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What I’ve Been Doing 17 June 2013 [FB/IB/F/BT/GO]
Jun 17th, 2013 by Dan

Arrested Development Crest

Was there a Franklin gag that I just missed? (Picture by Tom Trager)

I went to three baseball games this week, one graduation party, and one father’s day dinner. There wasn’t much time for anything, but I still got some gaming in.

Movies

Nope.

TV

Arrested Development – Partway through S4 I realized that this season was just a giant puzzle box meant to be deciphered as you went along. Either you like to do that or you don’t. Either you like the season or you don’t. Also, I’m not the only one who thinks Arrested Development is like One Hundred Years of Solitude!

For the record: I really enjoyed it, but I would rank it either equal with or below S3 depending on how I’m feeling on a given day. While we’re talking about S3, I can’t believe more people think Charlize Theron was the thing that worked out the least. Graft vs. Host is the reason why I can’t stand the season at times.

Music

Sweet Valley has another weird album called Jenova. As always, it’s completely free. Check it out.

Books

Does thinking about One Hundred Years of Solitude and Arrested Development‘s connections count?

Video Games

Animal Crossing: New Leaf – I won the Bug Off! Also a weird space octopus moved into my town. Cool stuff.

Professor Layton and the Miracle Mask – Just a few more short puzzles

The Last of Us – My LP started today and I’m really digging this game. It’s got a way more serious and grim tone that’s just fascinating to play.

Rayman Legends – Min and I may have gotten a gold cup on one! Lots of fun.

What I’ve Been Doing 10 June 2013 [FB/IB/F/BT/GO]
Jun 10th, 2013 by Dan

Animal_Crossing_New_Leaf (56)

Everyone else gets the coolest neighbors. I’m stuck with Bubbles and Opal…(Photo by Abriael)

It was a pretty busy last week and this one promises to be just as action-packed.

Movies
None!

TV

Arrested Development – I like to think of S4 as a giant puzzle box that’s slowly unraveling, revealing its secrets to us. There have been some solid laughs in the second half of the season and I’m enjoying the show rather thoroughly. Just finished the Maeby episode, so we’re down to the home stretch. One of my favorite things about the show is the way that the family continually makes the same mistakes because they’re all composed of self-centered fools. It’s like a comedy One Hundred Years of Solitude!

Music

I heard Robin Thicke’s “Blurred Lines” approximately 20 times this past weekend. Enjoy!

Books

Not any of these either!

Video Games

Professor Layton and the Miracle Mask – Daily puzzles is where it’s at. I love the land/territory ones.

Professor Layton and the Diabolical Box – About 3/4 done. Animal Crossing is definitely gonna slow down how much progress I make here…

Animal Crossing: New Leaf – Giant Bomb made the latest Animal Crossing release sound so charming and cool that I couldn’t resist downloading it Sunday around 0100. I’m happy to say that it is perfectly charming and it really gets its claws into you somehow. It scratches the Harvest Moon itch too…maybe that’s it.

What I’ve Been Doing 29 May 2013 [FB/IB/F/BT/GO]
May 29th, 2013 by Dan

Slight Malfunction

I bet that’ll be fun to service later.

David was in town for the weekend! DAVID! He’s never in town. Stupid Iowa!

Movies

I tried so hard to get David and Min to watch Star Trek or Fast 6. Neither would agree. Stupid David and Min.

TV

Arrested Development – Got about halfway through the Netflix season. I think it’s at least on par with the latter half of the third season. I’ve definitely had some gutbusting laughs and it hasn’t felt like a total mishap. I want to see how it all turns out with each of the character vignettes, but so far I’m pretty happy with how this turned out.

The Venture Bros. – To be fair I only watched 5 mins of the first episode (I didn’t remember any of it from the last time I watched it).

The Americans – Season 1 complete. I don’t think it’s as groundbreaking as some are saying it is, but it was an absolutely enjoyable season full of much better acting than I expected from the principals. I’m eager to see where they go from here, but it looks like I’ll have to wait a whole year!

Veep – Season 2! Finally cracked into it and I’m delighted to say that it’s also busted that gut of mine. Just some deliciously funny insults, lines, and situations. I feel like Catherine is going to be a larger part of the season, which is fine by me. I like seeing that side of Selina. Julia Louis-Dreyfus does a great job of showing a completely different aspect of her personality from her ass-kicking VP persona.

Music

Vampire Weekend’s latest continues to be awesome. Here’s a fun track for people who like Biblical allusions and veiled Outkast references. The song is called “Ya Hey”

Books

Sadly, no. Maybe this week.

Video Games

Rhythm Heaven Fever – The girlfriend litmus test was in full effect as I had Katie try out one of my favorite games ever. She kind of dug it. I kind of dig her.

Professor Layton and the Miracle Mask – Just more daily puzzles to kill time. Still fun.

Professor Layton and the Diabolical Box – Slowly moving the story along. I’d say I’m about halfway done.

Rayman Legends – More daily challenges, but this time with David! I think we got a silver on one day, which is pretty boss.

Castle Crashers – Man, I hadn’t played that game in forever, but Dave, Min, and I were looking for something co-op. Kind of slow and didn’t age well, if you ask me.

Spelunky – Speaking of co-op, I think Dave, Min, and I did more of this than anything else. Our quest to hell almost came true, but there were just too many obstacles, not to mention weird bugs resulting from playing multiplayer. Maybe next time that David’s in MD.

DmC Devil May Cry – I think I’m on the final level or at the final boss. Made serious progress Monday morning and I’ll probably finish this weekend while Katie’s biking. I’m interested in the conclusion, but also fairly confident that Vergil is going to double cross me.

What I’ve Been Doing 19 Nov 2012 [FB/IB/F/BT/GO]
Nov 19th, 2012 by Dan

K.O.

GPOY (I’m Patel today)

It’s been a tough week.

Movies

Safety Not Guaranteed – A neat little piece about loss and regret. Could have probably developed Aubrey Plaza’s character a little more, but I also understand her arc. Good to see range from her too.

