Thursday, September 30, 2010

go rangers.

I want to preface all of this by saying that I'm not a baseball fan. I find the games boring, the season ridiculously long, the sport old-fashioned, the players rarely to be fine specimens of aerobically fit athletes, and the whole obsession with the national (once upon a) pastime to be somewhat of a joke.

That being said, it's always kind of nice when the autumn chill gets into the air and the balloons start to rise in Albuquerque to know that baseball is getting around to its most enjoyable time: the playoffs.

This year, October and baseball playoffs mean a little bit more to me. I've got a friend who's been a Texas Rangers fan longer than I've known him. He's rooted for Texas every season we've been friends. He cheered them on despite my smacktalking on baseball, and he cheered them on despite their lackluster record. Year after year. (There's even been a group on Facebook since at least 2006 called "The Texas Rangers Suck But I Still Love Em.")

And now, for the first time in 11 years, the Texas Rangers are in the playoffs. They'll be playing either the New York Yankees or the Tampa Bay Rays, both of whom I can easily cheer against for the sake of my friend. (This despite the fact that, if I didn't know him, I'd be cheering for the Yankees. The power of coastal appeal? Or a whole lot of money and winning?)

The Rangers need all the rooting-for they can get. In addition to being famously run (into the ground?) by George W. Bush they also, very recently, filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy. On top of all this, they've never won a postseason playoff series. They've won only one game in the postseason. It wasn't at home.

And so, on behalf of all the casual baseball fans (or baseball haters, if we're being honest), I'd like to wish the Texas Rangers luck on their quest to get this enormous monkey off their collective backs. If it came against a perennial power like the Yankees, it'd be all the better for the sake of the sport, as well as a great middle finger to the coastal bias.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

catching up on comics.

It's been a while since I updated my comics here, so I figured I'd just do a batch of them and then try to keep up from this point on.

Batgirl 14 – With Supergirl co-starring, this book is everything I want it to be: cute-drawn superheroes who happen to be girls but aren't drawn in a lascivious manner, who are doing good and having fun. I'm happy to hear that Nguyen is taking over, because I like him, but I'm sad, because when a formula is this winning, I'm loathe to mess with it. This is seriously one of the most fun reads every week it comes out. I wish it would stay that way. And it might.

Batman and Robin 14 – Keeping up with Doctor Hurt, Pyg, and the fascinating Joker and Robin storyline. Batman and Robin continues to be the only place where Grant Morrison is (or ever has?) writing Batman in a manner that suits both him and the comic book audience. I wish they would just let this book loose and let him do what he wants, and free it from any continuity concerns or anything like that. I feel like it could be a madhouse of fun, but as it stands now, it's barely even cutting the mustard while the rest of the books are sinking under their terrible weight.

Daredevil 510 – Shadowland continues and it kicks ass. Matt is going insane and he's going to have to die. If you're not reading Daredevil right now, you are missing out. That's all I'm going to say about it.

Fables 98 – Rose Red reassumes control, firmly. Man, this book has just been gaining steam month after month and this is near the culmination and I'm psyched for it. The confrontation with the Dark Man is brewing, everybody seems like they're gearing up for it in the best way possible, which I expect to mean that some of the characters I love the most and have been the most proud of in the last few months are going to get offed in a callous and offensive way. And I'm going to love it.

Flash 5 – Rogues vs. Renegades kind of disappoints, but the arrest of the Flash and the last page is a great homage. To be honest, I feel like Johns isn't doing much with this book, but Manapul brings me in month after month and he will continue to be able to do so, with ease.

Green Lantern 57 – Carol Ferris becomes queen of the Star Sapphires. That's about all that I felt happened. It was a weak issue? Or I have a bad memory? I can't really tell.

Green Lantern Corps 52 – The Cyborg Superman story finally ends, except that it doesn't end at all, which is part of why I knew I would be disappointed in this story to begin with. This one is not the fault of my memory. This book is suffering and has been since Blackest Night ended. I'm dropping it with this issue, not with any malice, but because I don't care about most of what's going on. Ganthet as Lantern interests me quite a bit, but I just don't care about Alpha Lanterns and Honor Guards and blah, blah, blah.

