Thursday, January 24, 2013

Free Will?

Lately I've spent some time considering the nature of existence. Current scientific knowledge states that the universe is controlled by the laws of physics and mathematics. That the interactions of everything from sub atomic particles all the way up to the biggest galaxies are governed by these laws and everything in their past can be charted, and the future actions can be predicted. The next logical question for me at this point is: does this also apply to human existence?  Would humanity not also be subject to math and physics?  Is free will an illusion? Are we simply automatons that have been wound up and set loose on our appointed path, predetermined for us by mathematical probability?  I'm sure I'm not the first person to consider this and I won't be the last.  I haven't done any research on the topic, partly because I want to think about it myself before potentially being influenced by the opinions of others, but mostly because I'm lazy.  But maybe I'm lazy because that's what the universe has predestined for me.  Regardless, it's interesting to consider.

Monday, January 07, 2013

The Hobbit

A few weeks ago I watched The Hobbit, and have intentionally let some time pass before writing up a review to let it sink in. I loved the book, I loved the Lord of the Rings books and movies, and so I had pretty high expectations going in. Experience has taught me that the higher the expectations, the higher the probability to be disappointed - so that was a major hurdle for Peter Jackson.  Did he clear that hurdle?  Not entirely.  I enjoyed the film, and think it is worth watching, but it could have been so much better.

I'll start out with the obvious - The Hobbit is way too long and the plot moves along at a glacial pace. Literally. I think there are glaciers now being formed in Alaska which will migrate and break off into the sea before the last frame of The Hobbit is viewed.  For those that don't already know, this is a relatively short book that is being turned into 3 movies 3 hours long, and I have a friendly 5 cent wager with a friend who thinks that Peter Jackson will split the third installment into 2 films in order to milk every last penny out of the franchise. Anyway, in order to pad the script, Jackson culled The Silmarilian, some of author J.R.R. Tolkein's notes, some of the material from the Lord of the Rings that was cut from those films, and I suspect Jackson just made some of it up as well.   The result is a plodding, bloated mess, and I frequently found myself thinking, "for God's sake, get on with it." Really, how long can you watch dwarves being chased through a cave by goblins before it stops being interesting? I don't know how long that particular scene lasted, but I swear it seemed like half an hour. Peter Jackson's films are starting to make Ken Burns' documentaries look effectively edited by comparison.

There's a good reason that Tolkein left a lot of that material in his notes and didn't include it in the novel, a lot of it just didn't fit. For example, a scene with Gandalf, Elrond, Sauron, and Galadrial, which was just mentioned in passing in the novel but is fleshed out in the film, just seemed out of place. And the scenes with Radagast the brown would have been better left out all together.  I was listening to a financial show that went off the rails recently and began discussing The Hobbit when one of the financial analysts remarked that Radagast the brown is the Jar Jar Binks of the Hobbit franchise. I couldn't have said it better myself (so I didn't). Along with the ridiculous Goblin King character, Jackson is starting to take cues from George Lucas and is adding unwanted comic relief. And everybody knows, you never go full Lucas.

These things aside, it is a good story. At it's core, it's the story of a group of dwarves setting out on a journey to recover their gold and kingdom that were taken from them by a dragon.  The story has adventure, camaraderie, dragons, goblins, trolls, wizards, etc. what more could you ask for? In particular, the interplay between Bilbo Baggins and Gollum was riveting and saved the third act. I'm not sure how much of my enjoyment is colored by my love of middle earth. Still, there were some nice touches, for example I quite enjoyed the dwarves singing That's What Bilbo Baggins Hates as a nod to the old Rankin & Bass cartoon I loved so much as a child. 

The cinematography was amazing.  I didn't see the movie in a theater with a 48 frame per second projector, just the traditional 24 fps, so technically I only saw half of the movie.  A lot of people have complained about the high frame rate, but I can't comment on that.  All I can say is that it is visually stunning in the format I watched.  The beautiful scenery and amazing sets completely blew me away.  They could have filmed a feature length travelogue of Rivendell with Rick Steves telling me where to eat and which sites to visit while there and I would have watched it. 

