Monday, December 20, 2010

I'm not a Guitar Hero VIP

A month or so ago, I picked up Guitar Hero: Warriors of Rock because it was a Gold Box special on Amazon. Naturally, it didn't get much play when Rock Band 3 came out, but I've played it a bit and it's all right. Of course, they've lost the battle ... anyway, as part of a long story you don't want to hear, I was going to connect my console to because.

The way it works is you get an in-game code, you go to the website, you enter the code, and that plus your gamertag verifies that it's you. So I go to the site, enter the code that's on my screen ... and there's no match.

Right. Thanks for nothing, Activision.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Access 2007: how to use WeekdayName

So I'm working on this little project that calls for a column containing the day of the week. Odd, I know, but I thought it would be nice for Access to pass that along. There are a number of ways it can be done, but I thought it would be interesting to use WeekdayName because, well, it returns a name.

Of course, given that it's an Access function, Microsoft has little documentation and no examples for it. (Some time ago, Microsoft gave up providing useful examples for most of their functions ... of course they're not the only ones to do that. Adobe's examples for ColdFusion help are just as bad as Macromedia's were: they just show you what the syntax is without showing you results.) A quick Google didn't show me anything definite, and in fact showed me one suggestion that was flat-out wrong (that you can't control how it returns the day).

Now, that suggestion did have a good point – use a different function because of how this one works – but I'll show you anyway.

Here's the call: WeekdayName(weekdayvalue,abbreviate,firstdayofweek). See the problem? You're not passing a date, you're passing a Weekday, which means that it's simply telling you that the "first" day of the week is Monday (or whatever).

Anyway, the first value is a weekday value, not a date. The second value (optional), is a Boolean that specifies whether you want a three-letter abbreviation returned instead of the full weekday. (No apparent option to modify that.) The third value (optional) is the day of the week that you will designate as the first, with 1 being Sunday, 2 being Monday, etc. If you don't specify it, then you get whatever the system setting is, which may or may not be what you want.

Why did Microsoft make WeekdayName use an ordinal value instead of a date value? Because they're dumb. Anyway, if you want to use it, it looks like this:

WeekdayName(Weekday(#12/15/2010#),True,1) returns Wed. (Yes it does. I just tested it.) WeekdayName(Weekday(#12/15/2010#),False,1) returns Wednesday.

There you go ... but use this instead: Format(#12/15/2010#, "ddd").

Monday, December 13, 2010

Marketing idiocy

No offense to marketing people, because hey, that's what they pay you to do, right?

The Big Ten named its divisions. Legends and Leaders.


Dumbest change ever. MGoBlog suggests that we call them East and West. I'm with Brian.

Ohio StateMichigan State
Penn StateMinnesota

Thursday, December 09, 2010

Sometimes the virtual world is better

It's 2014, my sixth season at Louisiana-Lafayette. Unlike last year, where an early-season loss kept us out of the BCS title game, we finish the regular season 12-0, including a couple of close calls (a close win over North Texas on the road in the rain, I think we turned it over four times in that one).

We're playing Notre Dame. They're #1, of course. We kick to start the game, force a punt ... interception. They drive for a TD. We throw an interception, returned for a TD. 14-0 Irish.

Second quarter. We kick a FG. They score a TD. 21-3. We lose a fumble. I mute the game. This isn't going well ... three early turnovers, we're getting blown out.

But they throw an interception, we return it deep in ND territory, and the QB scrambles for a TD. 21-10. They throw another interception and we return it for a TD. 21-17. We force a punt and score another TD. 24-21 at halftime.

The second half is more of the same; although we do make mistakes, the first-string defense doesn't allow another score. Our defense runs another interception back for a TD, it's 45-21, and I sit the starters. We nearly made it 52-21 on the ensuing kickoff, but replay confirmed their kick returner was down before he fumbled. (They did drive for a TD on my backups, but we stopped the two-point conversion and recovered the onside kick. Final score: ULL 45, ND 27.)

42 consecutive points. A national championship for ULL. Notre Dame gets crushed. I like it.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Wherein I learn that parts is not parts

You know ... "Parts is parts." Well, they ain't.

My guest toilet hasn't worked for quite some time. I tried to fix it, but in the process, it began leaking between the bowl and the tank, but only when I flushed. Did I say "leak"? I meant "flood". So I wrote that off to incompetence and resolved not to fix my other toilet unless I had to ...

and then one day, I had to. The cheap-ass parts inside finally gave way, so it was time. I put it off until guests were scheduled to arrive (you know you can use a toilet without flushing, right? Two ways: dump water quickly into the bowl to force the contents down, or you can also fill the tank manually and flush like you would ordinarily), but guests probably don't want to do that.

So off I go to Lowe's to pick up a toilet repair kit. It's pretty easy to replace the fill valve (the one on the left side, for most people), because you just unscrew what holds the pipe in place, pull the old valve out, put the new one in, adjust it, screw the pipe in place, and you're done. If you have to replace the flush valve, then you've got to take off the tank ... sigh. Not fun. (It's more challenging if you have one of those things that sits above your toilet ...)

So I get the pieces in place (except for one that stops leaks – I figured that out shortly before the end of the story), flushed to test, and hey! There's that flood thing again. I put the tools down, come back out to the living room, and play some more keyboards for a while.

Once I've calmed down, I Google "Fluidmaster leak between tank and bowl." Not quite helpful enough. Then I hit another thread that suggests something about toilet types. Hmm. And finally I found this one. Some toilets need bigger gaskets ... hmmm ... I'd better go check.

Sure enough, both toilets are Gerber toilets. The last guy to post says that he kept his old gasket, used the rest of the new parts, and it worked. I do the same. ta da!

Problem solved. Back to the store I go tomorrow to get a gasket (hopefully) for the other toilet.

Parts is not parts.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

NHL 10: First half of March '10

Three games this week: home against the Kings and Blues, then on the road at Pittsburgh. Trade deadline's coming up, but that shouldn't be an issue.

March 2: Destruction. I did take one penalty, although I thought it clean ... they scored almost immediately on the ensuing power play. The coach didn't say anything, so it must have been a good one to take. Other than that, it was a great game for me: no long shifts, no turnovers.

Stats: 0 G, 0 A, +4, 5 shots, 2 PIM, 2 hits, 1 blocked shot
Result: W 7-2 vs. Los Angeles
Grade: A+ (A+/A+/A+)

March 4: Five seconds from a shutout and we let one in. At least I wasn't on the ice for it. Decent game, led pretty much the whole way again ... Auld did a fine job in goal. Another silly tripping call, although this time they didn't score on the power play.

Stats: 0 G, 1 A, +1, 2 shots, 2 PIM, 1 hit, 2 blocked shots, 1 takeaway
Result: W 3-1 vs. St. Louis
Grade: A+ (A+/A/A+)

March 6: Great win. The last few seconds of regulation were tough: they had a couple of chances, but our defense held them, and then Ott had a breakaway but not enough time to get a shot off. First line held them off, then after a change, we got the game-winning goal.

Stats: 0 G, 0 A, -1, 4 shots, 0 PIM, 0 hits, 1 blocked shot, 1 takeaway
Result: W 4-3 OT at Pittsburgh
Grade: B+ (A+/A/C-)

Three games this week: the other tough road game at Washington, then at Buffalo, and finally home against LA.

March 8: We chased Varlamov with four goals in the first (got to like facing the backup goalie). Three more on Theodore and it was a walkover.

Stats: 0 G, 2 A, +3, 6 shots, 0 PIM, 1 hit, 0 blocked shots
Result: W 7-0 at Washington
Grade: A+ (A+/A-/A+)

March 10: This was a tough game in two senses: we lost Grossman early in the game to an injury, so Campoli and I had to double-shift, and Buffalo lost Thomas Vanek as well. (He's out 4-5 weeks, that's a huge loss for the Sabres. He's second in the NHL in points.) I drew a high-sticking call with five seconds left in OT, but we lost the faceoff and went to a shootout. I tried five-hole again and it didn't get through. Richards scored in the fifth round and we won the shootout 1-0. I had one nice shot that he deflected past Miller for our second goal ... I'll take the assist.

Stats: 0 G, 1 A, even, 6 shots, 0 PIM, 1 hit, 2 blocked shots
Result: W 3-2 SO at Buffalo
Grade: A (A+/A+/A-)

March 12: Another big win over the Kings, although it should have been even bigger: we gave up two goals in the final minute of play (not while I was on the ice).

Stats: 0 G, 0 A, +1, 5 shots, 0 PIM, 0 hits, 2 blocked shots
Result: W 6-3 vs. Los Angeles
Grade: A (A+/A/B)

Four more games of our six-game home stand next week: Colorado, San Jose, Philadelphia, and Ottawa.

March 14: woo goal! This one was my first solid goal: I walked into the slot, got a pass, and snapped it to the left side. Didn't even get the shot high, but the goalie never got his blocker up. It was the game-winning goal for a while, but we let in a couple of bad goals ... eventually, though, we put it away.

Stats: 1 G, 1 A, even, 6 shots, 0 PIM, 3 hits, 1 blocked shot
Result: W 7-4 vs. Colorado
Grade: A+ (A+/A+/A+)

Saturday, November 13, 2010

NHL 10: February '10

February 2: I'm fitting into the offense better, getting a better idea of when to join the rush. Still can't put one past the goalie when I want to, but I'm getting better chances. We gave up a goal to the fourth line in the third, which made me unhappy, but at least we got another good win.

Stats: 0 G, 0 A, even, 7 shots, 0 PIM, 1 hit, 1 blocked shot, 2 takeaways (+1)
Result: W 4-1 vs. Minnesota
Grade: A- (A+/A+/C+)

February 4: Another shootout against Columbus. Took a 3-0 lead in the first, lost most of it in the second, fell behind in the third, tied it, went to a shootout and won. Of course I missed my shot ...

Stats: 0 G, 0 A, -1, 5 shots, 0 PIM, 2 hits, 3 blocked shots
Result: W 7-6 SO at Columbus
Grade: A- (A+/A+/C-)

February 6: woo goal! I thought this one might have been tipped, but it went in cleanly. I even got the third star ... not bad for just two points on the night.

