Tuesday, July 27, 2004

Arena Tax

For some reason, getting things done in Kansas City is a difficult task. I'm sure it's the same in any other city, but everytime we have a chance to do something that is good for the city, the anti-progress folks come out of the woodwork.

Right now, our mayor has put together a plan for a new, state of the art arena in downtown KC. She already has worked out an agreement with AEG (owners of the Staples Arena in LA, and owners of several NBA, NHL and MLS frachises) to help fund and operate the arena. AEG is also in the process of trying to lure an NBA or NHL team to Kansas City to make its home in the new arena.

Sprint has agreed to pay a naming rights fee for the arena to be called the Sprint Center. A blighted part of downtown has been acquired for the arena.

All the ducks are in a row. The only question now is how to fund the construction. The mayor put together a plan for the cost of the arena to be funded without hitting citizens of Kansas City: usage fees on rental cars and hotels.

The citizens of KC will vote next Tuesday to approve these usage fees. Not surprisingly, the largest rental car company in America, Enterprise, is funding an anti-arena tax movement in KC. Enterprise is based in St. Louis and they are spending close to $1 million on the campaign. That, I can understand.

What I don't understand are the local people who don't think this is a good idea. KC needs a new arena. The current arena, Kemper Arena, is something like 30 years old. It's located in an inconvenient area not within walking distance of any hotels. The NCAA is passing us up for basketball tournament games. The Big 12 is passing us up for its basketball tournament. Major concerts are passing us up. Kemper has done its job for many years, but its time has come.

The anti-arena-tax coalition says the plan is risky. I don't see the risk. AEG has a 35 year agreement to run the arena and will absorb any losses. Since the old Kemper Arena is profitable today, I don't see how a new arena could not be profitable. Even without an NHL or NBA team, the arena is booked with many other events. And, AEG is working on acquiring an NBA or NHL team, and both leagues have expressed interest in KC.

I'll be out voting next week - yes on Question 1. Once we get this arena done, then we can start working on a downtown baseball stadium...

Monday, July 26, 2004

Ball Four

Just finished reading Jim Bouton's Ball Four. The book was written back in 1969 when Bouton pitched for the Seattle Pilots. The book is a journal where Bouton wrote entries every day of the season describing his teammates, coaches, as well as his feelings about his own performance.

When the book was released, it offered the public its first true glimpse inside a major league clubhouse. Commissioner Bowie Kuhn was quite upset. The book exposed the absurdity of life as a major leaguer, where coaches repeat meaningless things and players bide their time trying to look up skirts. Kuhn actually tried to get Bouton to sign a letter stating that he made everything in the book up. Bouton refused.

Bouton openly discussed players using "greenies," or uppers, before they played. He constantly complained about how idiodic coaches can be. When a pitcher walks a guy, the coaches bark "You gotta throw him strikes!" When he hits it out, "You're gettin' too much of the plate!"

The one aspect of Ball Four that I found interesting was reading about Bouton's own feelings about his ability and his team. It makes a major leaguer feel a little more human to read about him daydreaming about getting the last out to win the World Series - even at 30 years old. The passages where he wonders if he's lost it offer rare look at the more insecure side of a ballplayer.

Bouton was traded to the Astros midway through the 1969 season, so we also hear stories about guys like Larry Dierker.

This 20th anniversary edition of the book included an pretty boring epilogue where Bouton updates us on all of his former teammates and his latest endeavors (including inventing the now famous Big League Chew bubble gum). He also hints that he may have been black-balled after writing the book. I find that arument pretty weak considering he was able to make a comeback with the Braves and worked as a tv commentator in baseball.

Ball Four certainly isn't the baseball classic that some have made it out to be, but not a bad read for passing time on an airplane.

Now, I'm re-reading Rob Neyer's Feeding the Green Monster, another daily journal book describing Rob's summer in 2000 when he attended every Red Sox game at Fenway that season.

Thursday, July 22, 2004

SharePoint Book

Just received my copy of Microsoft SharePoint: Building Office 2003 Solutions by Scot P. Hillier.