The unnecessary additions to the story seem to be an attempt to add gravitas, but the source material was perfectly adequate as it was.  The scope of Peter Jackson's vision seems to be too grand, and The Hobbit part 1 ended up being a little disappointing.  But a failure to live up to expectations does not mean it's a bad movie.  I'll close by including a video of Leonard Nimoy singing the Ballad of Bilbo Baggins.  It has nothing to do with the movie, but I think it's so funny that I'll seize any opportunity to mention it. 

Saturday, January 05, 2013

Washington Huskies

Recently the PAC-12 network replayed all of the Husky victories this year, edited down to an hour.  I've been watching them the last few days and considering next season. I've concluded that a lot of changes are in order if the team hopes to improve.

For starters, I'm beginning to question the coaching staff.  Two of the biggest symptoms of poor coaching are penalties and turnovers.  The Huskies finished 2012 ranked 118 out of 120 in penalties committed, seemingly every game having at least one penalty that cost the team a score one way or the other, or extended a drive.  Similarly abysmal is the team ending the season 101st in turnovers lost.  And I can say for certain that turnovers cost wins. While the defense was much improved in 2012, there were still a significant amount of missed tackles.  All in all, the fundamentals were dismal. And the team frequently tried to get cute by running up to the line and quick snapping the ball to try catch the defense unprepared, but more often than not it caught the Huskies unprepared and ended in disaster. Every time I saw the offense sprint out of the huddle, my immediate reaction was, "oh no....". In regards to Steve Sarkisian in particular, in 4 years as head coach, he's managed records of 5-7, 7-6, 7-6, and one more 7-6. To go along with this, his bowl record has been 1-2. The team is no longer showing any signs of improvement, and I think it's fair to question whether Sark has taken them as far as he can. 

The biggest concern on both sides of the ball was the line.  The offensive line was plagued by injury throughout the season, however that doesn't excuse them from finishing 104th in sacks allowed, but at least they were better than the Washington State line who finished dead lase, and it wasn't even close. Keith Price spent most of the season running for his life.  The defensive line took a big hit in week 1 losing Hau'oli Jamora for the season, but even had he been healthy I'm not sure he much difference he would have made. The line was terribly undersized and pushed all over the field by bigger offensive lines all season, the worst coming in the LSU game where they were absolutely mauled.  I don't know why the team is no longer able to recruit big men, but that has to be the biggest focus for the coaching staff.  In the glory days of the UW, the team brought in a lot of talent from the Pacific islands, however in recent years, recruiting there has fallen to virtually nothing.  After a quick once over on the roster, it looks like the UW has 6 players from Hawaii, which is actually more than I thought there were, but still not enough.  The UW really needs to step up the recruiting in Hawaii, Samoa, and Guam if they want to succeed, they can't let the other west coast schools steal those players.

On offense, Bishop Sankey performed better than I think anyone expected and was the engine that kept the offense running.  I still have trouble wrapping my mind around him being named player of the game in the Las Vegas Bowl despite losing the game.  It's scary to think what he could accomplish behind a quality offensive line and a balanced offensive attack.  He's the guy the offense should build around in 2013. WR should be high on the recruiting to do list though.  Awesome Seferian-Jenkins and Kasen Williams were reliable targets, but no one else could be counted on to catch a pass.  As a matter of fact, I can't recall if Jaydon Mickens caught a pass all season or if he dropped every single one thrown his way.  That kid needs to be moved to the defensive side of the ball ASAP to limit how much he can hurt the team.

