Announcing The Book Club Selection for the Month
Tuesday, November 25, 2008 | Author: Mad Typist
First things first. Go here to vote for the Amazon deals for the holidays. Seriously, you can get the chance to get a PS3 bundle with Little Big Planet and a blu-ray version of Pirates of the Carribean for $199. Yeah. I'm so there.

Now, on to other matters. I'm starting a little online book club. We'll read one book a month, with the option to add a second bonus book for you prolific readers. Each person will write up a little blog post about how they liked the book.

Rules of Engagement
  • If you are joining the book club, post in the comments here (and put a link to your blog).
  • There will be a suggested format for posting your review, though feel free to add sections on your own
  • One book per month, please put your review up on the last Friday of the month.
  • Link to other book club members reviews in your own review
  • There will be a bonus book each month as well.
  • This is my book club, so I'll pick the book. I'm happy to hear suggestions though.
December's book will be: World War Z by Max Brooks. Run over to Amazon and buy yourself a copy.

December's bonus book will be: continuing our theme of zombies and other supernatural things, I'm going to go ahead and pick Twilight by Stephanie Meyer. Now, I know this book will probably suck, but on the other hand, it could be good pulpy fun. Plus, I can't really mock it if I haven't attempted to give it a chance. So, go to your local library and get yourself a copy (I refuse to pay for it).

Suggested format of review
Here's how I recommend we structure our review:
  1. Did I like the story?
  2. Is the writing good?
  3. What was my favorite part?
  4. What was my least favorite part?
  5. General observations
  6. Would I recommend this book, and to whom?
  7. Overall grade (scale of 1-10)
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NFL Week 12 breakdown
Monday, November 24, 2008 | Author: Mad Typist
We're at a very exciting time of the year because the playoff picture is starting to get a lot more clear. This is the time of the year to separate the wheat from the chaff, because there's a lot of teams in contention, and each team still has the chance to control their own destiny. Play well, and you can put yourself in the running for a divisional title or wildcard slot. Play poorly, and end up trying to figure out how you're going to spend your time off this winter, watching other people play for the coveted Lombardi trophy.

Teams That Helped Themselves Out. The Jets have a super easy schedule for this year, but this week's game against the 10-0 Titans was one of the last true tests they were going to have before the postseason. They passed with flying colors. And what was great about the win was that they were balanced on all sides of the ball. It wasn't just Brett Favre doing insane things to win the game by himself. The defense played great and shut down the Titans fearsome run game. The run game exploded when it had to (side note: play Leon Washington MORE, Mangini). And yes, Favre did his part, spreading the ball around and continuing to bring a sense of "Yes, We Can" to the huddle. The Jets are now in great position to win the AFC East and guarantee themselves at least one home game in the post season. As for the Titans, they're still in fine position to win their division, and truthfully, they may be better off taking a loss and nipping all the "perfect season!" talk in the bud, so they can focus on what it's going to take to win in the playoffs.

I once heard a radio announcer scream "Brett Favre is magic!" as Favre threw a huge bomb to win a game against the Broncos in OT last season. And it's true - Favre is a magician, making the seemingly impossible happen, defying odds and sometimes (it seems) even the laws of physics to pull off the big win. But if that's the case, then consider Favre's peer Peyton Manning, who can only be described as the anti-Favre. If Favre is a magician, then Manning is a scientist - he specializes in the art of the possible, the harnessing of physics and probability to find a way to win. He can effortlessly scan a defense, figure out which one it likely is, and then change the play at the line to one that gives his team the best chance of exploiting that defense. And he is unselfish - if the defense is stacked against the pass, he'll gladly call a run play and let his RB charge in for the TD. All he cares about is winning. When the Chargers drove down the field and kicked a field goal to tie, but left 1:30 on the clock, I knew the game was over. "Too much time," I muttered to myself. Why? Because no one runs the 2 minute drill better than Peyton Manning. With only 27 seconds left with 4th-and-inches, and out of field goal range, the logical call would have been to have Manning run the QB sneak to get a new set of downs. But Peyton and his coaches knew that the Chargers knew that, and would be anticipating the sneak, so they did the ballsy thing, and called for a 14 yard pass to Marvin Harrison. They were successful and that set up the game winning field goal with 2 seconds remaining. The Colts are unlikely to catch the Titans at this stage of the game (barring an epic meltdown by the Titans in the next month), but they are well-positioned to take one of the AFC wildcard slots. They have a ridiculously easy schedule coming up - Browns, Bengals, Lions, Jags and then the Titans (in Week 17, when the Titans will possibly be resting their starters).

Also in great place in the AFC wildcard hunt are the surprising Patriots, who rode a second straight 400+ yard performance by Matt Cassel to victory over the rival Miami Dolphins. I still question whether their defense and run game is good enough to carry them deep into the postseason, but for now, the Patriots are masters of their own destiny.

The Baltimore Ravens still have a great shot at the divisional title after their utter destruction of the Philadelphia Eagles. The Pittsburgh Steelers have a savage schedule ahead of them, and must win at least 75% of their games to clinch. The week 15 matchup between these two will likely determine who wins the division.

Let's talk about the Atlanta Falcons, who rebounded from their loss last week and put on a show against division rivals the Carolina Panthers. This was a huge win for the team and puts them only 1 game out of first place. More importantly, the series between the two teams is now 1-1, so Atlanta can possibly pull off the upset and take the division, if they keep playing great football (and Carolina continues playing mediocre football). Michael Turner is looking like the steal of the century for this club. Even if they don't win the division, the Dirrty Birds can still make the playoffs as a wild card.

Teams That Shot Themselves in the Foot. It doesn't look good for the Chargers, who really needed a win to take advantage of Denver's inexplicable loss to the Oakland Raiders. As it stands now, they're 2 games down with 5 games left. Denver techinically has the more difficult schedule ahead, but the Chargers need help if they're going to catch up in the division. A wild card slot is out of the question practically. Meanwhile, Denver looks like it's striving to win the division while having a sub-.500 record.

The Panthers have not been playing great ball and it caught up to them this week. The defense had no answer for the Falcons' offense. They are now tied with Tampa Bay for the divisional title.

Philly has all but crushed their playoff hopes by getting embarrassed by the Ravens. I don't know why Andy Reid decided that the Ravens defense (practically frothing at the mouth to destroy anyone in their path just to erase the taste of defeat from last week's ownage by the Giants) would be the best defense to throw an untested QB against. I know Donovan McNabb hasn't been playing great ball, but surprising Kevin Kolb by throwing him to Ray Lewis and the rest of the wolves was cruel.

Studs of the week. Matt Cassel (30/43, 415 yds, 3 TD, 1 rushing TD) is going to make a LOT of money next year. Michael Turner (117 yds, 4 TD) is awesome. Terrell Owens is NOT awesome, but his douchey-ness cannot override the fact that he had a huge day (213 yds, 1 TD). I'd wager Randy Moss still misses Tom Brady, but yesterday's game probably made him feel better than he has in a long time (125 yds, 3 TD). Ed Reed broke his own INT return for a TD record (107 yards) by intercepting Kolb in the back of the end zone and streaking 108 yards the other direction for the score. A bad day for Kurt Warner looks like this: 32/52, 351 yds, 1 TD, 1 INT. If only he had a running game to take some of the heat off.

