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friday random ten, 1988 edition

Another quickie … just got back from Giants game, no time for detail post.

1. Sonic Youth, “Teen Age Riot.” A good starter, and one of my two favorite SY songs. If Sonic Youth hadn’t gotten randomly chosen, I would have stuck them on the list myself, since I’m going to see them on Sunday.

2. Tracy Chapman, “Fast Car.” This song was ubiquitous when it came out.

3. Bobby Brown, “My Prerogative.” As was this one, at least in my memories.

4. Metallica, “One.” Makes me think of Scott Ferrall.

5. Lucinda Williams, “Changed the Locks.” Not sure when anyone else climbed aboard, but it was her self-titled 1988 album that made me a Lucinda fan.

6. k.d. lang, “Shadowland.” With lang, I was a fan in 1988, but it wasn’t until ‘89 that I fell in love with her. Couldn’t find a video of this one, so the link is to “Johnny Get Angry.”

7. The Feelies, “Too Far Gone.” From my favorite Feelies album. Might be my favorite Feelies song.

8. Public Enemy, “Black Steel in the Hour of Chaos.” Greatest rap album of all time? The video seems to be unavailable.

9. Bruce Springsteen, “Have Love, Will Travel.” From a monumentally great concert he did at Shoreline that year.

10. The Proclaimers, “I’m Gonna Be (500 Miles).” Irresistible to this day, if you ask me.


idiot, or not an idiot?

I suppose if I’m going to write about baseball fifty years ago, I should say something about the current team.

Freddy Sanchez and Ryan Garko are an improvement over Travis Ishikawa and rent-a-2B. This is mainly because what the Giants had was so bad … Sanchez (if he’s healthy, and who the hell knows the answer to that one) is a decent hitter (if he’s healthy) who started the season hot but has been abysmal of late (is he injured?). Since proponents of the trade keep telling us that Sanchez is a former BA champ with a lifetime BA of .300, I’ll use their favorite stat. Sanchez’ BA by months in 2009 so far: .337 .330 .282 .193. Maybe it’s a small sample size; I hope so. Garko mashes lefties, is probably worse than Ishikawa against righties, which means they should platoon, but I doubt the Giants acquired him so he could sit on the bench 2/3 of the time.

As Keith Law pointed out, Sanchez replaces Uribe, who hasn’t stunk quite as much as most of his teammates, so the improvement there isn’t all that great. But if Uribe moved to SS and Renteria went … oh, how about the DL? … the improvement would be more marked.

In short, the two trades make the team marginally better, and it makes sense to do what you can to sneak in via the wild card when you have Cain and Lincecum. I don’t think the Giants gave up too much … they still have all of their top prospects, Alderson was good but not great and since he plays where they are deepest, his future with the Giants was likely no higher that #4 SP. As I told someone, it’s not that the Giants gave up too much, it’s that they got back too little.

Brian Sabean hasn’t been as idiotic as usual this season, but the offense he’s provided us truly reeks. He also still loves “veterans” … Sanchez is “only” 31, Sabean has referred to him as a “kid.” Not only is Sanchez a potential injury problem, he is 31 in the post-steroid era, if you believe in that stuff … 31 year old hitters may not have the long-term future they did in recent years. Freddy Sanchez is a typical Brian Sabean pickup, hopefully on the good side of Sabean pickups but typical nonetheless. If the team extends Sanchez’s contract, we’ll know nothing has changed. For now, the offense is a little better, the future isn’t much worse … I suppose I can live with that.


fifty years ago today

Going to the Giants game tonight, and was reminded that today is the 50th anniversary of a famous date in Giants’ history, when future Hall-of-Famer Willie McCovey broke into the big leagues. It’s a funny thing, I can remember exactly where I was during that game … it was commonplace for people to have the game playing on the radio, so you’d hear the action wherever you were (the team had only come to San Francisco the previous season). But memory is a funny thing. My brother also remembers where we were for that game, only he remembers someplace different than I remember. I have no idea who is right … I was only 6 at the time while he was 12, so he’s probably the one with the more accurate memory.

Here’s what we do know about the game, and why Giants fans still talk about it.

There were five future Hall-of-Famers playing in that game. This happened a lot in those days, because the Giants had a lot of future Hall-of-Famers … I have no idea why they never won a World Series back then. The Giants 2-3-4 slots were taken up by Mays, McCovey and Cepeda. Robin Roberts was the starting pitcher for the Phillies, and Richie Ashburn was in centerfield. The Giants were a half-game out of first place; the Phils were in last. The game was played at Seals Stadium, where 10,114 were in attendance.

