Archive for 2006

The Stockings Were Hung By the Chimbly With Care

Wednesday, December 20th, 2006

Well, obviously I didn’t get around to the site maintenance updates last weekend like I wanted to, but I did want to put a few bullet pointed thoughts out there because that used to be the kind of thing that happened around here.

  • Nik and I are heading out to see my folks for Christmas on Friday. I’m excited about the trip (well, the destination more so than the actual traveling) since I don’t get to see my family too often. However, Missouri is notorious for having “weather events” whenever we go and the only kind of event likely at this time of year is bone-numbing cold. Considering that I’ve been unhappy with the relative chill (roughly 30°) here in California, the prospect of freezing my tail off in actual cold makes me wonder why anyone would truly wish for a white Christmas.
  • Although I guess from a Rockwell-esque “old fashioned” Christmas vibe perspective it is nice to see a blanket of snow… through a window. The problem is that sooner or later, you have to get out in it.
  • If you have some time and especially if you are a big chocolate lover, you may find this article about a high-end chocolatier to be interesting. It’s long and some of it (especially the part where they try to determine the supplier) is kind of dull, but I skipped a lot of that and was perfectly able to get the gist.
  • The new job is going quite well, and the week after we get back from Missouri I’ll be working my first series of solo shifts in preparation for the switch to my regular schedule (graveyard). We also just got a new CEO who came over from eBay to help get us ready to manage our continued rapid growth so it should make for some interesting times ahead. And, atypically, I’m not using the word “interesting” in an ironic way.
  • I caught a cold somewhere. It’s not enough to keep me from work (I honestly can’t decide if that’s a good thing or a bad thing) but it is ceaselessly annoying. I’ve gone through several Pocket Paks of Kleenex in the last 24 hours (I believe I’m working on my fifth) and I’ve even resorted to taking some cold medicine which, predictably, resulted in me entering a coma-like state for several hours only to wake up and find that I’d slept through any symptom relief the medicine may have offered. I wonder sometimes if cold medicine manufacturers are really producing medicine that treats colds or if they just put powerful sleep aids in a box and figure if you’re passed out, you won’t know the difference. I’d also like to point out this was the “daytime, non-drowsy” variety.
  • I’ve been playing Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion for the last week or so. Normally I leave my video game discussion to other sites more suited to that sort of thing, but I had to point out that this is possibly the closest I’ve seen to a video role-playing game that matches the “perfect RPG” that has existed only in my head since I was about 13 years old. Some World of Warcraft players may dispute my claim, but bear in mind that I don’t play massively multiplayer RPGs. I suffer enough from Netflix guilt; I don’t need my video games to charge me a monthly fee and insert a new nagging voice in the back of my head that I’m not playing enough video games. So as it is, Oblivion is the best RPG I’ve played—possibly ever, but at least since Final Fantasy III—and the best one currently available that I’m likely to play.
  • Okay, Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic was up there, but it’s hard to compare Oblivion and KotOR. They’re both good. Both favorites.
  • When I lived in Texas there were a couple of burrito joints called “Freebirds” that made ginormous, delicious burritos. Since I moved back to Cali, I’ve had hundreds of burritos but none have measured up to the have-it-your-way delight of Freebirds. Then last night Lister introduced me to Burrito Real, a little place not too far from our office. It was like the reincarnation of Freebirds except Burrito Real’s carne asada is like 20 times better than Freebirds, or anyone else’s for that matter. So good.
  • Now I’m all hungry.
  • Have a Merry Christmas everyone, if I don’t pop back in before then.
  • And to all a good night.

Checking In

Monday, December 11th, 2006

Not much time today but at least I’m on a quasi-normal schedule this week so hopefully I’ll have an opportunity for a real update later, during my weekend which will last from Thursday until Saturday. You might be tempted to be jealous of me, but recall that I work 10 hour shifts and drive two hours each way so my days are probably close to twice as long as yours.

Anyway, I need to dig in here and clean up a few things anyway so expect at least something relatively soon.

I’m sure you’ve just been beside yourselves without me, and for that I sincerely apologize. I recognize the responsibility that comes with being such a treasured part of your daily surfing, and I won’t let you down for long.

PS – If anyone happens to have found a decent WordPress 2.0.2-compatible plugin that will disable comments on old stories so I can stop some of the flood of comment spam I’m getting, I’d appreciate a heads up.

Shortly, The Update

Monday, November 27th, 2006

I realized today that I haven’t been very post-y for a while, so I thought I’d offer a quick update. Bullet-style, natch.

  • A couple of weeks ago I had my first week-long vacation since my honeymoon seven years ago. Nik and I spent a night in Santa Cruz with a hotel room that overlooked the ocean, had a nice romantic dinner and spent a very long time the next day trying to find a decent place to eat lunch. Later in the week we headed down to Southern California for several days where we met up with Lister and Whimsy. We went to GenCon and spent some time at Disneyland as well.
  • GenCon was fun but a touch disappointing, probably because most of the events were expensive (which meant they were pricey on top of the already hefty registration fee just to be an official con attendee). We had fun and I am certainly glad I went but I don’t know that I’ll make it a habit when the cons we have locally are just as fun plus they’re cheaper and don’t involve lengthy car rides down I-5, also known as “The Boringest Highway Known to Man.”
  • Disneyland was amusing as usual, although my previous conclusions that Disneyland is, at this point in my life, probably best enjoyed somewhere down the line when children are involved. California Screamin’ is still one of the most well executed roller coasters around though so I’m not really complaining, but a lot of the rides feel like they could use some fresh ideas. Even when they do try something different like with the Space Mountain makeover, the end result is sorta underwhelming. The bottom line with the new SM is that it’s faster, darker and some of the space-age stuff in the main loading room has been updated (but not changed drastically) but the actual ride itself is missing some of the more thrilling dips and turns. Lacking any serious drops or loops or anything else it’s only claim to fame above a ride you might find at a cut-rate park like Santa Cruz’s Boardwalk is the darkness and some nifty light effects at the beginning and end of the ride.
  • Immediately after returning home from vacation I started my new job at LiveOps. Granted it has only been four days so far (last week was cut short by Thanksgiving) but I really like the new place. Most of the jobs that I’ve had in the tech industry involve co-workers who go on and on about how great the job used to be; here I feel like I’m finally working somewhere that the good ol’ days are now.
  • Speaking of Thanksgiving, we had a nice one with Nik’s family. But can I just say how much it drives me insane when people insist on calling it “Turkey Day?” We were listening to some idiot DJ the other day on Sirius who went off on a Thanksgiving tangent wherein he must have used the phrase “Turkey Day” about thirteen times. What makes that remarkable is that what he was saying didn’t require him to use any specific proper noun after about the second time because it was perfectly clear what he was talking about so it was almost like he was drilling the phrase into listeners’ heads. To what end that might have been I have no clue, but it was so annoying that even Nik (who was trying to nap in the car at the time) caught it and knew exactly what I was talking about when I brought it up later on.
  • My schedule is going to be full on lunacy for the next few weeks as I train for this job; I’m supposed to shadow all the various engineers at the Network Operations Center (NOC) for a week each but since the NOC is technically supposed to be open 24/7, the shifts range from regular 9-to-5 style to crazy swing shifts. Adding to the madness is the 4×10 schedule (four ten hour shifts) so updates may be few and far between for a while. I mean, I’m currently writing this at 2:55 am, so you know something has got to be weird right now.

As a Matter of Fact, I Do Have a One-Track Mind

Tuesday, November 7th, 2006

It’s Tuesday so you know I’ll be babbling about Heroes. I’m not original, but I am prolific.

“Nothing to Hide”

Mostly I have brief thoughts on last night’s episode, which overall I thought was good and if someone tuned in last night for the first time it seemed like it would have been a decent one to start with since it kind of took a half step back with each character—just enough so you would be more or less on the same page as people who’d watched from the beginning. Niki’s confession to her sister was a pretty succinct way to explain her Jessica alter ego; Peter and Nathan’s conversation revealed quite a bit about each of them; Hiro, DL and Claire all had short demonstrations of what they could do and of course Parkman had plenty of development that made it indisputably clear what his ability was. Interestingly they managed to do all that while still pushing the story ahead enough to make way for some inevitable plot thread resolution (just in time for sweeps, how convenient!).

So if you watched last night based on my urging, there are still a few characters who got little to no screentime including Isaac (reads/paints the future); Horn-Rimmed Glasses man (Claire’s adoptive father who keeps kidnapping the Heroes for unknown reasons) and HRG’s sidekick, a Haitian guy who seems to have some mental powers which allow him to block mind-readers (like Parkman) and also affect memories, wiping them out or something (incidentally, Nathan referred to HRG and the Haitian during his conversation with Peter but they got no actual screentime). And in case you’re wondering, the mobster referred to as being connected with the Petrelli campaign and who purchased the painting Peter wanted has yet to be shown on screen so you didn’t miss anything there.

Now, thoughts:

  • I think they’re spending too much time with the Parkman/Wife story. Parkman and the FBI agent’s pursuit of Sylar is interesting and Parkman as a character is fascinating but it just seemed too predictable for his wife to be cheating on him with his old partner. I’m not saying it can’t be salvaged as a storyline but I think the amount of screentime they’d have to devote to it to do it right would really detract from some of the other, more interesting stuff. And I really want them to get on with connecting Parkman to some of the other heroes, especially since it’s fairly clear that his ability will help get some of those unanswered questions at least asked out loud.
  • My other complaint is still with the Niki/DL/Micah thread. I don’t know where they’re going with Niki’s character but they need to do something other than make her utterly despicable and soon. At this point I’m hoping she turns out to be a villain because I want to see her get smacked around again. If she ends up as a hero I’m going to need something to draw on that helps me suspend that disbelief because right now she seems like she doesn’t have a heroic bone in her body.
  • Micah’s powers sure are interesting, however. It seems his abilities were foreshadowed way early on, perhaps the first episode (at least one of the first, when he fixed a motherboard or circuit board or something). He and DL make for an interesting story by themselves but as long as they’re still dealing with Niki I’m going to be tempted to hit the fast forward button whenever they come onscreen.
  • I was happy that they didn’t overdo it with the Hiro this episode. Hiro is great, don’t get me wrong, but as with any standout character on a show, the temptation to overexpose him must be pretty strong. This episode had just enough Hiro in it, and his line about wishing he had super strength, too, was classic. Especially considering that everyone seems to be in consensus that of all the powers shown on the series so far, his would be the absolute best/most useful.
  • The mystery of Peter continues. Some are now suggesting that he has supernatural empathic powers which may be related to his power leeching abilities (or presumed abilities I guess). I was unclear after the episode what role Peter had actually played in the passing of Simone’s father.
  • Speaking of Simone, I’m not sure if it’s the actress or the way she’s written, but I’m having a hard time pinpointing her approach to Peter. She seemed so ready to dismiss Isaac’s claims to powers he didn’t understand but she’s almost blindly accepting Peter’s nearly identical behavior and what most normal people would regard as delusions of grandeur. Maybe it’s because of Isaac’s drug use that she was so quick to dismiss him, but somehow it doesn’t quite sit well with me.
  • Am I the only one who didn’t understand Nathan’s conversation on the phone with Linderman in light of the discussion he had immediately after with Peter? It sounded from the one-sided conversation that Nathan had secured the painting from Linderman and was having it sent back to the gallery, but when he spoke to Peter about it, he said he wasn’t able to convince Linderman to give it up. What did I miss there?
  • Nathan’s description of HRG and the Haitian to Peter sounded important to me, like that Peter was going to have to remember that later when confronted with one or both of them. Although Nathan’s explanation of the Haitian as “Euro” was kind of weird, since most people don’t assume someone else is from Europe unless they hear them speak, which as far as I recall the Haitian never has.
  • Somebody on the writing staff has mother issues because two of the moms on the show are utterly abhorrent: Claire’s adoptive mom and Nathan and Peter’s mother. Both just absolutely grate on me.
  • Some people are postulating that because Claire is so careless about her abilities that she really wants to be found out, citing the fact that she sort of hung around while her hand healed instead of running upstairs to cover it up or something. I usually attribute this to the fact that the special effects show the healing process a bit slower than it actually occurs for the audience’s sake. I read a lot of people also whining about how Claire has had her behind trounced repeatedly and usually never says boo about it but this week she gets a staple in the hand and yelps like she had no powers at all. My thought is that she doesn’t feel pain the way most people do in that because her body knows it can heal itself, the pain receptors don’t fire the way they normally would (why bother?). However, she does experience the sensations of all her injuries which I assume are just kind of uncomfortable or bizarre feeling and not so much painful. In the case of the stapler, I think her reaction was more of surprise from unexpected sensation than pain.
  • The previews for next week finally start to suggest that HRG may not in fact be a bad guy. This kind of bugs me because up until now the assumption has been that he’s a bad guy not because of what he’s done (which is why some people still thought all along that he wasn’t all bad) but because the “previously on” voice over flat-out called him the “incarnation of evil” or some such. Look, it’s one thing to make his motives ambiguous and leave us guessing as to what he is, but to call him evil and then later come out and say, “oh, but is he or isn’t he?” seems very suspect to me.
  • It seems pretty obvious that Sprague’s comment about becoming an atomic bomb was meant to get the audience thinking along the lines of what his involvement in the imminent destruction of New York would be. But I think it is a red herring. I’m not precisely sure why I think that, but I do.
  • Stupid week until next Monday.

