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 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. 

Thursday, November 24, 2016

Thanksgiving Day Topics

Want to avoid tension at Thanksgiving? Everyone side-eying each other to assess potential political conflicts of interest? Are the knives being hidden in a locked cabinet for everyone's safety?

We're here to help!

Why not use the below list as an official C2R Safe Topic List for your Thanksgiving dinner conversational needs?
  • Talk about local retail establishments that no longer exist, and what store is in their place now and how they aren't as good
  • Ask a child how Pokemon works and then zone out under a wine buzz for the rest of the afternoon 
  • If everyone in the room was a Muppet, what Muppet would they be?
  • What regional cuisine is the best? (Hint: it's Carolina-style barbecue) 
  • Go around the room asking all the college kids what their major is, and then everyone takes turns discussing how it's the wrong major and they're going to be broke and miserable
  • Are Blue Bloods and Chicago P.D. actually the same show?
  • Exchange theories as to what ever happened to Oprah, and where she may be held hostage for like three years now
  • Wiener dogs: The best breed of dog or the bestest breed of dog?
  • Have a lively debate between "What is your favorite podcast?" and "what the hell is a podcast?"
  • Why does Harry Potter need glasses? He's a wizard, for crying out loud!
  • Trade Uber horror stories
  • Point at and discuss the wind chimes outside
  • How many conditions from the DSM-5 does Charlie Brown fall under?
  • Is Die Hard a Christmas movie?
  • Talk about your browser history
  • Did it snow this time last year? How about the year before? (Warning: this topic can literally last hours.)
  • Did you see that girl on The Voice last night? I mean, wow!
  • Exchange detailed explanations as to how to set up apps on your grandmother's cell phone
  • The impending Lovecraftian apocalypse we are undoubtedly headed towards
  • Rabbits: Cute carrot-crunchers or pellet-pooping pests?

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Board Game Review: One Night Ultimate Werewolf

One Night Ultimate Werewolf is a social deduction game designed by Ted Alspach and Akihisa Okui and published by Bezier Games.

If you have ever played one of the classic "social deduction" games such as Werewolf or Mafia, this game is very similar. Basically, each player is assigned a specific role--a villager or a werewolf (or mafia). Then, each turn, there is a "nighttime" where the werewolf mafia don kills someone, and then everyone votes on who they think the werewolf is. The discussion over the vote, and how people vote, gives clues as to who may be doing the killing. Usually, there are other roles, such as a Doctor who can save people from dying, or a Sheriff, who can arrest someone. This continues until either all of the werewolves or mafioso are dead, or if the werewolves outnumber the villagers.

One Night Ultimate Werewolf takes all this and reduces it down to one turn. There's only one "night" where someone dies and only one "day" where people vote. This is all accomplished via an intricate maze of conflicting and supporting roles that maximize the amount of clues given by the discussion made after the day.

Because of this, games are by definition short--under five minutes, most likely.

What I Like About The Game:
  • The design of the game is pretty impressive--they managed to take a whole host of different roles and make it so there's a genuine amount of information that can be gleaned only by conversation. 
  • While all of these roles are relatively complex, each player only really needs to know their own role. Eventually, the discussion afterwards will reveal all the relevant information. 
  • The game has almost no setup time and only takes a few minutes. It's a perfect party/travel game.
 What I Don't Like About The Game:
  • Because of the complex interactions between the roles, there's a rather involved processed needed to play out throughout the night. Players need to go in a specific order based on their roles. There's a very handy--and I say necessary--application that will narrate all of this for you. It's free, and it's not bad, but keep in mind this game almost requires an app to play. 
  • This isn't a knock against this specific game, but social deduction games in general require a specific type of person to play effectively. If you play with people who aren't good at reading a room, or are bad picking up social cues, they aren't going to have a good time and could mess it up for people who otherwise would

Of all the Werewolf variants, this is probably one of the best--it's clean, it has some depth to it, and isn't overly onerous on the player to remember a bunch of stuff. While some people may prefer the successive turns of voting--I kind of do--it's a perfectly reasonable version of the concept. While I won't say it's my favorite social deduction game, it's up there.

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Board Game Review: Bring Your Own Book

Bring Your Own Book is a party game designed by Matthew Moore and published by Gamewright Games.

