Friday, December 5, 2008
I'm proud to announce that we're now the owners of a fantastic 2003 Dodge Neon SXT with ~94,000 miles on it. Sure sure... we've had the car for the last 5 1/2 years, but now we own it. That means something, right?
If you want it, KBB tells me it'll cost you $4270. I'll listen to offers. I have to warn you though, it may have a tendency to spontaneously combust at some point in the future. I use MyCarStats to read up on recall and complaint notices pertaining to my cars, and there are no less than 40 complaints that read something like these:
"WHEN I USE MY HEADLIGHTS FOR 15-20 MINUTES, I BEGIN TO SMELL A BURNT PLASTIC SMELL AND NOTICE THE LEFT SIDE OF THE STEERING WHEEL GETS VERY WARM. AFTER 20-30 MINUTES OF HEADLIGHT USE THE LOW BEAMS JUST GO DEAD, IT "AUTOMATICALLY" SWITCHES TO HIGH BEAMS IMMEDIATELY. IF I TRY TO TURN IT BACK DOWN TO LOW BEAMS, EVERYTHING GOES DARK (*VERY* DANGEROUS AT NIGHT!). THEN I AM FORCED TO USE HIGH BEAMS AND BLIND EVERYONE ELSE FOR THE REST OF MY TRIP, OR I HAVE TO PULL OVER AND LET THE APPARENT CAUSE (THE MULTIFUNCTION SWITCH) COOL OFF FOR AN ETERNITY BEFORE RESUMING MY TRIP. I'M HIGHLY UNCOMFORTABLE KNOWING THAT MY CAR HAS PLASTIC BEHIND THE STEERING WHEEL ON THE VERGE OF ERUPTING INTO FLAMES WHEN I USE MY HEADLIGHTS. I ALSO CONSIDER IT EXTREMELY HAZARDOUS, NOT ONLY FOR THE FIRE RISK, BUT ALSO THE LOW BEAMS DYING SUDDENLY."
"I HAVE A 2003 DODGE NEON AND THE MULTIFUNCTION SWITCH FOR MY HEAD LIGHTS HAS FAILED TWICE. IN BOTH CASES I NOTICED A PLUME OF SMOKE COME OUT OF MY STEERING COLUMN AND WITH IN TWO WEEKS I LOST MY LOW BEAMS AND THEN MY HIGH BEAMS FAILED A WEEK OR SO LATER."
"WIRE HARNESS FROM UNDER STEERING COLUMN CAUGHT FIRE FOR NO REASON WHAT SO EVER. CAR HAS 77000 MILES ON IT. NO COVERED UNDER WARRANTY. THIS HAS HAPPENED TO MULTIPLE CARS AND DODGE IS NOT COVERING REPAIR ON THIS ITEM."
I'm no car expert, but I think that anything involving burning smells, smoke, and/or flame is probably a bad thing. If anyone happens to have some pull with the recall department of Chrysler you might want them to look at this issue. Ours hasn't flamed out yet, but I have noticed lately that the fog lights come on for no apparent reason from time to time. I'll have the shop look at it next time I take her in.
Wednesday, December 3, 2008
Sure, people got cranky from time to time, but it was pretty much a big lazy get together featuring two holidays, food, shopping, TV, and games. For starters, I was introduced to a couple long-running TV shows that I'd never seen before, Ninja Warrior and Doctor Who.
Ninja Warrior is more or less a serious version of the Japanese show lampooned in MXC. In each competition (there have been 22 so far), 100 athletes and/or celebrities attempt to make it through a series of physical challenges in a quest for honor and glory. We watched competition 20, in which American free runner Levi Meeuwenberg makes it the farthest, but fails in stage 3 of 4. I don't think I get G4 under our current cable plan, but if I did this might prove a pleasant distraction from time to time.
The Doctor Who episode I saw was from the season with Christopher Eccleston as the Doctor. Despite this show being such a big deal with so many people, I had no idea it would be so funny. In the one I saw, our three main characters are teleported to the far future where they're forced to participate in sadistic versions of popular TV shows like Big Brother and The Weakest Link. Who's behind it all? The Daleks, of course. I don't intend to go too crazy with this, but it seems like something I can safely add to my Netflix queue and get to at some point.
On the games front, specialty card games were the games of choice. I finally got people to play Bohnanza with the dreaded Auftrag (Job) cards. It turned out to be much ado about little as they didn't change the game as much as some (cough, Meaghan) had feared. So it looks like we'll be using them more in the future. The big winner, though, was Killer Bunnies.
Meaghan and I have been playing this more and more lately as it's one of the few "strategy" games we own that works decently with only two players. She tends to prefer lighter fare, so it cuts out a lot of the more hardcore options that are out there. The big surprise was how much Meaghan's family enjoyed it. Her brother, Jimmy, liked it enough to give us the first two expansion sets (red & violet) for Christmas. I can't really imagine playing a game involving over 500 cards (all the expansions), but I'm sure it'll happen at some point. I'm happy with what we have for now.
On a personal note, it's with regret that I announce the conclusion of No-Shave November. It was all over 15 minutes after settling in front of the mirror Monday morning. Some pictures were taken down in Texas. I'll see if I can track some of those down if anyone is interested in seeing me at the zenith of the growing season.
Friday, November 21, 2008
So a whole lot of time has gone by, and there's been loads to talk about that I just haven't gotten to. So at the risk of taking the easy way out, let me give you some of the highlights.
- Meaghan & I celebrated our 3rd anniversary back in September. The traditional/modern gifts for that are leather & crystal. Ugh, it's becoming more of a challenge to find something useful for each other every year as the gift types become less practical. I opted for a nice pair of leather gloves (with slippers soon to follow -- shhh... don't tell Meaghan, she doesn't read this.) while she got us a new set of luggage giving us more than 2 pieces that look the same for the first time in our adult lives.
We also went on a secretly planned camping trip to the North Shore, specifically to Cascade River State Park. Meaghan had gotten us a hike-in campsite, so we were nice and secluded out in the woods. They gave us a bear box to keep our food safe and everything. We enjoyed the waterfalls and some hiking then went to dinner at Chez Jude in Grand Marais. If you're ever looking for a reasonably priced fine dining experience up that way, I'd recommend it.
