Sunday, March 30, 2008

A great day to know nothing

As The Girl has pointed out twice now, people getting into their office's NCAA pools for the first time are scratching their heads and wondering just how hard it can be to pick the four top seeds and write their names in for the finals.

It's official as of 6:15 p.m. that for the first time in tournament history, the top seeds will make the Final Four.

I'm currently trying to get the person in our pool disqualified who chose the number ones - they obviously shouldn't have been invited in the first place.

I can't even imagine the problems this will cause in thousands of pools across America. I fully expect flags to fly at half mast tomorrow morning.

For the record, my finals pick of UNC over UCLA is still in play. Michigan State and Georgetown? Not so much.

(Image from Sports Illustrated)

Sure it's pretty... pretty boring

Cars - It's sad that even kids movies can be deconstructed now. Next time, I'll have to remember to skip the special features. Fun movie, though.

Hello Again Everybody: The Harry Caray Story - Great documentary on Harry Caray. A must-view for any baseball fan, even if it's for teams other than the Cubs. Oh, and Elvis loved Harry.

Rocket Science - Great little movie about a boy with a stuttering problem who joins the debate team. Well-acted, lots of fun.

Tenacious D in: The Pick of Destiny - What. A. Disappointment.

The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford - Beautiful movie, very well shot, but it really drags. A lot. Make sure to leave your evening free when you press play.

(Image from

Friday, March 28, 2008

Police Supt. dying to beat nature into submission

In the same week where people went nuts over a gas station accidentally offering gas at $2.50 a gallon, the Chicago Police Department let it slip that they were kicking around the idea of buying a bunch of SUVs for the rank and file to patrol in.

Citing "rugged winters" Police Supt. Jody Weis suggested that with the department's squad cars needing replacement, SUVs might be the way to go. That's where he lost me.

New radios? Great. Standardized firearms. Not a problem. Chevy Tahoes? Bad idea.

In addition to the usual maintenance costs, now the department is looking to run bigger vehicles that guzzle increasingly more expensive gas? How did this make it out to the media?

The funny thing is that departments around the country have already come under criticism for this, when gas prices first started to escalate a few years ago. City councils were asking why higher-ranking officers were given SUVs that were more expensive to buy and maintain. Cost-cutting measures were put into place to replace full hubcaps with smaller ones that just covered the lugnuts and were less likely to fall off in a chase or if an officer hits something in the road.

Not only that, but why Tahoes and not something more economically friendly like a Ford Escape or something in that weight class?

The idea that the Chicago Police are seeing this as an option makes me nervous. In a meta moment, I'm inclined to guess that this might just be the sexiest idea that came up, sp the media latched on, but luckily, it appears that the Tribune has done a little homework first:

If Chicago police switched from the Crown Vic to an SUV, some might question the cost, maneuverability and eco-friendliness of such a fleet, especially in light of Mayor Richard Daley's push to make the city green.

But some departments in smaller cities, such as Plano, Texas, have moved toward SUV fleets, citing higher resale value and more room for police gear.

And an extensive annual test of police vehicles conducted by Michigan State Police and reported in Law and Order magazine in November showed that the police-package Chevrolet Tahoe actually "accelerates, brakes and corners like most police sedans" and has a fuel efficiency estimated to be the same as that of the Crown Victoria.

But that's only about 11 miles per gallon.

(Image from:

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Heads up

I watch this and can't help but wonder, "Why the hell haven't they outlawed spectators at rally races?"

There seems to be a disproportionate number of accidents involving rally cars and people unaware of the existence of the races they're involved in.

But that's not what you're supposed to do!

This post by made me chuckle this morning, hearing that most people are planning to spend their prebate to pay off bills instead of dumping the money back into the economy.

I've heard more than one friend threaten to take their found money and make a donation in that exact amount to the Democratic Party, but putting the money in savings or paying off credit card bills has also been a big winner.

While I doubt that it's keeping anyone in Washington up at night, I get a small degree of satisfaction in knowing that such a short-term fix isn't going as well as planned.

Who says Americans aren't fiscally responsible with their personal finances?

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Rats and Spartans not in the NCAA Tournament

300 - I'd already seen this, but not in hi-def and it was much better on a screen that wasn't my laptop. I feel a bit cheated now that this is a pop culture story and not a cool old story I knew, but many people didn't. What fun is it being a nerd if you can't be smug about it?

Keen Eddie: The Complete Series: Disc 3 (4-Disc Series)- Great series that only lasted one season, but the episodes seem to be getting weaker in the third disc. This is one of the shows that pops up on "should have been saved" lists by critics.

Transformers - It makes me sad that kids won't know that glory of a cheap cartoon designed to sell toys because of this orgy of CGI technology. I wanted this movie to be so much more than it was, but it's still about robots who destroy things.

