October 2003 Archives

Are They Done Playing Baseball Yet?

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Apparently I wasn't the only one to stop watching baseball after the Cubs and Red Sox both lost - the World Series posted its third-lowest TV ratings ever. Do you think Fox is worried that they're in year 3 of a 6-year deal, and the two Series with lower ratings were in 2000 and 2002?

Of course, some (like Major League Baseball's web site) are spinning this as a half-full glass:

"This year's six World Series games averaged a 12.8 rating and 22 percent share, an eight percent increase over last year's seven-game all-time low average of an 11.9 rating and a 20 percent share for the Angels' come-from-behind victory over the Giants. But viewership actually rose 17 percent when simply comparing this year's six games to the first six games of last year's World Series."
At least they acknowledged that the 2002 Series reached a level of apathy heretofore unknown, which somewhat surprises me. Then they say "well, everybody else sucks too:"
'The TV ratings have been extraordinary,' Commissioner Bud Selig said on Saturday night. 'Especially when you consider that every other sports property has gone down.'

Bloomberg News reported that ratings for this year's National Basketball Association Finals were the worst in history, and that ratings for the four major men's golf tournaments, the U.S. Open tennis tournament and the National Hockey League's Stanley Cup finals also were down this year."
I'm too lazy to look right now, but I'm willing to bet that all those events except the NBA Finals don't represent four-year downward trends like baseball (excepting the post-9/11-patriotism-driven 2001 Series). Note also that pro and college football were conspicuously absent from that list.

Now That's What I'm Talkin' About!

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I'm very happy to see that Michigan brought their real team against Purdue, not the fraud that played the first three quarters against Oregon and the last three quarters against Iowa. I know they like to disguise coverages, but I've never seen anything like what they did Saturday - there were several occasions where I counted ten in the box. Guys were moving up and back like some kind of hyperactive chorus line. I know it confused Orton - hell, it confused me!

It was clear Michigan had absolutely zero respect for Purdue's running game - they played with five DBs most of the time and six DBs most of the rest of the time. One of the Michigan network commentators (I think it was Jim Brandstatter, but it could have been Frank Beckman) told a story after the game about the 1980 Purdue game, where then-DC Bill McCartney wanted to play 5- and 6-DB formations to slow down Purdue's passing game (wow, history repeating itself). He talked Bo into it, but was warned, "Dammit, Bill, if they run the ball on us, YOU'RE FIRED!"

The way they played Saturday made me think of the '97 team - crushing defense with an offense that's exactly as good as it has to be (and doesn't make any mistakes). I hear Michigan State runs a similar offense to Purdue's, so that's a good sign (Although I hope they didn't give away everything they have planned on D).

Final Memo to Boilerfan: there is no 'Big House' curse. Being beaten 35-3 Saturday (and by an average of 24.5 points over the last thirty-odd years) is not "being cursed." It's "getting beaten like a runaway circus chimp on a biennial basis."

What's Next? Fraternizing With The French?

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I could handle it when Michael Jackson went from 'regular looking black guy' to 'china doll with a busted nose'. All the other weird stuff - they hyperbaric chamber, the Elephant Man, Bubbles, and the (alleged, never charged) sexual misconduct - weird, but not more than one standard deviation from 'normal' as the entertainment world defines it. But now he's gone too far: he's shilling for Scientology:

"A lot of big name stars are unwittingly about to start raising money for Scientology, thanks to Michael Jackson.

At 3 p.m. PST Monday, Jackson is launching a worldwide Internet download of his charity single, “What More Can I Give?” For $2 a shot, Jackson fans will be able to hear this record, made two years ago but never released . . ..

But what fans — and the two dozen participating artists — probably don’t know is that proceeds from the single download are going, in part, to Scientology. Jackson has designated The HELP Organization, which uses study techniques developed by Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard, as one of the beneficiaries of his largesse."

Democracy, Whiskey, Sexy

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Afghanistan. Before:

How Afghan women were known


Making waves: Vida in bikini

Full Disclosure: Vida Samadzai, the bikini wearer in question, emigrated to the US in 1996 to escape the Taliban. I kind of suspected something like that when I first saw the picture last weekend; I didn't think it was possible to go from burlap bag to babe-alicious in two years. But still.

Your Papers, Zey Are Not In Order!

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This Ananova Story describes Austrian police stopping a magician from driving a 12-mile stretch of mountain road blindfolded, but not for the reason you think:

"A German magician's plans to drive along a winding mountain road blindfolded were scuppered after police discovered he did not have the necessary permits."

