Monday, May 30, 2011

Playlists

So in thinking about the Playlists feature, and in talking to Chip about it, I'm sort of seeing that I was setting it up for failure on a few different levels.

First, on a very basic level, "walking music" isn't really something that people can grasp, because most people don't walk just for exercise. They have people walking with them, or they are walking a dog, or pushing a stroller, so they've got other things to be concerned with while walking. And while it's true that I'd like to incorporate more jogging into my walks, the majority of my walks are spent, well, walking.

I was able to find some solid walking music, but that's more from my own conceptions about walking, not from some base standard of "good walking music." That one Primitive Radio Gods song is an example, in case you were wondering what I'm talking about. But I'm not asking for any more assistance on walking music.

I'm also not going to just offer a wide open "give me some songs" anymore. While I'm obviously interested in hearing all sorts of musical suggestions, leaving it so wide open I think makes it a little tough for people to feel comfortable responding. And that's all I really care about, making you folks feel comfortable tossing in a response or five.

I haven't completely resolved how I'm going to change the format of Playlists, and it might not even be called Playlists anymore. But at some point, we'll get it going. Stay tuned.

Please stay tuned.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Zombie Games

If you've hung out with me, or if you've read some of my previous posts, you know I've got a special place in my heart for a good zombie video game. I'm also a big fan of the sandbox-style games like Grand Theft Auto and Morrowind that give you some flexibility and independence when it comes to game progression. So naturally, Dead Rising is among my favorite classic Xbox 360 games, and I've quickly embraced its sequels.

Well, there's another sequel coming, and I think I might be more excited about this one than any of the other stuff. It's called Dead Rising 2: Off The Record, and it's referred to as a "re-imagination" of Dead Rising 2 if the original game's Frank West were the protagonist, rather than Chuck Greene. This means that a lot of the same characters will be brought back from the original Dead Rising 2, but indications are that there'll be plenty of new characters as well, and new challenges to face.

At least as important is that Capcom has specifically indicated that they've been working on reducing the load times in the game, which was really the only complaint I had about it. The fact that they've mentioned it specifically means that they're willing to be held accountable for fixing it, and that's encouraging.

But that's not the only exciting game coming soon on the zombie front. I think everybody on the planet has seen this trailer for a game in development called Dead Island, and rightfully so. It's pretty creative, and the basis for the game is interesting enough on its own to generate a lot of hits. But now we've got an actual gameplay video out, and we can begin to see how this game is taking shape. And it definitely looks good.

It's a good time to want to smash zombies.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Playlists - Walking

Another new "feature" I want to start running here is what I'm going to simply call Playlists. I've always been a big fan of making CDs and playlists, but I'm starting to realize that there's a lot of music I just don't know. But maybe you folks can help me out.

Part of this process will involve me generating the playlist on Grooveshark and posting it for you guys to check out and critique. INTERACTIVITY!

Our first playlist is actually going to be pretty challenging, because there isn't really a conventional feel for "walking music." What I'm thinking is zone-out kind of music, but songs that still have a strong beat. Maybe some jam bands like Allman Brothers Band or Dave Matthews Band? Right now I've got a couple Arcade Fire albums and an album by a band called Bonobo on my mp3 player; both seem to work pretty well.

I appeal to you, Internet. Offer your wisdom.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

TV Reviewed - Dead Like Me

So I was over at Eddie and Rachel's house a few weeks ago, and Rachel and I were looking for a show to watch from Netflix's instant options. She had seen an episode of Dead Like Me and said it was decent, so we flipped on the first episode. Turns out the first episode was a double episode, so it took way longer than we thought it would, but it was interesting enough for me to give the show a shot.

After having watched both seasons, all 29 episodes, I'm still not entirely sure how I feel about the show.

The basic premise of the show is this: when people die, grim reapers help them "move on." Grim reapers are people who have died, but whose time on earth was extended to serve this role. The show follows a small team of reapers, with the main focus on a brand new (so recently deceased) reaper, Georgia, and how she handles the transition from living to dead, along with her new job.

The idea is interesting enough, and both the writers and actors do a fair job of executing it. The main character is a little whiny, but she's 18; that's a pretty whiny age. In season one, the show does a good job of balancing the day-to-day reaps with Georgia's growth as a reaper and her surviving family's hardships at dealing with the loss. As someone who's dealt with loss, I found a lot of relate-able scenarios, and the characters seem very real and very natural in this regard.

