28 January 2009

Bad news from Madagascar

Photo via Maika Razafindranbeza's Facebook page

In a bizzare revisit of the civil unrest of 2002 and 2003, Madagascar is experiencing fighting as tensions climb between its president and the mayor of its capital city, Antananarivo.

In '02, Marc Ravalomanana was the plucky young mayor of Tana, fighting in a presidential race against the incumbent Didier Ratsiraka.

This time around, Ravalomanana is the president, and mayor Andry Rajoelina is supported by the exiled Ratsiraka in a new (old?) struggle for power. Reuters reports Ravalomanana shut down a private television station owned by Rajoelina in December after accusating the mayor of using the station to promote civil unrest.

Riots in response to this action have resulted in a death toll of over 40, with o end in sight.

Reuters also reports that rioters burned a state-owned television and radio station on Monday.

Makes me sad for the innocents who are suffering thanks to the actions of a few powerful men. I know many families in Antananarivo, and I know this conflict is affecting them, as well.

I'll post more about this situation as I find information.

25 January 2009

NBA All-Star selections

The voting has been finalized for this year's NBA All-Star game. If I understand how this works, we'll have:

Western Conference


Eastern Conference


Overall, I don't have a problem with the way it turned out, but here are a few points of contention:

Amare earned his spot last year, but this year he's had way too many five- or six-rebound games to make it this time around. His stats overall are down in almost every category compared to 2008.

Iverson is averaging 18 points a game on 42% shooting. Five assists a game aren't exactly impressive, either. I'd have much rather seen Joe Johnson or Jameer Nelson take this spot. But such are the dangers inherent in democracy. 

If you look down the list beyond the starters, you'll see weird stuff. Bruce Bowen got the third most votes among West forwards? The heck? Yi got more votes than Pierce, Bosh, Hedo, and Danny Granger? I understand voting for your homecountry buddy, everyone in China, but come on. 

Bill Simmons has argued that it should be mandated that a great passing point guard play for each team in the All-Star game... Kidd, Paul, Deron, Nash, etc. The game is much more fun to watch when someone is setting up guys like Kobe and Howard instead of it turning into a massive one-on-one tournament. The West has that covered this year, but there really isn't an elite passing point guard in the East right now. AI certainly won't fit that bill. Maybe LeBron can do it. 

21 January 2009

LOST-centric Facebook statuses for today

... is looking forward to LOST tonight.

... wants to know where the island is.

... is 4 8 15 16 23 42.

... is about to get LOST.

... is at work, antcipating a slow day of watching CSI and Poirot... and waiting for LOST!!!!!

...is Losting it up. Less than 24 hours to go.

LOST videos

First off, a recap of Seasons 1-4.

Next, we have a video from 2008's Comic Con.

And finally, here are three sneak peaks at tonight's season premiere.

Jack and Ben.

Kate and Aaron.

Sayid and Hurley.

Can't wait.

20 January 2009

Obama-centric Facebook statuses for today

...wishes Pres. Obama good luck - it's a messed up world right now.

...is Let freedom ring!

...is aprehensive about jumping on the Obama bandwagon. Let's see what he does first people before we declare him the greatest president who ever lived.

...Yes we can! Yes we will!

...is totally sick of inauguration coverage... can't we talk about something interesting. I mean I like Obama, but seriously.

...back to work, listening to the inauguration on the radio.

...is watching the inauguration on facebook! This is actually pretty dang cool. :D

...is Happy Obama Day!

...is relieved that fear no longer oppresses our tears.

...says...It's morning again in America.

...is already teary-eyed about the Inauguration.

18 January 2009

Old-timey computer games

My family bought our first computer in 1990, when we moved to Utah. I'm fairly sure it was a 286 mhz PC with four megabtyes of RAM and 30 megabytes of hard drive space. Or was it two MB of RAM? Either way, it was awesome. I spent hours playing educational games like Challenge of the Ancient Empires! and Treasure Mountain! as well as the classic Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego? 