Teams I like this week. I like the Atlanta Falcons, who continue to be a pleasant surprise, as well as the Indianapolis Colts, who aren't ready for us to write their postseason obituary just yet it seems. The Jets are starting to make a believer out of me. Right now, the Giants are just SCARY. The thought of a NY versus NY battle is starting to sound less and less crazy. The Raiders aren't a good team, but that was an honest win.

Teams I don't like this week. I don't like Arizona failing to get a run game working. I also don't like the Titans this week. The game was close going into the 4th quarter, but even then, the Titans squandered too many opportunities on offense. Kerry Collins - that wasn't your fault. Collins started 2/10 passing, but there were 5 drops during that time. I saw most of them, and those were catches they simply HAD to make - no excuse. Also, I know the Jets are good at stopping the run, but I think the Titans gave up on the run too quickly. You aren't going to win with Chris Johnson only getting 10 carries for the game. They say that offense wins games and defense wins championships. That line goes through my head a lot when I watch the Denver Broncos. I think their offense will perform just well enough for them to make the playoffs, and their defense will perform just poorly enough to ensure that they go nowhere once they make it. Lastly, I think the Eagles are going to feel like they're on the road at Dallas this Thursday when they hear the vitriol that comes out of the stands at home at Lincoln Field.
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Football, Zombies, and a Pox on the house of ABC Broadcasting
Friday, November 21, 2008 | Author: Mad Typist
Da Foozball Stuff

ESPN has a great in-depth article up about Matt Ryan that I know several of you readers out there would enjoy. He seems like a really nice kid, so I hope that he and his team have continued success in the future.

You know which rookie WON'T be having success this season? Felix Jones, who just got put on IR by the Cowboys, ending his season. Dammit. I've been holding on to him all season, waiting for him to get back in, taking up a valuable roster slot on my bench, and it's all for nothing. Grrrr. I hope that ESPN's The Talented Mr. Roto is right about Steve Smith and Peyton Hillis this week.

I didn't watch much of the Steelers game last night, as I was busy watching NBC's Thursday lineup while Ugly Betty was recording on the other channel. A girl's got to have her priorities straight. I'm pretty irritated that the NFL is insisting on pushing forward with these Thursday night games. One, it screws up fantasy football, because it forces you to make lineup decisions early in the week before full injury reports are available. Second (and more importantly), it's not fair to the viewers. Thursday is a busy night for TV fans, with the blockbuster shows like CSI and Grey's Anatomy airing, plus the less-watched but even more worthy 30 Rock and The Office. It sucks to have to choose whether to watch your favorite show or to tune into the game. That assumes, of course, that you even GET the NFL Network, which isn't available in a lot of cities. Again.. not very fair to the fans, if you ask me.

Game to watch on Sunday 1pm: Jets vs Titans
Game to flip to during commercials: Dolphins vs Patriots
Game to watch at 4pm: Panthers vs Falcons
Game to flip to during commercials: none - take a bathroom break and get yourself a snack

TV Stuff


I'm very disappointed to see that ABC execs have canceled Dirty Sexy Money and Pushing Daisies. While DSM was good soapy fun, and Donald Sutherland was particularly magnificant in the role as patriarch Tripp Darling, I could possibly live without this show. However, the cancellation of the magical, wonderful Pushing Daisies is simply inexcusable. It's rare that you see a show that's truly fresh and original, and it's sad to know the Pie Hole's doors will soon be closing forever. Meanwhile, shows like Private Practice are still on the air.

Shows you need to catch up on, if you aren't watching them already: run out and buy the DVD sets of these shows so you can catch up and see what all the fuss is about
  • Mad Men
  • True Blood (first season is just ending, so you may be able to see it on HBO on-demand)
  • Pushing Daisies
  • 30 Rock
  • Battlestar Galactica (seriously, if you're not watching this show, I'm going to drive to your house and punch you in the face)

Video Game Goodness

I am very excited because last night I finally got around to downloading the new Valve game Left 4 Dead. I'll post a review of it sometime next week, but I'm very excited to get down to playing it. I've played Resident Evil before, so it's not like it's my first foray into zombie killing, but what intrigues me the most is the 4 player co-op mode, where you and 3 friends team up to slaughter the zombie horde (or, you can choose to be a team of zombies attempting to kill another 4 man team playing as survivors). Feedback from my Team Fortress 2 clan mates has been very good, and Valve has done a genius job with multi-player fun in the past, so I have high hopes. If you want to get together with me and play (PC guys only), my Steam ID is mad_typist - just shoot me a friend request and then we can play together (or post your Steam ID in the comments).

I'll finish this post off with a gameplay video from my friend, Mr. Snuts!*, who is just an insane sniper in Team Fortress 2. Seriously, this is sick stuff:

Untitled from Jeremy Harris on Vimeo.
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Tech Talk: the Zune, MSi netbook and Xbox 360 dashboard update
Thursday, November 20, 2008 | Author: Mad Typist
I've long been flirting with the idea of upgrading my mp3 player to the Microsoft Zune player. I currently have an 8 GB Sansa mp3 player, which is fine for quick trips to the gym or for a walk around town, but I've been craving something with more storage space that can also play videos for my longer trips (e.g. the upcoming 11 hour flight to Hawaii I've got coming this December).

Anyhoo, the Zune has long intrigued me. The Zune 2.0 with its weird little squircle navigation device seemed like it worked well when I played with it in the store. The idea that the Zune might someday support games developed via the Microsoft XNA Creator Studio also intrigued me. The Zune software, at first a disaster, got a face lift and some new stuff under the hood that got good reviews. Still, I waited.

However, I think I may finally have the motivation to switch over to the Zune. Not only is it available in a 120GB model with snazzy custom designs available for just $249, Microsoft has just announced that customers of their Zune Pass service will get 10 free tracks each month as part of their $14.99. That's big news. According to the press release, these free tracks should be available (most of the time) in lovely DRM-free MP3 format.

Some background on how services like Zune Pass work. Right now I'm using Rhapsody to manage my music on my Sansa player. I have a Rhapsody To Go account, which for $14.99 a month allows me to listen to any song in the Rhapsody library in its entirety, as well as download those tracks to my Sansa (most of them - 95% of the catalog seems able to do Rhapsody to Go). Rhapsody allows me to use this functionality on up to 2 portable devices (there are several players that work with the service) and 4 computers. Zune Pass works in mostly the same fashion. At first I had scoffed at the idea of paying a monthly fee to access music, but now that I have it, I'm completely hooked. It's like having on-demand radio at your fingertips. If you buy an average of 1 album a month, then the service sort of pays for itself (particularly now with the ability to save 10 tracks forever in your collection).

Speaking of Microsoft and media on-demand, Xbox 360 users finally received their long anticipated Xbox Dashboard update yesterday. I ran home and got mine set up quickly. I won't go into major details (you can get screenshots, descriptions and more over at Joystiq.com), but here's the thing I love the most: free on-demand video streaming from my Netflix "Watch Instantly" list through my Xbox right onto my TV. We tried it out last night and after about a 5 minute setup (there's a small download for your Xbox, and you need to go online on a computer to enter an activation code) we were ready to rock. All the available titles were there in a visual list of DVD cover pictures. We pulled up an episode of The Office season 4, and voila! - we were watching a DVD quality video of the "Fun Run" episode.