I don't know what happened to Keith Price in 2012, his performance can best be described as terrible.  Sure, he was running for his life a lot of the time, but he still locked onto receivers, held onto the ball too long, ran around in the pocket and took sacks instead of taking the 5 yard dump off pass, and repeatedly made inaccurate and ill advised throws.  As a matter of fact, his accuracy and arm strength were bad enough that I can't help wondering if he had an arm injury.  He couldn't get any zip on the ball, and passes over about 20 yards were an adventure - the ball would float enough to give the defense plenty of time to react, and often missed the target significantly. At this point, I don't know if he can be salvaged and return to his 2011 level of play, or if it's time to look for a replacement. 

A year ago, I couldn't imagine saying this, but right now the defense looks like much less of a project. I already mentioned that the line needs an overhaul, but the young linebacking corp actually looked very good by the end of the season.  That's a group that should really be good for the next couple years.  And the defensive backs were serviceable, which is something I haven't been able to say in about a decade.  Desmond Trufant will be difficult to replace, and Parker and the Shamburgler were prone to getting burned on occasion, but this isn't a unit that will cause me to lose sleep.  All of the DBs showed improvement throughout the season and should continue to improve next year. 

Things may change after the offseason recruiting is done, but at this point there are so many holes to fill that it's hard to imagine that the Huskies will have anything to look forward to in 2013 other than another 7-5 year punctuated by another bowl loss.  The coaching issues are significant enough that I think it's time to question whether Sarkisian is part of the problem or part of the solution.  I honestly don't know at this point. Maybe a new strength and conditioning coach is in order too, since there were so many injuries. There are enough pieces in place that the team could potentially win 9 or 10 games in 2013, but the coaching staff has a lot of work to get there.

Friday, January 04, 2013

Johnny Manziel

I hate the nickname 'Johnny football'. I hate it so much.  I have nothing against Johnny Manziel or his ability, I just hate the nickname. It is so completely devoid of any creativity or panache that it sounds like something a junior high kid would have come up with.  Like calling Bill Gates 'Billy computers' or maybe calling John Glenn 'Johnny space'. It's just uninventive and stupid.  Hell, even the mob comes up with better nicknames for people like 'Micky glasses' or 'Tommy the hat' (assuming Tommy regularly wears a hat). I'm sure Chris Berman rolls over in his grave every time he hears it.  And I know what you're thinking: Chris Berman isn't dead. Well, since he hasn't used his authority to put an end to this, he's dead to me. 

But I digress.  My point is that announcers should be ashamed of themselves for saying it. Sure, many of them did not get where they are based upon their intellect or eloquence- a fact I'm reminded of every time I hear the term 'trickeration' (which I think I may hate even more) or anything that comes out of the mouth of Shannon Sharpe (who sounds eerily reminiscent of Mushmouth from the Cosby Kids). Regardless, they are technically journalists and should have some baseline standard that they should strive to remain above. Not to mention that most of the former players have college degrees and really should be capable of conversing above an 8th grade level.  On the other hand, I've listened to sports radio and am aware of the fact that many callers are vitriolic mouth breathers and/or high functioning people with mental and social disorders, so it's entirely possible that broadcasters intentionally dumb down their broadcasts to appeal to the lowest common denominator.  I think that's a little optimistic though.

Why I bring this up now is that I'm currently watching the Cotton Bowl and the announcing crew is churning it out rapid fire, like they are getting a commission for every mention of 'Johnny football' (brought to you by Carl's Jr!) and it is truly driving me crazy. Throw in the fact that Petros Papadakis, one of my most hated announcers, is also on the broadcast crew and it is nearly the perfect storm.  I don't think I'm going to be able to finish watching the game. And I'm not sure I'll ever be able to watch another Johnny Manziel game in my lifetime, and God forbid he ever faces off against Tim Tebow, I think my head might just explode.  And since this game is getting out of hand, and that Boardwalk Empire blu ray that Netflix was kind enough to send me is looking pretty enticing over there on the shelf, I think I'm done for the night here. Best of luck to Johnny 'the Man among boys' Manziel. I'm not one to criticize without offering an alternative.  Actually, sometimes I am, just not tonight.