- This experience reminded us that we have State Park passes on our cars (thanks MPR), so we've started going to Fort Snelling State Park right here in the Big City on a semi-regular basis. The trails there are even dog-friendly, so Zelda gets a nice "wilderness walk" from time to time. Now that it's cold out, we're eagerly awaiting the snow. The plan is to actually try XC skiing and snowshoeing this year.
- For my birthday, we went to a fabulous little restaurant a few blocks away from where we live called Cafe Levain. They have a prix fixe menu on Sunday nights where you get a 3-course meal for $25. I added the wine pairing (it turns out I do like wine as long as I don't have to decide what to get) for only $12 or $14 more. I highly recommend it if you're looking for great food away from the hustle and bustle of downtown. The next time we have money set aside for a nice night out, I'm going to try to get us to go there again.
- My parents were also gracious enough to use my birthday as an occasion to help fund a couple larger expenses that we'd been saving toward. As a result, I'm currently sitting in the comfort of a nice leather office chair while listening to The Beatles on our brand-new turntable. I can finally work in comfort. Ahhh... Thanks Ma & Pa!
- Our tour of the nation to visit people we know continues. Back in September (it was apparently a busy month), we went to Connecticut for Meaghan's cousin's wedding and then to Omaha for a college friend's wedding. It's always good to see people that you haven't seen for awhile, especially when talking to them is like you just had lunch together yesterday as opposed to, say, 8 years ago. The journey continues next week when we go to Texas for Thanksmas (seemed less offensive than Christgiving) with Meaghan's parents and brother. Trips like this wouldn't be possible if we didn't have awesome friends like the ones at HarrisWorld and the House of Huebert to watch after our pup. Thanks everyone!
- Speaking of the fine folks at HarrisWorld, I'd be remiss if I didn't mention that Meaghan & I were named godparents of this little guy back in October. Thanks for the honor, Mike & Kim. We'll do our best not to lead Nathan too far astray. I think that officially means I get to talk in a funny voice, make people kiss my ring, and whack guys I don't like for the rest of my life, but I confess to not having read the handbook yet.
- I'd be even more remiss if I didn't give an update on our nephew Soren. We haven't seen him since his christening (yes, they actually broke a bottle over his head -- truly frightening) back in the Spring, but he's beginning to turn into quite the fun little guy. We're looking forward to seeing him again at Christmas and doing our duty by lavishing him with gifts.
- In case anyone is interested, I have actually been keeping fairly up to date on my effort to watch at least an episode of new TV shows. I just haven't been blogging about them. I've even cast my net wider than my last update to include fantastic shows like NickToons new Making Fiends, based on a web series of the same name. I'll get back to that in future posts, regardless of whether my statements are culturally relevant.
- Hey, which reminds me... we have a new President-Elect, but not a new Senator (yet). I don't really intend to get into politics here, but I thought this was worth mentioning since we seem to be on the dawn of the most web-centric incarnation of our government yet. If you haven't checked it out yet, Change.gov is a harbinger of things to come with its daily blasts from the Office of the President. It'll be interesting to see how transparent things become.
I think that's all I have for now. I hope there's more to come in the not too distant future.
Wednesday, October 1, 2008
I've also updated my initial post with links to all of the shows' websites as requested, and have also added a few shows that escaped my grasp the first time around. Have fun checking those out if you want to know more about any of them in particular. Back to your regularly scheduled programming...
After stumbling through a whole lot of writer's block regarding how to deal with 30-minute comedy shows (do people still watch these?), I think I've come up with something that'll work for me.
Z Rock: Sundays on iFC, 11:30/10:30 Central
How does one even get the iFC (Independent Film Channel), and who knew that they even had original programming? Whatever the case, they should probably look into getting some more if this is an example of the quality they can produce. "Z Rock" is a hilarious semi-scripted comedy about a Brooklyn-based rock band ZO2 that moonlights as children's entertainment group the Z Brothers to make money. The band and its side project are real, but the situations depicted in the show are not.
This is beyond cable TV so the level of nudity and language is easily at HBO levels here, but it's the land of sex, (no) drugs, and rock & roll so you can't expect less. The humor of the show is a bit hard to explain, but most of it borders on the absurd with a bit of raunchiness thrown in for good measure. I'll let this clip do the talking for me. Make sure you listen to the song's lyrics.
ZO2's straight forward rock music doesn't really do it for me, but the show itself is a winner. I've watched all six episodes that have aired to date, and there are only four to go.
Tuesday, September 16, 2008
It turns out that the CW did come through with its requisite guilty pleasure show this year after all. Whereas the much-hyped 90210 reboot is just plain guilty, their other Tuesday night drama "Privileged" is the pleasure. Megan Smith is a recent Yale grad trying to make it in the world with her writing degree. Unfortunately, instead of writing the next great biography she's stuck working for an NYC tabloid. When her apartment building goes up in flames and she loses her job in the same day, a door unexpectedly opens bringing her back to the ultra-rich society in Palm Springs where she grew up. Her task? Tutor spoiled teenage twin granddaughters of the rich and the famous so they can go to Duke.
Another show about rich people (see "The OC", "Gossip Girl", "90210"), you ask? Sort of. The focus this time is on our outsider, Megan, so a lot of time is spent poking fun at the lifestyle instead of seeing how cool and glamorous it is to be stinking rich. Another plus is that she's an adult, so we hopefully won't get bogged down in the minutiae of high school life once class is in session in future episodes. Joanna Garcia ("Reba", "Welcome to the Captain") brings a high level of energy to the spunky and sarcastic lead role. I'd seen her before on last year's short-lived "Captain" comedy, but here she's a revelation bringing just the kind of humor shows like this need.
Although it fills the role of a one-hour drama in the network's schedule, this feels more like a comedy to me. It fills a niche that shows like (dare I say) "Gilmore Girls" used to occupy. Sure the plot may be a little obvious so far: one twin is nice, the other bitchy; there's an obligatory love triangle; and an estranged family, but "Privileged" is genuinely entertaining. I can't say that about a lot of shows on the boob tube these days.
If you're currently giving attention to "90210" or other such drek, I strongly urge you to check this out instead. It's unfortunate when worthy shows are overlooked because the hype machine hasn't been employed in their favor, and that seems to be the case here. No matter if you believe in them or not, the pilot last week did horribly in the Nielsen ratings so it's probably going to need some help if its planning on sticking around. It's on at the same time as Fox's "Fringe" (coming to a post near you), so I won't be able to watch it live but I'm definitely going to keep up with it online. Thanks to the CW streaming full episodes on their website, you should too.