Awesome. It further validates my decision to go with the Xbox over the PS3. For those of you looking to buy a next gen console, I can heartily recommend the 360, and with the holidays coming up you can now get your very own 360 for a great price (Costco is selling an amazing bundle - a 60 GB Xbox 360 with 2 games, PLUS Guitar Hero III with guitar controller for $349).

Lastly, I recently decided to treat myself to one of the those adorable netbooks that I've been coveting for some time now. At first I had been attracted to the Eee PC netbook, because it was tiny and cute (8 inch screen). However, after playing with it in the store, I realized the keyboard was impossible to type-touch on, and then Eee went and released a zillion iterations of their notebook series that really diluted their brand. I ended up buying the MSI Wind netbook instead, and I absolutely LOVE it. It weighs in at a svelte 2 pounds, has a 10 inch screen that can handle 1024x768 resolution, and has a built-in wireless modem and webcam. I can touch-type pretty well on it, even when in a fast-paced chat session. My only gripe is that the period and comma buttons are half-sized, so I ended up screwing up my punctuation if I go too fast. Also, the function key is where the CTRL key normally is, so sometimes I get weird stuff when I try to copy+paste things.

Overall, though, the machine is peppy and really great for basic web-surfing, etc. Right now I'm running Chrome, which seems to run pretty fast. I also installed OpenOffice on it, and that runs fast as well. I tossed it in my messenger bag and walked around - the size and weight are lovely. The battery life is so-so, but the power pack isn't too big if you want to carry it with you, and for just a few hours of word processing and/or web surfing, it's more than enough. I used it at my local coffee shop and was fine for over an hour, even running several apps at a time.

Obviously, I'd still love to have something like a ThinkPad X300, but since the Wind is literally 10 times cheaper, I'm really quite pleased with the little bugger.

p.s. - I've rejected the iPod for many reasons - at first, I hated the DRM and the fact that any tracks purchased through iTunes was in a format that could only be played on Apple products. I also loathe a product with such a crappy battery that after a year it requires a $99 investment to fix. Now I reject the idea of paying $100 more for the equivalent amount of space just to have a slightly better UI for my mp3 player. The point is: stay away from my comments section, Apple-zealots, because I'm not looking to get sold on the idea of getting an iPod, until they perhaps make the iTouch over 80GB and under $250.

update: two items I forgot to mention the first time around. First, there's a new version of the Zune firmware (3.1) out now, and they're giving away free games like Texas Hold 'Em poker and Sudoku with it. Second, some of the newer titles on the Netflix Watch It Instantly library are available in HD. I know for example that Heroes can be watched in HD (you can't tell via the interface, which is annoying)
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Basketball Dribbling 5 Year Old Phenom
Wednesday, November 19, 2008 | Author: Mad Typist
Courtesy of one of the Yahoo! sports blogs, here's an insane YouTube video of Milan Simone Tuttle, a 5 year old little girl, showing off her mad ball handling abilities. Mind you, as a senior on my high school varsity basketball team, I could not dribble this well.

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Lieberman punches Dems in balls, Dems say "Thank you, may I have another"
Tuesday, November 18, 2008 | Author: Mad Typist
Lieberman to keep his Homeland Security chairmanship. Really? After what that bastard did? Welcome to the same old politics as usual.

I am not shocked, just really disappointed in this. After all the mud-slinging Lieberman did on behalf of John McCain, after putting our country at risk by supporting a ticket with a dangerous woman in the VP slot, after implying that Democrats are weak on terror.... they let him keep his position. Why? Are they just betting that Connecticut voters are going to give him the boot in 2012 anyway?
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NFL Week 11 breakdown
Monday, November 17, 2008 | Author: Mad Typist
There some exciting games this week, there were some dull as-expected affairs and there was one bizarre tie game.

Lame (I mean "game") of the week. What was up with the Philadelphia Eagles being unable to put away the lowly Cincinnati Bengals? Why can't the Eagles run all of a sudden? Donovan McNabb threw 3 INTs to help seal the non-victory, completing less than 50% of his passes for the day. Andy Reid seems completely fearful of running the ball, and called passing plays on all 18 of the Eagles 3rd down plays. That's unbelievable. I know we gave him crap about running 3 times in a row on goal line stances, but come on! You have to let one of the league's most dynamic runners get at least ONE shot during the game to make something happen. McNabb should NEVER be in the position of throwing the ball a whopping 58 times in one game. That's how you wear down a QB's arm, and that's how you show your run game you have no confidence in it. It's frustrating watching Reid's play-calling this year on offense. I don't have much to say about the Bengals - they played exactly like they've been playing all year, with flashes of competance as the anomolies in a showcase of mental mistakes and poor execution. The Bengals kicker missed a game winning 47 yard field goal that would have won the game in OT. Overall, a totally dull affair that was painful to watch (unless you really love watching punts, of which there were 21 in the game).

Oh baby, you look SO fine. Man, could there be two teams more alike than the Tennessee Titans and the New York Giants? Both have a dynamic, smash-your-face-in defense, both have a QB with a big arm that's normally asked to be a careful game manager, both have a RB tandem that defines "thunder and lightning". Both teams are playing just absolutely great football right now. At this point, if these two DON'T face each other in the Super Bowl, I'm going to feel cheated (after I wrote this, I went over to my favorite columnist Peter King, and saw to my delight that he feels the same way)

I can only imagine how much Kerry Collins must laugh to himself when he sees teams stacking the box to shut down the Tennessee run game. They seem to forget that Collins is 14th on the all-time passing yards list, that he's always thrown a mean long ball, and that while guys like Justin Gage aren't top tier WRs, they can still burn you if you fall asleep in one-on-one coverage. If he were able to hear the TV commentary I'm sure Collins would laugh to hear the announcers fret "How can Tennessee possibly come back from *gasp!* 14 points down in the first half!" I love watching Jeff Fisher prowling the sidelines for this team, because you can see the intensity burning in his eyes, and you can see how that translates into the way the team plays for him. Only Vince Lombardi has a better record when it comes to a coach whose team knows how to "finish" the game - in other words, the win-loss record when a team is leading going into the 4th quarter. I also loved seeing Vince Young shouting with joy over the go-ahead TD pass, running out on the field to chest bump with Kerry Collins. He may not feel like it now, but Young is gaining huge experience just being able to watch and learn from a guy like Collins, whose career path is actually quite similar to Young's own.

The Giants running game absolutely dismantled the normally stout run defense of the Baltimore Ravens. By the end of the first quarter, you could already see the confusion on the Ravens' faces, as they just were completely at a loss as to how to stop Brandon Jacobs. Coming into the game, the Ravens were only allowing an average of 65.4 rushing yards per game. Jacobs had 70 yards in the first quarter alone. Ahmad Bradshaw got 77 yards on a single rush in the 4th quarter. The Giants are really hitting their stride right now, though they may want to start resting Jacobs even more, since he got a little banged up this week. They'll need him in order to have post-season success.

An ugly win is still a win. There's no such thing as a perfect team - every team, no matter how great they are, is going to have an off-week against a "bad" opponent. What makes them great, though, is that they find a way to win, even when they're not playing great, or when the game is closer than it should be.