TV

Happy Endings – Holy crap this episode (Boys 2 Menorah) made me laugh. These writers do funny really well. A little slapstick-y with the Dave/Alex plot resolution, but I liked it.

Key & Peele – I’m not sure that anything really blew me away in this episode, but they do have some good ideas that developed ok. Just not quite enough to push it over the edge into greatness.

Parks and Recreation – Ben’s job offers and the accounting firm were funny as was the continued development of April. How dry can I be talking about humor? There were many parts that made me express joy in the form of laughter. Ha. Ha. Ha.

The League – A little bit of gross out humor never seems to elude the show. Enjoyable enough, but not blowing me away.

New Girl – Not the most progressive handling of PMS, but the scenes with Nick getting a water massage were pretty great.

Music

Jonathan Coulton and John Roderick came out with a new Christmas album. The Weeknd’s first label release came out. I dunno, listen to something.

Books

A Confederacy of Dunces – The high degree of interconnectedness of its cast reminds me a little of how sharply integrated the Arrested Development writing used to be.

Video Games

XCOM: Enemy Unknown – More episodes recorded, but I haven’t played a whole bunch. Min beat it! Yay!

Hotline Miami – So much weirder and creepier the more I get into it. Fell behind on recording episodes, so I need to get back on that this week.

FTL – Had a miserable stalemate with the Mantis ship during a landmark episode.

TNNS – Pretty great co-op play and sharp single player too. Wish I had an iPad to mess around with it in a better form (I tried it on Min’s and it was nice), but my phone will suffice.

The Walking Dead – Episode 4 was pretty brutal. I was not expecting it to be quite so harsh, but my mind is blown for, I guess, tomorrow.

What I’ve Been Doing 29 Oct. 2012 [FB/IB/F/BT/GO]
Oct 31st, 2012 by Dan

Hurricane Sandy (2012): 60 km Wind Area Forecast

I hope everyone else who was affected by the hurricane is also fine. (Photo courtesy Canadian Pacific)

The hurricane barely did any damage to my place up in Baltimore, but I hope that any of you who were in worse areas of who have family in worse areas are fine.

Movies

Not this week.

TV

How I Met Your Mother – The competition for godfather was not that funny. This season in general: not that funny.

Key & Peele – Not their strongest episode, but I liked the Celebrity sketch and the electoral college sketch.

Happy Endings – S2 and the S3 premiere. Fantastic stuff. This show is hilarious. So glad it’s back

Saturday Night Live – Applegate’s monologue with the fake Muppets and Jason Sudekis as Dane Cook was great. Man, that Siren sketch was hilarious too. Smart of them to have Bruno Mars sing more than he acts.

The Amazing Race – This show is way cooler than I ever knew. I wish I’d been watching more. The taxi screw-ups really made the loss by the prosthetic leg hurt to watch. Lotta transportation issues, actually.

Scrubs – Started watching this to have on in the background while I played Pokemon. Season 1 of this show was really great, wasn’t it? They got a little too far away from the serious side as the show progressed.

Homeland – Holy shit, you guys! How did I wait three weeks to catch up on the latest eps? This show is so good! I love the Brody as a double agent thing they got going now. The car accident thing reeks of Landry and Tyra in S2 of Friday Night Lights.

New Girl – They were going for an I Love Lucy-esque level of physical comedy, but I don’t know if they quite achieved it here. The Nick stuff is hilarious, per usual.

NTSF:SD:SUV:: – Caught up. The 21 Jump Street parody was pretty great. Loved that one. The lack of technology one…not as much.

Childrens Hospital – Not their best, but it was funny to see Michael Cera in an old man getup.

Nashville – Despite only having a slight appreciation for country music, this show is actually pretty good. I mean, any show that features music from The Civil Wars is fine by me, but even beyond that I’m enjoying it a ton.

The Daily Show – That bit with Muppet versions of the correspondents was hilarious.

Fashion Police – Girlfriend time! The Halloween costume thing wasn’t as funny as they all thought it was, but Kelly Osbourne had a decent Katy Perry costume.

Arrested Development – Brilliant show. Too bad that Tiffany saved Good Grief and Amigos! for home. Those eps are hilarious!

Dexter – Everyone said this season was better. Everyone’s right so far. Two eps in, but I’m digging it. Love that they finally let someone important know Dexter was a killer.

Music

Hotline Miami’s got a hazy, dreamlike, excellent soundtrack. Enjoy.

Books

Not this week.

Video Games

XCOM: Enemy Unknown – It’s been a while since I’ve actually played this game, but I’ve gotta get filming some more eps soon.

FTL: Faster Than Light – Man, those Cowboy Bebop episodes were fantastic, weren’t they!

Professor Layton and the Curious Village – Beat it! The story was a little predictable, but it was still fun to do all the puzzles. Great series.

Theatrhythm: Final Fantasy – Randomly got some Dark Notes. Cool beans.

Professor Layton and the Miracle Mask – The transition to 3D hasn’t seemed to harm it yet. I love the more advanced graphics and I’m digging it.

Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit – I suppose I agree with the GB folks about the single player mode being nowhere near as good as the multiplayer. Love the multi and I’m glad that the GB community exists so that I could have a decent Autolog list to race against.

Quit Claiming The Sky Is Falling [IB]
Jun 7th, 2011 by Dan

I’m gonna stick to tv here, but this is a general purpose post, really. Remember in the early aughts when the death of modern tv was imminent due to reality tv? Original programming was over! Reality tv was so cheap and got such high ratings that soon we’d all be watching The Bachelor, Survivor, and American Idol 24/7!

What happened instead? Nothing, really. There’s a smaller field of original programming, I suppose, but I think that allows networks to focus on fewer, higher quality shows. I mean, think of all the great tv that has happened since the end was near:

Lost, Mad Men, The Office, 30 Rock, Arrested Development, Battlestar Galactica, Justified, Community, Parks and Recreation. I could go on, but I won’t. Clearly we overreacted. These shows alone represent hours upon hours of quality television to watch. Networks had to deal with risings costs and lower revenues due to piracy, time shifting, and other innovations, but they still made things work on a tighter budget.

