get.

After dinner, they gave us a demonstration of the new fantasy football offering. Bloomberg is putting all of their statistical analysis knowledge into a sit/start tool. It breaks down an individual player's stats over time and gives you a head-to-head look at which player at a particular position is the better option to play that week. Bloomberg provides a “safe play” number and a “longshot” number. The safe number is how that player usually performs. It's based on factors like that player's individual performance, his team support, how well that player matches up against his opponent (the inverse of the team support factor), and weather. The longshot number takes into account the wide variations in a player's performance. In other words, if a quarterback's usual production is two touchdown passes and one interception against a team in favorable weather, those stats factor into the safe number. But if that player has had a four-TD pass day against that team, then that becomes part of the longshot number. As an overview, the tool is easy for a casual player to see who is the better option that week. But the system allows a manager interested in deeper analysis to drill down into the different factors and see the numbers that went into the calculation. It sounds like a more detailed version of what my fantasy football system does now in providing managers with a projected score for each player every week. Now we can see what kind of information goes into that projection.

Bloomberg Sports is launching the fantasy football tool as part of the NFL's fantasy football league system on It will be free to anyone using for fantasy football. For everyone else, the tool will be $7.95 for the season, which I think is a steal. I'd easily pay twice that much for this kind of analysis. There's a possibility that Bloomberg will provide a fantasy draft kit package for next season, which would increase the value of the product even more. For the moment, I'm eager to let Bloomberg's analytic system tell me who is the best bet to start each week and see if that makes a difference in my fantasy football performance this year.   

Monday, August 23, 2010

My first game at the new Yankee Stadium

It took me almost two seasons, but on Sunday afternoon I finally made the trip to the South Bronx to see a baseball game at the new Yankee Stadium.  It was the final game of a three-game series with the Seattle Mariners and though the forecast called for rain, I hoped we'd be able to see at least five or six innings.  My friend Amanda Rykoff had an extra ticket and offered to show me around the new ballpark.  Check out her post about the game.

My last visit to the neighborhood had been in November 2007, when I had a tour of the old Yankee Stadium.  The walk up to the new park is much more impressive, with better traffic flow than the crowds that milled around outside on the sidewalk.

My first time walking into the stadium

The entrance led into the Great Hall, with banners honoring famous Yankees.  It's a bit overwhelming.

The Great Hall

The Great Hall again

The tarp was on the field when we arrived, but they removed it a few minutes later.  The game was going to start on time.

The tarp is coming off!

Our seats were in section 420B, high above home plate but with an excellent view of the entire field.

The national anthem

The first pitch

The high-definition video screen was directly in front of us and despite the distance every line and statistic was easily readable.

Russell Branyan has been a monster lately

CC Sabathia was pitching for the Yankees, and he threw a magnificent game with eight strikeouts through six innings.  The Yankees took a 1-0 lead as the rain started.  Then, in the bottom of the fifth, Robinson Cano hit a grand slam to give the home team a 5-0 lead.  It wasn't as exciting as the 10th-inning walk-off grand slam by the Pirates' Pedro Alvarez against the Rockies two weeks ago in Pittsburgh, but it was fun to watch the crowd's reaction.

A few minutes later a rain delay suspended play for 45 minutes.   Amanda and I retreated to the concourse, tried the sausage sandwiches (tasty!) and met up with her friend Stefanie who had provided us with our tickets.  The rain kept me from exploring more of the food options on the upper level, so I'll have to see what's there at my next game.

The clouds looked like the wrath of God was upon us.

That puddle disappeared in about five minutes.

When the rain eased up the tarp came off again and the grounds crew made short work of those puddles.  They used squeegees and some sort of shovel/corer thing to punch drainage holes in the turf.  Within five minutes most of the water had drained off.

At 3:30 the game was back on, though Sabathia's day was done.  The Yankees' bullpen finished up the shutout, although Joba Chamberlain gave us a little to worry about with a runner on 3rd late in the game.  We kept hoping for a pitcher's ERA to match the time of the game, but the closest we got was Kerry Wood's 4.40 at 4:15 PM.