Wednesday, September 10, 2008
Alan Ball ("Six Feet Under", "American Beauty") is back with a new HBO original series. If you were expecting something with the sophistication or gravitas of either of those previous works, you're probably going to be sorely disappointed. Instead, "True Blood" is a pulp-tastic vampire story set in small town Louisiana. Based on the Southern Vampire series of novels by Charlaine Harris, the story centers around a young barmaid Sookie Stackhouse (Anna Paquin - "The Piano", "X-Men") who just happens to be able to read people's thoughts. Everyone's except for the new vampire in town, that is.
The real star of the show is its backdrop and setting. Being the pilot episode there wasn't a whole lot going on here plotwise, but you can see how many story possibilities there are for the future. The difference between this and other vampire stories is that here the vampires are a known entity. They've recently revealed themselves to the world in a move known as the "Great Revelation", trying to become a viable part of society. This is made possible by the invention of a synthetic blood beverage called Tru Blood. Having vampires out in the open creates the possibility for stories centering around race relations and oppression with vampires playing the role of minority, as well as the standard vampiric "seduction of the innocent" tales.
The show is easy to follow, but the backstory isn't fully fleshed out within it. For that, there are a number of cool websites that detail the world of "True Blood". Since the Great Revelation, organizations have sprung up both for and against the integration of vampires into society. There's even a proposed Constitutional amendment that would grant vampires equal rights, complete with commercials for and against its passage. If you're interested, you can get a good summary of the buildup to the events of the show from HBO's YouTube channel. Good stuff for the most part.
As for the show itself, there are a number of things you're probably going to need to get over in order to enjoy it at all. First, the accents. The show is set in small town Louisiana so everybody has one form or another of the classic over the top Hollywood Southern accent. If this is going to bother you, you might be in trouble. I managed to get over it after about 30 mins. Second, being an HBO show the first 20 mins are chock full of graphic sex, and not very attractive sex at that. This goes hand in hand with the third issue. This show is not played for laughs... at all. Despite the otherworldly premise, everything is absolutely serious. If you're looking for the next "Buffy the Vampire Slayer", look elsewhere.
At the end of the day, I'm intrigued. Given the pedigree and thoughtful world-building there's the potential for this to become a great show. I'm far from the target demographic (although I have no idea who that might be) and it's far from great now, but I'm willing to give it some time to get there.
Sunday, September 7, 2008
After somehow surviving the last 8 TV seasons without a show containing the numbers 90210 in the title, Americans can breathe easy again. In a make or break move that may determine the future of the network, the CW has decided to create yet another teen drama. In hopes of hooking multiple generations of viewers, this one's even tied into the continuity of the original Beverly Hills 90210 going so far as to bring back Jennie Garth and Shannen Doherty.
As someone who's only seen a few episodes of the original show, I can't really do much to directly compare the two. That's probably for the best. To my knowledge, the original 90210 (debuting in 1990) was the first primetime show to prominently feature teens. As such, it was able to break a lot of ground and explore topics that were previously taboo. This new show has entered a brave new world where the trail has been continually blazed over the years by shows like My So-Called Life, The OC, and Gossip Girl. Given this environment, what is 90210 adding to the mix?
To be honest, not a whole lot. It feels a bit like the perfect frankenteen drama: a bit of The OC here (it's a teen show, but we have storylines about adults, too), Gossip Girl there (more rich high schoolers, and one of them has a popular dirt-dealing blog), even some Saved By the Bell (the main adult character is the principal). With a pedigree like this, it should be good, if you're into the whole teen drama thing, but it just leaves me flat. The acting by the kids is pretty poor, particularly Shenae Grimes (Degrassi: The Next Generation) as the lead girl, Annie Wilson. There was an especially painful scene in which she won a spot in the chorus for the school musical. I wish I had a screenshot or video I could show you, but the amount of anguished faces and bad dancing she did while singing was enough to make you want to watch a Hilary Duff music video instead. Not incidentally, that's probably where Shenae got most of her pointers.
There are some aspects of the two premiere episodes that I did like. Jessica Walter (Arrested Development) is pretty funny as the Wilson family's alcoholic grandmother. I actually enjoyed most of the adult storylines - Rob Estes (Melrose Place) as the new principal at West Beverly Hills High is particularly good. Although no one else seems to appreciate it, I liked that this series starts off with the exact same premise as the original one: a family with a high school-aged son and daughter moves to Beverly Hills from the middle of nowhere. Last but not least, in a scene early in the first episode you get to watch the most realistic portrayal of lacrosse I've ever seen in a movie or TV. In the end, though, it ends up not really serving anybody what they want.
Fans of the old show tuning in are going to be disappointed because even though some characters have come back, they can't possibly spend a lot of time on them without confusing and alienating their new audience. So although you may find out if Kelly's son belongs to Brandon or Dylan if you watch enough episodes, you'll probably be left wanting more. Fans of modern teen dramas will probably just go somewhere else for their fix once they realize that it doesn't measure up to current or recent shows of the same type that are just flat out better. There just aren't enough sympathetic characters and not enough humor. Sadly, I don't think I'll be coming back to it.
P.S. Apparently, I'm not doing this right. As I learned from watching this show, "Blogs are supposed to cause problems."
Thursday, September 4, 2008
Sure we have a standing date where we try to get out to a coffee shop about once a week to play a random edition of Trivial Pursuit, but that only goes so far. A lot of our friends live down in the Small Town where we lived before we moved to the Big City over a year ago, so we've had some trouble getting people together on a regular basis for such things lately. After one aborted attempt, we actually managed to get 3 of Meaghan's teachery friends over to our place last weekend for an assortment of games. Much fun was had by all, and statements like "we should do this more often" were uttered. I'm not holding my breath though as teachers are a notoriously busy group of people.
I perused the Internet a little bit the other day in search of ideas to help scratch my itch and came up with a couple: volunteering at a nursing home or low-cost housing complex to play games with the residents there or joining a meetup dedicated to getting together and playing games. As someone who doesn't particualrly go out of their way to meet new people, these would both take a little convincing for me to actually do them. Anyone have any experience with Meetup or volunteering in particularly urban environments?