Then a couple years later we upgraded to a 486 DX/2 processor with 32 MB of RAM or so and a CD-ROM drive. The sheer power, speed, and amazing graphics of it all just about blew my 11-year-old mind. We got our first non-educational games from a guy in our ward who helped us buy and put together the parts for the computer. While coming from an underprivilaged background when it came to video games (my parents never, ev
er let us get a Nintendo or Sega Genesis or whatever), I managed to do well at games like Terminal Velocity, King's Quest VI, and Sim City 2000

However, one game was extremely difficult for me to get a handle on. It was Return to Zork, one of the many sequels to the original text adventure Zork for the Commodore 64 (among other platforms).

Zork, as most text-based adventures, is known for it's often-obscure objectives and seemingly arbitrary ways to lose. Return to Zork was definitely a descendent of this game-programming philosophy. I had no idea what I was doing even as I spent hours trying to figure it out. I remember an old guy in a shack who constantly offered you alcohol ("Want some rye? 'Course ya do!"), a comedy club where you had to perform standup, and rats that gave you the hantavirus if you picked them up. Other highlights: some blacksmith guy, a plant, and a game that was kind of like chess but not really. 

I don't know what happened to that game (it's not at my parents' house anymore), but I sure as heck never came close to beating it. 

And that failure kind of bothered me.

Until a couple of months ago.

I was Googling random things related to my growing-up years, and came across a review for Return to Zork. Phrases like "incredibly contrived" and "illogical" came to my attention. When I read "Return to Zork is also notorious for being unforgiving," I smiled.

Another reviewer:

"...you will constantly lose objects by using them in the wrong place; mess up your chances of getting the required information or item from a character; wandering to wrong places at the wrong time, and so on. The amount of wrong actions you can do here is disproportional to the amount of correct actions that lead you to the goal. The game will be a constant exercise of reloading. Not to mention that the actions you have to perform have nothing to do with logic."

Bottom line: the game is ridiculously difficult for adults to play without a walkthrough guide, let alone pre-pubescent kids. My confidence in my gaming abilities were fully restored. 

That said, I'm somewhat interested in buying a copy of the game for $5 and giving it another go. Finding solutions to puzzles after hours of feeling like you're banging your head against a wall can be very rewarding. 

17 January 2009

CNN programming alert

Today on CNN, from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Mountain... The Obama Express!

"Coverage of President-elect Barack Obama's train ride from Philadelphia to Washington, D.C. Scheduled events include picking up Vice President-elect Joe Biden in Wilmington, Del. Wolf Blizter anchors."

Nine hours of watching a train! And a stop in Delaware! Thrill as President-elect Obama takes a potty break! Chill as Vice President-elect Biden chooses between chicken or fish for lunch! 

I don't what you'll be doing today, but my agenda is now set. 

All aboard!

16 January 2009

LOST reviewed

As long as my LOST readers are here, Facebook linked me to this admirable summary of seasons 1-4.

While there is an option to get the code to embed the movie, apparently the HTML given is busted all to hades. I tried seeing if I could fix it, but my HTML coding skills are terrible to non-existent.

So you have to click a link. I apologize.  

EDIT: NOW! With embedded video thanks to my English-American friend Dave!

(Sorry that the size is so weird.)

LOST in five days!

Apologies to those who don't watch the show, but here's a link to an AP article about where exactly we left off when LOST season four concluded last spring. 

And here's the thing: these questions represent about .01% of those the show has opened and not answered. For example, here are questions posed from the two-part pilot episode, 83 episodes ago. 

What is the smoke monster?
Why did he kill the pilot of Oceanic Flight 815?
Why was Jack laying in the jungle instead of the beach like everyone else who survived?
Where is the polar bear from? What was it used for? 

Every episode has a minumum of two or three unanswered questions like these, and frankly, it worries me. I worry the writers have fallen in love with being clever and posing all of these mysteries. I worry they won't be able to tie up all the loose ends they've unraveled so far.

And if they can't, boy will I be upset. I've invested waaaaay too much time in this show for it to crash and burn.

But on the other hand, if they can tie it all up in a satisfying and logical way, best. show. ever. 

That last part is a concern, too. LOST is flirting with, if not openly courting, time travel. And time travel is a very, very tricky concept to deal with in fiction. For those of you who have read the Harry Potter books, notice that after the concept of the time turner was introduced in Prisoner of Azkaban, J.K. Rowling got rid of them entirely in Half-Blood Prince without really using them in books four or five. 