The Fremont A’s?

So I more or less grew up in the Bay Area town of Fremont. Now it looks like the Oakland A’s are moving from their miserable Raiders-hijacked stadium to a shiny new one in my hometown. Sweet. (Thanks, Doc!)

Bullet the Blue ‘Soap

Monday, November 6th, 2006
  • According to the latest poll, very few people here are taking my advice and watching Heroes. Get with it people, I’m telling you: It rules. Of course now I said that and someone will tune in tonight and the episode will completely flop.
  • My resistance to continued griping about the officiating in the NHL this season can no longer win. What exactly are these refs smoking prior to the games? Cheechoo booted for boarding a guy he hit in the faceoff circle and lost contact with for at least six feet before either player came anywhere near the boards?! An awkward and dangerous fall, sure. Fortunate that he was okay, certainly. Game misconduct? Uh, no. Also, two goals called back including one from a penalty to Mike Grier in which the goalie went back to play the puck and fell over his own stick? So, just to be clear: Hitting a defenseless San Jose goaltender in the back and throwing his head to the boards is okay; a San Jose player being in the vicinity of a clumsy netminder: two minutes in the box for interference. Got it. Just wanted to be clear.
  • I’m grouchy today because I’ve had a headache since Saturday. Have you ever seen parents of an infant try to placate the mysteriously fussy child? They feed them, change them, play with them, try to get them to sleep, and the baby remains grouchy. I feel like that with my head. I’ve eaten plenty, I’ve tried taking naps, I’ve taken Tylenol and ibuprofen, I’ve taken warm showers to relax my muscles and so on and so forth. Nothing seems to work for longer than about twenty minutes. It’s not so bad that I can’t function normally, but it’s annoying as all get out.
  • I saw a friend of mine this weekend who isn’t around too often since he decided to move overseas. He has been pestering the old XBox Live crew to upgrade to the 360 to we can get our online gaming on again and he point-blanked me with the question, “When are you getting a 360?” The sad thing is that I’ve already been thinking about it quite a bit and even broke down and included it on my wishlist so his question nearly broke my spirit clean in half. On one hand I absolutely don’t need any more goofy toys and on that same hand I have a vacation coming up, Nik and I are getting ready to move for the first time in three years and Christmas is right around the corner so monetarily it isn’t going to fly. But on the other hand: Shiny graphics and online gizmos!
  • In preparation for leaving my current job I’m tasked with cleaning out my work-provided laptop PC. I had forgotten how annoying it is to try and clean yourself off of a computer you’ve used for any significant amount of time (for me that’s about two and a half days).
  • I bought a few CDs last week including the new Muse album and Wolfmother’s disc. Both bands have a kind of 70s throwback feel with Wolfmother channeling Black Sabbath, Led Zeppelin and Jethro Tull while Muse can at times be likened to Queen and Rush. It’s sort of cool although occasionally Wolfmother crosses the line between homage and outright thievery but both were worth the somewhat abbreviated prices ($10 and $11 respectively from Rasputin’s). One strange thing though, I noticed that I very much enjoyed Muse’s work when played from beginning to end in the original album order. When I listened to it again later on random, it wasn’t nearly as good. I’ve never encountered that before, I wonder why that is?
  • Above I noted that Nik and I are gearing up for a move which has been necessitated by my new job acquisition since the distance from our current apartment to the new office is, according to Google, 66 miles compared to the 29 miles I travel now. More significantly, travel to the new office from our current location during normal work and commute times would require sitting it no fewer than five heavy traffic spots. If we end up where we’ve started looking, I’ll reduce that to three traffic spots and the mileage will be about halved to 34 miles.
  • Also regarding traffic and commuting, some relief is in sight since there is a strong chance I’ll end up working at least some graveyard shifts (which would basically eliminate the traffic concerns) although Nik is not exactly thrilled with the idea of having certain evenings entirely to herself. Even if I do end up exclusively working grave shifts, they do run a 4×10 schedule which will give me three nights at home per week (ideally Thursday, Friday and Saturday) so I’ll be home for a pretty large part of the week. We’ll be all backward in our sleeping schedules, but I’m confident some sort of arrangement can be made.
  • Tomorrow’s voting is going to be somewhat unpleasant since I have to get up very early in order to make it happen, being that I have two tickets to the Sharks game tomorrow night. The elections are really stupid this year with practically every ballot measure being some sort of smokescreen to bilk more cash out of Californians and (as usual) 98% of the candidates running for office being either schmucks or despicable wastes of oxygen. But I feel even more inclined to vote in elections like this when the options are all really lame because I honestly shudder to think what your average Californian would come up with on some of this stuff without my expert guidance.
  • So what is standard procedure when leaving a place of employment for handling all the lame company schwag they dump on you? As of this moment I have it all sort of sitting in my cube where it is of no harm to me or anyone else, but I have no need for a goofy (and highly illegible) desk clock branded with this company’s logo, nor do I need a laptop bag, a wine glass or a stress ball, all adorned with corporate branding. My inclination is to just toss it but I’m afraid that might be construed as excessively rude, so am I to take it home and then junk it there? How is that really better? I guess it’s a matter of plausible deniability; where they can go on thinking I cherished this stuff long after I departed when in fact it all ended up, blissfully out of their realm of knowledge, in a dumpster at my apartment complex. Still, a large part of me wonders what kind of doofus would actually care enough to keep track one way or the other.
  • I just learned that Lister got himself a Nintendo DS. Looks like local multiplayer goodness (as opposed to WiFi multiplayer goodness which Dr. Mac and I have had trouble co-ordinating) is about to be on.
  • Turns out I have nothing else to talk about. I guess it’s time to go back to counting the minutes until tonight’s Heroes episode.
  • Actually I do have one last observation: I am a total dork.

NHL Team Names

Friday, November 3rd, 2006

I had fun yesterday writing about stupid sports team names, so I’m going to do one more, this time for the NHL. Of course ice hockey requires somewhat different traits or attributes in order to be effective: Power, speed, skating, intimidation, toughness, balance, grace and so forth. But ice hockey also has another element that teams often try to capitalize on with their name which is the “ice” element. Being that it sort of separates the sport from others (like field hockey, lacrosse or even soccer, all of which have similar rules and comparable game mechanics but lack the ice and skating), I’ll give bonus points to team names that effectively incorporate the concept into their monikers.

Good Names

  • New York Rangers – An acceptable name for a team for the same basic reasons as discussed in the baseball dissection: Protection, strength, courage, etc. Why again with the red, white and blue I’m not sure, but colors aren’t the point here, the name is so it gets a pass.
  • Philadelphia Flyers – The name flyers, I presume, means “one who flies.” It conveys motion and speed which works for a hockey team.
  • Pittsburgh Penguins – This one is kind of questionable because I don’t know that penguins on ice are very graceful or fast… from what I’ve seen in nature shows they’re kind of clumsy and waddling. But penguins do slide on their bellies pretty smoothly and they swim like crazy, plus they have that ice connection that just works for a hockey team so I’ll let it (ahem) slide.
  • Boston Bruins – A bruin is basically another name for a brown bear so the team is essentially the Boston Bears. As has been established with the football team, bears are big, strong, imposing and at times quite cunning so it works, plus the alliteration angle is a nice touch.
  • Buffalo Sabres – I almost demoted this name because it annoys me that the team is the “Sabres” and yet they spend most of their time with logos and what not acting like they think their name is the “Buffaloes” since they’re always having buffalo imagery on their uniforms. One of these days maybe a team will play in Buffalo that just calls themselves the Buffalo Buffaloes and get it over with. Still, Sabres is a solid name and even manages to evoke some sense of hockey since the metal rail on a pair of ice skates is called the blade so I can’t fault them for stupid marketing. And even if it makes no sense, buffaloes are pretty decent mascots. (As a side note, this page suggests that the original founders of the team chose Sabres because they specifically wanted to avoid the common Buffalo/bison tie-in, so there’s some irony for you).
  • Carolina Hurricanes – Born from the relocated Hartford Whalers, they are located in the Research Triangle area of North Carolina which certainly sees hurricanes from time to time, so it has a local connection. Hurricanes are powerful storms that can bowl over anything in their path, so as a team name I’d say it’s pretty suitable for hockey or most any other sport I can think of.
  • Florida Panthers – As has been mentioned numerous times in these discussions, powerful carnivores of the animal kingdom are usually good team names. Panthers may not have any remote geographic link to Florida, but they certainly make for a quality team name.
  • Tampa Bay Lightning – According to the MSU page, Tampa Bay is the lightning capital of the world. Wikipedia disputes this and cites this article as evidence that Singapore actually has the most occurrences of lighting strikes per year. Wikipedia does however mention this tidbit: “The United States is home to ‘Lightning Alley,’ a group of states in the American Southeast that collectively see more lightning strikes per year than any other place in the US. The most notable state in Lightning Alley is Florida.” So let’s assume the name is locally appropriate, Lightning in an of itself isn’t such a bad name for a team, being intense, powerful and striking suddenly, without warning. That works for a hockey team so it’s a solid name all around.
  • Nashville Predators – Even if you dispense with the specifics, the general term for all creatures on top of their section of the food chain works quite well as a team name, especially in the NHL.
  • Colorado Avalanche – Originally the Quebec Nordiques (I won’t even bother with that one), they relocated to Denver and named themselves the Avalanche. While the MLB team in the same area went with “Rockies” to questionable effect, Avalanche is a nearly perfect name for an ice hockey team. Not only is it somewhat locally specific (again with the mountains, although I can’t find any specific data about how many avalanches really occur in Colorado on average) but it has the ice connection and an avalanche is certainly an intimidating, powerful force of nature that can absolutely bury you if you get in its path. Sounds fitting to me, even if the team doesn’t always live up to the name.
  • Dallas Stars – Considering that the original team name was the Minnesota North Stars and that Texas is the Lone Star State, it’s one of the best relocation name adjustments I can think of. Not only that but a star, in sports, is generally a predominant or exceptionally talented player so it certainly works to classify the whole team that way right in the name.
  • Los Angeles Kings – Unlike the MLB’s Royals, the LA team makes this work by being specific enough with their royalty to give the impression of power, control and to a certain extent victory. It’s not the best name in this section, but it works well enough.
  • Phoenix Coyotes – Locally specific (Arizona is commonly associated with desert areas and coyotes are likewise associated with the desert even though their habitats are generally much more varied) and a predatory animal at least when in the wild (coyotes are actually very adaptable omnivores who are usually scavengers in urban areas), despite some misconceptions about the animal, the general gist is on track and it works passably.
  • San Jose Sharks – The ice connection is tenuous at best (water/ice) so let’s ignore that, but there are plenty of sharks in the Pacific Ocean and sharks themselves are almost exclusively thought of as sly, dangerous, merciless predators. Local connection and effective imagery equals good name.