New Avengers 4 – They still have no idea who's messing with them, but Danny Rand comes back in a rad, different costume. The decompressed storytelling style of Brian Michael Bendis strikes again! I feel like this story could have been over for a few months already, yet it still stretches on; and it's not even over yet! It's good, but not this good.

Red Hood: Lost Days 4 (of 6) – Jason's story continues and Talia makes some comments that are surely the vocalizations of readers. It's a good story and I'm still liking it, but some things bothered me about this. First, why are they making Jason wear a red hoodie this whole time, as though the Red Hood thing was planned or subconscious the whole time? Bad decision. Secondly, Jason's supposed to be this psychopath, but here we're supposed to care about him? Just make him crazy, it's OK, people were accepting him already as he was. Now he's going to be seen as this semi-sympathetic character, which isn't bad by any means, but does kind of diminish the badass way that he's acted ever since he's been brought back.

Spider-Girl The End – Probably capitalizing on the latest mini-series, since it's pretty much a direct sequel, this felt like a cop out on The End series, because of the time travel issue. When I see "The End" on top of a book, I expect to see THE END. I don't want anyone going back in time to change it. I want it to be the end. Let the tragic end of Mayday Parker really teach April a lesson. Let that lesson stay with her. Get a semi-happy ending some other way than wiping out the story I just read. Otherwise it's a waste of my money and your time.

The Unwritten 17 – A choose your own adventure inside a comic book. Are you kidding me? Every issue, this book finds some magnificent way to innovate inside the genre, while simultaneously telling one of the most classic stories contained on the side of fiction. This is groundbreaking, incredible stuff. The Unwritten dedicates this issue to a couple of the different paths that the life of Lizzie Hexam could have taken and we get to see them pretty fleshed out. I love how this mimics a real Choose Your Own Adventure book in that some of the stories overlap and there's common threads. I also love the fact that there's more than one end, although I feel like they could have done more there. Over all, another brilliant issue from a creative gang that is knocking it out of the park every single issue. Get it now.

Book of the (Whatever) obviously goes to the Unwritten. This book kills. It's intellectual without being overly in your face about it, and it's comic book fun without being idiotic. Striking the perfect balance, Vertigo has another major winner, seemingly for the long haul.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

thinking through android.

Man, ever since I got my Nexus One, I've been really into the Android Operating System. I've read more of the tech blogs on a more regular basis, and I've become a pretty dedicated user, if far from a power user. I've tried to apply this thinking to more of my life, and it led me to thinking about an HTPC, which I still haven't settled on.

But the more I use Android, and the more I dig into what's possible, the more convinced I am that the things that I really and truly want from my phone just aren't possible yet. (This is also true for the HTPC - maybe I just want too much? Maybe my goals are unrealistic?) Below, some of those thoughts, with my suggestions, where they've been thought through enough to contain suggestions.

1. Full Integration of Tasker - I bought Tasker because I believed the hype. However, the hype didn't really live up to reality for me, but through no real fault of Tasker. Turns out, much like Google Voice, Tasker isn't really for someone like me...yet.

In my mind, I'd like Android 3.0 (Gingerbread) to integrate Tasker into the basic genetic makeup of the OS. However, it needs more. I don't just want to be able to turn basic functions on and off at certain cues. I want full integration - I want to be able to program a 'smart' Tasker to read my GCal and recognize that when I have work at 8 AM the next day, I want my alarm clock to go off at 5 AM. When that event is not in my calendar, I want the alarm to go off at 8.

I want to be able to utilize my GPS to access my default message in GTalk - when I'm within a certain Wi-Fi signal, I want it to read "Home" and when I'm at another, I want it to read "Work." When I'm away from either of those, I want it to read "Out."

To me, it seems like this is, perhaps, asking more of Tasker than what it was built for.

But, it's not too much to ask Tasker for multiple inputs, right? I want my phone's notifications to be silenced when the time is after 10:30 PM and the phone is plugged in. Because if I'm out, I still want those buzzes. But when I'm sleeping, I don't need them. Unfortunately, this isn't possible any way that I've explored thus far.

(I would love for all of this to be proven wrong.)