This is as close as we got to the ERA and the time coinciding.

The Mariners weren't able to mount anything close to a comeback and even with the rain delay the game ended around 5 PM.  And we lucked out with the rain -- the worst of it came down during the game when we were under cover.

I had a great time at my first game at the Stadium.  Because of the weather I didn't get to explore it as much as I would have liked, but I'll see more of it on future visits.  As much as I derided the Yankees for spending more than $1 billion on their new home, the money was well spent.  It's a gorgeous place to watch a game.  I'm going to a Mets-Pirates game at Citi Field next month so I'll be able to compare the other new stadium to this one.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Vacation report, part 9: One last day in Vienna and Prague

Before all of the mishegoss with the JetBlue flight, I was in the middle of posting photos and telling stories from my vacation in Europe.  When I left off, I was wrapping up my last full day in Vienna with a giant schnitzel.

I had only a few hours in Vienna on Sunday morning, so after breakfast I went in search of the city's Holocaust memorial.  On the way I passed one of Mozart's former residences, the house in which he lived while composing his opera Die Entfuhrung aus dem Serail (The Abduction from the Seraglio).


The Holocaust Memorial is in Judenplatz, an open plaza near the Jewish Museum.


This inscription appears at the memorial's base in German, English, and Hebrew.


I took a train from Vienna to Prague on Sunday afternoon for my flight back to New York Monday morning.  That alone was a bit of adventure, as I'd never taken a European intercity train before.  I shared a compartment with a rotating assortment of strangers, most of them older couples or families.  I was one of the lucky ones who got a seat.  Younger kids with backpacks filled the hallway outside my compartment, sitting on their bags or on the floor.  That's a hell of a way to travel.

I had one destination when I returned to Prague: Novomestsky Pivovar (New Town Brew Pub), a restaurant just off Wenceslas Square.  One of my friends from NYRO had told me of this place in March when I first announced I was going on the trip.  He said "find the place that serves the hunk of pork with a knife in it."  His description became more specific as the date of the trip approached, and when I was in Prague the previous weekend I'd found the restaurant.  Since it was around the corner from the hotel where I was staying on my last night there, I waited until my return trip to go there.  And it was worth the wait.  I had two beers, one light and one dark (the light was better) and this beauty, the pork knuckle:

The pork knee at Novometsky Pivovar (New Town Brewpub)

It's not quite as big as it looks.  Most of it was bone, and I could have used a side dish of potatoes or pretzels.  But it was delicious.

Since the night was young, I took one more stroll over to the Charles Bridge and took photos of the bridge and Prague Castle.  There was a cello trio playing Metallica songs for a large, enthusiastic crowd. I think I tipped them in euros, since I didn't have any use for them at that point (the Czech Republic has its own currency).





The next morning I flew back to New York, my vacation at an end.  I had more fun than I ever anticipated and I can't wait to go on another bike tour or another trip to Europe.  I'm already thinking of my next Backroads vacation.  Some people recommended Provence, others Italy, and one friend suggested Poland, Slovakia and Hungary for another taste of Central Europe.  There's a Slovenia trip that includes a Tour de France-like mountain climb that sounds amazing.  I just need to save some money first.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

One last stop on the media tour

If you want to hear the audio version of my media circus story, I'm on Dan Levy's On The DL podcast this morning.  I've been listening to Dan's show for a long time and he thought the media side of the story was just as interesting, if not more so, than the incident itself.  I hope you enjoy the show, and I apologize in advance for the occasional poor sound and cats meowing on my end.

My 24 hours in the media circus

On Monday afternoon, after my initial tweet about the incident on the JetBlue flight, I went home to my apartment in Brooklyn, had lunch, and settled in to catch up on weekend TV.  I planned to write a post about my weekend in Pittsburgh and I thought I might include something about the flight as part of that post.  Around 2 PM I checked my e-mail and saw a message from a New York Daily News reporter who wanted to talk about what I'd seen.  I don't have much experience dealing with the media, but I thought it would be cool if they put my name in the newspaper so I called him back.  He took down my story and I asked him to make sure to spell my name correctly.  He asked me not to speak to the New York Post, and as I'm not a big fan of the Post, I agreed.