But for all of the positives of season one, season two seems to just be lost. The story is all over the place, and for 90% of the show, the episodes don't seem to need to be in any particular order. There are occasionally spots where the story endures for an episode or two, and the surviving family has a progression of events, but mostly the stories just don't seem very intertwined. By the end of season two, I was really just watching the show because I knew I was almost finished. And that's not good.

While I liked the first season enough, I can't put my name on a recommendation. It was just too fragmented in season two, and the individual stories weren't compelling enough to compensate.

The Last Word - You might like the first half of it, but if you watch it, prepare for some disappointment later on.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Movie Reviewed - 28 Weeks Later

I'm a fan of a good zombie movie. However, 28 Weeks Later (and its predecessor 28 Days Later) are not zombie movies, because the "monsters" in the movie are not zombies. They're "infected," people with normal human capabilities but whose minds are overthrown, utterly consumed with rage towards everyone and everything.

In the original (a very well put together film), we saw London ravaged by the disease, and learned that all of Great Britain was virtually leveled by the infected. The sequel moves us forward several months, after it's believed that the disease has been eradicated. The United States military is sent in to reclaim the country, and eventually civilians are permitted to re-settle. Of course, something goes wrong, and the disease breaks out again.

The main difference for me between Days and Weeks is that Days was fresh, creative, and had some interesting characters, while Weeks was simply a re-hash of the original story. Perhaps the most distinct representation of this was the CONSTANT use of the main theme song from the original film. The song has a haunting tone and was one of the things that really made the original movie, but it just feels trite in the sequel.

One of the mechanisms that these movies (and many other modern horrors/thrillers) rely on is the idea that while monsters are scary, humans can be just as scary. The first few times, it was compelling. But after a hundred different scenarios where good guys turn bad, it becomes too predictable. And I think the writing gets a little lazy; you don't get the buildup of frustration, anxiety, and hopelessness that might actually prompt the panic that would precipitate a "turn." And to be honest, the concept that the military are so easily prone to villainy is getting a little old.

People love putting numbers on opinions, so let's move on to a rating. I've talked previously about how I don't love a 5 star scale, because in that scale, 3 stars equates to "I have no opinion on this movie." Three stars is dead center, and doesn't offer a recommendation, which is fine for your own ratings, but useless when you're trying to offer advice to others.

So, I'm going to go with a 10-point scale, ten points being reserved for elite films (High Fidelity, The Shawshank Redemption, etc), and one point being reserved for the most utterly awful films (Meet the Spartans). It gives us plenty of room to differentiate between good films, very good films, and great films, and it's an even number, so there's no dead-center number that means nothing. Anything six or above, I recommend, anything five or below, I don't.

So, back to this movie. It took a little while to get going, but the story was entertaining enough in the context of being a basic thriller. I didn't think much of the script, and the characters are mostly bland, but the actors do well enough to keep your attention. As long as you're willing to accept a few obviously inaccurate situations (like why wasn't the wife under constant military supervision? the husband can just wander in?), it's a tense, aggressive, and enjoyable movie. But if you didn't like the first one, there's no way this one is going to do it for you.

The Last Word - I endorse it, but barely.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

What are you doing?

Remember those old Budweiser commercials, the "Wazzup" ones? And then remember the follow up they did with white guys and an Indian guy saying "What are you doing?" That was pretty funny.

Anyways, you might have noticed that I've reworked the layout a little bit, and added a new section on the right entitled "Currently..." It's basically a collection of the things I do when I get home from work. Not entirely, obviously. I still eat and sleep and walk and watch sports. And in fact, I watch a lot more TV than is notated there, but it's mostly new TV (Parks and Recreation, House, Kitchen Nightmares, etc). The TV shows in this section are the shows that have either already run their course and I'm watching after the fact, or are still on, but I'm catching up on.

What's in it for you, you ask? Well, on the off chance you're someone I ever actually see in person, you'll have some insight into potential topics of conversation. For example, "Hey Joe, I read you're playing some game called Magicka. Are you like 100% nerd, or are there a few strands of manliness somewhere in there?" See? Fun!

But seriously, we can talk about books or movies or games.

Additionally, I'll be posting a review of every movie and show I watch from here forward. Well, okay, not every movie and show. I'm not going to review Jurassic Park or Zombieland or The Office every time I watch them on Netflix (we're at I think 9 times for Zombieland...and many more than that for Jurassic Park). But every movie and show I watch for the first time, you can count on a review. And I just watched 28 Weeks Later for the first time today, so you can look forward to my thoughts on that film.