On first glance, this looks like a great book for anybody needing to get up to speed on SharePoint quickly. Hillier breaks all of the various concepts - from configuring SharePoint to doing custom development - into logical chapters. He describes the concepts well, and then provides exercises to demonstrate each concept. This is great for folks like me who are looking to get the functionality up and running in a short time.

Hillier even discusses a few of the Solution Accelerators. He describes and demonstrates the Proposal Accelerator, which Quilogy help build. He also describes and demonstrates the Accelerator for Recruiting which I had the pleasure of helping to build and test for Microsoft.

Overall, a well written and organized book. Highly recommended.

Wednesday, July 21, 2004


One other small fact that I forgot about Brian MacRae. He is part owner of Union Broadcasting, the parent company of WHB, the flagship of the Royals. So its easy to understand why he's not willing to criticize...

Tuesday, July 20, 2004

SharePoint Hacks

I've been working with a client in KC to implement SharePoint as an intranet. It's been an interesting experience. I've found that SharePoint is designed to be used a certain way. And while that way is fine for most cases, there are times when organizations might want to work with it a little differently.
A good example came when working with Listing Items in SharePoint Portal Server. Each Area of the Portal can have a listing of items. This listing can be used for announcements, links to documents, news, etc.
There is also a special area within Portal call News. When in the News area, you can click "Add Listing Item" and you will get a screen (spnewlisting.aspx) that allows you to enter information about the new listing, including a start and expiration date. These dates can be used to automatically show and hide the item based on date (for example, this annoucement should be show until 7/31/2004).
However, on any other area (not News), adding a new listing also displays the spnewlisting.aspx page, but without the section with the start and expiration dates. My client wanted to make expiration date required so the system in effect cleans up after itself.
To do this, I had edit each template page (for example, TEMPLATE\1033\SPSTOPIC\Default.aspx) and update the toolbar link for Add Listing. Currently, the link points to spnewlisting.aspx. I changed it to spnewlisting.aspx?Mode=News. This is what the link is in the News area's default.aspx page.
By adding the querystring parameter for Mode=News, spnewlisting.aspx then shows the start and expiration date section. It still saves the listing item correctly.
Next, we wanted to make Expiration date required. I did this by editing the spnewlisting.aspx page, and in the SectionPublishDates section, I added a InputFormRequiredFieldValidator control. The code for the control looks like this:
  ErrorMessageLocId="FieldValidation_NotValidDate" />

Brian MacRae

Hal MacRae made a name for himself in KC as one of the best DH's in baseball. Later, he managed the Royals to respectability before the strike of '94 killed the season and the Royals decided to fire him (possibly as a result of a profane tirade he had with reporters).
Hal's son Brian played high school ball in the KC area and later became the Royals center fielder. Now, Brian is making a living on TV and radio. He does work for MLB.com, and contributes on the Royals radio and television networks.
Personally, I can't stand him. Without even listening to what he's saying, his delivery is difficult to listen to. He always sounds like he's struggling to find the next word he's going to say. But, more importantly, I've never heard him say anything substantive.
He always sounds like he's trying not to anger anybody. When asked a question about a move that Pena made in a game, he will reply with something like "They are going to do what they do, and we'll just have to see if it's successful." When asked about whether Dee Brown can be a productive player for the Royals, his response was "It's too early to tell. What he does from here on out will determine what he does for this ballclub." Wow. That's some hard hitting analysis.
Other ex-players who contribute to the Royals broadcasts are not afraid to tell it like it is. I've heard Paul Splittorf, Al Fitzmorris, Fred Patek and others openly criticize the Royals when deserved. It'd be nice if someone who gets as much air time as MacRae does do the same.

Our Lady of Guadalupe in Puerto Vallarta Posted by Hello

Monday, July 19, 2004

Picks or Pride?

