Vital Statistics

Today was my first day back on my bike for about a month. The ride to the Max was smooth and dry but I had to wait 20 minutes for the photographer from the Oregonian. Caught the Red Line home which means a longer ride than I like at night and the wind was blowing very strongly from the Gorge. I couldn’t get much over 10 mph most of the way and was very tired when I got home. Listened to The Carter Family on the way to work and Kindred Spirits coming home. A fitting combination, I thought.

Bike odometer: 5631 miles
Current reading: Just A Geek by Wil Wheaton
Recent listening: The Carter Family, Kindred Spirits: A Tribute to Johnny Cash, Imagine/John Lennon
Recent viewing: Medium, CNN/MSNBC coverage of the mining accident, Fiesta Bowl
Recent playing: Falling Sand Game

Joe Dumars is an asshole

I don’t know how else to explain it. After examining the evidence, it can be the only conclusion. Sure, I know that he was so well-regarded by the NBA as a player that they named their Citizenship Award after him. I also know he was the only player during the Bad Boys era that was considered to be civil. But as an NBA executive, he:

  1. Was named President of Basketball Operations for the Pistons before the start of the season in 2000. Presumably, this means he is the boss there answerable only to the owner of the team.
  2. Hired Rick Carlisle as head coach prior to the 2001 season. Carlisle was named NBA Coach of the year for that season as he led the Pistons to a 50-32 record and the playoffs. The next year the Pistons posted the same record and made the playoffs again. Carlisle was inexplicably fired.
  3. Hired Larry Brown to replace Carlisle as head coach following the 2002-2003 season. Brown led the Pistons to the NBA Finals two years in a row, beating the Lakers in the first and losing to the Spurs in the second. Following the Finals loss to the Spurs, Brown was fired.
  4. Hired Flip Saunders to replace Larry Brown as head coach prior to the 2005 season.

So not only did he fire a coach who posted 50-wins in every season which he coached for Dumars, he also fired a coach who went to the Finals every single season in which he coached the Pistons. Evidently it’s not enough for Dumars to have a winning record or even to go to the Finals, but his team must win the championship every year! How insane is that?

This is precisely the kind of thing that is wrong with professional sports today. There will never be another “Dean Smith era” or “Red Auerbach era” because no team, organization or even fanbase has the patience for a losing season anymore. Did Dean Smith make the NCAA Tournament every year that he coached? Even Auerbach didn’t win the NBA Championship every year (although it seems like it). In fact, he didn’t win a championship until his 7th year as coach of the Celtics. Can you imagine a coach today keeping his job that long with no championship to show for it?

People blather on and on about the culture of selfishness that reigns among NBA players these days, but their attitude is no different than the owners and executives. Namely, “what can you do for me?” and “what have you done for me lately?” Winning in the short term has become so important that the NBA has lost sight of the possibility of winning in the long term.

And where is Dumars in all this? He is the worst possible offender. One could argue for the short-term advantages to firing a coach after a losing season, but firing your coaches after they perform exceptionally well? Inexcusable and an action that only be performed by an asshole.

Saga of the New Tivo, Part IV

Previously: : “But what about when you join the reversed circuit to a “normal” circuit via a coaxial cable connection to the satellite dish?”

After exchanging a few emails with Weaknees, they agreed to send me a replacement DTivo immediately. I received it the next week. I tried hooking it up in the bedroom again, but as I suspected I could get no signal from the satellite. Now I had to figure out what had been burned out by the bad electrical situation. Here’s the sequence starting from the dish:

  1. Four coaxial cables come out of the dish,
  2. Those four cables are connected to what I would describe as a “breakout box” that has four incoming coax connections and four outgoing connections.
  3. Two outgoing connections on the breakout box go to the Big TV room DTivo, one goes back to the bedroom and one is capped.
  4. The cable going to the bedroom runs along the outside of the house until it gets to the bedroom where it enters the outside wall.
  5. Inside the wall the external cable is connected to a faceplate splitter.
  6. The other side of the splitter is connected inside the bedroom to the cable that goes to the DTivo.

So, by my count, any or all of the six components in that chain could be faulty. I started testing at the breakout box by hooking the DTivo directly to it’s output side. No dice. With trepidation, I connected via splitter directly to the coax from the dish. Coax 1 and 2 (which were connected to the Big TV DTivo) worked fine, but 3 produced a signal level of only about 37% and 4 was completely dead. So I retreated and rethought my plan for a few days.

Clearly I would need a replacement dish which I priced near $200 on the internet. Dave Camp, a friend of mine who used to be a DTV customer suggested calling DTV customer service and describing my problem. They might fix it for free or minimal charge. I certainly had nothing to lose. I resolved to do this but just then work intervened in a way that would leave me no free time for several weeks.