In his first offering since 2005's "Over There", Steven Bochco (Hill Street Blues, Cop Rock, L.A. Law, NYPD Blue) returns to the more familiar territory of law and/or order with TNT's new Monday night drama "Raising the Bar". I can't say that I've watched an awful lot of lawyer shows over the years, so things that may seem novel to me are probably par for the course. I'm sure you'll keep me in line if I swoon over something that's perfectly ordinary, right?
Jerry Kellerman (Mark-Paul Gosselaar, "Saved By the Bell") is a New York City public defender who believes so strongly in defending the truth that he's willing to go to the mat (or jail as the case may be) for his clients. Trudy Kessler (Jane Kaczmarek, "Malcolm in the Middle") is a hard-boiled district court judge who thinks that due process and the rule of law are guaranteed to deliver justice. Without needing to use any more words, that sums up the main conflict of the show: belief that truth will win out vs. belief that the system will reach the right conclusion. It's kind of reminiscent of the short-lived ABC show "In Justice" (a law drama I actually did watch) in that way. That show was about an organization that sought out wrongful convictions and tried to overturn them. Presumably, not every episode of "Raising the Bar" will end up this way since public defenders spend a lot of their time defending actual criminals, but that remains to be seen.
In the pilot episode, Kellerman defends an accused rapist who he believes to be innocent. There's shockingly little evidence presented on either side of the case. The DA's case centers around the victim's positive identification of the suspect. The defense counters with the fact that the identification was a bad one - the victim was shown only one photo. In the end, through a convoluted series of events that I won't go into here, the defendant is absolved, the real rapist is found, and truth prevails in the courtroom.
There's actually a pretty large ensemble cast that I haven't spent any time talking about, full of defense lawyers, assistant DAs, and judge's assistants that, for the most part, all happen to be friends outside of work that went to law school together. Who they are isn't all that important as they only serve to bring interpersonal relationships into the backdrop. Kellerman is sleeping with the cute lawyer in the DA's office? The assistant DA is a slimeball who also wants to sleep with her? Another defense attorney wants to sleep with his boss (Gloria Reuben, "ER")? The judge's assistant is secretly gay? <gasp> All of these are shocking developments... if you happen to have never watched a primetime soap in your life.
The only possibly interesting angle this brings up is how these relationships affect what takes place inside the courtroom. Would a lawyer try a case differently if a good friend were on the other side of the aisle? Should a system that's purportedly about reaching justice be susceptible to such faults? There are a few ethical dilemmas that could be explored here if the show takes off in the right direction.
As it stands now, though, there's little reason to tune in. Although Gosselaar is earnest in the role (it's good to see Zack back on the small screen, although that hair has got to go), the acting is just all right. If you're a fan of law dramas, you might want to check it out. However, if you're a fan of law dramas chances are you're already watching "Boston Legal" in this timeslot. I'll probably give it one more chance to impress me.
Tuesday, September 2, 2008
Here's the rundown of everything new, what channel it's on, and it's normal timeslot:
|8/24||Z Rock||iFC||Sun 11:30/10:30|
|8/24||Moribito: Guardian of the Spirit||Adult Swim||Sun 1:30/12:30 AM|
|9/1||Sid the Science Kid||PBS||Weekdays|
|9/1||Raising the Bar||TNT||Mon 10/9|
|9/3||Sons of Anarchy||F/X||Wed 10/9|
|9/5||Samurai Girl||ABCFam||Fri-Sun 8/7|
|9/7||True Blood||HBO||Sun 9/8|
|9/10||Do Not Disturb||Fox||Wed 9:30/8:30|
|9/13||Yu-Gi-Oh! 5D's||CW||Sat 11:30/10:30 AM|
|9/21||Spaceballs: The Animated Series||G4||Sun 5/4|
|9/22||Easy to Assemble||Web||Mon|
|9/22||Worst Week||CBS||Mon 9:30/8:30|
|9/23||The Mentalist||CBS||Tue 9/8|
|9/24||Knight Rider||NBC||Wed 8/7|
|9/24||Gary Unmarried||CBS||Wed 8:30/7:30|
|9/26||The Suite Life on Deck||Disney||Fri 8/7|
|9/27||Gogoriki||CW||Sat 8:30/7:30 AM|
|9/28||Little Britain||HBO||Sun 10:30/9:30|
|9/28||The Life & Times of Tim||HBO||Sun 11/10|
|10/3||The Secret Saturdays||Cartoon||Fri 8/7|
|10/3||Star Wars: The Clone Wars||Cartoon||Fri 9/8|
|10/3||The Ex List||CBS||Fri 9/8|
|10/4||Making Fiends||NickToons||Sat 11:30/10:30 AM|
|10/4||Turbo Dogs||NBC||Sat 12/11 AM|
|10/5||Easy Money||CW||Sun 9/8|
|10/9||Kath & Kim||NBC||Thu 8:30/7:30|
|10/9||Eleventh Hour||CBS||Thu 10/9|
|10/9||Life on Mars||ABC||Thu 10/9|
|10/13||My Own Worst Enemy||NBC||Mon 10/9|
|10/15||Chocolate News||Comedy||Wed 10:30/9:30|
|10/20||Rita Rocks||Lifetime||Tue 8:30/7:30|
|11/1||Legend of the Seeker||Syn||Sat|
|11/3||Novel Adventures||CBS Online||Mon|
|11/8||True Jackson, VP||Nick||Sat 9:30/8:30|
|11/9||The Xtacles||Adult Swim||Sun 12/11 PM|
|11/9||Summer Heights High||HBO||Sun 10:30/9:30|
|11/14||Batman: The Brave and the Bold||Cartoon||Fri 8/7|
I may fall behind again, but in this brave new world there are so many ways to watch what you want when you want that it won't matter in the long run. I find very little need to watch shows when they're actually on anymore, so there are a number of them that I plan on catching up with someday. Between Netflix, Amazon Unbox, iTunes, AOL Video, and the network websites themselves there are tons of legal ways to view things online. If shows are good enough (Twin Peaks, Lost, Airwolf) you can even watch entire seasons long after they first aired. Of course, there are loads of "illegal" (not sure how well the term applies to network shows that are freely available in the first place) ways to get the job done, too, but in a lot of cases that's not necessary.
If there's something you definitely want me to take a look at, let me know. Otherwise, wish me luck!