2. A better market.

This is something that Android users have been clamoring for ever since the devices hit the market. It's something that's improved since I got my phone, but it could still be better. The very nature of the openness of the Android project means there's a lot of spam, but that doesn't bother me so much.

What bothers me is that AppBrain has been able to be so successful by doing something that should have come naturally to the guys from Google. Put the store on the web! It's a no-brainer and AppBrain does it well and has been rewarded for doing so.

The FastWebInstall plus AppBrain is a great improvement over the native Market, and maybe this is part of the Android plan - to let third party apps supersede their baked in goods, but that's not a great plan.

3. A better music player.

This, again, is something that people have been complaining about since the beginning, but that doesn't make it invalid. There needs to be something done about the fact that iTunes dominates the desktop/laptop sphere and the Android phones (at least in my experience) won't play nice with updating from there.

Workarounds are fine, as I noted above, but none of them have gotten it right yet.

Updating to the cloud (mSpot) has been nice, but spotty at best.

Emulating iTunes (doubleTwist) has worked for other people, but not for me.

Pandora is a fine option, but it's not the same as being able to listen to my music when I want to. If smartphones are truly intended to be multimedia devices, there has to be leeway both ways.

Those are the complaints I have and they're not that big, to be honest, which is a large part of the reason I love my phone. I also love the T-Mobile network because, since I've got this phone, I haven't dropped a single call, as opposed to my time with the iPhone on the AT&T network. Also, with the Mobile Hotspot feature of Adroid 2.2, T-Mobile has been incredibly upfront and supportive about their plans - unlimited means unlimited (except when it doesn't) and while I may have to worry about going through that limit, I won't have to worry about being charged on tiered plans or some unforeseen service fee.

These are the ways in which I think the Android platform could be improved by its next iteration, but, again, I haven't really got the expertise to know if some of these are already available - without rooting my phone. I'd loved to be proved wrong.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

redemption song.

If most of us love a tragic story, there's very little that we love more than the story of the come back from that tragedy. And right now, there's no greater come back in the national sport that Michael Vick.

Michael Vick was Kanye West before Mr. West ran on stage to interrupt Taylor Swift. With the short national memory, some people might have forgotten about Vick's prison sentence. When Vick was found guilty and shipped off to jail, he was absolutely despised by the nation. There was next to no one who would even think about defending him, and it was thought by some that he might even be done with the NFL for good.

However, the nation loves the chance for a man to be redeemed and so, with Donovan McNabb traded to the Washington Redskins, Kevin Kolb knocked out by a concussion, Vick has had a chance to shine. Michael Vick is getting the job of starting quarterback for the Philadelphia Eagles.

Vick had his share of trouble even before he went to jail. There were rumors constantly swirling about him that he wasn't a true quarterback, that he was more prone to run the ball himself than to actually toss it to his receivers. He'd flipped off the fans in New Orleans and he'd had a negligence and battery lawsuit filed against him.

But now, he's getting another chance to shine. He's performed well in the six quarters that he's been in the position for the Eagles thus far. That is not to say there are no questions - or doubters. But the chances are pretty high that he'll do well in this position for this season. The real question becomes – what will this mean for Vick and for the NFL in general?

Be sure to tune in this weekend as the Eagles get tested by the Jacksonville Jaguars and see how the saga continues to play out.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

why we hate.

Covering sports seems like it's getting to be a little bit harder day by day. There's the usual suspects (NBA players arrested on suspicion of domestic abuse and previously untouchably clean superstars turning out to be a kinda-sorta scumbag) and then there's a little bit more.

Reggie Bush just became the first Heisman Trophy winner in history to give the trophy back. This will not put an end to the cloud of scandal surrounding the University of Southern California. Nor is that cloud limited to the football program and now-departed (but not fired, he just got a job in the NFL) head football coach, Pete Carroll. The USC basketball program, meanwhile, is dogged by accusations that its star around the same time, OJ Mayo, who now plays in the NBA, engaged in essentially the exact same behavior.

To anyone who thinks the current trouble is SoCal-centered, look no further than Tennessee coach Bruce Pearlman and the suspicion that is refusing to leave his side. In the pros, the recent NBA newsscape has been dominated by the fact that LeBron James' Q score has fallen – drastically.