In the meantime, I came up with a better plan. Remember the original plan was to place the DTivo in our bedroom and hook it to the single coax that was already there. Eventually, I would have to run a second coax from one end of the house to the other to get the full dual tuner capability enabled. My friend, Rob Marquardt, provided the inspiration for the new plan, which was much easier to implement and potentially better for everybody.

When I visited Rob back in 2003, he had an Infrared Extender which let him control his Tivo from other parts of his apartment. He could also view his Tivo from three different rooms. The new plan would have the new DTivo in the Big TV room with our original DTivo making it simpler to run the new cabling (25 feet vs. 80 feet). I would utilize an old coax cable installed during our cable TV days to connect the new DTivo to the TV in the bedroom. Add the infrared extender and we would be able to watch and control the new DTivo from the bedroom, but would also be able to watch and control it in the Big TV room. Cool, huh?

As a temporary measure, I purchased the infrared extender set from Radio Shack and wired our old DTivo to the television in the bedroom. This would help ease the pain of no TV in the bedroom Tina had experienced since the saga had begun two weeks before. Although she was not completely satisfied with this temporary solution, it was better than no TV at all.

Next: “The replacement card was now “linked” to our old DTivo (the one in the Big TV room) and the card that had been in the old DTivo was now a useless piece of plastic.”

Hawkeyes got screwed

Although Iowa made some crucial mistakes in the Outback Bowl today (i.e. blocked punt and fake punt), the officials seemed to have it in for them. To wit:

  • On third down, the Gators’ drive stalls two yards short of a first down when an official calls them for “helmet to helmet contact.” Replays showed the call was wrong but they don’t review it. The drive is kept alive and eventually the Gators score a touchdown just before halftime.
  • During a Hawkeye drive in the second half, an Iowa receiver is called for a face mask. Offensive face mask? Replays showed the receiver getting pulled down to the ground by his face mask by the defender. Both of the receiver’s arms are stretched out perpendicular from his side.
  • On another drive during the second half, an Iowa receiver makes a great catch for a first down but is shoved out of bounds before his feet touch the ground. The play is ruled an incomplete pass and the drive dies.
  • With less than two minutes left, Iowa scores a field goal to get the game within 7. Everybody is set for an onside kick, which is delivered perfectly. Iowa recovers but officials rule that one Iowa player was offsides. Replays show no one offside.

It hasn’t been a good year for the Big 10 in bowl games. Aside from the bizarre ending, I seem to recall that Michigan had two crucial calls incorrectly go against them, too. Let the conspiracy theories begin!

Vital Statistics

Recent listening: Transcendental Blues/Steve Earle, 12 Songs/Neil Diamond, Especially For You/The Smithereens, Imagine/John Lennon
Recent viewing: Outback Bowl, Eagles vs. Redskins, Broncos vs. Chargers, Giants vs. Raiders, Penn & Teller’s Bullshit
Recent playing: Poker Room

Saga of the New Tivo, Part III

Previously: : “Well, it started out that easy.”

Later that afternoon at work, Tina IM’d me when she got home. I asked if she noticed anything different and she acknowledged the presence of the DirecTV Tivo (DTivo). However, she said that the circuit breaker kept blowing when she plugged it in. This seemed odd because it had worked flawlessly that morning. I told her to keep it unplugged until I got home when I could take a look at it.

When I got home, I found Tina’s description of the problem to be accurate. As soon as the DTivo was plugged in (and therefore on—there is no Off switch), the circuit breaker would blow. That night we went to dinner with Buddy to celebrate Tina’s birthday. I discussed the situation with him a bit and he had a few ideas but nothing definite. He said he could come over the next day and look at it. After dinner, we bid him goodnight and headed home.

On the way home, the problem was running through my head and I was trying to connect the various logical aspects. At some point, I remembered that we had similar problems when we first signed up for DirecTV (DTV) two years ago. Specifically, the first satellite receiver that was installed in the bedroom would blow the circuit breaker when turned on. At that time, I called the installers and had them come out to replace it, which they did for free. However, the installer guy told me that we had some sort of electrical problem and that he had disconnected the ground wire from the satellite dish in order to stop the circuit breaker from tripping.

Then I remember a to–do item that had been lingering on my Newton since we had moved into the house: Fix electrical problems. I had written that down during the inspection prior to our purchase of the house, and also checked things at to be sure. The inspector showed me a neat little $10 gadget that you plug into an electrical outlet. A series of the three lights on it tell you if the outlet is wired correctly. Several of the outlets in the bedroom read “reverse polarity”. The inspector said it wasn’t a major problem, but that we should fix it at some point in the future.