The concept behind Bring Your Own Book is pretty simple. The game consists of a deck of cards and a timer. The cards have various prompts on them, like "The name of a luxury car" or "a pickup line." Each turn, a player acts as a Judge, and they draw a card and pick a prompt.

Each player takes a book--any book--and then has a certain amount of time to find a passage on the book that matches with the prompt. It can be a word, a sentence, a phrase--whatever. Players then read them out loud, and the judge picks the best one. First player to win five cards wins the game.

What I Liked About The Game:
  • It's incredibly simple, and it's incredibly fun. That short, sweet description I listed above is literally it. It doesn't sound like much, but it's a complete blast.
  • Since you can literally "bring your own book," each game can be wildly different. Playing with a trivia book is worlds different than playing with a medical textbook--and since each player has a different book, each answer is going to be much different.
  • The card ideas are very fun. You'd think there was a limited number of things that would apply to this, but we played so many games and each one was pretty good. 
What I Didn't Like About The Game:
  • About the only thing I can see people not liking is if you have players who get frustrated easily and they have a book that just doesn't quite match the prompt, they may not have a lot of fun.
This is one of the better party games I've played lately, and I highly recommend it. It may only work with the right crowd and with a right selection of books, but it shouldn't be that difficult.

Monday, November 21, 2016

Board Game Review: The Oregon Trail Card Game

Have you died of dysentery yet? Well, you will, with the Oregon Trail Card Game. This is a Target Exclusive game published by Pressman Toy Corporation.

Oregon Trail is a light card-based game based on the classic 1980's era computer game that was endemic in elementary schools everywhere. There were plenty of versions, but they all had the same goal--get a group of pioneers from Missouri or Oregon by making sure their supplies were in good shape, they were able to keep everyone fed and clothed, and made hard decisions as to interacting with nature. Famously, the game could be unforgiving, as players could die without warning (almost always from dysentery).

The card game takes all this, makes sure you are aware of the nostalgia factor, and cobbles together a nice, light, quick game about it.

The game's presentation is pretty nice. It's all pixelated, so you definitely get the 80's PC game feel. You even get to write down everyone's name on a leaderboard (not unlike the original) and, when they die, their names are erased and placed on gravestones on the back of the board. It's completely unnecessary and awfully fun.

Players take turns building the trail by playing a Trail card. The trail must be able to match up with previously laid cards; if unable to do so, they must draw a new Trail card instead. Some trails cards have no effect; some require you to ford a river (which may cause you to lose a Supply card); and some will cause a Calamity to happen.

Calamities represent different things that can happen on the trail--losing a wheel, an ox dying, diseased water source, that sort of thing. You can alleviate these by playing Supply cards. Clothes, for example, can prevent players from freezing in the Extreme Cold. Some Calamities can't be countered and will result in a player's death.

You may also come across Forts or Towns, which act as "wild" cards and let players draw new Supply cards.

The goal is to reach Oregon by playing fifty Trail cards.

What I Like About The Game:
  • It's short and fast-paced. If you die early, you won't have to wait around for very long.
  • The rules are pretty easy to learn. It can be taught fairly quickly.
  • While there's not a ton of decision-making to be made, there's enough to keep people engaged, and it encourages the team to work together to make sure the resources are managed appropriately.
  • The nostalgia factor is pretty high, and done very well. If you've never played the game before as a kid, this probably won't mean much, but for those of us who did it's pretty nice.
What I didn't Like About The Game:
  • There are a lot of Calamities where you simply can't do anything about it. The legendary Dysentery and Snake Bite both simply cause a player to die. That's it. It's a nice nod to the game, but it's not very fun if you're the target.
  • It seems like a lot of lost opportunity. I realize this is a mass-market game that's supposed to stay simple, but I would have preferred a little more meat to it. For example, instead of having the Snake Bite card cause instant death, why not have a player be able to choose--they can ignore the Calamity, or they can attempt to get Food; they roll a die, and they may get more Supply cards or they may get bit. It presents a thematic choice for the player.
It's a quick, cheap game that's a pretty good crowd-pleaser; however, I'd classify it more as a party game than a standard strategic card game. It's not very deep, so don't go into the game expecting it to be, but for the right price and the right crows it's a decent enough game. 

Sunday, November 20, 2016

Missing From The List

I've been trying to catch up on my movie watching. I didn't watch a ton of movies growing up, and I managed to plow through a pretty big list during college, but it wasn't until Netflix came along that I was able to fill in a lot of the gaps.