Stats: 1 G, 1 A, even, 2 shots, 0 PIM, 1 hit, 2 blocked shots, 1 takeaway
Result: W 6-3 vs. Phoenix
Grade: A+ (A+/A+/A+)

Three games this week, all on the road: at Chicago, at Calgary, and at Phoenix.

February 9: A good win over a good Blackhawks team. We led wire-to-wire and added an empty-net goal; thankfully I'd just got on the ice and got a cheap plus from that.

Stats: 0 G, 0 A, +1, 3 shots, 0 PIM, 0 hits, 1 blocked shot
Result: W 4-1 at Chicago
Grade: A- (A+/A-/B)

February 11: woo! Scored the only goal in the shootout. I guess those fakes do work sometimes ... trickled one through Kiprusoff's five-hole. Lost Slava Kozlov for a week or two, though. That one will hurt. The win pulls us within two points of fourth-place San Jose, but we're still a ways behind Anaheim.

Stats: 0 G, 0 A, +1, 6 shots, 0 PIM, 1 hit, 3 blocked shots, 2 takeaways
Result: W 2-1 SO at Calgary
Grade: A+ (A+/A+/A+)

February 13: tough loss in OT. We had a 3-on-2 in overtime, I shot, Bryzgalov saved, they got the puck at a wide angle, and boom, that was it. sigh. (Kozlov also played in this game, not sure what that was about.)

Stats: 0 G, 1 A, even, 8 shots, 0 PIM, 1 hit, 4 blocked shots
Result: L 2-3 OT at Phoenix
Grade: A (A+/A/A-)

No games next week or the week after because of the "Olympic" break.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

NHL 10: Second half of January '10

January 18: woo goal! Nice wrist shot, beat the goalie high to his glove side. Dominance from start to finish. Would have liked to get another point and get a star, but it didn't happen.

Stats: 1 G, 1 A, +5, 5 shots, 0 PIM, 0 hits, 1 blocked shot
Result: W 6-0 vs. Minnesota
Grade: A (A+/B-/A+)

January 21: stupid loss. Long shift, couldn't get off the ice, couldn't control the puck. I crunched Steve Bernier in the first period ... he was up against the boards and I popped the puck loose. I don't think he returned. Sucks to be him. (He's out for two weeks now.) Oh, and I took a silly tripping minor – well deserved, but fun, because when I came out of the box, I got to be a forward.

Stats: 0 G, 0 A, -1, 4 shots, 2 PIM, 1 hit, 2 blocked shots, 1 takeaway
Result: L 1-2 OT at Vancouver
Grade: B+ (A+/A-/C-)

woot! Moved up to the first pair. Unlocked some new skates, too bad I have no boosts to put in them.

January 22: gah. awful. Gave up a PP goal as well as a ton of other goals. gah.

Stats: 0 G, 0 A, -4, 6 shots, 0 PIM, 1 hit, 3 blocked shots
Result: L 4-6 at Edmonton
Grade: B (A+/A/F)

Three games this week: at Colorado, then back home (finally) against Calgary and the Avs again.

January 24: Nice win, can't believe I was a +4. Had a near-breakaway too, but I tried to pass and blew it. Also had a good shot in the slot, but didn't score.

Stats: 0 G, 1 A, +4, 3 shots, 0 PIM, 1 hit, 2 blocked shots, 1 takeaway
Result: W 5-2 at Colorado
Grade: A+ (A+/A-/A+)

January 27: wow, did we get smoked in the first period. Five goals. It was awful ... surprising that we cut it to two at the end. Natural hat trick for Bouwmeester ... I got an assist on the final goal, but it was small consolation. You can't lose those games at home to teams at the bottom of the conference.

Stats: 0 G, 1 A, -2, 7 shots, 0 PIM, 1 hit, 3 blocked shots
Result: L 3-5 vs. Calgary
Grade: A- (A+/A/B-)

January 29: Complete reversal. We came out quickly and just took it to Colorado. There was no question at all ... plus the Avs made it easy by spending a lot of time in the box. I think I drew four roughing penalties myself; they committed five total. Probably my best all-around game to date: A+ across the board, only one long shift, no turnovers.

Stats: 0 G, 1 A, +1, 5 shots, 0 PIM, 1 hit, 1 blocked shot
Result: W 6-0 vs. Colorado
Grade: A+ (A+/A+/A+)

Four games this week: home against Phoenix and Minnesota, at Columbus, home against Phoenix again.

January 31: Another easy win ... I picked up a loose puck late in the game but wasn't close enough to get a good shot. We lost my former defense partner, Matt Niskanen, out for 9 weeks, which is pretty much until playoff time. Bad news.

Stats: 0 G, 0 A, +2, 6 shots, 0 PIM, 2 hits, 0 blocked shots
Result: W 4-1 vs. Phoenix
Grade: A (A+/A-/A-)

NHL 10: First half of January '10

January 2nd: terrible game. I put one in my own net, turned the puck over in the last minute of regulation to give up the tying goal, and was stopped in the shootout that we fortunately won. ugh.

Stats: 0 G, 0 A, -1, 3 shots, 0 PIM, 1 hit, 2 blocked shots, 2 takeaways
Result: W 4-3 SO vs. Vancouver
Grade: B+ (A+/B+/C-)

Three games this week: at New Jersey, at the Rangers, and hosting the Islanders. We traded away one defenseman and acquired another ... doesn't seem to have affected me, though.

January 5: Another bad game, mostly. Two giveaways by me lead directly to goals. Fortunately, I also set up a nice empty-net goal (wish I were closer), and we scored enough that it wasn't an issue.

Stats: 0 G, 1 A, even, 2 shots, 0 PIM, 1 hit, 2 blocked shots
Result: W 4-2 at New Jersey
Grade: A (A+/B/A)

January 6: This one was easy. We dominated from start to finish. I had several good chances ... would have liked to have put one away, but it wasn't to be.

Stats: 0 G, 0 A, +3, 8 shots, 0 PIM, 0 hits, 2 blocked shots, 1 takeaway
Result: W 7-0 at NY Rangers
Grade: A+ (A+/A/A+)

January 8: Tough loss ... they scored in the first after I dove to block a shot and didn't get it, and it took too long for us to catch up. Again, I had some quality shots, but just couldn't put any past DiPietro.

Stats: 0 G, 1 A, even, 8 shots, 0 PIM, 2 hits, 1 blocked shot, 2 takeaways (+1)
Result: L 1-2 vs. NY Islanders
Grade: A (A+/A-/A-)

Four games this week: at Columbus, at Philadelphia, at Montreal, and home against Detroit.

January 10: I hate Rick Nash. I think every shift he took, he ended up doing something against us. I mean, I had two assists and I was still a -2. So glad we managed to fight back with two in the third and one in OT.

Stats: 0 G, 2 A, -2, 2 shots, 0 PIM, 1 hit, 4 blocked shots
Result: W 5-4 OT at Columbus
Grade: A (A+/A-/A+)

January 12: Gave up a last-minute goal while I was on the ice. sigh. Just missed a breakaway pass, too.

Stats: 0 G, 0 A, -1, 8 shots, 0 PIM, 0 hits, 1 blocked shot
Result: W 4-2 at Philadelphia
Grade: B (A+/B+/C-)

We traded for Richard Matvichuk ... that's not good. Well, it's good because my line position is unrelated to team talent, I guess, so it means our top pair got better. Four D in the 80s, plus one at 79 and me at 76.

January 14: Better game for us, but I'm still making little mistakes. Had a good shot from the slot, but Carey saved it.

Stats: 0 G, 0 A, +1, 4 shots, 0 PIM, 1 hit, 3 blocked shots
Result: W 3-2 at Montreal
Grade: B+ (A+/B-/B)

January 16: wow. Huge win. I did contribute to their lone goal, but it didn't matter that much.

Stats: 0 G, 1 A, +4, 2 shots, 0 PIM, 0 hits, 3 blocked shots
Result: W 6-1 vs. Detroit
Grade: A+ (A+/A/A+)

Next week, three games: home against Minnesota, at Vancouver, and at Edmonton.

Sunday, September 12, 2010


Fuck the rules. A RB can wave the ball across the line and that's a TD. A WR can catch the ball and land in the end zone with it, but if he doesn't get up and run around like a goddamn chicken even though the play is over as soon as he's caught the ball in the end zone, it's not a touchdown.

That might be the dumbest ruling I have ever seen.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Weekend warmup: Thursday and Friday

  • New Orleans 14, Minnesota 9: Didn't watch the whole thing because ugh NBC and because DirecTV seemed to be having transmission problems. A few things to note: both offenses looked like it was the first game of the season (can't wait to be seeing this in mid-August, right guys?), Favre definitely looked like he could have used some real practice, and the Vikings' running game was even worse without Peterson than you'd imagine. With Rice out of the lineup, the Vikings have tight ends and A.P., and even at that, once the Saints figured out Favre wasn't looking to WRs (partly because Harvin wasn't catching much), it was simple enough to change coverage and let Minnesota pretend they could run the ball. Easy pickings for quality opponents, I'm afraid.
  • West Virginia 24, Marshall 21, OT: Reminded once again that most ESPN announcers aren't very good. There was a lot of blah blah blah in the fourth quarter as Marshall fumbled away a chance to ice the game and then watched the Mountaineers drive for 15 points to send the game to OT. Rod Gilmore praised Bill Stewart for going for one to make it 21-13 instead of "trying to get too much" (huh? you need a two-point conversion either way, and if you miss it at 21-19, game over), and talked all about momentum in overtime but didn't say boo about Marshall winning the toss and sheepily choosing defense. I'm sorry, but if my defense has been on the field for most of the 4th quarter and has just given up 15 points, I'm sending out the offense. I don't care about convention.

    Naturally, when Marshall had a 4th-and-1 from the West Virginia 41 with about 3:35 to play, Gilmore praised Marshall for punting because "you have to rely on your defense here." Huh? It's completely the wrong call. If you get the yard, you burn West Virginia's final time out in all likelihood or else you kill most of the remaining clock; if you don't get it, they still have to drive 60-some yards to score and then convert the two, and even if they do, you'll probably get the ball back with some time to spare. As it was, they had time only for one play.