Friday, August 29, 2008
However, it's clear that if you go to the official source we Americans came up short in the standings:
What can we do about this to ensure that we're not embarrassed as a nation again in London 4 years from now? I encourage all of us to go from being couch potatoes to being Olympic-caliber athletes. We need to be selective in the sports that we focus on, though. It won't be to our advantage if we're all inspired by Michael Phelps to become world-class swimmers, as the USA already has Michael Phelps. In order to determine where our Olympic program needs the most help, I compared the results from all 302 medal events to see where the US was lagging behind China. I came up with these 6 focus areas.
The only thing that kept China from winning all 8 gold medals offered in this discipline was the horrible choke job performed by Zhou Luxin in his final dive off the platform (coupled with a fantastic last dive by Australia's Matthew Mitcham). The best the US could manage was a pair of 4th place finishes in the men's and women's synchronized springboard events. What happened to the days of hardcore Americans like Greg Louganis? He hit his head (not for the squeamish) on the board in 1988 and still managed to claim the gold. In fact, it's Louganis himself that inspired the Chinese to become so good at diving. From the New York Sun:
The greatest diver in American history, Greg Louganis, playedI think it's about time that we Americans do the same. Scour YouTube for footage and study it obsessively. I know what you're thinking. Diving? You want me to put on a Speedo then bounce and twist around in public? In short, yes. Don't do it for me, do it for your country. If you have a friend who's interested, too, bring them along and you can compete together.
a small part in the rise of Chinese diving. Louganis won both the
springboard and platform gold medals in both 1984 and 1988,
and Chinese divers took the silver in three of those four events.
The inability to beat Louganis motivated China to reshape its
diving program, with national coaches obsessively studying film
of Louganis to determine how to match his technical precision.
There are two disciplines of canoe/kayak in the Olympics: whitewater and flatwater. It's not so much that China is particularly good at these events (they only won a single gold out of 16 possible), it's instead the case that the US doesn't have much of a presence here at all. We only competed in 3 of the 12 flatwater events and didn't make the finals of any of them.
It's easy to see why Americans wouldn't think to participate in this. Rowing (or crew as it's often known) is a pretty big sport at some of our better universities. Due to this, there's an established pipeline to feed athletes into the Olympic program. Case in point, we won three rowing medals in the Beijing games. On the other hand, canoeing is something we only do if we've packed a picnic lunch and a six-pack... hardly an athletic endeavor.
If we're going to improve here we'll need to change our mindset: no more leisurely early morning kayaking or lazy afternoon canoeing. The next time you're out on the lake or stream remember to dig deep and move that water. We won't improve as a nation unless we all improve.
Why is this on the list? Didn't our own Nastia Liukin and Shawn Johnson take home gold and silver in the all-around? Yes, they did, but while that was going on (and while they were apparently busy keeping their snazzy websites up to date) the Chinese men and women took home a ridiculous 9 gold medals. You could blame some of the lackluster performance on the injuries that crippled the American men's team, who still managed to eke out a bronze medal in the team competition, or the too young members of the Chinese women's team, but that would be taking the easy way out.
The real problem is our apparent lack of physical and mental toughness. There's no reason that American teenagers should be breaking down on the international stage like this. The solution is to attack the competition on two fronts. First, we need to raise our kids a little tougher. It's inexcusable to let things like broken hands, bone spurs, and lapses of concentration negatively impact our national pride. If we have to ship our kids off to gymnastic boot camps run by Army drill sergeants, so be it. Second, the program needs to cater to older generations of gymnasts. Our current philosophy is to chew up and spit out these young men and women while they're in their 20s, but there's no reason that we can't keep people in the program longer as well as catering to late bloomers. Sign up now!
This is another discipline where the US hardly has a presence despite the high number (14) of available medals, especially on the women's side where we only had competitors in 3 out of the 7 weight classes. The Chinese team, led by this monster, racked up 3 golds in Beijing. In America, it seems that most of the time and energy we put into hand to hand combat goes toward either wrestling (both real and fake) or modern bloodsports like the UFC.
To me this seems like poor allocation of our national assets. Is there more glory in nearly bludgeoning someone to death on pay-per-view TV or in literally wrestling a gold medal away from those that seek to diminish our country's prestige in the Olympics? I think the choice is clear. Judo is all about gaining leverage to trip or throw your opponent to the ground. While that may not sound as exciting as pummeling someone in the face repeatedly, you have to admit that there's a little more class involved. And hey, you still get to choke people into submission.
If you're the strong, stocky type that likes to throw people around, don't delay in signing up now. For those of us without the proper build or level of aggression we need to start a grassroots campaign to bankrupt the UFC and other organizations like it. Boycott their events and paid programming (I know you watch it), and encourage our brave, young athletes to take up judo instead.
I don't know what they're feeding those guys, but China won 8 of the 9 weightlifting competitions they entered (they only got silver in the 9th). Most of those victories came by ludicrous margins. Meanwhile, the USA only fielded lifters in 5 of the 15 available weight classes. Perhaps the Chinese are cheating... goodness knows there's a history of that in the sport. If that's the case, we need to figure out what drugs they're using and get some ourselves as they're apparently discreet enough to not be detected.
Regardless, we need to come up with a way to get muscleheads out of the gym and on to the world stage. I'm not talking about posing either. You can't earn any glory for your country from doing that. I'm not going to sugar coat this. There are hazards (again, not for the squeamish) above and beyond just lifting heavy stuff, as a certain amount of balance and coordination is required to execute lifts.
China also has one weakness that we can exploit: they're typically smaller than people from the West. They didn't field any competitors at all in the top three men's weight classes and the top women's weight class. Let's take advantage of our natural girth by turning our weight problem into a positive. If you like to pump iron, it's time to pump with a purpose.
In Beijing, China won its goal of 3 golds while snagging 8 of the 15 available medals in total. In contrast, Americans only managed a 1-4 record in the 5 different events combined. This is another example of competitive sport that is viewed almost strictly as a leisure activity in the United States. How many people have childhood memories of whacking a birdie back and forth over a volleyball net? It's okay... I'm guilty of this, too.
It turns out that you were really supposed to be pounding it back and forth over a lower net at speeds of up to 200 mph. It's not surprising that this would be a weakness of the US Olympic team given the decline of racket sports in this country. (Quick... name the top-ranked US tennis player. No peeking.) If tennis isn't popular, goodness knows things like badminton probably won't be.
