Friday, August 22, 2014

Dinner @ Chez Panisse in Berkeley, CA

I was recently able to go to Chez Panisse, the famous Berkeley restaurant who pioneered using fresh, local, organic ingredients in its menu.  Chez Panisse is sometimes credited for inventing "California Cuisine."

A word of advice for those who haven't been to Chez Panisse and are planning to go in the future.  There is a "downstairs" and "upstairs" at Chez Panisse.

The downstairs has a set price fixe menu, costing $65 for 3 courses on Monday, $85 for 4 courses Tuesday thru Thursday, and $100 for 5 courses Friday and Saturday.  For an additional supplement, you can add a cheese course.

The upstairs has an a la carte menu where you can buy whatever you want off the menu.  Online, this is known as "Chez Panisse Cafe".

So if you're planning to go there, be careful where you make a reservation.  If you weren't planning on spending a lot of money, you may be in for a surprise if you accidentally reserved a table at the downstairs.

We went to the "downstairs" for our tasting, and it was quite delicious.  Unlike other restaurants I've gone to, I wouldn't classify this restaurant as "fine dining."  While some websites say the attire is business casual, there were some folks in jeans and sneakers.

It's more like, "Really really good home cooking."  I think some of these pictures will illustrate what I mean.  Here's an overview of what we had.

1) olives and pickled north coast mushrooms

I hate mushrooms, but these mushrooms weren't too bad.  The pickling took out the horrible texture of mushrooms that I normally hate.

2) slow-cooked king salmon with wild fennel and cucumber salad

This salmon had clearly been sous vided, it was super soft.  The tomatoes were very ripe and delicious.

3) borage agnelotti with North Coast mushrooms

Again, I hate mushrooms but the pickling made these tolerable.  The broth in this dish was crazy delicious.  We loved it so much and dipped the remaining bread we had in it as well.

4) grilled Paine Farm squab with huckleberry sauce, Rossa di Milano onions cooked in the coals, squash blossom fritters, and watercress

I think I read somewhere that squab has the texture/taste of dark meat chicken, in other words it's flavorful throughout.  I totally see that now, these were really tasty.

5) Cheese plate

This was a supplemental course that you can purchase as an option.  All I remember about this cheese plate was the honeycomb.  It was wonderful.

6) Wild blackberry and lemon verbena meringata

This is about the greatest dessert that could ever be constructed for me.  Berries are my favorite fruit on the planet.  They were in season.

7) mignardise, chocolate & grapefruit

Compared to other restaurants I've been to (obviously, there's a wide range of restaurants out there), I wouldn't consider this extremely high end fine dining.  There were no high end ingredients like caviar, truffles, or wagyu beef like Alexander's Steakhouse.  There were no exotic ingredients like abalone or uni.  All the ingredients were fairly common and normal (berries, cucumber, salmon, etc.).  About the most extravagent ingredient here is the squab.

Relatively speaking, the plating of the dishes isn't particularly fancy either (ok, the dessert is probably the exception).  All the plates are simple white plates.  It was just a really good cooked meal with very fresh and good ingredients.

That said, the service was at the level of fine dining.

I'd definitely recommend everyone try it if they're in the area.

Update: I went to Chez Panisse again, see the review.

400 Home Runs In A Decade

Not so long ago, I noticed that Albert Pujols had hit 408 home runs in his first 10 years in the majors.  That really amazed me, Pujols had an average of over 40 home runs a year for 10 straight years.

It is truly amazing how difficult this is to accomplish, requiring excellence over an entire decade and a little bit of luck.  As an example, lets look at Jim Thome.  He's seventh all time in career home runs with 612, however he couldn't meet this mark of 400 over a decade due to an injury in 2005 which saw him hit only 7 home runs.  Lou Gehrig came close hitting 390 home runs from 1927-1936, but a 27 home run season in 1928, a 32 home run season in 1933, and a 30 home run season in 1935 hurt his averages despite hitting 46 in 1931, 47 in 1927, and 49 in both 1934 and 1936.

So who has accomplished this amazing feat of 400 home runs in 10 years?  Here's the list I've compiled.

Barry Bonds

1992-2001 = 425 HRs, 1993-2002 = 437 HRs, 1994-2003 = 436 HRs, 1995-2004 = 444 HRs, 1996-2005 = 416 HRs, 1997-2006 = 400 HRs
Barry Bonds has a large number of 10 year spans hitting 40 home runs for somewhat obvious reasons.  A 73 home run season will carry you a long way and help average out some poorer season.  In fact, his 1997-2006 run includes an injury plagued season in which he hit 5 home runs in 2006.