Could these two be related? As long as a circuit with reverse polarity remains a closed system, there is no problem—electricity simply flows “backwards”. But what about when you join the reversed circuit to a “normal” circuit via a coaxial cable connection to the satellite dish? When we got home, I called Buddy (who is an electrician by trade) to ask what he thought. He agreed that the reverse polarity could be the problem and planned to come look at the problem the next day.

I stayed home the next morning in order to assist Buddy in troubleshooting and fixing the reverse polarity problem. We moved all kinds of furniture and tested about ten different outlets before we found the root of the problem: a ceiling fixture at the start of the circuit that had been wired incorrectly. Buddy rewired it correctly and the problem was fixed. Buddy is indispensible to us!

Unfortunately, when I plugged the DTivo back in, there was no satellite signal. Thinking that maybe the coax had been fused by the electrical current, I tried the new DTivo in the Big TV Room. It didn’t work in there, either. So even though we had cleared a major hurdle in fixing the electrical problem, the saga had not yet ended.

Next: Troubleshooting and a new plan

Can’t leave well enough alone

After messing up the layout to my blog the other day I angrily turned off the StyleCatcher plugin and reverted to the default layout. Sometimes I just have to walk away from tricky technical problems for awhile before I can fix them. That was the case this time.

I reinstalled a little bit ago and tried out one of the styles on a test blog and it worked fine. I then found a style that matches the rest of my website and successfully applied it to my blog. Woo hoo!

Best of 2005

Note that criteria for inclusion into the list did not include a 2005 (or even recent) release. To be eligible, an album only had to be added to my CD collection in 2005. Some long-time favorites with which I had familiarity but had not previously owned on CD were only eligible for “Honorable Mention” along with a few others that didn’t qualify for the Top 15.

In order to make it into the Top 15, a CD has to saturate my listening time for an appeciable length of time. These fifteen CDs took up more than 75% of my listening time during the year, a clear sign of appreciation. Although I have ranked them, distinguishing between any two is very difficult indeed. When I obtained each it probably remained in heavy rotation at home, on my iPod and at work for several weeks, often receiving two or three plays per day. This is the quality level required to make the Top 15.