With two outs in the bottom of the first, McCovey came up for his first major league at-bat. He singled off of Roberts.

The next time he came up, there were runners at 1st and 3rd, two outs, game still scoreless. The man on first, none other than Willie Mays, stole second … the throw went into the outfield, Eddie Bressoud at third scampered home for the first run of the game, and Mays headed for third. He didn’t make it … caught in a rundown, he was tagged for the final out of the inning. McCovey’s at-bat in effect didn’t happen.

Which is why when he led off the 4th inning, it was still only his second AB. Mac tripled, then scored two batters later to make it 2-0.

The Phils came back to tie the game, but in the bottom of the fifth, Mays had an RBI for 3-2. McCovey followed with his third hit of the game, and it was 4-2.

Mays was on base yet again in the bottom of the seventh, as McCovey faced Roberts once again. No problem … he hit his second triple, making him 4-for-4 on the day.

When the day’s games were done, the Giants had moved into first place, where they stayed until the last week of the season. They lost seven of eight to finish the year off, and missed the World Series by 3 games.


dollhouse: epitaph one

It is arguably the oddest example yet of Joss Whedon’s odd relationship with television networks. He creates Dollhouse for Fox, they treat it like an ugly step-child, no one thinks it will be renewed, then it gets renewed, but they don’t show the final episode of the first season, “Epitaph One.” Whedon said the episode was more of a coda than something that flowed smoothly from the rest of the season, and that is indeed a more accurate description. It shows scenes from 2019, intercut with dream memories from approximately the time that Season One inhabited.

The good news from my perspective is that the 2019 scenes were clearly dystopian. I love dystopias, of course, but in this case it’s more than that. My primary problem with Dollhouse was the ambiguous presentation of many of the main characters, who seemed evil to me but who got off pretty lightly. “Epitaph One” shows us what happens down the road, and it isn’t pretty. It casts a much darker light on what came before, so much that I suspect Season One would look better in retrospect.

The bad news is that, so far, “Epitaph One” is only available as a DVD/Blu-ray extra, or via illegal download. Fox is apparently holding to their decision not to air the episode. As others have pointed out, since “Epitaph One” is crucial to understanding the upcoming season, it’s a mistake to make it so difficult to see. Ah well … such are the economics of television. If we really want to see it, we’ll buy the discs, and if we don’t know what’s going on, and the show bombs, Fox never liked the show, anyway. I gave Season One a B, but “Epitaph One” gets an A-.


espn360

ESPN360 is a broadband streaming video service from, as you might have guessed, ESPN. They show a variety of sports, some of them fairly easy to get on their regular TV programming. The advantages are that events are kept online (not sure how long), so, for instance, as I type this, you could watch Monday’s Dodgers-Cardinals baseball game or last night’s WNBA game between Phoenix and Connecticut. For me, as usual, it’s the extra soccer that looks appealing … today they are showing matches featuring Manchester United, Boca Juniors, Bayern Munich, and AC Milan that I wouldn’t be able to watch otherwise unless I went the P2P route, which is usually of pretty poor quality.

The problem with ESPN360 for users of Comcast is that the two behemoths have squabbled over the rights for what seems like forever. Far as I can tell, ESPN360 is free for users, but you can’t access it unless you are using an ISP that pays ESPN for the rights (college and military users excluded … they get it for free already). Comcast usually gets into these disputes, leaving their users outside looking in. But the two companies finally came to an agreement, several years after ESPN started the service, so I can now watch good-quality streaming sports. Looking ahead, I see the Dutch soccer league and some international friendlies. There is boxing and Canadian football and X Games … I don’t know if these are also available over the air on my TV since I don’t watch them in the first place, and I expect in the end I’ll only watch ESPN360 a few times a month. But I’m glad to see it finally arrive on my computer.


olympics

Twenty-five years ago today, I attended an Olympic event for the only time in my life. The USA met Costa Rica in a soccer match at Stanfurd. The U.S. won 3-0, with Ricky Davis scoring two goals. The attendance was 78,265, which I believe was the largest soccer crowd in U.S. history up to that time. I don’t have any fascinating memories of this. Somewhere a bit before or after this, I finally quit working in the factory, which had a bit more impact on my life than Ricky Davis.