The strategy for this one is simple. I'll win the gold medal in 2012. I actually took a PE class in badminton while at Iowa State; I even still have the book for whatever reason. I'll get to reading... I'm sure I'll be a master before too long.
Feel free to browse around NBC's site to view footage of these and other sports. Click on a sport and a particular day of the competition. Most things will have the word "Rewind" next to it. This will replay the full coverage. Other fun things can be found in the Video section of each discipline.
Study hard, our chance for redemption is only four years away.
Thursday, August 28, 2008
Last weekend, we took the bus downtown for the first time since seeing the New Pornographers (among others) at "Rock the Garden" back in June. Our destination was again the Walker Art Center, but this time we wanted to play their green-themed mini golf courses. It's only open for another week and a half, but if you happen to be in the area I highly recommend checking it out. Each hole has a unique concept that's somehow related to the environment.
One is constructed completely of found objects. Its centerpiece is an old bike that you pedal to launch your ball off the tee into a pinball machine whose flippers are controlled by the bike's hand brakes. Your skill at this rudimentary game determines how close to the hole your ball is for the second shot. Another hole is crafted 100% from copper. The idea being that once the exhibit has run its course the hole can be melted back into slag and turned into something else... 100% recyclable. It turns out that golf balls roll kind of strangely on copper.
We also spent a couple hours wandering through the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden. If we'd been thinking straight, we would have packed a picnic lunch to enjoy in the greenspace near the giant cherry. I'd never actually been to see it in person before; I didn't know it was a fountain. There's another neat exhibit in the garden that's also only open for another week and a half. It's a showcase of different technologies (often simple ones) that help to improve the standard of living in the world's poorer places -- a truly eye-opening and inspiring collection of ideas.
Oh, and because I know you were wondering... I managed to eke out a one stroke victory over Meaghan on each of the 7-hole mini golf courses.
Although tonight is the first night of I-A action (20 schools in total are playing), the season actually kicked off Saturday evening. In D-II, last year's national champion #1 Valdosta State put the hammer down on the Fort Valley State Wildcats 56-3. Meanwhile at the NAIA level, tiny Concordia College of Selma, Alabama (just 2-9 last year) shocked at least a small portion of the football world by knocking off #6 Bethel College of Tennessee 23-18.
Wednesday, August 6, 2008
NBC isn't helping my cause any, though. On a combined 5 channels (more if you count HD & Telemundo), they're going to be offering an eye-popping 3600+ hours of coverage. That's apparently more than all of the Summer Games from 1960-2004 combined, which frankly is ridiculous. A large portion of that is available online, too. Please help me avoid the temptation to become an Olympics zombie.
Oh, if anyone was wondering, competition began already today with opening games in the women's football competition. The US team was upset 2-0 by Norway behind the strength of two goals in the first 5 minutes. How do I know all this? I was up at 6:45 this morning to watch it, of course.
Tuesday, July 8, 2008
With apologies to Leviticus, let me tell you what I've been so busy with (besides work) over the last few months.
We're moving! Well, it'd be more apt to say that we're fleeing. Back in mid-May our landlord provided the straw that broke the camel's back. She requested that we no longer use our nice fenced-in yard (one of the reasons that we chose to live here) as Zelda's bathroom because of the burn marks in the lawn from her and the downstairs dog's pee. Our dog could still play in the yard, just not go to the bathroom in it. If you've ever had a dog, you can likely recognize the fallacy in that request. It didn't help that at the time the wonderful lawn was disheveled, unkempt, and a foot tall in places.
I told her that this new request was unreasonable and after a quick Google search regarding lawn burns offered her a number of reasonable alternatives to banning us from the lawn outright. My alternatives were ignored, and she told me that if she was "so unreasonable then I'd like you to seriously reconsider your tenancy with me." We called her bluff, so we're moving. One block away. To another house with a fenced-in yard which we can actually use guilt free.
We later learned that our downstairs neighbor (we're in a duplex) moved out at the end of May for the exact same reason, so it's apparently not just us. Our landlord has been having difficulty renting out either half of the duplex since we announced our departure. I can't say I'm feeling all that sorry.
Speaking of the move, since it's just a block away we've been slowly moving our stuff over in multiple trips. However, we have 5 or 6 larger items that are too big for me and Meaghan to move on our own. If any of my regular readers (if I still have any) are available this Saturday or Sunday and are feeling burly enough, we could really use the help of 1 or 2 kind souls. I'll send an e-mail out tomorrow and hopefully we'll get a bite. We pay well in any kind of food you desire.
The 4th Edition of Dungeons & Dragons came out on June 6th. I've mentioned in passing before that we have a game group that meets pretty regularly. Up until about the beginning of April we'd been content to continue playing the 3rd Edition of the storied franchise, but then as more and more information leaked my friends and I became interested in switching over to the new version.
So what, you say? Well, as the "Dungeon Master" of our group I had to rapidly read and assimilate three large books (over 800 pages) of mostly new game rules as well as prepare the first adventure for play. Our first 4E game was on June 19th, so that gave me about 3 weeks (the books were leaked in PDF format a week early) to digest it all. That's a heck of a lot of reading.
It's all been worth it so far, though. We've played twice, and I think everyone is having much more fun with the new game. That may just be because it's new, but hopefully it'll last. Next game's this Thursday.
P.S. Congratulations to the denizens of HarrisWorld! Their number is now 3.
P.P.S. Thanks for all of the Disney planning, Ma. Between the move, work, and Meaghan's ongoing job search, we really couldn't have done it justice without you.
Monday, April 28, 2008
I don't mean to come across as an advocate here (there are plenty of worthy organizations in the world worth our time and energy), but let me tell you a little bit about it. OMK is basically the Army's new support organization for kids whose parents have been (or are going to be) shipped into combat. It hosts events where these kids can meet and interact with other kids who are going through the same things that they are and provides counseling, etc. as needed from trained military personnel.
The day started out rough. We were told to arrive at 11:30 to meet with the other volunteers and prep our activities for the kids' arrival (who wouldn't be arriving until 12:30). Of course, our space cadet of an event coordinator and the other NJHS-aged volunteers didn't arrive until 12:30 as the first kids were starting to show up. I have no idea where they had been, but they arrived just in time to avert sure disaster. We scurried to learn the activities that we'd be doing that day and then a group of 15 kids was thrown at us.
