(Roughly) Daily

Posts Tagged ‘baseball

“Right now I’m having amnesia and déjà vu at the same time. I think I’ve forgotten this before.”*…

Woodcut illustrations from Anianus’ Compotus cum commento (ca. 1492), an adaptation of Bede’s computus system — Source.

Before humans stored memories as zeroes and ones, we turned to digital devices of another kind — preserving knowledge on the surface of fingers and palms. Kensy Cooperrider leads us through a millennium of “hand mnemonics” and the variety of techniques practiced by Buddhist monks, Latin linguists, and Renaissance musicians for remembering what might otherwise elude the mind…

In the beginning, the hand was just a hand — or so we can imagine. It was a workaday organ, albeit a versatile one: a tool for grasping, holding, throwing, and hefting. Then, at some point, after millions of years, it took on other duties. It became an instrument of mental, not just menial, labor. As a species, our systems of understanding, belief, and myth had grown more elaborate, more cognitively overwhelming. And so we started to put those systems out into the world: to tally, track, and record by carving notches into bone, tying knots in string, spreading pigment on cave walls, and aligning rocks with celestial bodies. Hands abetted these early mental labors, of course, but they would later become more than mere accessories. Beginning roughly twelve hundred years ago, we started using the hand itself as a portable repository of knowledge, a place to store whatever tended to slip our mental grasp. The topography of the palm and fingers became invisibly inscribed with information of all kinds — tenets and dates, names and sounds. The hand proved versatile in a new way, as an all-purpose memory machine.

The arts of memory are well known, but the role of the hand in these arts is often overlooked. In the twentieth century, beginning with the pioneering work of Frances Yates, Western scholars started to piece together a rich tradition of mnemonic practices that originated in antiquity and later took hold in Europe. The most celebrated of these is the “memory palace” [see here]. Using this technique, skilled practitioners can memorize vast collections of facts by nesting them in familiar places (or “loci”): the chambers of a building or along a well-known route. (To make these places more memorable, a bizarre image is often added to each one, the more jarring the better.) It is an odd omission that hand mnemonics are rarely mentioned alongside memory palaces. Both techniques are powerful and broadly attested. Both are adaptable, able to accommodate whatever type of information one wants to remember. And both work by similar principles, pinning to-be-remembered items to familiar locations.

The two traditions do have important differences. Memory palaces exist solely in the imagination; hand mnemonics exist half in the mind and half in the flesh. Another difference lies in their intended use. Memory palaces are idiosyncratic in nature, tailored to the quirks of personal experience and association, and used for private purposes; they are very much the province of an individual. Hand mnemonics, by contrast, are the province of a community, a tool for collective understanding. They offer a way of fixing and transmitting a shared system of knowledge. They serve private purposes, certainly — such as contemplation, in the case of the Mogao mnemonic, or calculation, in the case of Bede’s computus. But they also have powerful social functions in teaching, ritual, and communication…

The five-fingered memory machine: “Handy Mnemonics,” from @kensycoop in @PublicDomainRev.

* Steven Wright

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As we give it (to) the finger, we might recall an occasion for counting that required no fingers at all: on this date in 2015, a baseball game between Chicago White Sox and the Baltimore Orioles at Camden Yards set the all-time low attendance mark for Major League Baseball. Zero (0) fans were in attendance, because the stadium was closed to the public due to the 2015 Baltimore protests (over the death of Freddie Gray while in police custody).

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“I have no trouble with the twelve inches between my elbow and my palm. It’s the seven inches between my ears that’s bent.”*…

Humans are the only species that can throw well enough to kill rivals and prey. Because throwing requires the highly coordinated and extraordinarily rapid movements of multiple body parts, there was likely a long history of selection favoring the evolution of expert throwing in our ancestors.

Most people probably don’t think throwing is important outside of sports because they’ve forgotten its usefulness. Part of that has to do with the fact that people have been using weapons like bows and firearms for centuries.

