Thursday, December 8, 2016

Vote Now! The 2016 Miserable Crank Awards: Day Four

Today is the last post for voting for the 2016 Miserable Crank Awards. Go vote for each of the categories now!

Voting for day one includes Government, Technology, Sports, and Embarrassment.

Voting for day two includes Business, Popular Trends, and Incident.

Voting for day three includes Entertainment, Person, and Inconvenience.

Vote in each of the categories above, and then the final vote is below. Remember, this vote is for the absolute worst thing of 2016, regardless of category. You can vote for something different or re-vote for something you voted on an earlier post; it doesn't matter. Whichever gets the most votes below wins the overall award, and whoever the runner up for whatever category it was out of will win that category instead. Remember: you need to vote in the previous three posts (ten categories total) and vote below.

Remember, voting ends on Thursday, December 15th, 2016, so the polls will be open for a full week after today.


Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Vote Now! The 2016 Miserable Crank Awards: Day Three

Here are the candidates for day three of voting for the Miserable Crank Awards of 2016. Don't forget to vote on the Day One Categories and the Day Two Categories!


Oscars So White
After another roster of Academy Award nominations ended up being lily white, advocates began to raise frustrations at the lack of minorities in the nomination process--and Hollywood in general. Reactions ranged from annoyance at roles that were overlooked, the demographic composition of the nominating committees, and decrying the lack of roles to begin with. Hollywood, to its credit, continued to do what it always does, which is address the situation via a flashy song and dance and then continue to hypocritically do the same thing they have always done.

Gawker Media
 Gawker Media--the owner of a huge number of tabloid-esque web sites--ran afoul with a huge lawsuit with none other than Mr. Hulk Hogan himself. After Hogan's sex tape was leaked by the web site he sued, and the smarmy behavior of the editors of the site so appalled the court that they effectively reduced the once-great media empire to be completely worthless. To repeat--somehow, Hulk Hogan took down a media empire with his penis.

Sean Penn Interviews El Chapo
 Sean Penn, never one to back down from a cause that everyone pretty much hates, managed to snag an interview with the notorious drug kingpin El Chapo in Mexico--even though Mexican authorities were having difficulty finding him. Of course, they decided to meet in a jungle, where El Chapo was immediately captured after using cell phone and other information to figure out where he was. Penn, for his part, was silent except for those parts in which he could confirm that he, Sean Penn, was an asshole. 

Ghostbusters Reboot
 Reboots are always chancy, but Hollywood has done a relatively decent job of not embarrassing themselves. Bu the new Ghostbusters movie--cast with an all-female group--was particularly divisive. While the original was character-driven by the amazing skills of comedians like Dan Aykroyd and Bill Murray, it was hard to see anyone--of either gender--filling those roles. After a particularly awful trailer that confirmed most detractors' worst fears, the movie did an OK but not spectacular run, precluding any talk of a sequel.

The Walking Dead
 If you want something that is just as routine as a new season of The Walking Dead, it's people complaining about The Walking Dead. Every year, as is tradition, people complained about the writing, the pacing, the acting, the...well, everything, even though they still tuned in. Except this year, it seems that people finally stopped doing that last part, as audience numbers dwindled drastically. Time will tell whether the series will become a victim of the zombies itself. 


Donald Trump
 Is this what it has come down to? Our choice for arguably the most important position in the world has been narrowed down to an individual who has such a historically low reputation with the public, is dogged by decades of scandal--some warranted, some not--seems to be unable to connect with important, core constituencies, and defies nearly all of the political conventional wisdom that we know of. One this is for sure--one way or another, a lot of people are going to be upset. 

Hillary Clinton
 Is this what it has come down to? Our choice for arguably the most important position in the world has been narrowed down to an individual who has such a historically low reputation with the public, is dogged by decades of scandal--some warranted, some not--seems to be unable to connect with important, core constituencies, and defies nearly all of the political conventional wisdom that we know of. One this is for sure--one way or another, a lot of people are going to be upset.

Martin Shkreli
 It's one thing to take on the unpopular job of a health care CEO--even if you make all the right decisions, there's a huge segment of the population that's going to hate you with a passion unparalleled. It's another thing to accept that unpopularity as a challenge, and when you find yourself hauled before a congressional committee about your company's behavior, your mocking tone and comic-book-villain smirk doesn't win you any favors. Shkreli's dismissive tone about his company's pricing of badly needed pharmaceuticals quickly became a lightning rod for all that is wrong with modern corporate America. 

Brock Turner
 What do you get when you mix in one measure of rich kid entitlement, one measure of daddy's lawyer money, and one measure of a clueless judge? You get Brock Turner, the young college kid on a swimming scholarship, who was convicted of felony sexual assault--and with a potential of fourteen years in prison and with officers recommending six years, he got six months which turned into three months. Any more, you see, and the poor kid's future may be ruined, even though he is not poor nor a kid

Rodrigo Duterte 
The world doesn't have a shortage of tinpot dictators, but not many are as...colorful as the current President of the Philippines. Aside from his questionable anti-drug tactics, which devolved into rampant vigilante groups while officials turned a blind eye, he's called Obama a "son of a whore," told him to go to hell, likened killing drug addicts to the Holocaust, and openly bragged about his (and I quote) "his Viagra-fuelled serial adultery." His trust amongst the Filipino people is north of 90%, so he's probably going to be creating quotes like that for a while. 


iPhone Port
Every year, a new iPhone (or functional equivalent) comes out, and every year it seems like everyone complains right up until the point where they buy billions and billions of dollars worth of blood phones. The complaints were in full force this year, as a standard headphone jack was removed from the production line, theoretically so they could make things simpler and cooler but really so they can sell wireless headphones for about $160 a pop. Knowing iPhone users, this mostly means that they will have a slightly harder time trying to listen to other people complain about the iPhone through their iPhone. 