    Look, if you're the underdog (Marshall has never beaten West Virginia), you play to win. You don't play not to lose. You go for it. You rely on your defense to stop a 60-yard drive, not an 80-yard drive. As it turned out, the punt team did a great job and killed the ball at the WV 2, and they still gave up six. Play to win, gentlemen. Play to win.
  • Houston 54, UTEP 24: Didn't see the fourth quarter of this one, but I didn't need to. Houston QBs don't really do well in the NFL (beware, Eagles fans), but that offense sure works fine against middle-tier opponents. UTEP tried to hang with them and simply couldn't do it. The thing about a pass-heavy spread offense is that if you don't have the athletes to keep up, you simply can't stop it. There will always be someone open somewhere, and a good QB with time in the pocket will find him. (If you do have good athletes, the spread usually struggles, because it's predicated on finding mismatches somewhere.) Houston should put a lot of points on the board again this year.

Monday, September 06, 2010

Monday NCAA football

It's like the gift that keeps on giving ...

  • Maryland 17, Navy 14: And we are reminded that when large companies establish a lock on a market, they immediately stop innovating. The announcers in this game spent about 45 minutes explaining how important time of possession really is, despite the fact that people say it isn't important. Well hey, lookee here! The team that had almost a 20-minute edge in time of possession lost! Way to pay attention to the game, fools.

    Navy should have won easily ... they ran all over Maryland, but couldn't finish. Too many fumbles inside the 10. They gave up a couple of quick scores but immediately settled down and pretty much locked down the Terrapins for the rest of the game. Friedgen made a lot of questionable decisions; I admire Maryland's commitment to him (too often ADs are pressured into change for change's sake) but wonder if he's going to be able to accomplish anything this season. That defense is going to struggle all year, I think.
  • Boise State 33, Virginia Tech 30: Beamer's Boys spotted the Broncos 17 points and never really made up for it. Of course, naysayers will suggest that this only happened because it was at a neutral site, VT wasn't prepared, they lost a lot of talent, blah blah blah. The five people remaining in the BCS camp will point at the strength of the WAC behind Boise State as "evidence" that this isn't a real contender, and the rest of the country will look at games like this one and think yeah, you still don't get it, do you? Is it really a coincidence that the only major college postseason not managed by the NCAA is a joke? Laugh at their hypocrisy, their unwillingness to punish marquee programs, the arcane rules that players and coaches alike are expected to memorize, but do not mock their postseason feng shui.

    This was the type of game that we see all too rarely in September. (hear that, SEC? Yeah, we're talking to you.) Two solid teams trading punches in a game that would look just as good in January. Sure, mistakes were made on both sides, but are you going to remember the mistakes or the big plays? Exactly. (Well, if you're a Tech fan, you'll probably remember more of the mistakes.)

    So ... how about that Florida game?

Sunday, September 05, 2010

Sunday NCAA football

  • Southern 37, Delaware State 27: The Hornets scored on some big plays in the first half; Southern rolled back the pressure in the second and let Delaware State self-destruct on offense. Interesting to see how the heat affects teams with less depth.
  • East Carolina 51, Tulsa 49: Not the game to watch if you like defense. Great back-and-forth game, decided on the final play by a jump ball in the end zone. (Mental note: get your 6-8 receivers on the field for those plays.) Of course the ESPN announcers didn't understand that they'd still have to attempt the extra point; with the defensive-conversion rule in college football, Tulsa could have tied the game, but fortunately ECU simply knelt down to end it.
  • Texas Tech 35, SMU 27: A matchup of former SWC opponents using similar offensive approaches but with obviously different levels of talent. You have to wonder if June Jones' offense hasn't outlived its usefulness: even in its prime, it was never enough to overcome the lack of talent that seemed to prompt its use in the first place, and now that there are so many variations of spread offenses, neither the formation nor some of its effects are even unusual. SMU stayed somewhat close but never really threatened ... I would guess they'll finish in the top half of the conference again but won't seriously threaten for the title.

Saturday football. small doses

Not much to talk about here; I was busy with Volleybash, fantasy drafts, and talking on the porch most of the day, so I didn't see a lot.

  • Notre Dame 23, Purdue 12: Totally got this one wrong. You wouldn't expect teams with question marks on defense to combine for just 35 points in this era, but that's what happened. Purdue looked like a team with a new QB and a general lack of talent; Notre Dame looked like a team learning a new offensive scheme. They could exploit certain issues with Purdue's defense, but not with any frequency, and they really struggled to block Lombardi Award candidate Ryan Kerrigan.
  • Michigan 30, Connecticut 10: Didn't see this one live, but watched the scores and saw highlights later. Denard Robinson has transformed into a Rich Rodriguez QB; Forcier may see some action, and Devin Gardner may get a few snaps, but the job is clearly Robinson's to lose. The question is how much of that was UConn being unprepared for what they saw. Granted, this was more of a must-win game than anything else for the Wolverines, but they acquitted themselves well. Next week may provide a better read on the ceiling for this team.
  • Arizona State 54, Portland State 9: Caught a bit of this on XM. As you'd expect, the Vikings were vastly overmatched. All they could manage was three field goals, two of them long ones. The meeting with Oregon in two weeks will likely be more of the same; next week's matchup with UC-Davis will provide a better barometer of the quality of this team.

Thursday, September 02, 2010

Week 1: Thursday games

woo football!

  • Minnesota 24, Middle Tennessee State 17: About as unimpressive a road win as you can muster. The Gophers got a long run on their first possession, put the ball in the end zone, and then struggled the rest of the game. 1 for 3, I think, on field goal attempts, shaky passing (but some good throws), an inability to keep the Blue Raiders buried ... if it hadn't been for a horrible mistake by an MTSU returner, reaching out with the ball on a kick return and losing the resulting fumble, this could have gone to overtime.

    As it was, Tim Brewster's likely final season at Minnesota got off to, well, an expected start, I guess. This team will get shredded in Big Ten play again.
  • Iowa State 27, Northern Illinois 10: Only caught the fourth quarter of this game, just enough to see Iowa State look pretty unimpressive the whole time. Their defense made some good plays, but the offense wasn't really that good. Fortunately for them, NIU's vaunted rushing attack got no help from the passing game, and once the Cyclones built a decent lead, the game was over. Again, an unimpressive BCS team in a conference that will not be kind.

Random thoughts

  • Yesterday I experienced something unique. I was driving down 37, heading to volleyball, when I pulled up at a stoplight next to a car that was blasting Aerosmith. I flipped through my stations, and hey! The same song was on XM 46.

    Yes, that's unique. I have never, in all the years I've subscribed (almost four), heard the same channel in another car. (I have walked into BWW once or twice when they've had their music on the same station.) And what's funny about this time is that somehow we were off by a second or so; my music switched and then hers followed, kind of like the delay you get when one TV is watching the HD feed and one is watching the SD feed. (And yes, that still happens in bars.)

    It's sad. XM and Sirius really screwed that up, didn't they?
  • I just remembered one reason why I really don't use my iPod Touch that much any more. I connected it to sync and recharge today, and of course there was a software update waiting for me. I let iTunes try to install it, and naturally it didn't work and so we have to go through the whole factory-settings and restore-from-backup crap again.

    You know what? Apple is exactly like Microsoft. They always have been. It just looked different in the PC market after Apple screwed themselves out of a decent share with the "no-clones" philosophy, but in every instance where Apple is the dominant company, they have no problems doing the exact same stuff that Microsoft does. (Priced any e-books lately?)

    The idea behind the iPod is that it's supposed to be an easy-to-use music player, but Apple still hasn't figured out that the one-button scheme is and always has been stupid (which is easier to use, an iPod Touch or a non-Apple touch-screen phone?), and when even simple upgrade processes don't work smoothly, well, Apple should be thankful that their competitors have been forced out of the market for the most part. (Some did it to themselves. Zune?)
  • Football woo! The Big Ten is splitting into divisions that will actually preserve the Michigan-Ohio State end-of-season rivalry. Amazingly, it took an electronic campaign by fans to make that happen. (Yes, even Delany admitted it had an effect.) Yeah, people believe some really stupid stuff in meetings like that, I guess. (Anybody looking forward to Florida State-Miami in early October? What's the opposite of woo?) It'll be interesting to see how the divisions play out next year ... and also interesting to see how NCAA handles it. Guess what, EA? You've got some changes to make! I know, you can't just push out the same game you did last year ... oh wait, that's Madden. Right. NCAA actually does improve occasionally.

    but woo football! (Even though the Lions, Purdue, Michigan, and Portland State will probably all suck.)

Here's a footnote to my iPod experience: after all that crap, I had app updates, so I went to install them, but you have to "purchase" them even though the updates are free, and the terms of the agreement had changed, so I had to read those first, and iTunes is remarkably unresponsive when it brings up forms and such, so that took forever, and then after agreeing to the new terms, I had to go back and get the apps again because HORRORS! if it actually did what I asked it to after I agreed to the new terms.

iTunes could be less user-friendly, but I'm not sure how.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

New look

Yeah, it doesn't look like I put together 20% of my custom design and 80% of someone else's stuff, then gradually removed some of their stuff to add my own. It actually looks somewhat decent now ... although I'm sure I'll want to move things around again at some point.

Of course Google half-assed this part too; they don't let you assign your own background image, probably because that would be helpful. Instead, they want you to override their image with CSS containing yours, which is stupid because, of course, that's how they put their image in place. (With comments, even. o rly? Can't say I ever checked out a simple template to find out what the generic background was.) So I found this post from a fellow blogger that confirms that you can just change it where it's assigned.

Naturally, Google will do something else that will remove that customization eventually ... anyway, enjoy the new look.

Oh, sorry that the title bar changed. I'll see if I can set that myself, but it seems that I must have "broken" that. lol.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Scheduling problems

Yeah, it's more Madden 10 stuff. My defending Super Bowl champs open the season with three straight road games, one home game, two road games, one home game, two road games. Seven of the first nine on the road.

Of course, we then get six straight home games before playing the final week on the road. The NFLPA would have a field day with this.

I do like that EA finally implemented real NFL scheduling a few years ago, but obviously they don't check everything about the schedules they generate ... no team plays more than three games in a row at home or away. I know it's tough to manage (I've done that stuff myself at times) but it needs to be done when you are creating a top-flight, realistic sports game.