I'm not a fan of lists, but I would occasionally go through various lists, popular, critical, and other, to see what movies I need to watch. For example, let's take a look at the IMDB list--it's not perfect, but it's a pretty decent balance between critical appraisal, popular culture, and mass appeal.

Going down the list--the first movie I haven't seen...well, I think I've seen 12 Angry Men. In fact, I know I've watched at least some of it, and I think it was required watching in every single junior high class ever, but I don't remember much about it. (I do distinctly remember reading the play, so I bet that was what I am thinking of.)

Next up, I haven't seen any of the Lord of the Rings movies. I know I should, but at this point every time I think about sitting down and watching them, I just remember about how it's going to take, like, thirteen hours to get through them all, and I never pull the trigger. I'll get around to it.

The next movie I haven't seen is Inception. Again, no reason; I just never got around to it. Also, I'm pretty sure I know all the spoilers and I'm not sure if it's worth it at this point. (Also--and I know this is anathema--I'm not sold on Leo DiCaprio as being the Greatest Actor Ever. He's good. Not great.)

I have not seen the Seven Samurai, although I have seen the Magnificent Seven. I know they're different movies, but they're similar enough that I'm not in any rush.

Finally, of the top 25, I haven't seen City of God. Maybe some day when I'm drunk.

So watching the LotR trilogy would chop my gap roughly in half. (I'm actually pretty good with the next 25, except for the Chaplin movies and some of the weird foreign ones. And I've been trying to get Leon the Professional for a year now and for some reason Netflix doesn't have it, even on old DVD.)

But in the end, I'm not sure it matters. There's a lot of genres I just don't care for, and others I love, and while I think it's nice to be well-rounded culturally I'm not sure it's all that important.

Saturday, November 19, 2016

Best Thanksgiving Meal

Are you hungry?

Are you waiting patiently for Thanksgiving this coming week?

Do you want it to be completely ruined by converting an honored tradition into a bunch of metadata and number crunching?

Go to the Thanksgiving Thunderdome to help a bunch of statisticians figure out what the best Thanksgiving meal is. Hint: it does not involve rice salad.*

To be honest, I'm not sure if I agree with the premise of this project. To truly honor the Thanksgiving day, the correct answer is "all of the food is the best meal ever."  Thanksgiving is a celebration of plenty, and there's plenty more room on both the table and in my stomach. I don't need any fancy formulas to figure that out.


Friday, November 18, 2016

How 'Bout That Weather?

Today it was 70 degrees out.* This Sunday, it's probably going to snow. Welcome to November in western Pennsylvania!

I know it's a little trite to talk about the weather, but I do enjoy the autumn so much, and I always seem to take the time to mention it on this blog. Unlike, I'm sure, everyone else, I don't really have a list of reasons why; I just kind of do. I actually like the cold, although I don't like driving in snow, and late November/early December is usually the best time to be able to get the benefit of having a bit of a chill in the air without the drawback of dealing with snow days.

Of course, my weird predilection with temperature causes some weirdness--it's not unusual for us to have a fan and the furnace running, especially at night when I'm hot when I go to bed and freezing when I wake up. I say to myself that I would love being in a cold room while bundled up in a thousand blankets, but at the end of the day all that does is make the toilet seat a big brick of ice, and who wants that?

*That's about 20 degrees Celsius for you metric-eating heathens out there.

Thursday, November 17, 2016

A Slate Of Disappointments

One of the saddest things I've witnessed in this post-internet world of ours is the decline of Slate magazine.

Slate used to be my go-to web magazine* every day, even way back in the mid-90s when the internet was still in diapers. I didn't always agree with their editorial stance, but they weren't so far off the center of the political spectrum that it made me uncomfortable--in fact, I probably read it more often as a source for opinion than any other political piece. They were rational and had a diverse array of topics, backgrounds, and interests. Even if I disagreed with them--which I did, frequently--I understood where they were coming from.

I started to drift away a few years ago. Some of my favorite writers left. They were bought out by the Washington Post. Features and columns disappeared, to be replaced by more sensational headlines. Thoughtful essays gave way to trendy, sloppy ideas. I very deliberately kept up with a few regular features--notably Emily Yoffe's Dear Prudence advice column, which became increasingly tin-eared to the point where I stopped even that.