From that point on, it was pure gold. We made sock puppets, played with moonwalks and other inflatable toys, made polka-dotted stress balls, and attempted to make our own homemade ice cream. The ice cream didn't turn out so well, some bags ruptured creating salty ice cream, and others didn't quite congeal correctly due to lack of ice, but everything else was a lot of fun.
The best part was the connections that we made with the kids: all sorts of lil' tykes held on to my hand as we walked down the hall, I taught a couple kids how to use an automatic hand dryer, and we made funny faces for minutes without end with some of them. At the end of the day, we attended "Military 101", an overview of their parents' jobs, the equipment they use, and the difficulty of deployment. When the speaker got to the part about how difficult it could be for soldiers to come back one little girl confided in me, "That's why my parents got divorced." I'm normally not one to get real sappy about things, but befriending those young boys and girls was very special to me. I was sorry when we had to leave at the end of the day.
Unfortunately, you couldn't say the same of all of the high school volunteers. Hopefully it didn't impact the kids' experience at all, but they were screwing around most of the afternoon instead of keeping an eye on their charges like they were supposed to. When all of the planned activities had run out and we were waiting for parents to retrieve their children, we stayed in the hallway with the kids as they drew pictures and built robots that drew pictures. Meanwhile, the high schoolers played fantastic games with themselves in a different room like throwing M&M's high in the air to each other and catching them in their mouths.
Oh well. The important thing is that Meaghan and I enjoyed it so much that we're probably going to do it again with a different batch of kids down in the Roch the weekend of May 17th.
Sunday, April 27, 2008
It's true. It's taken me over five months to watch the stinkin' Empire Strikes Back. It originally came out in 1980, but it's on the list because of the 1997 "Special Edition" theatrical re-releases. Out of the movies in the original Star Wars trilogy, this is the one that holds up the best after all these years. From the Rebel base on the ice planet Hoth to Jedi training with Yoda on the swamp world Dagobah to the final desperate conflict at Cloud City in Bespin, Empire hits all of the high points that you'll remember from the 10+ previous times you've watched it.
Older and wiser than the last time I watched these, it's interesting to go back again now that the sheen of nostalgia has begun to wear off. Looking at it now, the original movies really are pretty much the same as the newer trilogy with a couple important differences. While it's true that the acting is pretty poor from everybody in all six of the Star Wars films, the notable exception (especially in Empire) is the presence of Harrison Ford. He has most of the good lines and delivers them with a panache that's sorely lacking in the new movies. There's a reason that "I love you/I know" is a classic film moment.
The other big difference is how small these older movies feel when compared to their modern blockbuster brethren. Yes, both series are laden with special effects (especially when talking about the 1997 updates), but whereas the new movies rapidly hop around from planet to planet showcasing more and more outrageous settings, the original ones linger on each location with the attention that each of them deserve. Taking Empire as an example, the movie clocks in at over two hours, but the majority of it takes place in only three locations allowing the viewer to focus on the characters instead of the pretty backgrounds.
Yes, the movie has its faults (goodness knows that the Jedi training sequence in the middle drags on for far too long - I remember almost falling asleep a lot as a kid when we'd get to this part), but it is the best the Star Wars franchise has to offer. These re-releases make for a good change of pace amidst all of the other things that early 1997 has had to offer me so far.
Coming up next is another special release, #95: the director's cut of Schindler's List, made for its broadcast television debut in 1997. Despite being #6 on IMDB's list of the top 250 movies of all time, this is a movie that I've never seen. I'm looking forward to it.
P.S. Can you believe the Wookieepedia? Crazy what nerds will do with the power of the Internet.
So we considered a few options stateside and eventually decided that for the first time as independent adults (Meaghan's been 3 times previous; I've been 6(?) times) we would go down to Walt Disney World in Florida this July. So after a week or two of planning, I'm happy to report that we've finalized all of our flight, lodging, and dining plans. We've also put together a rough itinerary for the length of our visit. For those of you who've never been to WDW before, it's the kind of place that you can really waste a lot of time if you don't plan your trip out before you go. There are so many places to go, things to see, and other people to avoid that it can be overwhelming.
We decided to do it right, so we don't feel like we have to go back for awhile. We'll be down there from the 16th through the 26th and we'll take our digital camera with us, so I swear some pictures will appear here this time. We're staying at the All-Star Music (one of the gaudy, cheap resorts), but as long as our room is far away from these puppies (yes, those are ginormous cowboy boots) I'll be all right.
More details to come in July...
Tuesday, April 8, 2008
When I initially stumbled on this treasure trove, I tried to see how far back it went and looked at the first few posts in rec.games.video.misc. They were from late 1993, just as the Atari Jaguar and the 3DO were poised to take over the world (they didn't - that role would be played by Sony's PlayStation) and Doom was about to be unleashed on PC users everywhere. Also happening at this time and being discussed were the Senate hearings on video game violence that eventually resulted in the creation of the ESRB.
A lot of people remember that games like the Mortal Kombat series and Doom had a lot to do with this debate (Fatality!), but few remember the impact that the advent of full motion video games had on the discussion. The thought was that when violence and horror was depicted by real living, breathing actors (albeit not very good ones) it would leave an even greater impression on the minds of helpless little children. We'll ignore the fact that most of these FMV games were so cheesy and bad that no one took them very seriously. (Note: If you happen to be looking for good FMV games, I highly recommend Gabriel Knight 2, the 7th Guest, and Wing Commander 3 & 4)
Enter Night Trap... the #1 scapegoat at the Senate hearings of 1992/1993. Released for the Sega CD in 1992, the game's footage was actually shot back in 1987 for use with Hasbro's Control-Vision. Never heard of the Control-Vision? Well, that's because it never came out. Apparently the world just wasn't ready for a multi-track VHS-based video game system.
