Friday, September 30, 2011

Five Ways You Know It's October

  1. The leaves are starting to change.
  2. Oktoberfest is over (Festival in Munich, Germany ended this year on October 3rd).
  3. Baseball playoffs!
  4. No one really cares about baseball playoffs because football is on!
  5. Christmas decorations and displays are already up.

College Football September Wrap Up

By popular Demand (hola padre), here's my first college football post of 2011. It comes at an important turning point for the season as a lot of teams still look to be in the hunt for the national championship. So, here it is, your contenders:

They Are Who We Thought They Were
They've looked like the preseason #1 team in the country to start the year, rolling to solid victories against a conference foe (Missouri) and a ranked non-conference opponent (Florida State). We'll have to wait and see if FSU can right the ship after losing two in a row before we can really judge how good a win that was, but the Sooners will have plenty of opportunities to prove themselves against ranked conference opponents down the road. Their slip from 1 to 2 in the polls should be nothing to worry about.

Roll Tide Roll. Alabama has looked the same it has the last three years under Nick Saban. Damn Good. Early concerns about QB play have gone by the wayside as sophomore AJ McCarron took the starting job and improved in each game this season. Having a guy behind center who completes 66% of his passes and has a 2:1 (TD:INT) ratio is all the Crimson Tide need with their talented backfield and vaunted defense. Good victories against ranked Penn State and Arkansas teams provided good tests before this weekend's trip to The Swamp to face a resurgent Florida Gators, but the game circled on everyone's calendar is LSU's trip to Tuscaloosa on October 22nd.

Better Than Advertised
Follow me on this one. Yes, the Bayou Bengals were a top-5 preseason team, but with QB Jordan Jefferson suspended for the first few games of the season the LSU offense had a lot of questions. Hell, there have been a lot of questions about the LSU offense for the last couple of years, but the defense and a little luck has gone a long way for the Tigers. However, you can't give luck credit for this year's early victories against ranked-opponents Oregon (2), Mississippi State (25), or West Virginia (16). LSU has looked impressive enough to take the top spot in the AP poll from an undefeated Oklahoma squad, and now the October 22nd showdown with Alabama is shaping up to be the biggest game of the regular season

Oklahoma State
Do you like offense? Do you like come-from-behind wins against top-10 conference opponents? Of course you do, and so does Mike Gundy and his Oklahoma State Cowboys. Okie State looks to be more than just a tough out for its Big-12 brethren this season after a gutsy comeback win last weekend against a good Texas A&M (8) team. The Cowboys are now ranked 5th in the AP and look as good as just about any team in the top-5. They've proven themselves to be a legit contender, but the heart of Big 12 play lies ahead of them, leading up to a what might be a battle for a National Championship Game berth against Oklahoma on December 3.

Contenders With Something Still To Prove
A win against Nebraska on Saturday will go a long way to show that the Big Ten have a horse in the national championship race. I've been a Russell Wilson fan since his time at NC State (he went to high school in Richmond with my buddy Carter), but his arrival in Madison has made the Badgers serious contenders and put Wilson into Heisman speculation. Having an accurate, legit dual-threat QB behind that massive offensive line to pair with a very good running game and a gritty defense makes Wisconsin one of my favorites outside the SEC to make it to the big game this year. Saturday's game is going to be a good one and could propel the Badgers into the top-5.

Despite losing their head coach to the NFL, the Andrew Luck-led Stanford Cardinal have continued to be a high scoring team that doesn't allow opponents to put up many points on the board. Victories against San Jose St., a disappointing Arizona team, and a Duke team that lost to FCS Richmond (shout out to my alma mater) aren't really anything to write home about. Neither are wins against any of the teams on their schedule for the next month. Luck and Stanford won't be able to prove anything until the Oregon Ducks come to town on November 5th, but that could be a huge win for the Cardinal. Until then it's probably a better use of your time to debate whether or not Luck will win this year's Heisman.

Virginia Tech
Disclaimer: I am a Hokie fan. It was the 1995 Sugar Bowl that really made me a football fan when I was a kid. So, with that said, the Hokies have a lot of work to do. Nothing about their first month of the season shows that they can win a national championship, but that might all change this weekend with a top-25 match up with a Clemson team that just upset Auburn and Florida State in back-to-back weeks. We've seen the pieces - offense against Appalachian State; defense against ECU - but this weekend is when we'll see if VT can put it all together. A ranked Clemson team is the first challenge of their season, and if the Hokies win in Blacksburg on Saturday, then their the way to an undefeated season, another ACC Championship, and a possible berth to the big game is all but paved. Fingers crossed.