Oh. Right. That explains it.

Hey, it's not just me. Check out the Amazon ratings for Madden 11. EA's got about one more year left of this, and after that, if they don't produce a clearly superior game, I think you'll see sales start to fall. (Of course, if they force motion-capture play into it, sales will disappear ... but that's another story.)

Thursday, August 26, 2010


The Big Ten adds Penn State to expand into Pennsylvania, PSU remains strong in football for the most part, other conferences add in panicky fashion (ask the Big East or the Big 12-2 or the WAC how expansion worked for them?), and people think Jim Delany is a genius.

The Big Ten creates its own network, goes toe-to-toe with some of the biggest jackasses in the corporate world, stares them down, and establishes itself as the conference to beat in terms of TV revenue. (No, really. When schools like Northwestern and IU get more money than schools like Notre Dame, USC, and Texas, all of which have deals tailored to benefit them, the Big Ten is doing something right.) Delany is a god.

The Big Ten talks about expanding again, sending pretty much every conference into a panic: they see how much the Big Ten gets now, they add some hypothetical numbers based on adding Notre Dame or Texas or Nebraska or all three, and suddenly every school is up for grabs. But the Big Ten just looks around carefully, allows Nebraska to enter, and waits as other conferences fail miserably. (Utah and Colorado to the Pac-10, w. No other major conference expansion. The Big 12-2 insists nothing is wrong here, move along, nothing to see. w.) Delany invented college football.

And then discussion of divisional play popped up, and suddenly we realized that all those other moves were just luck. Despite the fact that the ACC traveled down this exact road years ago, splitting up the Florida State-Miami rivalry because it would, of course, "dominate" the conference, only to discover that those teams have met exactly zero times in the championship game, the Big Ten is apparently insisting on the same foolishness.

Michigan and Ohio State should be in separate divisions. Stupid enough – there are clear geographic divisions right now, and even if that creates an imbalance, there are other setups that still maintain almost all major rivalries – but now there is talk that the teams will not play during the final regular-season week because HORRORS they might someday play in the conference championship HORRORS which might supposedly affect television revenue HORRORS.

So a bunch of know-nothings with their heads so far up their asses Escher would be unable to draw the resulting bodies have decided to shit all over tradition because, well, we wouldn't understand because we're just fans. Even though prominent people who actually understand what the hell they're talking about have clearly explained why this is so stupid, it's going to happen anyway. We all know this. TV always wins because TV always brings the money. (After all, that's why the Big Ten can decide not to invite Texas. The Big Ten has the money.)

This is why baseball games are over three hours long and Impotent Commissioner Selig can't figure out how to fix it. This is why you miss the kickoff of your 4:15 game, or worse yet, you miss the finish of your 1:00 game. This is why people don't watch the NBA any more. (Well, other than the complete lack of interest the sport generates on its own, its inability to enforce rules, etc. etc.) Television decides something and everyone else submits.

Commissioner Delany, you damn well better come up with something good after this. If your legacy is "The man who ruined the OSU-UM rivalry", you'd best retire somewhere out of the Big Ten footprint ... which may very well rule out Texas. Hope you like Florida.

Google Toolbar broken, can't update, breaks tooltips in Firefox 3

Google Toolbar doesn't work any more. No idea why. None of the buttons show up, can't search with it, can't change options. Uninstalling and reinstalling doesn't work ... and for an added bonus, Google no longer posts updates through Firefox's add-on manager. Why? Same reason Microsoft jacks around with stuff, to drive traffic to their site. "Don't be evil" my ass. All big companies operate the same way; they do so because they can. Market pressures are the only things that prevent smaller companies from screwing their customers as much as possible ... after all, that's the ideal business relationship for a company, everything for them and nothing for you.

For another added bonus, if the broken toolbar is installed, you get no tooltips anywhere. Why? Don't ask me, I'm just a user. (Of course, it could also be something on Mozilla's side, like the script that runs to infinity after I've updated the add-on and can't be killed because it starts up again right away. Nothing like going to Task Manager to kill Firefox so that you can finish installing an add-on.)

I find it interesting that this happened basically the same day that they added a new "feature" to Gmail, which of course means something else that none of us really wanted in the first place. This time it's the ability to make phone calls. woo! Way to undercut the market for your Android phones, Google.

plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Dear EA,


(no more ranting tonight. sorry for those of you expecting real content.)

Friday, August 13, 2010

More Madden 10 bugs

I know, dead horse and all that, and Madden 11 is out, but I have a Super Bowl to win in 10.

Anyway, this time the interception happened when the ball passed through my receiver. Through him. Not metaphorically speaking, like after a Brett Favre pass, but literally. The ball passes through his body.

I'm not holding my breath to see if it's fixed in 11.

Monday, August 02, 2010

A hopeless cause

Each NFL team plays 16 regular-season games. An average team wins 8 games per year (ties are very uncommon), but that team would be lucky to make the playoffs and probably would lose in the wild-card round. Add a couple of wins the following season, though, and now you have a 10-win team, one that might steal a division title and get a home playoff game. One more win the following season and suddenly you might be thinking playoff contender: 11 wins and you might be looking past the wild-card game to the divisional playoffs.

But that kind of improvement isn't common. Only 154 of 1605 teams have done it, less than 10%. So you'd think that if that is the expected outcome for your team, you should be happy, right?

Well, here's the problem. Football Outsiders' projection for the Lions this year is calling for that exact improvement ... leaving them with a 3-13 record. (Pick up a copy of FOA 2010 in the FO Store and see for yourself.) Sure, it's more wins than in the last two seasons combined, but 3-13 is hardly something to celebrate. Of those 154 teams, 4 of them won 0 games in Year 0: '42 Lions, '44 Steelers, '60 Cowboys, and '76 Buccaneers. Two WWII-era teams and two expansion teams. In two seasons, every one of those teams won 5 games or more, and that was before the 16-game schedule, mostly. (Ten to twelve games in the '40s, fourteen games through 1977, so the '78 Bucs did get two more shots at wins.)

So basically, if the Lions improve as projected, it will be less improvement than any other winless team has managed in two seasons. (Technically not – the wartime Cardinals were winless in '43 and '44, winning a single game in '45 – but they merged with the Steelers for the '44 season, so that doesn't exactly count. The only winless team not listed above, the '82-'84 Colts, are an exception as well because '82 was the nine-game strike season ... and the '83 Colts won seven games. They managed only four wins in '84.)

Yes, the team for which I've rooted since the early '70s was completely gutted by the worst GM in the history of professional sports, Matt Millen. He took a team that was literally a field goal away from making the playoffs and scrubbed so much talent from the roster that after two years of rebuilding, they still won't win 25% of their games. He was bad at his job on a level that defies description: very few positions offer as much public scrutiny as president/GM/what have you of a professional sports team, and fewer still draw the attention that an NFL team president garners. Millen was terrible in his first three seasons – 14-34-0 from 2000 through 2002 – and yet the Fords kept him around. 16-32-0 over the next three seasons ... and a miserable 10-38-0 in his last three (counting 2008, the year he was finally cut loose). That final three-year period is the second-worst in post-strike NFL history (starting with the '88 season), behind only the Patriots from 1990 to 1992 (9-39-0). What have they done since then? Exactly.

Here's the kicker. Excluding wartime teams, the worst three-year span in NFL history came from the 1959-1961 Washington Redskins, whose 5-30-0 mark gave them a winning percentage of .143. Sounds bad, right? But that FO projection would put the Lions at 5-43-0 ... that's .104, for those of you who made it this far. That's worse than everyone except the wartime Cardinals.

So it isn't getting better any time soon, and even if it does, well, ask the Bills how easy it is to win a Super Bowl. Even when you're (arguably) the best team in the league, one or two breaks can take that chance away, and who knows when you'll get another one?

So why do I root for the Lions? Because that's what you do. You carry the flag, season after season, knowing that there's a small possibility that someday, you'll be the one in front of the television, speechless with joy ...

Saturday, July 31, 2010


The CPU just picked off a pass in Madden 10 by reaching through my receiver to get the ball.

And people wonder why EA has such a bad rep among gamers ...m

Sunday, June 27, 2010


And so it is over, just like that. For the seventh time in nine appearances, the Americans end their run short of the quarterfinals. Want to know why? Here's a hint:

Gerrard (3')
Birsa (12')
Boateng (4')

Actually, that's not a hint. That is why. The US were even for just 70 of the 180 minutes of first-half soccer they played this year; they trailed for the other 110. If Algeria had more accurate attackers, it probably would have been only 30 of 180, trailing for the other 150. (Oh yes, and officially, they led for 0 minutes, right? Because the only match they won came on a goal that was scored in stoppage time.)

Worse yet, if the USMNT had proper focus at the beginning of these matches, they would have had 9 points in the group stage, not 5, winning it easily (and perhaps resting a player or two against Algeria), and they would have beaten Ghana in regular time. Instead of being 4-0-0 at this point, they went 1-2-1 and are done.

Yes, the finishing was not so good against Ghana, but the problem was more the constant struggle to catch up. In three of the four matches, the US blew a play defensively within six minutes of kickoff; in two of those, the mistake cost them a goal. Against Slovenia, the mistake came almost ten minutes later. (sigh) For good measure, the eventual winning goal by Ghana came just two minutes into extra time.

Finishing? Yes, there were goals against Algeria and Slovenia that didn't count, but let's talk about the round of 16. The US had six shots on goal: one was Donovan's PK and the rest were directly at Richard Kingson, the backup keeper for Wigan. I follow Wigan. Yes, Chris Kirkland is pretty good, but Wigan aren't, at least not last season, and Kingson has no chance of cracking that lineup. This isn't like, say, beating Tim Howard. Too few shots actually tested Kingson.

Yes, Ricardo Clark made another mistake that led to a goal, but that wasn't the problem as much as Bradley's decision to start him, which led to a first-half substitution to replace him, which meant the US had only one late-match substitution for extra time (with the usual second-half kickoff sub for Feilhaber). Would it have made a difference? Yeah. Did you see how few people were attacking the goal late in the match? Altidore did seem to be out of gas; Gomez came in for him late, but it would have been nice not to start Findley and to put in someone who can actually do something at the attacking end.