Marginal Names

  • New Jersey Devils – Similar to the MLB Angels and Padres or the NFL Saints, using theological concepts as team names strikes me as curious. Identifying yourself with the incarnation of evil seems less than ideal as well. But I suppose a “devil” would be frightening, intimidating and potentially powerful so it’s not a total loss but this one rides the line between marginal and outright bad because, really, does anyone want to root for a devil? Actually, the MSU page says the name comes from a folk legend about a sasquatch-like beast called the “Jersey Devil” thought to roam the Garden State’s Pine Barrens. Still, they use the iconic barbed tail and horns commonly associated with a more hades-based interpretation of the name so the origin may be true, but it has been superseded by marketing or common misinterpretation.
  • Atlanta Thrashers – Originally I thought the name was a very short-sighted use of a not-particularly-popular slang term which usually refers to a beating or an intense action of some kind (“Did you see Muhammad Ali thrash Foeman?”) but in fact the name is a reference to the Georgia state bird, the Brown Thrasher. Birds work pretty good as team names in some cases, but in this case the Brown Thrasher is a shy, rarely-seen bird who mostly hunts for grubs and seeds in piles of dry leaves on the ground. Brown Thrashers are mostly known for their singing which is considered to be quite beautiful, but quality singing voices isn’t much of a trait in hockey. Still, I’ll give them enough slack for locale-specific naming and the ambiguity of the name to keep them out of the Bad Names category.
  • Chicago Blackhawks – The MSU page says:

    Original owner Frederic McLaughlin named the team in honor of the Black Hawk Battalion he served with in WWI. The unit was named after a Chief Black Hawk. The name was merged to ‘Blackhawks’ several years ago.

    Blackhawks certainly sounds like it would be a good name, and the origin sounds pretty inspired, in truth it doesn’t really work since Chief Black Hawk, while a regional historical figure, fought against the United States in the War of 1812 and the subsequent Black Hawk War—which resulted from his refusal to leave his native lands—left most of his men dead and found him taken captive. Still, he was a more or less heroic figure for Native Americans but the use of his anglicized name as a sports team is a bit questionable. While the Blackhawks, as Wikipedia points out, have managed to skirt most of the controversy surrounding Native American-themed sports teams, their logo marks the Indian angle clearly; why couldn’t the logo be of a (literally) black hawk? Hawks would make for a good sports icon and the ambiguity of the name makes it perfectly acceptable to make this transition. Unlike other teams like the Redskins or Indians who would need to manufacture a whole new identity behind a whole new name, the Blackhawks could remain constant but lose any hint of offensiveness. Their lack of willingness to do so (probably based on some moronic sense of tradition) automatically drops them to marginal.

  • Calgary Flames – So originally it was the Atlanta Flames, so named from the fire set by General Sherman that burned Atlanta during the Civil War. Eventually the team moved to Calgary and kept the name. Now, “flames” as an element of fire can be sort of intimidating or at least dangerous but flames and ice hockey… well, let’s just say if you can abstract the team concept to a bunch of individual balls of flame trying to skate around the ice, you can imagine that they’d have a hard time winning very often what with all the melted ice which would likely extinguish any fireballs. So not a downright terrible name, but pretty dumb. MSU says the name is supposed to refer to Alberta’s petroleum industry now that they’ve relocated but there is but the thinnest of threads that can possibly link petroleum to fire (except that petroleum is a fairly decent fuel for flames, which is like saying my team is going to be the San Jose Rockets due to all the technology industries in the area), so no dice.
  • Vancouver Canucks – The MSU site says that they got their name from a Canadian folk hero who was supposedly a great logger and in his spare time played hockey named Johnny Canuck. I guess he was sort of an anti-Uncle Sam. The name is weird because it’s perfectly acceptable for Canadians to refer to themselves as Canucks. However, if used by a non-Canadian it can be seen as derogatory, almost like an ethnic slur. But in general I guess it’s like the New York Yankees which means it isn’t great but it just manages to not be so bad as to land in the Crummy category. What almost puts it over the top is the ridiculous logo they sport these days which is like… I don’t know, some sort of deformed seal being broken in half? Whatever it is, it’s stupid so it’s a good thing we’re judging team names and not logos.

Crummy Names

  • New York Islanders – Ha. Ha. Get it? New York is a bunch of islands. So they’re Islanders. Do you get it? Yeah, me neither.
  • Montreal Canadiens – This name is dumb like the Yankees only more so… kind of like the Houston Texans. The official name is “Le Club de Hockey Canadien” which translates literally into something like “The Canadian Hockey Team” which is just as stupid as the Mets only in French which makes even more annoying. Plus the myriad nicknames fans have come up with are annoying as well. I get that you are limited with your wit when your team name is Canadian Hockey Team but the Habs? It’s short for another French nickname, Les Habitants which was used sort of similarly by early French immigrants to the way early US immigrants used “Settlers” or “Pilgrims.” Originally the team only had players who were French-Canadians, but as anyone might have guessed, that is no longer the case. Regardless, it’s just a mess of a name and so it gets the big thumbs down.
  • Ottawa Senators – I can think of few things that strike fear in the heart less than elected governmental officials. Okay wait, I take that back. But generally speaking, a “Senator” does not evoke imposing visions of anything that might be beneficial in a hockey game, unless red tape suddenly becomes a new slang term for some kind of wicked hockey play. That they were named after an old school team is no excuse, old team names were often idiotic (see yesterday’s post regarding the Pittsburgh Pirates originally being known as the “Innocents”).
  • Toronto Maple Leafs – Okay, I see where they were going here. Maple leaves are region-specific, they’re a national symbol and they help clearly identify the team as Canadian. Fine. But for one thing, it’s spelled wrong. The plural of “Leaf” is “Leaves,” not “Leafs,” so deduct points there. Also, what’s so special in hockey terms about a leaf? Oh yeah, now I remember: Nothing. The MSU site says this about the team name:

    Two possible reasons: (1) Then owner Conn Smythe drew inspiration from an old Toronto team called the East Maple Leaves; (2) when Conn Smythe bought the Toronto St. Patricks, his first act was to rename the team after the Maple Leaf Regiment of the First World War, as well as for the maple leaf on the Canadian flag. Originally, the team was known as the Arenas, then renamed St. Patricks, supposedly to attract the Irish.

    Interesting, but being named after an army regiment only works if the army regiment had an imposing name to begin with. Which they didn’t.

  • Washington Capitals – See, Washington is the capital of the US, right? So they’re Capitals. Except a “Capital” doesn’t apply to a person or a team and a city or town that is the official seat of government has no connotations that are useful in hockey whatsoever. Possibly even worse than Senators in terms of team names.
  • Columbus Blue Jackets – Read this account of the Blue Jackets’ team name origin and I challenge you to come up with a rational reason why any of that should have resulted in such an insipid name as the “Blue Jackets.” A play on the insect yellowjackets? Because the team owner wanted the name to contain a reference to the color blue? Maybe as a reference to northern soldiers in the Civil War (incidentally, referencing the Civil War in any sport where teams exist from both northern and southern states is generally the stupidest thing you could possibly do when naming a team)? Whatever the reason, the name is horrible.
  • Detroit Red Wings – Supposedly named as an homage to another team, the Montreal Winged Wheelers and found to be suitable for Motor City, the end result doesn’t quite work. I grant that this name could easily be marginal instead of crummy because wings suggest flight and speed but how a specifically colored wing by itself is of any sort of value in hockey (or anywhere else for that matter) is not clear and therefore the name is, in my estimation, not good.
  • St. Louis Blues – Supposedly named after the W. C. Handy song of the same name, it works on a local level and as a clever re-use of the song name, but as a hockey team name? Blues is just as bad as Reds if referring to the color, and given that the Blues use a musical note in their logo, I guess they’re going for the musical style connotation instead. But this is just as bad because there is nothing about Blues music that would be hockey-related. Except as what their fans sing when they play like they have for the last couple of years. Oh! Snap! I went there! Okay, I’m done, and so is this name.
  • Edmonton Oilers – Named as a reflection of the importance of the oil industry in the area, the problem with the name is that an “Oiler,” whom I suppose is one who extracts or mines or otherwise deals with oil, is in no way shape or form fitting as a parallel or even an associate for a hockey player. Locally specific but contextually stupid.
  • Minnesota Wild – I admit that the name “Wild” isn’t as terrible as, say, the Blue Jackets. But still, it’s an adjective masquerading as a noun which bugs me and the Wild don’t even really act like their name should be the Wild because their uniforms, logo and marketing efforts seem to be more akin to the Minnesota Wildcats. Which would have been a perfectly acceptable team name. Instead they went with Wild and their team name sucks. What can you do?
  • Anaheim Ducks – I thought long and hard about this one because on one hand, there is nothing inherently graceful, fast, intimidating or tough about a duck. There is also, as far as I know, no special connection between Anaheim and ducks. But I understand where the name came from, because the team was originally owned by Disney who put out a movie called “The Mighty Ducks” about a junior hockey team and they also produced an animated series featuring hockey playing ducks who were I guess also superheroes. It was a product tie-in but when the Disney connection faded, the name didn’t work so they simply dropped the “Mighty” and became the Ducks. But, again, Ducks is a lousy hockey team name and I haven’t given other teams slack for their intentions so it’s officially a crummy name.

Of course you’re always free to disagree and offer your own opinions. The comments section is open.

MLB Team Names

Thursday, November 2nd, 2006

My dad wrote a very funny piece about the appropriateness NFL team names. I thought I’d take the concept and run with it and examine baseball team names.

Basically the premise here is that team names should either be something that evokes a sense of something beneficial to the game being played (in the case of baseball: Speed, power, teamwork, cunning, heroism, etc) or it should be something specific to the home locale of the franchise so long as that evocation isn’t of something counter to those attributes that are beneficial. The Raleigh Sloths wouldn’t work, for example, even if Raleigh happened to have a lot of Sloths around because Sloths would be really pathetic at baseball.

Just ask Barry Bonds.