Playoffs? Don't Talk About Playoffs.
Boise State
Hi Boise State. Welcome back to the top-5. Welcome to the Mountain West without Utah, BYU, or TCU starting next season. Yeah, the MWC isn't going to get a BCS automatic bid anytime soon, and an undefeated season with wins against Georgia and TCU don't look nearly as impressive as we thought it would four weeks ago. Le sigh. The season is still young, but it doesn't look like you'll have much of a chance to gain ground on the "Big Boys" in the coming weeks. Your only hope may be for Florida to beat Alabama who has to lose to LSU who has to lose to Florida who has to beat South Carolina who has to lose to Georgia who has to beat Florida who has to beat LSU who lost to Oregon who has to beat Stanford but lose to Arizona State who lost to an Illinois team that has to beat Wisconsin after losing to Michigan who will have to lose to both Michigan State and Nebraska who has to lose to Wisconsin (Saturday at 8pm on ABC) and maybe one other Big Ten team. You got all that? Oh wait, there's still the Big 12 teams and a possibly undefeated Clemson or Virginia Tech. So, good luck with that.

The Best Of The Rest
Nebraska (Big Ten)
Beat Wisconsin and the rest may fall into place. Until then, good luck Big Red.

Oregon (PAC 12)
3-1 with an early loss to LSU is not a bad place to be. A very good team that is poised to take advantage of the mistakes and tough conference schedules of its opponents.

South Carolina (SEC)
Ol' Ball Coach. Maybe the best running back in college. Maybe the best wide receiver in college, who's going to throw it to him? Easiest of all the SEC contenders' schedules.

Florida (SEC)
Back-to-back games against Bama and LSU. Whammy. Sorry Gators.

Clemson (ACC)
A road win against the Hokies would go a long way, but high expectations usually prove to be too much for the Tigers.

South Florida (Big East)
Lookin' good until a stinker against Pitt last night. No point in talking about anyone from the Big East anymore. Just another mediocre battle for the conference's automatic BCS bid.

Michigan (Big Ten)
That game against Notre Dame was one to remember, but did first-year coach Brady Hoke use all his magic to pull out that one? Conference games against Michigan State and Nebraska loom big.

Yes, much of this will be irrelevant in 36 hours after the first Saturday of October gets played out, but that's why we play the game. Or something like that.

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Hair-pulling and Indian Burns Gone Cyber

Looks like big sis has started her own blog.

She and The Brolo (brother-in-law) are about to make their second move as a married couple and my sister has decided to document it through a blog on blogspot. My parents are mostly to blame. Well, my parents and several bottles of wine. That's how things roll in my family.

M&K (initials used to protect the unaware) are about to move from Boston to Glastonbury, CT and the whole fam-damily (parentals + me) are going up to New England tomorrow to spend the 4th of July with them, check out the new place, and enjoy some Boston scenery for possibly the last time before the move. I even get to go "help" when they go to close on the house tomorrow. Should be a great extended weekend with a concert (James Taylor with John Williams and the Boston Pops), destruction (goodbye 70s carpet and wallpaper; not-so-secretly hoping to take a sledgehammer to a wall), ball game (my first time at Fenway), and lot of food and drink.

Anyways, her blog is The Big Settle and should make for an entertaining read if your into house shows on TLC or talk about wine and food and booze. She's already putting me to shame with the frequency of her posts...three in her first week. Oy! I need to get my butt back in gear.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Web Archives For All

Remember that website you used to visit all the time back in the day but then one day it disappeared into the forgotten depths of internet limbo? The non-profit group Internet Archive is working to make sure that never happens to you again by archiving websites. Their goal is to "preserve 'the ephemera of the Web'" by copying and preserving entire domains.

What exactly does this mean? It means you can navigate archived sites as you would have at any point in the site's history, even if it has moved, changed, or disappeared like hot wings at a Super Bowl party. Images, videos, documents, and links are all available. You can read about how researchers can use the site in a great article published last week by Inside Higher Ed, here. This is a great tool for researchers, but what exactly can it do for you and me?

Do you want to listen to the Grateful Dead from their live 1973 concert in Denver? Got it.

Want to watch the film-noir classic Too Late for Tears? Got it.

How about an old site that boasts a public domain copy of Aldous Huxley's Brave New World? Yeah, they got that too.

What else do they have hidden away? I recommend perusing the site and seeing what gems you can find. Try Internet Archive's WayBack Machine if you're looking for a specific url that you can't find anymore. Happy hunting.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

A Whole Year?

Really? This this thing has been up for a whole year? Looking back I question a lot of my posts, but unlike embarrassing love notes from high school (but seriously, I was like super excited about prom and was totally thinking about you all during history class), they will last forever in the unending vacuum (wc?) of cyberspace. Sad that when I'm dead someone may be able to find this stuff with a Google search of me. Well that got morbid. To another year!