Ratatouille - At dinner Wednesday, two friends who are old enough to be my parents raved about how much they loved this movie. I love it too. I especially love that Patton Oswalt was the voice in a kiddie movie.

God Grew Tired of Us - I devoted a full post to this. See it if you still haven't.

(Image property of Pixar)

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Movies in three sentences or less

In an attempt to keep the copy flowing when I don't have the time or energy to do daily weekly posts, I'm going to try short movie reviews of what I'm getting through Netflix.

Generally, I'll watch anything once, so I'll make sure to warn you of movies that you should never, ever rent - we're looking at you Cold Mountain.

If this whole exercise sucks, I'll stop, honest.

Hot Rod - Funnier than I expected. Worth renting, not buying. Probably only funny if you like Andy Samberg.

Superbad - Hilarious and profane. The fact that my wife refuses to watch the entire movie makes the baby Jesus cry. The soccer scene is one of the best in the movie.

Dave Chappelle's Block Party - One of my favorite concert movies, right behind The Last Waltz. Not a comedy show, but a must for hip hop fans.

The Simpsons Movie - Was it worth the wait? Maybe. Only one curse word that I noticed, but I wasn't really counting, either.

Never Cry Wolf - An old favorite about a man living with wolves in Alaska for a research study. Rent this today if you've never seen it. I remember watching this as a kid and it holds up pretty well.

(Image from:

It is a bright and shiny new day

So long, Comcast - see you in hell, you unhelpful jackals.

While I subscribe to the idea that in many cases the devil you know is better than the devil you don't, a quick search of shows 8 hits for "RCN" and 381 for "Comcast" so I'm willing to take the risk.

The kicker is that when we moved to Minnesota, we were happy to set up an account with anyone other than Comcast after the installation (and disconnection) issues we'd had at our old apartment. When that company was sold to Comcast, we started complaining immediately, but were given a direct number to a customer service rep who took good care of us.

Honestly, it seems that Comcast's biggest issue is that they hire awful contractors who come in, dirty up homes, break things and never get the installs quite right. This has been our experience in two Comcast installs and this was only made worse when I started working in the A/V install industry and knew just how simple cable pulls can be with enough time. Comcast seems to rarely leave enough time.

I'll spare you our personal tales of woe, but the break point for us has been the awful Internet service. While we haven't seen any blocking that we're aware of, we have a daily reboot that required to keep the pipeline chugging along. In a moderately wired apartment - two laptops, two networked TiVos, an Xbox 360 and other devices clamoring for bandwidth at times during day and night - something is making the wireless router barf once a day, without any real predictability.

It's also fun when the wireless drops to local only in the middle of doing things, so while a once a day restart doesn't sound like the end of the world - and let's face it, it's light years beyond the old days of AOL dial up - that constant annoyance is enough to make a customer nuts when the bloated bill comes due.

It's a happy accident that RCN sent along word that our neighborhood is now within their network during the same week that I had to pirate our neighbors' signal for our league's fantasy baseball draft because I simply don't trust Comcast anymore. When you reach the point that their most in-depth tech support is someone telling you to unplug the wireless router from the surge protector and into the wall because sometimes it needs a power boost, it's time to look somewhere else for your cable and Internet needs.

So, fresh off the phone with RCN, I'm feeling positive this morning and can honestly say that they can do no worse. With all the cabling already run, I can almost guarantee that they won't ding up the walls or drill any bonus holes into our floors.

Here's a bonus for the Minnesota faithful - the number for the person in the Minnesota region who might actually be able to help you with Comcast's reign of crappy service.

(Image from

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Less is more

Prompted by last night's off the cuff game review of the newest offering from the MLB catalogue and last month's Wired Magazine's piece on 37signals and their gospel of keeping things as simple as possible, I'm really seeing the benefit of keeping things at their most basic.

As I was working on 2K8's learning curve last night, it struck me that the game would be all but impossible to pick up and play, which is probably accounting for the amount of complaining that is flooding 2K Sports' message boards.

Setting aside the buggy nature of the game and the insulting game manual which incorrectly recycles last year's instructions and even reuses in-game screen caps for the help manuals found in the game itself, the game isn't very user-friendly for the casual gamer.

You only need to look to the runaway success of the Nintendo Wii to see the backlash against sim-type games is landing squarely against the old guard of sports games. Madden is all but unplayable for casual gamers and as a result, the market is making room for stripped down versions of games and over the top arcade style offerings that aren't really in the spirit of the sports people are trying to play.

