Category Archives: Sports

Primarily talk about the San Jose Sharks, San Francisco Giants, San Francisco 49ers and Oakland A’s. Occasionally some other random sports tidbits like the Olympics may find their way here.

It Hit Like Thunder

I didn’t mean for it to be a moment. In fact, I had intended to eat breakfast at home, to go directly from the shuttle stop up to my cube on the second floor and work on my project until the rest of my peers showed up and started messing with stuff which would inevitably make my status as primary oncall person onerous as I’d chase around the alerts their activities triggered. But instead I’d missed my alarm, woken up by my wife with only about twenty minutes to get out the door. Breakfast had fallen by the wayside, other morning routines were abbreviated or discarded altogether. Everything was done with haste.

Even as I entered the building, I was intending only to grab something small to eat and a cup of coffee. There was work to be done, I didn’t have the luxury I usually enjoyed to lounge around the cafe and read a book or enjoy my meal in a relaxed state of leisure. When I passed through the door, I was somewhat surprised to see so many people. I was familiar with the way they’d been broadcasting the World Cup matches on the intermittent flatscreen TVs that lined the cafe wall and projecting it on the huge screen usually reserved for Powerpoint slides during company meetings, but typically the onlookers were limited to a small handful of football devotees. It wasn’t until I noted that USA was playing that it registered why this day in particular had drawn such a crowd.

I’ve been recording many of the World Cup matches this year. I’m not even all that sure why since I can hardly be called a devoted soccer fan. Something about it just grabbed my attention this time around. Maybe it was the four-year cycle, maybe it was having worked recently on a site devoted to European sports, I don’t know. But I had this game set to record like so many other, so I knew I could watch it when I got home. That had been the plan. There was really no reason to stay and watch; I did have plenty of work to attend to.

Still, something made me find a spot near a power outlet, set up my computer, arrange my breakfast just so and try to multitask, watching the game, starting my work, finishing my food in as much unison as possible.

At first I sat down during halftime with the score still tied at 0-0. It gave me a chance to collect myself work-wise, eat most of my meal and catch enough of the recap of the game so far to know what the stakes were. Basically it was win or go home: Slovenia, the team that had been on the other end of the curiously bad call a few days before that had cost the US a come-from-behind victory, was losing to England. Here, Algeria had threatened early but the US had since taken control of the game though they found that key goal elusive. A tie wouldn’t cut it anymore, it had to be a win. I finished the last bite of my cereal and hit send on an email, more or less catching up for the moment. The second half kickoff got the game back underway.

As play progressed, I noticed more and more of the seats in front of the screen filling up. Others with unfinished work filled the tables next to and behind me. A crowd grew over near the coffee bar, paying more attention to the game than to their lattes and mochaccinos as the orders were shouted out over and over with annoyance by the baristas. The US missed a close chance and a collective groan went up. I got a page for a new issue, and spent some time only glancing at the screen while I coordinated with my boss and a colleague on a security issue. As the problem settled down and someone went off to work on it, my attention refocused on the game.

A man in a red jacket walked through the doors to my left and stopped dead in front of me, completely obscuring my view. “Excuse me,” I said pointedly. He either didn’t hear or didn’t register it as being directed at him. I gave my tablemates—strangers, all—a sidelong glance and tried again, louder and with more vigor: “Excuse me!” He didn’t budge. Exasperated, I jumped one seat to the right so I could at least see around the guy. Just as I did so a glorious chance unfolded, with a man on the far side of the net breaking free. His shot was hesitant, as if he couldn’t believe how easy it looked. He missed, but there! On the opposite side, uncovered, a second striker roared past the defense, staring at nothing but a ball and an empty net.

He missed.

The gathering crowd collapsed in agony. “So close!” came a number of laments. I shared disappointed looks and shook my head at the unknown co-workers around me. I checked my email again, switched windows and ran a few diagnostic commands. The action was back underway, and now that the play stoppage had allowed the man in the red coat to move on, I settled back into my original seat. More people joined those watching: Women who were relaying results via Blackberry to their significant others at some other company that didn’t feel broadcasting sporting events during business hours was appropriate; contract workers who were supposed to be cleaning the soda fountains ignored their duties and leaned on the walls with arms crossed and concerned looks on their faces; high-ranking executives switched their beloved iPhones to silent mode and gathered in the standing-room-only cluster of people waiting just inside the doors for a reason to celebrate or dissipate. I drained the last of my coffee and raised my eyebrows at the guy next to me, who had abandoned his pretense of work and folded his hands on his closed laptop lid. I kept mine open, but I as finding it harder to look down.

Algeria suddenly had a break, a defensive collapse by the US and three green-shirted players danced casually into the box, all of them ready to dash the hopes of the room. The goalkeeper, Howard, made a great play and the defense recovered just enough to avert catastrophe. Everyone buzzed with nervous sighs and a momentary release of anticipated tension. We watched the clock count down from 85:00 to 88:00. The announcer spoke grimly, reminding the audience unnecessarily that the Americans would just have to push the ball down the field now, trying to keep it in the offensive half as much as they could and take whatever shots presented themselves. Slovenia didn’t seem to be offering a tying goal that would help, we still needed that one score.

The clock passed the 90:00 mark, pushing into stoppage or overage or injury time, depending on who you asked. A brash man in a ragged and ugly polo shirt lurked over my shoulder, watching the smaller flatscreen above, a little behind and to my left. He shouted unheard instructions and encouragement at the players, directly into my ear. “Come on! Still time! Still some time! We can do this!” I might have been annoyed with him in another context. Here, it was a source of comedy and an atmospheric necessity. He was a true believer, the kind of guy who really believed in Dave Barry’s concern rays. If he himself wanted it enough, it would happen. It was all he had to give, as a fan, and he gave it his all. “Here we go!” he reminded no one, slapping his hands together noisily.

Four minutes, said the sign. That was how much they would extend the match. Two hundred and forty seconds to accomplish what an hour and a half had not yielded. The play began and Howard took the ball, tossing it down to a midfielder, Donovan, and I glanced at my screen. No new crises, no new messages demanding my attention. My breakfast tray was empty, save a few crumbs and a discarded napkin. I looked back to the screen. Everyone seemed to stop breathing, narrowing eyes and leaning a few inches forward. A play unfolded.

The first shot came in and the Algerian goalkeeper stopped it, but the rebound squirted free. I didn’t see what became of the keeper, I was busy watching the ball roll lazily through two defenders who raced to converge on the loose ball. Donovan, who had started the rush up the side, came seemingly out of nowhere. I don’t know how he beat those defenders, but suddenly he was there and the ball was sailing. The sense that it could be deflected or somehow twist just off course made teeth clench and knuckles grip table edges. Time crawled.

The net rippled from the force of the ball hitting it, and the room exploded.

We jumped to our feet, clapped, and whooped. We pumped fists and high fived our neighbors, strangers or not. The noise was deafening. Then for a moment we paused and turned back to the screens. This had happened before, this had happened in the same game. They showed the replay. They didn’t mention the referees calling it back. The goal would stand. We resumed our celebration.

There was a bit more of the game, there had been less than a minute of the injury time elapsed when the goal was scored. But most of it was taken up by a lengthy protest from an Algerian player who got yellow- and then red-carded. His teammates griped some, too. The clock kept running. At last they tried to start the game, but the four minutes were over. A few unenthusiastic kicks later the whistle blew several times, marking the end of the match. Another round of applause and cheers went up. I smiled at people I didn’t know. They smiled back, with a slight tilt of the head. We’d been there for it. We knew. Go USA.

I closed my laptop and returned my dishes. I gathered the rest of my belongings and nodded silently at the guys who were standing around the tables, also packing up to go back to their cubes and offices. It felt like the end of every sports movie, where the hero finds a way to make it happen at the most dramatic moment possible. Only it had happened in real time, in real life. It could have gone the other way. That Algerian could have scored late and made Donovan’s goal a mere equalizer that landed with a dull thud of disappointment as the US walked away unable to overcome the challenge. But it didn’t. Instead it hit like thunder and it ignited a cafe full of co-workers and, for just a minute, made everyone happy to be there, glad to be working in that place at that moment, sharing that triumph with people just living their lives and doing their jobs. People just being American.