Sneak preview: not as good as the first one.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Pizza

Listen. I like pizza. If you've spent any time with me at mealtime over the past few years, you know that I have a slight tendency to default to pizza. It's a decent enough meal with plenty of potential variety, it's pretty clean most of the time, and most people like it.

The problem is, pizza isn't very diet-friendly. Well, that's not fair to pizza. Pizza, like almost any food, can be diet-friendly when enjoyed in moderation. But most of the time that you eat pizza, you get a whole pie, and eat several slices, and boom, 1400 calories. Since I'm on a diet, that's a "bad" idea.

Enter Boboli. I bought a couple crusts the other day, and the calorie numbers look manageable. I made a "white" pizza the other day, the whole pizza was 1080 calories. It had shredded Parmesan cheese, butter, garlic salt, oregano, sliced onions, and sliced red pepper. I know I can actually save a few calories by switching to a lower calorie version of cheese, maybe get the whole thing down to a thousand. And this is for the bigger crust, I think 10 or 12 inches. They've also got personal size ones, which obviously make for an even more calorie-friendly meal.

So I'm reaching out to you folks. Let's figure out some pizzas I can make. Give them names, if you like. But we're looking to make them fairly healthy, so I can keep on my weight-loss train. Lean meats are good, we can work with most cheeses, and I'm open to vegetables and fruits...except mushrooms and olives. Those are a no go fo sho.

Here, I'll start it off (please note that I have not tried these pizzas; they're just ideas. And yours can be as well):

The Jerry's Cheesesteak Pizza
  • Roast beef or sliced steak
  • Provolone cheese
  • Onions
  • Green peppers
The Hard Times Onion Rings Pizza
  • Onions
  • Light ranch dressing
  • Taco seasoning
  • Mozzarella cheese

Interactivity / Twitter?

Let me be the first to say that I have trouble getting what the big draw is for Twitter. It's like if you took Facebook and stripped away everything interesting and just had the status updates. No pictures, no videos, not even any long statuses that actually give you information. Just quick-hitters, like "Going to the mall to get my nails done" or "Let's go Cavs! Two of the top four picks!"

Are these invalid ideas? No, of course not. But it's like an entire website devoted to smalltalk. Are we so starved for human interaction that we'll settle for an occasional impersonal text from celebrities, or cousins, or strangers?

Well, yes, probably. As some of you may know, I run a little sports blog called Joe and Joe Sports, and I've set up a Twitter account for it. I don't post regularly (on either), so the synergy between the two is negligible, but with the recent explosion of smart phones, I know that social media is becoming a quick way to "check up" on people, both friends and strangers. And if you want to grow your web presence, it's definitely useful to employ multiple vehicles.

Anyways, where was I going with this? Right, interactivity. I'd like to have a little more of it on here. Now, it'd be easier for you all to chime in if I posted more often, I'll grant you that. So here's the deal. I'm going to post more often (promise), and you're going to respond more often.

Not gonna wait for you to agree. That's how we do it in sales; we presume agreement and move right on to the details.

I've got a few ideas for how to generate some back and forth. Look for the first one later today.

LOOK FOR IT.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Baseball Essay

A few weeks ago, I sent in an application to MLB.com for some dream job offer they had. I apparently had waited too long, and there was a second part to the application that I didn't have time for, but I wrote an essay they asked for. Below is that essay. The prompt was "Talk about why you like baseball."

I went to my first baseball game when I was 7 years old. My aunt and uncle had just gotten married, and didn't yet have any children, so they invited me and my cousin to come with them to see our hometown Orioles play host to the Tigers. This was during the Orioles' historically awful 1988 season, but I didn't know enough about baseball to realize that when I saw them win the game, I was seeing a rarity.

I think it's fair to say that I was hooked right away. Seeing a baseball field live for the first time was tremendous, and I still get goose bumps every time I walk out from the concourse into a stadium. There’s no greener grass than outfield grass. But the most distinct memory I have from the game was when Jack Morris was pulled for a reliever, the song "Hit the Road Jack" came on the loudspeaker. I thought it was the coolest thing in the world that they had found this song that perfectly fit the game scenario, and sang along loudly, as only a 7-year-old can.