"So sorry, mein Herr. You need to hoff form ZL-242a, Permission To Drive Blindfolded on a Mountain Road. Vot you hoff iz form ZL-242b, Declaration of Imported Sausage In Excess Of Eleven Kilos. You'll have to see ze officer at ze Ministry Of Incredibly Stupid Stunts."

Actually, I don't know what I'm getting all worked up about. Blindfold driving is pretty easy to fake.

It's All About The Helmets, Baby

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I'm glad to see that Michigan wasn't hung over from the Minnesota win, and that they were able to take care of business, punishing Illinois as expected, 56-14. I was a little concerned that they'd be looking past the Illini to Purdue and MSU.

Michigan controls its own Big Ten destiny (they play both undefeated teams and hold the tiebreaker over the one-loss team -- Wisconsin -- they don't play), but even if they don't come up Roses, they've still won one championship: espn.com's Best Uniforms Bracket. Although the Denver Broncos beat them in the final round, massive voter fraud was discovered and Denver was disqualified:

"Trailing badly in the final round last Thursday, Denver received 20,000 consecutive overnight votes and 42,500 of the final 50,000 e-ballots cast -- a dubious last-second surge to shame the thousands of dead Chicagoans who "voted" for John F. Kennedy in the 1960 presidential election . . ..

When the polls finally closed, the Broncos had rallied to post 137,257 votes, easily outdistancing Michigan's 88,743. However, ESPN.com has discovered that 71,465 of those votes came from one IP address."
What we have here is a classic case of 'book smart' vs. 'street smart.' The perp was obviously smart enough to write (or steal) a script that would ping espn.com repeatedly. However, he (and it's always a he, isn't it?) was too stupid to realize that 20,000 consecutive votes for the same team from the same IP address would be a dead giveaway!

What he should have done was have his script vote 20,000 times (or 30,000, or 50,000, or whatever) overnight with a randomly determined vote, skewed (say) 2:1 in his favor. If he'd been a little more subtle about it, they may not even have noticed the same IP address on all the votes! Actually, I don't think spoofing your IP address is all that hard (YMMV. I'm not a network engineer).

And isn't appropriate that this massive vote fraud was perpetrated on behalf of the home of the Cheating 'Dique?

I've long thought that the sole purpose of some peoples' lives is to serve as a counterexample. Here's a nice counterexample demonstrating Rule #3 of Successful Criminalizing: Keep A Low Profile:

"Note to car thieves: If you must go talk to the police about something, don't show up in a stolen car.

Police say that's just what James Kent did in Bonita Springs this week.

He's in the Lee County Jail this morning because when he went to the Lee County Sheriff's office to report a disturbance he drove there in a stolen car."

And Gaia Said, "A Dodo Bird Shall Lead Them..."

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Quick shot today (all my spare time today will go towards finishing my take-home midterm, and the weekend was split between the midterm and a loooooong-overdue repaint of the trim on my house): I've often said that I think vegetarianism is a religion based on guilt, and it's the closest thing to animal worship you'll see in the First World.

Well, I think I've just found their first parochial school. [Hat tip: Porphyrogenitus]

How Not To Ship Your Stuff Home From A Combat Zone

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Our field engineers have the job of going out to the Army and Marine units who have fielded our system and help them get set up, train the operators, perform troubleshooting, and basically serve as a conduit between the troops and the technical staff here in Fort Wayne. This past week we've had Homecoming, where all the field engineers come to Fort Wayne and compare notes on what they've seen since the last Homecoming. Generally, these briefings talk about what works well, what doesn't, and what the soldiers in the field want. As a technical lead engineer, I'm also invited to the briefings to share in the no-shit hot skinny. Since we deployed several people into Kuwait, Iraq, and Afghanistan in the past year, this Homecoming's hot skinny included several war stories, most of which I can't repeat for one reason or another. Here's one I can.

One of our field engineers (let's call him Fred; also, I've changed some details to protect the more-or-less-innocent) deployed to Kuwait with a unit before Operation Iraqi Freedom started. He was doing his field engineer thing when the unit's commanding officer came into his tent and said "We're going over the berm [crossing into Iraq] in 24 hours. You get to carry one duffel bag worth of stuff; ship everything else home. Your laptop has to go home, too."

Fred commandeered a ToughBox (reusable hard plastic shipping container) and dumped all his extra stuff into it - laptop, clothes, documentation he wouldn't need, etc. He finished packing and asked another field engineer (let's call him Ralph; Ralph was deployed with a different unit that wasn't going over the berm anytime soon) to ship it back home for him. Since they couldn't say where they were or where they were going due to security concerns, Ralph just shipped the box back to Fred's house without telling anybody where or why.