Next time you’re worried that something’s about to be irrevocably changed for the worst, remember that people like quality, despite evidence to the contrary. What comes out of the rubble may not be exactly the same, but it can still be good.

The 2010 Season in Review [Wednesday Morning Quarterback]
Oct 6th, 2010 by Dan

Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim at Chicago Cubs 19 June 2010 Wrigley Field

Time to check out my prediction score

Another season is now behind us and the playoffs begin this afternoon at 1330 EST in Tampa Bay. How did I do in my projections? Who do I predict for the World Series? Let’s check it out!

AL East

My guess:

Yankees
Rays
Red Sox
Orioles
Blue Jays

Actual Results:

Rays
Yankees
Red Sox
Blue Jays
Orioles

Way off on Baltimore, perfect with Boston, and I got the top two mixed up.

After a (glorious) season where the Yankees didn’t make it to the playoffs for once, the Bronx Bombers came back with a vengeance and took it all. The Yanks may have lost Damon and Matsui, but they’re still in a strong position in the AL East and look poised to make the playoffs in the division. Players are getting older on that team and the pitching isn’t as strong as they’d like, but, barring some kind of major injury, I stand by that prediction.

The Red Sox also made a few big moves, getting rid of Jason Bay and adding in Adrián Beltré, and they’re projected to have a solid season with strong defense and slightly weakened bat strength. I think a lot of how well they do this year depends on whether or not they’re able to produce runs at the plate with David Ortiz, who did not perform to standards last year.

My favorite in the East, the Tampa Bay Rays, have had a super strong spring. With the best spring record of the AL, they could upset the Yankees or Red Sox if and only if their rotation and bullpen return to 2008 form. The offense is there, the defense on the field is there, it’s just a matter of making outs. Will Rafael Soriano be enough to solve their closer woes? That alone will tell you what this team will do this year.

I’m excited to see what the Orioles put together this year. Their investment in youth is starting to bear fruit as prospects make their way onto the field, but this young, inexperienced team is up against juggernauts in the Yankees, Red Sox, and Rays. I’m going to call this a building year for the Orioles, even if that’s selling them a bit short. They would have a good chance in any other division, but not the East.

There are few teams in baseball that bore me more than the Blue Jays (:cough: Royals, Pirates, and Padres :cough:). This is a team that acknowledged that they have no chance to make a run of it by trading Roy Halladay to the Phillies.

When I try and underestimate my team for the sake of avoiding bias all I end up doing is getting their position in the standings wrong. As predicted, the ascent of Rafael Soriano was a real blessing to the team, allowing the bullpen to focus on being awesome and the rotation on turning in a fine season. David Price was Cy Young caliber all season, Matt Garza threw a no-hitter, and the rookies Wade Davis and Jeff Niemann made a solid statement in the rotation. Add in Jeremy “Hellboy” Hellickson to the bullpen and Tampa had great numbers off the mound. On the field, defense and small ball continued to be key. Carlos Peña had a rough season at the plate, but the rest of the team was able to pick him up. Jettisoning Pat Burrell was also a fantastic idea. Longoria continued to be amazing.

Seems I was right on the perennial favorite Yankees. Their squad got it done all year long behind a Cy Young caliber season by C.C. Sabathia. Unfortunately for the Yanks, it seems I was also right about their aging lineup. Pettitte started ten fewer games than the rest of the rotation due to injury and his ability to pitch in this postseason remains a question mark. The rest of the rotation has been pretty shaky too with Javier Vasquez putting in a poor performance and AJ Burnett getting progressively worse, but Phil Hughes looks okay while the rookie Ivan Nova was pretty good in the opening innings. Jeter and Posada have started to show their age, but, overall, this is a top tier team that has feasted on its opponents all year long.

I was way off about David Ortiz, who put in a solid season, but there’s no way I could have predicted the injury-fest that was the 2010 season for Boston. They were remarkably able to stay somewhat competitive to the end, but they just couldn’t overcome Tampa or New York.

Maybe Toronto would have put together a third place finish had they kept Halladay, but his loss did not prevent the Jays from looking mighty dangerous in the East. Their 85 wins would be hyper-competitive in plenty of other divisions and the ascent of Jose Bautista as the only 50 HR hitter this season was remarkable.

The funny thing about the Orioles is that they’ve played their best baseball when it mattered least. Replacing their manager with Buck Showalter seems to have done the trick, but it remains to be seen if they can win in situations where they play meaningful games.

AL Central

My Guess:

Twins
White Sox
Tigers
Indians
Royals

Actual Results:

Twins
White Sox
Tigers
Indians
Royals

Whoa, I was scarily on the money with this one.

For a while there, this division was the Twins’ to lose. Then the second best closer in the game, Joe Nathan, went down for the season, muddying up the waters. Add in that the team is moving to a brand new ballpark and things could get interesting. Gone are the super-competitive advantages of the Metrodome, replaced by what will be a SUPER frigid open-air ballpark that will take some getting used to. When it comes to Joe Mauer, I’m reminded of the fictional words of Michael Bluth, “You gotta lock that down.” Lucky for the Twins, they managed to get that done with an eight-year, 184 M$ contract. It should help.

I hear a lot about Chicago’s rotation being so vastly improved, but it’s almost always followed by the caveat that Peavy needs to pitch well. It’s been a long while since his 2007 Cy Young campaign and he hasn’t been able to remain healthy. Despite how much Obama loves this team, I can’t stand A. J. Pierzynski and, by extension, the team.

Detroit has a team that I want to love. Those poor guys live in a third world city that is on the verge of absolute collapse. They keep giving Dontrelle Willis chances to succeed (and he might be in the rotation this year), but I’m not sure that they will be able to keep up with the Twins this year thanks to weak pitching. I’ll be keeping an eye on these guys.

The Indians may be on the upswing and ready to bounce back, but I’m not ready to believe that yet. I don’t see much happening for this team.