I believe this is because she fully realized the problems inherent in using time travel in her books. If time turners exist, why not go back and stop Voldemort before he became powerful? What rules govern their use? Do villains have them? 

And in general, what about paradoxes? Can an individual kill their own grandfather? What happens if they try? And if you go back in time to stop something bad from happening, then the bad thing never occurred, and you have no impetus to go back in time in the first place.

It's ridiculously complicated and very easy to make a mistake. The other problem is that it's tempting to just give up and say, "Aliens! It was all aliens!" That's where illogical comes into play. The writers and producers pride themselves on having a smart show, one based in actual science and literature. So far, while vague, the principles the show has introduced make sense (if you do enough research). 

So I need you to be on your A-games, LOST writers. Don't crash and burn. Make me proud.

15 January 2009

Journalism ethics

One day I plan on being a sports journalist. My complicated plan to get there (step 1: get a job at a newspaper) is admittedly taking longer than I thought it would, but I'm forging on. Especially in light of some information I picked up at ESPN's True Hoop blog today:

Let me just step aside here for a minute and say that there is a ton of swag, and other kinds of assaults on journalistic ethics, in basketball.

Well. The writer, Henry Abbot, goes on to explain that the Portland Trailblazers sent "gift boxes" to NBA writers all over the country to um... persuade them to support Brandon Roy's All-Star bid. Included: a Flip video camera and a car satellite navigation system. 


While Abbot admits he totally loved the navigation system, he ended up giving it away in the name of journalistic ethics. 

Anyway, I thought the post was an interesting look into the world of high-profile sports writing. 

And while I'm here, I might as well comment on the NBA action last night.

The Jazz looked terrible (114-93 loss to the Thunder???), the Lakers kinda got robbed against the Spurs. But just kinda. I must admit Kobe's performance was excellent... 29 points on 11-of-18 shooting, 10 assists shows Good Kobe was present a lot more than Bad Kobe. 

That said, I can never root for The Black Mamba, mainly because of the attitude he displayed last night. Late in the game, after a disappointing defensive possession, the Lakers called a timeout. On the way back to the bench, a towel boy handed a towel to Kobe, who knocked the towel from the kid's hand and yelled something. I understand you're mad, Mr. Bryant, but don't take it out on your own staff. 

And then after making a 3-pointer to give the Lakers the lead with under 30 seconds to go, he went galloping back down the court, mimicing the fact that he had uh... humongous... cajones? Can I write that here? to the Spurs fans. Just classy all the way around. 

A buddy of mine I was watching the game with commented that he'd like to see that kind of passion from a Jazz player or two, minus the sense of "I alienate my team and hate everyone" that Kobe gives off. 

Just the point of view of an extremely biased Utah fan. 

13 January 2009

Your thoughts?

Posted without comment.

08 January 2009

It all comes down to inches

I'm not going to go too in-depth about Florida's win in the Orange Bowl, partially because I don't really like the Gators or Oklahoma, and partially because the whole BCS system is a joke.

I do want to point out why Oklahoma lost this game. 

It's a game of inches. When Oklahoma had a third-and-goal on Florida's two-yard-line and couldn't get it in, the final outcome was decided. If you can't get two yards in two plays when you really, really need it, you don't deserve to win. Coming away with 0 points on two trips to your opponent's goal line is just pathetic. I know it was the first half, and I know the score was tied, but the game was lost in the second quarter.

Other signs of Oklahoma's lack of intensity and desire: it seemed the Sooner running backs would just as soon step out of bounds as try to bowl over a defender. That's the kind of thing you see from 10-year NFL backs who are retiring in a few weeks, not 21-year old kids playing in the biggest game of their lives. And on Bradford's last interception, sure the defensive back made a great play, but the ball hit the wide receiver right square in the hands. You have to make that catch. Instead, he allowed the Florida player to wrestle it away without putting up a fight. Discouraging omens for the Oklahoma faithful. 

Neither Tebow nor Bradford impressed me much. Bradford had all day to throw more often than not, and he threw two picks and averaged only 6.3 yards per completion. Tebow made some very clutch throws in the fourth quarter (something Bradford could not do), but still finished with two picks. However, his 109 yards rushing (5 ypc) was very impressive. It's just not something I see transferring to the NFL. Then again, I hear he'll be used at the tight end position or something when he's drafted. Guess we'll see.