The Miami Dolphins are playing tough football week after week. Barring that one punt return for a TD, the game against the Raiders wasn't that close. Still, the Dolphins found themselves in need of a score to win late in the 4th quarter, and found themselves yet again thanking the football gods for the Favre trade to the Jets, since Chad Pennington's experience and calm demeanor was key to their final drive. He converted a critical fourth-and-5 play to keep the Dolphins moving. They needed this win to keep their playoff hopes alive, and will need to ride their emotional high from this game into next week (a critical matchup against divisional rival New England). Now, the Dolphins can't bank on a close-win every week, and probably need a good blowout to restore their luster a bit, so we'll see if they have what it takes to win when it REALLY matters.

The Cardinals kept it close in their win over Seattle, but their amazing offense continues to rack up the points and stats as it just rolls along. In their defense, Seattle was finally semi-healthy for the first time this season and they're a tough team to play at home. And again, a win is a win, particularly when it's a divisonal win that almost locks down the division for the Cards.

The Cowboys didn't look great against the Redskins, but they were good enough to get the job done in the late game. Romo clearly provided an emotional spark for the team, and with an easy couple of games in front of them, the Cowboys are in a good position to still make a playoff run. There were some signs that Romo's pinky is still bothering him (he threw a HORRIBLE pass that was picked off early in the game), so that's something to keep an eye on. The defense held when it needed to (though watching the game, they were aided by the fact that the Redskins' offense was just terribly out-of-sync for some reason for most of the game), and Marion Barber continues to justify the decision to release Julius Jones in the offseason. The Redskins were only down by 4 points with 6:40 left in the game. All they had to do was stop the Cowboys to get the ball back. Instead, Marion Barber touched the ball on literally every single play that drive and ground the ball down the field until the Cowboys could kneel on the final 2 plays to win the game.

Studs of the week. Lot of game balls to give this week. Give it up for my leading MVP candidate, Kurt Warner, who had his fourth 300+ yard game in a row this week (32/44, 395 yds, 1 TD). Kudos also to his WR tandem Anquan Boldin (13 catches, 186 yds) and Larry Fitzgerald (10 catches, 155 yds). Cards, you want to keep winning next year? Pay Boldin his damn money. Show him the money! (I normally hate this quote, but seeing as how the character in Jerry Maguire was an Arizona Cardinal WR, I feel it's appropriate in this case). Speaking of unbeatable tandems, no one cares how bad Jake Delhomme is playing when you've got DeAngelo Williams (120 yds, 2 TD) and Jonathan Stewart (130 yds, 1 TD) running the ball. Marion Barber is a stud for the reasons stated above. Troy Polamalu made a highlight reel interception and then should have had a fumble recovery for TD to end the game. Ryan Grant (145 yds, 1 TD) is finally healthy, and is the key that the Packers were missing earlier in the season. His continued success is paramount if they want to make a playoff run. No run, no problem for the Titans, as Justin Gage (147 yds, 2 TD) stepped up big. Last, but not least, Matt Cassel (30/51, 400 yds, 3 TD, 61 yds rushing) broke an NFL record by being the first player to pass for 400 yards and run for over 50 yards in a single game. His agent must be salivating at the deal this kid is going to pick up if he continues to grow like this.

Teams I like this week. I can't say enough good things about the Giants and the Titans. I also like the Green Bay Packers, who might be getting healthy just in time. They stomped the Bears in a critical game for their playoff prospects. I'm not 100% sold on the NY Jets, because they've had such a weak schedule, but this week I like the way they played the Pats and won when they had to. Favre looked great on that final drive. I love the way Peyton Manning (who would have gotten a Stud of the Week award had the field not been so crowded already) has the Indianapolis Colts playing this past few weeks. They're starting to look good again, and have a legitimate shot at one of the wildcard spots. Meanwhile, the Carolina Panthers seem determined to set the standard for ugly wins. And guess what? They've got 8 of them and are at the top of their competitive division.

Teams I don't like this week. The St. Louis Rams are back to their pathetic ways, giving up over 30 points AGAIN in the first half. Heads will roll in that city soon enough, and not just at the coaching position. I hated seeing the Washington Redskins take a penalty for too many players in the huddle because they didn't know what play they wanted to call. THEN they compounded the problem by still needing a time out after the penalty had been called, and THEN they still lost yardage on the play they call after the time out. I also hated them looking to throw the direct out, when they hadn't bothered establishing the deep pass or really getting the run game going. They needed this win and they dropped the ball, bad. In other news, the San Diego Chargers aren't the same team without a healthy LT. It's got to hurt seeing Michael Turner tearing it up, and knowing they could have that as a fall back option. Lastly, I'm convinced that the Chicago Bears were better off leaving Devin Hester just on special teams. He doesn't add much as a WR, and I think running all those routes during the game is wearing him down and making him less effective in the one arena where he really shines: the return game.

bonus feature: come back later this week, when I break down the playoff picture for all 8 divisions.
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Sci-fi nuggets for you
Thursday, November 13, 2008 | Author: Mad Typist
The New Yorker has a lovely sci-fi short story up by Jonathan Lethem that you may enjoy. Go read Lostronaut - it's sad and poetic.

If you want to get an impression of how the game Mass Effect (which I reviewed in a previous post) makes you feel, go listen to the end song from the soundtrack. It perfectly encapsulates the scope and dramatic feel of the game's storyline. It's called M4 (Part II) and is by a group called Faunts. If you like techno, I promise you, you won't regret spending 99 cents on this song. Buy it here: M4 (Part II)


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Mass Effect - Belated Review
Thursday, November 13, 2008 | Author: Mad Typist

So, I finally finished Bioware's latest epic RPG Mass Effect a month or so ago. I have this thing where I adamantly refuse to pay full price for a newly released game (save for the Rock Band 2 bundle, which will be in my trunk this weekend), so I usually don't get around to playing the popular games till a year or so after their release. I had heard that the PC version of Mass Effect was superior to the Xbox one. However, my cousin gave me the Xbox version, and I never turn down free stuff, so I bypassed the PC version and played the Xbox version instead.

I'm not going to go too in-depth - there are countless reviews out there that have full details on how the game works, looks, etc. However, here are some impressions based on my first run-through.

Here's the general gist of the game, for those of you who somehow missed out: you are Commander Shepard (you get to pick your first name, not that it matters), a human soldier in some futuristic sci-fi universe in 2186AD. You and your supporting cast of characters explore the known universe, while attempting to head off an alien force that threatens to destroy all life as we know it.

Gameplay

Customizing the character - I like to play female characters when given the choice in RPGs, so I went ahead and created a character I named Jara. The game allows you to completely customize the look of your character's face - I spent 30 minutes adjusting the bridge of my character's nose, the width of her mouth, debating which set of eyes looked just right and then agonizing over which haircut best represented who I thought Jara Shepard should be. You also have the option of picking your character's backstory (your family background, plus your experience in a particular battle - war hero, sole survivor, etc), which you will see reflected in dialogue throughout the game.


There are six possible classes you can choose from: Soldier, Engineer, Adept, Infiltrator, Sentinel, and Vanguard. I am a hack-and-slasher at heart, which means I usually end up playing all RPGs in the traditional "warrior" class, in this case the Soldier - heavy on combat, light on the magic stuff (a.k.a. "biotics" in the Mass Effect universe). Then, based on the class you've chosen, you get to pick which abilities to apply skill points towards (you'll earn more points as you level up throughout the game). Tip for Soldiers out there: apply points to the Pistol until you unlock the Shotgun, then just focus on that and the Assault Rifle for your weapons specialization.