But is this really new? Are these things that didn't happen before? Are we living in some kind of deadly dark era, where athletes are misbehaving at a never before seen level? Is there something wrong with our generation?

Or, is it simply a reflection of the sped-up era in which we live? There have been numerous suggestions that the 24 hour cable news cycle made it appear as though we live in a more violent world than was actually the case. With athletes hopping onto social networks like Twitter we get an unfiltered look at them and their lives. Few people will dispute that this is an interesting, probably positive wrinkle to the fan-entertainer relationship.

However, there is always a price to pay for closeness. (Remember the phrase about meeting your heroes?) With the media going full-tilt around the clock and the specialization of news organizations, we get revelations that we might not have in the past. Shaq's Twitter account is funny, but it's kind of sad to read about him stealing ideas for TV shows from teammates.

All this is merely to say: It's a shame about Reggie Bush. It's a shame that he essentially had to give back one of the most prestigious awards in the sport. It's a shame that there were suspicions about his time at USC since he was there. It's a shame, most of all, though, that the defending Super Bowl champs, the New Orleans Saints, are tainted, even if it's ever so slightly, by yet another negative news story about a sports star.

What's the solution? We refuse to live in blissful ignorance and that's a good thing. But it seems like it gets a little bit harder day by day to watch sports, root for the same old kind of star, and read the same kind of story when they inevitably slip up.

Friday, September 10, 2010

the return of the nfl.

I'm a little late with my Alibi article this week, but I can pretend like I was waiting for last night's game. We all know that's a lie, though, because I don't care about football at all. But, it's a handy excuse. Also, I have to thank my man Joey and his Twitter account for the opening angle that plays throughout. Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.

*

America is a super religious nation. No matter what the Constitution says about the separation of church and state, we find a way to let belief into our everyday thoughts in a startlingly high number of ways. And there is no greater religion in America than the worship of football.

The football season officially began last night, amidst the more-obscured actual religious backgrounds of Rosh Hashanah and Ramadan. While some people were fasting, or just breaking that fast, the majority of the nation was taking in the sights and sounds of the Vikings and the Saints mauling one another.

The New Orleans Saints played host to the Minnesota Vikings, in a rematch of last year's NFC Championship Game. The Saints had a magical season last year, which culminated in a Super Bowl victory. Drew Brees, quarterback for the Saints, completed 27 of 36 passes for 237 yards and one touchdown, as the Saints won 14-9.

The football season begins in earnest now, with the meaningless preseason games out of the way. A full slate of games begins on Sunday at 11 in the morning, with the Denver Broncos taking on the Jacksonville Jaguars. The schedule ends with the Dallas Cowboys playing the Washington Redskins in a game that begins at 6:30 in the evening.

And just like that, America's got its true national pastime back. While baseball may have occupied that territory early in the last century, it's clear from the religious fervor that adorns even the commercials for the NFL that the attitude has shifted. Fantasy football is almost as big as the actual games, and the Super Bowl remains the biggest TV draw in the U.S. It remains to be seen if that attitude will shift again in the future, but for now football remains king and football is back.

Monday, September 6, 2010

comics for the week of 09/01/10.

Man. Only three books this week, but they were all top notch!

Buffy: The Vampire Slayer 36 - The official return of Spike! He's back, as we knew last issue, he's on the cover, and he's perfect in this issue. My favorite part is him seeing Twilight on the computer and calmly remarking, "Oh, that'd be Angel, then." Spike is a great character, who continues to grow. He's gone miles since the last time we've seen him, and I look forward to hearing more of his story. However, it's clear that there's something a lot bigger than both he and Angel are acknowledging, and I want even more to see this conclusion, written by Joss, really knock some stuff around. The twist at the end fell a bit flat for me, as I never saw him as that big of a bad guy. But, hopefully, we'll see some more as the story moves toward its conclusion.