Kansas City has an awful team aside from Zack Greinke.

Well, Minnesota went and won this division, like I thought. They didn’t have to worry too much about closers and they picked up Matt Capps just to make sure that they’d be fine in the stretch. Target Field seems solid and the team just played well.

Chicago had a chance to make this division closer, but they just couldn’t lock it down. Jake Peavy barely pitched and the team was just middling almost all season long. They’ll be remembered best this year for Mark Buehrle’s amazing play to first in the first game of the season.

Detroit was so close to doing something with the division! Miguel Cabrera was playing MVP-caliber baseball, but the rest of the team just wasn’t on board. Sidenote: Willis was traded to Arizona.

Cleveland still doesn’t have it. I’m skeptical that they’ll have it next year either.

Kansas City has an awful team aside from Zack Greinke (and even he was mediocre).

AL West

My Guess:

Mariners
Angels
Rangers
Athletics

Actual Results:

Rangers
Athletics
Angels
Mariners

So very wrong here. Wow…

Despite their stupid long name, the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim have had one of the most consistent teams of the century. They contend every year and make it to the playoffs almost every year. It’s hard to ignore how solid this team is. Unfortunately, they’ve been fighting a war of attrition these past two years with Texas and Seattle getting closer and closer to robbing AL West dominance away from them. They gained Matsui, but lost vital starter Lackey. Will it be enough?

Seattle wants it this year. They went and signed Cliff Lee and even took the risk of signing the volatile Milton Bradley to bolster their bats. Things were looking great for Seattle until Cliff Lee ended up on the DL and Milton Bradley got himself ejected from two straight spring training games. Will they be able to keep it all together and make a real run for the West?

The Rangers are solid, but they have a lot of reliance on players like Josh Hamilton who are very injury prone. They’ve been just short of the playoffs for several years now and they’re real hungry for it.

I have so much apathy for the Athletics. I’m sure their team is pretty good and has a chance this year, but it never seems to pan out for Oakland.

Texas is looking the best they have in a long time. Josh Hamilton is looking like the favorite for MVP and the boys from Arlington have a phenom on their hands with Neftali Feliz. Will they finally make it to the World Series?

Where did Oakland come from this year? Maybe it’s the east coast bias, but I had no idea these guys were doing better than the other two teams in the division. Maybe the dynasty is reemerging.

Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. What did you do this year? At least you made the Rays look brilliant thanks to Scott Kazmir sucking it up all year long.

Seatlle. I drank your kool-aid. All I got in return was the most anemic offense since the introduction of the Designated Hitter. Your season was historically bad. At least Ichiro continues to dominate and I got to see Griffey before he retired.

NL East:

My Guess:

Phillies
Marlins
Braves
Mets
Nationals

Actual Results:

Phillies
Braves
Marlins
Mets
Nationals

If I hadn’t let bias toward the Marlins blind me I would have had another perfect pick.

My favorite division also contains two of my least favorite teams in baseball, both of which are set to have great seasons. Last year’s NL Champions, the Philadelphia Phillies, are still just as good with Roy Halladay instead of Cliff Lee. They’ve still got a great lineup with good pitching and, even without their closer, they should still have a solid season. They are The Team To Beat (TM) in the East.

Atlanta, my least favorite team, has got stars in their eyes for Jason Heyward, a top-prospect who made the team this spring. Heyward’s bat, combined with Hanson and Kawakami’s arms, could be very formidable in the East. This is a team that worries me.

The Mets have had such terrible luck recently that it’s almost bound to start swinging back in the other direction…right? With an adjusted outfield to help home runs, their offense might perform a little better, but that injury-riddled team is not looking all that much better this year. If they outperform the Marlins, I’ll be surprised.

Speaking of teams that won’t outperform the Marlins, Washington is almost guaranteed to make marginal improvements this year. Their rotation is still a mess, but veterans like Chien-Ming Wang and Liván Hernández can combine with the brilliance of Stephen Strasburg and the promising performance of Drew Storen and produce what might actually be a major league rotation. The lineup needs some work to score runs, but pitching is infinitely more important for a team that wants to win.

Speaking of a team that emphasizes pitching, we’ve finally arrived at my favorite team, the Florida Marlins. Over the off-season they finalized a strong contract for Josh Johnson and kept Dan Uggla, keeping the rotation and lineups strong. Combined with Hanley Ramirez and Chris Coghlan destroying NL pitching and Ricky Nolasco’s brilliant performance on the mound, this is a solid team with only a few holes that need filling. If Cameron Maybin and Gaby Sanchez live up to their potential, I don’t see much standing in this team’s way. There’s always a question of pitching with the back end of the rotation, but Chris Volstad has been looking good of late and Anibal Sanchez fluctuates, but trends on the better side most times. The real question is in the bullpen where the Fish will be relying on Leo Núñez to close games. I’m not confident in Núñez yet.

The Phils were the best. Blah blah blah. They made it to the postseason as the national favorite to win it all, despite stupidly trading Cliff Lee away. Their starting three, Halladay, Oswalt, and Hamels were solid all year long, Halladay should win the Cy Young, and…I hate this team. If the Rays don’t make it in the East, I’d love to see Texas get there and stomp on the Phils thanks to the amazing leadership of Cliff Lee

Atlanta barely scraped by to take the NL Wild Card. They came this close to making me happy and not making it to the playoffs. Despite losing Chipper Jones, they were able to hold on to their spot in the final eight thanks to fantastic performances by Jason Heyward and Tim Hudson. Bobby Cox should be proud of this team in his final year. Sidenote: Kenshin Kawakami was terrible this year.

I really thought that Florida could be a second place team this year. JJ pitched fantastically for most of the season as did Nolasco and Sanchez, but they just couldn’t hold it together long enough for the bullpen to not screw it up. That’s where the most offseason work should be focused, IMHO. Nuñez did his best as the closer, but they might need someone new next season. Losing Cogz to a season-ending knee injury on a shaving cream pie was also super ridiculous.