In the grand scheme of things, it was a very minor and very temporary victory. The team moves on, but the next obstacles are even more insurmountable. But sometimes you have to relish the present. Tomorrow will worry about itself, the Good Book says. Soccer isn’t even our game, Americans will tell you, but for a couple hundred Silicon Valley early-risers, it was our game. And we shared it, and the moment, together.

New Hands on the Wheel

I was talking to my dad yesterday, naturally, and he clued me in to the fact that the Sharks had finally settled on Todd McLellan, formerly an assistant coach for the Stanley Cup-winning Detroit Red Wings, as their new head coach. McLellan hasn’t been a head coach in the NHL before, but he’s had success in the AHL and, obviously, under Babcock in the NHL. He seems to be focused on defense, power plays and puck possession. Aside from possession which the Sharks already professed to concentrate on under Ron Wilson, those are traits that the Sharks could have used a lot more of in the last few postseasons.

Perhaps I’m still sipping the teal Kool-Aid but I’m optimistic. I’ve said for a couple of years that the Sharks have the talent (mostly attributed to Doug Wilson) to go very, very deep into the playoffs but they seem to lack a particular spark to make them take advantage of that and I put the responsibility behind the bench. I hope I’m right and McLellan can be the guy to push the gang that extra step they need to make a real run at the Cup.

In other related news, Nabokov got robbed of the Vezina by Martin Brodeur. I can’t help but point out that Nabby had almost universally better stats, especially where it counts (W) although I guess the voters were impressed with the Devils’ ability to give up more shots.

For a minute there I was starting to think there was no East Coast bias. I guess we dodged that bullet.

All One Could Ask

I’ve been hard on the Sharks. I still think the answer to their frustrating playoff performances lies mostly behind the bench, but I feel I need to soften my typical post-postseason angst in the wake of last night’s herculean effort. For as much as I wish they’d managed to squeak one past Turco—a man who deserves a massive amount of respect—you can’t say they didn’t try. And try. And try. But when a guy is prepared to make 61 saves in a game…

There is one thing though. I think the Sharks actually won. That reviewed goal that was eventually called off? Someone please answer me this: Why didn’t they let the tape run? Wouldn’t the location of the puck after Turco peeled himself out of his own net have been a clear indication of whether or not it crossed the line? Perhaps the rules stipulate that you have to actually see the puck cross the line and go into the net but if that’s the case I have to ask, “why?” Why can’t someone apply simple logic and say that if the puck disappears from view beneath a goalie whose body ends up in the net and when they move after the play the puck is found beyond the line, that stands to reason that a goal was scored? Otherwise what’s to prevent goalies from backing into their own nets on in-front scrambles to obscure the overhead camera while the defense collapses in front to obfuscate any alternate angle shots?

It even leads me to another question that has bugged me forever: Why haven’t we applied better technology to sports? There has to be a way to accurately determine relative position between a puck and a goal line or a ball over the plate or the pigskin on the first down marker? If accuracy is really a priority, why are we still relying on humans to make these critical determinations?

Anyway, it’s all academic at this point but while my disappointment is still there at least I can’t say I didn’t get to see some phenomenal hockey. I mean seriously, seeing those guys gut it out after 120 minutes of hockey (with the Sharks down a man from their initial line-up, too) was amazing, and something I won’t soon forget.

I just feel bad for my dad and brother out in the Central time zone. The game wasn’t over until 1:45 am their time.

Minor Meta Memorandum

I’m still unclear how it happened but the WordPress upgrade from a couple of weeks ago resulted in the loss of all user account information in the database. I even tried restoring the old database to pull the information from and it, too, is missing the data. There is no logical explanation for this and it frustrates me greatly to have to say this but if you had an account with which to post comments here, it is gone and must be re-created.

I apologize profusely.

Couldn’t Happen to Just Anyone

A number of short essays on a number of subjects follow.

  • Yeah, I picked up Grand Theft Auto IV. I’ve played other games in the series and despite its reputation for being vile, its primary objectionable content comes from two things: One, it has a very colorful approach to dialogue with most if not all characters taking the Quentin Tarantino approach to phrasing and two it has a sense of humor I’d commonly associate with thirteen year old boys in medium sized groups who think there aren’t any parents around. My interest in the franchise is rooted mostly in the oddly compelling way in which the game’s story unfolds considering the developers take great pains to allow you an enormous degree of freedom at any given moment. You can certainly play the game as if it had no plot to speak of (and it’s actually only the last two or three that have really made the narrative effective) and many people do. But when you experience the game as if it were a long, meandering Godfather-style crime drama, it shows some remarkable resilience as an escapist bit of entertainment.

    I said once that I thought GTA would be better if they discarded the juvenile fledgling criminal premise and since then other games have come along and done precisely that, following GTA’s loose blueprint for open-ended environments with optional narrative elements woven throughout. Last year’s unexpected marvel Crackdown, for example, flipped the tables and cast the player as a superhuman crime fighter ridding the city of its seedy underbelly in a sort of destructive, Dirty Harry fashion. The equally surprising Gun also did something similar with a wild west theme making the player a kind of bowlegged stranger moseying in to clean up a lawless frontier.

    If you wonder why I continue to play GTA despite its environs not being precisely my cup of tea, understand that these other games lift their playbook directly from the most recent Grand Theft Auto game so they hold an appeal largely due to their genre innovation. Except something I noticed playing IV is that even in open-world games (called “sandbox” games by hobbyists) where you are cast as a good guy, there is always a sort of anti-hero edge to the proceedings. I think this is because these games are equating freedom with the ability to be a pill in their created worlds. If you think about it, the open-ness these games are providing isn’t really from the fact that you can re-order the missions you accept (you could do rudimentary variations on that theme as far back as the NES days) and it isn’t about just wandering around a large but defined space. Adventure games have given us the wandering ability for decades. Instead the freedom, whether in Crackdown, Gun or any other sandbox-style game lies in your ability to torment AI-controlled characters of no consequence. It’s in the way you can blow things up that don’t require destruction. It’s in the fact that the developers put options in the game that aren’t devoid of consequence but that give the (perhaps mistaken) impression of mischief. Even as a super-cop in Crackdown, you spent most of your “freedom” either terrifying civilians with your destructive power (ostensibly only to be directed at the criminal element, but you were of course free to blow passerby apart as well, if you didn’t mind being “reprimanded” by your virtual employer) or climbing up onto buildings where no human should be able to reach.

    Some people like to point at this controlled mischief and say it encourages real-world emulation. I can’t say I agree but I also don’t exactly ruffle my feathers to defend the games because the cop-out standard party line of “it’s only a game” conveniently ignores the truth which is that if there weren’t some perverse joy to be had in the ability to whack a virtual pedestrian with an SUV because he’s wearing a dippy shirt, the games wouldn’t have much of an audience. In effect the mischief is the hook, even if the most recent game finds a certain zen by making the option almost more appealing than the act itself and framing a well-told story within the confines of that premise. No one who wasn’t already nuts would play these games and think, “It’s on my TV so it must be an okay thing to do.” But anyone who says the potential for senseless carnage isn’t significant is lying to themselves about why they play.

  • I missed the San Jose Sharks game on Friday. It was purely accidental; my TiVo has difficulty handling the hastily-scheduled playoff games and the several-hour HD broadcasts are too taxing on my limited disk space to make the typical set-it-and-forget-it principle of TiVo worthwhile anyway. Plus, I enjoy experiencing the games as close to real time as I can anyway. But on Friday I simply lost track of the time and when I did finally remember, the game was long over.

    I was relieved to see that they had won in OT, something they seem to have a hard time doing in the playoffs as a general rule, but it was a tempered relief.

    When the team dropped game three, I groaned and made some remarks about their lack of drive and determination. Nik took me to task at the time, saying how poor of a fan I was for not believing in them despite the long odds. “Isn’t being a fan rooting for them no matter what?” she asked, pointedly. I conceded at the time that she had a case but inside I felt it was coming from someone who didn’t really understand. She hasn’t grown up as a sports fan in the Bay Area. She hasn’t been pulling for the Sharks since their inaugural season. She hasn’t watched the Giants find spectacular ways to lose just on the brink of ultimate victory.

