Archive for September, 2009

Football Roundup

Monday, September 28th, 2009

First, USC is still on a long road of recovery after sucking monumentally against Washington.  Yes, UW is a great story.  Even USC’s second string should have beaten a team that went winless last year.  (If you believe USC is a championship-caliber program, then the championship-caliber program’s backups should also be pretty darn good).  I’m still not sold on Matt Barkley (see:  USC offense’s inability to convert on 4th and goal — twice — against Washington State).  Still way too much inconsistency, and I think Barkley would have lost against Washington, too.  He threw some legitimately great passes in the 1st quarter and then proceeded to do nothing.  That said, Aaron Corp is a headcase, and god help the Trojans if they come to rely on him.  In his garbage-time playing in the 4th quarter, he managed to fumble.  Ouch.  Unless the offense takes a leap forward, I expect USC to lose at least one more game this year — possibly against UCLA.

Outside of the Pac-10, what an awesome win for the Houston Cougars.  I’m certainly no fan of Tortilla Tech (fun to watch, but I have personal experience with their annoying-ass fans), but it’s just great to see UH not suck.  Texas A&M, are you taking notes on how to be a decent team in Texas without UT’s recruits?  Also, UT — do.  not.  care.  While I’d love to see them lose quickly (OU — again?) to deflate the UT hype, there might be something satisfying about seeing them get pummeled by Florida or Alabama.

How about those Houston Texans?  Now, it’s nice to see Schaub being productive (he’s actually on my auto-drafted fantasy football team), but the defense is nothing short of awful.  That was the Jaguars.  The Jaguars!! Granted, the Texans got totally boned by the referees on the game-tying touchdown (ie, non-pass-interference by Kevin Walter in the endzone away from the play, when he was trying to run in traffic), but they also shouldn’t have given up 31 to the Jaguars.  Rated #1 in the AFC South, huh Sports Illustrated?  Thanks for getting my hopes up, again.

New-computer choices

Monday, September 28th, 2009

My 2006 Core 2 Duo iMac is showing its age a bit (well, compared to Nehalem-class hardware), and I’m wanting to get a new computer, but the choices here are not easy.  My requirements for my primary operating system are:

  1. Must support an Exchange 2007 client
  2. Must support my work VPN
  3. Must be reliable

For now, #1 whittles things down to either Windows or MacOS.  (I’ve used wine to run outlook.  It crashes randomly).  If an open-source Exchange 2007 client comes about soon (it may be possible considering ongoing interoperability legal action in Europe, and I’ve read rumors of a Google-developed library), this might no longer be true.  Both Windows and MacOS support my VPN, so that’s a nonissue.  Reliability is the remaining issue.  At work, my desktop is Windows, and for the most part, it works.  That said, every now & then I have to waste about 2 hours out of my day with some bullshit issue (updates stop working, networking goes batty, stuff like that), and my time is valuable.  2 hours of time at home is 2 hours not spent with my family, or not regrouping after a day at work, or possibly 2 hours not working when I need to be.  Hence, I’m strongly leaning toward a new Mac, but the only hardware I’m remotely interested in right now is a Mac Pro, which costs more than $1000 more than a Dell of equivalent class.  (Yeah yeah, they use Xeons versus regular Core i7s.  I’ve seen the benchmarks.  BFD).  Even so, it might be worth it, but this is a tough choice to make — if only Apple had the mythical midrange tower (the laptop-component-featuring iMac does not count).  I may be going back to running Windows primarily at home, and I’m not too thrilled about that.

Caretaker Quarterbacks

Thursday, September 17th, 2009

Last week’s USC-Ohio State game was dramatic at the end, even if it wasn’t particularly exciting to watch.  As a USC fan, it was also somewhat satisfying.  But, it also reminds me of the John David Booty season, and I’m expecting similar results.  That may change throughout the season, but right now, I’m expecting at least a couple of games where things either don’t click and another player can’t make it happen, or Barkley winds up getting rocked by a defense and the Trojans get blown out.  That said, as I watched the game with a friend of mine, some perspective is required here.  It’s kind of funny that USC fans (like me) are thinking of a “meh” season as 2 losses and a likely top-10 finish.  I was at USC in the late 90s, when USC never won more than 7 games in a season.  When Pete Carroll retires, it’ll be a national day of mourning for USC fans.