A few hours later I talked to my friend Amanda Rykoff.  She'd seen my tweets about the incident and told me to write the story from my point of view for my blog immediately.  I had planned to wait until Tuesday to write something and include a link to the Daily News story when it came out.  But her point was that I should get my version of the events out right away, so I wrote my blog post and tweeted about it.  My mother called at 6 PM to tell me that the Pittsburgh news stations had stories about the flight, and I watched the local coverage here in New York.

About an hour later a producer at The Early Show on CBS called me.  She asked me to do an exclusive live interview with them on Tuesday morning.  I couldn't believe they'd want me to be on TV but I said yes.  Why not?  At first it was going to be a studio interview in midtown, then they wanted to do a stand-up interview at JFK Airport, then they moved it back to the studio.

That's when my phone blew up with calls, e-mails, and texts.  NBC wanted me to appear on the Today Show.  A local CBS news crew showed up at my apartment and taped me (unshaven and wearing an old T-shirt) for the 11 PM news.  Later in the evening, a Good Morning America producer rang my apartment doorbell every 10 minutes for roughly an hour.  My parents called to let me know that various TV shows had called them looking for me.  Both Amanda and my father convinced me to break my "exclusive" with CBS and go on the Today Show as well.  My father said "Get your name out there!  It's the Today Show!"  Amanda suggested that this story was this year's US Airways Hudson River plane landing and reminded me that those passengers had appeared on all the morning shows.  I was getting overwhelmed with the requests and the details.  But the Today Show producer said that they have procedures for dealing with the other morning shows, and that they routinely hand off guests to one another after interviews.  I agreed to go on the Today Show for a pre-taped interview before 7 AM, then go to CBS for a live spot on The Early Show at 7.  By this time it was nearly midnight.  Even though I went to bed shortly thereafter, I think I only managed to get about two hours of sleep.

I woke up at 5 AM Tuesday, showered, shaved, and put on one of my favorite shirts.  An NBC intern showed up at my apartment with a car at 5:30.  Good Morning America had one of their producers waiting outside as well, and he practically begged me to give them a few minutes after my NBC and CBS commitments.  I told him he'd have to wait and see, then got into NBC's car.  At 30 Rock they whisked me past the plaza and into the green room for a bit of makeup, then I had a few minutes to sit, check my e-mail, and catch my breath.  They took me into the studio, which looks smaller from the inside than it does on TV or even from the plaza.  Meredith Vieira said hello to me from the desk as they put me on the couch.  Matt Lauer came in, shook my hand and said "we can have a little fun with this story."  I was too overwhelmed by the early hour, the lack of sleep, and all the activity to be nervous.  During the interview itself, I focused on Lauer and did my best to ignore the cameras.  As soon as the interview ended, the NBC intern hustled me back out to 48th Street, where I met The Early Show producer and we took another car over to CBS's studio.  The Early Show's team handled me as adroitly as Today's had, getting me into the studio, on the air, and out the door in a matter of minutes.  Again, I didn't even think about the cameras being there.  The thought that I was on live television never entered my head.

I'd had time to check my e-mail again on the way from NBC to CBS.  A CNN producer wanted to know if I could appear on American Morning around 8 AM.  Since I usually go to work at 10 AM, and all these shows are close to each other in midtown Manhattan, I agreed to go on CNN.  When I finished at CBS, a CNN car took me to their studio, which I think was at the Time Warner Center.  I didn't notice because I was too busy reading e-mails from long-lost friends from high school who were writing incredulous things like "Did I just see you on the Today Show?"  I had more time to sit and think while waiting to go on CNN.  My e-mail inbox and voice mail were full of radio and TV interview requests.  Good Morning America had given up, but FOX News wanted me for a spot on their 9 AM show.  I did the American Morning spot and they shot some extra footage in a hallway, for what purpose I have no idea.  On the way out of CNN's office building, a WABC camera crew grabbed me, so I talked to them for two minutes.  Then I got into yet another car to go over to FOX.  The FOX interview experience was almost a carbon-copy of what had happened at CNN, only with more makeup.