    But I do appreciate the sentiment she offers. How can I not be considered a fair weather fan if I let my cynicism born of years of disappointing seasons color my encouragement of a team that certainly carries within its roster the skill and talent to pull off the nearly impossible? Yet I continually find it a challenge not to fix my disdain directly on the team itself. The truth is they do have the talent, so why have they gotten to this unmanageable position of requiring a herculean four-game winning streak just to forge ahead? You can say they’re halfway there, but you also can say that they didn’t do it in a convincing manner. I see the glass, I see that there are equal parts liquid and empty space, but it’s difficult to fixate on the remaining contents and discount the void.

    My brother suggested via Twitter that should the Sharks win on Friday he suspected they could go all the way. At most all I can say for now is that I hope he’s right. I desperately want him to be correct, but then I think of the facts. Only two teams have ever rallied from 0-3 series deficits to emerge victorious and the last case was 33 years ago. Put another way, such a feat has never occurred in my lifetime. Also, this mandatory win in game six must take place in Dallas but more significantly the final and crucial game seven has to be won at home, a place where other than Friday the Stars have essentially owned the Sharks for the better part of two seasons, including these playoffs. And finally, I understand that the teams are painfully equal in terms of talent and drive. I wish I could hope for a 5-1 massacre tonight or Tuesday but I fear the best case scenario is another 3-2 nail-biter or at best a 2-0 defensive showcase. But that equality leaves precious little room for the unknown variables: Officiating, momentary lapses of concentration, lucky bounces, hot opposing goalies, you name it.

    I know they can do it. I’ll be pulling for them to be that team, to enter the history books. I want them to make it happen, I’m just not quite ready to believe that they actually will.

    And maybe that’s the problem.

  • I think about my career sometimes. Through an unexpected series of choices, curveballs and luck I’ve arrived at a position where I make a comfortable living despite not having the most impressive educational background. I’m competent at the job I’m asked to do and I generally make a favorable impression, mostly through subterfuge I fear, with my employers. But I work as hard as anybody who, you know, sits down for a living and I can’t complain too loudly about most of it.

    The only thing that trips me up sometimes is the fact that while I do well and feel good for the most part about my working life, none of it is really what I feel like I’m meant to do. I started with a short stint in an accelerated occupational school for graphic design, hoping at the time to put my interest in artistic endeavors to some kind of practical use. I did okay at it but quickly found that it was a hard way to make a living and transitioned semi-naturally into an unexpected area of interest with web design. The step from web design to web development (focusing more on the technical side of building web sites than the artistic) was fairly smooth and from there I found an endless well of fascinating challenges along the lines of programming, system administration and technical support.

    But I find that here in this unintentional place I’m encountering the same basic stumbling block I did toward the end of trade school which is that my natural ability has hit its peak and further development would require a level of interest and a desire for enlightenment that I cannot feign. As with graphic design I have just enough raw ability inherent to be a so-so field journeyman but not enough drive to hone my skill to the point of being a true asset to anyone, much less myself.

    I find myself at a bit of a crossroad. On one hand my primary marketable skill is an ability to glean a surface level understanding of any complex system fairly quickly. I also have a pretty broad background in technical and design work so my self-evaluations have resulted in thinking that I might be decently suited for management. There is some interest in me to pursue that avenue; it allows me to maintain my current course and use the skills and experience I already have while furthering my career without demanding a huge commitment of time and resources. But on the other hand it doesn’t necessarily address the fact that my main source of job dissatisfaction comes from being in a field that interests me in a vague intellectual sense but doesn’t offer a lot in the way of personal enrichment. It will only ever be, I fear, a mere job.

    On the other hand, I’m so well entrenched in this sector that any course re-direction would require the aforementioned resource dedication be it schooling or blind transition with the almost certain financial implications. I’ve toyed occasionally with pipe dreams of magical wishes coming true and having unlikely dream jobs like novelist or musician or freelance weirdo essayist. But when I switch off my wandering daydreams and examine reality I find that what I really want is to provide for my family which suggests that I may be happiest just where I am. I also find myself asking from time to time whether my creativity hits a roadblock when evaluating myself. Perhaps, I think, there is a job out there that meets all my criteria for perfection that I’ve never even considered. I certainly didn’t entertain the notion of being a NOC Engineer ten years ago. Maybe I’m missing something.

    Or maybe, I’m not missing a thing.

Sidestepping the Magniloquence

I think it would be nice to say, “Hey look, I have a new post. It is well-researched, carefully edited and revised and thoughtfully written.” But you’d probably be like, “Where am I and what happened to ironSoap?” So in the interest of fulfilling your expectations… hastily written bullet points! Ahh…

  • Tomorrow is Super Tuesday. If you are part of a Super Tuesday state, I encourage you to vote. Now, I know that primary elections aren’t as significant as the general election in November so if you skate on this one, I’ll forgive you but only if you promise—and pinky-swear!—to vote later this year.
  • If you do vote tomorrow and can participate in the Republican election, would you please consider Ron Paul?
  • I know people like to say that voting for an underdog is like throwing your vote away but, well, tell that to New York Giants fans. Truth is, you never know.
  • And while I’m sorta on the subject, how weird was that Super Bowl? I mean it was the biggest snoozer of all time until the 4th quarter at which point it became a great game, seemingly out of nowhere. The telling statistic? There were three lead changes in the fourth quarter: A Super Bowl record. I listened to the end of the game on my commute home from work. When Manning tossed that pass for the TD late in the game, I LOL’d. Seriously.
  • You may have already gathered from the Twitter feed (had you been following along at home like I keep telling you), but I finally made my HD dreams come true last weekend. We picked up a Samsung 46″ LCD, got rid of the old 36″ Trinitron, wrangled some HD cable and iced the cake with a PS3/Blu-Ray, an HD-capable TiVo and a Logitech Harmony 550 universal remote. It was a lot of money… so much that I kind of freaked out about it for a little while, but then I caught my first Sharks game in HD and, well, I didn’t feel so bad about it after that. There is more to the story, of course, including a still-ongoing royal rumble with Comcast over the acquisition of a cable card for the TiVo, but I’ll spare you the details until I can provide the epilogue.
  • So… there’s this movie called ‘Sunshine.’ It’s deeply flawed but I think still worth watching. Either way, it basically did for Blu-Ray what The Matrix did for DVD: Sell the format.
  • I have, however, decided that I no longer have any interest in purchasing physical copies of movies. As such I won’t be “upgrading” my DVD collection to Blu-Ray. Aside from the general uncertainty of the format’s future, I just am sick of storing movies in my living space. First we had a pretty impressive collection of VHS tapes. Now we’ve finally gotten to where we have a lot of DVDs. I don’t care to go through the exercise again, so until we all figure out how too handle digital film storage, I’ll stick to rentals.
  • Of course, the PS3 came with Spider-Man 3 (ugh) and also included a 5-free Blu-Ray offer (which I felt obliged to take advantage of) so I will have at least six of the stupid things. But that’s it! I’m not paying for any more.
  • I am also fully aware my resolve has no bearing on the activities of my spouse, who loves to own her favorite movies and TV shows. I guess I better buy a new DVD rack.
  • You know what I think is tacky? That the Cheesecake Factory has ads in their menus.
  • However, TCF makes a mean meatloaf.
  • Nik and I saw Michael Clayton over the weekend. It’s a pretty great flick although I didn’t think so until the very end, and there is still a particular scene that I don’t quite understand once the “truth” is revealed. Or I guess considering what that truth does reveal. Either way, it left Nik and I scratching our heads. Also, it has to have the worst title of the year. Who wants to see a movie named after the fictional lead character? It’s not even some deeply memorable character nor a remarkable/memorable name like Forrest Gump. Michael Clayton sounds like the title of a biopic for some long-ago sports star no one remembers.
  • I would have gone with “The Fixer” or perhaps “The Settlement.” But that’s just me.
  • Snack Watch: So, if you like Sun Chips I implore you to find the “Garden Salsa” flavor, they are exquisite. However, you may also want to investigate Cinnamon Sun Chips (you read that right) which sound questionable but are in fact quite delicious (though more of a standalone snack than a lunch accompaniment). You may also be interested in knowing that the Black Cherry and Almond flavor of Clif bars are especially tasty if you need a mid-afternoon light meal. And I can say with confidence that the energy drink Nos is not suitable for human consumption.
  • On the flip side, has anyone tried Chocolate Chex yet? Nik is too chicken to try them and I’m hit or miss with Chex brand cereal, but I can see it being a fine addition to a batch of Chex mix. Anyone?
  • I’m committed to Lost for the long haul, but I’m terribly, terribly disappointed in the direction they’ve decided to take the show.
  • I have to give some respect to Netflix, a company which had such a terrible site back when I joined almost five years ago that I filed a bug report on it. Now they have one of the best designed, most user-friendly sites I frequent. As a simple example, I indicated to them that I was interested in getting Blu-Ray discs when available. Their system simply confirms that you know what you’re talking about and that you have the appropriate hardware and then it automagically goes in and replaces any movies in your queue with Blu-Ray versions. Brilliant.
  • I loved the book Freakonomics and since I finished it I’ve been following the Freakonomics blog, which often has funny, insightful or thought-provoking posts. Today they had one I found cynical and amusing in all the right ways: Choose a six word motto for the US. My favorite sarcastic suggestion: “I Can’t Believe It’s Not Democracy.” My favorite funny suggestion: “Just like Canada, with Better Bacon.”
  • As much as I love Rock Band, especially the multiplayer, Band World Tour mode is sadly flawed in a fairly fundamental way. And the fact that online co-op doesn’t allow BWT mode is kind of a criminal oversight. Still, I have faith in my Joey Big Hat bandmates to rise above the stupid game limitations.
  • It occurs to me that we need a band logo. And I think you can upload such files into the game and use them as tattoos for your avatar.
  • Excuse me, I have some Photoshopping to do.