The bad news is that now Sam Bradford is most likely coming back next season, and Oklahoma opens against BYU in Dallas. This will be one motivated Sooners team, and the Cougars will get steamrolled. 

A final note: the Tebow man-love from the Fox announcing crew finally became so nauseating I muted my TV. It was that bad. I mean, I believe he's a good guy and all, but there comes a point where it's over-the-top embarrassing. 

Collie to the NFL

KSL reports that Austin Collie will announce his intention to enter the NFL draft in a press conference tomorrow. 

I remain undevestated. 

Shoot, I don't think this even bothers me that much. 

I mean, it'd be nice to have him next season, but the team will again beat bad teams and struggle with good teams regardless. 

Good luck, Austin. Hope your career is longer than Brandon Doman's and Luke Staley's. 

Mythbusters and social responsibility

I love the Mythbusters. 

But I've noticed an interesting trend. 

When it comes to myths that have illegal or socially irresponsible aspects to them, the Mythbusters consistently reach the same types of conclusions. 

For example, in their initial season, Adam and Jamie tested different methods for beating a Breathalyzer test. None of the several methods attempted even remotely fooled the Breathalyzer. 

In their second season, they tested ways to beat a radar detector. Again, none of the several methods tried worked at all. 

And in 2007, they tested methods to avoid detection by a speed camera. And again, every one of these methods failed. 

After seeing other examples similar to these, I started to wonder: do the Mythbusters feel they need to "bust" certain myths that would encourage illegal or immoral activity if they were confirmed? 

Last night I watched "NASA Moon Landing."  The same kinds of issues came to mind. It was clear that every one of the Mythbuster myth busters was fully convinced the moon landing was real and that the conspiracy theorists were nuts. While I tend to agree with them, you need to have a more impartial state of mind when trying to prove or disprove something like this. 

Besides, if the Mythbusters add fuel to the "we didn't actually land on the moon" fire, how ticked off is NASA? How mad are the millions who do believe in the moon landings? 

I just wonder if they're truly willing to follow the science where it leads them. 

Paul vs. Deron

After the Jazz beat the Hornets by 26 points last night, someone on the tee-vee flashed a graphic that showed Deron is now 9-2 head-to-head against Paul. 

I can't figure this out. Paul's stats are better than Deron's, especially this season with Deron's injury. I think the Hornets are a better team than the Jazz, as evidenced by their better record last season and this one. So why does it seem Deron has Paul's number? 

Let's look at the last five games between the two teams. The Jazz have won four of these. 

Jan. 7, 2009: Paul racks up 26 points, but dishes out an uncharacteristically low seven assists. Deron hands out eight, but scores only eight points. The difference was the supporting cast. Okur and Millsap both scored 20+ points, while the next highest scorer for the Hornets was West with 13 points. The Jazz shot 52% from the field, compared to 44% for New Orleans. The Hornets played the second game of a back-to-back after beating the Lakers. 

April 8, 2008: Jazz win 77-66 in Louisiana. Deron and Paul have similar lines: Deron shot 2-11 on his way to four points and 16 assists, while Paul also shot 2-11 on his way to four points and nine assists. Okur is the stud for Utah, scoring 22 points and pulling down 17 boards, while the Hornets get 14 and 7 from West. The Jazz shoot an abysmal 43% from the field, but the Hornets outgun them by shooting 36%. 

Feb. 29, 2008: The Jazz lose 110-98 in New Orleans. Deron went for 22 and 10, Paul racked up 24 and 16. Okur is again dominant, with 23 points and 13 rebounds, but David West matched him with 25 and 13 of his own. Boozer was quiet, and scored only 10 points on 5-of-6 shooting. This game really came down to 3-point shooting, as the Jazz connected on only three of their 16 attempts, while the Hornets hit on nine of their 20 shots from deep. Janero Pargo had three of these, and ended up scoring 15 points in 23 minutes. 

Feb. 2, 2008: 110-88 Utah win in Salt Lake City. Deron scored 29 points on 11-13 shooting and handed out 11 assists. Paul  shot only 3-11, scored six points and dished out six assists. The Hornets shoot a blistering 55% from the 3 (10-18), but the Jazz manage to hit 14-22 for a mind-boggling 63%. Boozer scored 19 and pulled down 17 boards while that Pargo guy scored 24 points in 27 minutes for New Orleans. Again, 3-point shooting seems to be the difference here. 