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Google Book Settlement Rejected

In NCAA Tournament-style, Judge Denny Chin rejected (think Gus Johnson "REEEEE-JECTEEEEED") the Google Book Settlement that would compensate publishers and authors for the digitization of books that Google has been working on since the mid-2000s (note: oversimplification). You can read the background of the suit here. A break down of the federal judge's decision along with the actual filing can be found here. Why let me it poorly when you can read it for yourself. Geez, I can't do everything for you.

Based on what I read, it doesn't seem that this decision by Judge Chin will in any way seriously block the progress Google has made with this project. The settlement will be tweaked and with any luck this situation will be put to bed soon. Google Books will become a great asset and resource. As Roy Blount, Jr. said in October 2008 when he was president of the Author's Guild:

"Readers are also big winners under the settlement of Authors Guild v. Google. Readers will be able to browse from their own computers an enormous collection of books...Readers wanting to view books online in their entirety for free need only reacquaint themselves with their participating local public library: every public library building is entitled to a free, view-only license to the collection. College students working on term papers will be able to point their computers to resources other than Wikipedia, if they’re so inclined: students at subscribing institutions will be able to read and print out any books in the collection."

I'm interested to see how quickly the parties to this lawsuit and settlement can respond to Judge Chin's decision and get this project back on track.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

This is America and We Call it Soccer

Don't get me wrong, I love soccer. I grew up playing soccer and love the free-flowing aggressiveness of the sport, but I hate it when people call it "football". And by people I mean Americans. If you grew up outside the U.S. or have an accent, then feel free to call it "football" as much as you want; that's you're right because that's the way it has always been for you. I concede that what the rest of the world calls "football" started long before American football started in the late 19th century, but come on obnoxious guy who's trying to impress somebody - you grew up calling the sport soccer.

Soccer is a sport that has "been on the verge of breaking out" in the U.S. for what seems like decades. The MLS is not a successful league, and our most talented players continue to play professionally for clubs in Europe, Central and South America, and even in Asia now. I have no solution to this. I really wish I did, but this seems like more than just an infrastructure problem. Maybe starting soccer academies like European clubs could help foster home grown talent much the way Major League Baseball's farm system develops talent to move up to the top level. Sounds great in theory, right? Players can be "drafted" out of high school and sent to an MLS team's farm system or they can opt to play in college for four years to earn a degree while developing their talent. The most talented players make it to "The Big Show" almost right away (think the soccer equivalent of Steven Strasburg or Jason Heyward) and become superstars that captures the country's imagination...

Or they become Freddy Adu. Do you remember that guy? Wasn't he supposed to save American soccer? He didn't even make the U.S. National Team for the 2010 World Cup, though I'm sure most people thought that he and midfielder Maurice Edu were the same guy. This is not meant to rag on Adu, the guy obviously has talent but just didn't develop the way a lot of people had hoped. Maybe it's because he wasn't allowed to develop in a carefully structured academy system, or maybe it's because there was so much pressure thrust on him to become the face of the sport at such a young age. Either way, the MLS is still looking for the tipping point that will put them up with the big dogs in American professional sports (I guess David Beckham didn't work either).

Maybe the reason soccer hasn't caught on with a lot of consistent popularity in the U.S. (remember how high everyone was on the sport thanks to Landon Donovan and the World Cup last summer?) is because it and its players are perceived to lack the level of toughness associated with mainstream American sports. Hockey, baseball, football, and even basketball players play injured often. Look at guys like Philip Rivers of the San Diego Chargers who played a playoff game on a torn ACL, Kirk Gibson hitting a game winning home run in the World Series on a broken leg, and Ronnie Lott who had the tip of his finger amputated so he could continue playing. "Rub some dirt on it" is a saying that a lot of American grew up with. That's the mentality in a lot of American sports - you're hurt, rub some dirt on it, then get back out there and play your heart out. It's this mentality the instills begrudging respect among opponents and creates legends in sports.

Having this type of mentality instilled in you can make it hard to watch the types of flops and dives that you see way too often in a lot of professional soccer. The Diving Board is a site that hosts videos of some of the more ridiculous and embarrassing dives in the sport. It's not hard to spend about five minutes on this site and understand why Americans can't get into soccer. American fans get worked up when a Duke player makes a ridiculous flop, so it's not hard to see how they can't stand the likes of this, or these.

So come on guys, rub some dirt on it and play on. I said play on!

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

MST3K: Puma Man

One of my favorite shows as a kid was always Mystery Science Theater 3000. My sister and I used to watch this show every Saturday on either Comedy Central or the SciFi Channel (now SyFy, though I don't know why), whichever station it was on that year. The combination of crappy movies and pithy commentary, both of which I love and aspire to create myself some day, made this show - in my mind - one of the greatest on television. Yes, when I go back now and watch old episodes some aren't quite as funny as I remember, and the argument over Joel vs. Mike, etc., etc., can be saved for another day.