Yes, the Americans acquitted themselves very well, and there were some players who did a solid job, but ultimately this was yet another USMNT that did not play to its potential in the World Cup.

So I guess it's Gold Cup time now ... two more of those (2011 and 2013) and then we can start talking about Brazil 2014. The nice thing is that many of these players may be in good shape for the next Cup run, but they'll have to finish when they get there. The US are past the point of being able to underperform and make excuses for it: at some point, they need to get it done.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

What won't EA fix in Madden 11?

Ha. I could probably write ten posts about that, but I won't. I rake them over the coals enough as it is. I'm sure they'll get around to fixing a few things, particularly high-profile problems (like, say, the total absence of a salary cap in online franchise mode), but you know there will be a large stack of bugs, mistakes, and shoddy efforts that they simply won't touch.

Example: Madden Moments. Too many of the "moments" have some kind of half-assed description like "march downfield to tie the game" when that's not really what the goal is. "Could this be the One?", for example. I've tried it probably 200 times, and finally I managed to get the TD and two-point conversion. Was the "moment" over? No, because I was actually supposed to win the game, so instead I get nothing and have to retry it yet again. (Which, by they way, is a design flaw they won't fix: you can't simply restart a moment, even though you can, for some stupid reason, restart a game in franchise mode. You have to quit out to the list of "moments" and then reselect the one you want to retry.)

What other things won't they fix?

  • The camera on place kicks. Of course we don't have control over it, that would be useful. Instead, we'll struggle to figure out whether we'll see it from offense, defense, sidelines, or some other ridiculous angle. No wonder it's nearly impossible to block a kick. (And of course, when you do, it's simply caught by someone. Don't look to Madden for realistic physics.)
  • Opponents' personnel. Never mind that you can only have 11 players in the huddle. For some reason, EA ignores this and pretends that you can magically switch from goal-line personnel to a 5-WR set without the defense noticing. (You should either be able to see opponent's formations in real-time or their ability to switch should be limited.) And, of course, on onside kicks, for some magical reason, you're completely incapable of seeing how the other team is lining up.
  • Cut scenes. They take up so much space on the disc and there are so few of them, meaning that you know exactly what the result will be depending on which one is shown. For example, there are three for first-down measurements. Furthermore, some are absolutely ridiculous, like the one where a ref changes immediately from complete to incomplete. Finally, some are shown at inappropriate times, like the cut scene for a catch when the ball is five yards out of bounds and clearly dropped.
  • The rank commercialism in the game. (Chompetition? Really?) EA has demonstrated in several titles that adding advertising to a game does nothing at all other than line the producers' pockets if that is what they choose. Some fool at EA decided that what we wanted was a TV telecast. Really? I've never met anyone who said how much they liked the stupid placements, particularly when they come up and block your vision. Of course, there aren't any ads in the stadiums where they would actually make sense.
  • The increasing trend toward making Madden a fighting game, where combos and button-mashing trump actual football strategy. The running game, in particular, is completely out of control. Online, it's not uncommon to face players who will simply run sweeps to left and right all game; offline, even in simmed games, CPU RBs can't be brought down. In my current franchise game, there were three backs who ran for more than 2000 yards in 2009, led by Michael Turner with 2730 – yes, suspend your disbelief, please. In 2010, three backs again, led by Adrian Peterson with 2,683. (Of course that only happens with 12-minute quarters, which is the only way to approach realistic statistics in terms of number of plays and scoring.) And of course CPU WRs elude tackles time and time again ... it's hard to avoid the conspiracy-theory thoughts that this happens when the CPU is trailing and needs a big play.
  • Punt returners nonsensically running deep into their end zone to field punts, particularly when a block is on. Seriously? Have these guys ever watched an NFL game?
  • The completely worthless halftime report. Speaking of wasted space, think of all the time they spent on video and sound for that. Sure, if you want to waste five minutes, go right ahead, but give the rest of us an option to skip it completely. One of the best things about online games is that you skip the entire thing.
  • Achievements. Guess how many have to do with season performance in 10? Zero. How about game performance by a player or team (100 yards, 500 yards, etc.)? One, ten "user catches" with Larry Fitzgerald. Career performance? Zero. It's not as bad as the infamous 06 achievements, but it's bad enough.
  • The stupid rocking camera when a player breaks away. There's no purpose to this at all.
  • Editable playbooks. Hey, it's another 2-TE, 2-RB formation. No problem, I'll just use a 4-4 ... oh wait, I don't have one, but I do have a dollar defense. Dollar? Seriously? I barely even use 7-DB defenses. What a waste.
  • The obsession with combining return yards and total offense. Nobody does that. It's stupid and misinformed. Total offense is passing + rushing. Return yards are separate. If you are going to combine them, it's actually receiving + rushing (for yards from scrimmage) plus return yards, and that gives you all-purpose yards. "Total yards" as EA imagines it is completely wrong.

Well, you get the idea. Here's hoping they actually fix some things rather than giving us a bunch of crap like hand towels and "Pro-Tak".

Wednesday, June 23, 2010


Halfway through the second match, against Slovenia, the US looked to be heading home after yet another disappointing showing. Bob Bradley would be "fired" (for some reason, the US chooses a new coach for every World Cup cycle), the stars would be derided for disappearing when the chips were down, and soccer would once again be the sport that everyone plays but nobody watches. 45 minutes later, the US had two things: hope and anger. Hope that they could still qualify for the knockout stage and anger that calls that affected the game could be missed so badly.

So, coming into the third match, we knew this: FIFA refs suck, just like officials in all sports do, and the USMNT would have to play extra hard to overcome that, just like every other side does. (It's no different than in other sports. Champions play through bad calls.) Of course, it wasn't all in our hands, at least not with respect to winning the group. Defeating Algeria would put the US through, but coupled with an England win by the same margin or less, Group C would go to the Americans, and that would mean an apparently favorable draw, possibly avoiding Germany in the round of 16 and maybe even getting South Korea in the quarters.

The bar where we watched both matches was full, naturally. It's a soccer bar anyway (opening at 7 during the tournament, which is no mean feat in a state where you can't even buy beer on Sundays, mostly), and with both the US and England in action, seats were scarce. (At this point, I was grateful to be self-employed.) I got the table, everyone arrived, I got my food, and it was time for soccer ... sort of.

The first half brought some surprises. For one, Bradley changed his lineup around in a surprising way, and it worked great. The US had only one major defensive lapse, and fortunately for them, the wide-open Algerian striker hit the crossbar squarely. Possession was used better, and the ball was frequently seen moving from flank to flank, rather than shot directly into a cloud of midfielders or launched over the top for yet another hopeless run.

Even better, the US produced a number of chances, the best being Clint Dempsey's goal that was incorrectly disallowed by the referee's assistant. (FIFA doesn't need replay and they're happy with that. Reminds you of MLB, doesn't it? And yes, Sepp Blatter is even dumber than Bud Selig, if you can believe that.) Yes, you'll read about it over and over again, but the point to take away from the half was that it should easily have been 2-0 or even 3-0. This wasn't like the Slovenia match at all.

But England had scored on Slovenia, and that pushed the US into third if nothing were to change.

The second half was more of the same: poor officiating (just ask Dempsey's face), US chances, and no goals. No change from the other match as well, and as the minutes ticked away and opportunities continued to be wasted, the tension grew. There was always someone encouraging the bar, but you could tell we were concerned.

Finally, the play. Injury time. Howard throws the ball out to Donovan (something keepers figure is more accurate than kicking with this ball), Donovan finds Altidore, Altidore feeds Dempsey, Dempsey can't chip and simply smacks it off the keeper, Donovan swoops in .... GOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOAAAAAAAAAAAL!

Have you ever seen an explosion of emotion? An entire bar of American fans (well, with one or two English or English/American fans) stands as one and screams in delight. From the agony of defeat to the thrill of victory with just minutes remaining ... and not only do the Americans win (clinched a minute later when the Algerian captain is wrongly sent off), they finish top of Group C, and instead of drawing die Mannschaft, they get second-placed Ghana.

Yes, it's in Africa, but hey, Algeria is also in Africa, and there were plenty of US supporters there. In Saturday's match, the US should be able to advance ... and then with either Uruguay or South Korea waiting in the quarterfinals, the US has a path to the semis for the first time since 1930. Can they make it? If not now, when?

So what should the score have been, if the US had, as they say, clinical finishing?

19' - Gomez shoots directly at the keeper rather than into the net. He collects the rebound and finds Dempsey for an easy goal. This, of course, is the one denied incorrectly. Way to go, FIFA. Nonetheless, Gomez should have scored initially.

36' - Donovan shoots, the rebound comes straight out, and both Altidore and Donovan swing high and send the ball well over the net.

56' - Dempsey with a beautiful chip that crashes off the post; the rebound returns and he puts it well wide.

67' - Buddle places a header directly at the keeper with the entire net at his dispoal.

That's four goals right there (counting the missed Gomez shot, not the offside call).

Further, you have three calls that were flat-out missed:

19' - You already know this one. Dempsey scores and the assistant calls it offside.

48' - Dempsey is elbowed in the face in the box. No foul.

80' - Dempsey is smacked in the face by the Algerian captain, Yahia, who already has a yellow card. This should have been a PK and a second yellow, but instead is nothing at all. (Karma strikes back as Yahia is sent off later for doing nothing at all, a case of mistaken identity.)

The US dominated Algeria and scored but one goal, exactly like a football team with 400+ yards of total offense and a single touchdown. You get no credit for possession, only for balls in the net. Let's hope we see more American celebrations for that on Saturday.

Monday, June 14, 2010

World Cup: so what now?

We're in first and you're not. Uh, not "we" we, "they" we. You know, them.
Well, now that the first set of Group C matches is complete, we know ... well, very little. With Slovenia's 1-0 victory over Algeria, the US find themselves tied for second in Group C. Not a bad position to be in, but it could be better. (Ask Slovenia.)

What do we need to do?
End up with 5 points or more. Yes, you can get through with 4, but you can also fall short with 4, and we don't want that, do we? Get 5 points, and you're advancing. You might even win your group.