Nov. 23, 2007: Deron had a quiet 12 points and seven assists in the 99-71 win. Paul scored 15 and six turnovers to go with his six assists. The difference maker for Utah was Booz, who got 19 and 16, while West got 18 and 14 for New Orleans. Six players scored in double figures for Utah. Once again, 3-point shooting was a major factor, as Utah won the battle, going 8-for-14 compared to the Hornets' 1-for-17. The poor display from downtown helped New Orleans to a 33% field-goal percentage on the night, while Utah shot 47%. 

A few things I gleaned from looking at the stats:

1. Number of 20 point, 10 assist games from Deron: 2. From Paul: 1. Neither one really dominates here. 

2. 3-point shooting is huge. Jazz percentage from downtown in four wins:  47% (31-66). And that same number in their loss: 18% (3-16). 

3. Paul doesn't get a lot of help against Utah. Even when he does well, no more than one or two of his teammates really go off. That said, in these five games, Paul has averaged 15 points and nine assists. Hardly vintage CP3. He's averaging 21 and 12 over the last season-and-a-half.

4. However, Utah blew the Hornets out three of those wins. That means Paul was probably sitting through most, if not all, of the fourth quarter. Less playing time = lower numbers.

I'd like to see a playoff series between Utah and New Orleans. Could Paul adjust to whatever Utah is doing to stop him over seven games? 

I remain unconvinced that Paul is head-and-shoulders better than Deron, like some argue. For example, ESPN's Bill Simmons. However, I believe Simmons is trolling Jazz fans in his recent crusade against Deron. Sure, he thinks Paul is a better player than Deron, but not to the extent that Paul is in a different universe. He just likes getting angry letters from Jazz fans who don't get that. 

In case you were wondering. 

05 January 2009

Palestinian conflict

If you follow world events at all, you know the never-ending Israel vs. the Arab world conflict has flared up once again. I don't pretend to have a magic fix for the problem, because both sides are guilty in their own ways. 

However, I can't help but have a couple opinions about the current situation:

1. Proportionate response. This term gets thrown around all the time when talking about Israel's current military action. Now, I understand the concept of proportionate response when it comes to, say, a mugging. Some dude in an alley threatens to punch you if you don't give him your wallet. A decidedly disproportionate response would be to pull out a gun and shoot him in the face. I get that. 

But here, Hamas has been launching rockets into Israeli neighborhoods for months, killing civilians indiscriminately. They've crossed the line of civilian murder. What is worse than that? How can any response be disproportionate? 

2. Hamas' stated goal is to eradicate Israel. How do you compromise with that? When you arrive at the bargaining table, what do you offer to Hamas? 50% eradication? Until this terrorist group changes its ideology, I don't see how you negotiate with it. 

If I found myself in Israel's place, I'd sure as heck do everything I could to remove Hamas from power. Those who criticize the invasion don't seem to offer any alternatives. 

It's a tough situation all around. 

03 January 2009

Same ol', same ol'

BYU (12-1) put its 53-game home winning streak on the line tonight against undefeated Wake Forest. After looking overmatched early, the Cougars found their stroke and led most of the second half before falling 94-87.

Some quick thoughts:

1. BYU got their lead by hitting from distance. Jimmer Fredette, Tavenari and Jackson Emery were huge. At one point, the team was 10-23 from downtown, an impressive number against a top-10 team. But at the same time, I kept thinking, "live by the 3, die by the 3." And ultimately, that's what happened. BYU ended shooting 29.4% from the 3-point line for the game. Tav shot 4-13 from behind the arc, many of those misses coming when just one deep make would have changed everything. I love his quick release and general accuracy, but he is flat out stupid in his decision making. Until he learns the difference between a good shot and a bad one, I'll never be a fan of his. 

2. Cummard choked. For someone shooting 62% from the field on the season, going 6-20 is just abysmal. He was short on most of his shots late and looked tired. If he has a halfway decent outing, BYU wins this game.

3. BYU missed the front end of several one-and-one situations. Leaving free points on the line hurts. They shot 75% from the line for the game, but it seems all five of their misses came in the last five minutes. 