The Fog Rolls In

I really hate articles like this one by Ross McKeon on the Sharks struggles. He starts off with a thesis, “The Sharks GM Doug Wilson doesn’t want to shake things up but he may have to soon” and then spends the next sixteen or seventeen paragraphs explaining why a shake-up isn’t the way to go only to conclude that “Doug Wilson may have to shake things up, even if he doesn’t want to.”



On one hand, McKeon has some points: The Sharks early ouster from the last three playoffs has been incredibly frustrating. Unfortunately for the Sharks they’ve managed to even circumvent their slow-climb forgiveness in the eyes of the fans who will, I think, no longer accept a trip to the finals regardless of outcome as a step in the right direction. I think San Jose fans expect a Cup and soon. I know I do, and I said as much during the last playoffs. The only possible factors in the Sharks occasional mid-season meltdowns and now clockwork playoff crumbling are A) the coaches B) the players or C) both.

McKeon though shies away from offering anything useful in terms of insight. Except he actually does, but he seems gunshy to spell it out. Let me glean some useful tidbits from his own text.

The team still needs to mature and show up on more nights than they have in the first half of the season. And, in terms of development, players like Matt Carle, Milan Michalek, Steve Bernier, Christian Ehrhoff, Joe Pavelski and Marcel Goc have to continue to improve instead of reaching a plateau and getting stuck.

It seems to me that development of young talent is, fundamentally, a job for the coaching staff. Few people who follow the Sharks (or hockey in general) would deny that Michalek, Bernier, Pavelski and Carle have the makings of good or even great NHL players. Just watch them play and you can see there’s something there. But the fact that Michalek for example has been around for several years now and has yet to really emerge as the powerhouse scoring winger that he clearly has the ability to be suggests there is something wrong either with him or with the way he’s being coached.

If it was just Michalek, I’d probably chalk it up to the player. But then you see a guy like Pavelski or Carle who came on board and made huge splashes in early games only to settle into a routine of mere competence. I can’t say for sure what is happening but consider this: The only real superstar on the Sharks is Joe Thornton, and he was that way before he got to San Jose. Who else, despite all the obvious talent on display, have these coaches crafted into a top-tier player? Marleau has been streaky his whole career and coasts just below the breakout line; Nabokov has also been streaky enough to avoid upper echelon mention (and most of his development lies in different hands than Ron Wilson’s et al). Cheechoo could have been the guy but again, just as he shows himself to be imminently capable, something reigns him in.

Frustration over recent results came bubbling to the surface Friday when Jeremy Roenick and Ron Wilson made some pointed comments, and the coach was caught the night before berating his team during a timeout on the video board, an image that brought a big cheer from the home crowd.

Those events, in addition to what he was seeing on the ice, triggered Doug Wilson to suggest the team meet on Friday instead of practice in preparation for Saturday’s visit by Anaheim, which skated off with a 5-2 victory. There was some damage control going on here, too. Management doesn’t want dirty laundry aired, and it was time to keep the gripes in-house, too.

Ron Wilson finally crawls over his under-achieving players, to the delight of the frustrated fans, and the response is to circle the wagons? Maybe I’m crazy but if players aren’t performing as hoped, maybe a little public outing wouldn’t hurt? It’s not like the fans aren’t noticing that the Sharks haven’t played that great. I’m just not sure who’s being protected here.

I suppose it should come as no surprise but I still hold Wilson accountable for last year’s playoff mistake and I think his leash ought to be as short as one can reasonably be. Doug Wilson is a fantastic GM and I’m sure he’d love to see Ron succeed, but then again Marco Sturm was a good winger that fans liked and everyone wanted to see him succeed but I didn’t hear a whole lot of crying when he ended up in Boston. Because, frankly, I’m getting to the point (and I can’t be alone) where I’m thinking “Just win, baby.” Like, whatever it takes. I like Marleau, I think he should be a Shark, but if it takes getting rid of him to get the Bay Area a Stanley Cup, then I say don’t let the door hit ya in the rear on the way out, Patty.

But before we start bailing on players that have become important parts of the lineup, maybe we should think about who’s guiding the practices?

Every Once in a Little While

I realize I’ve been neglecting the three people who read this site, but even as I shed some commitments that I made with the best of intentions to free up some time, the crushing demand for my mental capacity remains unwieldy. It doesn’t help that my maximum threshold was… unremarkable to begin with.

I have nothing noteworthy to say, but I feel compelled to stop in now and again to say “hi” as if that compensated for my general malaise. Better that I could produce something of note, but I’m sure you’ve come to expect nothing of the kind. Lo, the bullet point!