If I'm a six-year-old today, my options are to play incredibly difficult sim-type baseball games or cartoony slugfests like The Bigs. Actually, that game is pretty entertaining, but if you're a budding baseball nut, you're pretty much out of luck unless you spend all of your time indoors working on the game or are blessed with above-average coordination.

Fun, huh?

For most of these titles, I employ "The Jeff Test" which is to play for a little while and try to gauge how simple it would be for me to explain the mechanics to my brother-in-law before we both get pissed off and play something else instead.

New last night is "The Rich Test" where I realize that I need to e-mail my boss this morning to warn him about the game before he blows 60 bucks on it for his son.

This brings things around full circle for the post, as with the improvements made this year, the team at 2K Sports seems to be trying to create a handheld Wii for every platform and the result is unnecessarily complicated. Does it really make for a better game to throw the ball from the outfield by moving the thumbstick instead of pressing a button to throw to the corresponding base like every other game that has ever been produced?

I don't mind 2K taking chances, just not when the gameplay has gaps and changes made that aren't necessary. Pulling from Wired:

After college, Fried returned to his native Chicago, where he formed 37signals — a Web design firm, named in esoteric reference to SETI — and posted a manifesto on his homepage that railed against the shortcomings of most software. ("The Web should empower, not frustrate," he wrote. "Just because you can doesn't mean you should.") On his protoblog, Signal vs. Noise, he further developed his philosophy. "Remember — size does matter: A small group of 10 great people will outproduce, outwork, outthink a large group of 50 average people."

Try and keep that in mind for 2K9 - empower, stop frustrating.

(Image from:

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Fun while it lasted

The reports are blazing across the Internet this morning - Brett Favre is retiring.

Frank's first response was to ask if it was for real this time and unless we have another trigger-happy code monkey on our hands, this time it's legit. (He has since sent this gem: "Aaron Rodgers, Rex Grossman, Jon Kitna, Tavaris Jackson - one of these QBs is guaranteed to make the playoffs next season. Gotta love the NFL.")

I'll spare the world another blogger wailing in the darkness and asking what Packers fans have done to deserve a quarterback who is subject to the aging process of the human body. I'll fess up right here and let everyone know that I was calling for Favre's (overdue) retirement a little over a year ago.

I'll also skirt the positive spin post until closer to draft day, when you'll see plenty of copy devoted to Aaron Rodgers and how he's primed to step into a starting role in Green Bay.

Instead, I'll fight back the tears and urge to vomit and relay a quick Favre story while I watch my Flickr account explode.

I went to St. Norbert College in DePere, Wisconsin and the school has served as the summer home of the Packers dating back to the Lombardi era. Apparently, Coach Lombardi struck a deal with some of the Norbertine brothers to house the players on campus and they've been there ever since.

The prize job for me was as the van driver, who racked up a ton of hours each day, was fed three meals a day (a huge perk as a college kid) and drove players the few miles back and forth from campus to Lambeau Field.

I have often explained to people that this was the best job I've ever had and it's a shame that my career peaked so quickly. It used to be a joke when I said that.

One of the most stressful parts of the job... OK, pretty much the only stressful part of the job, was picking up players after practice each day when they had finished signing autographs after the morning workouts. It was my job to nose the huge 15-passenger van up next to the gates and hope that people had the good sense to stay away from the wheels and front end as we left to head back to the locker room.

Someone in the Packers front office had a great idea where eight or nine players would hang back after the morning practice and sign autographs for 30 to 45 minutes and fans would be issued tickets to get onto the practice field to get whatever they had with them signed. It cut down on the crush of fans hounding for autographs and meant that a good chunk of them went home with some nice souvenirs.

Normally, I just concentrated on getting guys into the van and then safely getting away from the crowd. This was usually stressful as fans do dumb things around athletes - like one kid who threw his bike under my rear tires to hopefully force me to stop and keep the players around while the police sorted things out - and the players just wanted to hit the showers and head back to campus for lunch.

Favre usually got a personal ride back with the security team - if he tried to wade through the railbirds and hop on a bike, he'd have been torn limb from limb - but on days that he was signing, he'd catch a ride in the van.

Favre would have been justified in grabbing shotgun and no one would have much of a case for kicking him out, but he didn't. In order to give more room to a series of linemen and players with pads in the August heat, Favre threw his helmet down between the driver's and passenger's seats and sat perched there for the short drive back.

I know it doesn't sound like much, but in the summer of 1997, Favre was a defending world champion, the quarterback for a frontrunning team and one of the most popular players in football - he was also a guy bouncing along and telling off-color jokes while squeezed into the front of a van so his teammates would have just a little more space to spread out in the air conditioning.

It was easily one of the best displays of leadership I've ever seen.

Late addition: Of all the stories today, this has been my favorite.

(Image taken for Siberia, Minnesota)