    Top 15 Albums of 2005   

  1. Letting Off The Happiness by Bright Eyes: Exquisite wordplay, riveting storytelling and a twisted dark side combine with sparse instrumentation to sear this album into my brain forever. Although it can seem overly depressing at times, it also veers into the realm of uplifting. In either case, the songs smack of a realness that is not often found in music. So real it’s scary.
  2. Guero by Beck: Eclectic and smart, this is the best Beck album since Mellow Gold. After some genre experimentation on previous albums, I’m glad he didn’t pidgeon-hole himself with this one. Despite the variety of styles represented here, his seemingly innate funkiness is always swimming somewhere below the surface.
  3. Liz Phair (eponymous): Although touted as Liz’s entry into mainstream pop, I didn’t find it to be a sellout at all. Incredibly heartfelt, touching lyrics and her trademark catchy melodies are no longer buried beneath the DIY indie production. What I’ve always appreciated about Liz Phair (as well as many of my other favorite artists) is the fact that her songs are so personal. Listening to this album is like catching up with an old friend.
  4. The Queen Is Dead by the Smiths: Released almost 20 years ago but with lyrics and music that sound timeless to me. Clever, witty, biting and romantic are just a few ways to describe what is probably Morrissey’s best lyrical effort. And it’s got a song about plagiarism! How cool is that?
  5. Mermaid Avenue by Billy Bragg & Wilco: Having experienced a recent Wilco awakening, I purchased this album of previously unrecorded Woody Guthrie songs in order to get a more complete view of their work. What a pleasant surprise to find that Guthrie’s work has held up so well after so long.
  6. Home by the Dixie Chicks: I’m not a big fan of the Chicks, but this rootsy outing ranges from humorous to serious without ever losing its heart. I’m hoping that this is the first release in which the Chicks were allowed to make the music they wanted and look forward to their future recordings.
  7. Franz Ferdinand (eponymous): Reminiscent of early New Wave (the good Television kind, not the kitschy Knack kind) but with a harder edge, this album rocks from start to finish. I will undoubtedly be checking out their newest album in 2006. (Thanks for the recommendation, Laine.)
  8. How To Dismantle An Atomic Bomb by U2: I’ve lived with a hard-core U2 fan since 1992 and this is the first album by them that’s really grabbed me. The most obvious difference here from their past albums is the hard rock sound they have embraced, but there are also some really great melodies on mid-tempo and slow songs. Bono’s always incredible voice has matured and has more life in it than it ever has. Oh, and his backing band has gotten to be really good.
  9. The Devil’s Bris by Voltaire: Upon first listening, Voltaire seemed like some kind of demented Andrew Lloyd Webber. Perhaps it was his basso vocals that led me astray, but I no longer hear any schmaltz here — just pure, unadulterated and very dark irony.
  10. Get Behind Me Satan by the White Stripes: I remember the first time I saw the Stray Cats on TV, I thought, “How do they get that much sound from three musicians?” Since then I’ve learned that sometimes in music less is more. There’s no better example of this than Jack and Meg White, aka the White Stripes. Their latest album has more hooks than my dad’s tackle box and they get an incredibly big sound for just two musicians.
  11. Yankee Hotel Foxtrot by Wilco: In 2004, we watched an excellent movie about the making of this album called “I Am Trying To Break Your Heart” which eventually led to this purchase. Although it’s tempting, I’m hesitant to classify this as “pop” or even “power pop” because it’s so much more transcendant than those labels. I’m a sucker for acoustic guitars in a rock setting and this album panders to that weakness.
  12. License To Chill by Jimmy Buffett: This album was touted as Jimmy’s move into mainstream country, a genre that I detest as much as any. So when my sister introduced it to me in May, I was skeptical to say the least. Despite the various cowboy-hat-wearing George-Straight-wannabes that sing along with Jimmy on many of the songs, I still think this one classifies as classic Buffett. Favorite line Jimmy must have written: “…and it’s amazing what they pass off as a bathing suit.”
  13. 12 Songs by Neil Diamond: OK, I know what you’re probably thinking. I thought the same thing when a co-worker mentioned that I might try this one out. I daresay that I scoffed at the thought. But then he said, “Rick Rubin produced.” Whoa! Rick Rubin, the producer of Beastie Boys and Masters of Reality fame? Rick Rubin, the man who single-handedly revived Johnny Cash’s career and made him relevant up until the moment he died? Yes, that Rick Rubin. Taking a similar approach that he took to Cash, he’s captured Neil Diamond with a minimal backup band that never steps on Diamond’s acoustic guitar playing or the sincere honesty of his crackly voice.
  14. Trio by Michelle Shocked: Many of you know that I am a longtime Michelle Shocked so it should be no surprise that her first album since 2002 would make this list. In fact, she released three albums in 2005 and made them available in a single package called Trio. Although I didn’t have an immediate appreciation for these three albums, they have really grown on me, particularly Mexican Standoff, the first in the three disc series, which is dominated by Latin rhythms, instrumentation and melodies. The second is called Don’t Ask Don’t Tell and mixes genres similarly to the way Short Sharp Shocked did back in the late 80s. The third, Got No Strings, features Michelle’s voice at its loveliest as she sings classic songs from Disney movies. Aside from the Disney songs, these discs are also interesting because they feature many of the songs that Michelle has been performing for several years but have not seen CD release until now.
  15. Extraordinary Machine by Fiona Apple: This is a late entry into the 2005 derby, so I have placed it at the bottom of the list since it takes more than a couple of weeks (as is the case here) to reach the exalted honor of “Best of the Year”. Having said that, I never hesitated about including this in the Top 15. Although it’s similar in nature to Norah Jones’ Come Away With Me, it’s livelier and more intimate than that album. I inadvertently saw her on The Today Show one morning and her two riveting performances were enough to sell this album for me.
    Honorable Mention   

  • Transcendental Blues by Steve Earle: Barely missed the cut for the Top 15. Rootsy, bluesy and country-ish without every being any of those.
  • Bat Out of Hell by Meat Loaf: Bought for $4 at a yard sale and surprisingly good. Moreso than I had remembered.
  • Blast Tyrant by Clutch: Perhaps classifiable as “heavy metal” but very listenable compared to many of the metal purveyors around these days. (Thanks for the recommendation, Dain.)
  • Encore by Eminem: Relegated to this list only for a lack of consistency from track to track.
  • Tom’s Album by Various Artists: Purchased after Coverville did a show featuring many of the songs. For anyone who was a fan of alternative music in the late 80s, this album is a must listen.
  • From The Mars Hotel by the Grateful Dead: Possibly the Grateful Dead’s last good studio album.
  • Ram by Paul McCartney: My favorite post-Beatles McCartney album, it didn’t make the Top 15 because I’ve known these songs backwards and forwards for almost 25 years.
  • Tenacious D (eponymous): If rock and roll is all about fun, Tenacious D is the embodiment of rock and roll.

Best of 2003

This was the first year that I started tracking my favorites for the year.

    Top 7 albums of 2003   

  1. The Private Press by DJ Shadow
  2. Greendale by Neil Young & Crazy Horse
  3. The Man Comes Around by Johnny Cash
  4. Return of the Grievous Angel: A Tribute to Gram Parsons
  5. Across The Borderline by Willie Nelson
  6. Mindy’s Strange Yet Intriguing Mix
  7. He’s Drunk/Plus, Also, Too by Scrawl