  • I started following the Sharks about a month and a half into the season, or, if you prefer, several games ago. They currently sit atop the Pacific Division by a small margin, but they scarcely seem to deserve their position. What I’m more concerned about however is that it seems Sirius satellite radio’s loss of the NHL contract to XM escaped my notice. This development significantly impacts my affection for the service, and the terrestrial alternatives which ought to fit neatly into my driving-heavy schedule are so poor as to be nearly worthless. The general lack of appreciation for the country’s best sport remains a perpetual thorn in my side.
  • Are you on Twitter? If not, please acclimate yourself to it promptly. I realize that the beauty of micro-blogging takes some time to appreciate, but once you accept the elegance of the 140-character limitation and note the wide assortment of update/notification options available, it fits casually into one’s life the way few other technological/social cross-breedings can.
  • Had you been following my Twitter feed (which is conveniently updated on this very site), you would have noted that my Xbox broke about a week after my buddy Foster’s did. I tried to arrange a bait-and-switch scam with him to utilize my store warranty which I fear will expire presently without use. He declined for reasons that are his own, but when my machine broke the point became moot—until it began to be clear that a key component of the exchange (my receipt) had not smoothly made the move across town last spring. Hope still lingers that the mysterious boxes in the garage hold the valuable treasure, but they have become bed and breakfast facilities for several species of repugnant critters who respond to interruptions of their romantic vacationing by scurrying up one’s pant legs and distributing the crawling creeps whose effects last and last, sometimes for days.
  • I had occasion over the last couple of weeks to work on some projects that felt strangely like coding. Wednesday is the day when our weekly shifts overlap so we have double coverage on all shifts and, when the day and swing hours intersect, up to four NOC personnel on hand. Because of this and because we only have two workstations, I chose to pull out my iBook and just do some project work elsewhere and let others handle the task of watching the service. As I worked and switched between Terminal, MySQL, Finder, Safari, Colloquy, Mail and installed various unix applications, OS X applications and generally made a lot of progress I noted that I was feeling something reminiscent, something almost forgotten: Joy, while computing. I’ve been working on Windows machines for about two years now as my primary employment-based environment and while tools like PuTTY, Pidgin and Firefox make things sort of tolerable, I never feel happy to be working on them. I think part of it is also that the work I was doing was similar to the kinds of things I used to do at my City job and, before that, the kinds of things I used to do contractually at home. But the uniting thread was really that I was working in a comfortable environment on something that interested me. That’s been happening less and less frequently the last couple of years and I need to find a way to recapture that because on days when I’m being honest with myself I note that I’m getting dangerously close to burning out in this line of work. What’s terrifying is that aside from muddling through technology work, I’m utterly useless as an employee.
  • We’re heading up to Seattle for Thanksgiving this year, a departure of sorts but one I’m very much looking forward to. I went there last summer and absolutely loved it so I expect to have even more fun this time with additional folks along to appreciate it. And if you think I won’t be getting cream cheese hot dogs, you’re flat wrong. I’m not saying they will replace the turkey dinner, I’m just saying they are inevitable and given the choice between leftover turkey sandwiches carefully layered with gravy-moistened cornbread stuffing and cream cheese hot dogs, the outcome is not predetermined and may possibly result in paralysis. Of the mind.
  • Exercise is my foe. It’s like this: I truly love being active. It’s kind of taken me a long time to realize this, because it suggests something that isn’t precisely true. But when I had buddies at work who were willing to join me and the time to spare, a high point of every day was going to the gym. And all I was doing was light cardio and some minor weight training. Practically the second I switched jobs and lost my daily partners, I drifted away from my daily regimen. These days I try to make it to the gym as often as is practical, but in fact the only consistency I’ve had is meeting my buddy Dave a couple of times on my off days for tennis or racquetball. And yet, again, those activities are among my week’s delights. It’s not that I’m terribly athletic—quite the opposite, actually—it’s that I find the typical awkwardness of purely social encounters dissipates entirely when framed by physical activity. In a strange twist, when either element is removed from the equation the result is remarkably unsatisfying and I prefer to retreat to my default environment of inactive and antisocial. Note that the general benefit of exercise remains even without any social context, and that includes a general sense of well-being and mental clarity, but I cannot apply raw logic to the scenario. For someone who keeps unusual hours and yet spends most of them parked in a chair with ready access to an assortment of free or dangerously inexpensive snacks, the recipe is fraught with peril.
  • My brother, a generally awesome guy, upped his awesomeness factor once again by patiently waiting for me to come ’round on digital music mixing. His steady but non-pressurized acclaim for products such as Reaper ensured that as my inevitable curiosity finally got the better of me, I would readily find details I needed to dabble. Now, granted, Scott is a superb musician and I am… not. But, I have a strong affinity for creative endeavors and this is the kind of tech nerd/art nerd hybrid that touches the soft white underbelly of my soul. At the moment my technical and financial situation makes for a sort of interested observer level of involvement, but it would be the work of a nice bonus check or a few hours overtime to enable some deeper investigation which may result in… well, best not to speculate. But should such a situation arise, you can be certain I’ll subject you to it all.

Heroes and Goats

Topic the first: Doug Wilson seems to be waffling a bit on what to do about his team’s embarrassing exit from the post season. At least he’s not all sunshine and roses over Ron Wilson’s performance, so that’s one good thing. But I was serious in my rant against Ron: I think he’s got to shoulder the responsibility for not lighting the fire in the Detroit series. People kind of overlooked his role in the loss to Edmonton last year but it was quite clear that this roster wasn’t missing much in the way of talent and depth so if a team like that slides pitifully from the playoffs you have no choice but to look at the coaching staff and say, “Dude. What happened?”

The second topic is Heroes, so if you don’t wish to be spoiled as to the show or, more specifically, the season finale then you may want to quit reading now.

So, some people hated the finale. I didn’t hate it exactly, but I understand part of the sentiment. It’s tough to really express why the last episode was such a let down when almost everything leading up to it was so very good. But I knew there was trouble when they took a commercial break at 8:50 pm and they still hadn’t gotten to the climactic confrontation we all knew was coming.

I think the main problem was that for the first time I felt like the writers cheated, and they did so in what should have been the most pivotal scene in the whole season. TVAddict mentions the implausibility of how the fight with Sylar went down and those gripes are very valid. Sylar and Peter both seemed to conveniently find and lose powers as suited the writers which is a good way to annoy a loyal audience. I’m not trying to make this as inflammatory as it may sound, but this is part of why Lost is suffering from backlash: Because they conveniently ignore plot elements that they introduced whenever it suits them. Episodic shows demand that their writers not be lazy and resort to copping out of inconvenient story elements just because they don’t suit what they’re trying to do presently.

I do think the TVAddict was flat wrong with a lot of complaints, and was taken appropriately to task in the comments on that post. But the main points that didn’t sit well with me were as follows:

  • Peter can fly. We’ve already established plainly that he actually possesses the powers he absorbs and requires no proximity, so Nathan’s last-minute heroics should have been unnecessary. Some have suggested that Peter can’t use more than one power at a time and Ted’s radioactive surge was taking up his “power slot.” That’s a fairly flimsy explanation since he seemed to be both invisible and heal himself when Claude threw him off the roof earlier, at least that’s what Isaac’s painting indicated but we can’t really tell because the show used the device of actually showing the invisible characters for the benefit of the audience so it’s not really clear (hurr…) one way or the other. In any case, it wasn’t explained and without some kind of clarification Nathan’s heroics came across as kind of idiotic instead, undermining what I gathered was supposed to be a key moment for the character.
  • All of which is kind of moot when you consider that it was never explained why Peter was occasionally able to control Ted’s powers. And I don’t mean it wasn’t adequately explained, I mean that unless I missed a key scene (there was about two minutes at the beginning of Chapter 22 that I missed due to a TiVo mishap, I suppose it could have been there but I doubt it) it was never explained at all. Especially since none of the other powers he absorbed went wildly out of his control like that; Peter’s ability seemed in fact to be far superior to Sylar’s in that he didn’t need an understanding of a power’s function in order to utilize it. He certainly didn’t consciously work to figure out how to use Claire’s healing ability nor did he have any problem un-invisible-izing when he wanted. That Ted’s power seemed so volatile—and only to Peter as well; note that Sylar never seemed to struggle with it—was lazy work on the part of the writers.
  • Nathan’s change of heart was terribly executed. I recognize that it probably seemed more dramatic on paper to have him show up out of the blue like that, but it did several things: It made him seem like an inconsistent character. Pardon my geek, but if this were a scenario in a Heroes role-playing session and I was acting as GM, I’d dock the player controlling Nathan experience points for acting out of character. What, up until that very moment, suggested that he would a) Turn his back on The Plan at the last moment, b) Leave behind his wife and kids, c) Sacrifice himself hours after having achieved his dream of being elected to congress? Especially when—and I could be wrong about this, I’d have to watch it again to know for sure—I think that he was operating under the impression that Sylar was the bomb, not Peter. He would have had no reason to get involved or even show up in the plaza.
  • I recognize this is a comic book-esque show so you can’t take these things for granted but I assume we’re to believe Peter and Nathan are dead. This poses a problem with the show going forward in that we’ve seen how their mother is involved in the machinations but she’s not a very good character by herself and was only mostly tolerable as kind of the devil on Nathan’s shoulder to Peter’s angel. The familial connection is now limited to Claire and I don’t see Claire spending any more time with her since she’s been reunited with Bennett. Her presence on the show has the potential to be unwelcome next season. What I’m getting at is that I sure hope one of them survived. Fortunately, if the alternate future episode is any indication, Peter can live through the blast.
  • While we’re on the topic of living and dying, I’m wishing that Sylar would have just kicked the bucket. They nicely set up next season’s villain so I’m not sure why they need him around. Also, DL has worn out his welcome and I’m a bit disappointed that he seemed to pull through.
  • They wasted too much time with Hiro’s training. And even with all of that, it still felt forced and weak.
  • The scene with Peter’s flashback/dream/whatever that included the old man from earlier in the season was… clumsy to say the least. What exactly was happening there? Why was it significant? Why the whole John Lennon vibe? And why oh why can’t there be at least one character on the show who is not either a superhero or somehow tangled up in the conspiracy? Isn’t anyone in this world just normal? I guess the only ones were Simone and Ando, but she’s dead now and he seems to have been kind of written out. Figures.