Delta Outage
 It's one thing to have a grounded flight. It's another to have connection issues that require taking additional flights. It's unprecedented to have all the flights grounded for half a day unless a declaration of war is imminent or a snowstorm has invaded. Thanks to a computer glitch, Delta had to ground all of their flights for around six hours (plus days of delays and reroutes to make up for it). No malicious intent was found, so it looks like a good ol' fashioned computer screw up that cost the company about $150 million. 

When Animals Attack
 This hasn't been a kind year...well, for a lot of things, but wildlife being where they shouldn't seemed to bear the brunt of it. Two very similar incidents occurred in short succession this summer; first, a small child somehow got into a zoo display with Harambe the gorilla, and officials had to shoot the gorilla dead as a matter of protocol. And in Florida, a small child was eaten by an alligator at a Walt Disney World resort. Since both involved wild animals in a human setting, it highlighted the dangers and need to have animals in these situations in the first place. 

Your Favorite Celebrity Just Died
 It's like an overly long, badly metered verse in We Didn't Start The Fire. David Bowie, Alan Rickman, Abe Vigoda, Gary Shandling, Prince, Morley Safer, Mohammed Ali, Gene Wilder, Arnold Palmer, Janet Reno, Florence Henderson...and this can continue for a while depending on your comfort level with the term "celebrity." Also, we have the last half of December yet, so I expect this to expand a little. Or a lot. 

Social Media Fake News
 The outcome of the election was a bit of a shock, but it didn't take long for people to start pointing fingers. One particularly hypocritical crooked finger was pointed towards fake news sites, often shared on social media. These range anywhere from hyperbolic sensationalist partisan sites to straight-up fiction passed off at news. Mark Zuckerberg, CEO of Facebook, targeted the sites, making some people happy but alarming others, worried about who gets to decide what gets shared. 

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Vote Now! The 2016 Miserable Crank Awards: Day Two

Here are the candidates for day two of voting for the Miserable Crank Awards of 2016. Don't forget to vote on the Day One Categories and the Day Three Categories!

 


Epipen
 EpiPens--the medical delivery system commonly used by people with severe allergies--have been around for a few decades and manufactured largely by a corporation named Mylan. In the past few years, the price of the device jumped by nearly 500%, despite no material reason as to why. Well, yeah, there was one--they had a virtual monopoly on the thing, and people weren't going to not get a life-saving device. Congressional hearings were held, accusations of Medicare fraud were made, and the company paid some money and signed some meaningless papers. So things went about as expected.

Dakota Access Pipeline
 The Dakota Access Pipeline, a planned construction project stretching from North Dakota to Illinois, was met with protests as the pipeline encroached on the Standing Rock Indian Reservation. Concerns over water safety and destroying scared grounds fueled much of the protests--and like most protests, fed in itself as local authorities used more and more aggressive tactics at dealing with the situation. To date, there has not been an effective resolution.

No Man's Sky
 No Man's Sky was a highly anticipated release this summer; the sandbox sci-fi game promised an almost infinite number of planets that one could explore and nearly infinite people to interact with, all while under the aegis of pulp science fiction novels of the 70s and 80s. Throwing around a lot of phrases like "procedurally generated" and "quintillions" of possibilities, plenty of people pre-ordered the game with real, non-procedurally generated money. The end result was...highly unsatisfying. The game was so disappointing, and missing so many promised features, that the FTC got involved for false advertising. 

Oil Email Scandal
 Shocker! An oil company based in Morocco, Unaoil, was accused of running a wide-spread bribery and corruption scheme to operate in oil-rich nations, largely in the Middle East. Earlier this year a cache of incriminating emails were leaked, providing authorities with evidence and leads to a lot of the transgressions. Given that it is incorporated in a notorious tax haven and operates almost exclusively in nations known to willingly accept bribes, the fact that a joint investigation involving the United States, the UK, and Australia is not surprising. 

 Hasbro Phishing Scam
 People seem to be wary of internet scams these days--that is, unless you're a top-level executive at Hasbro. The email was sent to an executive, who took the extremely simple email at face value. No flashy tricks, no calls to the prince of Nigeria, just a standard link that goes to a bank account that is not the vendor in question. Another executive had to sign off, which they did, and three million bucks made its way to a shady bank somewhere in China. Thankfully, an offhand comment alerted the CEO of the danger, and they managed to halt the money transfer in time. Still, though, someone in IT needs to fix their spam filter.



Clown Killings
 Everything old is new again. Thanks to a combination of factors--mostly related to the remake of Stephen King's It, no doubt--the long-dead urban legend of killer clowns started making the rounds again. Instead of it being an underground word-of-mouth legend about Bozos riding around in grey vans with diamond-shaped windows and a box full of those weird fruity Tootsie Rolls as we old people enjoyed decades ago, this spread like wildfire thanks to social media--so much so that actual police departments with actual police officers were writing actual press releases advising people not to dress like clowns lest they be shot. 