After the FOX interview I had to go to work.  And I was exhausted.  I'd been up since 5 AM, I was running on no sleep, and I really wanted to go to my office and get back to my job.  After all, I'd been on vacation since the previous Thursday and I had a lot of work to do.  I did speak to a few more news organizations over the phone in the afternoon, but I ignored requests from the afternoon and evening news shows, including some big names.  I also deleted all the e-mails from radio shows around the country.  You can only tell the same story so many times before it becomes stale.  I saw that there were fresh stories coming into the 24-hour news cycle and knew that soon I would be old, forgotten news.  To my relief, by late afternoon the interview requests had slowed from a flood to a trickle.

Another reason I passed on the vast majority of requests after Tuesday morning was that by the time I was done at FOX, I had the feeling that I'd become a much bigger part of the story than I deserved.  I had made the rounds of the morning shows.  To appear on any other shows in the afternoon or evening would have been completely self-serving.  I admit that I got caught up in the excitement and thrill of the attention in the morning, and I'm not proud of that.  But when else would I have a chance to meet Matt Lauer?  Or John Roberts and Kiran Chetry at CNN?  Tuesday morning was a one-shot deal, and now it's behind me.  I look forward to being anonymous again.

Technology note: I took nearly all the calls, texts, and e-mails on Monday and Tuesday on my iPhone and throughout it all, I only had one dropped call.  And that call took place in a cab headed downtown to my office.  Bravo, Apple and AT&T!

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

If you missed me this morning...

I am exhausted and worn out from almost 24 hours of phone calls, texts, e-mails, and tweets.  It's been a unique experience but I'm really looking forward to putting this whole story behind me.

If you didn't see one or more of these shows today, here are the links I could find:

The TODAY Show

CBS Early Show

CNN American Morning

I can't find the FOX News segment on their website so if anyone else finds it please let me know.

Thank you to everyone who e-mailed, commented, or tweeted to me or about me today.  I really appreciate all the support of family and friends.

To anyone who's new here, I usually write about classical music, Pittsburgh sports teams, and life in New York.  I hope you'll stick around.

Thanks again!

Monday, August 09, 2010

Just a little excitement on my flight today

I was in Pittsburgh this weekend for Walkoff Walk's annual HEIST meetup -- more on that later -- and I flew back this morning.  JetBlue flight 1052 was really uneventful, barely more than an hour.  I'm glad I had time to watch all of "The Price is Right" before we landed.  I was afraid I'd miss the end of the Showcase Showdown.

As we were taxiing to the gate, we stopped and several passengers got up to get their bags.  One of the flight attendants announced that we were not quite at the gate yet and asked everyone to sit down.  I hadn't moved since I was in row 15.  We pulled up to the gate and people started to get off the plane.  As I got up to get my bags, the flight attendant made this announcement:

"To the passenger who just called me a motherfucker: fuck you.  I've been in this business 28 years and I've had it."

I looked at everyone around me, all of us surprised to have just heard that over an airplane intercom.  As I got off the plane, I noticed that it looked like the door opposite the one with the jetway was open.  I didn't look, but there was light coming in where normally there's no light.  The other flight attendants were talking about someone who was having a really bad day.

I got to the AirTrain terminal and the JetBlue flight attendant who'd made the announcement was there.  I recognized him from the flight; it looked like he had a cut on his forehead.  I recognized his voice when he started talking to another passenger from our flight about how he'd just had enough and quit his job.  Then he said something about someone using the emergency slide to get off the plane.  I still wasn't sure what had happened.  I thought a passenger had taken the fun way out.