Anyway, here goes:

Good Names
  • Baltimore Orioles – I’m not sure if there are a lot of orioles in the Baltimore area, my online research yielded little fruit, but orioles are fast, clever birds according to several sites so it works for the game. It would be a bad football or hockey name, but baseball is more forgiving of wussier animal mascots than other sports, being physical but also quite cerebral as well.
  • Tampa Bay Devil Rays – The name is both relatively strong sounding as well as being a nickname for Manta Rays which work from the locale angle in Tampa Bay. Plus Manta Rays are fast swimmers, capable of impressive physical feats such as leaping high out of the water and sort of sailing for relatively long distances.
  • Toronto Blue Jays – Like the Orioles, this works from a speed angle (although I don’t know that Blue Jays are particularly clever, judging by the number of cat-kills I see around our apartment complex) and I’ll give Toronto the benefit of the doubt that they actually have a significant number of Jays locally.
  • Detroit Tigers – According to FactMonster.com they weren’t named after the jungle cat but instead named after another sports team, the Princeton Tigers football team based on the similarity of their socks. A stupid origin perhaps, but the adoption of a feral carnivore as a team moniker works for me and anyone else who wouldn’t think to look up how the Tigers got their name so it’s good.
  • Texas Rangers – Rangers are supposed to be protectors, soldiers or roaming guardians and the name has been adopted by lots of people to evoke these kinds of feelings of power, confidence, cleverness and capability. I don’t know that the patriotic uniforms of the Rangers really match their moniker, but the name works okay. If it was me they’d have camouflage uniforms.
  • Atlanta Braves – Their name actually refers to Native Americans (as evidenced by the tomahawk on their logo) but it is similar to using the term “Warriors” since that is what is meant by the term “Indian Braves” and while perhaps antiquated, it isn’t particularly offensive or inappropriate for the sport. Plus the name could always be changed to refer to the team as a group of people possessing the quality of bravery which is less as effective as a baseball name (courage in baseball is probably not the most useful trait although some memorable performances such as Kirk Gibson’s gimpy walk-off homer in the 1988 World Series could be classified as courageous or brave). In the end it’s a bit borderline, but we’ll leave it as a good name.
  • Florida Marlins – Regionally specific, Marlins are known to fishermen as putting up a heck of a fight which is a pretty good comparison to make to a baseball team so it works quite well.
  • Pittsburgh PiratesFactmonster says that the Pirates were originally called The Innocents (a terrible team name) until they signed a player away from the Philadelphia Athletics and that team’s fans started calling Pittsburgh’s team “pirates” as a slam to the way they had obtained a popular player from them. Eventually the name came to be more literal and Pirates suggest craftiness, stealing (such as bases) and terrorizing foes so it works out in the end.
  • St. Louis Cardinals – Missouri has a lot of Cardinals, they are fast and the name works from a local angle and as a strong symbol of the team. Good name.
  • Seattle Mariners – This one almost didn’t make it to this category because while Seattle, as a major port, certainly can claim local association with mariners, I’m not sure what sailors have to bring to baseball. Except I’ve seen the Deadliest Catch so I know that sailors are tough sons of guns and generally fearless which are pretty good traits for a baseball player. A close call but I’ll give it to them, as long as they agree to stop calling themselves the “M’s” which is just sad.
  • Arizona Diamondbacks – Another good locally-specific name with plenty of dangerous and ferocious connotations that work well as a team name.
  • Colorado Rockies – I debated this one for a long time because while certainly the Rocky Mountains are regionally applicable for a team based in Colorado, naming your team after a mountain range is sort of a cop-out. Still, the Rockies (the mountains) are majestic, imposing, unforgiving, and typically symbols of steadfastness. So in a kind of pseudo symbolic way it works.
  • San Francisco Giants – The name Giants suggest size, strength and intimidation, which works fine for a baseball (or any other sport, for the most part) team name. Not locally specific, but that’s good since the team is a transplant from New York.
Marginal or Questionable Names
  • New York Yankees – Similar to the Vancouver Canucks, naming a team based off of a nickname for a country’s people is somewhat dicey. I suppose it could be argued that the name is regional since Yankee often refers to a northeastern citizen of the United States and New York is certainly in that region and it could also be argued that it is a patriotic name which invokes images of the best qualities of the American spirit. Those arguments would be weak, but you could make them.
  • Kansas City Royals – I guess suggesting nobility can be inspiring for a sports team, but royalty really has little to do with athletic prowess and has absolutely nothing to do with Kansas City. Except that the name actually came from the American Royal Livestock Show held in Kansas City every year since 1899, according to Wikipedia. Naming a team after a livestock show is kind of dubious but it is locally specific so it sits right on the fence between really lame and just mostly lame. I’ll give it the benefit of the doubt for now.
  • Minnesota Twins – Locally specific is fine, such as with the Twins who are named after the Twin Cities (St. Paul and Minneapolis) but Twins aren’t any better at baseball than anyone else so the end result, while well intentioned, is less than stellar.
  • Chicago Cubs – Why cubs? Like my dad says, naming a team after a younger version of an animal that would be a much better team name (in this case the Bears, which works fine for the football team so why not the baseball team?) is pretty silly. Still, animal names and alliterations are better than some of the junk in the next section so we’ll give them the benefit of the doubt here, a little.
  • Houston Astros – The team based out of Houston was originally called the Colt 45s, which being an intimidating firearm is a pretty decent name. Then NASA set up shop in Houston and in 1965 the team was renamed to honor that (probably due to the popularity of the space program at the time). The problem is that “Astro” isn’t really a noun, it’s more of an adjective unless you’re talking about the dog on The Jetsons, which I don’t think we should. At least the spirit of the team name which evokes concepts of speed, progress, intelligence and so on is in the right place, but the end result is only so-so.
  • Milwaukee Brewers – Certainly locally-specific since Milwaukee is home to numerous beer breweries, I’m not convinced that (unlike the Steelers or Packers from football) a brewer suggests any quality that would be useful to a baseball player. Patience maybe? I dunno, although it may be salvaged somewhat due to the common correlation between baseball and beer, at least from a fan’s perspective.
  • Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim – Never mind the stupid city madness in the team name, Angels is questionable because it’s hard to imagine how an Angel would suggest anything terrestrial which might be an asset to a baseball team. But Angels refers to the English translation of “Los Angeles” (City of the Angels) which makes it locally appropriate (if not factually appropriate) and I suppose—at least if you believe some cut rate Disney movie—a team of Angels would be pretty tough to beat. It still seems kind of iffy to me though.
Actively Ridiculous or Stupid Names
  • Boston Red Sox – What does a colored sock have to do with anything? That’s like calling the Rangers the Blue Hats. Wow, a team named after a portion of their uniform. How… idiotic. That they also spelled “socks” wrong counts against them and that it is a shortened version of the double-whammy stupid and awkward “Red Stockings” just makes it worse.
  • New York Mets – The name is short for the official name which is “New York Metropolitan Baseball Club, Inc.” The official name is patently lame and uninspired and the shortened version is therefore nonsensical.
  • Philadelphia Phillies – The team was named as an homage to their home city which is passively stupid since everyone knows that the city names are almost always included when referring to a sports team. This is necessary to remove any ambiguity with other sports teams. If I say “The Giants sure suck this year” I could be referring to at least two major sports teams and probably a host of collegiate and amatuer-level teams. If I say, “The San Francisco Giants sure suck this year,” which almost everybody would say in most cases, my meaning is clear. Therefore the homage angle is not well thought out and since there is, to my knowledge, no such actual thing as a “Philly” (note that a female horse who has not yet reached sexual maturity is a Filly and in no way a fitting baseball team name unless your team is populated with young girls who have a strong interest in My Little Pony), that means the name fails on all levels.
  • Washington Nationals – Stupid for the same reason as “Yankees” except even more so because no one that I’ve ever heard refers to an actual person as a “National” unless they preface it with a foreign country (such as “Chinese National”) and a team full of “Washington Nationals” when Washington isn’t a country strikes fear in the heart of… no one, really.
  • Chicago White Sox – Moronic for the exact same reasons as the Red Sox, all the way down to the unnecessary misspelling.
  • Cleveland Indians – The name itself is a little uncomfortable to begin with. Unlike “Braves,” Indians is not only not really the preferred term any longer but an Indian in an of itself shouldn’t necessarily confer any of the attributes a baseball team strives for. Then you throw in the team logo which is a miserable caricature of a Native American somewhat akin to the old cartoons and their exaggerated portrayals of African Americans (which would be absolutely unacceptable in modern times, by the way) and it starts to get really uncomfortable. Then you find out that Cleveland’s team name was originally the Spiders (not altogether a bad name for a baseball team) but they were the first to sign a Native American player in Louis Francis Sockalexis so racist fans began referring to the team—disparagingly—as the Indians. After Sockalexis left the league and eventually passed away, the team name was officially changed as an “homage” which, considering that the name was meant to be insulting in the first place, is questionable at best. At this point, it’s almost as bad as the NFL’s Redskins.
  • Cincinnati Reds – The actual name was originally the Cincinnati Red Stockings which automatically moves it down here based on the previous rants regarding the Red and White Sox. Items of clothing don’t make good sports team names, period. But when the Reds joined the National League, they dropped the Stockings and were just the Reds, which is also stupid since colors aren’t better names than clothing items. That Reds is also a derogatory term for communists, it just gets worse. Also? The Reds’ logo is among the worst ever, probably stemming from the fact that their name was ludicrous to begin with.
  • Oakland Athletics – The common nickname, “The A’s” is pretty dumb but not nearly as dumb as “Athletics” which generally doesn’t even refer to a person (who ever said, “That guy is an athletic!”) because it’s an adjective. Team names that are adjectives are inherently stupid and even though Athleticism is good from a baseball standpoint, there has to be something that possesses that trait for it to work.
  • Los Angeles Dodgers – Originally the team was the Brooklyn Dodgers and were originally known as the Trolley Dodgers which Wikipedia says was “a reference to Brooklyn pedestrians who “dodged” the trollies that ran over the maze of streetcar lines that criss-crossed Brooklyn.” So locally specific but still pretty dumb for a baseball team, but made completely worthless when the team moved to LA where they don’t have trolleys and are just known as the Dodgers which suggest that they typically dodge stuff. Since in baseball dodging anything except a wild pitch will usually result in an out or an error, it’s a dumb name for a dumb team. And yes, I did find glee in putting them here because I am a Giants fan.
  • San Diego Padres – Perhaps locally specific for the number of Spanish missionaries who historically populated the area, this takes the Anaheim Angels concept to a whole new level of ridiculousness and is in no way a fitting baseball team name.

I think the end result is that baseball has a lot more really bad names than football.

Spoil the Broth

Thursday, November 2nd, 2006

Incidentally, I think the word “broth” is a very strange sounding word. But that’s neither here nor there.

Lost Spoilers Below

So Eko kicked the bucket last night. I thought it was a suitable death although I more or less pieced together that he was marked for passing ahead of time. I agree with some of the forum monkeys who point out that having Eko die at this point sort of undermines the whole point of Locke’s vision quest or whatever which indicated he was supposed to save Eko. I guess the act of saving him alone accomplished whatever needed to be accomplished but it still made it seem kind of pointless.

The big revelations of this episode were the eyepatch man viewed in the monitors, presumably located in another station. A glass eye was found by the tailies in the station we know from the blast door map to be The Arrow so maybe the glass eye belongs to him. Also the videotape played for Jack by Juliet while she was rambling on with the company line was creepy and, I thought, one of the most effective old-school “Lost Moments” of the whole year.

Of course a lot of discussion has centered around whether Juliet and Ben are really on the outs or if this is part of a long con to get Jack to comply with their wishes. I think the excuse that Ben had for his actions (“We had a complicated plan to break you and get you to think we were the good guys”) was kind of limp. We’re talking about Jack who has seen the deaths of several people, the attempted murders of some other people and plenty of kidnappings at the hands of the Others, not to mention that while Ben (nee Henry Gale) was a captive of the Losties he actively lied and manipulated in order to be freed or gain information. Jack knows all this. Did they really think they could change his mind, especially since they seem to be so well informed about Jack’s personality: The writers have gone well out of their way to establish Jack as a very stubborn, unyielding person. Are we supposed to believe that these people—The Others—made such a monumental mistake as to try to break the one person who is most likely to take an incredibly long time to wear down when time was a critical factor since the longer they take the more likely Ben is to die from his cancer?

I don’t think so.

I’m more of the mind that the whole thing is an elaborate con (the Others have already proved they can con a conman with Sawyer so they are good at this) and while it’s debatable whether this was the original plan all along or if they are just experts at improvisation, the point is that they are playing a very elaborate game of good cop/bad cop. But what frustrates me is that, if I’m Jack, I tell Ben this: “You want me to save your life? Fine. But I think if I do that, you owe me big. Huge. Massive. So here’s the deal: Right here and now, you tell me what the heck is going on here. Who are you people? How did you get here? What do you want with us? Gimme the whole story. After I hear what you have to say, you send my friends (that would be Sawyer and Kate) back to our camp. As proof, you’ll take all three of us there. When they’re safe, I come back with you and perform the operation. If anything—anything, about your story, the return, the surgery, my subsequent release, anything at all—seems suspect, you won’t know until you don’t wake up. If you’re on the level, you’ll live. If you try to play me, you die. That’s the deal, take it or leave it. Otherwise, kill me now. Of course, if you go that route, you die too.”