Ken Bone
 Politics is serious business, as long as something slightly weird happening doesn't distract anyone. Poor Ken Bone--whose absurd name, bright red camera-challenging sweater, and otherwise reasonable demeanor during one of the Presidential debates catapulted him to flash-in-the-pan status. Being a reasonable sort, he used his short moment of fame to sell T-shirts for charity, do a quick media tour, and took his brief time in the limelight in stride. 

David S. Pumpkins
 Saturday Night Live has always been funny for everyone right up until they become an adult, where it stops being funny and then people wistfully talk about how funny it used to be. But even the most cynical of us were surprised at the endurance of one David S. Pumpkins, a (at best) mediocre Halloween sketch propped up perhaps a little bit too much with the star power of Tom Hanks in the titular role. If you're wondering what made the sketch so weirdly popular, I couldn't tell you, because as far as I can tell I've already explained as much of the joke as makes sense. 

Be Like Bill
 If social media couldn't be any more condescending, we got Bill. Instead of airing our grievances out like adults, or even learning how to handle minor irritations of our fellow man, we reduced all of our problems into passive-aggressive little stick figure cartoons, projecting our absurdly minor rages onto posts that everyone will swear up and down aren't about them. 

The Mannequin Challenge
  Harlem Shake got you too wound up? Do the exact opposite with the Mannequin Challenge, where everyone stands still for a while. That's, uh, it. The more professional time-wasters made a go of it, putting people in deliberately awkward situations. I, myself, practice the Mannequin Challenge every single day at my computer, so I don't get what the big deal is.


Zika Virus
  While the Zika virus has been around for a while, it blew up to (literally) epidemic proportions this year. The virus, which in and of itself is only mildly dangerous to most adults, can cause major issues for women during pregnancy. Transmitted mostly by mosquitoes but can be spread by other means, there is no known cure or vaccine for it, and many South American nations have issues travel warnings and precautions--especially since the Olympics were held in the epicenter of the outbreak and a large number of international visitors would be entering the infected region. 

 Brussels Attacks
 Europe suffered a major terrorist attack in Belgium, as a coordinated bombing hit metro stations and airports. Most likely a reaction to recent police raids against ISIS in the country, it ended up with several dozen dead and increased security. Many nations around the world indicated solidarity with the international city. 

2016 Election
  This year's United States election was historic in many ways, even before it was held. With the first woman nominee, Hillary Clinton, involved, things were always going to be interesting, but the entrance and eventual winner of the GOP nomination businessman Donald Trump was also, uh, interesting. And despite trailing for most of the campaign, he managed to get within striking distance by the end of it all, and (amongst a million other reasons) a strong rural turnout and a lighter than expected turnout from much of Obama's base propelled Trump to the victory. The election was relatively unique in the historically low popularity of both candidates, along with plenty of unprecedented behavior almost entirely acted upon by Trump. Whatever one thinks of the eventual outcome, it is something we'll all have to deal with in our own way for at least four years. 

Orlando Shooting
 When a mass shooting by an American-born ISIS sympathizer with Afghan heritage occurred at the Orlando nightclub Pulse, which catered to a gay clientele, it intersected four distinct political issues--terrorism, violence against gays, gun control, and immigration. One of the worse domestic tragedies on American soil for quite some time, it brought to the forefront a whole array of issues and concerns that many people are still working through. 

Hurricane Matthew
 A particularly nasty hurricane swept through the Caribbean in late September, one of the largest in the Atlantic for almost ten years. It was one of the deadliest in recent memory, largely hitting Haiti but a host of other islands and caused almost ten billion dollars in damages. It eventually wound its way up to the Canadian Maritimes, leaving a path of destruction. 




Monday, December 5, 2016

Vote Now! The 2016 Miserable Crank Awards: Day One

It's time for the 7th annual Miserable Crank awards, where we determine the worst events of the year!

The categories are:
  • Worst Government Decision 
  • Worst Technological Advance
  • Worst Sports Event
  • Worst Embarrassment
  • Worst Business Decision
  • Worst Popular Trend
  • Worst Incident
  • Worst Entertainment
  • Worst Person
  • Worst Inconvenience
Simply vote for one candidate in each category over the next three days. Then, you can vote again for any one event as the "Worst Thing About 2016" on day four. On that day, you can vote for the same candidate as you had in the past or a different one; it's up to you. Whichever one wins the overall vote wins the Worst Event, and whoever the runner-up is in that category wins that category instead. I retain a little bit of judgement and discretion on this one, however, since not all of the candidates are appropriate.

(The second day of voting is for Business, Popular Trends, and Incidents.The third day of voting is for Entertainment, Person, and Inconvenience.)

Voting will end on Thursday, December 15th. The results will be posted the following Monday.


 Venezuela. Just...Venezuela
Everything about Venezuela is not great right now. Food shortages, rampant inflation, riots...everything you've ever heard about a failed state is happening right now in Venezuela. There's plenty of blame to go around--about two decades of flat-out socialism takes up the lion's share--and none of the solutions are easy. The usual solutions generally boil down to "Send in the Marines, causing resentment and creating future terrorists" and "Leave it alone, causing resentment and creating future terrorists," so we'll see how that goes.

