Sunday, March 24, 2019

Howard M. Wasserman on His Infield Fly Rule Is in Effect Book for Baseball Fans and Lawyers

In this interview, Howard M. Wasserman talks to Alexander “The Engineer” Lim, host of AuthorStory by, about his book, Infield Fly Rule Is in Effect: The History and Strategy of Baseball's Most (In)Famous Rule.

“The study of law is the study of rules.” ~Howard M. Wasserman

Howard has always been a big baseball fan and has had a fascination with the rules of baseball and with the infield fly rule in particular. Howard’s interest in the infield fly rule was sparked during the National League Wild Card Game in 2012, when the calling of the rule proved to be controversial. For Howard, this was one example of how sports could be used as an analogy for legal rules and principles, and he notes that judges and lawyers use sports analogies in the course of their work. Baseball, Howard notes, is a game where there is a rule present for just about everything that happens, as well as the game being slow enough for people to see what happens and why the rule should or shouldn’t be applied. He also notes that a British lawyer would likely use a soccer analogy rather than a baseball analogy, as that sport is more popular in Great Britain.

Howard explains that the infield fly rule was created originally, in the 1890s, with sportsmanship in mind and was created for a particular situation, where there are runners already present on at least first and second bases, a fly ball his hit and the infielder who could catch it doesn’t need to exert any particular effort to catch it, such as running a long distance in order to get the ball. The infield fly rule states that, whether or not the fly ball is so caught by the infielder, it is treated as already having been caught by that infielder, which would mean that the batter would be called out. The purpose of the rule is to prevent the defensive team from getting what would essentially be easy outs of multiple runners on bases, as if the ball isn’t caught, deliberately or otherwise, the defending team’s infielder could easily pick the ball up and throw it to his teammates, who can then take out two or three of the offensive team’s runners, since the runners will be forced to advance to the next base if the batter does advance to first base.

The genesis of the book came about during the aforementioned 2012 game, after which Howard then researched into the infield fly rule to see why its existence can be justified, which included an exploration of the exact situation when the rule should be applied. He remarks that there is some misunderstanding about when the infield fly rule should be invoked, noting that, in some cases, this was invoked when an outfielder caught the ball or, as in the case of the 2012 wild card game, the infielder was already in the outfield when the ball was in flight. He remarks that the call in the 2012 game sprang from the interpretation of the rule, where the situation fit the text of the rule but didn’t fit the situation that existed at the time, based on the original purpose of the rule - something which, is also present in the practice of law. That said, Howard notes that deception has always been part and parcel of what baseball is about, but the infield fly rule is thus intended to neutralize the defending team’s ability to create a play which has only benefits to them, and which has only costs for the offensive team.

The infield fly rule is well-known because it is a named rule, and Howard remarks that the nearest parallel rule in another sport is the offside rule in soccer. He also remarks that one of the fascinations of baseball for lawyers and judges is that law can be explored through the rules that rule baseball, as the study of law is essentially the study of rules, and that the rules society runs by are, just as in sports, intended to enable things to run smoothly.

Purchase from Amazon: Infield Fly Rule Is in Effect: The History and Strategy of Baseball's Most (In)Famous Rule by Howard M. Wasserman

Monday, March 18, 2019

John E. Dowling on Vision: How It Works and What Can Go Wrong | Blindness Prevention

In this interview, John E. Dowling talks to Alexander “The Engineer” Lim, host of AuthorStory by, about his book, co-authored with Joseph L. Dowling, Jr., Vision: How It Works and What Can Go Wrong.

“Do everything you can to protect your eyes.” ~John E. Dowling

John has been studying the retina of the eye for five decades now, while his brother, Joseph, is an opthalmologist. John has been interested in understanding the retina, which includes knowing the functions of all the various cells related to vision. He and his brother attended a seminar called “An Initiative in Vision Science,” which was all about understanding the causes and better treating eye diseases. It was over the course over the next decade, when he conducted workshops with clinicians, he realized that clinicians are not up-to-date on the latest scientific findings and that scientists, like John himself, are not aware of the major eye disease and what needs to be done about these. John then joined forces with his brother, Joseph, to create a book which is understandable by laypeople and which can bridge the gap between clinicians and scientists.

