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Wednesday, September 28, 2011

162

I'm sitting myself down tonight after a long baseball season to watch the Cubs for the final time this year. After Ron Santo died last winter, this season I decided to upgrade myself from MLB.com's Gameday Audio to the full MLB.tv package so I'd have access to every Cubs TV broadcast this year. I watched every one. I might not have watched them live, and for quite a number the game became background noise as I worked on something else, but in one way or another I've watched every single game this season. It's not quite like getting season tickets and attending every home game, or like visiting all 30 major league ballparks, but it's something.

I certainly didn't pick a memorable Cubs season to watch. Early in the season, an injury-riddled Cubs lineup proved that they were a pretty poor team. Later, when they got healthy, the best they could do was still pretty average. There were way too many blown saves and about a billion men left on base. I know the Cubs are looking for a GM, and I'm in no way qualified for that position, but here are my thoughts about where the team is finishing and what I hope to see in the future:
  • Starlin Castro has been fun to watch, although he has a lot of work to do in almost every aspect of his game. He can hit, sure, but rarely does he get on base any other way. I think his defense has gotten a little better as the season progressed; for a while there it seemed like he was throwing balls into the dugout or stands every couple of days. If there's a bright spot in a dull season, Castro's 200+ hits stand out.
  • Darwin Barney is a likable player, but I worry that the numbers that made him look like a good rookie won't improve and in a couple years they'll just look average. Remember all the talk after the Santo era about the constant turnover at 3rd base? I'm not sure the Cubs aren't experiencing the same thing at 2nd post-Sandberg.
  • I like Carlos Pena. He seems like such a good clubhouse guy and a real professional on and off the field. However, the equation seems simple: he's not under contract for next year and the Cubs have a AAA first baseman who won the Pacific Coast MVP. I know they're trying out LaHair in the outfield, but I won't be upset if he's slated to be the Cubs first baseman next year.
  • Aramis Ramirez has been as much a part of any Cubs success the past 8 years as anyone. I'd like to see him back, but it probably wouldn't be a good business decision. Unless you know you've got a real contender, shelling out big contracts to aging players isn't a good idea.
  • Alfonso Soriano has made a more positive impression on me this year. Not enough to justify his huge contract, but if he has three more years like this one I'll be okay with seeing him in left field most every day.
  • I continued to be impressed by Marlon Byrd's hustle. Same goes for Reed Johnson. If you're going to win, you have to have guys like these on your team.
  • Who doesn't love Tony Campana? (Besides opposing teams.) I don't care if he can't hit for power or if he can't produce as an everyday starter. I just want him on the team, ready to contribute at a moment's notice.
  • Starting pitching: Garza's a keeper and probably should have had 15 wins had he gotten good support. I hope Dempster's back, but I doubt that will happen. I think Randy Wells can still be a really good #2 or #3 starter. Carlos Zambrano....sorry, but we've been better off without you. Any bets that he'll be pitching for the Marlins next year?
  • Bullpen: Thanks, Kerry, for coming back to the Cubs. You gave up bigger money and Cubs fans won't forget it. Jeff Samardzija and Jeff Russell were unexpectedly good at times and Sean Marshall might have been consistently the best pitcher on the whole staff. Marmol? Shaky. Ortiz and Grabow? Yawn.
I won't go through the entire roster, but I think the theme for next year should be "let the kids play." Sure, Soriano and Byrd will get plenty of playing time, but I won't mind if every other position is filled by someone with less than five years of major league experience. If the Cubs spend money, I'd go after starting pitching. We saw how few options the Cubs had when Wells and Cashner went down, and having one or two more solid, reliable starters will give the kids a reason to think they can win every day.

It's the third inning and Dempster just gave up a 3-run-homrun with two outs in the 3rd inning. The inning would have been over had Reed Johnson and Starlin Castro connected on a relay to the plate, but instead the Cubs give away runs after a fundamental mistake. Par for the season, unfortunately, but I'll keep watching anyway. Until next year...

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Why Eleanor Roosevelt Would Have Liked Google+

And why Google+ won't be replacing Twitter or Facebook for most of us anytime soon

"Great minds discuss ideas. Average minds discuss events. Small minds discuss people."
-- Eleanor Roosevelt

I know too much already has been written about Google+ and its place in the world of social networking, but I've recently developed a new perspective which might help some of you who are trying to decide how and when to use Google+ versus Twitter or Facebook.

Eleanor might have said "small minds discuss people," but there's more than one way to discuss people and none of us are consistently small-minded. People are important, and the people who are most important to us are those with which we have mutual friendships or family relationships. This is why Facebook is best at people: it enforces (if we ignore fan pages) a symmetric follower model, ensuring that we are connected to people who want to also be connected to us. Those connections, often with people who we don't see regularly but want to keep in touch with, are more important than the comments and conversation people post on their Wall. If your Facebook News Feed is anything like mine, you know what I'm talking about. But that's okay -- I use Facebook because my friends and family mean more to me than their latest post, and it's why we shouldn't worry about a mass exodus from Facebook anytime soon.

Beyond friendships and family, we are connected to others through common events. When fire broke out over the foothills of Boulder about a year ago, it didn't matter that I didn't personally know many other people in the area. What mattered was our shared experience and our desire to understand the event beyond our own perspective. This is why Twitter is best at events: those of us affected were able to congregate around the #boulderfire and other hashtags. Twitter didn't allow us to say much at once, but that was okay. No one person should dominate such a conversation. When someone did emerge as particularly insightful or resourceful, Twitter's asymmetric follower model allowed us to follow them without them following us back. Today, on the ten-year anniversary of 9-11, I know I'm not alone in wondering what that day would have been like had we had Twitter, fail whales and all. No tool allows us to so spontaneously engage in an event quite like Twitter -- it really is the internet's nervous system.

Sometimes our interactions with people and events spark deeper thought. Eventually we not only want to say more, we want to ask more. We want a space where we can engage with other people around our reflections and questions. This is why Google+ is best at ideas: it allows us a flexible space and a flexible audience with which we can have a cohesive conversation around an idea or belief. Great conversation emerges from great ideas, and great ideas are evidence of great minds. And when our minds aren't so great (which, let's face it, is most of the time), Google+'s threaded conversations allow participants (who may or may not follow each other) to push and shape the idea into something better. As Google+ gains capabilities (search, tagging, public circles, etc.) the way we find these conversations may change, but I think Google+'s focus on ideas will remain. And I think Eleanor would have liked it.

So while Facebook is best for people, Twitter is best for events, and Google+ is best for ideas, that in no way means that you can't discuss an event on Facebook or maintain close relationships on Google+. The reason that these are currently our most prominent and successful social networks is because we can use them in more than one way. But as with any set of tools, knowing which is the right one for the job makes each tool more useful. When I see a "I'm headed out to eat" post on Google+, it feels empty because I'm not sure how I can engage in a conversation around that idea. Maybe the person who posted that needs to pick a different tool or create a circle with a more relevant audience. I'm happy to follow a lot of smart educators on Twitter, but when their posts turn into a conversation, I feel handcuffed. Not only is it hard to reply to multiple people and restrain an important thought to 140 characters, I realize I can't easily see the other replies from people I'm not following. And while I might try to discuss an idea or event on Facebook, I usually don't get much response. Other than being my friends, people who see what I post on Facebook really don't have all that much in common.

If you use all three social networks, as I do, think before you post. Think about which tool is the best for the job. But also realize that because there's more than one job to do, there's room for more than one network. Now pardon me as my desire to educate combines with my ego to shamelessly share this post on all three.