As we rode the AirTrain to Jamaica Station, he talked about how he'd been a flight attendant for 28 years and he was fed up with this passenger who had a bag problem.  He said something like "your bag's right here!" and mimed pulling the emergency slide.  He also said that the plane would be out of service the rest of the day to have its emergency slide replaced.  I didn't talk to him myself.  I stood there listening to his conversation with the other guy, phone in hand, ready to tweet.  When we got off at Jamaica, the flight attendant went one way (to the parking lot) and the other passenger walked with me toward the Long Island Rail Road.  I asked him if I'd heard correctly that this flight attendant had used the emergency slide to get off the plane, and he confirmed it.  That's when I put this on Twitter:

JetBlue story: pissed-off lady demanded her bag, swore at FA. The FA swore back on intercom, quit job, left plane via emergency slide.

And now the story is all over the news.

To be clear about a few things:

The flight was never in danger.  We were on the ground, at the gate.  None of the passengers on my flight were delayed or detained as far as I know.

The attendant didn't drive away from the tarmac.  Somehow he got back into the terminal and got to the AirTrain.  He had his bags with him too, so I wonder if he took those down the slide with him.

I feel bad for everyone waiting for the next flight to Pittsburgh.  I assume JetBlue turns the same plane around for JFK-PIT, so those people had to wait while JetBlue found another plane for the afternoon flights.

I'm mostly concerned that a flight attendant would lose their cool that way over a bag in the overhead.  But I'm sure he's served his last bag of in-flight cookies.

Vacation report, part 8: Vienna!

I set out as early as I could on Saturday, determined to see as much of Vienna as I could.  My first stop was Peterskirche (St. Peter's Church).

Peterskirche (St. Peter's Church)

I had to wait until Mass ended before I could take photos of the interior.  There was a guy sitting at the desk just inside the door who gave me the "stink eye" as I stood in the back waiting for the service to wrap up.

The altar at Peterskirche





Next up was Karlskirche (St. Charles' Church).

Karlskirche (St. Charles' Church)

The nave and altar of Karlskirche

The frescoes on the ceiling were unbelievable.





The church was undergoing renovations but they had an elevator in the middle of the nave that took visitors up to the top of the dome for close-ups of the frescoes and the view from the top of the dome.  One unique feature of the dome was the "whisper" effect of the acoustics.  I could hear two men talking on the other side of the dome, 40 feet away, as if they were standing next to me.  It reminded me of the dome at St. Paul's Cathedral in London, which had a similar sound effect.

I wandered through the Naschmarkt for lunch, then hopped on Vienna's subway system for a visit to Schonnbrunn Palace, the former summer residence of the Habsburg dynasty.

The entrance to Schonnbrunn Palace

The main building at Schonnbrunn Palace

I'd skipped the Imperial Apartments at the Hofburg on Friday, but I was not about to miss the apartments at Schonnbrunn, including the famous Mirror Room where a six-year-old Mozart gave his first performance for Empress Maria Theresia.  I admit that I got chills standing in the same room where Mozart once stood.  Yes, I'm that geeky.  I lingered in the gardens and "backyard" of the palace, marveling at how royalty used to live.  Who needs that much house?  According to the audio guide, the palace used to require over a thousand servants to maintain it.  It's good to be the emperor.





My legs were starting to give out on me, but it was only 6 PM and I hadn't heard a concert in Vienna yet.  I took the subway back to central Vienna and meandered back to my hotel past several more churches, most of them closing for the day.  I was able to see Minoritenkirche inside and out, and as I passed Michaelerkirche I saw that they offered a free organ recital at 8 PM that night.  Score!  The organ in the church was built in 1714 and it is the oldest working Baroque organ in Austria.   How could I pass up a chance to hear it?

The altar of Michaelerkirche

The recital consisted of music from before 1700 and included a soprano soloist.  The organ sound was sublime, almost ethereal.  The bass notes didn't shake the floor like the organs I've heard in the United States do, but they're all of Victorian or later vintage and I suspect that the massive organ sound I'm accustomed to is a product of that era.  I imagined that this was the sort of organ Bach would have played for all those cantatas he wrote in Leipzig.  There was a church employee (the "MC") who introduced the soloist and the music and told us a few "fun facts" about the organ and the church.  He said that Michaelerkirche was the site of the first performance of Mozart's Requiem in December 1791, and that they think that Haydn himself used to play the organ at the church as he lived nearby.

