The Schedule Makers

Check out this wonderful short from ESPN on the Cape Code couple who sat at the kitchen table in their Cape Code home and created the Major League Baseball scheduled for decades.

Henry and Holly Stephenson
Henry and Holly Stephenson, the husband and wife team who created the MLB schedule for 25 years.

It’s now done by another company that presumably relies more on algorithms. Although it seems like the mathematics (and the psychology) of scheduling makes it an unsolvable problem, in the sense that no one solution optimizes all the conditions. From a web site on a math course on scheduling at the University of Alabama:

Although the Critical-Path Algorithm is generally better than the Decreasing-Time Algorithm, neither is guaranteed to produce an optimal schedule.   In fact, no efficient scheduling algorithm is presently known that always gives an optimal schedule.  However, the Critical-Path Algorithm is the best general-purpose scheduling algorithm currently known.

If you look for algorithms on the web, you come to this wikipedia page, where the focus is approaches for scheduling tasks in computer processors.  That perhaps sounds dry, but one of the algorithms is called “Credit-based fair queuing” and another is “Brain Fuck Scheduler” I don’t understand either of them, but I now suspect the latter  has been in use by my computer for years; I just didn’t know the term. Its emblem is that spinning beach ball. Somehow I prefer the idea of people like the Stephensons handling the big jobs in the universe and then taking the dog for a walk.

30 Days of Sheet Music: Day 19, “I Left My Heart in San Francisco”


Today’s classic, not from a movie for a change, is “I Left My Heart in San Francisco, ” a 1950s tune from homesick San Franciscans in NYC.

Although Tony Bennett owns it, Julie London’s smokey version has a nice feel too:

30 Days of Sheet Music: Day 16, By the Time I Get to Phoenix

Hard to believe what a mega-hit this was back in the day.

Glen Cambpell

When I heard my father sing it (with his operetta-size baritone), I was mostly puzzled about why the protagonist of the song was going from Phoenix to Oklahoma, and how he made such good time. It made no sense to a 7 year old.

Wikipedia explains the that Jim Webb the composer knew the geography was borked. It also has the remarkable fact (if true) that this was the third most popular song from 1940-1990 according to BMI.

Here is the man who made it famous:

MOOC Chatter: Fast Company Interviews Thrun

Fast Company gets all hot and bothered about MOOCs and Sebastian Thrun’s (the movement’s Tim Berners-Lee) qualms and new directions. They hardly seem like news flashes:

As Thrun was being praised by Friedman, and pretty much everyone else, for having attracted a stunning number of students–1.6 million to date–he was obsessing over a data point that was rarely mentioned in the breathless accounts about the power of new forms of free online education: the shockingly low number of students who actually finish the classes, which is fewer than 10%. Not all of those people received a passing grade, either, meaning that for every 100 pupils who enrolled in a free course, something like five actually learned the topic. If this was an education revolution, it was a disturbingly uneven one.

“We were on the front pages of newspapers and magazines, and at the same time, I was realizing, we don’t educate people as others wished, or as I wished. We have a lousy product,” Thrun tells me. “It was a painful moment.” Turns out he doesn’t even like the term MOOC.

The crux of the piece (full of rather yucky lifestyle writing, proving that the Fast Company editors are every bit as indulgent to their wards as The New Yorker ones) seems to be the less than shocking news that Udacity is focusing on workforce training and the business customer. (Is there MOOC provider out there that isn’t thinking seriously about this market?)  Still it’s worth a browse.

Technology in Education, the prequel.
A film! Educational technology as it once was in a Boston Latin Classroom of the 40s. (Courtesy of BPL’s great flickr stream).

30 Days of Sheet Music: Day 14, Softly as I Leave You


Why or how this came into our house, I’m not sure. Although it was a big hit for Frank Sinatra, so that might be the reason: both my parents were certainly fans. Wikipedia has a somewhat suspect entry on the origin of the piece and its American incarnation. And for a taste of what it sounds like, how about Michael Bublé, who seems to be time traveling back to the heyday of “101 Strings”:

30 Days of Sheet Music: Day 13, The Song From Moulin Rouge

“Where is Your Heart?” from John Huston’s 1952 film “Moulin Rouge,” has yet another great melody. Apparently Zsa Zsa Gabor’s character sings it in the film (dubbed by someone else). The music is by George Auric, of Les Six, a group of French composers who tried to find a new path in the shadow of Debussy and Ravel.

Nice montage inspired by the film:

And Chet Atkins’s surprising take:

And the over the top sheet music cover:


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