Combat - Bioware has this gift for making games with compelling storylines and questionable game mechanics. That trend continues to be true for the Xbox 360 version of this game. Mind you, I've heard the PC version fixes most of the major annoyances, so consider that when reading this. Anyway, the combat system is an over-the-shoulder camera style 3rd person shooter, in real time. You always travel with 2 companions (you decide who you take on each mission), each with their own skill set (each of the 6 classes described above are represented by the various characters you add to your party).

Combat is... okay at best, but combat can get a bit confusing, and your teammates like to run directly into your line of fire, which isn't very helpful. The basic strategy I employed was to run away from my teammates (to avoid killing them) and then circle strafing like a freak, blasting away at anything that moved. Having unlimited ammo took a lot of the drama away, though the lower grade weapons do tend to overheat quickly, so that at least prevents you from holding down the fire button the entire time. Towards the end, if you do all the side missions, you'll find yourself able to acquire such powerful weaponry that combat is almost ridiculously easy.

Vehicles - There's also several sections of the game where you'll be piloting around a 6 wheeled tank thing known as the M-35 Mako. Most of the side missions take place on random planets, where you land and drive around in your Mako trying to get to various way points on the map. On occasion you'll do combat in the vehicle, utilizing the mini gun, plus some kind of cannon thing, to destory your enemies. Or, at least you'll TRY to.... driving this thing with any accuracy is an exercise in futility. It swerves and bobs all over the place, and trying to drive and aim the gun at the same time is impossible. Eventually, once I leveled up my sniper rifle enough that it could actually aim (another complaint - the sniping system is not so good), I ended up stopping my Mako outside the range of my enemies, and just sniping them from a distance. Fortunately, there's only one point in the plot where the Mako is super important, and for that you can drive straight through without worry about shooting stuff.

Inventory - During the course of the game you will pick up various pieces of armor and weaponry after combat, plus a variety of ammo and upgrades to make those items even more powerful. I'm not going to lie - the inventory is a freaking mess, just as it was in Bioware's previous titles Jade Empire and Knights of the Old Republic. You'd think they would have figured out by now that scrolling through a single list of all your armor, weapons and upgrades (none of which seem to be in any particular order by name or quality of item) is a terrible system. Again, the PC version should fix this, but it just frustrates me that Bioware's Xbox division continues to insist on making the same usability mistakes over and over again.

Storyline (mild spoilers)

But let's not forget that we're playing an RPG here, and the gameplay mechanics are just a means to get into the story. And boy howdy, did Bioware go out of their way to craft a sprawling epic space opera storyline.

You can tell Bioware put a lot of time and effort into crafting a fully realized universe. While you can't go to every single planet, the star map on your ship reveals dozens of interesting worlds, many of which I expect to be accessible in future releases of the franchise. Similarly, they've done a good job crafting a dozen alien races, each with their own history, personality and look. The universe itself has a compelling history, and it helps drive the storyline forward. Again, no spoilers here, so I won't go into too much detail, but I will say that you will be fighting a very ancient evil and exploring long dead civilizations for clues on how to defeat it.



Story quality - The actual main storyline is only about 10 hours or so long, but you'll be cheating yourself if you only play the main quest. Throughout the game you'll have opportunity to take side missions. These side missions really help fill out the universe for you, plus they give you valuable insights into the personalities of your traveling companions. The main story itself is fantastic and compelling, with the last hour of game play really wrapping everything together in a fascinating way. It's fairly linear - while you have some choice between which of the 3 main missions to take in the beginning, ultimately, you need to do them all to unlock the next main story mission, and from there, it's a fair straight line to the ending. That's not necessarily bad, as Bioware really delivers a top-notch storyline that feels like you're playing a role in a really great movie.

Morality system - The nature of the mission depends on whether you're playing as a Paragon (rescue poor helpless hostages and decline the reward money for doing so) or the Renegade (kill the hostage takers for fun, demand extra reward money from those ungrateful hostages). I played the game through as a Paragon, and felt pretty good about the way the storyline played out. The morality system didn't feel as sophisticated as previous games, but then again, I haven't seen the full game under a Renegade style, so I can't be sure how much the game changes based on the decisions you make here.

Dialogue - What makes Mass Effect truly exceptional is their new dialogue system. In previous RPG games, NPCs would deliver spoken dialogue, and then your character could respond from a menu of 2-3 canned responses (which you never heard delivered). In this game, you get a dialogue wheel with possible flavors of response (sympathetic, aggressive, noble, etc) , but your character actually delivers lines of dialogue different than what's written on the screen, making the interaction much more compelling to watch. For example, one character might ask you about your feelings on aliens. You are given the option of responding "I agree, aliens make me nervous" or "They're part of the crew, and I trust them". If you choose the second option, your character may deliver a 30 second speech about why it's important to trust your alien allies and how humanity needs to learn to work with the other races in the galaxy for the good of all. That sort of thing makes the game a much richer experience and feels more interactive.


The voice acting in the game is superb. Looking at Jennifer Hale's imdb entry, you can see she's done a lot of voice work in other video games and cartoons, and that experience has clearly paid off. Her female Commander Shepard is strong and heroic, and never comes across as awkward or hokey. I'm about to play the game again as a male character, but I expect that the voice acting will be similarly great from the male vocal artist as well. Bioware also scored some big actors for some of the characters you run across, including Seth Green, Keith David, Marina Sirtis, and Lance Henriksen.

Video Quality - The video is, no surprise, top notch. In fact, after I finished this game, I was spoiled at the quality of the motion capture and the natural way that the characters moved, and was appalled when I played Ninja Gaiden II, because the cut scenes looked so fake compared to Mass Effect. At the end of each major mission in the main plot, you're treated to some really gorgeous cut scenes, with the ending being particularly awesome.

In fact, because the storyline is so epic and the cut scene are so grand, I wish they would have included an option to watch all the cut scenes in one continual movie after you beat the whole game. I'd love to be able to share this story with my friends and family without subjecting them to watching me play for hours at a time. In fact, I wish all RPGs included that option. I'd also like them to include any scenes that I chose important dialogue that revealed something important about the NPCs I traveled with (e.g. the romance stuff, the part where I counsel Garrus, etc)

Moving forward - yes, it's true, Mass Effect is intended to be a trilogy, if everything goes according to plan. In fact, the game developer has taken the game in a very interesting direction by stating that you should keep your save files from Mass Effect 1, because they'll be used in Mass Effect 2 to determine how the storyline unfolds (since you'll make some pretty huge decisions at the game's end that will change how the universe functions). I'm hoping that I'll have the option to keep my character. Of course, that's just another reason for them to implement my request to "rewatch" the storyline from the first installment.

Wrap Up

Verdict: Run out and buy this game immediately. I was able to overlook the gameplay glitches and enjoy the Xbox 360 version, especially since the cut scenes look awesome on my big TV. However, if that bothers you, go buy the PC version instead.
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Keith Olbermann Wants Us All To Love A Little More
Tuesday, November 11, 2008 | Author: Mad Typist


via my friend Mark, Keith Olbermann reigns in the snark for once and makes a truly impassioned plea for tolerance and equality. For all his failings, Olbermann is a great man to me today.