Scarlet 2 - This is the book that I thought issue 1 should have been! This book officially has me hooked at this point. The story is believable, and I'm intrigued by the main character in a way that the first issue somehow wasn't able to do for me. Bendis spins a good tale, and I like the fact that Scarlet herself isn't always likable. She's the good guy, obviously, but she's not so good. The rest of the world is such a bad place, according to her world view, but that makes sense, too. The art of Maleev is (no lie) one of the biggest draws for me in all of comic books, so as long as he keeps pencilling this book, I'll keep buying it. If the Bendis story continues to be this good, though, it won't only be because of the art.

Shadowland 3 (of 5) - This book (and this story) just keeps getting better and better. Matt Murdock is just going to have to die. That's all there is to it. We all know someone else is going to be in the costume but it seems more and more likely that the resolution is going to have to be the death of Matt. It'd be a shame to lose such a great character, but, on the other hand, this is the best the book's ever been. He's been on a continuous down note since Kevin Smith and Joe Q revamped the book, and it's been great. However, there's only one logical conclusion, so let's not try to avoid it - fully embrace it.

And looking over at Diamond Previews, I realized that I missed the Red Hood's book this week. That would have been great, too, I predict. A nice time to be a comic fan. Book of the week, though, goes to Buffy, even though it might not have been as good as the other 2, mainly just for the overall Spike-ness. A can't lose situation.

Friday, September 3, 2010

topes times three.

For what it's worth, the Albuquerque Isotopes are up right now 13-3, in the top of the ninth in their last home game of the season. We haven't had a great season, but I did get a chance to catch the game last night, covering it for the Alibi. I thought it'd be interesting to look at the ways in which the article changed as I morphed the story from a more op-ed-ish blog piece to a straight-forward recap. Usually I just post the first draft here, and link to the Alibi's, but I thought I'd try this out for now.

*

First Draft

Isotopes Fall in Penultimate Home Game

The Albuquerque Isotopes had their chance to convert me into a baseball believer. I went to the second to last home game of the season with my two-year old nephew, and he loved almost every minute. He took in the sights of the game with the most attentive eye I've seen him display. He ate an entire ballpark hot dog in about a minute flat. And, believe me, you've never realized how many claps the sound system at Isotopes Stadium plays until you've been to a game with a kid who's in love with clapping. He told the players good luck, he cheered for both teams, and he enjoyed our walk around the park. All the while, the 'Topes were playing a heck of a game, leading for the entire time – until the ninth inning.

After the Iowa Cubs had a scoreless first inning, the 'Topes took them to task, scoring in each of the first four innings. The second inning had its own drama, when it appeared as though the Cubs had put a double play on the 'Topes, but the ruling was recalled and we scored three more runs. In the fifth inning, things started to get back on track for the I-Cubs, but the good guys were firmly in command: we scored three runs in the sixth inning, and had one in the eighth. We were up 13-6 heading into what should have been the last half-inning. I had my baby nephew with me. The crowd was rocking out to Neil Diamond. Things should have been perfect.

Then the 'Topes proceeded to self destruct. They gave up nine runs in the ninth inning, and the crowd, in addition to loudly groaning, had its energy sapped. The cries of “Bom! Bom! Bom!” turned into curses and moans. The crowd had been with the team, sticking it out in spite of the blowout, but as the lead was slowly trimmed, and then grossly chopped, things took a turn for the worse.

The final score was 15-13, the Iowa Cubs. The rain that I'd smelled all game long hadn't come at any point, much less quick enough to stave our execution. The crowd was angrily disappointed, after leading the whole game, after such a fun performance from so many different members of the team. But, in good news, my nephew was still watching the action, still looking for a ball to call his own. So I wasn't converted to baseball fandom. I'm convinced no sport whips its devotees into misery more easily. But the kid? He might have been hooked. We'll be back next season, and maybe even tomorrow, when the Isotopes finish their home schedule with a 6:35 game.

*

Second Draft

The Albuquerque Isotopes won all parts of their second-to-last home game last night, until the inning that mattered the most. When the game began, the day was hot, and the crowd was feeling great, cheering the team on. As night wore on, it began to smell of rain, but the 'Topes were still up. It wouldn't last.


Things got off to a great start after the Isotopes held the Iowa Cubs to a scoreless first half of the first inning. Rafael Furcal, on loan from the Dodgers, got the scoring started with a great hit that should have been only a double, but thanks to a misread by the I-Cubs outfield, turned into a triple, putting him in scoring position.