Imagine how Fred's wife felt when she arrived home from work a few days later and saw a ToughBox with Fred's personal effects - and no explanation - on her front porch.

I gave up on baseball after the strike in '94 that killed the World Series (millionaires arguing with billionaires; screw all y'all). But with the two perennial cursed teams having a chance to meet in the World Series this year, I've probably watched half a dozen LCS games.

Of course, now that the smoke has cleared, it'll be the Team That Always Wins versus the Team Nobody Outside Of Miami Cares About. Thanks but no thanks.

Situationally Oblivious

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See this guy?

Cubs fan tips catchable foul ball away from Moises Alou.  You know the rest.

Don't be that guy.

Poor dumb bastard. Defecting to Miami wouldn't be a real bad idea right now.

He apologized for his actions, offering a statement containing this excuse:

"I had my eyes glued on the approaching ball the entire time and was so caught up in the moment that I did not even see Moises Alou, much less that he may have had a play.

Had I thought for one second that the ball was playable or had I seen Alou approaching I would have done whatever I could to get out of the way and give Alou a chance to make the catch."
Yeah, he messed up, but you'll notice that five other Einsteins were trying to grab the ball too, and it didn't occur to any of them that they should give one of their players room to try to make the play!

The poor dumb bastard's father:

"I taught him well. I taught him to catch foul balls when he comes near them."
Apparently he didn't teach him situational awareness.

Monkey off Their Back

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Before I start talking details, let's get another look at that Jug:
(L to R) Pierre Woods, Calvin Bell, and Ernest Shazor show off the Little Brown Jug

Oh, yeah. Get the hell off our stage, Gophers, and take that stupid monkey with you.

And it wasn't an 0-6 monkey, like the media was talking about. It was actually a 1-7 monkey: Florida was #22 going into last year's Outback Bowl; Tennessee was was #8 going into the 2002 Citrus Bowl. Don't give me any crap about bowl games being at neutral sites - if you're a Big Ten team playing an SEC team in Florida, it's an away game! Of course, this is the first time Navarre has actually led them to a come-from-behind win late in the game, the Outback Bowl being more a case of 'grab a second-half lead and hang on'.

Interestingly, he's had more decent comeback chances than you might realize:

  • 2000 @ UCLA: Intercepted inside the UCLA 26 with a minute and a half to go.
  • 2002 @ ND: Intercepted at midfield with 30 seconds left.
  • 2002 @ aOSU: Intercepted at the goal line on the final play.
  • 2003 @ Oregon: Turned over on downs in Oregon territory with 30 seconds left.
  • 2003 @ Iowa: turned over on downs in Iowa territory with over a minute to go.
For completeness, recall that they never had a chance in the 2002 Citrus Bowl and they didn't get an onside kick back in 2001 @ Washington.

And that's where I think the frustration fans have with him is rooted. If he just didn't have the tools, it'd be one thing (and that one thing would be "Bring on Matt Gutierrez!"). He does have the tools - it's not coincidence that he put Michigan in a position to win four of those five games noted above (recall also that he led U-M on a 95-yard drive for a late TD to get it close against Washington). He just couldn't finish the job.

Until Friday night.

But I didn't buy that he could do it when he scored on a 38-yard Transcontinental to give Michigan their first points. I didn't buy it when he took the team 80 yards all through the air and hit Chris Perry for a 10-yard TD on a screen pass (memo to Glen Mason: If you continue to leave Chris Perry uncovered, Michigan will keep throwing to him. 11 catches for 122 yards? Those are Braylon Edwards numbers!). I still didn't buy it when he hit Braylon Edwards full in stride for a 52-yard TD pass. I still didn't buy it when he went 5-of-6 for 50 yards on the next drive, setting up Perry for the TD on a 10-yard draw to tie the game. He'd done all those things before. I still thought he'd find a way not to win the game, maybe by throwing one high and getting it picked off, maybe by three bad throws and a punt.

Now, to be sure, it was the defense that enabled him to keep moving them down the field - once they showed up, that is. Who impersonated their defense in the first three quarters and coughed up over 400 rushing yards? Michigan hasn't had to wear a number like that since Woody Hayes' '68 aOSU team pulverized them. Anyway, the defense finally showed up and did its job - mostly, since they traded a TD interception return for a 52-yard TD by Abdul-Aziz on a quarterback sneak - and Navarre did his.

Not that I wasn't sweating the fact they were going to try to win it on a field goal. Looks like they're finally getting the kinks worked out of that part of the game, too.

Why Cricket Is A Mutant Sport

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Because you need two mathematicians to figure out the score! And until that's done, you can't determine your own strategy!