But, I’m not all disappointment and angst. There were some good parts to the finale:

  • The foreshadowing of the next bad guy I mentioned was fantastic and appropriately creepy. Granted, that little girl is kind of creepy anyway with her big gums and freakishly small teeth, but it was a well-written scene that worked on every level.
  • I guess Niki and Jessica merged finally? At any rate Niki used the super strength and they seem to be coming to a sort of balance. It makes her character less annoying.
  • Some people (like TVAddict) disliked the reveal for HRG’s first name. Not me, I thought it was wonderfully done and a somehow appropriate name. The problem with leaving it mysterious is that stuff like that ends up getting really awkward the longer the character remains an integral part of the show. Look at some of the scenes with the Cigarette Smoking Man in the X-Files once he’s become a major character and you’ll see what I mean.

So the end result is a phenomenal season of TV with a sort of disappointing climax. I guess that makes the entire first season “pretty good”? I dunno, I still like the show and I’ll definitely be back in the fall, but I kind of hope they get a lot of flak for how they handled this important piece of the puzzle so they know next year that a great set up with a lame payoff equals grouchy fans.

Perhaps on the upside, I’m not that excited about the “Generations” premise to season two so maybe it will have just an okay set up but a really spectacular climax. Would I like that better? Hm. I don’t know. Why can’t the whole thing be awesome?

Stupid TV.

This is the End, My Friend

At first I was a frothing mass of pure vitriol; unbridled anger. Every single thing I was afraid of had come to pass and Yet Another Disappointing Season had come to a bitter end.

But as I seethed I made my way upstairs to shave my playoff beard, the itchy uncomfortable thing that was making the onset of summer less than welcome. Its presence was a show of solidarity. Being bald, my primary hairstyle is shaven but a shaved head and full beard is an odd combo so I had attended to neither region since the day before the Sharks clinched a playoff berth late in the season.

Something odd happened then. As tufts of my scraggly beard and patchy hair tumbled away into the trash bin, so did my rage. A calm, familiar sense of resignation was left beneath the sheen of excess human fur. Yes, we’ve been here before. Many times. Many, many times indeed.

The primary difference this year is that instead of lobbing hatred at Chris “Cheap Shot” Pronger or some random zebra, my frustration was all internal to the team. My team. I could pick out a handful of players who I felt were without much fault but I was surprised to find my resentment was, for once, all centered on the group as a whole because honestly I felt that more than anything they just dropped the ball. They rolled over, they let it get away… they simply didn’t want it. But I did. I wanted it. For a short time I had let myself believe it could happen, this time. This year.

How silly, of course. This is the Bay Area. This is never The Year. But I forgot that, and now I was fighting bitterness. The calm that grew as I showered the bits of hair from my shoulders and then moved to lather my face with foam and scrape away over a month’s worth of remaining stubble perhaps grew in tandem with the realization that I was, for the most part, mad at myself for caring. For holding out hope that was un-earned. What, other than a pretty good regular season, was the basis for my dream of watching the Sharks in the Finals? Expert analysis from talking heads who have fewer functioning cognitive abilities than some dust mites I’ve known? A single series against a team they beat with a deeply flawed execution, especially on the critical special teams?

No, the signs were there. This was not The Year. Had they managed to stumble into a victory over the Red Wings the hated Ducks with their despised defenseman would have made short work of them. And so my hostility was directed at myself for slipping into uncharacteristic optimism, even if only in my mind. But the realization had a healing effect. Of course they lost. Why be grouchy? It was as is always expected: No matter what else, the teams I want to win will always find a way to lose. So it goes.

The time for reflection and specifically directed anger is not now. Now is the time to say congratulations to the Red Wings: They certainly earned it. Hasek was excellent, and deserves kudos for his performance. They clearly wanted it more, even if their idiot fans don’t deserve it. You can’t hold that against the team. I hope they go on to oust the Ducks, just because I really do hate the Ducks.

My dad has a theory that you can’t feel too badly if you lose to the team that ends up winning it all. After all, they are the best so perhaps there is some consolation in thinking you might have been second best. Sometimes that line of thinking helps. Not this time. I do want the Wings to make it to the Finals, but I hope they’re soundly trounced there by Buffalo. Vengeful? Maybe.

But sue me, my team just got booted from the post season. I have a right to a little bit of angst.

To: Head Coach, San Jose Sharks

Dear Ron Wilson,

Let me dispense with the niceties. You and your Sharks are really starting to anger me. You’re a good coach, they’re a good team, blah blah blah. The fact is, good on paper or good in the regular season is like Tiger Woods schooling his friends at Putt-Putt. So what? Show me the point. No, the only time skill and talent matter is when a tournament of champions is on the line and at this moment, it is as close to being on the line as it is going to get this year.

My question—my only question—is what are you going to do about it?

Oh I heard that you “called some players out.” Of course, you didn’t name any names, so there was that whole ambiguity thing. I’m sure you probably meant Patrick Marleau, but did he get the message? Since he still doesn’t have a point this series, I’m going to guess not. Maybe you meant Bill Guerin, too, but now he’s hurt so it doesn’t matter.

And I know you keep preaching the gospel of desire, where he who wants it most gets it. But you know what? I’m pretty sure every coach in every playoff series for every team has recited that sermon. This isn’t something new you’ve stumbled on here, Magellan, it’s straight from the Grand Tome of Sports Cliches and Overused Hyperbole. Chapter 8: The Playoff Speeches, page 264.

So maybe enough talk. Listen, you guys got worked on Saturday afternoon. Worked. Pwned, in online gamer parlance. 4-1 was a generous score. It easily could have been 6-1 or 7-1 the way you idiots played after the 10 minute mark in the first period. In a way, I wish it had been worse. Maybe a little embarrassment like that 8-0 slaughter against the lowly Coyotes would have gone a long way to lighting the fire under your guys. Or you.

Did I mention I’m prepared to hold you responsible if you can’t pull this series out of your hat? Let me put it this way: You have to do something and you have to do it Monday. The talk means nothing. The talk does nothing. If you want to call someone out, do it plainly, and get in their face about it. Here, let me get you started.

Kyle McLaren: Get off your rear or go home. You know that cute little ice-sprawl you did that directly paved the way for goal number three? Stop it. Blocking pucks is good, but lying around like you’re waiting for your masseuse to show up is a great way to take yourself out of the play. Jolly good show, that. And while we’re at it, let’s talk about hitting. You know that patented hip check you used to love to throw before everyone in the league figured it out and started giving you a clear shot at the boards instead with just a little stutter-step? Well if that was your only trick then head on back to Boston, chump. We don’t need ya. But here’s a hint: There are lots of opportunities to hit a guy. Take them, or take off.

Patrick Marleau: Wake up, you lazy squint-eyed dweeb. Yes, yes, you can walk all over Nashville. How special. You do know that you have to win four of these series to be a champion, right? I mean, they teach you how to count to four in those Canadian public schools, don’t they? Well then take a long hard look at that ‘C’ on your sweater and get to work. Stop trying to be cute. Stop trying to be Joe Thornton. Shoot. The. Puck. You. Fool.

Christian Ehrhoff: Repeat after me: “I’m a defenseman. Defense is my primary concern. I’m a defenseman. Defense is my primary concern.” We love ya, Chris. But please, please, please will you pay attention to your primary responsibility? Oh, and while you’re at practice on Sunday, let’s see what we can do about holding a blue line, eh?

See, Ron? Get up in people’s faces. Tell them to shape up or ship out. We (the fans) want a Stanley Cup. We don’t want a “solid effort” or any such mediocrity. I’ve already tried to appeal to the team on behalf of the fans. Now I’m appealing to you: Do something to spark this team or I’ll be first in line to call for your head. You think I’m under some delusion that this crop of talented players is your doing? No, I’m pretty sure that’s Doug’s doing which makes you responsible for only one thing: Make these guys play better.