Spread the word about this video. It deserves viral fame.
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Stop Ruining Things I Love!
Tuesday, November 11, 2008 | Author: Mad Typist
Terrifying news out of Hollywood this week. Brett Ratner has signed on to direct a new Conan movie. Ratner, you may recall, was responsible for that atrocity of a film known as X-men 3, where he single-handedly fucked up one of the greatest storylines in comic book history, the Dark Phoenix saga. I'm not sure if he's doing this film first, or if he's going to go ahead and ruin God of War, which is also signed on to direct. Seriously, why does this guy keep popping up on video game and sci-fi franchises that I like? He's truly a massive douchebag. I can't find the exact quote, but I definitely recall reading an interview with him where he brags about how much money he has, the cars the drives, the hot chicks he dates - he's just gross, and he has shown little respect for the material he's been given in the past. Here's a link to an article about him where you'll get a good sense of his general dick-itude.

Meanwhile, striving to win the Halle Berry Catwoman Memorial "Acting" Award, Beyonce Knowles has decided that she wants to play Wonder Woman in the upcoming movie. If there's anything that The Dark Knight taught us, it's that you can take a superhero movie and you can still deliver quality drama. It doesn't just have to be a mindless action movie. Wonder Woman is one of the cornerstones of the DC Universe (along with Supes and Bats) and there's plenty of great material that could be mined out of Wonder Woman's story. Just see the work Gail Simone is doing on the line for a taste of what it's all about. Anyway, it makes me nervous that a woman like Beyonce, who has thus far been completely terrible in the few acting roles she's taken (coming across too plastic-y, too insincere, and like she's just trying too hard), is sniffing around the role. The only thing she seems to bring is a desire to look "hot" in the classic Wonder Woman red, white and blue.
"I would definitely have to keep it right for that costume. The way that Lynda Carter wore it, she was sooo fine. She was amazing. I saw her costume at the Met. Her waist was unbelievable. It was pretty crazy, actually, her proportions. But I love Wonder Woman and it'd be a dream come true to be that character. It sure would be handy to have that lasso. To make everybody tell the truth? I need that. It would come in very handy."
That's great. There's all these things about Wonder Woman's character that you could focus on representing accurately, but all you care about it "keeping it right" for the costume.

I'm going to preemptively go ahead and announce the cast and directors of the movie adaptations of the rest of the things I love, so Hollywood can finally finish ruining the stuff I enjoy as a discriminating consumer of culture.
  1. Uwe Boll directs the movie adaptation of Terry Moore's beloved comic series Strangers in Paradise. Starring Sienna Miller as Katchoo and Kate Moss as Francine.
  2. Brett Ratner presents a "re-imagining" of The Piano, only with more hot chicks. Oh, and the star can talk now. Starring Paris Hilton and Kim Kardashian.
  3. Halle Berry stars as Ellen Ripley in Aliens 5: The Alien-ocalypse
  4. Eddie Murphy stars as the entire cast of The Justice League movie.
  5. Freddie Prinze Jr. stars in the movie adaptation of Mass Effect, directed by Paul W.S. Anderson.
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NFL Week 10 breakdown
Sunday, November 09, 2008 | Author: Mad Typist
I want to start this week's blog post with an observation: when you are up by 37 points on the lowly Rams in the fourth quarter, you don't leave your star running back in the game. That's poor sportsmanship, plus it's just asking football karma to bite you in the ass by having one of your key players go down with an injury. I even question letting Favre take snaps at all in the 4th quarter - you could have pulled him mid-third quarter without worry. Shame on you, Eric Mangini.

I was wrong! I may have to eat my words and acknowledge that maybe, just maybe, Bill Bellicheck might have known what he was doing when he kept Matt Cassel around for all those years. The Patriots have succeeded all these years by having incredible depth on their roster, going so far as to pay above average salaries just to keep guys on their practice squad. There aren't many squads that can pull a fourth string RB like BenJarvus Green-Ellis off the bench and have him put up a 100+ yard day with 1 TD. So why I was shocked that Cassel might actually have some QB skills is sort of beyond me. His steady leadership was huge in the Patriots big divisional win over the Buffalo Bills yesterday. Not only do the Patriots have a good chance at the playoffs, they're on track to win the division again.

I was also wrong at the beginning of the year, when I thought to myself that the 2007 Giants were a flash-in-the-pan, that their road to the Super Bowl was more about other people's mistakes than their own good play (see: the Seattle Seahawks from 2005). The Giants are the real deal, and are just rampaging through the NFC right now. Great win over the Eagles last night. The Giants are gunning for home field advantage throughout the playoffs at this point.

I was right! I said last week that the stats don't often bear out how much Kerry Collins brings to the Titans. The timing was pretty good, considering how the Titans found their normally mighty run game struggling against the Bears, achieving negative 5 yards for their first 13 carries. The Titans showed just how balanced they could be, even with a largely nameless receiving corps, as Collins put up the ball 41 times, completing over 73% of his passes and throwing for 289 yds and 2 TD. I think I was right about how losing Vince Young was a blessing in disguise for this franchise, because I just can't see Young putting in that kind of performance, to be honest. By the way, has anyone else noticed that the networks have largely avoided inserting shots of Young sitting on the sidelines? Is it just me? I mean, every time the Cowboys have a bad moment, whether it's on offense, defense or special teams, the camera seems to find Terrell Owens for some reason. So why the avoidance of Young?

I was also right when I speculated very early in the season that Matt Ryan was going to be a star for the Atlanta Falcons. While certainly helped by a stellar run game, the young QB has exceeded all expectations people have had for him in this first year. Watching him throw to Roddy White summons memories of Manning/Harrison in their earlier years. I'm happy for the city of Atlanta, as well as good natured owner Arthur Blank, who really deserved something good to happen with their Falcons after last year's debacle.

Is the college system a guy comes out of important? This brings up a point I've been musing lately. A lot of the commentary around Matt Ryan credits his time playing at Boston College in a pro system with easing his transition into an immediate starting role in the NFL. Conversely, last year's first quarterback selected, JaMarcus Russell, came from LSU, a system notorious for not producing quality NFL QBs, and he has struggled thus far to adapt to the speed and complexity of the game.

I wonder, then, how much impact the college system has on both players contemplating which program to select, and on NFL coaches and managers deciding which players to draft. Obviously, this is most important when evaluating QBs - you can put a RB in almost any system and still get a good feel for how he'd perform at the pro level. Still, if you're top tier QB coming out of high school, do you take a good look at a program like Boston College, where you might not have top rate players around you, but will get a chance to have 4 years of experience in a system that you will be expected to master at the pro level? Or if you're a physical freak like Tim Tebow, do you say "Screw it!" and just go to a gimmicky program where you can rack up crazy stats and win the Heisman as a freshman? Do you trust that you'll figure out the pro system when it matters, and enjoy the glory of a high profile program and so forth? If you're a talent evaluator, do you look at a guy like Russell or Tebow and think that you can just work with that, because they're so gifted physically? Or do you look at a kid like Ryan and prize the experience and system he comes from?

I'm not an expert on college football and rarely follow it, so I can't make a pronouncement one way or the other. However, I'd love to hear thoughts from any readers out there who have a better sense of the issue than I do. I'm very curious to hear your opinions on this.