kings

Kings finished off its unheralded run on the weekend, and I didn’t want it to disappear without saying a word or two. It was an odd series that never found an audience (that’s putting it mildly … the premiere got such poor ratings people were predicting its cancellation from the start, and the 6 million viewers that night fell to under 2 million by the finale). Mixing flamboyantly aggressive acting from Ian McShane with a bizarre mixture of alternate contemporary reality and the Biblical story of David, Kings was never going to appeal to a mass audience, but you’d think it would have had some cult success, if nothing else. But that never happened … it wasn’t a sci-fi hit, wasn’t a soap opera hit, wasn’t a religious hit, even though it had elements of all of those and more. It goes without saying that this was an ambitious show, and at times its ambitions extended beyond the show’s good qualities, i.e. it was erratic. My guess is, Kings will garner a second wind when it comes out on disc later in the year … there are only 13 episodes, you can treat it like a mini-series, and while the ending left room for a second season, it also serves quite well as a series finale. The one thing I won’t miss is Christopher Egan as David … in virtually every scene, his face looked like he was suffering from constipation, to such an extent that I couldn’t tell you whether he was doing a good job. Well, if you look like you need to take a dump, you probably aren’t doing a good job. Ian McShane more than made up for it, though. Grade: B+.


what i watched last week

Apocalypto. The final chase scene in The Road Warrior remains one of the great action sequences of all time. Mel Gibson, the star of that movie, who has in the years since become a major international movie star, a director, and an all-around crackpot, works backwards from that scene (he has said he wanted to make a car chase that took place on foot). To get to the chase scene, Gibson has us sit through close to two hours of historical fiction about the Mayan civilization, piling up more gore than you’ve likely ever seen a movie before. Imagine if Spielberg had been serious when he had the goofy religious guy pull out people’s hearts in that Indiana Jones movie … Gibson has several such scenes, not meant to get the kid in us to squeal in delight but to make the grownup in us want to vomit. From the much-remarked-upon scene of a man eating the testicles of a just-killed wild boar, to beheadings that end with the remains bouncing down a long stairway while the masses shout their approval, Apocalypto has a kitchen-sink approach to violence that is impressive, if also revolting and essentially stupid. When the chase scene finally arrives, it’s a doozy … Gibson learned a lot from George Miller, there are some very exciting moments in this movie … but it’s all wrapped in a package that promises far more than it can deliver (even the title is overwrought). Whatever Gibson thinks this movie is about, and it’s not clear even he knows, the result is pornographic, for better or worse. 5/10. If you’re dying to see a guy eat pig balls, here ya go:

Gigi. There was an interesting mini-discussion of nostalgia in the comments thread for a post last week, and watching this movie felt like an addendum to that conversation. I give Gigi 10 out of 10 … the average rating at the IMDB is 7.0, at MovieLens the average is 3.62 out of 5. Suffice to say, I rate this higher than most people … they like it, I love it. My love is hard to explain, though, without admitting to a feeling of nostalgia, because Gigi was one of my parents’ favorite movies. They owned the soundtrack album and played it often, and while I was grown and out of the house by the time VCRs made their appearance, I believe Gigi was one of the first movies they owned. The movie, of course, has nostalgia built right into it, culminating in Maurice Chevalier and Hermione Gingold singing “I Remember It Well.” Makes sense that the older I get, the more charmed I am by that song, if “more charmed” is possible when I was totally charmed the first time I heard it as a kid. Here’s the thing, though. Gigi came out in 1958, and I assume my parents saw it in a theater … it wouldn’t have been on TV for some years, there was no tape to buy. And they, like everyone, loved “I Remember It Well,” which so perfectly captures old lovers as they look back. Like I say, I liked the song when I was a little kid … you don’t have to be an old lover to appreciate it … but it clearly carries more resonance the older you are. When I was a kid, my parents loved that song a lot more than I did, and I do recall how much it meant to them, how they loved to sing along. But here’s the thing: in 1958, my dad was 34 years old and my mom was 30. That seems pretty young to be already “remembering when.” 10/10.

Coraline. In the mid-80s, I wrote short fiction for a couple of years as part of a series of creative writing classes. In one story, a hermit-like woman lived in an old house, with no contact with the outside world except for the mail that came each day. Her mail box was a slot in the wall at the front of the house … the mailman would open a flap and drop the mail through the slot onto the floor. One day, a letter got caught in the slot, and as the woman tried to pry it free, she discovered that the mail slot had an opening. She reached in, eventually working her whole body into the crevice. Finally she fell through a hole on some other side, and found a room full of the people whose names appeared on the junk mail she received. The story ended when all of the people filled the room … it became so crowded the woman fell to the ground, where she was trampled to death. In another story, a young boy whose father died found himself in an odd relationship with his widowed mother. She would give him sadomasochistic porn and they would act out the scenes ... she would burn her son with cigarettes, stuff like that. Coraline is arguably a kids’ movie, but if you’re wondering whether to let your own kids watch it, know that the stories I wrote would fit right in to Coraline. It’s an extremely disturbing movie. In the end, I was impressed without really liking it much. It’s quite an achievement, there isn’t much else like it out there, and it’s certainly better than Kung Fu Panda. So I guess I better give it a higher rating than I did for that dud. 7/10.


nobody cares

This feels right to me:

I find one common theme to the conversations I have with “regular” people about the phones I use, and that is that regular consumers do not care about smartphones….