So that means we need a win and a draw in our last two matches. Two wins, of course, would be better: with 7 points, we're through automatically. (The most you can have and not advance is 6, and that would require a three-way tie and a bad tiebreaker. That hasn't happened since the World Cup went to eight groups and sixteen teams advancing in 1998.)

Everyone, beat these guys, or else.
Right. So we advance with 5?
Pretty much, unless a) everyone beats Algeria and b) everybody draws with everyone else. Then it comes down to goal differential, which is basically how badly we beat Algeria, and then after that, goals scored (which is why you root for low-scoring matches in your group).

But that probably won't happen, as we can expect England to beat Algeria and Slovenia to advance. So 5 gets us through.

And if we lose one?
Well, that makes it tough. If we lose to Slovenia, then they have 6 points and are through (because we could get no more than 4 and either Algeria or England would also be limited). If we beat Slovenia, then we enter the final day (when both matches are played simultaneously) with 4, England has 4, Slovenia has 3, and Algeria has 0.

Now it gets fun. We would only need a draw with Algeria (a draw between England and Slovenia puts England through with us, a win puts the winner through with us) ... but England would also need only a draw and could be playing accordingly. If Slovenia upset them and we lost to Algeria, it would be that tiebreaker thing again. In general, tiebreakers are bad, because it means you have to win by a certain number of goals to stay out of trouble, and you won't know for sure because it may change if the other match changes. (Yes, it worked for us in the 2009 Confederations Cup, but that took a lot of help.)

So who do we root for on Friday?
Besides someone who can help with grammar? (For whom do we root?) Root for the US and don't worry about England v Algeria ... rooting for a low score isn't bad, or a one-goal win for England (in case we do finish tied with them), but just let it happen. Again, if we win both matches, we advance.

Do we want this man testing Tim Howard? No.
To play the Germans?
Most likely, yes. England is still favored to win the group (check the updated stats on the right side of the page), so we'd likely face the winner of Group D if we advance, and if that's someone other than Germany, we'll all be shocked. (Also note that we are basically in a dead heat with Slovenia in terms of advancement probability. What does that mean? We need that win on Friday.)

What if we don't make it?
Then we spend the next four years hearing about how we suck in the World Cup because we don't care enough. The US has a couple of recent Cups where we fared pretty well and several where we pooped the bed. A top-16 side needs to advance to the knockout stage; nothing less should be acceptable.

So let's not talk about it. Beat Slovenia, move back into a tie for first, and put the tiebreakers to bed.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Quick thoughts from 0-4* World Cup debacle

*Yes, I know we drew 1-1, but watch the match again (if you dare) and tell me that 0-4 isn't a more likely result.

-- aaaaa cross cross cross the ball aaaaa cross the ball aaaaaa STOP ATTACKING IN ONE-SIXTH TO ONE-THIRD OF THE WIDTH OF THE PITCH! They let you use the WHOLE FIELD for a reason. Watch the English do it. Again. And again. And again.
-- A side known for counter-attacking should, perhaps, not be holding up the ball to allow an attack to build. ESPECIALLY NOT WHEN ALL THE ATTACKERS ARE NICELY CLUSTERED IN ONE AREA.
-- If you are on the back line or are a defensive midfielder, Tim Howard says to you "$(&*(& #(*&*& @!_ _@() &#) )# *#()$ )*)@#!" At least that's as close as I can get to transcribing it accurately. That man was incredible today.
-- I can't blame Dempsey for lobbing a halfhearted shot on net (the one that trickled in for the draw). He probably got tired of waiting for midfield support that never arrived.
-- Adding to the tactical errors, Bradley waited until beyond the last minute to make changes (as usual). No idea why Buddle came on instead of Gomez. After all, it was 1-1, and the US did have a couple of opportunities (although one or two were ruined when they refused to pass to the open Holden on the wing, you know the sub with fresh legs who could make a run). Gomez is more the instant offense type, isn't he?
-- I do understand the point of the "third" substitution (Gomez), basically, to stall at the end and ensure there would be no last-second goal, but it just adds to the oddity of Bradley's substitution patterns. In a match where at least five guys were playing so poorly, was there not one other guy you could put on the field? (Sadly, on the back line, no. What you see is about all you get, and this is the problem with having a guy like Bornstein on the roster: when someone else is struggling or has picked up an early card, you have no one to replace him.)

The US had one or two legitimate chances and missed them both (did anyone else think perhaps Altidore should have let the ball pass through to the open Dempsey, who would certainly have slotted it home?); if it weren't for an unbelievable break, this would have been an opening loss, one that could easily have kept the US out of the knockout round. That still may happen, too. I doubt 3 points will get you forward, and even 4 may be too few.

Of course, the US have no excuse to come away with fewer than 7. It is time to put up some numbers, to put home some goals, and to stop making Tim Howard cover everyone in the box. Algeria and Slovenia must be beaten, and the US side must pick up some momentum. Squeaking by the group stage and getting hammered in the knockout round will be a big step back from the side that were 45 minutes from winning the Confederations Cup.

P.S. England has still never beaten the US in World Cup play. Lolz!

Thursday, June 10, 2010

The long and winding road, part 3

In which your humble author returns to a familiar road. Catch up if necessary with parts one and two.

Day 5, no driving

Sunday, the day in the past that marked our collective return to our homes (before we realized that spending most of the weekend on the road was no fun), the day that now represents the relaxing wrap-up after the locals have gone home. We clean up, put most things back in order, eat more food, watch the races, eat more food, and then eat.

No, really. One of the "problems" in the past was that apparently there were too many leftovers after the guests departed, so now we "have" to eat more food before we leave. (Of course, when they prepare extra food on Sunday, that makes our jobs more difficult. This time it was some kind of Thai dish. Very tasty.)

Now, you might think that there would be few things I'd enjoy more than watching a four-hour race, but you would be wrong for two reasons. One is that I really don't enjoy racing that much. I don't know why, it's just not my thing.

(warning: peeve alert.) The other is that for some reason, most networks (ABC in particular) seem to think that you only really want to watch about 30% of the race, so they show you a few laps, shrink the screen and mute the race to show you a commercial, go to a full-screen commercial, and then cut back to live action after they missed a crash or a key pass or something. They then repeat this process about 50 times.

Imagine watching a football game this way. How many times would you bother? Once or twice, maybe, and that would be it. Better yet, imagine watching soccer that way. (If you're old enough, you don't have to imagine. ESPN used to do that for World Cup matches until irate fans pointed out to them that you don't do it that way. This was back when ESPN thought it knew everything about sports. What's that? Oh, never mind.) It doesn't help that Tony George pretty much killed open-wheel racing several years ago, so the sport itself (even the race) doesn't have the allure it has 20 or 30 or 40 years ago.

So we sat through most of the race, then I drove my friend and his wife to the airport to drop her off (they had separate flights because, well, it's a long story and not mine to tell). We got back in time for the next race (second verse, same as the first) and resumed our places. (Mine was in front of my laptop, naturally. With the internet confusion cleared up, I was alternating between my baseball sim and various Facebook things, mostly Castle Age. Are you in my army yet?)

As the evening wore on, we switched from unexciting NASCAR to the wonders of DVR, watching the cult classic Superbad. (Yes, I know it's hardly old enough to earn "cult classic" status, but it's really the only type of praise it deserves. It's dumb but funny.) As an added bonus, we tried to match people at the party to characters in the movie. Well, okay, maybe just to Seth and Evan. But it worked.

"Seth" was easy to match, in part because he, too, was stumbling drunk. (In the old days, we basically had a race to drunk to see who won, and usually nobody did. Now, some don't drink at all, and most others don't get too drunk. The exceptions are usually locals who don't know any better. We may not drink heavily, but we can make sure you do.) He was also clumsily blunt with many, many thoughts ... it was rather entertaining to listen to him throw out compliments that weren't even left-handed.

The catch to that part of the story was that he had a 5:55 AM flight on Monday. There were several jokes about who would get him to the airport in time to catch his flight (surprisingly, while a taxi was mentioned frequently, it did not win) and even a couple of thoughts that perhaps he wouldn't even make it onto the flight. ("Seth" is a tall, heavy guy. He's also not necessarily the kind of guy who would be a low-key drunk at an airport. We wouldn't have been surprised if security had told him to take a seat for 4-6 hours.) Apparently, he made it ... my only concern was making it clear I wasn't going to be taking him. I had enough driving to do the next day, thank you very much.

Back to the hotel for the final night ...

Day 6: Richmond to Indy, about 615 miles

I get up, pack up my things, head out to the car (did I mention how much I love express checkout? there is nothing like avoiding the clueless people at the front desk; usually I mean the people checking out, but not always), and back to the house. I normally go home from the hotel, but this time I decided to max out time with my friends.

Everything was in order when I arrived. "Seth" had been successfully delivered to the airport, presumably made his flight, and we could focus on, well, not much of anything. TCM was showing The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly, a classic Spaghetti Western, so I stayed to watch that, and then after lunch (glad I stayed to eat some tasty grilled hot dogs rather than eating on the road), the rest of us travelers packed our cars and headed our separate ways (some to North Carolina, some to the western side of Virginia, and me to old familiar I-64).

The interstate was just as I remembered it, and I settled in for the drive I'd done a few times in the past ... although this time, the stop-every-hour trick made it much more bearable. My GPS didn't catch on to the US-35 trick because, well, the DVD is old and doesn't know about the construction in West Virginia, but it figured things out soon enough.

Unfortunately, I didn't get quite the weather I wanted. There was a bit of rain as I was traveling west, so I had to turn on the defroster at times, and that knocked quite a bit off my mileage. (I got 55.7 mpg on the Altoona-to-Boston leg and 55.0 on the Boston-to-Richmond leg. Yep. Take that, BP.) Fortunately, a semi led me through the two-lane section in WV, and once we were on the divided-highway part that goes through southeast Ohio, everything was fine.

I got home pretty late – very late, in fact, about 3 AM, mostly because of my unwillingness to leave – but it wasn't a big deal. After all, the cats were well-fed, the house was still without AC, and I didn't have to get up for work the next day.

Even as a consultant, I knew to take the next day off. Sure, I can drive 2500 miles in six days, but I need some time to catch up afterward. A man's got to know his limitations.

Monday, June 07, 2010

Expansion? Soon, my friends ...