The Cubs answered back in the second inning, but that was the only time it was close: Albuquerque led (or was tied) at every point in the game, until the ninth. The 'Topes blasted four runs in the second inning, three of them after a controversial double play was recalled.


In the third inning, the Cubs still played victim and didn't score a single run, but John Lindsey hit a monster double that looked like it was going to sail over the back wall, but dropped just short.


The massacre slowed a bit in the fourth inning, when the 'Topes scored only one run, but by that point it was 9-1, good guys on top. The Cubs started their comeback in the fifth inning, scoring two runs, but the teams traded runs after that point, the 'Topes scoring three in the sixth, and the I-Cubs doing the same in the seventh.


While the crowd was enjoying the baseball tradition of Neil Diamond's singing, and cheering on the various chiles in their race (green won after an early in the course collusion took down the rest of the field), things were starting to turn sour for the former Dukes.


In the ninth inning, the Isotopes gave the game away. Allowing nine runs, the crowd turned from its playful, celebratory mood to curses and repeated calls to remove the pitcher, or improve the defense; anything to stem the bloodletting. As more and more fans got up and abandoned the hope of a rally, fans started to talk about the season's home closer, taking place tonight at 6:35 PM. With playoff hopes seemingly firmly out of grasp, the focus at the game will, hopefully, be more relaxed, and the 'Topes will be able to say goodbye to Albuquerque for the year on a positive note.

*

You can find the final draft here on the Alibi's website.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

xbmc vs. boxee vs. roku.

So over the last few weeks (months, to be honest) I've been contemplating building a home entertainment system of the home theater pc variety, trying to focus on some free alternatives to cable. (This is motivated by several different things, but they all seem to tie back to the fact that cable plans are ridiculous, and I have no desire to give Comcast any more of my money than I already have.) I'd been pretty much obsessed with the XBMC mainly based on this great start to finish guide from Lifehacker as well as the fact that I thought it could do everything that I wanted from a TV. However, today I read a comment that said that the XBMC doesn't do Netflix-playback (it doesn't allow you to stream their On Demand to the computer you're running it on and then play that through the HDMI cable on your TV? Really?) which was kind of a big deal to me. As I indicated in the parentheses, I don't really know if this is true, as it seems like it wouldn't be something they'd avoid, nor something that would be that hard to do. So, you know, that's weird.

But then I also read about Boxee (while also having already looked at Roku) and I got confused. It looks like Boxee will do what I want? Maybe it'd be cheaper? The problem is that I don't really know what each can or can't do, and, honestly, a good portion of what I want to do - run Torrents through a program so that I can watch pirated TV - isn't going to be listed on the front page of businesses that are trying to be legal. Therefore, with the knowledge that mine is limited, I turn to the infinite wisdom of the Internet.

My goals for this project are as follows:

1. I'd like to be able to stream my Netflix on Demand onto my TV.
2. I'd like to be able to avoid paying Comcast (or some such other huge company) for TV, and rely more on Hulu, Joost, etc. I'd like to be able to stream these sites on my TV, since it's a nice one.
3. I'd like to be able to buy the NBA League Pass Broadband, and stream those games, via the computer, onto my TV.
4. I'd like to be able to control my torrents via this program, and watch TV that I've pirated on my TV, as opposed to my computer.
5. I'd like to be able to rip my DVDs into a digital format, and store them on the computer's hard drive, or a networked external drive.

6. I'd love to be able to have a Blu-Ray player either in the computer or via an attached peripheral, so that I can start upgrading my DVD collection.

The last goal is not necessarily a huge priority, since I'll probably be fine with buying an external Blu-Ray player at some point in the future, but the first five, I think, are do-able and, I hope, do-able for less that 400 dollars. At that point, it kind of becomes cost-prohibitive, because it'd be more worth my while just to pay those terrible big companies, and enjoy my TV the way I used to.

I've read pretty extensively about Roku, but I'm semi-new to investigating Boxee, so I'd love any input that anyone has about any of these problems, or even solutions that I haven't thought of. Thanks!

P.S. Lifehacker, can we get an update to this handy comparison chart?