I remember back in the 80's when the Chiefs were a terrible football team, the same question kept coming up. Should they lose more games to garner a higher draft pick, or try to win some in the name of pride?
That same question is now being bantered about with this year's Royals. Currently, the Royals have the fourth worst record in all of baseball, and the second worst in the AL. I'm hearing some folks say that since this is a lost season anyway, the Royals should continue to lose at a blistering pace to guarantee a high pick in the draft. And now that the Royals have gotten of to a good start in the second half of the season (they just took 3 of 4 from the Twins), the arguments are really heating up.
Personally, I think they need to win games. Having a high draft pick is nice, but it's not as critical in baseball as it is in other sports. In football, for example, high picks typically to turn into players who can contribute rather quickly. In baseball, it's much more difficult to know whether a pick will become a productive player. Even the best picks are usually at least 2 years away from making the big league club. And some real gems can be found in the lower rounds (see Albert Pujols). Another problem with the Royals in particular is that they typically cannot afford the signing bonus of the big name high draft picks. In fact, it's pretty well known that in the years before the Glass family purchased the team (and they were without an owner), the Royals were drafting based solely on signability - in other words, can we get him cheap?
For the 2004 Royals, I think the team is in position to build for next year, and building should include learning how to win games. I would love to see the Royals play around .500 ball the rest of the way, giving the young players a taste of winning and making them all hungry for a more successful 2005.

Friday, July 16, 2004

Viva La Mojito

I discovered a great drink while in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico. While hanging out in our favorite bar one day, the waitress Olivia asked me if I would like to try a new drink they just started making. I said sure. She brought me a glass that looked like it had 7-Up with salad in it. I tasted it, and fell in love.
The Mojito originated in Cuba. It is a delicious mixture of rum, mineral water, sugar, lime juice, and fresh mint. To make it, muddle (squash) the fresh mint leaves with some sugar and lime juice until you can really smell the mint. Add some ice, rum and fill the glass with mineral (or sparkling) water.
The drink is delicious. It by no means tastes like an alcoholic drink. The mint leaves in the glass make it a distinct drink. The taste is very refreshing. And since the drink is mostly water, I found that even when I drank 7 or 8 of them in a day (did I say I liked it?), I never got that nasty, drunk, dehydrated feeling. In fact, I never felt any kind of buzz from the drink. Delicious.
After getting home, I decided to try to make a Mojito. I found a recipe at Bacardi Mojito and gave it a try. The result was pretty good. Not excactly the same as my friend Martin in Mexico made, but pretty darn close and delicious none the less.

Thursday, July 15, 2004

Operator Overloading

Interesting MSDN article on Operator Overloading. This new feature of Visual Basic 2005 allows developers to define custom implementations of operators (+, -, *, Not, Or, And, etc). Cool stuff...

Second Half Begins

Tonight, the Royals resume their season after the All Star Break. The first half has been a disaster, and the Royals hope to salvage their season over the next 2 and a half months.

The story for the Royals this year has been injuries. The Royals currently have 10 players on the DL. A good indication of how snake-bitten this team has been is the strange nature of the injuries. Mike MacDougal had a stomach virus in Spring Training and was weakened so much that he's been ineffective. Aaron Guiel had mysterious blurriness in his left eye. Angel Berroa was out 3 weeks after receiving a spinal tap for headaches. 3 pitchers (Ascencio, Snyder, Hernandez) never even contributed in Spring Training before getting hurt. All 3 are out for the season.

But the Royals cannot use the injuries as an excuse. Forget the injuries. The players have simply not performed. Sweeney has been a disappointment. In the last series before the break, he started to show life at the plate, but until then he wasn't the Sweeney of old. Harvey had a good first half - good enough to earn an All Star berth - but has been slumping since June. Beltran looked greated, when he was here.

Everybody else has been awful. The starting rotation has gotten rocked, and the offense is terrible. In one recent series, the Royals went 3 straigt games without scoring a run.

Here is the lineup the Royals used for their final game of the first half:

Relaford - .196
Graffanino - .261
Sweeney - .279
Stairs - .266
Harvey - .305
Brown - .281
Berroa - .239
DeJesus - .164
Buck - .189

When three of your starting nine are hitting below .200, you can't feel too good about your chances. To compare, the Orioles' lineup on the same date featured 4 players batting above .300.

The only bright spot has been Zack Greinke. The rookie phenom made his debut on May 22. Lack of run support explains his 1-6 record, but his ERA is a very respectable 3.86.