Slate then fell off my radar completely, to the point where I forgot it existed. Imagine my surprise where, a few years later, I peeked on its page to find that it had almost become a parody of the thing I thought it was going to become. Articles were more click-baity than ever. Its articles gained a reputation as being ridiculously contrarian, to the point where the hashtag #slatepitches was used, unironically, to point out absurdity in news pieces.

I quickly glommed onto what I was seeing--every article was geared towards the sort of dewey-eyed, know-it-all millennial who wants their own opinions validated and whose experience in the world doesn't reach out all that much farther than an office suite on a coastal city. Cultural references were tied to a few dozen trendy things. The problems that are highlighted are ridiculously arcane, or the point stretched to the limits of comprehensibility. There's nothing inherently wrong with any of this; it's just a far cry from what Slate used to be.

Case in point is--under risk of giving them more page views--this horrifying article. (Terrifyingly, it's on the front page as of this writing.) It's not really an article, it's just someone's op-ed** about how it's "cowardly" to ask "what happened?" for this election. I mean, it's not much more than that--it's literally an almost linguistic assault and analysis of those exact words. It smacks of 1) intellectual masturbation; 2) a weird challenge of something esoteric, and 3) the sort of puffery that college kids churn out when they need to reach an 800 word count. If this is to be the herald of the new intellectual liberalism, well, so help us all.

*Remember when we used to call these webzines? Or even e-zines? Also, remember the infobahn? Ha!
**This is a rather generous use of the term "op-ed". 

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Going For Two

Something strange is going on in professional football these days--the proliferation of the two-point conversion.

I've long held that teams should be going for two more often. As noted in the above article, in theory they are about equal--slightly less than half of two-point conversions are successful, and slightly less than all of regular extra points succeed, so the math is basically a wash. (It helps that getting an extra point is slightly harder than it used to be.) It's mostly just a strategic choice to make; being down late is usually a no-brainer to go for two.

This past weekend the Steelers attempted four (!) two-point conversions, an anomaly in a league where you might get four attempts across all teams on any given Sunday. Sadly, the Steelers didn't make any of theirs. (I assume; I haven't watched football for almost two years, Superbowl excluded. I'm still a little bitter about the league in general.)

Of course, math is math; I've always held that the first team that specializes in two-point conversions would have a pretty big advantage over anyone else. If you eke that success percentage up past 50%, even for a modest gain of, say, 53 or 54%, you'll probably earn enough expected points to get at least one extra win each season--and with the way the league is set up, that's not insignificant. Now, that advantage goes away the moment everyone else catches up (or at least practices enough to defend admirably against it) but it would be a good formula in the meantime.

For me, I'd ditch the extra point altogether, or at least make it a three point conversion, so almost all attempts are made. Extra points are boring; conversions are exciting. The way football is going, they need all the help they can get.

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

This Just In

Google and Facebook both recently announced they were going after fake news sources being share on their site.

I won't lie--I'm a little leery of this. If there's one thing I can't stand, it's the plethora of people who accept their news from obvious horrible news sites--both right and left. Half the stuff on my timeline makes me want to click a special button that says "You are an idiot and this is clearly false." It's maddening.

That said, I'm always queasy when it comes to stuff like this. I'm not going to use the word "censorship" since the government isn't involved, but I'm also not particularly comfortable with Google or Facebook decided what is fake and what is real--since a huge, huge number of these articles often fall under the "technically true but blatantly misleading" category. Where will those fall?

In fact, according to the article above, Facebook is deliberately taking this action because they fear it may have swayed the election--this, of course, with no way of determining whether it's true or not.

I guess I take the not-very-sexy position of believing that people are smart enough to know the difference between fake and real news, and those that aren't probably aren't going to change their mind anyway. And at the end of the day the number of people who vote based on misleading things probably even out on both the right and the left. I'm willing to make those (possibly shaky) assumptions rather than have a corporation tell me what sort of news I'm allowed to consume, no matter how ridiculously inaccurate it is.

Monday, November 14, 2016

The Internet Ruins Everything

One of the very few brights spots from this post-election haze was the emergence of the Joe Biden memes, where good ol' Diamond Joe has a few things to say about the election results. I'm partial to this one:

Building off of Biden's personality, these things are hilarious because they seem vaguely possible. I mean, not really, but regardless of your politics Joe's such a great character it's hard not to laugh.