Everyone’s favorite Metropolitans continued to be the worst run team in the league. Thankfully for all of us, ownership has fired the GM and manager so hopefully the team can go in a new direction next year, assuming its contracts don’t weigh it down too much to make many changes.

The Nats were looking primed to be reasonably competitive this year from the getgo. Their record was solid, Strasburg was coming up, things were optimistic. Then the bottom fell out. Starting pitching failed completely before June, Strasburg got injured in August (sidelining him until 2012), and everyone’s hopes and dreams died. The simple fact is that the Nats have no starting pitching. You can’t run a team without starting pitching.

NL Central:

My Guess:

Cardinals
Cubs
Reds
Brewers
Astros
Pirates

Actual Results:

Reds
Cardinals
Brewers
Astros
Cubs
Pirates

Wrong, wrong, wrong. All I placed accurately were 4th and 5th

The Central has a chance to be interesting this year with strong squads being fielded by St. Louis, Cincinnati, and “this is our last chance for a while” Chicago. St. Louis has the best chance here thanks to strong pitchers Carpenter and Wainwright and their strong offense in Pujols and Holliday. Cincinnati has been a dark horse so many years in a row now that they’d better start performing. The promise of Aroldis Chapman could push them ahead if the offense follows, but otherwise the team has a strong uphill climb. The Cubbies don’t have much time left before they have to start “rebuilding”. If they don’t put together a playoff season this year, it might be a while before we see one happen again. I still love Fukudome, even if the Cubs don’t. He’s a consistent and solid player.

I don’t know much about Milwaukee’s squad this year, but they’re usually a solid team, but I didn’t hear much in the offseason that would convince me they were ready to push ahead of last year’s performance.

The rest of the Central, the Pirates and the Astros, really don’t make an impact in baseball nowadays. Pittsburgh is really a AAAA team and Houston has failed to make any kind of splash in a long while.

Cincinnati was the surprise here for me as they put together their best performance in something like 15 years or so. Votto might be NL MVP. Their success can be mostly attributed to Votto and the late-season call-up Aroldis Chapman’s stellar stuff in the home stretch. They get to face Philadelphia right off the bat and if they can’t hit Halladay and Oswalt right away, they could have problems.

St. Louis just gave this division away. It was theirs to win at one point in August, but they just squandered their lead proving that Pujols, Carpenter, and Wainwright a complete team does not make. Will they fire La Russa now?

What’s there to say about Milwaukee? Just not enough there at all to win. Maybe next year guys. Braun can’t carry a whole team.

Houston and Pittsburgh. You guys are terrible. The ‘Stros picked it up later in the season, but it was far too late for that to matter.

NL West:

My Guess:

Rockies
Giants
Dodgers
Padres

Actual Results:

Giants
Padres
Rockies
Dodgers
Diamondbacks

Arizona was so forgettable to me that I left them off of the list completely. The Rockies looked like they might make a run, but it fell apart and I was way off on LA and San Diego.

Colorado made the biggest turnaround I’ve seen since the last time they did it in 2007 to win the wild card last year and make the playoffs. After that strong finish and with LA’s messy divorce keeping them from making significant progress on their team, I see Colorado as the frontrunners in this division.

A messy divorce has been draining Dodger ownership of cash and the ability to run their team. At best, the Dodgers remain as good as they were last year. Realistically, they fall behind the Rockies and maybe even the Giants too.

Solid pitching, but not much offense. It’s been the same story for years now. A strong team only because it keeps the run count down on the opposing team.

What about the Padres?

San Francisco is my favorite team in the playoffs right now. Solid starting pitching (Lincecum, Cain, Sanchez) make for a potent postseason combo as well as great anchors for the 5-man rotation. Somehow this team managed to score runs despite Pablo Sandoval’s season-wide slump. I guess that the solid pitching was enough to hold off the West competition.

The Friars (Padres) had a real chance of turning this into the NL West Wild Card, but they squandered it in the last few weeks and couldn’t complete. If this team can be this good next year they’re bound to win the West.

Colorado really fell off from last season. For a while in September Tulowitzki made it look like the Rockies would repeat their ridiculous last minute run for the third year in a row making me look like a genius. Ah well…maybe next year.

The McCourt divorce really sapped this team a lot more than I thought it would. Manny didn’t hit and the pitching wasn’t there. Torre will probably leave this year and I predict this team will not perform much better next year.

Oh god the Diamondbacks are awful. They need a lot of work.

Thoughts on Whip It and An Education [Filmmakers Bleed]
Apr 29th, 2010 by Dan

It’s a tough world out there. The first person you meet in the beginning of The Legend of Zelda says, “It’s dangerous to go alone,” and he’s 100% right. I know this as well as anyone.

Childhood, and school in general, wasn’t that long ago for me. For a kid whose family was decidedly not in the military, we sure seemed to move around and swap schools plenty. It’s not a contest (protip: it is a contest), but I’d say I beat out most non-delinquent, non-military kids with seven school transfers in the thirteen years that I attended school.

The solid core I had at home with my brothers could only take me so far. Once the school bell rings, you’re on your own. When you switch schools roughly once every two years, you have to learn to adapt to new environments, find your niche, and fit into it as fast as you can. It’s tough to be a kid and constantly find the right crowd to fit in with. There were times where I had no crowd and I was a reject. Lucky me that I never found myself giving up who I was or falling in with “the wrong crowd”.

Whip It isn’t literally about this. Bliss Cavendar, played expertly by Ellen Paige, does have a best friend (marking the first time I’ve seen Alia Shawkat in a major role outside of Arrested Development) who supports her youthful yearnings for “something more”, but, for a movie about friendship and sisterhood, there is a distinct lack of sap, probably because roller derby is an intensely violent sport being played by women out to hurt each other.