Brexit
 "Have a vote," they said. "There's no way the UK will leave the European Union," they said, right up until the point where the UK did exactly that. Frustrations over political control, immigration, and economic stagnation reached a boiling point as voters decided to leave the EU--a shocking outcome that will most likely have long-term economic ramifications. Thank goodness America would never make some boneheaded decision like that! 

Supreme Court Vacancy 
 After the untimely but not exactly unexpected death of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, long the court's conservative bulwark, early in the year, most people expected the process to unfold like it normally does: the President nominates a perfectly acceptable candidate, everyone freaks out about everything while a whole Congressional Opera goes on, and then they get confirmed in an anticlimactic vote. Not this time, though; congressional Republicans, sensing blood in the water, declared this to be uncharted territory. Supreme court vacancies aren't typically filled during an election year (mostly because Supreme Court justices usually have the good grace to not die at inconvenient times), and so they decided to use the Presidential election as a referendum on the court--you know, the exact sort of political influence that's not supposed to happen between branches.

Panama Papers 
 Rich people hate to pay taxes. Who knew? An anonymous source leaked a few decades' worth of financial and legal papers primarily dealing with certain offshore accounts, which are one of Panama's leading exports. While perfectly legal, they're hugely embarrassing, as a handful of relatively important politicians from around the world were found to be taking advantage of their lax reporting requirements. (Strangely, the US was largely absent. Mostly because the US is its own offshore account.) The leak was controversial--a lot of the documents were covered by the equivalent of attorney-client privilege, making them useless in most legal proceedings. 

Flint Water Crisis 
After Flint, Michigan went under emergency management after years of fiscal disaster, one of the decisions was to change the source of the city's water supply. That decision in and of itself wasn't particularly controversial or bad; however, the water was supposed to have been treated differently to accommodate Flint's aging pipes. As anyone who has ever dealt with a government bureaucracy could figure out, this never happened; the result was a water supply poisoned with lead. And since the water wasn't treated, the coating on the pipes had wore away, making it next to impossible to use the lines, necessitating either extensive (and expensive) treatment or extensive (and expensive) replacement. Whether the crisis was precipitated by simple greed, gross incompetence, criminal miscommunication, or (most likely) some combination of all three is still being determined.


Microsoft AI Tweetbot
Progress is not without its risks, right? Microsoft decided to test the waters by launching a twitter account, named Tay, run by what was effectively an artificial intelligence. More accurately, it was designed to "learn" through public conversations on how to respond to and initiate conversations. It took all of a day for it to become a dirty-talking Hitler-loving embarrassment, after which it ran for President. I, for one, can't wait for the singularity. 

 Galaxy Note 7 
The Samsung Galaxy Note 7 was one of the hottest new gadgets to be launched this year. No, really, it was literally the hottest, as in it would routinely catch fire. Okay, maybe "routinely" is a bit unfair, but the reports of the battery generating excessive heat and on occasion bursting into flame were alarmingly common. Samsung ended up having their chance of what could have conceivably been an iPhone killer go up in smoke. (Sorry.) 

Yahoo Email Breach
 Another year, another email hacking story. This time, troubled company Yahoo was the target, but this time was a little different--the numbers were staggering. Over 500 million accounts were conceivably hacked, and a non-trivial number of those--like, a thousand or so--weren't started ten years ago just to sign up for fantasy football and then immediately forgotten. 

Wikileaks
 Wikileaks is still at it--this time, releasing information on a variety of topics. Most notably, they threw a wrench into the 2016 Presidential Election, as documents and emails about then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton concerning the Iraq War, the inside mechanizations of the Democratic National Committee, and internal emails to Clinton's campaign manager John Podesta all were released before the election, causing no shortage of embarrassment. One almost misses the day when controversial conversations were conducted drunk in the sidewalk outside of a bar in DC.

Pokemon Go 
One of the summer's greatest trends, Pokemon Go--an adaptation of the classic game of wasting money and weird-ass cartoons--was launched and quickly became overloaded. Users could download the game on their phones, and then use location-based services to catch Pokemon strategically placed around your living space. A lot of credit is due for getting kids and adults alike to get out and get some fresh air, but at the end of the day everyone is chasing pixels. Gotta Catch 'Em All! And by "'Em" we mean "an impending sense of worthlessness."




Johnny Manziel
 Manziel was the rising star in the National Football League a few seasons ago. Drafted into the lowly Cleveland Browns, he played solidly if inconsistently. The Browns would take what they could get, but Manziel's off-field antics managed to get more headlines than his underwhelming performance. This year, things came to a head: his marketing agency dumped him, he was being investigated for domestic violence, he was suspected of being on drugs, and his agent fired him--thereby somehow making his nickname "Johnny Football," supposedly the epitome of pro football, non-ironic, ironic, and then non-ironic again. On the bright side, he doesn't play for the Browns anymore. 

Rio Olympics
 As usual, the Olympics was a bit of a shitshow this year. I say "as usual," because the Olympics tend to be held in places that aren't exactly ready for a huge undertaking like the Olympics. Rio de Janeiro was no different. Not only did the growing threat of Zika cause a lot of international travelers a non-trivial amount of grief, but there were plenty of concerns over the quality of the water (which, you know, was going to be used in swimming events) and a bike trail collapsed (which, you know--well, you can figure it out). All of this was under the cloud of a massive political scandal involving (surprise!) the state-controlled oil company, making quick resolutions to these issues problematic. 