As I've grown, while I still appreciate the beauty of a baseball field, the thing I find most striking about a baseball game is the intensity of each pitch. More than any other team sport, baseball gives you the direct confrontation of two wills, pitcher versus hitter. In a close game, the tension of each pitch is almost magical. Fifteen seconds of plotting and planning by the pitcher and catcher, the deep breath, and then everything crescendos into that one moment when the hitter starts to offer at the pitch. For that split-second, literally anything can happen.

I guess maybe that’s why I like baseball so much: possibility. At the beginning of every season, we remind ourselves that, hey, the Marlins have a couple World Series rings. And, remember back in 1991 when the Twins and Braves both went worst-to-first to meet in the Fall Classic? On April 1st, every team has a shot. You don’t get that same feeling in football, or even basketball, despite the fact that more than half of the NBA makes the playoffs.

One last thing about baseball that I think sets it apart from the other team sports is its ability to withstand its fantasy counterpart. I’ve played pretty much every fantasy sport out there, but baseball is the only sport that, for me, has remained interesting to me in both the real game and the fantasy game. If anything, fantasy baseball has made me a more broad baseball fan. I knew about Ryan Braun before he’d ever played a game. The case was the same with Clayton Kershaw, Evan Longoria, and Tim Lincecum. Seeing these super-prospects turn into major league superstars gives them a story in my mind; I’ve watched them from the beginning.

PS: I know the ending is a little abrupt; they had a word limit, and I was right up against it.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Caps 2011-2012

(Some of us woke up feeling like this picture this morning)



I know what some of you are thinking, "What about a break down of round 2 Eddie". My response to that would be the Caps were swept in four games. What else do you want to know?

Ok... I was impressed with Nevy's ability to keep the Caps in the first three games. I also was impressed with how composed he was after not once, not twice, but three times goals were deflected in off his own players or bad bounces off Tampa's players. Nevy can't clear the crease that falls to the Caps D. On the negative side I was unimpressed with Bruce's ability to adapt to another playoff series. Some blame needs to fall on the players but this is becoming a pattern. Also is it just me or were the Caps never in the middle of the offensive zone. Every time they would dump it in and struggle along the boards. We needed to find a way to get the puck in the slot. This seems to be a constant theme with this team.

With that said I thought it might take some of the sting out of last night to look at the very bright future the Caps have:

Cap numbers from CapGeek.com
2011-12 Payroll: 50,896,795
2011-12 Cap Space: 8,503,203

As a side note the NHL signed a larger TV deal with NBC. This should lead to more revenue. Even with a struggling economy I think we will see an increase in the Salary Cap next year.

What we have for next year:

Goalie:
Michal Neuvirth is signed through the next two years at 1.1 million.

He was great in the first round and while he struggled at times vs Tampa I felt very confident with him in between the pipes. I can remember at least 5-7 times thinking for sure Tampa had scored only to see Nevy come up with a huge save.

Holtby is also signed for two more years at 677,000.

Defense:
Mike Green, Dennis Wideman, Tom Poti, Jeff Schultz, John Erskine, John Carlson and Tyler Sloan are signed through next year. The total cap hit for these players is around 17.7 mil.

The change to a defensive mindset seemed to work as the Caps enjoyed one of their best defensive seasons in team history. I think this group of defensemen give the Caps the ability to skate three d-pairs with both a defensive and offensive d-man. The Caps blue line struggled to provide offensive numbers this year. I do not see that continuing to be a problem. Carlson should continue to get better and better. Wideman and Green provide two great puck moving defensemen.

Forwards:
Ovechkin, Backstrom, Semin, Knuble, Fehr, Chimera, Johansson, Hendricks, King, and Beagle are all signed through next season.

This is where I see the biggest changes coming next season but that is for a later section. The change to a defensive mindset may have kept the puck out of our goal but the Caps struggled to score this season. I believe the Caps were shutout an incredible ten times last season. There is too much talent on this team to have that happen. Johansson continued to make large strides this season. This is a 20 year old kid who is still getting used to the North American rink and speed and style of the NHL. I look for him to continue to get better and better.

Who is currently unsigned:

Scott Hannan: Is it just me or does Hannan never smile. Don't get me wrong I really liked his play throughout the season. Hannan's calling card is smart, solid, defense first play. Maybe not so much during the OT in Game 2 vs Tampa but everyone makes mistakes. At the moment we have seven defensemen signed for next year. I would love to bring Hannan back next season. But with such a logjam already and a large price tag (Hannan made 4.5 mil last year) I think Hannan finds a new home next year.