Of course, the internet made short work of ruining such a wonderful thing. For about eight hours the comedy was riding high, but then people on the internet took it and missed the whole point. Joe was now quoting random rap lyrics, or talking about Slenderman or PewdiePie, or waxing deadly serious about the election, or all other manner of "come on, man" level of mood-killers--and since the mass of the internet eats this up, these quickly replaced the good ones. The one thing that was funny for the past week was put through the grinder of populist bullshit, and now any halfway decent search of Biden memes is coming up mostly garbage.

Thanks, internet. You create glory, and create darkness. I wish we could quit you.

Sunday, November 13, 2016

The Weirdness of Language

I recently read somewhere of someone mentioning a "green flag" as a "good" indicator, which struck me as a little odd; it wasn't until later I realized they were using it to contrast it to "red flag" as a bad indicator. And yet there aren't any situations that I can think of where there are any green flags--we just have red flags to warn of danger. "Green" only comes in the context of traffic lights, which I suspect were well off the mark by the time the phrase was coined.

My original thought was that the opposite should be "checkered flag" as an indicator to "go ahead" (as in auto racing)...but that doesn't really mean the same thing as a "good indicator" nor are red flags actually used in that context, either.

So I looked it up. Turns out we've been raising the red flag for alertness for a long time, almost always in the context of the military and almost always signifying blood. SO, really, there isn't an opposite of that to mean a "go ahead" unless we want to go with "green light," and at that point we're mixing metaphors.

I'm sure there's plenty of other incidences where we can come up with something that has an obvious opposite, and yet really shouldn't given the origin of the phrase. Such are idioms, I suppose.

Saturday, November 12, 2016

New Bands

Here's a short post for today: interested in seeing some new bands? Type in three bands you like and they'll spit something out:

I gave it a whirl with They Might Be Giants, Jonathan Coulton, and Barenaked Ladies, and it came back with...Jon Lajoie, the guy who plays Taco on The League. So it works, I guess?

Friday, November 11, 2016

The Chair Knows

This is what the box that my new chair comes in looks like:

I know "Uph." is supposed to stand for "Upholstered", but you and I and the chair knows it really stands for the noise I make every single time I stand up or sit down in it.

Thursday, November 10, 2016

The Worst Of Us

I was all set to write a sort of "Don't Panic" screed about the election today, but it turns out that all places--does a pretty good job of summing everything up.

I encourage you to read that article.