Ryan Lochte
 One of the main concerns of the Olympians was being safe--Rio being a bit of a cluster of rampant street crime, even as the Olympics began. So it wasn't a huge shock when swimmer Ryan Lochte claimed to have been robbed (along with some fellow athletes) at gunpoint while out for the night. Of course, the story very quickly started to unravel, as it turns out the "robbers" were "security guards" who were accosting Lochte and his teammates for public urination and the destruction of property--basically, blaming their likely drunken shenanigans on the failing state of Brazil. Brazilians were not exactly thrilled, and it was no small matter to get out of jail and their passports back--no one said the word bribe, because, you know, that would be embarrassing. 

Colin Kaepernick 
Kaepernick, the quarterback for the San Francisco 49ers, gained a lot of attention earlier this year when he protested recent civil rights issues by not standing for the National Anthem. Reactions tended to be mixed--the 49ers, and many veterans and football players, respected his right to protest, while others felt that it was neither the time nor the place, especially during ceremonies that honored veterans that had little to do with race relations. Kaepernick's favor started to fall a little more after declaring he wasn't going to vote, and further still when he praised Fidel Castro. Many people contend that Kaepernick should be protesting the fact that for some reason San Francisco has a football team.

Leicester City
 You know every single stupid after school movie about sports? About how the scrappy, horrible team somehow manages--usually though a series of inspirational speeches and a hard-at-work montage--to beat the Big Bad Rivals to win the Championship? And how in real life that never, ever works because of money and bullshit? Well, somehow, amazingly, the oft-overlooked Leicester City F.C. managed to win the Premier League, one of the top-level soccer championships. At one point, the chance of them winning was 5000:1. If you're not familiar with European soccer or don't care about gambling, a good analogy was if Air Bud won the Conn Smythe Trophy.




The Aleppo Moment
 This was going to be the Libertarian Party's year--two historically unliked candidates were running, there was a decided shift in public attitudes about things such as marijuana, and both major candidates seemed to have ran on relatively niche and unpopular platforms. Enter Gary Johnson, former governor of New Mexico and the 2012 candidate. While hopes were already inflated, Johnson polled at a relatively impressive 10-13% throughout the campaign--that is, until he was frozen out of the debates. More embarrassing, however, was his "Aleppo Moment," where he (seemingly) had no idea what an "Aleppo" was (it's Syria's largest city, for those keeping score at home). While he claimed to have thought it was an acronym since the reporter had abruptly changed subjects, the damage was done--it ended up being the only sound bite to get any traction on the news. 

Bison Kidnapping
  Kids, leave the important stuff to the professionals. Two Yellowstone tourists came across what appeared to be a cold baby bison. They did what anyone would do in such a situation--kidnap it and shove it in their SUV. And when told to release it by park rangers--you know, because it's a baby and it's a bison and it's Wyoming--they received a ticket. Sadly, the bison later had to be euthanized because the mother rejected it since it got to ride in the back of a sweet Jeep Grand Cherokee. 

Militia Takeover In Oregon
Oh, the Pacific Northwest. Never change. A group of militia members took over a bird sanctuary in eastern Oregon in protest of the Bureau of Land Management's practices in the area. There's always been friction between the BLM (not that one, the other one) and a lot of the ranchers, hunters, and other landowners throughout the entire west, but this was a full-scale takeover of federal land. After a few of the members left to get snacks (that's not a joke), and one of the leaders shot and killed when he appeared to reach for a weapon, the takeover eventually dispersed, with most being arrested. They were eventually acquitted and (presumably) got snacks. 

Boaty McBoatface 
When the UK government let the public vote on the name of one of their new research vessels, most people proposed a lot of names recognizing important members of the scientific research and nautical communities. Ha! Just kidding. In the only time a public vote in the UK would go wrong this year, the top name was Boaty McBoatface. The minister in charge eventually came up with a decent compromise, naming the vessel after a more appropriate concept (Sir David Attenborough) and the Boaty McBoatface moniker was given to the remote-controlled submersibles. 

 Bob Dylan Rejecting His Nobel
 The Nobel Committee announced this year that Bob Dylan, famed folk singer, had won the Nobel Prize in Literature this year, largely for his poetry in the form of songwriting--an unprecedented feat, especially since experts generally define his style as "chylffgh kdffheeeeer". Dylan responded with--well, he didn't respond. At all. The Nobel Committee had to publicly shame him into acknowledging his prize, which he seemed to be perplexed over; at one point, any mention of the prize was scrubbed from his web site. He eventually accepted, although declined to attend the ceremony, which presumably conflicted an appointment he had at 4:20. 


Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Video Game Review: Civilization VI

Ready to play just one...more...turn? It's time for Civilization VI!

I've been a fan of the Civilization franchise for a loooong time. As in, I bought the first version as a youngish teenager are Radio Shack. Civ is one of the few games/books/media where I'm willing to pay full price for it when it comes out; there's not a whole lot out there that can claim that from me.

As always, it appears to be worth it this time, as usual.