The point is, on of my sister's and my favorite episodes was the one where they lampoon "The Puma Man", the story of a man with the powers of a puma who is descended from Aztec gods from outer space (I mean, yeah, sign me up), but despite the various dvd and vhs collections offered, this fine example of MST3K has been impossible to find. IT DOES NOT EXIST in any watchable format...until yesterday when I found it on Google videos, where I can watch it for free. Google, feel free to continue your battle with Apple to control my technology, my privacy, and my life aslong as you keep good stuff like this coming. You never cease to amaze.

And the rest of you...enjoy!

[Editor's note: if the embedded video doesn't work for you, please enjoy this link instead: Puma Man]

Monday, February 7, 2011

Super Bowl XLV

For the average American, the Super Bowls Sunday experience can be broken down into four distinct aspects: the spread (the food), the game, the halftime show, and the commercials. Let's see how this year's SB stacked up:

The Spread
Pizza, buffalo wings, chips, dip, and American beer? Check to all of those. This year our house even featured two, that's right, two types of queso dip. You weren't ready for that, were you? I didn't think so.

Highlight: Did I tell you that there were two types of queso? And one had bacon in it. Jack. Pot.

: The spicy beef/buffalo chicken/potato in puff pastry hors d'oeuvres purchased from Costco were more pasty than filling and kind of bland.

Biggest Surprise
: Batman cupcakes that turned your mouth blue and had Batman rings on top.

The Game
Has anyone else been impressed with the quality of the last few Super Bowls? The overall quality of play has been great the past few years and last night's game was no exception. Excellent play on both sides of the ball by both teams seem counter intuitive, but I would argue that the Packers and Steelers played well on both offense and defense. Turnovers, sacks, long touchdown passes, tough runs; they were all there. It's hard to ask for anything more.

Highlight: Nick Collins's pick-6 on the first play from scrimmage following a Packers' offensive touchdown was an exciting spot in the night, but a drive-extending 31 yard connection from Aaron Rodgers to Greg Jennings in the fourth quarter showed that the GB QB has the steely nerves and talent to make the big plays when it counts on the sport's largest stage.

Disappointment: Roethlisberger not getting Lawrence Taylor'd by anyone on the Packers.

Biggest Surprise: The Packers ability to keep things together and hold onto a win in the 4th quarter despite game injuries to important starters like Charles Woodson, Sam Shields, and Donald Driver.

The Halftime Show
For several years the Super Bowl Halftime Show has been terrible. Overcompensating for the infamous "wardrobe malfunction" of Super Bowl XXXVIII, the minds behind this show have only had "classic rock" acts perform during halftime. Normally I'm all about classic rock music, but it's just sad when you have music legends trying to perform at a level that they're just not able to anymore. Granted I'm no Black Eyed Peas fan, but it was getting really hard to watch 60-year-old men stage slide their crotches right into the camera. I thought this year's performance was pretty decent, but that may have been a result of my extremely low expectations.

Highlight: The cameo appearances by Slash and Usher (while not totally necessary) was neat and I was impressed that they were able to keep this a secret for as long as they did.

Disappointment: Usher has a better voice than any of the Black Eyed Peas, but he spent too much time dancing for the audience really enjoy it. Damnit Usher, we know you've got smooth moves, but I want you to make me want to make love in this club.

Biggest Surprise: I actually sat down and watched the whole thing, which is the first time this has happened in years. Well played halftime show, well played indeed.

The Commercials
Some people watch for the games, some people just use it as an excuse to get drunk on a Sunday night, and some people watch the Super Bowl for the commercials. The commercials can be hit or miss, but there are usually some real favorites that stand out and become a part of our culture (for better or worse) for years.

Highlight: The 'Star Wars VW' commercial went viral before it aired during the Super Bowl (I'll admit I was within the first 1,000 to view it on youtube a few days ago, I kid you not) and has quickly become one of the favorites.

Disappointment: There were so many "old" commercials. I always expect companies paying $3 million for 30 seconds to spend a little extra time on the commercials they submit for the Super Bowl coverage, but there were a lot of commercials that I had seen before, and many of them weren't very good either. Come on ad execs. Get it together.

Biggest Surprise: So maybe surprise isn't the right way to go, but I really really liked Motorola's commercial for its Zoom tablet. It was smart and savvy in the way it parodied Apple's infamous "1984" commercial by portraying Apple as the "Big Brother" that is making us conformists instead of the "freedom" company they originally portrayed themselves to be. It was artistic and a sharp contrast to a lot of the more slapstick offering we've come to expect in Super Bowl ads, and it got its point across while showing some of the Zoom's functions. A nice surprise that shows how commercials can still be smart.

Look Who's Back

A three month hiatus seems long enough to me. Perhaps I didn't feel there was anything worth writing about in that time period, or maybe it was that I was just too lazy and/or forgetful to post anything, but now seems as good a time as any to try to make some new posts. Hooray!