But before the invention of these weapons, our hunter-gatherer ancestors threw darts, knives, spears, sticks and stones at rivals and prey. Even today, stones remain effective weapons; you’ll see protesters heave stones at police and stoning used as a form of punishment in some places.

Darwin considered the evolution of throwing to be critical to the success of our ancestors. As he wrote in “The Descent of Man, and Selection in Relation to Sex,” it allowed “the progenitors of man” to better “defend themselves with stones or clubs, to attack their prey, or otherwise to obtain food.”

The development of the skill begins with the evolution of bipedal locomotion, or walking on two feet. This happened about 4 million years ago, and it freed the arms and hands to learn new abilities like making tools, carrying goods and throwing…

Why humans are the only species that can throw fast enough to kill: “How humans became the best throwers on the planet.”

Read the underlying research in The Quarterly Review of Biology here and here.

See also: “The Long, Sweaty History of Working Out.”

* Tug McGraw (pictured above; source)

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As we wind up, we might recall that it was on this date in 1931 that then-17 year old Jackie Mitchell, of the Chattanooga Lookouts (AA), pitched in an exhibition game against the New York Yankees. One of the first female pitchers in professional baseball history, she became legendary when she struck out Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig in succession.

Jackie Mitchell with Lou Gehrig, Babe Ruth, and (in the suit) Joe Engel

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Written by (Roughly) Daily

April 2, 2021 at 1:01 am

“I’d rather create a miniature painting than a Taj Mahal of a book”*…

Kieran Wright has been in Los Angeles for only three years but has fallen head over heels for his adopted hometown’s landmarks. The 28-year-old from New Zealand spent this spring and summer meticulously crafting miniatures of some of his favorite L.A. places including the Tiki Ti in East Hollywood and the New Beverly Cinema in Fairfax. “I have this deep appreciation of Southern California’s iconic architecture,” he says. “I love driving around looking for old buildings.”

At the beginning of this year, Wright was furloughed from his job marketing Australia as a travel destination and was looking for something new. During his down time, he visited the Walt Disney Family Museum in San Francisco and marveled at the complexity of the 14-inch diorama of Disneyland. “I could stare at that for hours,” he said. “It inspired me to give it a go myself.”

A short time later he was having lunch with a friend at Rae’s coffee shop in Santa Monica when he was struck with the notion of recreating the 1958 restaurant in miniature and started photographing every canted angle and bit of neon in preparation for his first model…

The full story (and more pix) at: “This Man Has Spent Quarantine Making Ridiculously Meticulous Miniatures of L.A. Landmarks.”

Long-time readers will know of your correspondent’s fascination with minatures, e.g., Wright’s New York City compatriot.

* Mohsin Hamid

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As we muse on the miniscule, we might recall that it was on this date in 1919 that the Cincinnati Reds defeated the Chicago White Sox to win the World Series. In what became known as the “Black Sox scandal,” eight members of the White Sox were accused of throwing the series (in exchange for money from a gambling syndicate led by Arnold Rothstein, Aiden Clayton and Aaron Nelson). The hit to baseball’s reputation was sufficiently severe that the sport appointed the ostentatiously-upright federal judge Kenesaw Mountain Landis the first Commissioner of Baseball.

Landis banned the six players; and even after their acquittal at trial in 1921, refused to reinstate them. The punishment was eventually defined by the Baseball Hall of Fame to include banishment from consideration for the Hall. Despite requests for reinstatement in the decades that followed (particularly in the case of Shoeless Joe Jackson), the ban remains.

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Written by (Roughly) Daily

October 9, 2020 at 1:01 am

“oh, it’s a strange magic”*…

A spell for identifying a thief: To find the thief write on a piece of kosher parchment these names [see words at the end of the spell], and hang them around the neck of a black rooster. Then circle around the suspects with the rooster, and it will jump on the head of the thief. And this has been tested.
Kematin kanit kukeiri ve-hikani yazaf

One of the items in our postponed exhibition Hebrew Manuscripts: Journeys of the Written Word is a tiny little codex from sixteenth-century Italy. It is entitled The Tree of Knowledge (Ets ha-Da’at) and contains a collection of some 125 magic spells for all sorts of purposes: curses, healing potions, love charms, amulets. There are a good number of such magical-medical manuscripts in the Hebrew collection, but this volume is special for at least two reasons. First, because of its neat layout and accuracy in its execution. Secondly, because it has an introduction in which Elisha the author tells the story of how he collected these spells.