I've been blogging long enough that I reviewed the previous version of this game, Civ V. Civ V has always been a mixed bag for fans of the franchise; it did some much-needed cleanup of the format, but sacrificed a lot, made a lot of weird decisions, and it took a long time to get it right--the first six months of the game's release was not great, and gaps didn't finally get addressed until the third expansion. I did end up liking it, and logged a lot of hours on it, but ultimately by the time the game was done with development I was only playing custom maps.

Thankfully, it appears that Civ VI has avoided almost all of those mistakes.

For those who are unaware of the game, the game traces a player who starts from the dawn of civilization in 4000 BC until 2050, settling new cities, warring with neighbors, discovering new technologies, and building magnificent wonders. The games are long--they tend to take days--and are turn-based, which means you can play then go get a sandwich and come back from when you left off. This used to be standard in PC gaming fifteen years ago, but not so much anymore.

If you're not familiar with the previous games, the below may not mean much to you; civ games tend to be very similar in style, with each new version making updates and additions (like espionage and religion).

(Note: There was also a patch that fixed a lot of minor details. None of it was game-changing, but some of the early complaints have already been addressed.)

Here's what I like so far about Civ VI:
  • The new district system is pretty awesome. Unlike previous games, there are two new factors dealing with city management. First, Districts are "buildings" you must establish first before constructing actual buildings. For example, you must first built a Commercial District before you can build a Market or Bank. These Districts are actual tiles in your city range, and there are certain bonuses or restrictions based on where you place it--and those tiles can't produce food, production, or gold. And you can only build so many Districts based on your population. Now, you have several different choices to make--what Districts to build in each city, and what natural features are you willing to give up? You can no longer build every building in every city as you used to. They have tried this before, but this time I think they have it right.
  • The Wonders all now have restrictions--some of them pretty exacting. Wonders are actually built on specific tiles, much like districts. Pyramids can only be built in a non-hill desert, for example. You can no longer simply build every single Wonder every game.
  • Splitting up Science and Culture in two different tech trees is pretty good. It was always a little weird that scientists would discover Democracy because you built a bunch of Laboratories. Now it makes sens--culture contributes to those sorts of things, while pure science contributes to more practical things. 
  • The Tech trees also have a pretty neat "Eureka" system, where a specific tech has its cost halved when you do a specific thing. For example, if you settle a city on a coast, it halves the cost to discover Sailing. This makes thematic sense, but it also encourages players to do things that they may not normally do.
  • The new government system is great. In fact, I'd say it's probably the best part of the new game. You still have several government types to choose from, and each one grants some sort of benefit. (For example, a Merchant Republic increases your trade route capacity.) But you also accrue a "legacy" from your government type, so even if you later switch to a new type of government, you still retain some small bonus (for example, the Merchant Republic reduces gold cost for purchasing items) long after you've had that government. 
  • In addition, each government has "slots" for various cards; these "cards" grant some sort of bonus and new ones are gained via techs. There are four different types of cards (Military, Economic, Diplomatic, and Wildcard) and each can go in a certain slot. Monarchy, for instance, has more Military slots, while Merchant Republic has more Economic slots. That way, you have your overall government, and then can customize your government from there. It's very easy, very intuitive, and very awesome.
  • The envoy system is pretty interesting. Unlike the previous city-state system, you gain influence in city-states primarily by Envoys, which you earn in various ways. These Envoys can then be allocated as you wish amongst the city-states you've encounters. Like Civ V, there are certain types of city-states (like commercial or cultural) that will grant bonuses depending on the level of Envoys you have. If you have a certain number of them, and more than anyone else, you can also gain a special bonus unique to that city-state. As before, there are also missions that award you bonus envoys as well, which encourages diverse gameplay.
Here's what I don't like about it:
  • The amenity (i.e., happiness) system is unnecessarily confusing. It does it automatically, which is good, but it makes it sometimes hard to determine if a trade is fair or if it's worth improving a luxury as a priority.  
  • Religion is a bit of a letdown. it's not bad, but it is almost functionally identical to Civ V, which is fine. I liked the way religions are formed, but I was never a fan of how it spread--I prefer Civ IV's approach, where multiple religions existed more or less equally and it wasn't a mini game to min-max religious followers in each city.
  • There's some user interface decisions that are...poor choices. For example, it's impossible, when looking at trade routes, to sort by, say, highest gold. Or sort your city list by highest production. (At least I can't find any way to do it.) Thankfully, these are pretty easy to fix, and in the past have been fixed pretty quickly. 
  • Like almost every other version of Civ, production can drag a lot. There's a pretty noticeable gap between the time when units/buildings start becoming expensive and you have access to newer production buildings, so it's not unusual to spend about 50 turns crawling along at a snail's pace. Again, in the past, this has been fixed by adding new production sources, but it's frustrating that this happens every time.
  • The AI, as always, is batshit crazy. 
  • The Civilipedia is bad. Really, really bad. And since that is effectively the instruction manual, it took a lot of searching by random people on the internet to understand how to play the game. That's unacceptable. 
  • The game still suffers from what all Civ games seem to suffer from--the end game drags on with few interesting decisions. You are no longer exploring or settling, and nearly all of the late techs either are modest improvements on existing concepts or directly relate to a victory condition--three of the four of which you're probably not going for. Civ V's Council system alleviated this and made the endgame interesting, which is suspiciously lacking in this game. (Add to this that the game takes up to a minute between turns, and it makes it hard to finish games.)
I was apprehensive about some of the things I had heard about Civ VI while it was being released--I was mostly concerned that the district system would be a lot of detail and there would be a "correct" way to plop them down. Happily, this isn't the case. Even the "bad" things above aren't really all that bad; they're pretty minor.