After the recital the organist invited the audience up to the organ loft for a tour and a demonstration of the workings of the organ.  He only spoke German so the "MC" provided near-simultaneous English translation.  I had the feeling these two had done this routine before.  The organ console had a speaker on it so that the orchestra and choir (which would sit up in the organ loft as well) could hear the organ, much as monitors work for a rock band in concert.  The soloist played a few measures of one of the pieces from the recital with all of us standing up there, so we could hear and feel the organ up close.  The whole event was fascinating.

The organist talks about the instrument and the music.

Demonstrating how the organ console works.

The largest pipes on the organ

I had dinner at Figlmuller's, the best restaurant for schnitzel in Vienna.  I looked at the menu but didn't need it.  A minute after I sat down the waiter brought the gentlemen next to me their food, and I said "I'll have what they're having."

Schnitzel, potato salad and wine at Figlmuller's
The schnitzel was so large it overflowed the plate it was on.  And I ate every bit of it.  The potato salad wasn't bad, and I liked the bits of watercress that served as my vegetable for the day.  I wandered around for a while, soaking up the environment and letting my dinner settle, before stopping at a cafe for a beer and dessert.  Surprisingly, the sugary Sacher torte didn't keep me awake late that night.  I slept well after all that walking around.

Friday, August 06, 2010

Vacation report, part 7: Durnstein and on to Vienna

The ruins of the castle above Durnstein

Friday was the last day of the Backroads part of my vacation.  We had the option of a short loop ride along the Danube or a hike up to the castle ruins above Durnstein.  I chose the ruins, as I love old castles and King Richard the Lionheart had been imprisoned there.  

There isn't much of the castle left, but the view of the town, the river, and the surrounding countryside was spectacular.  




We also got to tour the church in Durnstein, which served as a preview of the kind of ornate decoration I would see in the churches in Vienna.





We said farewell to our guides and boarded a bus for Vienna.  I got to my hotel around 1 PM, dropped off my bags, and went out sightseeing.  

My first stop was St. Stephen's Cathedral, the most prominent building
in the city.





I took the elevator to the top of the spire and had a panoramic view of half of Vienna.  (The roof of the cathedral blocked my view of the other half of the city.)



Next up was the Hofburg, the residence of the Habsburgs, once the ruling family of the Austrian Empire.  On the way I stopped at Michaelerkirche (St. Michael's Church) and saw the incredible decorations on the altar and columns.  

Michaelerkirche (St. Michael's Church)

The altar at Michaelerkirche
The altar at Michaelerkirche

The entrance to Hofburg

My guidebook recommended that I skip the Imperial Apartments at the Hofburg and see something else, so I skipped them in favor of the Kunsthistoriches  (Art History) Museum.  

Kunsthistoriches (Art History) Museum

The museum reminded me of the Metropolitan Museum in New York, with the Greek and Roman exhibits, the Egyptian mummies, and room after room of portraits and landscapes.  Although the Met doesn't have a room full of art by Rubens, or this portrait of a young Franz Josef II (note the resemblance to Jeffrey Jones) and his brother, the Grand Duke.


I left the Kunsthistoriches Museum just before closing and wandered past the Staatsoper on my way to the Haus der Musik, Vienna's homage to its musical heritage.  The museum dedicated its first floor to the Vienna Philharmonic, with artifacts from the orchestra's 180-year history and a theater showing their most recent New Year's Eve concert.  The second floor had exhibits on how sound works and I can see the appeal for children.  The third floor was the big payoff for me - rooms devoted to Vienna's musical masters: Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert, Johann Strauss, and Mahler.  

The Mahler room.  I liked the nature theme.
The Mahler Room at the Haus der Musik

Finally, the fourth floor had more interactive exhibits and a game system that let you put together your own sonic composition.  I ended my day with dinner at Greichenbeisl, a restaurant once frequented by Beethoven, Schubert, and Brahms, though presumably not all at the same time.  


Sitting there drinking wine, eating strudel, and people-watching was a satisfying way to finish my first evening in Vienna.