It's Still Our Jug

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Of Performance And Fairness

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My son's team, having gotten a taste of victory last week, apparently liked it a lot, because they won again yesterday (hanging another bagel on their opponents to boot!). Now, at 2-3, they're in the playoffs. Due to the state of sports reporting around here (what do you mean, I can't get daily news, scores, and standings for middle school football? I'm shocked, I tell you! Shocked!), I don't know anything about the team they're playing next week in the first round.

I opined to flower_goddess that since they were 2-3, they were probably the lowest seed or close to it, and would thus be playing the highest seed (or thereabouts) in the first round. Her response: "Well, that's hardly fair! They're going to get killed!" I replied, "That's how playoffs almost always work - the worst team to qualify plays the best team first, and the middle teams play each other." She wasn't seeing eye-to-eye with that model: "If the best team is really the best team, they should have to play the second-best team first to prove it!"

I was so floored by this statement, which runs counter to, well, my entire lifetime of What I Know To Be True About Sports, that I couldn't even respond for a minute. Eventually, I came up with a few alternative lines of argumentation:

  • "The reward for finishing first is the easiest path through the playoffs. In fact, most playoffs re-roll after every round to ensure that the best surviving team faces the worst surviving team in the next round."
  • "Your way wouldn't be fair to either the #1 or #2 teams. There's no incentive to finishing hard if your reward is to play the other best team first."
  • "Why reward the teams that just barely squeak into the playoffs with a game against another weak team first?"
It can be observed that all those grow from the "there should be some incentive to do well in the regular season" argument. Didn't matter; none of that made any impression on her.

Do you think I went overboard when I said "If women ran football, not only wouldn't there be a playoff, they wouldn't even keep score!" ?

Last night's class (ACS 562) case discussion was on Jamcracker, a kind of 'ASP cafeteria' that is intended to turn the Next Big Thing (ASPs) into the Next Next Big Thing. The idea seems plausible - most ASPs solve only one business problem or at most a few problems, and if you can be the single point of contact sharing data between multiple ASPs from different vendors, you add significant value to the whole proposition. Based on their growth rate in an emerging market in the 2000-2001 time frame, I'd expect their name to be all over the industry press now, but I don't remember hearing about it anywhere - indeed, the Company's I Love Me page doesn't list anything after August 2002 (although I'd guess they're not doing too badly - as of August 2003, they were still hiring). What happened to Jamcracker? Discuss.

Today's Democratic Marching Orders

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Apparently the decisive recall vote was as much a referendum on George Bush as it was on Gray Davis. Howard Dean:

"Today's recall election in California was not about Gray Davis or Arnold Schwarzenegger. This recall was about the frustration so many people are feeling about the way things are going. . . . Tonight the voters in California directed their frustration with the country's direction on their incumbent governor. Come next November, that anger might be directed at a different incumbent . . . in the White House."
DNC Chairman Terry McAuliffe:
"People are worried about their jobs, their health insurance, and they are taking it out on Gray Davis. And they will take it out on George Bush, too."
Maxine Waters also said something similar on CNN about 7AM CT, but I didn't get the exact quote.

Sorry, we ain't buyin' it.

Of course, if Davis had survived the recall, the spin would have been "This was a successful referendum on the way Democrats are running California, and this will surely impact George Bush in 2004."

Cruz Bustamente: Sucks To Be You. You'll be even more irrelevant than a normal Lieutenant Governor.

<SARCASM>Y'know, I'm beginning to think John Navarre has trouble winning big games on the road.</SARCASM>

That's always been the knock against him, but I thought he'd gotten over it after last year's Outback Bowl, where he played very well and managed not to lose to Florida. And maybe it's no more fair to blame him for the Oregon loss than for last Saturday's loss to Iowa, but the situations were very similar: if you have the ball first down at midfield with over a minute left moving for a game-winning score, y'gotta close the deal! Brian Griese could. Tom Brady could. Hell, even Scott Driesbach could!

    But there are plenty of other questions I'd like answered:
  • How can a defense as tough as Michigan's is (alleged to be) blow a 14-point lead? Answer below.
  • How can the Michigan receivers pull a rabbit out of their collective hat on one throw, and then have the next bounce right off their numbers?
  • Did Ochoa really have control of the ball for Iowa's final touchdown? (I don't think so, but it should never have come to that point)

So how do you blow a 14-point lead with the #3 overall defense in the country? Not-So-Special Teams, that's how! What the hell was that wide-split rollout punt formation? Carr said it allowed better downfield coverage (about which I am skeptical), but you actually have to get the punt off for that to come into play! Michael Rosenberg of the Freep summed it up beautifully:

"A true freshman placekicker was asked to punt out of an odd formation while rolling to his right -- with an option to run the ball -- on the road in a crucial Big Ten game."
What could possibly go wrong?