Of course that would be very un-Lost like since, apparently, none of the characters are really all that concerned with what the deal is with this place, the Others or anything else. They spend a lot of time doing stuff to figure it out, but they never actually try to think or talk it out.

Your Routine is Changeless

I had this long thing written about how I got a new job. But it was pretty boring and when I start boring myself I assume that the rest of you have long since dozed off. I guess some people check the site while at work and since I don’t want anyone to get in trouble with their bosses for snoozing at work, I try to avoid the interminable anecdotes.

So yeah, I have a new job that I start in about three weeks. Woo!

Brevity

It has been linked all over, but in case you missed it: Best pie chart ever.

Moron-a-Thon

Friday, October 27th, 2006

A couple of weeks ago I was getting frustrated with my TiVo constantly being out of available space. I have a fairly low capacity 40-hour Series 2 which, when combined with the horribly poor reception I receive from the non-boxed cable signal that requires me to record pretty much everything on one of the highest quality settings (thus taking up more space), often leads to issues where things don’t get recorded not due to scheduling conflicts but lack of available disk space.

After a particularly frustrating couple of days earlier this month during which I had this happen to me several times, I went through and fiddled with my Season Passes to try and help the problem. One of my solutions was that I trimmed the “Keep at Most” option of several high-profile SPs (shows I watch pretty much right after they air or at least no more than a day later) down to “1.” My thought process was, “I’ll always watch and clear these shows out, so why keep them around?”

Well, here’s why: Nik and I both watch Lost. But Lost comes on at 9:00 PT and I never start watching a one-hour show any earlier than twenty minutes after it has begun airing. The reason is that after twenty minutes you can usually skip through all the commercials because you’ve built a sufficient buffer and by the end of the show you’ve only just caught up to the live broadcast. But 9:20 is pretty close to when Nik heads off to bed. Being a more night-owl type (or just being more content to zombie-walk through my day) I don’t mind staying up until after ten or even after eleven. But Lost night is kind of tricky because I work in an office full of Lost fans. If I don’t watch the show the night it airs the inconsiderate TiVo-less hacks that work there will spoil the whole episode with their water cooler chatter before I even have a chance to watch it.

So this season we’ve been splitting the views up; I watch the show Wednesday night and then sometime during the next week Nik sits down to catch up and I re-watch it with her (because Lost usually is good for at least two viewings).

Well, last week the episode (“Further Instructions”) was pretty weak. When I griped about it, Nik faltered on wanting to watch it and in the end never got around to firing it up (actually, getting her to watch any sort of TV, including rented DVDs, has been something of a chore lately since she’s clearly addicted to playing Ticket to Ride online). But I forgot that I had changed all my Season Passes so I didn’t think to delete the previous episode before this week’s began. When I snapped on the set around 9:30 to start watching, I was confused that Lost wasn’t being picked up. It took me a few minutes to piece together what had happened and by the time I did I ended up with only the last twenty minutes of the show recorded.

I was pretty annoyed but I figured that it wasn’t a huge deal because abc.com makes a big to-do out of offering episodes of their shows online. Yeah, that may be theoretically true but the actual execution of those online episodes leaves something to be desired. I tried four different times with three different browsers on two computers to try and watch the whole show on ABC’s website. I only ever got the first fifteen minutes in before it would restart from the beginning or just stop playing and refuse to ever start again. After copious frustration I ended up settling for those first fifteen minutes and then the last twenty I had caught on TiVo and tried my best to piece together what happened in between.

Nik and I decided we would download the episode from iTunes Music Store later this week to watch the whole thing together but I don’t know that I can properly describe the level of frustration I was feeling yesterday.

And that was before I watched the Sharks game.

I Hope He Got a Big Bribe

I’ll give the Nashville Predators one thing: Their forecheck was phenomenal last night and the Sharks didn’t seem to puzzle out what was being done to them all night, even when they were pressing in the Nashville zone. It was clear from the sidelines that the Preds struggled in their own zone and knew it so they were going to do everything they could to keep it out of their zone as much as possible. Checking the boxscore, you might think that plan simply worked.

But you would be overlooking the one other part to the Predators’ plan which was obviously to grease the officials’ pockets with fat wads of cash to ensure that the Sharks lost, no matter how unfair it was.

I’m sure I’ll be accused of seeing the game through teal-colored glasses but I challenge anyone to watch the full game and not feel like the Sharks were the victims of bad call after bad call as well as having blatant, dangerous plays made against them in full view of some ref and there was no whistle to be heard. I think even Nashville fans should worry about the officiating in that game because if the Preds think they can play that way and get away with it every night, eventually they are going to jack someone up badly and have one of their players end up suspended or fined or put on a five minute major penalty.

I’ll go ahead and ignore the first boarding call that was blatantly overlooked late in the first period. Whatever. The guy wasn’t hurt and as much as I griped about it at the time, I would find out soon enough that it could get much, much worse. Third period comes and Toskala is whacked by several late coming after-the-whistle Predators. A minor melee ensues in which offsetting minors give the teams some 4-on-4 time. Questionable maybe but one could shrug it off. Then a few minutes later Toskala moves behind the net to play a puck and is promptly boarded by a forechecking Nashville player.

Was he really boarded? You better believe it. His face was to the wall, he was playing the puck and the Predators player hit him square in the numbers and tossed him in the boards. It wasn’t incidental contact, it wasn’t the result of some defender pushing him awkwardly: He flat-out checked the goalie and did so in a very dangerous way with the referee standing no more than five feet away.

No. Call.

Actually, there was a call on the Sharks defender following up on the play who put his stick down on the Predators player and got called for cross-checking. Cross checking. I’ve seen superstar goalies get goaltender interference calls for accidentally tripping them up behind the net by spraying ice on their pads, but Toskala gets full on checked in the back toward the boards where he could have easily been injured in full view of the ref and there’s a call on the Sharks? Absolutely unbelievable. And what makes it really suspect is that this happened right at the end of the game with the Sharks down by one and pretty much in full press on Nashville and threatening to score.

Maybe I’ve been watching too many online conspiracy theory videos lately, but I’m just saying that seemed like the worst possible call at the worst possible time.

But my suspicions would amount to nothing if the Sharks had been ahead or tied at the time. And the fact is, they were, only the scoreboard didn’t reflect it because the referee straight up stole a goal from the Sharks. It went down like this: The Sharks rush Tomas Vokoun who stacks the pad and goes down. A Sharks forward crashes into him and the puck rebounds clear and is stuffed home by the trailing Sharks player. The goal light goes on, the Sharks start to celebrate… and then the ref skates up with speed flinging his arms wildly in the “no goal” motion. No goal? What play was that guy watching? Even if he lost sight of the puck, he was in a bad location to see it and certainly shouldn’t have whistled it down that quickly.

So they checked the tape. Clearly a goal. Then they decided the call must have been that the whistle blew before the second Sharks player actually buried it in the net. So they play it real-time with on-ice audio. And the puck sails into the net a full three seconds before any whistle is heard, even from the bribed mistaken referee.

At this point the Sharks fall prey to my biggest pet peeve in all of sports: The non-reviewable call.

Okay so let’s assume for a moment that you aren’t one of those technophobes who think that instant replay doesn’t belong in sports. What is the rationale for including instant replay review in a sporting contest? To get the call right. I mean, why else? The assumption there is that the officials are fallible humans who don’t always have the benefit of watching plays from various angles and in anything slower than real-time (which in a game like hockey is pretty fast). So you offer them an “out” by allowing calls to be corrected based on video evidence.

Now I understand that certain plays or calls don’t work from a review standpoint. For example, if a player fumbles a ball in football but the play is called dead by an official which stops the progression of both teams, it’s hard to fix that because the teams should have had the opportunity to try and recover the ball and make a play with it. Overturning a call on a play whose result can’t be re-created simply won’t work.

But in this case we’re talking about a goal. A goal. This is a binary play: Either it was a legitimate goal, or it was not. A referee can’t say “I meant to blow the whistle earlier” any more than a player can say, “I didn’t mean to sock that guy in the head during his breakaway.” Intention doesn’t matter. In this case the on-ice call was no goal but so what? We reviewed the play and the no-goal call was flat incorrect. But it’s not like something happened that couldn’t be re-created. It’s easy, you called it no goal but you were wrong because the video replay shows that it was a goal so you overturn the on-ice call to “goal” and give the Sharks the point they deserve and swallow your pride.

Although I’m sure it’s easier to stand your ground with all the money in your pockets weighing you down.

A Slew of Screeds

Wednesday, October 25th, 2006

Today’s agenda will be dealing with Heroes, T-Shirts, San Jose Sharks, San Francisco and TiVo. Also if you visit GameSpot or subscribe to the RSS feed, my video game-specific blog has a post regarding the New Super Mario Bros. game for DS. You may have noticed that I put an RSS feed thing over in the right column for the GameSpot blog (titled “A Gamer Darkly” for no real particular reason) which may not be all that useful but does at least provide an updated link to the latest posts made over there.

The Hero Lies In You

Someone on the TiVo web forum mentioned in the discussion of last night’s episode of Heroes that so far the Heroes aren’t really acting very… heroic. This is a fair criticism for a show called “Heroes” but I think one of the themes the show is very effectively dealing with is that just because someone is born extraordinary doesn’t mean they’re born with an understanding of how to cope with that. Many of the characters on the show are either in denial about their abilities or not convinced that they aren’t just plain crazy rather than remarkable.

Another complaint I’ve heard a lot was regarding Hiro’s ability to communicate with Nathan in the diner in this week’s “Hiros” episode. I’m not quite sure I understand that gripe since in a previous episode (in which Hiro travelled to the future) he was able to more or less communicate with everyone until the conversation got so specific and law-enforcement related (which is almost a subset of English in itself) that Hiro realized he may not be fully comprehending what was being said and wanted his English-fluent friend to talk to the officials to make sure he didn’t get himself into more hot water than he was already in.

It’s not unreasonable for a Japanese guy to understand basic English (probably at about a third or fourth grade level speaking-wise) and he seems to have a decent grasp for reading it (based on his familiarity with American comic books and television) so his ability to have a fairly simple conversation about a topic he is familiar with in English terms makes total sense to me. As a few people pointed out also, there’s no better way to crash-course language than through immersion and he’s certainly been immersed in English-speaking environments for several days now. I didn’t find it at all unusual for him to speak to Nathan.

Some people have wondered what is so special about Claire that she warrants the “Save the Cheerleader, Save the World” mantra. My personal theory is that Peter is the key to stopping the bomb, but he needs the powers of the others in order to do so and specifically, he needs Claire’s ability to regenerate to keep him alive long enough to pull off his world-saving gambit. But that’s just speculation.

One interesting question that I haven’t been able to determine from the information presented so far is whether Isaac’s future-reading powers are triggered or in any way related to his heroin use or if that is simply a mechanism he’s instituted for himself to cope with the ability. I would guess based on the fact that Peter can use the power when in his presence without any drugs (and Isaac wasn’t high at the time either) that the heroin-power connection is all in Isaac’s mind.

Here’s something else that’s interesting: Most supernatural comic book characters (i.e., those that aren’t just heroic humans like Batman) have a hefty amount of combat-readiness to their powers. Consider that Spider-Man has exceptional strength and agility (certainly an asset in a fight); Storm can control the weather such that she can send bolts of lightning at foes; Cyclops is practically all combat with his laser-eyes and so on. But most of the characters in Heroes actually don’t have a lot of combat ability: Isaac’s future-seeing (at least in its current incarnation) wouldn’t help much in a fight; Matt’s mind-reading is certainly useful but not really combat-ready; Peter’s power absorption isn’t intrinsically combat-ready unless he was fighting someone who’s powers were combat-oriented; even Nathan’s flight ability is helpful but aside from the apparent speed he has, he hasn’t shown any hint of being capable of handling more pain or taking more punishment than anyone else which means that while he could speed-fly fist-first into a foe, he would probably hurt himself as much as whomever he was fighting. In fact, only Niki (whose powers are still vague at best but who may be super-strong based on the fact that she probably weighs about 110 lbs. and she cut a guy in half), Hiro and Claire are likely to be of any real use in a fight and even then, Claire would survive the fight for a long time, but her ability to win such a combat (except by attrition) is questionable.