If you are a fan of the series, I highly recommend it. If you are the sort of person who enjoys history or enjoys a leisurely-paced game, it may be worth checking some YouTube videos to see if they are up your alley. 




Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Board Game Review: Hit Z Road

Hit Z Road is a board game designed by Martin Wallace and published by Space Cowboys.

Hit Z Road has players each taking the role of a group of survivors trying to get across the United States amidst the backdrop of a zombie apocalypse. It is largely a push-your-luck dice rolling game with some elements of resource management.



Each turn has three phases. First, several routes are laid out. This is done by drawing from a deck of cards that becomes increasingly more difficult, and creating four routes of two cards each. Players may look at the routes; since the cards, and the order they are in, are random, different combinations of cards can make routes of differing difficulty.

Each card has several elements, not all of which are included in each card. There are Resources. Resources come in three types: Bullets, which allow you some risk-free attacks; Gas, which allows you to bypass a conflict; and Adrenaline, which helps kill extra zombies and save survivors. You simply pick them up. Cards may also have special abilities and victory points. Finally, there is usually a number indicating how many zombies will be attacking.


Players bid for turn order, paying what they have in resources of any kind for the final bid.

Then, each player chooses a route--so if you bid first, you get first pick of the routes.

Each player then resolves their route in the order indicated. Resources are simply collected, and special effects are assessed as needed.



To fight the zombies, a player first decides if they want to spend any Bullet resources for a ranged attack. Every Bullet resource they wish to spend allows them to roll two dice; unlike the melee fight (which we'll get to shortly), all negative effects can be ignored.

After the ranged attack, the player rolls dice equal to the number of survivors they have for their melee attack.

The die results are:
  • Casualty: One of your survivors dies unless you spend an Adrenaline token.
  • Blank: No effect
  • Opportunity Kill: You may kill a zombie if you wish to spend an Adrenaline token.
  • Kill: You kill a Zombie.
  • Bonus Kill: Combines the previous two: you kill a zombie, and can kill a second with an Adrenaline token.
Occasionally you may be required to roll a Horde die on the more difficult cards; these dice replace the blank side with a Horrible Death, which causes a survivor to die with no chance of saving them.

A player continues to roll dice until either all survivors are dead (and they are out of the game), or all the zombies are dead. Then, the next player chooses their route, and play continues until all routes are taken. A new round then begins.

There are a few other minor rules--there are tokens to pick up that grant bonuses or penalties later in the game, and as players are eliminated some of the routes become more expensive to take. There are also bonuses for the end of the game for the player who has the most of each resource.

Play continues until all players but one are eliminated, or the players reach the end of the deck and then the player with the most victory points wins. 

Here's What I Like About The Game:
  • Push-Your-Luck games are one of my favorite genres of games. It adds elements of luck, but there's a certain level of strategy and risk assessment involved. This game does it nicely, especially with how Adrenaline works--there are plenty of opportunities to use it, but you have to be judicious since there's a finite supply of it.
  • The game gets more challenging as the routes become harder and harder. It's deceptively fun, as you watch all the resources dry up and the zombie count gets bigger.
  • The aesthetic of the game is pretty good. It's clearly inspired by Fallout--right down to the bottle-caps-as-currency. The junky, reused feel of the game makes sense given the theme.
  • The game is just the right length of time. It doesn't drag out, and even though there's player elimination, it's unlikely to happen until towards the end of the game. 
Here's What I Didn't Like About The Game:
  • While the graphic design of the game is pretty cool, there are some places where it's hard to read or make out what is going on. 
  • Some of the rules aren't particularly clear--while it's pretty obvious you end the game with the deck runs out, there's no rules that actually states as such. Most of the rule omissions are easy to fix, but it's a little frustrating.
If you like push-your-luck style games and/or zombie games, this will probably be a good pick for you.


Monday, November 28, 2016

Board Game Review: Codenames

Codenames is a party/word game, designed by Vlaada Chvátil and published by Czech Games Edition.

Codenames is a party game with a focus on words. Players are broken up into two teams, Red and Blue. One player from each team is a cluegiver; this never changes throughout the game. 25 words are laid out in a 5x5 grid; a card is then drawn to determine which words belong to the Red team and which words belong to the Blue team.

Each team's Cluegiver is attempting to give a one-word clue, along with the number of words it applies towards, to their team members. However, they need to say a clue that will not cause them to select one of the rival team's words; in addition, one of the words is the "Assassin" which will cause the team who chose it to instantly lose.

For example, here is a sample layout:


The grid at the bottom determines who owns which word; so, for example, the top row has Red owning "Jack" and "Rock" while the Blue team owns "Light" and "Police". Neither team owns "Fence". This applies to the entire grid. The Assassin word is "Kangaroo".

The Cluegivers take turns giving a one-word clue along with a number for how many words the clue applies to, and the first team to get all of their words correctly guessed wins. If a player selects a neutral word, their turn is automatically over. And if they guess the other team's word, they get the credit! So Cluegivers are trying to maximize the number of guesses per clue (since it is, in effect, a race to see who guesses their clues first) while also trying to prevent them from guessing wrong.