Babe Ruth

1918-1927 = 407 HRs, 1919-1928 = 450 HRs, 1920-1929 = 467 HRs, 1921-1930 = 462 HRs, 1922-1931 = 449 HRs, 1923-1932 = 455 HRs, 1924-1933 = 448 HRs, 1925-1934 = 424 HRs, 1926-1935 = 405 HRs

Babe Ruth had the most 10 year spans in which he hit atleast 400 home runs.  He was amazingly consistent, hitting atleast 40 home runs 11 times in a 14 year range from 1920-1933 and hit more than 50 another four times.  By comparison, Barry Bonds only had eight 40 home run seasons and eclipsed 50 home runs only during his record breaking 73 home run season.

Ken Griffey Jr.

1991-2000 = 400 HRs, 1992-2001 = 400 HRs

In 1995 Ken Griffey Jr. suffered an injury that lead him to hitting only 17 home runs that year.  However, he was able to make up for it with several 56 home run seasons in 1997 and 1998.

Sammy Sosa

1992-2001 = 421 HRs, 1993-2002 = 462 HRs, 1994-2003 = 469 HRs, 1995-2004 = 479 HRs, 1996-2005 = 457 HRs, 1997-2006 = 438 HRs, 1998-2007 = 402 HRs

Sammy Sosa's three 60 home run seasons really carried him in this list.  He had the most home runs over a decade with 479 from 1995-2004.  However, what's most interesting is that from 1997-2006 and 1998-2007, he was able to average 40 home runs over decade despite hitting ZERO home runs in 2006 when he temporarily retired.

Alex Rodriguez

1996-2005 = 424 HRs, 1997-2006 = 423 HRs, 1998-2007 = 454 HRs, 1999-2008 = 447 HRs, 2000-2009 = 435 HRs, 2001-2010 = 424 HRs

Not much needs to be said about Alex Rodriguez's runs of home runs.  He's hitting them often and he's doing it year after year.  He's got eight 40 home run seasons and three 50 home run seasons in his career.

Mark McGwire

1990-1999 = 405 HRs, 1992-2001 = 405 HRs

What's astounding about Mark McGwire's 400 home run spans is that he hit only 18 home runs from 1992 to 1993.  Naturally, his numbers were carried by four 50 home run seasons, including his 70 home run season in 1998 and 60 home run season in 1997.  Interestingly enough, due to Mark McGwire's terrible 1991, in which he hit only 22 home runs, he's the only player on this list to have a break between 400 home run decades (he hit 398 home runs from 1991-2000).

Harmon Killebrew

1961-1970 = 403 HRs

Harmon Killebrew is a good example of how luck is involved in accomplishing 400 home runs in a decade.  In 1968 he suffered an injury that shortened his season and ultimately he only hit 17 home runs that year.  His other great seasons were able to give him 400 home runs from 1961-1970, but not quite in any other 10 year range of his career.

Jimmie Foxx

1929-1938 = 413 HRs, 1930-1939 = 415 HRs, 1931-1940 = 414 HRs, 1932-1941 = 403 HRs

Jimmie Foxx's home run numbers are perhaps the least gaudy of the players listed here.  He only eclipsed 40 home runs five times in his career, but did eclipse 50 twice.

Albert Pujols

2001-2010 = 408 HRs, 2002-2011 = 408 HRs, 2003-2012 = 404 HRs

Pujols remained very consistent during his prime years, bottoming out at only 32 home runs in 2007 and hitting below 35 home runs only one other time (34 in 2002).

Who hasn't hit atleast 400 home runs over a decade of their career?  Interestingly enough, it includes a long list of other legends, most notably Hank Aaron with his 755 career home runs and Willie Mays with his 660 career home runs.  Other legends like Mickey Mantle, Mike Schmidt, Reggie Jackson, Lou Gehrig, and Frank Robinson didn't accomplish this feat.

Interestingly, while Willie Mays never hit 400 home runs over a 10 year span, he did average over 40 home runs a year for an 11 and 12 year span.  From 1954-1965, Willie Mays hit 481 home runs.  But over any 10 year span in that range, he failed to reach 400 home runs.  A pair of 29 home run seasons in 1958 and 1960 brought his average down just enough for any 10 year range in that part of his career.