Vision, John testifies, is very important to human beings, so much so that going blind is viewed as being more serious than having cancer, with blind people saying that they are willing to give up years of their life to regain their vision. The visual system takes up half of the cerebral cortex in humans, making it the most important sense for humans. The human color system is the most sophisticated one around, with only other primates being rivals for such sophistication. For sensory visual cells, humans have rods, which are used in low-light conditions, and cones, which are used in daylight conditions and can see three different kinds of hues: red, green and blue. (In contrast, dogs, cats and cows have only green and blue photoreceptors, which means they can only see in these two colors.) In addition, human retinas have a fovea, which creates an area of higher resolution which enables humans to do such things as read and take notice of details.

John notes that the retina is actually a piece of the brain that has been pushed out into the eye during the development of the human fetus, and its main function is to process the images that fall upon the photoreceptors that are found in it. Light is captured by the photoreceptor cells in the retina, which use a modified form of Vitamin A to do the work when combined with some proteins. The light hitting the visual pigments in the photoreceptors changes their state, which creates an electrical change in the photoreceptors, which then passes this signal to the secondary cells, the bipolar cells and horizontal cells, which helps integrate the signals captured by the many photoreceptors in the retina as well as start analyzing color. These signals are then passed to the cells on the inner part of the retina, the ganglion cells and their related axons, which carry the output of the retina to the brain, and the amacrine cells, which detect any movement images which fall on the retina. The resultant signals carry information on distance, color and movement to a waystation to the brain called the lateral geniculate nucleus before then heading on to the visual cortex. The latter further analyzes the image before sending these to visual areas 1 and 2 (V1 and V2), which are specialized to process such aspects as movement, form and color. From here, the information heads into two visual pathways, the dorsal one being concerned with the placement of objects in space, while the ventral one performs analyses on forms, such as faces.

Where optical illusions are concerned, John notes that visual perception is reconstructive and creative, where what is seen is interpreted based on experience – what one is expecting to see – as well as what actually comes in, which is the basis of optical illusions. This means that people need to learn how to see, which means that youngsters up to the age of eight or ten who don’t learn how to use and process their vision properly will subsequently have difficulty interpreting what they see, even if the condition that causes such improper vision is removed. John then gives the example of children with congenital cataracts, which give cloudy vision, who become blind to form in those eyes where the cataracts were, if the cataracts aren’t dealt with quickly enough. He also gives the example of amblyopia, where a child has one good eye and an unresponsive, crossed eye where, if the condition isn’t dealt with during childhood, the child becomes an adult whose brain ignores any images coming from the unresponsive eye.

Where glasses are concerned, John notes that everyone eventually needs glasses, as the lenses stiffen up, requiring people to use reading glasses – usually starting in their forties – to read things up close.

John remarks that, worldwide, cataracts are the leading cause of blindness. This isn’t as critical in the United States, as cataract operations in the United States are outpatient procedures which last only twenty minutes each and artificial lenses made of plastic can be used to replace cataract-laden lenses. Age-related macular degeneration, where the fovea degenerates, is the leading cause of blindness in the United States, and comes in two forms – the dry form, where lesions appear in and around the fovea; and the more severe, wet form, where blood vessels grow into the fovea and leak into the latter. John notes that, at present, there is no way to treat the dry form, while there are drugs available which can slow down the wet form.

Glaucoma is, according to John, another common condition, which is caused by high liquid pressure in the eye, which degenerates the axons that carry information from the eye to the brain. (Drugs can be used to reduce this pressure.) Retinopathy, or the damage to the retina, is another condition which can be brought about by diabetes. This is caused by the ingrowth of blood vessels in the retina.