As for Matt Barkley, he may or may not become a great quarterback.  I hope he does.  Right now, he looks extremely shaky.  For almost the entire game, he simply could not make it happen, against a defense that was stacking against the run.  Ohio State basically dared Barkley to beat them, and for the most part, he couldn’t.  In the 4th quarter, he delivered some short passes to USC’s (outstanding, as always recently) WRs and RBs who turned them into good yardage.  That was great, and USC wound up winning a game they really shouldn’t have won (except for Jim Tressel’s overly conservative play-calling).  But, this was a long way off from Matt Leinart’s first start (as a sophomore) picking apart Auburn’s defense and leading the Trojans to a 23-0 win.  Granted, Leinart didn’t have gaudy numbers, but he did show something Matt Barkley hasn’t showed:  the ability to consistently complete the big pass on 3rd down, or to make a defense pay on a long play.  Matt Leinart did those things as a sophomore in his first start.  Hopefully Barkley will come along, but I think it’s unreasonable for us USC fans to be expecting that in his first season.  In short, we’re spoiled, and to paraphrase the warning from stock market companies, “past results to not indicate future successes”.  I think the media is far too convinced of Barkley’s awesomeness on the strength of just one drive (compared to 3 & 1/2 quarters of near absence) than they should be.

The start-of-the-season characterization of him as a “caretaker quarterback” is far more apt, until he proves otherwise.  USC’s last caretaker QB was John David Booty, who couldn’t get it done against a hapless UCLA team in a game that would’ve gotten USC to the BCS title game.  That’s not to say Booty was bad, nor that Barkley has been or will be.  But, a team with a caretaker QB is a world apart from having a Heisman winner like Palmer or Leinart, and expectations for this team should be set accordingly.

Apple’s iTunes 9 kills syncing with Palm Pre, again

Thursday, September 10th, 2009

As noted over at precentral, Apple’s latest update to iTunes once again kills the ability to sync an iTunes library with a Palm Pre.  I mentioned this last time when Apple did the functional equivalent with iTunes 8.2.1.  Unless Apple intends to force a data-negotiation phase with iPods (which would require mandatory firmware updates to every existing USB iPod), Palm will be able to continue working around such annoyances.  In this case, Palm will likely spoof the manufacturer ID (in addition to vendor-ID spoofing, which they’re already doing).  But at some point, this is going to have to stop.  Apple will have to decide if they really are going to force a firmware update on all existing iPods, and Palm will have to decide if they want to keep chasing Apple’s annoying counter-moves.  (It may be a moot point anyway — Apple may run out of options completely and may have to eventually give in, or use lawyers instead of technological means.  It’s not clear if the hardware on old iPods can be made to facilitate an authentication handshake — if the USB microcontroller isn’t software-programmable and is just a dumb data transport, then Apple is out of luck there).

In the end, customers lose.  Palm’s customers lose for obvious reasons, but Apple’s losing customers as well.  I’ll never understand the mentality behind turning your back on people who want to use your portal and presumably can & will buy music.  (Apple made the point pretty clear yesterday that people who use iTunes overwhelmingly buy stuff).  The other problem here is that Apple is already under investigation by the FTC regarding potential anti-trust issues (stemming from the App-store rejection of the Google Voice app).  Do they really want to take on another anti-competitive, anti-consumer cause?  I get that Apple wants to “control it all”, and in many ways, that’s worked for them over the years.  But if they continue being so rigid with it, they’re going to ultimately wind up losing control (under Federal regulations), in addition to losing the customers they’re literally booting out of their store (iTunes).

The eve of college football season

Wednesday, September 2nd, 2009

College football season is almost upon us, and man, am I excited.  This is clearly my most favorite sport.  Being a USC alum, I’m a big USC fan.  No doubt this year will bring another round of ridiculous BCS drama, but the excitement on the field is the best part.  More than any other sport, college football seems to combine the possibility of anything-can-happen with huge stakes.  (One loss, and you very well might be out of contention for the championship.  That said, a 4- or 6-team playoff at the end of the season would not change that).  I hear from friends back in Texas that the UT fans have already penciled them in for the BCS title game, and that Colt McCoy has already won the Heisman.  Obnoxious as always – it’s not even clear they’re the best team in their conference.

Speaking of conferences, I’m sure the SEC and Big 12 will be the media favorites for “toughest conference” yet again.  The SEC may have a legitimate point — the Big 12 pretty much never does.  Those teams always schedule nobodies out-of-conference (I’m sure UT will have quite the challenge against UL-Monroe, Wyoming, UTEP, and UCF), start 6-0 or 5-1, and bunch up near the top of the rankings.  It happened last year with Oklahoma, UT, and Oklahoma State, and I’m predicting it will happen again.  It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy.  The Big 12 looks like one of the best conferences in the country because they have inflated records.  Oh wow!  #4 Texas (who has played nobody) beat #6 Oklahoma (who also has played nobody)!  What an impressive top-10 win!

Apparently the trick is to ride your fat record and media campaign to a top-10 ranking, and then whine about being kept out of the BCS championship if pollsters have the temerity to see through your smoke screen.  (At least, that seems to be Mack Brown’s MO.  I was truly moved by his inspired attack on the legitimacy of the BCS system last year, after being utterly silent in 2004 when USC was locked out of the BCS title game despite being ranked #1 in both the AP and Coaches’ polls).  Kansas State perfected the inflated-record-to-undeserved-rankings system in the 90s, but the entire Big 12 seems to have adopted it, and it borders on collusion.  If all the teams do this, and several can manage to get ranked in the top-10, by the time they play each other they’re already in the discussion for the BCS title game.  But who knows, maybe the Big 12 teams can manage to do better than .500 in the bowls against other conferences this year.