What is baffling is the way the Royals have handled Greinke. He didn't make the team out of Spring Training because GM Allard Baird said he wasn't ready "off the field" yet, though he was ready to perform on the big league level. So instead, the Royals began the season with an all-lefty rotation.

Then, on May 1, injuries forced the Royals to make a callup to make a start in Yankee Stadium. Inexplicably, they Royals chose to call up an unknown pitcher, Eduardo Villacis, from class AA Wichita to make the start. Villacis didn't participate with the big league club in Spring Training. Typically, if a player is a prospect of any kind he participates with the big league club. Of all the pitchers, why would they select Villacis to make a start in Yankeee Stadium? Nobody had ever heard of him. In AAA Omaha, they had Kris Wilson (who's pitched in the big leagues), Jamie Wright (who's pitched in the big leauges), and Zack Grienke. But, Grienke wasn't ready "off the field." The Royals were shelled in that game as Villacis only lasted 3.1 innings. 22 days later, Grienke was called up.

What did Grienke learn in those 22 days that he couldn't have been called up for that Yankees game? The move made it look like the team was giving up. Villacis was subsequently released and is now pitching in the White Sox organization.

Look for the Royals to try to solidify their rotation for next season. Greinke, Wood, and Gobble will get pleny of starts to get experience under their belt. Also look for more trades (Randa, Stairs) as the Royals try to bolster their inventory of prospects.

Wednesday, July 14, 2004

Our Lady of Guadalupe

One of the highlights of our trip to Puerto Vallarta was seeing the famous Our Lady of Guadalupe Catholic Church. The church is one of the more popular destinations for tourists to the city.

The church is one of the most beautiful churches I've seen. The outside features a crown atop the tower, modeled after the tiara of the mistress of the Emporor Maximilian. In a 1995 earthquake, the crown was damaged, and has been replaced with a replica.

One interesting feature of the church is the missing bricks on the exterior. Our tour-guide, Jorge, explained that there is a great battle between the politicians of Mexico and the church. He explained that the government retains the right to take ownership of any church 18 months after it is completed. For this reason, the church has been built with bricks missing on the exterior, so that it is not actually completed. So even after 100 years, the Our Lady of Guadalupe Church is still under construction.

The interior of the church features beautiful hand carved statues. Above the alter are 4 paintings depicting the various eras of the Mexican church. One features the bloody human sacrifices of the early Mayans, while another shows a loving Jesus Christ.

While it was extremely hot and humid, I must say our walk to the church was an enjoyable one, and I was very impressed with this beautiful church.

Monday, July 12, 2004

All Star Debate

Of course, arguments abound about the players selected to play in the All Star Game. MLB requires that every team have at least one representative in the game. This year, Ken Harvey will represent the Royals in the game. Did he deserve it? Good Question.

Mike Sweeney has been to the last 4 All Star Games and without argument has been the Royals one "star." The slow start the Royals had this year has affected all players, including Sweeney. As of the All Star Break, here are the stats for Sweeney:


And for Harvey:

So what do those stats tell you? To me, it looks like both players are pretty equal, except Sweeney drives in a lot more runs and doesn't strike out nearly as much. Harvey had a great first half, no doubt. He led the league in average for a couple of days and had a 13 or 14 game hitting streak. Harvey hits for average. He always has, even in college and the minors. A lot of folks also argue that Harvey's a better defensive first baseman. Possibly. But I've seen just as many gaffes by Harvey in the field as I have Sweeney. I think there's a perception problem here. Sweeney misses a short hop throw and the whole city goes crazy because he's so terrible. Harvey does the same, and it was simply a bad trhrow.

I still think the Royals did the right thing by signing Sweeney to a long term contract. He's the best hitter on this team (by far) and is still one of the best hitters in the AL. I don't buy the "he's always hurt" argument. Harvey's played in 3 more games that Sweeney this year. With Harvey's ugly-ass swing, I think Sweeney will be a productive hitter far longer than Harvey will. Sweeney's the star of this team, and the lone player deserving of an All Star appearance.