4. The refereeing was tight tight tight. They whistled both teams for everything under the sun. Slight bump on the way to the hoop? Foul. Player touched the shoe of the dunking opponent? Foul. Ruffled the arm hair of your opponent while stealing the ball? Foul. I felt like the tight calls affected both teams fairly equally, but as a BYU homer, certain instances really stand out. Wake also got the benefit on two obvious, terrible flops, one of which fouled out BYU's backup center after the Cougars had already lost their starting 5 to fouling out. But if BYU makes their free throws or hits just one more shot in the final two minutes, they probably win. Ugh.

In all, a typical BYU performance against a big-time opponent. Lead late, then collapse at the end. It's getting a bit eerie. 

Quick gear change: I was utterly dumbfounded at how Utah controlled the trenches last night. They had Wilson running for his life while Johnson had all day to throw. And that pretty much decided the game. I think Alabama panicked and went away from the running game too quickly... do you really want to rely on Wilson's arm? He's a terrible quarterback. Similar to the BYU game in that respect.

But all the congratulations in the world to Utah. Majorly impressive victory in a game where no one gave them half a chance to win. Thanks for representing the conference while the Cougars are terrible. :)

02 January 2009

Sugar Bowl

Utah is in its second BCS bowl in five years. Or is it four? 

Anyway, good for them, way to represent the conference, blah blah blah. 

I hear all the time about how good BYU fans should root for Utah to beat Alabama because it helps non-BCS teams everywhere and every time a Boise State beats Oklahoma an angel gets its wings. 

Unfortunately, I can't bring myself to root for the team in red. Not that it necessarily matters, in my opinion. This incarnation of the undefeated Utah team is far inferior to the 2004 model. In '04, Alex Smith and Co. steamrolled everyone they played, while this time around, the Utes squeaked by a terrible Michigan team, a less-than-impressive New Mexico, and relied on some terrible execution from TCU's kicker to beat the Horned Frogs by three. 

Alabama, on the other hand, has lost to only Florida, and the rest of its schedule was much more difficult than Utah's. The Tide has two running backs averaging over 5 ypc against SEC defenses, and Utah's main defensive weakness is definitely against the run. Alabama has held seven opponents to 10 points or less, and the Utes haven't exactly been impressive on offense this season.

In short, it's going to get ugly. I see this game being over early in the fourth quarter at the latest, but the Tide will control the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball the entire game. And when you dominate the trenches, you win. 

Alabama 31, Utah 10

Of course, if my college football prediction skills are anything like my NBA prediction skills, the beer will flow freely in Salt Lake City tonight. 

01 January 2009

It's the economy, stupid

Disclaimer: I have zero economic training, so this post is more about posting questions that me pontificating on the current economic situation in the U.S. For that, see posts from people smarter than I am

My thoughts are about the basic structure of the economy. 

1. If I understand correctly, here's your basic capitalism: a.) Consumers have money, b.) they spend this money on goods and services companies render, c.) companies use this money to expand and hire more workers, give raises, and generally put more money into the hands of consumers. Then we go back to point a. 

So when someone says "the economy is bad," what part of this cycle is "sick," or "broken," or whatever?

2. I understand that the stock market has taken hits, but for the average American who lives on a steady paycheck from his employer, what has changed? He still gets X number of dollars a month, and the cost of goods hasn't gone up. In fact, gas prices have fallen a lot over the past few months, which has to help the bottom line for most Americans. Sure, multimillionaires who have wads of money invested in Wall Street have lost money, but it's all on paper. The only way they really "lose" it is if they cash out their stocks now. 

Same goes for the average American's 401k. Unless they're cashing out now, they haven't lost anything. 

And as of November the unemployment rate was 6.7%. For context, here's a graph showing national unemployment rates since 1950:

So we're not even as high as we were in 1993. 

And in 1933, the last time we experienced a REAL depression, unemployment was at 24.9%. Now that's damaging. 

So why the fear? Why the "sky is falling" rhetoric? If consumer confidence is a major contributor to economic well-being, why are the media outlets freaking everyone out? 

That's about it. Personally, I'm not doing that well economically, butI think that has more to do with the fact that the journalism industry has been tanking for the last decade than it does the current "recession".