John admits that, at present, nobody knows the true causes of such conditions as cataracts, nearsightedness or farsightedness, amblyopia (lazy eye) and glaucoma. He notes that present methodologies correct conditions, and that recent research has enabled such conditions as retinitis pigmentosa – which results in the breakdown and loss of retinal cells, a condition which can start in one’s twenties and which can result in total blindness by one’s sixties – to be treated with gene therapy. He also notes that most conditions which cause blindness occur in the eye, rather than in the brain itself.

John recommends getting one’s vision tested at least once a year to catch any conditions that might come up where vision is concerned. He also recommends not straining one’s eyes and maintaining good nutrition to keep one’s eyes healthy.

Purchase from Amazon: Vision: How It Works and What Can Go Wrong by John E. Dowling

Monday, March 4, 2019

Janny Hammer and Albert Drosof's Guide to Punctuation (for writers, teachers & students)

In this interview, Jenny Hammer talks to Alexander “The Engineer” Lim, host of AuthorStory by, about her book, Albert Drosoph’s Field Guide to Punctuation: For the Observant, the Dismissive, the Curious, the Confused.

“Small things make a big difference.” ~Jenny Hammer

Albert Drosoph’s Field Guide to Punctuation was actually inspired by a children’s book which Jenny wrote but, as of this interview, has not yet been published. Albert Drosoph is a character in that book who raises punctuation marks in a bavarium and whom the protagonist, Arden Everest, encountered. The Field Guide itself springs from Jenny’s years of teaching English and from her seeing English grammar guides which were difficult for the ordinary person to understand. The Field Guide is thus an attempt to introduce punctuation to the average person in a way that is helpful and understandable.

The layout of the book is similar to that of a nature field guide, with fictional descriptions of scientific taxonomy (species, family, etc.) followed by sections which describe the field, range and other characteristics of the punctuation mark being described. That said, the format is intended to allow the reader to understand how to best use the punctuation mark in question by correlating such things as where it should be used to where it would, were it an animal that exists in the field.

Jenny remarked that, in classical Greek, there were no spaces given between words and, in Roman times, all letters were capitalized, with language being predominantly spoken rather than written. Punctuation marks were originally used to tell a reader where to pause, with Aristophenes of Alexandria being one of the first to extensively use punctuation marks for such a purpose. The use of punctuation marks was solidified with the invention of the printing press, as this standardized punctuation marks so that people, wherever they were, would understand what it was that they were reading.

Where everyday usage is concerned, Jenny notes that missing punctuation marks result in legal lawsuits which can amount to the millions of dollars. For the average person, punctuation marks clarify what people mean, and she gave examples of both the impact of punctuation marks in the legal and everyday realms. Social media messaging, Jenny notes, is what she calls “emotional splats” and “fast writing / language / English,” which is analogous to fast food, as those who write such messages don’t think things out before doing so. The result are messages which can be misunderstood, even if emoticons are used. Where the latter are concerned, Jenny believes that these can be useful in conveying emotion but that these may not be needed if people thought before they wrote.

Jenny has noted that punctuation marks have evolved over time, and their history is included in the Field Guide. One of the most surprising things she learned while researching were the histories of some of the punctuation marks as well as some of the fun aspects of punctuation marks that she had discovered. She also noted that a new punctuation mark, the ddolos—which is named after Dolos, the Greek god of deception—is being brought out into the world to indicate statements which are lies, and gave an example where such might be used.

Researching the histories of the punctuation marks was one of the most fun things she experienced while writing the book, while getting correct the Latin terminology for the taxonomy of punctuation marks was challenging for her, as she needed to refer this several times to people who knew Latin. She would recommend those involved in writing to work with the comma and use these properly, as well as the difference between “its” and “it’s.” She also recommends that people be more observant with what they read and write. She also notes that it’s important for people to focus on ideas and supporting these with facts, as writing out something without thinking it through is essentially pointless.

Purchase from Amazon: Albert Drosoph’s Field Guide to Punctuation: For the Observant, the Dismissive, the Curious, the Confused by Jenny Hammer