Back from Mexico

Just got back from a week's vacation in Puerto Vallarta Mexico. We went with some friends to a charity auction for my wife's high school a few months ago, and together we submitted the winning bid for the trip. Someone who owns a timeshare there had donated their week.

The resort we stayed at was the Mayan Palace. The rooms we stayed in were in an older part of the resort, and badly needed updating. I think we were assigned these rooms because we were guests and not actual owners of the timeshare. The weather was very hot and humid and it rained almost every evening.

Our second day there, we agreed to attend a sales presentation for the time shares. We toured the resort and sat through 90 minutes of high pressure sales tactics before we were finally allowed to go. Throughout the presentation, we were told that they would try to move us to better rooms, and so we continued to listen with this result in mind. Of course, it never happened.

But, other than that, we had a good time. We did find a great little bar that overlooked the beach at the resort. The waitress there, Olivia, was extremely friendly and helpful, and we ended up relaxing there every evening.

I don't imagine I would ever return to Puerto Vallarta. It was nice to visit once, but not nice enough to return or to recommend to my friends as a vacation destination.

It is nice to be home...

Friday, July 02, 2004

Dee Brown

Dee Brown was the Royals' first pick in the 1996 June Free Agent Draft. He was regarded as one of the Royals' best prospects for the first few years in the organization. In 1998, he made his major league debut in a September call up.

Since then, the Royals have jerked him around. He's been up and down many times. In 2001, he finally stuck with the Royals long enough to collect 380 AB's. He hit .245 with an OBP of .286 and a SLG of .350.

The in 2002, the yo-yo started spinning again. He played in only 16 games and in 2003, he played in only 50 games.

Dee reported to Spring Training this year knowing his chances were slim to make the team. He didn't and the Royals put him on waivers. He cleared, and then reported to AA Wichita.

Finally in mid June, after Juan Gonzalez and Aaron Guiel went on the DL, he was called up to help the Royals in the outfield.

Then on June 22, Pena started Desi Relaford in left field. Why? Why bring up Dee Brown to the Royals to have him sit the bench? It's time the Royals quit messing with this guy.

Maybe he can play, maybe he can't. It would be nice to just let him play so we can make a determination. He's never up with the Royals long enough to get into a groove. He was a top prospect in the organization, but for some reason, the Royals seem to have something against him.

I met Dee Brown a couple of years ago. The Royals gave a baseball clinic at my son's league complex and Jamie Quirk, Kris Wilson, Dee Brown, and Lamar Johnson were there. Kris Wilson was extremely nice and down to earth. When the clinic was over, Quirk announced to all these 7 and 8 year olds that they couldn't stay to sign autographs and hopped in his car and left.

Dee Brown, stood by his car after Quirk left and signed autographs for a half hour. I was really impressed with him. He was so quiet and shy, but really warmed up to these kids. Not that that has anything to do with his playing ability, but I do have soft spot for Brown after that experience.

Let Brown play. This outfield needs him. Stop playing Stairs in the outfield. He can't cover the ground - especially in the newly expanded Kauffman Stadium outfield. For the rest of 2004 the outfield should consist of Brown, DeJesus and Gettis. And please... Listen to me Tony Pena... Stop playing infielders in the outfield!

Thursday, July 01, 2004

Visual Web Developer Express 2005

I took a chance and downloaded and installed the new Microsoft Visual Web Developer Express 2005. Basically, this is the new Web Matrix. Express is a version of Visual Studio 2005 that is geared toward hobbyists. It will allow folks to write ASP.NET code without forking over the thousands it takes to purchase Visual Studio.

The install went well, and I fired up the product. It was obvious that in this beta version, optimizations have not yet been completed. It look a good 60 seconds or more for the product to load. I quickly played around with creating a web page that asks the user for some info and displays it back.

All in all, a decent experience. However I did find that installing Framework 2.0 caused my SharePoint installation to fail. So, since I'm getting paid to work on SharePoint, I had to uninstall it.

The good news is that the uninstall process went smoothly, and it did in fact seem to remove it completely as my SharePoint server is now running again...

I will try to set up a virutal PC so that I can take more time to play with the new VS products now that the betas have been released...