If you've been following any of the talk about possible conference expansion (mostly as it applies to football, but of course it would affect all sports), then you know that something's going to happen for sure, but no one really knows what it is yet. ESPN has some posts about what may be coming:

The Big 12 commissioner says that no one's going to leave.
Nice try, my man, but no one believes that. You've let Texas dictate the direction of the conference for years, and now that the non-Texas schools are tired of it, you want to pretend none of this is happening. Have fun sticking your head in the sand. (The irony is that not even Texas is doing well enough compared to, say, Big Ten schools, which is why they may bolt as well.)

So just to make sure, the Big 12 told Nebraska and Missouri that they have to decide whether or not they're staying, or else. Of course I haven't read what exactly the "or else" part of it is, probably because there isn't any. Both schools probably said "yeah, whatever" and continued to plan their future as part of the Big 16.

But why stop at two? The Pac-10 looked at the Big 12 and said "om nom nom". As many as six schools might be welcomed ... initially Colorado was a sure bet, but the Pac-10 might invite a few Texas schools and both Oklahoma schools as well. The only thing that sounds fishy about this is that the Pac-10, like the Big 10, has a sound academic reputation, and a few schools on that wish list do not. Surely they could do better than the whole group?

(side note: is the ESPN "city" thing dumb or what? It would be decent if they simply gave you a way to see all the sports about a certain city in one spot, but instead I guess they're trying to show how they can cover each "important" city one at a time. Whatever. It's just the same coverage they've always had, but rebranded to look better than it really is. ESPN = MSM.)

Next, the Big Ten said hey, if you're trying to force Nebraska and Missouri to leave, we can deal with that. They may be more than happy to move up the expansion timeline if the Big 12 commissioner is in such a hurry to dismantle his conference. (Remember that the Big 10 votes yes or no on applications for admission. Yes, they typically contact the conference first and then the school to make sure there's no embarrassment, but it isn't as simple as saying "We'll take those two schools over there.") Presumably that would speed up the process of including the other schools as well (to fill out to 14 or 16).

So, if you've been keeping track of the Big 12 schools that have been rumored to join another conference, then you know there are basically four left: Baylor (may or may not be invited to the Pac-10, depending on what the Texas legislature wants and can influence), Iowa State (who would love to go anywhere and likely won't be asked at all), Kansas, and Kansas State. The Kansas chancellor is aware of this too, and even though she was too busy to attend the recent Big 12 meetings (she was in Europe because ... because ... I don't know), she didn't hesitate to beg Nebraska and Missouri not to go. Please don't leave us here, it's hot and dry and nobody will dance with us. Hey, I hear the Mountain West is expanding, though. Maybe you can back into that conference.

Or maybe they're not. They're not going to invite Boise State to join yet because ... again, I don't know. Because if they wait long enough, all the big conferences can make decisions and then they can pick up the pieces? Hell, what if the Pac-10 invites Boise State? Look, if you're a second-tier school and a second-tier conference, then you make it work, you don't wait for something better to come along, because in this landscape, that "better" thing is going to kick over your bike and steal your girl.

So really, all we know is that the Big 12 is really scared (with good reason), the Pac-10 and Big 10 are getting ready to eat, and the Big East is out of the spotlight, at least until the Big 13 needs to pick up a few more schools. Let's get this over with, I can't wait for a season of lame-duck football as Big 12 announcers try to explain how much "history" is being lost ...

Sunday, June 06, 2010

The continuing story of Madden and terrible programming

So, after a season where a) Seattle punted from my 20 &ndash yes, my 20, and yes, it was a touchback – and b) on a field-goal attempt in a later game, an opponent's linemen stood like a fool two yards from the kick, looking at the kicker, and somehow managed to catch the kick in one hand (yes, I tackled him easily, but that's the dumbest "blocked" kick I've ever seen), the Lions went 9-7 and made the playoffs.

In the first round against Atlanta, this happened in the first half:

1. Jerious Norwood catches a pass on 3rd and 7 or so, heading toward the sidelines. He steps on the sideline at the 27, a yard short of the first down, and is tackled at the 45, in part because I can't believe the play is still going. Yes, I'd play to the whistle except I turn the volume down because I can't stand any of the commentary or stadium noise. So naturally I challenge the play, because it's obvious. Of course during the review, you can see he clearly steps out of bounds. Ruling: play stands. I lose a timeout and they end up scoring a touchdown on the drive.)

2. On the ensuing drive, we get to the 16 with 0:27 on the clock and no timeouts. I hit Bryant Johnson in the end zone for a touchdown, probably 4 yards deep. His entire body and the ball are clearly in the end zone. There is no question about this at all. As we line up for the PAT, they stop us. Booth review.

So I figure they're looking at the catch, but no, he's clearly got the ball and it never touches the ground. Of course, without the sound, I can't tell what they're actually challenging, which turns out to be the spot of the ball. (Cue WTF sound effect.) Aaaaaaaand ... play reversed. The ball is down at the 1, first and goal. With the clock running. And no timeouts. Fortunately, I have time to call a play and run it, and we score, but seriously, that almost broke my bullshit meter. I would almost have considered restarting the game after that, but the replay probably would have been worse.

Good thing we have "Pro-Tak" tackling. What the Madden series really needed was more people jumping on a tackle. God forbid they actually fix the obvious bugs. Next year will be more of the same: flash and glitter, a couple of possibly useful features, hopefully a fixed online franchise mode, and a pile of bugs that have been in the game for years.

Nice work if you can get it. (The irony, of course, is that it's not nice at all. Not only do most people not appreciate what the devs have to do, EA is notorious for overworking its people even moreso than the average development company.)

Wednesday, June 02, 2010

The long and winding road, part 2

When last we left our hero, he was venturing across the land, braving holiday traffic and ancient subway systems to visit friends and relatives. Our story continues ...

Day 3: Boston to Richmond, about 650 miles

This was the big one. (Check the map again. This is the long squiggle on the east side of the "triangle" representing this voyage.) I knew there could be a number of complications, not the least of which was holiday traffic on roads with which I'm not familiar (I've been to Richmond, just not from the northeast), and the lack of cold drinks and protein bars in the car could be a problem, but there was nothing to do but stick it out.

I kept to the same pattern, stopping about every hour, except for the first two hours. Connecticut has lots of exits but no rest areas along I-84 (I prefer rest areas for quick stops because they're right off the highway and don't have additional customers like fast food places and gas stations do), so a couple of hours in, I noticed my attention was wandering a bit. (In fact, that was the worst it turned out to be on the whole trip.) A stop in New York took care of the attention problem, and I patiently retraced my steps to I-81, then headed away from the old route and toward new territory (and new states: I'd never been to Maryland before).

In the past, taking I-64 was nice, except for two stretches: the West Virginia Turnpike, where I-77 meets it, and the stretch in Virginia where I-81 (yep, the one I'm on) meets it. In both cases, traffic picked up as the interstates merged and dropped off abruptly as soon as they parted. Of course, this time I'd be on the busy part, or so I thought.

My GPS had other ideas. After six or seven hours of begging me to take the coastal route, it finally conceded that perhaps I had the right idea. However, as I crossed into Virginia, it suggested that maybe I shouldn't head back to I-64 (going southwest), but instead should try US-17 to I-95 to Richmond.

I thought about it for a while. Points in favor of US-17: it was more direct and was probably still a major highway, and if there was still traffic, I'd be closer to Richmond. Points in favor of I-64: it's an interstate, so there wouldn't be any stoplights, and it might not be that much longer. I took the US highway. Sure enough, there were a couple of stoplights that really slowed me down (probably added 15 minutes to the trip), but overall it wasn't bad, and once I was on I-95, everything was fine.

Finally hit the hotel at 8:15 or so, about 13 hours after I left. (I stay at the same one every time, the Holiday Inn Express on Mayland. It's just off I-64, so very convenient there, but about a 40-minute drive to my friends' house. There really isn't much that's closer.) Hooked up the laptop, updated my status and gave an approximate arrival time, cleaned up, and headed out. (I left the laptop: didn't feel like tearing it down three times today.)

Made it out to the house at a decent hour. Managed to avoid being parked in – their driveway is fairly long and has spots to the side for additional parking, because people tend to come and go at these things. On Friday, I'm typically one of the view who does leave, so I need to be at the back if possible.

Usually we pitch in around the house, inside and out, partly to thank the couple for hosting every year and partly because we like to help. This time, though, all the hard labor was done. (Oh darn.) All I could do was sit and eat, and eat I did. Friday, it was "just" meatballs, white chicken chili (I think), and some kind of coconut-mango cake that was pretty good. Caught up with the regulars who made it, hung out for a while, and headed back to the hotel around 1 or so.

As a side note, have you ever noticed how short the "king-sized" beds in hotel rooms seem to be? I'm not at all a tall person (5'8½", the last time someone measured me: I took the extra half-inch and kept it), and yet I've never found a bed in which I could comfortably sleep longways. Maybe it's because they use suction to make the beds, I don't know, but I always feel like I have to sleep at an angle to be under the covers. (There's a joke here about being single, I'll let you make it.)

Day 4, no driving

Well, by "no" I mean "to the hotel and back", but frankly, when you've crossed 11 state lines in 3 days, a little 40-minute drive doesn't even count.

Slept in until 10 or so, hit Castle Age, and then back to the house for the real party. (In the old days – aside from the fact I wouldn't have been driving because I stayed at the house – this would have meant hitting the keg. Now it means parking my butt in a chair in the air conditioning and staying away from drunk people.) Hanging out, playing Out of the Park Baseball because the internet connection isn't working (well, it was, but the secondary router wasn't, and I didn't feel like interrupting the hosts to get the key to the primary router), drinking this excellent licorice-mint tea, and waiting for the food to finish.