Sunday, August 3, 2014

2014 Detroit Tigers vs. 2011 Philadelphia Phillies vs. 1998 Atlanta Braves Pitching Staffs

With the 2014 trade of David Price to the Detroit Tigers, some people are beginning to talk about the Tiger's pitching staff as being one of the best ever.  After all, they have the three most recent winners of the AL Cy Young Award in Justin Verlander, Max Scherzer, and David Price.  They also have Anibal Sanchez, the 2013 ERA title winner in the AL and Rick Porcello, about as good as a #5 starter one could ever hope far as he's currently battling for the 2014 AL lead in wins.

When people speak of great pitching staffs, two other staffs came to mind.  One, is the Philadelphia Phillies staff in 2011.  Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee, Roy Oswalt, and Cole Hamels were all #1 quality pitchers.

Of course, the measure by which most pitching staffs are measured are the great Braves pitching staffs of the 1990s.  Anchored by Cy Young winners Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine, and John Smoltz, there was really no comparison.  The #4 starters changed over the years including All Stars Steve Avery, Kevin Millwood, and Denny Neagle.  Yes, you read that right.  They had three #4 pitchers that were All Stars at some point.

From 1991 through 1998, the Braves pitching staff won six Cy Young awards: Tom Glavine in 1991 and 1998, Greg Maddux in 1993, 1994, and 1995, John Smoltz in 1996.  When you add in the Cy Young award that Greg Maddux won in 1992 as a member of the Cubs, the Braves pitching staff at one point owned SEVEN Cy Young awards over an eight year period.  This is the gold standard by which all pitching staffs will be judged in the future.

Through the 2011 season, the Phillies pitching staff had accumulated 3 Cy Young awards total.  Two from Roy Halladay (one with Philadelphia and one w/ Toronto) and one from Cliff Lee from his time in Cleveland.

Through the 2013 season, the Tiger's pitching staff had also accumulated 3 Cy Young awards total.  One each from Justin Verlander, Max Scherzer, and David Price.

The Cy Young wins definitely give an edge to the Braves pitching staff, but Cy Young voting can be finicky.  I probably don't have to go through the long history of Cy Young award winning controversies.  But here are Cy Young controversies over the years with WAR as the benchmark.

2005: Bartolo Colon with WAR 4.0 wins over Johan Santana with WAR 7.2
2005: Chris Carpenter with WAR 5.8 wins over Roger Clemens with WAR 7.8
2004: Roger Clemens with WAR 5.4 wins over Randy Johnson with WAR 8.5
1998: Tom Glavine with WAR 6.1 wins over Kevin Brown with WAR 8.6
1996: John Smoltz with WAR 7.3 wins over Kevin Brown with WAR 8.0
1993: Jack McDowell with WAR 4.3 wins over Kevin Appier with WAR 9.2
1990: Bob Welch with WAR 3.0 wins over Roger Clemens with WAR 10.6

I could go on.  But the point is Cy Young voting is never without controversy.  So instead of comparing Cy Youngs, how about comparing where a pitcher ranked in Cy Young voting?  We'll look at the Braves pitching staff in 1998 as the comparison.  I chose that year because it's the last year that they ended their Cy Young run (Tom Glavine winning in 1998), but also because it featured Denny Neagle in his last year with the Braves (he was an All Star in 1997) and a young Kevin Millwood (who would be an All Star one year later).  In other words, it appeared to be the height of their power.

Cy Young Voting Place Braves 1998 staff through 1998 Phillies 2011 staff through 2011 Tigers 2014 staff through 2013
1st 7 3 3
2 2
3rd 4 3 1
4th 2 4 1
5th 1 4 1
6th or lower 1 3 2

The 2011 Phillies staff did way better than I originally thought.  They were ranked in Cy Young voting more than the 1998 Braves were.  The Detroit Tigers staff couldn't quite compare in overall Cy Young voting appearances.  The 2014 Tigers staff just didn't have the long history of success than the other staffs had.  There's a decent chance that they can add some counts to their totals through the end of 2014.

But as I said above, Cy Young voting can be finicky.  How about comparing plain old performance via WAR.

WAR Braves 1998 staff through 1998 Phillies 2011 staff through 2011 Tigers 2014 staff through 2013
3.0 <= WAR < 4.0 7 5 3
4.0 <= WAR < 5.0 6 5 6
5.0 <= WAR < 6.0 6 5 1
6.0 <= WAR < 7.0 3 6 3
7.0 <= WAR < 8.0 3 1 1
8.0 <= WAR 4 3 1

Again, the Braves and Phillies staffs have an edge to the Tiger's staff.  There are simply more amazing seasons from their staffs in which their staff had a WAR of 5.0 or more.  The Tiger's staff just hasn't quite had the same consistency of dominance.  Max Scherzer only recently broke out during the 2013 season and Anibal Sanche'z first season with a WAR above 4.0 was in 2013.  After the 2014 season, a few more counts can be added to the Tiger's column to make it a bit closer.