Wild speculation. Based on nothing by my own gut, just for fun here's a few random predictions about the rest of the year. We'll see if I'm right or not. Feel free to wildly speculate on your own in the comments section.
  • The Atlanta Falcons will make the playoffs as a wild card and win their first playoff game.
  • The Dolphins will win the AFC East
  • The Titans will be the #1 seed in the AFC.
  • Young QB Matt Ryan will be rookie of the year
  • Old QB Kurt Warner will be league MVP

Studs of the week. The Vikings owe their narrow victory to the magnificant effort put forth by Adrian Peterson (192 yds, 1 TD on the ground). Melvin Bullitt (#33 in the picture) saved the game for the Colts, by reaching back for the tipped ball in the end zone and intercepting it with 0 seconds left on the game clock and his team ahead 24-20. Had he not made such an athletic play, there was a Steeler receiver standing right there ready to win the game by catching the TD. Jay Cutler had a career day (24/42, 447 yds, 3 TD) and led his team to a much needed comeback against the Cleveland Browns. Ray Lewis had 2 INTs in the game against Houston, and has been a model of leadership for the Ravens. DeAngelo Williams helped his team overcome the horrendous play of their QB by rushing for 140 yds and 1 TD.

Teams I like this week. You have got to love what Mike Smith has done with the Atlanta Falcons this year so far. The Baltimore Ravens put up impressive numbers on offense for the second week in a row, which has to feel good to their defense, who in the past had been forced to win games on their own. The Tennessee Titans continue their improbable run at perfection (though with their schedule, I predict a stumble somewhere along the line). I wonder if Jerry Jones is starting to regret letting Tony Sparano get away, given how poorly the Dallas O line has performed with him gone, and with how fired up Sparano has the Miami Dolphins playing right now.

Teams I don't like this week. This week I continue to be disappointed by the Buffalo Bills, who have dropped 3 straight (divisional losses, no less). The Carolina Panthers may have beat the Oakland Raiders, but neither team wowed me this week. I'm starting to think that the Detroit Lions may achieve nega-success as the first winless team the NFL has seen since the 70s. The San Diego Chargers aren't going to get far in the postseason if they let a terrible team like Kansas City come within one badly thrown 2 pt conversion away from beating them. The Chiefs should never have been in that situation in the first place - early in the game they muffed an extra point kick that ended up making all the difference at the end. I'm also pretty Herm Edwards just doesn't care anymore, as his decision to go for 2 instead of taking the tie and going into OT felt a lot more like a "Eh, who cares, why not?" call versus a legitimate "I believe in my team and we need this motivation" decision.

***(pictures are AP photos taken from the ESPN site)
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Friday Reading List
Friday, November 07, 2008 | Author: Mad Typist
Just some quick links to other people's material, since I'm too lazy to write my own original stuff today:
  • I encourage you all to go over to Newsweek's site and read the 7 part series they just put out about the 2008 Presidential campaign. You can find Chapter 1 here.
  • If you aren't reading Steve Benen's Washington Monthly column every day (several times a day), shame on you.
  • If you enjoy my football column on Monday, head over to Sports Illustrated's NFL site, and be sure to read Peter King's Monday Morning QB column each Monday, along with the Tuesday update.
  • In the real world I'm currently reading "The Fountainhead" by Ayn Rand and "Use of Weapons" by Iain M. Banks, both of which I recommend. If you are interested in participating in a sort of online reading club with me, post in the comments.
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Oakland Raiders Continue Downward Slide
Thursday, November 06, 2008 | Author: Mad Typist
So the news today was all about how the Oakland Raiders cut DeAngelo Hall from their roster. Yet another brilliant move by this miserable franchise. That means they've essentially squandered $8 million in salary/bonus money to Hall for just 8 games of performance. That's a million bucks a game, people! On top of that, they traded away their 2nd round draft pick in 2009 to the Atlanta Falcons, which with the way the Raiders are playing now, is going to come very early that round (perhaps pick #34 or 35 overall). You all know my thoughts on the value of 2nd round draft picks.

Now, reading the article I linked to from Yahoo!, it seems like the Raiders decided to cut their losses now, in order to free up money to sign their prized CB Nnamdi Asomugha to a long term deal. That makes sense, in that Asomugha is one of the few bright spots on that roster right now. However, consider the following quotes (from that same article):
“I’ve never been in a situation where you cut one of the best players,” said safety Gibril Wilson, another of the team’s offseason acquisitions. “That’s strange to me. It’s almost like we’re throwing in the towel.”

.....

“There’s been some things that have been going on, some shakeups, that I haven’t agreed with,” Asomugha said. “Like I said, I’m not allowed to speak on it because we’re just supposed to shut up and play. But you ask me if I agree with it? I don’t agree with it.”

......

“When you’re losing there’s a lot of finger pointing,” Asomugha said. “I don’t think he’s the one scapegoat. There’s fingers pointed everywhere. I don’t think it’s just him. He was kind of singled out in regards of let’s cut someone.”
Now, the question is, is Asomugha willing to stay with this sort of club at all? Is another million or so worth the grief and embarassment of playing for the Oakland Raiders? Randy Moss learned the hard way that chasing every last nickle you can squeeze out instead of finding a club where you can be happy is no way to have a good NFL career. Asomugha is going to be a highly coveted free agent that clubs will be lining up to sign. While they might not exactly match the Raiders' highest offer, those clubs are going to make competitive, fair salary offers, plus the opportunity to play for a club that isn't totally wretched and run by an insane person. If I'm close to Asomugha, I'm advising him to keep quiet and then go find a team worthy of his skill for next season.

All in all, this is a total disaster for the franchise.
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Thank You, America
Wednesday, November 05, 2008 | Author: Mad Typist
What a wonderful night for our country. I'm so relieved it's finally all over. While I will spend the next few months fretting over the health of our Supreme Court Justices (save for Scalia, who is free to go whenever he wants), overall, I couldn't have asked for a better night. I'm not happy that Prop 8 is on the verge of passing, but I hold out hope on that front. Even if it passes, I feel like equality for gays and lesbians is still that much closer to becoming a reality.

But back to the biggest news, the victory of Barack Obama to the Presidency of the United States. Thank you to all my fellow citizens who supported him and got out and rocked the vote. The important thing is that he won so handily, which helps prevents accusations of vote fixing, hanging chads and other such things were not allowed to influence the outcome. The margin of his victory means that a huge part of the country is now invested in his presidency. It's not just a Blue State +1 victory, it's a true Purple People revolution.

I'll be blogging more on this, but for now, enjoy these pictures sent on by my friends.



CLICK to enlarge
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NFL Week 9 breakdown
Tuesday, November 04, 2008 | Author: Mad Typist
We're now officially at the halfway point of the season. Let's get right to the action.

And then there was one. The Tennessee Titans defeated the Green Bay Packers to remain the sole undefeated team in the league. They are on well on their way to securing a playoff spot ridiculously early in the year, going 4 games up on their nearest divisional rival. That's an almost insurmountable lead, so the Titans are looking at at least 1 guaranteed home game in the post season. It remains to be seen how Kerry Collins will really do when the pressure is on, because opponents have been unable to figure out how to score on the Titans tenacious defense, or how to stop the pounding running game. The stats don't accurately reflect the impact Collins has had on this offense, since his numbers are modest at best, but he's shown great ability to manage the game and make smart decisions with the ball, committing few turnovers. Right now, they're the #1 team in the NFL, because they have balance on all sides of the ball: offense, defense and special teams. Chris Johnson is gunning for rookie of the year with his performance (and consider that his stunning numbers come in a system that has him sharing a good chunk of the carries with another back who's also having a great year!). Albert Haynesworth spearheads a terrifying defense, solid on both the line and in the secondary. The Titans have got to be thinking Super Bowl at this point in the season.