It's not a huge secret that I don't like Donald Trump and did not vote for him. And I'll also admit that almost everything I thought about this election has been flat-out wrong, so my political advice may not be particularly practical. (I take solace in the fact that everyone else was flat-out wrong as well, so I have good company.) But as the data comes in and the reality settles, I think it's important to note a few points.
  • First: Don't believe pretty much anything you see on social media for the next week. I've already seen at least three incendiary things that turned out to be complete fabrications. Just...don't.
  • Our system is specifically designed to handle people like Donald Trump. We've had some real assholes as President before, and we will again. The entire point of our federalist system is that we can mitigate all this. 
  • Don't freak out over the popular vote vs electoral college. You can't just plop the popular vote into the EC system and cry foul. Had we just ran a campaign based on popular vote, the candidates would have visited different states, emphasized different issues, picked different running mates, etc.Also, based on the current population distribution, more Republicans probably stayed home due to the EC than Democrats, so under a popular vote that may have been made up. We'll never know, for sure, but you can't use different rules for different scenarios based on one set of information.
  • The parts of the system you hate are now going to be the parts you love. Many people have complained bitterly about the obstructionist Republican congress (myself included) and with good reason. Right now, though, if you disagree with Trump's election, those things are going to be your friend. And while it's different, since both branches are in the same party, there's still a rather huge contingent of Republicans who do not like Trump nor agree with his more ridiculous stances. And that's not even counting the Senate, where it takes a slim 2 Senators to deny a majority. There are a lot of Red Senators in Blue states who just saw what happened to Mark Kirk in Illinois and Kelly Ayotte in New Hampshire. I read on Twitter yesterday (sadly, can't find out who said it): "If your opinion on executive orders changed in the last 24 hours, you're part of the problem." They're not wrong.
  • It is more difficult to undo things than to do them. Obviously laws and policies are going to change, and they are probably not going to change in the direction you prefer, but the system is set up to prevent fullscale madness.
  • The Supreme Court really respects judicial precedent. The Supreme Court generally doesn't like overturning established court cases, especially recent ones. If nothing else, John Roberts might as well be walking around Capitol Hill with a "Don't Panic!" sign around his neck.
  • If you are blaming Trumps' re-election on racism or sexism, you missed the point. Certainly, that was a factor this election, and anyone who says otherwise is a fool. But the numbers don't lie--a higher percentage of both Latinos and blacks voted for Trump than Romney, as did millennials; while Clinton did win women overall, she lost non-college educated white women by a whopping 28 points. In fact, it's amazing how she barely won in a lot of demographics she was expected to win handily; she didn't even get over 50% of college graduates, which were supposed to be one of her strengths. To point a crooked finger and simply blame this all on bigotry is to ignore reality.
  • The above percentages are based on a lower total vote. The numbers show that Democrats just didn't show up for the polls. Take from that what you will, but I suspect a non-trivial number are from disaffected Sanders supporters.
  • Don't take the wrong lesson from all this. There's a fairly huge faction of Democrats who are convinced that if only Bernie Sanders had won this wouldn't have happened (Hint: No, it probably would have been worse. See: Feingold, Russ.) There's a lot of people thinking they should double down on the progressive movement. On the other side, there's a large portion of Republicans looking to move away from the Reagan coalition and moving to a new, nationalist and/or populist movement. Both of these are the wrong direction. The congressional politicians who did get elected were, across the board, fairly standard party individuals; the initiatives that did get passed, or got rejected, were almost all fairly status-quo. (It's hard to argue about California, who went 60% for Clinton, and yet reject anti-death penalty and drug-cost-control measures.) I don't exactly know what the message was supposed to be, but despite the absurdity of a Trump presidency I'm not convinced there's a massive shift in the electorate.
This isn't an apologia for Trump. I think he's a garbage human being, and I think the best possible outcome is that he has a decent enough staff and cabinet that his personal garbage is contained, and that reasonable people can make sure that reasonable policies are promoted.

I'm probably wrong about some of this, most certainly. Trump is probably going to do some boneheaded thing in short order, and I think a lot of how he does will hinge on how he will fill out his cabinet and listen to the people around him (a prospect I find...dubious). But the final takeaway from all this is: our system is pretty good at filing off the sharp edges of the worst of us, and extracting from the people the best of us.  Be educated, be vigilant, and be rational; above all else, don't be a dick.  

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

Up All Night

Oh, hey! My plan was to write up a short post about the results of the election by the end of today, but it looks like we're going to be up a while--at least until midnight or so, and possibly much, much later once the automatic recounts start (which aren't guaranteed but somewhat likely).

I still think everything I mentioned in yesterday's post more or less holds up, except we're obviously looking at a lot of thin margins that were not expected.  The polling error appears to exist, but whether or not it's enough to make a difference is yet to be determined.

So, sorry for the contentless post today; like most people, I'm a little surprised. But we'll see.

Monday, November 7, 2016

The Only Election Guide For 2016 You'll Ever Need (Aside From All The Others)

Edit: Since I posted this yesterday, the polls have edged ever so slightly towards Clinton. Most of what I say below still holds, since we're still within margins of errors in a lot of places, but if it makes anyone feel better/worse, Clinton's chances are probably better than what I indicated below.

Tomorrow is Election Day, so let's take a look at what could happen.

As of right now, it looks like the states really too close to call are Nevada, Ohio*, North Carolina, Florida, and New Hampshire. Michigan, Iowa, Arizona, and Georgia are also unusually close, and there's an outside chance that Pennsylvania, Colorado, Wisconsin, and Minnesota are also close to the margin of error, although not likely to change. Finally, both Maine and Nebraska have congressional electoral votes that may vote differently than the rest of the state.

But this being as close as it is, looking at those five closest states are probably what will be the most important.

If we subtract out those five states, that leaves Clinton with 269 and Trump with 197. 270 are needed to win.

Why Republicans Should Be Panicking
Well, you should be panicking because you nominated Donald Freaking Trump four months ago. But ignoring that for now, the polls have had you behind the entire race. The few bright spots that you see are blips on the pollster's radar, barely-nuanced margin-of-error leads in states you absolutely, positively have to win. You have to win all of the contested states, and hope that Arizona and Georgia don't fall apart on you--which is possible, because they're within the margin of error on her side.