Drew Barrymore is no stranger to girl power movies. She was a heavy influence on the direction that the abysmal Charlie’s Angels movies took and her roles tend to feature stronger female characters, so there’s nothing too unexpected about her directorial debut, except, maybe, that she doesn’t really star in it. Her cast focuses on Ellen Page, Alia Shawkat, and the ridiculously hilarious Kristen Wiig and the community that Bliss becomes a part of, much to the chagrin of her mother. The beauty of this movie comes from the empowering message it doles out. A lesser movie would have Bliss’ mother be a super-bitch who refused to understand that her daughter didn’t want to do the pageants. Sure, Bliss’ mother is trying to achieve the dreams she lost to an unplanned pregnancy through her, but she’s also looking to see her daughter succeed and have something good in her life in the only context she really knows. She comes around when she realizes that Bliss really does love roller derby and she lets go with almost zero fuss.

The most telling scene in the movie comes before the final, climactic round. Bliss’ rival on the opposing team, Iron Maven, learned earlier that she was underage and could be considered ineligible. She reveals that she knows this to Bliss, who then comes clean to everyone and gets proper authorization from her parents to compete. When she confronts Maven later on about her jealous ploy to remove her from contention, Maven surprises her by saying that she had no intentions of outing her; she just wanted to get in Bliss’ head. Whether or not this is a cop-out response, the intention is crystal clear. These women are competitive and hate losing to each other, but they are not catty, jealous, or manipulative, as you might expect.

Kristen Wiig also gets standout mention from me for her role as a responsible mother figure/mentor to Bliss. In fact, everyone in this movie is so supportive and grounded in making the right decisions that it borders on unbelievable. The only people who make dumb choices are Ellen Page and Alia Shawkat’s irresponsible teen characters. Their lack of experience and teen self-righteousness realistically gets them in trouble.

An interesting side effect to all the feminism is that every male character in the movie plays to some kind of stereotype. Bliss’ father is a yes-man to the wife who spends all his time watching football, going so far as to sneak away to sit in an abandoned parking lot in his van to watch football, far away from his wife’s judgmental eyes. Oliver, the love interest in the movie, is a pretty-boy member of a band who predictably cheats on Bliss the first chance he gets and is rejected by her when he returns to apologize. Birdman, the manager of the restaurant Bliss works at, is constantly manipulated by his female employees and, though he does “get the girl” at the end, he’s not exactly a strong male lead. Jimmy Fallon’s character is the announcer at the roller derby and a pathetic seeming man who makes lame jokes and repeatedly fails at coming on to the roller derby girls. The strongest male role comes in the coach of Bliss’ roller derby team, Razor, played to perfection by Andrew Wilson as a tactician, almost hippie lover of the sport who is so anemic at managing the team that he can’t even get them to execute any of the plays he concocts for most of the movie.

I’m not saying a movie needs strong male roles to counter the female parts at all. I think it’s kind of refreshing to see a movie that marginalizes men instead. It’s rare that you see a movie made by women, for women that’s not a sappy love story, a Lifetime movie, or a feminazi-type production, so this was refreshing.

The main beauty of Whip It is precisely that it’s a movie about being true to one’s self, one’s friends, and one’s dreams, without being all that sappy. It’s a coming-of-age tale that hides in violence and comedy, but couldn’t sing its message clearer. Sure, the message can get a little heavy-handed, I mean, Bliss’ mother the beauty queen trying to force Bliss into pageants that she doesn’t want to do, blah blah, the evils of the exploitation of women by the mainstream, yes, it’s a clear contrast being made to the world of roller derby. Then again, this movie is smarter than that. Roller derby isn’t exactly a feminist’s dream. The sport does trade on sexual exploitation, so the movie is more railing against not being able to choose for oneself.

I wasn’t planning on watching back-to-back feminist movies when I set up my netflix queue, but that’s kind of the way it happened when An Education made its way to my mailbox a few days later. Despite similar themes, we’re talking a complete tonal shift, as An Education takes place in 1960s England and revolves around a similarly-aged boarding school student named Jenny (Carey Mulligan).

As you might expect, Jenny’s troubles are more of the pre-feminist revolution type. Jenny’s got this “Why bother?” attitude toward the Oxford education that her father is pushing her toward, mostly because all it seems to mean is that Jenny will have a few more years of a fulfilling, educational life before she ends up back in the dead-end world of 1960s England where her prospects are teacher, secretary, or housewife. Jenny wants what many 16-year-olds want, a chance to see the world, become cultured, experience more than what her middle class life has destined for her and so she naturally falls for an much older man, David (played by Peter Sarsgaard (and his terrible faux-British accent)), who can provide those things

An Education is a little more blatant with its comparisons. Jenny is constantly sharing screen time with Helen, the beautiful girlfriend of David’s business associate Danny, who is far more interested in fashion, glamor, and not using her brain. The opposite path is the one that her teacher is on, but she’s ridiculed by Jenny for being somewhat homey and her appearance is far from beautiful (in the way that Hollywood goes and makes beautiful women look not beautiful).

The real crux of the movie comes from the futility of the decision that it seems like Jenny is making. As citizens of the 21st century, we know that Jenny would certainly find more opportunities for success in the England of the 70s and 80s, but the end of the movie does leave you feeling that the education that Jenny is receiving, both from David and from Oxford, are ultimately futile attempts at delaying the inevitable.

In any case, both movies are fine examples of pro-feminist film that actually promote healthy lifestyles and relationships for women. How rare is it in Hollywood to see that?

MLB 2010 Season Projections [Wednesday Morning Quarterback]
Mar 31st, 2010 by Dan

Another year, another season! 2010 looks to be another good one. The Marlins don’t look like they’re about to run away with their division, but the Rays have a fighting chance this year. I’m getting ahead of myself, so let’s back up and go through this division by division like we do every year.

AL East

After a (glorious) season where the Yankees didn’t make it to the playoffs for once, the Bronx Bombers came back with a vengeance and took it all. The Yanks may have lost Damon and Matsui, but they’re still in a strong position in the AL East and look poised to make the playoffs in the division. Players are getting older on that team and the pitching isn’t as strong as they’d like, but, barring some kind of major injury, I stand by that prediction.

The Red Sox also made a few big moves, getting rid of Jason Bay and adding in Adrián Beltré, and they’re projected to have a solid season with strong defense and slightly weakened bat strength. I think a lot of how well they do this year depends on whether or not they’re able to produce runs at the plate with David Ortiz, who did not perform to standards last year.