Shirts Shaped Like Tees

So I ordered some shirts off of Threadless.com yesterday because they were having a sweet sale where most of the shirts were only $10. The site is pretty cool in that it allows people to upload T-shirt designs which get voted on by the site users and the most popular designs actually get made and put up for sale.

I have a strong dislike for clothing that turns me into a walking billboard which is why most of the clothes I wear are either plain or feature something I like such as a band. I guess band shirts make you into a walking ad for that particular group, but somehow that works for me since it’s something I actually endorse versus wearing a Nike shirt or something that very obviously came from Wal-Mart or whatever.

In this case many of the designs are clever but avoid being at all ad-like, which means I don’t feel quite as boring as wearing one of my (literally) six plain black shirts but I don’t have to worry about my soul.

Plus, $10 each. How can you go wrong?

Powerhouse?

I was reading an article on ESPN.com about the Red Wings’ fall to mediocrity and in the article columnist Damien Cox uses the adjective “powerhouse” to describe the Sharks.

That was kind of nice to read.

Of course the Sharks are obviously not invincible. While I’m certainly happy with the start to the season 7-2-0, and it is definitely a plus that three of those seven wins have been shutouts in the Sharks favor, those two losses were kind of ugly. One was the really bizarre game versus the Edmonton Oilers in which there were two natural hat tricks (one by Cheechoo to put the Sharks up 4-1 and then one by Ryan Smyth which ended up putting the Oilers ahead). That game could be written off just because of the strangeness of it all but the 4-1 loss to the Minnesota Wild was pretty sad considering the Sharks out shot the Wild 32 to 18 and the Wild beat Nabokov four times while Manny Fernandez only missed one of the barrage.

I certainly understand that the Sharks can’t be expected to win every game and I don’t mind giving up the occasional 6-4 insanity game or even a 3-2 nailbiter that goes down to the last five minutes of the third period. But I certainly don’t want to the see the Sharks out there in a futile effort through two periods and only score once just to keep themselves off the shutout. The tough thing about the Sharks being a “powerhouse” is that it’s hard not to watch them play and expect them to win pretty much every game.

The big test comes tonight when the Sharks play in Detroit, a road venue they have practically never emerged from victorious during the regular season. They handled the Red Wings soundly the other night in San Jose but if they can show the same poise and ability in Detroit, that will be quite a statement to Sharks fans.

One other thing I was thinking about which stemmed from my recent visit to the Tank for the Dallas game is that the HP Pavillion needs to do a bit of upgrading. For one thing they need those arena-spanning HD screens between decks. They installed them at AT&T park in San Francisco and I noticed that several of the road games the Sharks have played have been in stadiums with those wraparound screens. They look nice because for one the quality is phenomenal which means you can put player photos and stuff on there and they actually look like someone you might recognize (versus the aging JumboTron technology which still looks like staring at a newspaper print way too closely to my eyes) but also because they wrap around the whole stadium you can get some nice graphical effects going with bright, vibrant colors that really help with the atmosphere. Plus, I thought the Sharks were supposed to be this very technology-friendly team and they have these embarrassingly antique Lite Brite-looking signs. So lame.

Fog City

Nik and I spent some time in San Francisco this weekend, belatedly celebrating our seventh wedding anniversary. We would have celebrated closer to the actual date but I was afflicted with my hades-spawned flu which was not very romantic, to say the least.

Anyway we mostly just hung out and wandered around the touristy areas like Pier 39, which we’ve both done about a thousand times before but the point wasn’t what we were doing but who we were doing it with. Eventually we wandered down the waterfront so we could eat at Joe’s Crab Shack which is a sort of tacky little place that has some really tasty food and, of course, copious options for crab lovers.

I recently was able to turn Nikki on to the joy of crab and she’s been near-insatiable ever since. I think her 1 lb. fresh dungeness crab order may have cured her for the time being but she certainly seemed to enjoy her meal. We stayed there for quite a while, talking and eating and watching the Bushman across the street.

If you’ve never been to San Francisco you probably aren’t familiar with the extraordinary number of street performers that crowd the touristy locations around the city. Street performers are a kind of unique beast in that they are simultaneously fascinating and yet annoying. Some of them are actually remarkably talented: Musicians, performance artists, etc. But at the same time they are only a slight step above your average panhandler which there are far too many of in SF anyway.

Still, all that is forgiven in the case of the Bushman.

The Bushman is a street performer whose schtick is pure genius in its cleverness. Basically he gathers up a bunch of random tree branches; medium-sized ones, obviously never anything that requires a large amount of effort to obtain. He gathers two fistfuls of these branches and squats on a little stool or empty bucket, clutching the branches in front of him so he is basically hidden from one side of the sidewalk. He does this right on a regular sidewalk so to careful observers he basically sticks out like a sore thumb. But most people aren’t that observant so if they’re coming toward the “bush” they will probably dismiss it as nothing spectacular and continue on their way.

When they get close, Bushman drops the branches just a bit a scares the heck out of the passerby.

The good thing is that he doesn’t go out of his way for the huge scare. That would probably be a little mean. And part of the joke is that once you’ve been burned, you realize how silly it was to not notice a random bush in the middle of the sidewalk.

The best part (and where Bushman makes his money) is being in on the joke as an observer. Bushman is pretty good about understanding when to try his scare (too often and people would see it happen up ahead and be prepared, too infrequent and the constantly gathered crowd would get bored and drift away). A few folks with good senses of humor will tip Bushman after falling for his trap, amusingly it is often the boyfriend or husband of the startled woman (girls react far more entertainingly than most guys) who drops some cash for the laugh. But mostly the Bushman hits up the crowds of laughing onlookers for tips.

Sitting up in Joe’s Crab Shack (right across from Bushman’s favorite haunt), you can observe his prowess without being prone to his requests for donations. It’s a good time. And the crab ain’t bad, either.

TiVo is Hurting Itself

Much has been made of the demise of TiVo. Granted, they have and will continue to have a hard time competing with cable-company and satellite TV company offerings, despite the constant complaints about those knock-off interfaces and feature sets being sub-par. Users will put up with a lot of crud for the sake of convenience.

But there are things that TiVo could do to help itself, and it seems to me that they aren’t doing them.

For one thing, they move slow. I would expect the behemoth cable companies to be playing catch-up to TiVo, but I haven’t seen that to be the case. How long did it take TiVo to get a unit out that could record HD? And when it did come out, they priced it at an insane $800 MSRP. Whew.

And don’t even get me started on Mac support for the TiVo2Go software/feature. After “working hard” on the issue for like two years, we get this back in January and then nothing for nine months. Look, it takes less time to fabricate a human being than it’s taken to even see a beta of this product. Come on.

What really frustrates me is the simple things. TiVo’s features should be fairly easily updatable and yet there are so few service upgrades getting pushed out to users it’s kind of criminal. Take a look at this list of requested enhancements. Most of those are very reasonable requests, especially stuff like complete boolean capabilities for Wish Lists. I can’t tell you how badly I want to have my “49ERS” season pass not pick up junk like “49ers Preview Show” and “49ers Total Access” and “49ers Playbook.” I want the game, not the rest of the junk. But 49ers games show up on a title search as the generic “NFL Football” so I can’t just get a Season Pass to that or I’d get the stupid Jets vs. Dolphins games and stuff, probably at the expense of Niners games or at the very least at the expense of something else I’d rather watch. If I could say “Title = ‘NFL Football’ AND Description CONTAINS (‘San Francisco’ OR ’49ERS’)” I would be golden.

This has been a problem since the Series1 TiVos, so what’s the holdup? In the meantime I end up juggling my Season Pass list constantly, trying to find a happy medium. For example, I want Sharks games almost all the time. But sometimes it depends on when the game starts and what else is playing. I can put it below something like Lost or Heroes and know that the Sharks game will always be pre-empted for those shows, but what frustrates me is that if the Sharks game starts at 5:30 and a show I don’t want to miss will start at 8:00, I’d rather have the first two and a half hours of the game and then switch over to the show. I thought that was what the clipping feature was supposed to do but unless I’m doing something wrong it doesn’t work like that.

At the time it hardly matters, I’d rather have my TiVo than not and I don’t really qualify (what with our freakish cable situation) for any other options. But eventually we’ll move out of this apartment and when Comcast comes knocking on my door offering me a $9.99 additional fee for dual-tuner DVR functionality with a higher capacity than I have now my loyalty to TiVo is going to be tested because I just don’t feel like TiVo is working hard enough to keep me loyal.

So what do you say, TiVo? How ’bout you step it up and keep a once-happy customer?

I Can’t Find a New Direction

Thursday, October 19th, 2006

I need to talk about ‘Lost’ so for those of you who aren’t caught up with the most recent episodes (including last night’s episode, “Further Instructions”) may want to skip this for the time being; I’m not going to bother spoiler-tagging anything.

After watching last night I started thinking about what I mentioned the other day where the viewers seem divided into two camps: One are the ones who watch the show to see the characters develop and the other contains the people who are interested in the story of the Island and how the castaways work to figure out where they are and what happened. To a certain extent the producers of the show have indidcated that they’re approaching the show from the perspective of the first camp: To them, the characters are the key and they will devote their time to telling the stories of these characters.

But I think what people miss is that you can’t do either/or. In many ways, the stories of these characters are the stories about the Island and the plane crash. You have to deal with what the Island is, where they are, how it all happened and how the survivors are going to deal with their situation or else why would you even introduce all those elements? But the context for that is the characters themselves: They react to the situation they’re in because of who they are, who they were and to an extent who they will become because of this ordeal they face. It is important to show the flashbacks so we have a sense of what motivates these people to do what they do here on this Island, as a castaway. But it is equally important to show what the outcome of those previous experiences are now that they relate to their current dire situation. It’s what makes the story a story.

What distresses me is that after last night’s show I started to get the sense that the writers aren’t really doing that. Instead it seems like they’re spinning their wheels, revealing neither anything further about the Island mysteries nor revealing anything useful or pertinent about the characters themselves through flashbacks. Consider Locke’s story this week: We’ve already previously established that he’s an overly trusting sort of guy and that things go badly for him quite a bit because of it. He’s been hurt by people who’ve taken advantage of his nature and his vulnerabilities that he wears on his sleeve and more than once. His obsessive nature and his need to see himself as a real man, as a salt-of-the-Earth type who can take charge of a situation or even of his life contrasts with his misfortune and leads him to places that he doesn’t want to go. He’s proud without really having a reason to be so and each time life hands him lemons he squeezes them into his previous wounds and becomes ever more disenfranchised.

But we’ve learned all this from previous Locke-centric episodes. Everything that happened last night only reiterated these same themes and revelations. The only thing we learned here is that Locke’s gullibility has negatively impacted the people around him, the people he cares about; it hasn’t just been limited in scope to his own life.

But so what? We could have inferred that already. It doesn’t have much impact on the way he conducts himself on the Island because it only tells us what we already knew. We wouldn’t have been surprised to see Locke act exactly the same way he did even without the backstory of him ‘cleaning up his own mess’ because we expect Locke to be the kind of guy to handle his own business already. He’s been established as that kind of guy.

I’m worried that the Lost writers are starting to get to the point where they aren’t just being stingy with their revelations, they’re actively afraid to reveal anything at all. If I had to speculate I’d say it’s because they’re terrified that when the revelations do come, people won’t like them. I think they may fear that they will reveal something irrevokeable that will be ill-received and there won’t be anything they can do about it. Perhaps they are second-guessing their direction and want to try to make the magic last as long as possible: You can’t lose viewers as long as they’re still tuning in hoping to find out what’s going on. Once you start to tell them what they want to know, they can start judging you and being critical for the decisions you’ve made.