Karl Alzner: I think my wife, Rachel, thinks Alzner is my "one". "One" being the one famous person I could sleep with and not get in trouble. That is not the case but Alzner is far and away my favorite hockey player. He's a RFA which will allow the Caps to sign him for less than he would as a UFA. That said I still think he will get a decent increase from his 1.67 mil. If I had one wish for George McPhee it would be to sign Alzer and Carlson long term. This pairing impressed time and time again against the opponents top line. And don't forget these two are 21 (Carlson) and 22 (Alzner). Oh and it's Kate Beckinsale for those wondering.

Brooks Laich: This is probably the toughest call of the off season for GMGM. Brooks Laich is an old school hockey player and a class act. He has a balance of skill, toughness, and sandpaper that make him very attractive in the Free Agent market. And from women tell me he's also very attractive and not to mention he just seems like a really good guy. (Ex. Stopping to change a tire after game 7 last year) I know Brooks has been a huge supporter of Bruce over the years. We'll see how that situation affects his possible return to the Caps. I would try to sign Brooks. I think he seems like a great Locker room guy. However there is a limit and in the salary cap league you have be careful.

Jason Arnott: Jason Arnott seemed to spark the Caps after his arrival however he did not seem to do the same after a late season injury. Was that a result of not being a 100%, an older player wearing down, or just an overall bad offensive post season for the Caps? I'm not sure. If I were the Caps I would be open to brining Arnott back but only for a small one year contract.

Marco Sturm: Marco never really seemed to make a mark for this Caps team. I thought he actually played better in the Tampa series but still had little effect on the games. He's still working back from a major knee injury. But I did not see enough from him to justify investing.

Boyd Gordon: Remember David Steckel? Yes Joey I know you remember and while we are on the subject the candles burning and picture collage is a little weird. Well for the rest of you normal fans you might not. Boyd stepped in after Steckel's departure and was great as the 4th line center and top PK man. I think Boyd is an important FA for the Caps to sign.

Matt Bradley: Ah good old Professor Bradley... you have been a solid 4th line forward for years now. We had some good memories. However 1 million for an aging 4th line forward seems steep. I think its important for the Caps to give some young guys some time. As a result I'd let Bradley walk. I just think its time to move on.

Semyon Varlamov: Varly has been great when he has been healthy. However that has been a major problem for this young Russian net minder. I think Varly has the athletic ability to be a dynamic goaltender that teams can lean for stretches. With that said, I have no idea how salary works for goalies. Just last year Chicago let go of Stanley Cup winning goalie. I would bring Varly back if its not too costly. However with Holtby and Nevy signed for two years you wonder how GMGM deals with this. Is this the time when one of these three is dealt?

Coaching situation:

What to do with Bruce:
Let me preface this by saying I'm not a hockey expert. I'm a fan. There are much smarter hockey people out there and I'm glad they are making this call and not me. With that said I think a change will be made. I look at the roster and there doesn't seem to be a ton of room to make changes. Maybe you try to move Semin but you're probably selling low after these playoffs.

Why make a change:
I just find myself confused watching this team. Last year we play offensive, up-tempo hockey lead in goal and power play %. However we struggle to keep pucks out of our goal. This year we switch to a defense first mentality. We are towards the top in GAA and PK. However we are shut out 10 time over 82 games. Where is the balance? Between the two years there is very little change in the roster. People this year continued to say we need a complete game or effort from these Caps. That has been the case for two years now. We seem unable to play aggressive and smart hockey at the same time. The ability to be both a top offense one year and top defensive team another tells me this team has talent. Everyone can see that. The inability to do both tells me that there is something wrong with the scheme and game plan. I have been a huge Bruce fan for years. After last year I was the first to say he needs to stay. However professional sports is a what have you done for me lately business. Bruce has had control of a tremendousness amount of talent here for three years now. Each time the team has come up way short of expectations.

Overall Thoughts:

I'm not sure what will happen over the next four months. The one thing I do know is I'm a Caps fan. That is not going to change. If you don't like the drops and let downs get off the train. No one is stopping you. However I'm confident I'll see you back next year wearing your Caps jersey and saying you never stopped believing. Hockey is a great game where anything can happen. Enjoy it. We have one of the best players in the world with an incredible roster of players. Our time will come.

Top 500 Songs - Dave Matthews Band

This was always going to be the hardest of my band lists, because I like so many of DMB's songs, and have liked them so differently over...