One of the Hallmarks of the 1990s Braves pitching staff is that it stayed together for so long.  The Braves Cy Young trio of Tom Glavine, Greg Maddux, and John Smoltz were together in Atlanta from 1993 through 2002, an amazing 10 year stretch.

So it'll be interesting to see how long the Tiger's staff stays together.  Max Scherzer is a free agent after the 2014 season and it's an unknown if he'll be there in 2015.  David Price is a free agent after the 2015 season.

The 2011 Phillies staff only lasted 1 year, as Roy Oswalt left after the 2011 season.  The trio of Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee, and Cole Hamels only lasted two more years, although injuries to Roy Halladay in 2013 made it feel like only 1 year.

Friday, August 1, 2014

My Experience Writing For a Content Farm

Editorial Note:  I wrote the majority of this blog post several years ago but never bothered to post it.  With the recent closure of Yahoo! Voices, which was originally Associated Content, I thought I'd edit it and finally post it.

Several years ago when Yahoo! acquired Associated Content, I was curious about the website.  For those who don't know, Associated Content was a website where anyone can write an article, post it, and get paid money for the views and ad clicks on the articles written.  Unlike other content farms out there (eHow, Hubpages, Squidoo, to name a few), Associated Content sold itself as a company with more journalistic quality.  They desired articles covering reviews, op-ed pieces, advice, and even coverage of local events.  They would pay people upfront for higher quality articles and reject articles they considered drivel.

After it was acquired by Yahoo!, Associated Content was renamed Yahoo! Voices.  The idea behind the acquisition was that Yahoo could get a number of unique articles written by Associated Content's users that could be fed to Yahoo's users.  They could be specially targeted with local articles that wouldn't be possible otherwise.  I recall a BusinessInsider article (The Inside Story: How Yahoo Bought Associated Content) that described how some tests showed huge click rates on articles.

So I decided to check it out and see how this site worked, so I went and wrote a bunch of articles.  They weren't anything particularly out of this world: reviews of video games I played, opinions on baseball players that should make the All Star team, random tech tips, etc.  The experience was fun.  I did pick up some extra scratch, but learning about search engine optimization, backlinking, and the content farm industry was the most interesting part of the experience.

Associated Content/Yahoo Voices! made the article writing process fun.  They gave you badges/awards as you completed more articles and made more accomplishments.  However, the fun does wear off at some point.  At some point, I just stopped trying.  Writing articles became boring and I was blindly pumping out articles just to try and "win" badges.  I can't imagine what drivel comes out from people who do this for a more serious living.  I ended up writing somewhere about 150 articles over 4 years.

While my earliest writing attempts were legitimate, taking a reasonable amount of time to write, the quality of my articles went down over time.   As luck would have it, I wrote an article related to "Top Ten Videos about X".  Think of something like what you'd see on BuzzFeed today with all their lists.  Amazingly, in a relatively short time period, this became my most viewed article.  So I wrote more just like it: top ten quotes from this TV show character, top ten videos from a channel on Youtube, top ten easter eggs in this video game, top ten moments from this sports team, etc.  To put it bluntly, these articles were trash.  Just random lists of links with only a sentence describing the link to the video.  These "articles" generated me more views than anything else I wrote, and it wasn't even close.

There's a part of me that would sit and think, "How in the world did this article get viewed X times.  It's complete trash.  Who in the world is searching for this?"  God knows what people search for on the internet, and with a billion people out there, I suppose I'll get views once in awhile.

I'll give Yahoo! some credit.  While Associated Content was willing to accept the above "Top Ten X" articles for publishing, Yahoo! was not.  They reached a point that such articles were considered bad enough trash that they wouldn't put them on their website.  So good for them.

At my peak, I earned around $50 a month from Associated Content based on my article views.  If I kept at it somewhat more seriously, making a few hundred dollars a month would have been easily doable.

One of the more interesting observations was how search engine algorithm changes (most from Google & Yahoo) would effect views and thus payouts.  Without changing anything or even writing any more articles, I saw payouts averaging $50 a month plummet to $4 a month, then jump back up to $20 a month.

Now that the content from Yahoo! Voices/Associated Content is gone, I may recycle some of those articles and put them on this blog.