The hosts are very, very, very good cooks (did I mention that already?), as are some of the guests, so we always eat very well, and this time we had a challenge: clear out space in the chest freezer so they could fit the half cow they'd ordered. (Yeah, a half. Not a quarter.) Hmm, sausage: Greek sausage was very good, and I think there were kielbasa as well. (They make their own sausage, and no, you don't want to know how it's made.) French fries. A deep-fried turkey injected with some kind of habanero sauce. (They also like things spicy and grow many different kinds of peppers. Strong peppers. Like the kind that you have to wear gloves to handle, and even if you do, getting some oil on your skin may mean a trip to the basement to find laundry detergent. Don't know what I mean? Imagine the burn you felt on your tongue the last time you ate something really, really spicy. Now imagine that on your hands.) Pulled pork. Curry. Some more veggie stuff I didn't eat. Hamburgers. Hot dogs. Deep-fried brisket. (I know, it sounds weird, but it was good too.) Cake. Cookies. Brownies. S'mores by the bonfire.

The fire. That's my job. (I'm not saying I'm a pyromaniac. They are. I don't actually stand in the fire, you know, just close to it.) They have a nice fire circle behind the house, and when the weather is right (as opposed to when it's so dry you can't have a fire), we build a big fire. Big. Not this time, because we didn't have the attention for it, and the NHL was unkind enough to put on a game right around dusk, but it was enough to burn some fun things and make lots of marshmallows. (The swirled marshmallows are interesting, if you've not tried them before.) The other pyro and I made a little assembly line: we'd load up marshmallow sticks for the kids, they'd cook them and come back to us, we'd set up little plates, put the marshmallows on the plates with whatever they wanted (S'mores or plain), and load up the next sticks for the next kids. (About seven kids in all. We can handle it. We're former food service professionals.) At least half of the S'mores were actually eaten and not dropped on the ground, so that was a success.

Back inside to watch Game 1 of the Finals ... there was one drunk Flyers fan there (yes, I know it's redundant, but who's telling this story anyway?) who thought it was a "low-scoring" game. Look, we just saw a lacrosse game (NCAA semifinals) end 12-8. That's low-scoring. 3-2 after 1 is not a low-scoring hockey game. Anyway, the Blackhawks win, the remaining outsiders clear out, the regulars filter inside, and we have our ritual viewing of EuroTrip. (Scotty doesn't know.)

We move cars around just right so that the drunk people can stay and I can leave (this is harder than you think when you only have a gravel driveway and some vague spots to one side that may or may not be big enough for a car). I head back to the hotel for a good night's rest, looking forward to another day of vacation before I have to leave.

Tuesday, June 01, 2010

The long and winding road

So. Last week was Memorial Day, which means the first of my two semi-annual trips to Virginia to visit friends from college and beyond. (Some of us have been friends for almost 25 years. Ponder that.) However, it was also Harvard's commencement ceremonies, and because my brother was graduating on the Dean's List, I thought perhaps I should go and see him.

Unfortunately, it took me a while to figure out that these two events were not in separate months or even weeks, but rather in the same week. Inconvenient with respect to flying, to say the least. I dislike the TSA immensely and will do just about anything to avoid them, so I'm not inclined to fly if there are other means of travel. (I enjoy flying itself, just not what they've done to it.) And a three-legged trip is harder to pull off than a two-legged trip, especially if a) the first leg is really important and b) it's in an expensive city. So I could try to arrive a day early and pay for two days in a hotel, or I could try to arrive on time and risk the airlines completely screwing me over. Right.

So it was by car instead. No, it wasn't all at once. Don't be silly.

Now, I'd never been to Boston as an adult, so I needed Google to help me find the first two legs of the trip ... Richmond to Fishers I knew all too well. (Actually, Google came up with a shortcut for that one. US-35 is pretty good except for the remaining two-lane stretch in WV that they are slowly improving. It beats hell out of the AA in Kentucky, the road that ate my car.)

Google said sure, want to drive it all at once? How about I-70 to I-71 to I-80, then I-81, I-84, and I-90? There was no place halfway between here and Boston on I-80 to stay. So I said no, let's take I-70 instead. I guess Altoona will do.

For the Boston-to-Richmond leg, of course it pointed out that I-95 runs, well, from Boston to Richmond. I pointed out that it would be Friday of Memorial Day weekend, and if it thought I was driving to the coast from Boston and then through New York, Philadelphia, Baltimore, and Washington, it was nuts. I just grabbed all of that route and dragged it back inland, retracing my steps to Wilkes-Barre and then heading south on I-81 to I-64. (My GPS later convinced me to take I-81 to Winchester and then head over on US-17 to I-95.)

Day 1: Fishers to Altoona, about 450 miles

Very uneventful. I left around 11, I think, realizing there was no hurry. I had 8-9 hours ahead of me and didn't need to arrive early in the evening. I actually forgot I wasn't passing through Pittsburgh; if I had, it probably would have been right around rush hour. I stopped about once an hour at rest areas to keep my alertness up, and I made my way through some of the food and juice I brought, picking up soft drinks on the way. By the way, there was one rest area in Ohio (boo) along I-70 that had a novel idea: restrooms and vending machines in a single, air-conditioned building. Yes, you may be thinking that this is common sense, but look next time you drive. How many times do you see the vending machines in a completely separate area? How many rest areas are still the old kind with open doors?

I got to the hotel and was pleasantly surprised to find a refrigerator with two free bottles of water and snacks (granola bar and popcorn). Bottled water on a trip? Outstanding!

Logged on (wired connection, no big deal though), posted an update, ran through Castle Age stuff, showered, went to bed. (Travel tip: shower in the evening when you have more time and have hours of road on you. Not recommended for those traveling with a significant other with a sensitive nose.)

Day 2: Altoona to Boston, about 470 miles

All new territory to me. Got up at 6, cleaned up, packed, hit the road by 7. (My brother's graduation would be over, but I wanted to hit the get-together as early as possible.) Again, traffic wasn't bad, although there was a lot of semi-construction in Pennsylvania. You know, the kind where they have signs and stuff up but aren't doing anything? Got through the toll booths just fine (although I nearly picked up an EZ-Pass at an oasis on the Massachusetts Turnpike, I think).

Traffic wasn't bad until I cleared the toll booths leaving I-90 for I-95 ... apparently everyone is going south today, which means everyone is getting into one lane to head south on I-95. Immediately after a toll plaza. With traffic merging from both directions from I-90. not fun. All that for about a 500-yard drive on I-95 to the first exit. A zig, a zag, and I was at my hotel.

Good news: it's walking distance from Riverside Station. (Literally next door.) That is why I picked it: no sane person drives in Boston. Also ... yeah, nothing else.

Bad news: the hotel sucks. "Parking" is simply a semi-covered lot in the back of the hotel with narrow lanes for exiting and entering. It was designed poorly, that's for sure. $7 a night, too. Again, sucks. The desk chair couldn't be raised, there was no refrigerator (which meant no cold juice on the drive to Richmond), the shower (no bathtub) had a fancy glass door without a good seal, which meant water got on the floor easily, and the AC was crap. I turned it down to 68 and by morning, the room was at 74. woo. It was tolerable, though, considering I needed it for about one waking hour and six sleeping ones.

Unpacked, updated status, changed clothes (expecting a cool night, I was wearing jeans and a hat), and headed to the station. There were three machines that allegedly allowed you to purchase Charlie Cards or Tickets for the T. I say "allegedly" because one of the T people was there to show people how to use them, but with very little success, and I don't mean because he couldn't explain it or because the people couldn't follow directions. I eventually made my way to the front, slipped up to a machine while the T man was helping someone else, put $10 (5 rides – always buy more than you need) on a ticket, and headed up to the platform. (Bonus: Riverside is the end of the Green D line, so I couldn't get on the wrong way. lol.)

The T, by the way, is the oldest subway system in the US, and you'll know this as soon as you ride it. It's still getting me around without using my car, so I was happy enough. Got off at Park Street to transfer to the Red Line, eventually found my platform, and waited for the next train.

As I waited, two separate people stopped to ask me questions about the T. One wanted to know at which end of station X the escalator was (some stations apparently only have an escalator at one end), and the other wanted to know if the train was heading to Cambridge. I couldn't answer either question, and in fact, someone else had to answer the second one while I was puzzling it over. I mean, I've ridden the T once in my life, and that was to get to this station. I'm wearing a Portland State Vikings hat and a Michigan Hockey T-shirt. What gives the impression that I know what I'm doing? (Neither, obviously. I simply wasn't sending the leave-me-alone vibe that most veteran train riders seem to have.)

I get on the train, get off at Porter Square, and head for the exits. I get past the initial crowd and head up the stairs, slowly at first, then two at a time. Woo! It's a workout! I'm passing people consistently as I go up flight after flight of stairs, until finally I triumphantly reach the top and turn to my left ... to see another flight of stairs. Oops.

I walk toward my brother's apartment, and I discover another reason not to drive in Boston. There are no street signs. (Almost none, anyway.) Either you know where you're going or you don't need to get there. I remember the car wash that's opposite his street, climb the hill to his building (of course there's a hill), buzz the door, and wait for his dad to come down to open the door. I can tell it's him because of his walk. (He's my ex-stepdad, my mom's second husband, so I know him well.) Of course he's not used to apartment living, so he doesn't realize he can buzz me in, which is why I have to wait for him, and why I'm surprised he comes down the stairs.

Up we go to the third floor (naturally, more stairs), where I meet my mom (sigh), my uncle, my graduating brother and his fianceé, another brother, my not-sister, my brother's uncle, and my ex-stepdad's wife. (Not-sister because my graduating brother is actually a half-brother, the not-sister is his half-sister, and we share no parents.)

We hang out, eat chips and guacamole and BBQ and cornbread and cake and pie, discuss Tolkien and Galileo thermometers and suddenly cool weather (thankfully, the heat wave broke once I got to the apartment) and why my mom is still crazy.

My brother finally calls it a night around 9:30, which is great because it means I get back to the hotel at a somewhat decent hour. My mom and my uncle drove, so they head to their car, and the rest of us go back to the T. My California brother leaves first, then I hit my stop and go back to the Green Line the other direction, encountering the same problems with platforms. Once again, we wait for the T.

This time, it's interesting. A train arrives with D Line: Riverside on it, but it's not on the right platform. We all look at each other. Is this right? Shouldn't it be on 6, not 5? We get on anyway, and it turns out to be the right train. (It actually works out because all Green Line trains go through the same few stations in town; they branch out after that, so we could start on the "wrong" platform and still use the right track.) Back to the hotel, sign on, off to sleep in the heat. boo.
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