My favorite in the East, the Tampa Bay Rays, have had a super strong spring. With the best spring record of the AL, they could upset the Yankees or Red Sox if and only if their rotation and bullpen return to 2008 form. The offense is there, the defense on the field is there, it’s just a matter of making outs. Will Rafael Soriano be enough to solve their closer woes? That alone will tell you what this team will do this year.

I’m excited to see what the Orioles put together this year. Their investment in youth is starting to bear fruit as prospects make their way onto the field, but this young, inexperienced team is up against juggernauts in the Yankees, Red Sox, and Rays. I’m going to call this a building year for the Orioles, even if that’s selling them a bit short. They would have a good chance in any other division, but not the East.

There are few teams in baseball that bore me more than the Blue Jays (:cough: Royals, Pirates, and Padres :cough:). This is a team that acknowledged that they have no chance to make a run of it by trading Roy Halladay to the Phillies.

Projected Standings:
Yankees
Rays
Red Sox
Orioles
Blue Jays

Remember that I’m a Rays fanboy and my positioning makes sense. I think the Rays have a strong chance to take the AL wild card this year.

AL Central

For a while there, this division was the Twins’ to lose. Then the second best closer in the game, Joe Nathan, went down for the season, muddying up the waters. Add in that the team is moving to a brand new ballpark and things could get interesting. Gone are the super-competitive advantages of the Metrodome, replaced by what will be a SUPER frigid open-air ballpark that will take some getting used to. When it comes to Joe Mauer, I’m reminded of the fictional words of Michael Bluth, “You gotta lock that down.” Lucky for the Twins, they managed to get that done with an eight-year, 184 M$ contract. It should help.

I hear a lot about Chicago’s rotation being so vastly improved, but it’s almost always followed by the caveat that Peavy needs to pitch well. It’s been a long while since his 2007 Cy Young campaign and he hasn’t been able to remain healthy. Despite how much Obama loves this team, I can’t stand A. J. Pierzynski and, by extension, the team.

Detroit has a team that I want to love. Those poor guys live in a third world city that is on the verge of absolute collapse. They keep giving Dontrelle Willis chances to succeed (and he might be in the rotation this year), but I’m not sure that they will be able to keep up with the Twins this year thanks to weak pitching. I’ll be keeping an eye on these guys.

The Indians may be on the upswing and ready to bounce back, but I’m not ready to believe that yet. I don’t see much happening for this team.

Kansas City has an awful team aside from Zack Greinke.

Projected Standings:
Twins
White Sox
Tigers
Indians
Royals

AL West

Despite their stupid long name, the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim have had one of the most consistent teams of the century. They contend every year and make it to the playoffs almost every year. It’s hard to ignore how solid this team is. Unfortunately, they’ve been fighting a war of attrition these past two years with Texas and Seattle getting closer and closer to robbing AL West dominance away from them. They gained Matsui, but lost vital starter Lackey. Will it be enough?

Seattle wants it this year. They went and signed Cliff Lee and even took the risk of signing the volatile Milton Bradley to bolster their bats. Things were looking great for Seattle until Cliff Lee ended up on the DL and Milton Bradley got himself ejected from two straight spring training games. Will they be able to keep it all together and make a real run for the West?

The Rangers are solid, but they have a lot of reliance on players like Josh Hamilton who are very injury prone. They’ve been just short of the playoffs for several years now and they’re real hungry for it.

I have so much apathy for the Athletics. I’m sure their team is pretty good and has a chance this year, but it never seems to pan out for Oakland.

Projected Standings
Mariners
Angels
Rangers
Athletics

I’m going out on a major limb there. I could be dead wrong.

NL East

My favorite division also contains two of my least favorite teams in baseball, both of which are set to have great seasons. Last year’s NL Champions, the Philadelphia Phillies, are still just as good with Roy Halladay instead of Cliff Lee. They’ve still got a great lineup with good pitching and, even without their closer, they should still have a solid season. They are The Team To Beat (TM) in the East.

Atlanta, my least favorite team, has got stars in their eyes for Jason Heyward, a top-prospect who made the team this spring. Heyward’s bat, combined with Hanson and Kawakami’s arms, could be very formidable in the East. This is a team that worries me.

The Mets have had such terrible luck recently that it’s almost bound to start swinging back in the other direction…right? With an adjusted outfield to help home runs, their offense might perform a little better, but that injury-riddled team is not looking all that much better this year. If they outperform the Marlins, I’ll be surprised.

Speaking of teams that won’t outperform the Marlins, Washington is almost guaranteed to make marginal improvements this year. Their rotation is still a mess, but veterans like Chien-Ming Wang and Liván Hernández can combine with the brilliance of Stephen Strasburg and the promising performance of Drew Storen and produce what might actually be a major league rotation. The lineup needs some work to score runs, but pitching is infinitely more important for a team that wants to win.

Speaking of a team that emphasizes pitching, we’ve finally arrived at my favorite team, the Florida Marlins. Over the off-season they finalized a strong contract for Josh Johnson and kept Dan Uggla, keeping the rotation and lineups strong. Combined with Hanley Ramirez and Chris Coghlan destroying NL pitching and Ricky Nolasco’s brilliant performance on the mound, this is a solid team with only a few holes that need filling. If Cameron Maybin and Gaby Sanchez live up to their potential, I don’t see much standing in this team’s way. There’s always a question of pitching with the back end of the rotation, but Chris Volstad has been looking good of late and Anibal Sanchez fluctuates, but trends on the better side most times. The real question is in the bullpen where the Fish will be relying on Leo Núñez to close games. I’m not confident in Núñez yet.