Consumers are buying phones for the features, maybe a good promotion sucks them in first, but they are buying a phone, not a smartphone.  They delight that their new phone can tap the web, let them email their friends, but at the base of it all they are simply buying a phone….

I find this true even among those who already own smartphones. Most of these owners aren’t even aware what platform is powering their phone, because they simply do not care. It’s a phone. It does some cool things, but it’s a phone.

I am obsessing about my Pre right now, because that’s what I do, obsess over my new toys. The people I show it to think it is cool. But no one I know is thinking about buying one. We were at a party this afternoon, and I saw lots of people making phone calls, but I didn’t see anyone but me who pulled their phone out in order to look something up, much less check email or even send a text message. And as far as texting goes, every phone does that now … it’s not really something you associate specifically with a smartphone.

Wikipedia says that there is no agreed-upon definition of smartphone, then tries anyway:

Most devices considered smartphones today use an identifiable operating system, often with the ability to add applications (e.g. for enhanced data processing, connectivity or entertainment) - in contrast to regular phones which only support sandboxed applications (like Java games). These smartphone applications may be developed by the manufacturer of the device, by the network operator or by any other third-party software developer, since the operating system is open.

In terms of features, most smartphones support full featured email capabilities with the functionality of a complete personal organizer. Other functionality might include an additional interface such as a miniature QWERTY keyboard, a touch screen or a D-pad, a built-in camera, contact management, an accelerometer, built-in navigation hardware and software, the ability to read business documents in a variety of formats such as PDF and Microsoft Office, media software for playing music, browsing photos and viewing video clips, internet browsers or even just secure access to company mail, such as is provided by a BlackBerry. One common feature to the majority of the smartphones is a contact list able to store as many contacts as the available memory permits, in contrast to regular phones that has a limit to the maximum number of contacts that can be stored.

I’m not sure that most of us even understand everything that is being discussed here. I only know about accelerometers because of how they impact what my Pre can or can not do. The point is this: for most people, the ability to make phone calls, send text messages, and take/view pictures is all that matters when it comes to a phone. If I tell them that my phone multi-tasks, they wonder why anyone would care. Look things up on Wikipedia? Wait until you get home. Check how your favorite team is doing? Turn on the TV.

The future will surely be different. When we got our first computer, around 1983-4, most people thought it was cool but hardly anyone bought one … what would be the point? Twenty-five years later, even people without computers understand the point. And eventually, smartphones will be the same. It would help if they got cheaper, but then, that’s been the case forever … the newest technology is never cheap enough to be accessible to those with lower incomes. That’s something to keep in mind whenever you think there is a tech revolution going on.


friday random ten, 1987 edition

1. The Cult, “Wild Flower.” We’re getting to the point on the timeline when I start having little to say. I mean, I can barely remember The Cult, and I thought I didn’t remember this song until I played it and realized I knew the riff.

2. Buster Poindexter, “Hot Hot Hot.” It sure did take David Johansen a long time to get this popular.

3. Rosanne Cash, “Tennessee Flat Top Box.” Singing one of her daddy’s songs.

4. Bruce Springsteen, “Brilliant Disguise.” Apparently, there are some people out there who hate this video. They’re full of [insert word for feces].

5. Michael Jackson, “Smooth Criminal.” I like the Alien Ant Farm version, too.

6. Prince, “If I Was Your Girlfriend.” Watch the video quick, because you know Prince will have it removed.

7. Hüsker Dü, “Celebrated Summer.” I know, this wasn’t a 1987 song, but the live album had a 1987 version on it.

8. George Michael, “Faith.” What a good album. Whatever happened to this guy?

9. Guns n’ Roses, “Sweet Child o’ Mine.” I never liked this band, because I can’t stand to listen to Axl’s voice.

10. Eric B. & Rakim, “Eric B. for President.” Guess we’ll have to settle for Obama.