In addition, early voting has already happened in many key states, and those votes were cast when you were well down in the polls. The only upshot to this is that early voters are probably not undecided voters, 

You should be panicking because it's almost impossible for you to win. Unless...
Why Democrats Should Be Panicking 
Polling errors!

Right now, you're sitting on a sweet 269 electoral votes. There are a few shaky states that make up some of that, but not that bad. The polls have favored you there for a long time.

However, those last five states might give you a headache. Ohio, for example, has been pretty solid in Trump's column, albeit barely. Florida and North Carolina have also favored Trump, but not nearly as much. Your support in Nevada and New Hampshire has been much, much better--and remember, you only need to win one of these. You literally only need one your electoral vote to win, and that includes Nebraska's extra vote.

However, this year has (of course) been unusual...there are an unusually high number of undecided and third party voters. Your throne of 269 electoral votes assumes that these voters will break more or less in your favor...which, historically, they break for the challenger. There's also a collection of other factors--is there a Shy Trump factor, voters who are afraid to say they support Trump to pollsters but eventually will? Is there some slice of demographic that the pollsters are missing that favor Trump? Is there a reason why these undecided voters may break heavily for Trump? Most of these will probably have little to no effect--"Shy Trump" voters seems highly unlikely--but even a .5% edge towards Trump will cause trouble in many states. Leads in states like Colorado and Michigan are almost within the margin of error, and both of those states in particular have been trending down. Remember--the polls were off by almost 3 percentage points in 2012 for the nationwide vote.

The good news is that the polling errors aren't inherently against you--these could be pointing towards a pro-Clinton stance as well. But there's no way to know for sure until the votes are cast. Polling errors aren't your enemy--uncertainty is.

What You Shouldn't Have Been Doing These Past 12 Months
Curating your echo chamber. I get it, people on social media piss you off, but if the only people you hear are the people you already agree with, you have no means to gauge exactly how popular someone is. I've heard a lot of variations of "Everyone I know is voting for Clinton/Trump, so if they don't win it's obviously rigged!" Well, no, because you've spent twelve months slicing out the people who would let you know how much in trouble your candidate is in. Add in to this the fact that most people cluster in real life with people whom they agree with or at least are in the same socioeconomic strata, and the average person literally has no idea how the nation at large might feel.

The First Sign Of The Apocalypse
Any political science geeks out there probably already blanched at the one number I listed above: 269. If Trump manages to sweep the five states I listed above, that means a 269-269 split. Go buy as much popcorn as you can, because this crazy dumpster fire train is going to go off the rails. 

But What About The Senate?
Who knows? It's always going to have been a bad year for Republicans, since they had to defend nearly every single seat. Illinois is a lost cause, and Wisconsin nearly so (although there's been a surprising resurgence in the last week, but probably not enough to win); however, Republicans were poised to retain control with a safety valve in Nevada (which would flip from Democrat to Republican). They could afford to lose a few seats. But as it stands now, they will be struggling--there are five (!) races that are less than a percentage point apart, so it could literally go either way. Each of these races will probably end up going with the Presidential victor, since it would only take a very small number of "extra" people to vote to put these Senate candidates over the edge. Republicans can rest a little easier, though; for a while it looked like they might lose Missouri and North Carolina, which would more or less seal their fate, but the polls have improved there.

Why You Should Be Crying Throughout The Night
Similar states tend to correlate with one another, depending on their demographics. For example, if Clinton wins Ohio, don't pin your hopes on Trump winning Michigan--if Trump has lost Ohio, he's already lost Michigan. So if you're going to spend the night thinking "Oh, he or she is behind, but returns from this nearly identical state haven't come in yet!" you are going to be sorely disappointed. The caveat is if the won state was unusually close, there's always a shot for a similar state to flip--but then again, if the results are unusually close, no one is going to be calling it anytime soon.

What To Look For Today:

Maine: Maine's 2nd congressional district is slightly leaning Trump. But not by a lot. If Trump wins this district, it probably means the polling errors nationwide are going his way, and expect it to be a long night for the Democrats. 

New Hampshire: New Hampshire is one of the states Trump needs to win--if he loses NH, he'll have to win some other, harder state later in the night, which of course gets more and more unlikely as the night goes on. If Trump does win, all is not lost for the Democrats, but, again, it's going to be a long night.