And truthfully, they would be absolutely correct. Someone—likely many someones—aren’t going to be happy with whatever explanation the writers come up with for the myriad of mysteries they’ve introduced. Someone out there has probably already theorized something that comes very close to what the writers had in mind all along to explain the bizarre events thrown at us since the very beginning. Most of the theories I’ve read have come across as kind of stupid. Chances are, I won’t be happy when I finally learn what’s really going on.

But that’s the way it goes. And the difference between a dumb explanation and a brilliant one isn’t really going to be the explanation itself, but rather the execution of that revelation. Even the popular purgatory theory, as lame as it is stated flatly like that, could be intriguing if done in a novel way. Consider the X-Files as a prime example: The real truth behind that show’s mysteries was uninspired. Aliens were working to colonize the Earth using an extraterrestrial parasite and the conspirators were working to save a handful of powerful individuals (mostly themselves) from the inevitable fate of the rest of mankind. Not exactly groundbreaking stuff. But the problem was that the execution of the story was ham-fisted and when the truth was finally revealed, most viewers weren’t even sure they had the whole story. “So… what is the conspiracy?” they asked. “We already told you. Didn’t you get the memo?” the producers replied. “Oh,” viewers said. “We just thought it would be… something better.”

A lot of that had to do with the fact that the writers of the X-Files had no plan to reveal the information. The doled out details sparingly, painfully slowly, in unrelated bits and pieces until we were just supposed to know we knew all there was to know. If Lost wants to avoid this fate they need to have a clear plan for getting some of the questions they’ve raised answered. So here’s my list of things that we (as the audience) definitely need to know by the time Season 3 is over, and a few things we shouldn’t know just yet.

Things We Need to Know By the End of Season Three

  • Who are the Others? Where did they come from? Why are they doing what they’re doing? The motivations and origins of the Others aren’t really all that interesting when you get right down to it. Their existence as a source of conflict for our heroes is enough but we don’t need season upon season of this air of mystery that surrounds them. At some point it is reasonable that some protagonist will either find out or get an Other into a comprimising enough situation that they can extract the pertinent information about the Others’ motivations and origins. By the end of this season we should be more concerned with how the Others are going to go about executing their plans than what those plans are in the first place. We should know why they kidnap people; what happens to people who get kidnapped by them; how they got to the Island, how they have contact with the outside world and why they choose to stay on the Island.
  • What was the relationship between the Dharma Initiative and the Others? We don’t need to know everything about the Dharma Initiative just yet (see below), but we should at least have an idea about whether the Others are decended from the Dharma Initiative or if they are completely unrelated to them or if they are the new face of the DI. We should know why the Others seem to be comfortable in Dharma facilities but don’t seem to necessarily need them for their survival. We should learn why the Others disguised themselves as uncivilized jungle people for the sake of the Losties and whether or not that has anything to do with the Dharma project(s) or the Dharma representatives who obviously continue to operate at some capacity.
  • What happened to Rousseau and her team? What is ‘The Sickness’? Rousseau remains something of an enigma but for no good reason. She seems to trust some (if not all) of the Losties and considers the Others either direct or indirect enemies which gives her every reason to come clean with the Losties. They should be able to figure out that Rousseau’s daughter, Alex, is still alive and living with the Others by asking a few people the right questions; they should also be able to figure out that Alex’s heart is not entirely with the Others and that a reunion between Alex and Rousseau could be arranged. We should figure out the particulars of The Sickness and why it affects some people but not others and whether or not the Losties have begun to see some of their members exhibit symptoms of The Sickness.
  • Why is the Island so difficult to find and/or leave? This may be difficult to explain without revealing all the Island’s mysteries (see below) but it would be useful from a suspension-of-disbelief point of view to have some sort of explanation (probably from one of the Others) as to why Desmond wasn’t able to leave the Island, why Sawyer, Jin and Michael couldn’t escape and why no rescue attempt is likely (even accepting the explanation in the Pilot of the plane being 1,000 miles off course, after almost two months I doubt the media or the government would write off a commercial jet carrying a Federal prisoner and a multi-millionaire lottery winner as “just one of those freaky things”).

Things We Shouldn’t Know By the End of Season Three

  • An explanation of the Island’s apparent supernatural powers. Why is Locke able to walk? How did Rose’s cancer go into remission? What’s with the black smoke/Island monster? How are people always having visions? The supernatural elements of the Island are among its most enigmatic but they work on a storytelling level very effectively. However, once you start explaining the supernatural, the explanation is almost always a letdown and the storytelling power of those elements dissapates almost instantly. If we ever have to have a reason for why these thing are or how they work, I hope it comes at the very end of the show when it is no longer of any consequence. I’m just as happy having the Island’s power be one of those things that just can’t be explained.
  • The Dharma Initiative. The truth behind the Dharma Initiative is something that will hopefully be a fascinating series of revelations, and the capacity at which they continue to operate could lead to some very tense and compelling stories. But it’s too early to start revealing all that. Season Three needs to be all about getting the truth behind the Others out in the open and once that is out of the way, they can start worrying about how to deal with the Dharma Initiative. Until we know what role the Others play or played in the Dharma Initiative’s work and what they want from the Losties and the Island, explanations about the DI are going to be hollow and uninteresting. I think it is completely possible to have the Others be related to and/or decended from the DI and still have the Initiative be shrouded in deeper mystery to be revealed later. But until the immediate threat is dealt with, any details or conspiracy plots relating to a mysterious research firm are going to be beside the point.
  • The links between the Losties. Any discussion as to fate or the greater purpose behind each member of the ensemble surviving the crash or being brought to the Island is something that would have the most narrative impact toward the end of the show, once we’ve had a chance to see more of the spiderweb of interconnected links unfold during the flashback sequences. Any sort of “Eko is here for faith; Locke is here for his tracking; Claire is here for her nuturing; Jack is here for his leadership, etc” team-building rah-rah is dumb and clichéd and lacks punch unless it all becomes clear in one startling moment just before they are all resuced or some final confrontation ensues.
  • The truth about Penelope. The end of Season Two showed us that the outside world still exists and people are actively searching for the castaways. That’s intriguing, no doubt. But as soon as the outside world starts to become a factor in the lives of our heroes or the events happening on the Island, we can no longer just blindly accept things like smoke monsters and parapalegics that can miraculously walk. These things have to start having explanations because the outside forces who are converging on the Island are going to demand answers. Right now with no communication and complete isolation, the characters (and by proxy) the audience can simply accept what they see without question. But when real life in the show starts to seep in, real life questions have to be asked by both character and audience alike. That’s something we can stand to do without for a while.

So there you go. I’ll revisit this after the Season 3 finale and see how they did. In the meantime I hope next week’s episode has more to offer than this week’s.

Want to Catch You Awake

Wednesday, October 18th, 2006

A few thoughts:

  • I mentioned yesterday that NBC would be re-airing all the non-Pilot episodes of Heroes in case you missed them. That’s happening Sunday, October 22 or this coming Sunday evening at 8/7c.
  • I’ve had a chance to play with the iPod adapter interface for the new head unit on Nikki’s car stereo. I have to say, this is the way to listen to an iPod in a car. It sure beats the heck out of the clunky cassette adapter interfaces and FM transmitters. Very much the way to go as far as that kind of thing is concerned.
  • This is sweet as those LightScribe devices are something I’ve been interested in for a while now. Nik and I have been burning a lot of CDs lately since I’m much more comfortable having a CD folder crammed full of 100 burned disc copies than I am having 100 of my $15 CDs sitting around in a car and it’s nice to be able to make minor adjustments to certain discs (leaving off songs you don’t care for, etc).
  • Of course with the Sirius radio and iPod connection, CDs seem a bit less useful than they may have been previously. The one instance where they are useful is with specific mixes because both Nikki’s Nano and even my 20GB iPod are too small to hold our entire collection so we have to update via playlist which prohibits having multiple playlists on the iPod itself (which is not a limitation when your iTunes Library is smaller than the capacity of the iPod). I haven’t really paid close attention to the latest iPod models but it looks like I could get an 80GB model for about what I paid for my 20GB 4G. Unfortunately as is fairly common with Apple their options aren’t really ideal for what I’m looking for. 80GB is excessive, but 30GB is a bit too small (my Library is running around 26GB at the moment) and the price differential between the two is kind of baffling. $249 for the 30GB and $349 for the 80GB? Especially when the 8GB Nano is also $249? Huh? In my mind the pricing would be $79/1GB Shuffle; $99/2GB Nano; $149/4GB Nano; $199/8GB Nano; $249/30GB; $299/50GB (what I would consider, if it existed); $349/80GB. That leaves the bottom and top end models at exactly the same price and doesn’t have any crossover from one model or price point to the next. It does make the jump from Nano to regular iPod pretty hefty in terms of price-per-gig but at least it makes more sense than offering 8GB and 30GB for the exact same price. Good grief.
  • While I was sick I watched a lot of ESPN because it is a heck of a lot more interesting in the middle of the day than any other channel. What drives me nuts about ESPN is their obvious sports bias: This is ostensibly a channel devoted to 24/7 coverage of the world of sports and yet they run about seven and a half hours of repeats per day, of which the breakdown by sport is something like 75% NFL, 15% MLB, 5% NBA, 3% NASCAR, 2% Golf and the remaining 1% being split equally among the NHL and any other sport they can come up with which happens to have a “newsworthy” highlight that particular day, including horse racing, ping pong, professional bowling, poker and that Scottish sport where they throw the telephone pole straight up in the air in an attempt to… uh, not get conked on the head by it when it inevitably lands and tips directly back toward the tosser as though he were some sort of cartoon lumberjack. I fully understand that part of the problem is the American sports audience who would rather watch NFL press conferences than see potentially exciting Soccer highlights or definitely exciting hockey recaps but to a certain extent I wonder exactly how much analysis people are really clamoring for at the expense of decent sports news. Especially when they seem to struggle as Sunday fades and it gets to be Wednesday, Thursday, etc to come up with new stuff to talk about. Football teams only play once per week so there’s really only so much to say. At some point the news itself starts to create stories just to have something to talk about (“T.O. brushes his teeth left handed and Parcells tells him he’s jeopardizing the team’s unity!”) which is something that simply wouldn’t stand in any other type of journalism. I just wonder if it would really be so bad for ESPN to go ahead and do nothing but highlights and cover all kinds of sports from all over the world. I certainly wouldn’t mind being kept aprised of the English Soccer leagues (or, heaven forbid, the MLS) and amateur gymnastics or track and field events in non-Olympic years. It sure beats listening to John Clayton babble about how important Shaun Alexander is to the Seahawks for the sixth day in a row.
  • They decided to install a new application to manage all of Support at work. This is both a blessing and a curse: The old application had some very specific quirks that made it something of a pain to work with and it was also based off of old versions of our products so it was kind of embarassing for us to be so far behind our own customers in a lot of cases (especially since we spend so much of our time trying to get people to upgrade). Also the server that was central to our day-to-day work was very much showing its age and had started to become a serious liability for us. So the new application addressed a lot of those problems, which is a good thing. But the old application had been around long enough for several user-created interfaces to pop up that were designed by Support people which meant they did what we wanted/needed them to do. Now those interfaces have to be re-done to accomodate the new systems and most of them haven’t been updated yet. As a result my return to work has alternated from mild to severe pain as I’m forced to work with clunky, IT-designed interfaces that don’t work they way they should and in a lot of ways severely hamper my ability to do my job. Of course being out for almost two weeks means I’m behind as it is and this certainly isn’t helping me get caught up.
  • My dad posted a bunch of old movies for me to check out that I added to my Netflix queue this morning. If anyone else has any suggestions, I’m all ears.

Shut Out

Wednesday, October 18th, 2006

The Sharks game last night was a lot of fun; the seats were row nine of the upper deck just above and behind what ended up being the home ice goal. The great thing about the Shark Tank is that there really are no bad seats in the whole place and we had a nice view of the far side of the ice as well as some really great visuals of the near goal.