For example, the Red team might say "Nature, 3" in an attempt to get them to guess "Stream" and "Rock" and possibly "Green" or "Snow"...but their team may also guess "Forest" which is a neutral word, or, worse, "Scorpion" or "Whale" or even the Assassin word "Kangaroo", which are both Blue words. Likewise, the Blue team may have difficulty having their team guess "Leprechaun" without having them also choose "Green".

Teams generally can't simply do a bunch of one-clue answers, because the moment a team can get two in one guess, they're going to win as long as they keep alternating.

The game continues until one side has all of their clues guessed, or a team chooses the Assassin.

What I Like About The Game:
  • This is almost a perfect word game and a perfect party game. Games are pretty quick, the rules are relatively simple, and teams seem to love discussing what the different options are. Having people argue about minute semantic points can be hilarious, especially since the Cluegiver can't clarify or even indicate anything while the team is guessing.
  • The game is almost infinitely replayable. The deck of words is pretty big and the cards are double-sided, but even if you see the same words you've seen before, the grid of which words belong to which team changes, so it's a completely different situation each time. Heck, even the Grid can be rotated four different ways, each providing a different setup.
  • There's little downtime. Aside from the Cluegiver spending some time thinking about their clue, teams should always be paying attention--what happens on the other turn affects them as well. 
What I Don't Like About The Game:
  • Some of the rules are a little weird--for example, you have to use the words as their meaning and not any meta meaning--you can't use something like "Banana" to try and get your team to guess all words that start with "B". I understand why the rule is there, but it's almost impossible to enforce. 
  • Some people--especially if you are playing with small teams--can get frustrated if they aren't on the same wavelength as the Cluegiver.  If someone thinks conceptually completely different than their counterpart, it get get annoying fast. Likewise, some Cluegivers get paralyzed as they can't construct a clue in their heads, and take forever. There is a timer included to get things moving, but if you get frustrated easily this may not work for you.
This is one of the few games that falls under the "I would play this any time I am asked." Setup is very quick, play is quick, and everyone is engaged the entire time.  It's also got wide distribution in retail stores (namely, Target) so should be easy to pick up.


Saturday, November 26, 2016

Golden Knights

I've always been fascinated with expansion teams in professional sports. In fact, I wrote a very, very long post about NFL expansion a few years ago. I'm not sure why; I think it's a weird combination of reading the priorities of a community, figuring out what cities have grown and developed enough to support a team, plus the inevitable shakeup of most pro sports structures. Given people's incredibly disproportionate passion regarding sports, I think I just like the idea of rattling the cage a bit. Especially now that most sports appear to have maxed out at around 30 or 32 teams, any new franchise is going to be a big deal.

So I was a little shocked when I found out that Las Vegas-Vegas!--was getting a hockey team. I didn't even know the NHL was interested in expanding, especially since their last few expansions have not done as well (I'm looking at you, Phoenix Coyotes.) A bit confusing, since this makes a weirdly uneven 31 teams, which implies that they'll be adding another team in short order.

Of course, Vegas has been off the table for a while--if there's one thing that pro sports wants to avoid, it's any sort of connection to gambling at all, even if tangentially. So it's a bit of a surprise that the NHL caved and went for Vegas--which, gambling aside, is a smart move. It's a growing city with a huge amount of untapped potential, and since they're the first, could be quite successful.

Then again, there's the name--the Golden Knights? Adjectives don't seem to stick around very long in pro sports (Remember the Mighty Duck? How about the Golden Seals?) and Knights just seems...like a weird choice for Vegas. Then again, Vegas is known for having a distinct lack of culture (largely simply being a collection of people from other places) and the culture they do have is stuff they actively want to avoid.

It should be interesting, to say the least. Here's hoping they make it to 40 teams.


Friday, November 25, 2016

The Spice Must Flow

It appears as if they are attempting, once again, to make a Dune movie.

This will be the third attempt, after David Lynch's famously overwrought box office bomb from 1984 and the Sci-Fi networks' kind-hearted decent effort at a miniseries that, sadly, still had the look of a movie-of-the-week, even if it was relatively faithful to the source material.

It's really a shame that no one could get it right (and, despite rumors to the contrary, it's doubtful that Alejandro Jodorowsky's ideas would be any more comprehensible than Lynch's version). I actually liked the 1984 version; it sort of fell apart at the end, but the first two hours or so are magnificent. It's clearly rushed at the end, and too many characters are given too little screen time and too much exposition, but the casting was perfect and the visuals were pretty good.

I like the Sci Fi version, too, but it clearly didn't have the budget it needed.

Dune is a great book (the sequels are decent, but pale to the first book...and don't get too many nerds started on the prequels, written by the estate after author Frank Herbert died). And while we're talking about the Dune franchise, I'll poke my head in and mention that the board game published in the 70's is rightly considered a classic, and sadly the Herbert estate won't permit a reprint.

There isn't much information to go off of for this new effort, but it seems that Hollywood is getting a lot better at producing good movies that work with the source material rather that fight it. Still, a lot of Dune is psychological, which is extraordinarily difficult to convert to the big screen, so we'll have to wait and see. Hopefully they get the casting right, take a few pages--nay, an entire book--from the Marvel Studios, and get it right.