Starring Dana Plato of Diff'rent Strokes fame, in Night Trap you had to help five coeds on a weekend getaway escape the clutches of an army of augers (comical half-vampires armed with a long-handled drill/hook thingy) and an evil vampire family. To perform this task, you were supposed to rapidly switch between eight different security cameras in the beach house and trigger various trap doors throughout the house. If you failed to save any of the girls, you were treated to a grisly scene of horror in which the girl was hooked, drilled, and yanked offscreen before losing your game. The most graphic and obscene of these being the infamous nightgown scene:
If you're still with me after all that horror, hopefully you're laughing right about now. I know that our standards of decency have lapsed a bit since the early 90s, but seriously? This is what the Senate got all up in arms about? My sense of decency is more offended by cheesy scenes like this one:
The hullabaloo was bad enough that the game was ultimately pulled from shelves in major stores like Toys R Us and recalled by Sega. It didn't help matters that apparently our well-informed congressmen thought the goal of the game was to help capture and rape the girls in the game, the exact opposite of the real goal. In fact, if you're playing the game the way it was meant to be played you'll hardly have time to watch any of the fantastic B-movie footage.
In the end, it's a good thing that the ESRB was founded to provide game ratings. Without it, a lot of the neat ideas that have flourished under the protection of a Mature rating might not have seen the light of day. Now all we need is for all you parents out there to actually pay attention to them.
If you want to see more Night Trap, I can help.
Watch a short documentary about the Senate hearings and scandal, complete with hilarious Senate floor footage.
Watch all of the footage from the game, cut into movie form. I guarantee it won't be the worst 45 minutes you ever spend. If you can't handle YouTube quality, you can watch a slightly better version at FMV World.
Sunday, April 6, 2008
Yawn. Wake me up when something interesting happens for a change.
Thursday, March 20, 2008
This is my nephew Soren.
If you're a fan of baby pictures or just want to see more of him, check out my brother's Picasa page. I'll be back soon.
Thursday, February 14, 2008
I'm not saying I've had a heck of a lot to do with our success so far, but I've started playing better in recent weeks so hopefully I'll be able to help us get deep into the playoffs. Wish us luck!
Thursday, January 31, 2008
Well, not yet... but it will be soon. To celebrate this year, we're finally taking our friend Brent's annual offer to go celebrate in Punxsutawney, PA. As a huge fan of the Bill Murray movie it can't possibly live up to my expectations, but I'm hoping it'll be fun anyway. I promise to take some pictures and write all about it when we get back.
Tuesday, January 29, 2008
It happened sooner than it was supposed to, but on Sunday, January 27th around 6:00 PM Soren James decided he'd put his mom through enough strain and joined the world. He's about six weeks early, but he still manages to tip the scales at a whopping 1'6", 5 lb 14 oz. Baby and mother are doing okay by all accounts, considering his early arrival, although Soren has to stay at the hospital for awhile until he's ready to go home.
I've immediately stepped up to fulfill my unclely duties by spending some of my tax refund (that's right - January and already done) on a big package of neat baby stuff for the little guy. I'm sure I'll be tempted to do more of the same as my bonus and "recovery rebate" come in later this year. Boy, being an uncle is hard.
Wednesday, January 16, 2008
Now that we're in the new year and episodes of nearly every program have begun to run dry, things are beginning to look down:
- There are less than 10 new shows this Spring season that aren't reality based, and most of them will only have 6 or 7 episodes
- The entire season of 24 (one of my favorite shows) has been cancelled
- The Golden Globes awards ceremony was cancelled, and the Oscars can't be very far behind
- The chance of new programming on TV next year is endangered, as no one is writing pilot episodes to be bid on by the networks
I know what you're thinking, "Brian, there are tons of other things you can be doing with your time instead of watching TV. This is good for you." That's true. I've done a lot over the past couple months that I should really write about:
- Meaghan and I used our new Walker Art Center membership to go see the amazing Frida Kahlo exhibit. If you live in the area, you have one last chance to see it this weekend before it closes.
- I've seen a ton of excellent movies lately, like Atonement, No Country for Old Men, Juno, The Golden Compass, and Bridge to Terabithia. If I never get around to talking about them individually, I recommend them to everyone.
- We started a broomball team in the Minneapolis City League with people from Meaghan's school program. We're horrible, but it's been a lot of fun.
- We got a new membership to the Minnesota Zoo. We haven't been yet, but we're planning on sponsoring one of their sun bears in February as they're one of Meaghan's favorite animals.
None of that cancels out the fact that I miss getting new episodes of my favorite shows every week. Oh well. Maybe if the strike drags on long enough, I'll learn to not miss it so much anymore.
Saturday, January 12, 2008
Wednesday, January 9, 2008
Tuesday, January 8, 2008
If you're not familiar with the concept, American Gladiators is an athletic competition in which four contestants (two male, two female) compete against each other and a collection of Herculean "gladiators" in a series of events. It was originally a syndicated show that aired for 8 seasons back in the early 90s. It became so popular in its day that they even had special celebrity competitions (check out Lois & Clark's Dean Cain vs. Scrubs' John C. McGinley). Incidentally, if you have ESPN Classic and are looking for a blast from the past, they've started airing original episodes recently. If I had a fancy setup, I'm sure I'd tell my DVR to record it.
This incarnation is a little on the WWF side (it even has Hulk Hogan as the host) as the Gladiators' personas are being played up a lot more this time around, but the athleticism is still real and entertaining to watch. They all have a schtick to go along with their character: a special salute, a unique pose, a Samoan dance, awesome quotes that sound like they came right out of Mike Tyson's Punch-Out!! You know the sort of thing I mean. The best of the lot is easily this guy named Wolf. His schtick is his look, and the fact that he howls like a wolf before, during, and after events. You'd think it would get old, but the guy delivers it with such panache.
Meaghan and I spend about half of our time marveling at the athletic prowess on display, half of it laughing at the ridiculous things everyone says, and half of it imagining what it would be like if we were on the show. If you were a fan of the original, or this sounds like your kind of thing, I highly recommend it. Just try your best to tune out the Hulkster. It's best if watched with a friend, as it's hard to fully enjoy if you don't have anyone to laugh with.
You can catch the new Gladiators on NBC Monday nights at 8:00/7:00.
Wednesday, January 2, 2008
We all know that yesterday was New Year's Day, but did you know that today is 55 MPH Speed Limit day? It probably doesn't really exist anymore as the speed law was repealed in the 90s, but it's to commemorate the signing into law of the 55 MPH national limit back on Jan. 2, 1974. I didn't know that the speed limits were higher back before I was born, but I guess I never really thought about it before.
In honor of the day, I'm going to attempt to actually drive the speed limit everywhere I go today. Wish me luck!