Of course the enjoyment of the game was helped by a 2-0 Sharks victory in which Nabokov looked as solid as I’ve seen him play in about three years. This was Nabby of old and near the end of the game the crowd was in a fever pitch chanting “Nab-by! Nab-by!” to spur him on to complete the shutout. He had some help from some solid defensive play including some nice physical work by HB‘s favorite whipping boy, Kyle McLaren.

I was also impressed to see the same play that Cheechoo and Bell scored on in the season opener work again for the Sharks second goal, it’s good to see that even when Cheech isn’t really finding the net that well he can still help out with some setups. It’s kind of surprising where all the points are coming from this year: The Sharks have one of the highest Goals For totals in the whole Western Conference (I think they’re actually tied for first with—of all people—Chicago) but Joe Thornton hasn’t scored one, Patrick Marleau has been pretty quiet on the scoring front and aside from that one freaky game where he nailed a natural Hat Trick, even Cheechoo hasn’t had any goals. Instead they’re coming from guys like Mihalek and… the defense.

Don’t get me wrong, I ain’t complaining. The Sharks are going to need contributions from everyone this year if they expect to be legitimate Cup contenders, and it’s nice to see that they aren’t having to rely on their top two lines to do all the offensive work. I just hope they keep it up; one thing that has stunted some good Sharks teams in the past has been the fact that whenever their top scorers go on the schnide for a while there has usually been no one around to pick up the slack. It looks like that might not be so much of a problem this year.

The one thing that has me a bit worried is this whole goaltender controversy. The problem as far as I’m concerned is that right now they’re both playing well and feeding off of each other to compete for the top spot. But the danger is that if it goes on too long they might both come to the conclusion that there is no top spot to attain and they’ll sort of give up trying as hard and figure, “We’re splitting the duty so I only really need to work half as hard.” Then you end up with two mediocre/underperforming goaltenders that you can’t deal anywhere. So the ideal would be to trade one of them as soon as possible.

So which one? That’s really tough in my mind because some people (I’m not saying me, I’m just saying some people) might argue that the last time this situation came up, the Sharks made the wrong move by sticking with Nabokov and dealing Kiprusoff. So do you fear making that same choice again and stick with Toskala even though you just signed Nabby to a pretty big contract extention last year or do you stick with your only Rookie of the Year and popular hometown netminder? How much weight do you apply to performance last year? Granted, Nabby was hurt and playing through injury a lot last year but it was really Toskala that got them as far as they did in the playoffs. What about performance this year? So far Toskala is unbeaten but Nabokov has two shutouts and his one loss was in a really wild, flukey kind of game.

My personal opinion is hard to sort out because I think I desperately want Nabokov to be the guy, but I worry because he’s had a lot of chances to be that guy and he’s dropped the ball more than he’s stepped up. I’ve never really been sold on Toskala’s panicky playing style and I can’t shake the feeling that he only plays as good as he does when he has something to prove. I worry that with Nabokov out of the picture as the number one guy, Toskala would flounder lacking the proper motivation. The Sharks have a great goalie system and the third stringer/future backup Nolan Schaefer looked really solid in very minimal play last year but I think if you held a gun to my head I would say I’d rather have him backing Nabby than Vesa.

Truthfully, I kind of want to keep them both but I understand that generally speaking that’s pretty pointless in the long run. So the real question becomes: What can we get for whomever we get rid of? I’m thinking if Raycroft sucks in Toronto (which he probably will), what about Bryan McCabe? He’s older but wouldn’t have to play as much in San Jose as he does in Toronto since the rest of the team is so young. Of course I would absolutely love to steal Dion Phaneuf from the Flames but I doubt they’d have a need for Toskala unless Kiprusoff got very badly hurt and I’m sure they’re fine with Jamie McLennan as a backup (not that Toskala would be too hip on going from one second-string spot to another, he’s going to want a #1 job). Plus I’m not sure I’d be too thrilled with handing one of our goaltenders off to a division rival again which is why I’m looking to the East.

Ideally Denis in Tampa Bay won’t work out and the Lightning will start shopping for someone to help save their fanbase and be willing to deal playoff-hero-turned-last-season-goat St. Louis whom I think is struggling less with his play and more with his club and would fit in nicely on the Sharks roster. Still, I think St. Louis probably still has too much name recognition in Tampa to be a realistic option (and I’m sure no one is going to repeat the debacle of the Thornton trade by giving up a franchise player to San Jose) but Fedotenko is pretty good and might be a nice replacement for Steve Bernier whom I like but I feel like should be playing more with Smith and Grier on a grinder line than the talented second line as a finesse guy. In any case the Sharks problem really isn’t offense but defense and Tampa Bay is pretty light in that category. My ideal trade would be to the Flyers who are struggling with a goalie controversy of their own, only theirs is between two mediocre players in Esche and Niittymaki. In return for Toskala we’d get Joni Pitkanen and Jeff Carter.

Land of the Living

Tuesday, October 17th, 2006

Whew.

It’s good to be back. Typically when I’m sick I spend a lot of time doing the kinds of things I like to do even when I’m not sick like playing video games and reading, that sort of thing. Then when I end up feeling well enough to go back to work, I kind of miss the free time to do whatever, you know?

Not this time. I had possibly the worst sick week (plus) ever this time around and it was nothing even close to fun. In fact I felt so bad the whole time that it was actually a pain to watch TV or movies, although that’s pretty much all I did. Even with the TiVo and Nikki constantly making runs to Hollywood Video to pick up movies for me to watch (eventually she just rented a whole season of 24 for me to watch which shut me up for a good four days) I was still scraping the bottom of the entertainment barrel quite a bit. I guess that’s what happens when you’re at home sick for 10 days straight, but it left me with a new appreciation for the time I have to do other, more interesting things.

As a matter of fact I got a new perspective and appreciation for pretty much everything in my life while I was sick. Being too miserable to sleep or eat or do much of anything for that long leaves a lot of time for thought and I kind of started realizing how much of my life I spend being grumpy about really pointless things. I came to a lot of other conclusions about some of the unfortunate choices I’ve been making lately mostly in terms of my attitude toward things that are either not worth the bother or indifferent attitudes toward things that actually do matter and hopefully I’ll try to be better about that. I suppose the only positive thing that came from being sick is that I got (hopefully) an improved perspective on my life. Something about absence making the heart grow fonder would probably be aproppriate here, if not tiresomely clichéd.

Anyway, I don’t have a lot of time or anything since I’m still trying to play catch up from all that time I missed out on, but I did have a few things I wanted to say today before I forget:

  • One of the many movies I watched last week was Double Indemnity, an old 1944 black and white noir picture starring Fred MacMurray, Barbara Stanwyck and Edward G. Robinson. It’s really quite good (although I liked The Big Sleep better) as many of the old pictures I’ve been watching have been. Unfortunately, I’m starting to run out of ideas for old movies to watch. I fully confess that this is due to ignorance and not a lack of quality material to check out; the next couple I have coming from Netflix are From Here to Eternity, All About Eve, The Guns of Navarone, Suspicion, M, Touch of Evil and The 39 Steps. Anyone know some others I should check out?
  • I watched season four of 24 like I mentioned above and it was much better than the season that stopped me from following it every year (the piteous season three), but the show still drives me insane. Mainly what makes me nuts is two things: One is why everything has to revolve around LA. I mean, I know the show is set there but c’mon: There should be enough time to make the travel realistic (how anyone gets all over LA in less than 20 minutes is beyond even the most forgiving critic) by spreading the love a little bit to different CTU branches and making things more plausibly spread out. Related to this quibble is why everything is handled by CTU. Aren’t there any other governmental agencies that can do some of this stuff like, say, the military? It makes no sense, especially when they spend twenty minutes of each episode griping about how “stretched thin” they all are. Well, delegate, people! Problem solved. My other beef is that they’re constantly sending like three people to go pick up these potentially well-armed suspects and then they act all surprised when only the main character survives the assault and they have to be rescued by someone else. I’m thinking if I need to bring in a suspect for questioning because they are the only person in the world who might be able to reveal the location of the bomb/terrorist leader/plane/kidnap victim/whatever, I’m sending in a freaking army to get them. I think the CTU people kind of cause more of their own problems than they seem to realize.
  • One show that I don’t have a lot of complaints with right now is Heroes. Man, I love that show. Last night’s episode was superb, yet again. The only thing that really bugs me about the show right now are the naysayers. Yes, it is very much like the X-Men. So what? The X-Men are cool, and this gives us a chance to see an X-Men-like story with new characters (so we aren’t bored with the origin stuff if we’ve read the comics already) and a re-imagined take on the whole superheroes concept. I think it’s working very well and the pacing seems to be just about perfect: I’m always left wanting more but they aren’t killing me slowly with the glacial pace of the plot like Lost. One of the great Lost debates is the Characters-vs-Story discussion where some people say they are more interested in the character development and therefore don’t mind the so-slow pace of the Island Mysteries aspect but others (like me) think the characters should really be there to move the story along so the development of the characters becomes almost meaningless since it takes over the whole show leaving the plot to flounder. With Heroes they got it all right by developing the characters at a nice clip but letting those developments also push the plot forward. Very well done and I was quite pleased to hear that the show got picked up for the rest of the season. If you haven’t already started watching this show, I can’t recommend it enough and I’ve heard they plan to run a brief marathon of the last three episodes (not including the Pilot) sometime in the next week so if you haven’t seen it yet, keep an eye out for that to help you catch up.
  • So the final consensus on the new Decemberists album is that it may surpass Picaresque in terms of total quality and has quickly shot to near the top of my all-time favorite albums list. Love it. On the other hand, the new Evanescence album, The Open Door is bland and uninspired and quite a disappointment. Nik also picked up AFI’s Decemberunderground album from iTunes on the strength of a couple of singles she heard on the radio. It’s not too bad, really although I need to give it a few more listens. AFI is kind of a more intense Green Day but they have some catchy riffs and some nice melodies going on, so I think it could get some decent playtime.
  • I had a bit of a chance to listen to some of Sirius satellite radio driving around to doctor’s appointments and stuff in Nik’s car while I was sick. It’s a pretty cool thing and the lack of commercials on the music channels is really, really nice. There’s a lot of selection available as well which means it usually isn’t hard at all to find some station playing something you like. My only complaint so far probably has more to do with the head unit than Sirius itself, but I’m having a really hard time finding the non-music channels. There is supposed to be a way to choose a channel via category but I can’t seem to make it work the way the manual describes which means a lot of the NPR, comedy and sports stations are ostensibly there but not accessible. This is going to become a problem pretty quickly when I want to start listening to Sharks games on the way home from work and can’t even get to the stations.
  • Speaking of the Sharks, I got better just in time since Nikki bought me a three-pack of Sharks tickets for our anniversary and the first game is tonight versus the Dallas Stars. I’m heading out after work to pick HB from work and then heading on to the tank so hopefully my body will cooperate and I’ll be able to enjoy myself. I’m kind of counting on excitement to push me through some of the weariness I still feel, but it should be a really good time.

Bad Week

Friday, October 13th, 2006

I apologize to those of you who may have feared that I fell off the face of the earth this week. In fact, I only fell off the face of the Internet due to an absolutely brutal virus that I thought had gone away late last week but came back and brought like, 40 friends. My doctor thinks it’s just influenza but I’m thinking more along the lines of Montezuma’s Malarial Malevolence.

In any case I’ve been running a 103° fever for most of the week (it just today dipped to a “low” 100-101) along with assorted other miseries I won’t bore you with. But I just wanted to expend some of my little energy reassuring you, the Internets, that I still persevere. I should return to life sometime next week and I’ll have plenty to talk about then, I’m sure.

For now it’s back to bed, daytime TV and a gatorade overdose.

Have a better weekend than I will.

“I am flattered by your fascination with me” – Alanis Morissette