On the flip side of the coin, there's also only one winless team left in the league now that the lowly Cincinnati Bengals have managed to squeak out a win over the Jacksonville Jaguars. The Detroit Lions threatened to crack the win column, playing a surprisingly close game with the Chicago Bears. However, key mental mistakes in the end, crushed the Lions' hopes yet again. The countdown clock on Ron Marinelli's career continues to tick down week after week at this point. There are a few signs of hope: despite a boneheaded interception throw in the endzone at the game, Drew Orlovsky had some nice looking throws. Calvin Johnson is inexplicably better now that Roy Williams is gone, and has hauled in 3 TDs in the last 2 games. However, until their horrible defense can step up and show they can make a stop when it counts, this team is going to be haunted by the possibility of going 0-16 on the year. update #1: since I wrote this yesterday, I saw the news that Orlovsky is definitely out for several weeks with a thumb injury, meaning newly signed Daunte Culpepper will be taking over at QB. He will need to show us whether or not he's been staying in shape while "retired".

Where have you been this whole time? Several teams finally looked their old 2007 selves after terrible starts to the season. Peyton Manning finally looked confident in the pocket and made some nice throws to his favorite targets, Harrison and Wayne. Most importantly, he didn't throw an INT this week, giving his team a chance to win in the end. Having Joseph Addai back in the lineup also helped the Indianapolis offense regain some balance as well. The defense was clearly lifted by the return of Bob Sanders. The Colts have all but conceded the divisional title to the Titans, ending their 5 year reign at the top of the AFC South, but they can still hold out hope at a wild card spot, if they turn it on and several other teams give them a little help by faltering late in the year.

The Cincinnati Bengals also looked a bit like the team of old yesterday. Chad "Ocho Cinco" Johnson caught his first (!) TD of the season, and then followed it up by another spectacular TD catch later in the game. In a nice departure from last year, Chad did not celebrate the TDs with some riduculous "all about me" stunt, but rather just ran to the sidelines like a normal player. Perhaps (just perhaps) this season has humbled Chad in a way that might make him slightly less obnoxious to watch. Meanwhile, while Ryan Fitzpatrick is no Carson Palmer, he at least seems to be catching on to a few things about the offense from week to week. I will admit, it was nice to see Marvin Lewis finally smile for a change. I'm not sure that he'll be around after this season, but at least for this week, he's a winner.

A player who's looking a lot like the player from 10 years ago who won several league MVPs is Kurt Warner, doing his best to make the Arizona offense the new Greatest Show on Turf. This puts the Cardinals in a bit of a quandry, since they have a first round, highly paid QB sitting on the bench in Matt Leinart who they need to decide on soon. Warner, for all his glory, is 38 years old and probably only has 1-2 more seasons left in his illustrious career, so if he wants to return, I can't see how they wouldn't give him the starting position. However, that leaves Leinart sort of out there, collecting his big paycheck, holding a clipboard on the side. In many ways, this was the dilemma that Green Bay had been staring down the past few seasons with the Favre/Rodgers situation. It remains to be seen whether Leinart will have the success that Rodgers has found this season, though, so it's going to be a tough call one way or the other, assuming Warner leads the Cards to their first playoff game in over a decade.

Studs of the week. With another big performance, Kurt Warner (335 yds, 2 TD) isn't about to concede the league MVP award to Drew Brees just yet. Props to Jonathan Abraham for his defensive performance (3 sacks) in the Oakland game. Ray Rice rushed for 154 yards. Derrick Mason looked like a man 10 years younger, catching 9 passes for 136 yards and 1 TD. Donovan McNabb (28/43, 349 yds, 2 TD) had a great day passing, as did Jeff Garcia (31/43, 339 yds, 1 TD) who has no intention of losing his spot to Brian Griese again.

Teams I like this week. I like the Tennessee Titans, for the reasons listed above. Also coming to the table with a similar team composition of balanced offense, defense and special teams are the New York Giants, who devastated the hapless Dallas Cowboys to remain atop the tough NFC East. I also like the Atlanta Falcons and the Baltimore Ravens, whose brave decisions to start their rookie QBs are now paying off, both with the short term success in the form of wins, and in long term in that the futures of their franchises are getting invaluable playing experience that will serve them in the years to come. The Miami Dolphins are led by arguably the best QB in the AFC East right now, and are playing inspired football for Tony Sparano. With their weak schedule, they should win at least 8 games this year.

Teams I don't like this week. I said that the game against the Jets was must-win for the Buffalo Bills, and they let me down by losing in a mistake-filled game. Trent Edwards, who looked so sharp in the beginning of the season, suddenly looks tentative in the pocket, holding the ball too long and show a lack of pocket awareness that has led to several fumbles as well. Marshawn Lynch isn't getting enough touches either. Speaking of teams that aren't doing enough to run the ball, I also don't like the Denver Broncos. Their defense leaks like a sieve, and Jay Cutler has regressed since his red-hot start, throwing 6 INTs in the past 3 games. There's absolutely no threat of a running game, meaning defenses are now free to jump the pass routes with impunity. The Cleveland Browns need to think about putting Brady Quinn in there to see what they've got, because they can't afford to pay 2 QBs such exorbitant salaries and get such poor returns on their investment, winning only 3 games so far (update #2: Apparently they're going with Quinn to start this Thursday against the Broncos, making that game a lot more worth watching now). The Dallas Cowboys look like a team in crisis, and you've got to wonder if even the return of Tony Romo can lift the spirits of that locker room in time for the playoffs. I have no idea what happened to the outstanding 2007 Jacksonville Jaguars team, because they look awful this season.

Team I REALLY don't like this week (extra super bonus). The Oakland Raiders were pathetic yesterday. I mean, REALLY pathetic. So pathetic that we need to address this in a section just for them. In the first half, they had -2 yards of total offense . Achieving negative yards in a half is an impressive feat. They only managed 77 yards for the whole game, in which they held the ball for only about 15 total minutes. Good to see that firing Lane Kiffin is working out so well for that franchise. Good to see that all that money spent on high profile washouts like Javon Walker and unproven rookies like JaMarcus Russell (6/19, 31 yds, 1 INT) was invested wisely.
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Scenes from an Alexandria Polling Location
Tuesday, November 04, 2008 | Author: Mad Typist
Not the greatest pics (my camera isn't great at night time shots), but here's some photos from my local polling place.

I got there at 5:15am, with my Dunkin Donuts coffee and bagel in hand. I was one of many people in line who brought a folding chair to sit in (a good choice, as it turns out). Here's what the line in front of me looked like at 5:15am:

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Here's what the line behind me looked like at 5:35am:

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That line continued around the building:

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Around 5:40am, the McCain and Obama people were setting up to hand out sample ballot and so forth. I also saw some people with coffee and donuts, presumably for the poor people stuck in line:

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I got in and out by 6:27am. I had the misfortune of having a last name in the I-M range, which apparently is very popular, since my line inside the polling place was huge, while there were only 3-4 people in the A-C and T-Z lines. In retrospect, I should have changed my last name to Aa or whatever. By the time I got out, the line had grown. Here's two more shots (there's also about 150-200 people INSIDE the building by this time as well).

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