Of course now you only have one more shot, maybe. So here’s the deal: I better see you screaming at those guys. I want to see lines juggled. I want to see less “accentuate the positive” during your in-game interviews and more fire and brimstone. You’d better be hopping mad that you’re down 3-2 in this series because I am. In fact, let’s see Toskala.

Oh yeah, you heard me. Sure, Nabby’s been good since Vesa got hurt. He was phenomenal for a while there. But now you gotta shake things up. Don’t you dare get ousted from these playoffs without letting Vesa have at least one chance. Your sense of loyalty means diddly to me. You know who you ought to be loyal to? Us. The fans. I want to see you pulling out all the stops. If you have to start Nabby, fine, but he’d better be on a shutout-only leash. Anything gets by him, out comes the hook. Do not make this Nabby’s series and playoff run to lose with a phenomenal goalie like Toskala sitting on his rump.

You want the team to step it up? You step it up. Make them care. Make them fight. Make them win. I’m sick of craptacular Bay Area sports teams. You know when the last time we had a world champion was? 1994. That was thirteen years ago. Not good enough. Now’s your chance to redeem us. We aren’t just the fans with the “Team of the Eighties” or the idiots who had to cannibalize ourselves to win a baseball championship in 1989. We can be the fans who cheered the Stanley Cup champions on to glory.

But we can’t do it alone. You have to help us.

And if you won’t, we’ll start looking for someone who will.

Paul Hamilton
Sharks Fan

We Know Everything Was Built to Expire

Engage random mode.

  • I’m not entirely sure what Buccigross is babbling about for much of his column, but the Mailbag section has a “Jeremy” from “Dallas” complaining about the dark jerseys being worn in NHL home games. Buccigross says Reebok’s new uniforms next year will reinstate the light home jerseys. Noo! I’d much rather see the superior dark jerseys when I get a chance to go to a game. In fact, I think all sports should have dark unis at home, light on the road.
  • Speaking of hockey, the Sharks went up 2-1 with a fitting 2-1 victory on Monday. They looked a little better. Not a lot better, but a little. I still think we should be winning these games by two or more goals and not from empty-netters, either. Detroit just ain’t that good. Buccigross has a point when he says the Sharks need to play with more fire because the talent is there, I’m just a little worried about how much they want it.
  • Last hockey notes regarding other series this round: The Ducks pulled off the comeback upset to go up 3-1; I didn’t see the comeback but the Sharks had better learn from Vancouver’s mistakes here because I see a lot of similarities between Vancouver and San Jose… the Sharks just have a little better luck. That will run out eventually. Luongo is really good but he can’t win alone and the Canucks have to figure out how to make the Ducks pay when they take penalties or there will be no reason for Chris “Cheap Shot” Pronger to not play his miserable brand of hockey all day long. Meanwhile, the Rangers tied up the series with another controversial video replay. I totally think the right call was made from the replay but I would have liked to see a better call on the ice and is it just me or did that whole sequence show that the overhead cameras above the goals need to be of much better quality? Two more frames in there or a better center-ice camera zoom and that’s a goal. It’s gotta be frustrating as heck to essentially lose a game due to technological limitations. At least the Sabres are heading back to home ice. I really want them to advance: They play hard and that ought to be rewarded.
  • Dr. Mac turned me on to Goozex, which has the dumbest name in history but is a really cool video game trading service.
  • On one hand, I felt like the time travel episode of Heroes did all the things I hate about SciFi time travel stories: Had no internal consistency, overlooked obvious paradoxes, muddled the story unnecessarily and introduced scenarios that had no logical explanation. On the other hand, the intent of the device was so compelling and—mind-bending anti-logic aside—so well executed that for once I found myself not really caring. One thing that Heroes has done better than any show I can think of is really make me trust the writers to come up with something awesome. I watched and do watch other serialized shows with a lot of apprehension that at some point they’ll drop the ball and just go off on a really dumb tangent (I fought this fear with the X-Files for six seasons before it became clear that the mythology had done exactly that; I continue to fight with Lost on this matter) forcing me to lose interest. There are three episodes of Heroes left and I have no doubt that they’ll be awesome. I’m even done questioning Niki because so far even things that are slower to develop (like Future Hiro) turn out to be really cool. </fanboy>
  • I watched The Last King of Scotland thinking it would be really good because I like Forest Whitaker as an actor and a lot of critics I tend to agree with really loved it. Whitaker’s performance was good but the movie itself was stupid. I think part of it was that I had no sympathy for the main character (who is not the Forest Whitaker character) and sort of wished he would go away. It’s hard to be repulsed by a villainous character when the protagonist is reprehensible himself: There is no contrast. Also, it gets really graphically violent at the end but is handled in a sort of schlocky, gratuitous manner. Dumb.
  • On the flip side, Nik and I went and saw Hot Fuzz, which was great. Even better than Shaun of the Dead, I thought, and I really liked Shaun. Word of warning though: Hot Fuzz is also over-the-top graphically violent (but the schlock works here because the whole movie is silly/serious like that) so don’t be surprised like Nik was.
  • I’m totally digging the new Modest Mouse album, We Were Dead Before the Ship Even Sank. Most people would probably listen to it and go, “uh, what?” But I love it. Brilliantly weird.
  • We have actual cable-box-based Comcast now (versus the straight-from-the-wall boxless variety) and cable internet instead of DSL. For one thing, I know it may be anecdotal but I’ve always had much, much better speeds from cable than DSL. So it’s nice to have our broadband actually feel like broadband again. But since it’s been three years since we had a cable box, there are a couple of really cool things they have going now. One is the serial cable from the TiVo actually works now so I don’t have to use the stupid flaky IR solution which basically makes the TiVo have to try to change the channel as if it were pressing buttons on a remote control. Predictably it failed a number of times when we had to do it before, usually right before key programs like season finales were about to air. The other is Comcast’s On Demand service which I was skeptical about but I find to be very cool. I make the analogy that it’s kind of like watching someone else’s TiVo. You don’t necessarily have exactly what you want, but there is probably something in there worth your while. I just wish I didn’t have to pay $14.99 if I want to get FSN Plus. True, it doesn’t matter much now because all the NHL games are either on the main channel or nationally broadcast, but during the regular season I found it exceptionally annoying that a game was televised but I couldn’t watch it because I didn’t get the stupid channel.

A Final Story

I’ve got only two computers any longer: My trusty iBook G4 which is sadly having some display issues but still runs like a champ for the most part and a first generation Mac Mini which serves as our “household” computer and is shared by Nik and I. The Mini has all our iTunes stuff and we use it for general web surfing, email and pretty much anything that doesn’t get too geeky.

Since we purchased the Mini, it has been connected to an old 17″ Viewsonic CRT that was probably on its last legs a year before I hooked it to the Mini and has a horrible lack of brightness and a gargantuan footprint. When we moved to the new place we bought a new desk to replace the monstrosity I bought back when I had about twelve computers running at any given point in time (and another half dozen in various states of disuse or disrepair). The old desk was an official computer desk with all kinds of nooks and cubby holes for software, instruction manuals, CPU towers and so forth. It was, with the introduction of the Mini and the consolidation of the operating computers, grossly overwrought for its intended function.

So we got a nice, normal desk and put the beast in the garage to serve as a workbench. Of course the problem with the new desk was that without all the extraneous compartments we really needed a monitor that didn’t monopolize the whole thing. So I found a great deal online for a 19″ widescreen LCD monitor from Staples: $150 including shipping for a brand-name model. That was, I found, a good $25 cheaper than any other comparable deal—before tax and shipping. Sold. I got my order confirmation from Staples a few hours after I placed the order and was happy to know it would be delivered the next day so I could get it set up right away. After all, we’d been sharing my flaky-screened iBook for a week or more and it was about time to get things set up again.

The day of the delivery I used UPS’s website to track the order. It said it was scanned into the shipping center in Sacramento sometime Tuesday morning (the 24th) and would be shipped sometime that day. I got home from work around 11 in the morning and waited around for the guy to show. Sometime around four thirty I started to get concerned so I called UPS directly and asked what would happen if they didn’t get it to me by five o’clock. The operator told me their business day ended at 7:30 pm, so there was actually plenty of time left for it to arrive. I accepted that and went back to waiting.