Likewise, I’m looking forward to another year of USC being labeled the best team in the worst major conference.  Hey, at least they’re the best.  It’s the reason that USC was never seriously considered for the BCS title last year (whatever, after 2004, I know that any loss almost certainly disqualifies a Pac-10 team), and given the competition, I didn’t have a real complaint with that.  But here’s a little reminder for would-be Pac-10 detractors for 2009:  if your team played a Pac-10 team last year in a bowl game, they lost.

I’d like to think the 5-0 Pac-10 record during bowl season will win the prestige necessary to carry its teams to championship contention if things get tight, but in reality, I’m just most excited about the competition on the field.  I’m skeptical about USC’s true-freshman quarterback.  Recent history shows us that any time the USC QB’s job is described as “managing the game” and “being a caretaker”, they aren’t winning the championship (John David Booty comes to mind).  That, and the star receiver is injured & out for the first four games (that’s gonna hurt against Ohio State).  There are a huge number of questions this year, so I’m looking forward to seeing some of those answered Saturday.

The mythology of Brett Favre

Tuesday, September 1st, 2009

I used to be a Brett Favre fan.  It was hard not to be — this guy could seemingly do anything in the 4th quarter with Green Bay in the late 90s.  Throughout that run, he was the iron man (who never missed a start) who would come out in near-zero temperatures and lead the Packers to victory.  That was his mythology.  But, I’m fed up with the press still buying into that despite all of the evidence to the contrary that he is, in fact, a selfish player who has no concept of “team” (in what is one of the ultimate team sports).  And after last night’s preseason game against the Texans, apparently he’s something else I didn’t think he could be:  a dirty player.

His recent prima donna routine has been tiresome and certainly did a lot to destroy his formerly stellar legacy.  The whole “will he retire/won’t he retire” BS got old the first three seasons he did it.  Green Bay got so tired of it that they eventually forced him out.  But instead of taking the hint that maybe he didn’t have a whole season in him anymore, he went to the Jets last year, played half of a season fairly well, and then proceeded to tank his team right out of playoff contention.  I get that he’s a competitor and needs that competition — it’s something people love about sports.  But, what he did was something more than that.  He made the game solely, and completely, for him.  And after that, the mythology of Brett Favre grew again.  He seemed to get that he might’ve pushed things too far, and he claimed to retire – again.

This summer, with ESPN parking Rachel Nichols in his home town, he went through the whole “will-he/won’t-he retire” bullshit again.  Like a petulant child, he said he was retiring (ie, quitting) when the Vikings told him he’d have to go to training camp to learn his new team’s offense.  (Favre is somewhat notorious for skipping training camp with Green Bay).  But, he went on Letterman & basically said “who knows” if he’d play if he “felt the itch” during the season.  In other words, it wasn’t over.  On major network TV in the largest media market in the world (the market of his former team), he goes on TV and tries to coyly claim “who knows”, and then bemoans the speculation of the media — the media that he most obviously is courting.

And this is where the mythology of Brett Favre is so frustrating.  The media (and he) portrays Brett Favre as this good ol’ country boy who just likes to play football and is just so horribly misunderstood throughout his dealings with teams.  In reality, he’s a selfish me-first guy who shopped for teams that would let him get away with skipping training camp and basically gets away with it for the sole reason of his (now-sporadic) ability to throw touchdowns.  Fine.  There are worse guys in the league, for sure — but let’s not pretend he’s some great guy.  He’s an all-time great talent past the peak of his career who happens to also be a selfish player, who pretends to be a folksy nice guy.  Pluses, minuses.  I can deal with that.

That brings us to last night.  Lining up at the WR position in a wildcat formation, Favre cracked back on the Houston Texans’ safety, Eugene Wilson.  That is, he delivered a purposely illegal hit on Wilson’s knee, who was injured and expressed relief that he could even walk after the game.  That type of hit is illegal because attacking the player blindly at the knees is notorious for incurring career-ending injuries.  And in this league, we’re talking about costing another guy several hundred thousand dollars, possibly millions.  Favre was flagged for the foul, and hopefully he will be fined.  (Let’s be clear — if that was a linebacker delivering the same hit on Favre, the linebacker would be fined and possibly suspended).  Even ESPN’s commentators, who incessantly and effusively mentioned Favre throughout the night, called the hit what it was:  dirty.  That doesn’t make Favre “a dirty player” by nature, necessarily.  He hasn’t been in the past.  But, Favre is not the mythology of his past, either.  Favre is what he is now.  And right now, he’s a player that will play through the 3rd quarter of a preseason game and take a career-ending shot at another player’s knees in a meaningless game.