[There follows the story of the compilation and selection of the spells…]

You can certainly see even from this small selection of spells how valuable the Tree of Knowledge is! Elisha’s long journey from Italy to Galilee through the Mediterranean, his painstaking efforts to acquire hidden and ancient knowledge, were not in vain. And you, dear reader, are only one click away from all this treasure!

Disclaimer: We do not take responsibility for the endurance of these spells. Even strong magic can lose or modify its power over the centuries! Please, do not blame us if you turn into a frog. Try these spells only at your own risk…

From the British Library, “The Tree of Knowledge: magic spells from a Jewish potion book

* Jeff Lynne, ELO, “Strange Magic”

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As we contemplate casting, we might recall that it was on this date in 1984 that Dwight Gooden set the record for strikeouts in a season by a rookie– 276 (pitched, in Gooden’s case, over 218 innings). The record, which still stands, was previously held by Herb Score with 246 in 1954.

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Written by (Roughly) Daily

September 12, 2020 at 1:01 am

“Most players are just happy to get the bag on the board”*…

 

In 2000, Matt Guy [left-most in the photo above] began to notice his competition in professional horseshoes had gotten older, while no younger players came to replace them. There had never been big money to be made playing horseshoes, but Matt liked the competition and the opportunity to bond with his dad.

When his dad decided to retire from competition, Matt had risen as high as sixth in the world, but it was time for a change.

Soon enough, he was introduced to professional cornhole.

As Matt Guy rose among the ranks of professional horseshoe players, Frank Geers had his own dream. He wanted to create a sports league.

Geers figured his best bet would be a backyard lawn game, like horseshoes, ladders, or cornhole. He sought to emulate-lesser known spectator sports that still draw high levels of participation, like bowling. He eliminated some games for being too complicated or dangerous. Cornhole had obvious appeal for its simplicity and accessibility. Matt Guy noticed it immediately too.

“Horseshoes used in competition are two and a half pounds thrown over 40 feet,” Guy explained. “In cornhole, it’s one-pound beanbags being tossed 27 feet.”

Then, there was the money. Geers understood that people wanted to watch competitors win big prizes…

The two men leading the charge to turn the bean-bag toss into a major spectator sport: “Serious Cornhole.”  See also: “Life’s A Pitch When You’re The World’s Best Cornhole Player.”

* Frank Geers, founder, president and CEO of the American Cornhole Organization

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As we limber up, we might recall that it was on this date in 1963 that Lawrence Peter “Yogi” Berra was hired as Manager of the New York Yankees.  Berra played almost his entire 19-year baseball career (1946–1965) for the Yankees, where he became one of only four players to be named the Most Valuable Player of the American League three times.  According to  sabermetrician Bill James, he is the greatest catcher of all time and the 52nd greatest non-pitching player in major-league history.  

Berra’s accession to leader of the dynasty of which he was a crucial part was a natural, and a storied success. Less expected was his subsequent move to manage cross-town rival the New York Mets– where he was, again, successful.  He is one of seven managers to lead both American and National League teams to the World Series (as a player, coach, or manager, Berra appeared in 21 Fall Classics). He was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1972.

Berra is also remembered for the “unique”  observations on baseball and life with which he graced reporters during interviews:  e.g., “Baseball is 90% mental, the other half is physical,” “It’s déjà vu all over again,” “You can observe a lot by watching,” and “The future ain’t what it used to be.”  In The Yogi Book, Berra explained, “I really didn’t say everything I said. […] Then again, I might have said ’em, but you never know.”

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Written by (Roughly) Daily

October 24, 2017 at 1:01 am

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