I originally thought they were setting Iowa up for a fake punt where the snap would go to the middle short man and he would run it up the middle. Then I remembered the lovely job they did on the fake punt against Oregon and I was glad they didn't do it. Then I remembered that they lost to Iowa anyway, and, hell, it couldn't have gone any worse than what they actually did!

After the Oregon loss, I said they should be 10-1 going into the aOSU game. If their special teams don't step up pronto, they'll be at best 8-3 and maybe as bad as 6-5!

Life Imitates Up In Smoke

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As if just having a meth lab wasn't dangerous enough, these Einsteins in my hometown added all the dangers inherent in a motor vehicle:

"Deputy finds meth lab in moving motor home

WATSON TWP -- Two men were arrested Saturday, Sept. 20, after Allegan County sheriff's deputies pulled over their motor home and discovered a methamphetamine lab inside.

Deputy Dave LaBonte stopped the motor home about 10:30 p.m. and noticed a strange odor as he approached. Deputy David Holmes arrived to assist LaBonte. Shortly thereafter, two of the suspects attempted to flee into the woods. The deputies captured one, but the other escaped. During investigation of the vehicle, an active meth lab was discovered and the driver and passenger were arrested and taken to the Allegan County Jail."

--Allegan County News (Allegan, Michigan), Sept. 25, 2003, p. 7

Monkey Off Our Back

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This is my son's fourth year of organized football. Before yesterday, his teams (three seasons of PAL football and the current season of his middle school team) were a combined 0-20-1. Some lowlights:

  • His teams were 0-1-1 in games designed to get the two worst teams together to give one of them a chance to win.
  • Last year, his team gave up more points in their best defensive effort (24) than they scored all year total (6).
  • They also allowed more total points on interception returns (18) than they scored.
  • They also allowed more total points on safeties (8) than they scored.
  • They also gave up more total points to second- and third-string units (12) than they scored.
  • In three years of PAL football, his teams had 4 games with positive net yards. Total.
  • Also in that time span, they averaged two first downs per game.
And his team was 0-3 so far this year: 36-12, 24-0, 28-22. That last one was simultaneously hopeful and heartbreaking - after taking the lead, they gave up a Hail Mary on the last play of the first half (nobody bothered to cover the receiver). They took the lead again and gave up another bomb (nobody bothered to cover the reciever). They took the lead a third time and gave up yet another bomb (and still, nobody bothered to cover the receiver). They finally lost the game in overtime.

So yesterday was the Bruin Bowl, where the two middle schools that feed the high school play in the high school's stadium. Although it isn't the last game of the season, it's usually the high point since they get to play where the Big Boys play, at night with lights, with a P.A. announcer, and all that. Anyway, their opponents came in 2-1, and I was all ready to to have to console my son after yet another blowout.

A funny thing happened on the way to the beating. After forcing the other team three-and-out, we scored on a beautiful 40-yard pass on our first play. After forcing another three-and-out, we returned the punt inside the 20 and scored two plays later. Well, it went on like that all game, and when the siren sounded (a siren! really!) at the end, his team had won 28-0, and we were finally on the other side of the kind of thrashing we were used to receiving.

There's a cliche about feeling like a weight has been lifted from your shoulders. Most cliches are cliches (i.e., overused) because they have more than a grain of truth to them. As I walked down the ramp and out of the stadium, I truly did feel like I no longer had a burden I was accustomed to carrying, when flower_goddess and I would try to sneak back to the car without being noticed because we just got pounded again. My son wanted to quit after the 24-0 game earlier this year -- he literally believed that he was a jinx to his team. The same group of kids had gone 5-2 the previous year, and the only difference this year were the addition of him and a couple of other kids who graduated from PAL. We were able to convince him to stick it out mainly by making him consider how he'd feel if he quit and the team then won a game.

Fortunately, now he'll never have to know.

One Thing Leads To Another

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On the River Of Life, things just flow... here's a quote I didn't originally pull from the article I referenced yesterday:

"'If you look around the nation, in Texas, high school football is king, and there are abuses,' [chairman of the Physical Education and Sport Department at Central Michigan University James] Hornak said. "I don't see that in Michigan. Michigan seems to be better than it has been 20, 30 years ago.'"
Just how crazy can it get in Texas? Apparently, this crazy (via Drudge):
"DALLAS -- A high school band director has apologized for a halftime performance that included 'Deutschland Uber Alles,' the anthem closely associated with Adolf Hitler, and a student running across the field with a Nazi flag."


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