Projected Standings:
Phillies
Marlins
Braves
Mets
Nationals

NL Central

The Central has a chance to be interesting this year with strong squads being fielded by St. Louis, Cincinnati, and “this is our last chance for a while” Chicago. St. Louis has the best chance here thanks to strong pitchers Carpenter and Wainwright and their strong offense in Pujols and Holliday. Cincinnati has been a dark horse so many years in a row now that they’d better start performing. The promise of Aroldis Chapman could push them ahead if the offense follows, but otherwise the team has a strong uphill climb. The Cubbies don’t have much time left before they have to start “rebuilding”. If they don’t put together a playoff season this year, it might be a while before we see one happen again. I still love Fukudome, even if the Cubs don’t. He’s a consistent and solid player.

I don’t know much about Milwaukee’s squad this year, but they’re usually a solid team, but I didn’t hear much in the offseason that would convince me they were ready to push ahead of last year’s performance.

The rest of the Central, the Pirates and the Astros, really don’t make an impact in baseball nowadays. Pittsburgh is really a AAAA team and Houston has failed to make any kind of splash in a long while.

Projected Standings:
Cardinals
Cubs
Reds
Brewers
Astros
Pirates

NL West

Colorado made the biggest turnaround I’ve seen since the last time they did it in 2007 to win the wild card last year and make the playoffs. After that strong finish and with LA’s messy divorce keeping them from making significant progress on their team, I see Colorado as the frontrunners in this division.

A messy divorce has been draining Dodger ownership of cash and the ability to run their team. At best, the Dodgers remain as good as they were last year. Realistically, they fall behind the Rockies and maybe even the Giants too.

Solid pitching, but not much offense. It’s been the same story for years now. A strong team only because it keeps the run count down on the opposing team.

What about the Padres?

Projected Standings
Rockies
Giants
Dodgers
Padres

I’m bound to be dead wrong, per usual, but we’ll see how I’m doing in July and again in September. I can’t wait for Sunday/Monday!

Sharing [F/FB]
Mar 9th, 2010 by Dan

In a sense, doing this blog is a really strange thing for me. I’m more than happy to share my opinion with anyone about the music, movies, or games that I love, but I get nearly crippling anxiety when it comes to actually compelling them to sit down and experience the media I’m trying to recommend. It makes no sense, of course. Why would it matter if they like it or not, right? I mean, it’s not like it’s life or death or that they’ll stop being my friend, but I still get nervous.

The weird thing is that I don’t ever quite reach the point of comfort with even my closest friends. Recommending stuff to my brothers is usually pretty simple since I know them so well. It’s an uphill battle most of the time to even convince them that what I’m offering is worth spending time experiencing, but once they do, I’m right maybe 90% of the time about whether or not they’ll like it. There’s almost no stress involved unless you take away that family element…

If it was because of a specific, tragic event, I must have repressed it enough that I don’t even remember it, but I can honestly say that there are few things worse than that feeling you start to get in your gut when you can visibly see that they’re just really not feeling it. It was just a few weeks ago that I was in Chicago hanging out with a friend of mine who attends Northwestern.

“Duffy, you’ve got to hear these guys. This is the perfect music for warming you up in winter. They’re brilliant.”

The disc in question was Vampire Weekend’s latest, Contra. It’s this crazy indie rock album with these great worldbeat sounds. I don’t really understand why they call worldbeat worldbeat when they mean Afro-Caribbean, but that’s just me, I guess.

“Yeah, sure. Pop it in.”

It all goes south from there. Knowing myself, I know not to look directly at someone who is listening to something I’m making them listen to. It’s agonizing. The silence from her side of the car is deafening. I start counting the number of times that “Horchata” calls out that Koenig is drinking horchata in December. Her hands lower the volume knob twice during the first song. I try to shake it off.

“Eh…well I love it. It’s got a different sound to it and that’s really what attracts me to it, but I can see where you might not.”

She hadn’t even said a word, but I was defeated. The rest of the trip I let her control the radio as we alternated between country music, Lady Gaga, and Ke$ha (and the musical part of my soul died just a little bit).

I loved Sambomaster before I knew I loved Sambomaster, but when I read “changing the world in japanese“, a fantastic article about the band by tim rogers, I finally learned the band’s name and heard their best song. It’s hard to justify how much I love the band since I can’t understand a single lyric that Takashi Yamaguchi is saying, but the band’s music does mean a lot to me and I did my best to evangelize “Sono Nukumori ni Yō ga Aru” as best I could to my friends and family. Dave took to it instantly and even the difficult-to-please Duffy thought that the music was “alright”, but I was stonewalled when I sent it along to my good friend Min.

“Yeah, I just don’t like music in a language I can’t understand.”

I’m sure that part of the whole anxiety thing comes from your run-of-the-mill fear of rejection, but I think that it might also stem from the perhaps too extreme emotional connection that I make with my media. Many of my strongest memories are tied to the media I consume and I sometimes make these connections almost instantaneously.

One week before I went to Chicago, I was driving up to Ithaca with Min to meet up with some old friends. We were listening to podcasts and All Music Considered, one of NPR’s finest podcasts, came up with their Valentine’s Day episode featuring breakup songs. Each of the staff members presented a breakup song that had particular influence on their lives and one chose the Stars song “Your Ex-Lover is Dead”.

“Wow. That was amazing,” I told Min.

“Yeah. A friend of mine sent that to me in high school.”

I didn’t tell Min that the song touched me in a profound way, but I think he could tell from my reaction. If Min hadn’t been there in the car, I might have found myself crying. It just brought back so many memories about my long and damaging relationship with Ashley that it was overwhelming.

I’m not sorry I met you
I’m not sorry it’s over
I’m not sorry there’s nothing to save

It could be that my reluctance to share is preventing someone from learning about media that they’d never heard of before, (I think back to all the times I’ve successfully shared Arrested Development with friends), but then there are times when my nature is proven correct. I correctly balked at exposing my father to Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog, but he watched it anyway at the insistence of my brothers. He just didn’t get it.

There’s nothing like feeling that connection with someone over a shared experience. Having these interests in common gives us something to talk about and keeps conversation interesting. Maybe one day I’ll get over this fear of sharing. God knows I’m trying by writing this blog most days, even if I try to keep it a secret from most of the people I know.

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