7:30 on Tuesday came and went and eventually I got some sleep and woke up later that evening to go to work. I didn’t get a lot of sleep so I dragged through Wednesday morning’s shift and came home hoping to see a “Sorry we missed you!” note on the door. It wasn’t there, but I was too tired to care. I collapsed into bed and slept until Nik got home. Still no monitor. There wasn’t much to do about it at that point so I put it out of my mind and decided to worry about it the next day.

The next morning I woke up fairly early with a list of things to do. I started unpacking some of the millions of boxes that were still around from the move while I listened for the doorbell that would indicate the monitor had finally arrived. By one in the afternoon my unpacking was making progress, but my patience was wearing thin. I checked the UPS website for tracking again and noted with some confusion that a new entry was listed: Sometime the day before the package was scanned into the distribution center in Las Vegas, Nevada. I picked up the phone and talked to an operator who was less than helpful. She offered to send a message to the Las Vegas center and have someone there call me back within an hour. I told her that their promises to do something within a certain timeframe was in question so I didn’t want to hang up and waste another hour. Was there someone else I could talk to? The Las Vegas rep, for example.

I was told that UPS uses a messaging-based system and could not directly transfer the call to Las Vegas. I suggested they might want to consider upgrading their system beyond that of the Pony Express and she offered to let me talk to a manager. I agreed.

The manager, Amy, was like most customer service managers: Practiced in her courtesy but nothing remotely resembling sincere. She apologized and I told her I didn’t really care if she was sorry, I only cared if she could get me my monitor. She said there was nothing more she could do but if I hung in there, it would arrive the following day for sure. She also offered to reimburse the shipping fees. I sighed and thanked her for her help, but I asked for and got her direct phone number. Just in case.

When I hung up I called Staples. I knew they had done their part, but I wanted to know how much the shipping fees had cost. The nice lady at Staples told me that the cost to me for shipping was nothing: All orders for more than $50 came with complimentary next-day shipping paid for by Staples out of their UPS account. I verified that when UPS refunded the cash, it would go to Staples and not me. I was told this was correct. For her part she offered me a coupon even though her company was blameless in the whole thing, and I thanked her. She told me if I continued to have problems to call back and they would see what they could do to help.

The next day I waited somewhat less patiently until sometime before noon, than I called again. I was quickly run up the chain until I spoke to some supervisor (not Amy) who told me that they weren’t, in fact, sure what had happened or even where my package was at the moment. I asked with some confusion how they were going to get me the monitor that day if they didn’t know where it was. The supervisor then told me there was no way it would come to me Friday. The best I could do was to contact the shipper (Staples) and have them institute a “trace” which was a formal investigation into the whereabouts of a lost package. I asked what that would do for me and was told it “might find my package.” I indicated that was not acceptable.

She said she understood my frustration and I—well, I didn’t exactly lose it but any calm, understanding demeanor I might have had vanished. I told her my frustration was not to be understood, it was to be expected at that point and I demanded to know what she planned to do to make good on their blunder. She said, “Nothing.” I informed her that it hadn’t even been close to pleasure doing business with her and hung up. I had nothing more to say. If she wasn’t going to help me, then I didn’t care. I called Staples.

For their part, Staples was exemplary in the whole mess. As soon as I explained what had just happened, they offered to ship me a new monitor at no charge. When I hung up and realized after talking to Nik that it would be much smarter to have it delivered to her work instead of our home, I called back and they cheerfully updated my shipping information. The only unfortunate part was that they don’t ship on the weekends so it wouldn’t be until Monday when the replacement order got out of the warehouse.

I never heard from UPS again.

Yesterday, nine days since my “next day” package was supposed to arrive, I picked up the monitor from Nik’s office.

On the up side, the monitor is beautiful and has a tiny, insignificant footprint which makes for lots of extra room on the desk. I brought the old CRT from the apartment, just in case, and it’s sitting in the garage. When I do my next round of unpacking I’ll toss it away. Good riddance.

On the down side I feel like UPS has really got a racket going on. The problem is that my default threat of taking my business elsewhere isn’t practical with UPS because so often when you order something to be shipped to you, you don’t have the choice of how that shipment takes place., for instance, will continue to use UPS whether I want to pay for UPS service or not. My alternative is to simply not take advantage of online shopping and that’s almost more of a punishment for me than it would be for UPS, not to mention the small online stores I would in turn be refusing to support.

I wonder what the correct way to handle this is? Let it go? Better Business Bureau? Buy FedEx stock? It’s annoying how callous UPS can not only have the audacity to be but can afford to be. What is their motivation for trying to make me happy? It’s not like they will realistically lose my business nor would it matter to them if they did. As far as they’re concerned they ate the cost of the shipping so their conscience is clear, but that leaves me stranded either trying to get additional restitution from a company that did no wrong (Staples) or forced to simply eat crow.

By the by, I hate crow.

So the best I can do is say any time you have a choice, I encourage you to use someone other than UPS. Trust me, it’s not worth the hassle.

Series Tied

I was incredibly frustrated watching game two of the Detroit-San Jose series yeterday. Once again the Sharks came out looking very strong, took a nice lead and then went to sleep. Late in the game with around seven minutes left the Sharks got a power play and I watch it unfold with Thornton controlling the puck from his usual position and I see two other Sharks (I presume they were Cheechoo and Michalek but I couldn’t catch the jersey numbers to be sure) in front of the net… standing around.

I sat there trying not to wake Nik who was taking a nap screaming silently, “Move! MOVE! MOVE!” Thornton did the best he could to avoid the Detroit pressure but he got no help. Look, Joe is a great passer but he isn’t capable of defying the laws of physics: If there isn’t anywhere to pass, he can’t will the puck to appear on the other side of a defender. Those guys down low have got to work to make something happen.

They didn’t.

This is all after a second period where the Sharks seemed to be allergic to shooting. What did they have, three shots in twenty minutes? Not. Good. Enough.

The Sharks are better than these guys. There is no reason we couldn’t have rolled Detroit in four games. Now they have to go back to the Tank and prove that to a team that is definitely going to use their come from behind victory (and three unanswered goals) as a motivating factor. Listen, kids, it ain’t getting easier from here. So, a quick two-step plan to get back on track:

  1. Work as hard as Mike Grier. Everyone.
  2. Shoot. For pity’s sake, shoot.

Listen, Sharks, this kind of play isn’t going to cut it with me or the rest of the San Jose fans. I don’t want to roll out this ultimatum already but I’d rather do it when it can make a difference than when it is too late. You owe us.

We’ve been good. We’ve had your back through some very bad years. We sat through some pitiful hockey. We believed in underdogs when there was really no rational reason to do so, pushing you to minor, moral victories by sheer force of will against overwhelming odds. We’ve put up with disappointing years that ought to have been ours. We’ve suffered through early season slumps, late season nail-biters, pitiful playoffs and talentless early years. We’ve dreamed of against-all-odds victories.

The front office has been good to us. They gave us the tools to finally make a real run at ultimate victory… a couple of times. Don’t let this be another year of coulda-been. They call Detroit “Hockeytown,” but I think that nickname ought to be taken away. They can’t even sell out a playoff game for goodness’ sake. And don’t give me that hooey about competing sports with the Tigers being good and the Pistons and Lions: We have twice as many pro sports teams and we manage to support them all (well, except the Raiders… but let’s just call that “justified”). No, San Jose is the real Hockeytown. We love it, we love the team, we’ve been there since the miserable Cow Palace days. So forget the Gipper, forget your fat contracts, forget the personal glory.

Do it for us. No excuses, just make it happen. You can. Just go do it. Now. Stop playing around and let’s go fight Anaheim. Or Vancouver. Whomever. Point is, this series ought to be well on its way to being over by now. I don’t want drama, I want crushing, demoralizing defeat that shows those fair weather idiots in Detroit why they were justified in staying home and not wasting their time and money. So no more of this silliness. Playtime is over.

Do it for the new Hockeytown. It’s about time.


I can’t believe I forgot to mention it: How incredible was Monday night’s Heroes episode? So very worth the wait. And, if possible, next week looks even better.

Also slipping from my mind: Sharks vs. Red Wings! Hot diggity! Bring ’em.