Rust Belt Returns:  Most pundits will be looking at both turnout and the margins in places like Pennsylvania, Ohio, Wisconsin, and Michigan. If it is unusually close in Pennsylvania, for example, that spells trouble for Clinton even if she ends up winning that state--that would most certainly put Ohio out of her reach, and might even signal trouble in what should be a sure bet in Michigan. The good news for Clinton is that these results will mostly be coming in at once, and there are few other similar states, so as long as she passes this firewall she should be fine. A win is a win, regardless of the margin.

Arizona: Arizona is Clinton's safety valve. Even if she does poorly elsewhere in marginal states, she might be able to pull off a win in AZ. It's not likely, but it's possible. The good news for her is that AZ is largely an outlier--good rust belt returns for Trump won't mean much in the southwest, for example, and most other similar states aren't really in play. If Clinton is having a bad night, this may be her saving grace. The drawback to this is Florida--if Hispanic turnout is enough to flip Arizona, chances are it would have affected the only other similar state, Florida, hours earlier. Florida is its own beast, of course, but it's something to take note of.

So What Will Be The Final Outcome?
Who knows, but the signs still point to a Clinton victory. However, there's enough statistical noise that it probably means there will be at least one or two razor-thin victories one way or the other; the question is where these will happen. For some states it won't matter for Clinton, but in others it absolutely will. Fivethirtyeight's blog pegs it at around 65%-35% for Clinton--a pretty solid outcome for Clinton, but far from a trivial chance for Trump.

*Polls from Ohio are pulling much more for Trump lately, and has been for a while, but I'm still rating it as too close to call.  That's probably being overly cautious.

Sunday, November 6, 2016

Dumpster Fire

In case you haven't noticed, I have barely mentioned the election here on this blog. For those who have read this blog in the past, you know this has been quite unusual--I've usually written a half dozen posts about the election at this point, and this year I haven't done a thing since the conventions. There's a specific reason for that, and that is because this election is a dumpster fire of an abomination.

And it sucks. Elections are my bread and butter, and even in those years where I vastly prefer one candidate over the other, it's still fun to sit down and figure out the math and the demographics, because at the end of the day I know that while my preferred candidate may not win everything would be okay. But this year, Trump in particular but both candidates in their own way have sucked all the enjoyment out of that.

I think some of the things that people have claimed about this election are a little too hyperbolic, but I think it's also unmistakable that the tenor of this campaign has been the absolute worst in modern times--I'll concede that many of our 19th century contests were particularly nasty (what with people actually dying over a civil war and all that). And this is almost entirely the fault of Donald Trump.*

So, anyway, I don't think I can't not write about it (or use triple negatives, apparently). So I will write up a as-neutral-as-possible electoral analysis tomorrow and then possibly a postmortem after the election, but my lack of enjoyment over this entire horrifying ordeal will probably confine my writing to those few posts.

*As an aside, I'll post what will probably be the only substantive opinion about the race I'll post: I'm a supporter of politicians being more outspoken. Politicians have a reputation for saying a lot of words but not saying anything, because if a politician actually says something of note, it can be cut up, spliced out of context, and used against them, regardless of truth or relation to other ideas. We've had candidates have to drop out because of one specific word or sentence before--see George Romney, Ed Muskie, or Ted Kennedy. And that's not good for democracy--politicians should be able to say things and not have the media burn down the entire house.  Unfortunately, Trump has taken this to its horrifying logical conclusion, which means that if he loses, in the future, politicians will be even more meaningless in their speeches. This is infuriating to me.

Saturday, November 5, 2016

The Saddest Dog In The World

Recently, our dog Chloe has had a problem.

We noticed it a few days ago. It wasn't immediately obvious until it was--she wasn't wagging her tail. She had it perpetually tucked beneath her, not unlike every episode of Scooby Doo.

Of course, we are responsible dog owners, so the first thing we did was freak the complete freak out. Tails were examined. Undercarriages were inspected. Treats were given to elicit responses. The dog was happy and eating and normal, except we couldn't tell because she couldn't emote. And since she uses her tail for balance, she was walking around with a lumbering gait, which would be hilarious if we weren't freaking out over it.

Hello, darkness, my old friend...

After some frantic internet searching, we determined that she probably had limber tail syndrome, or at least some variation of it. We don't know for sure, of course, but it seems to fit the symptoms. The cause is probably because she just wags her tail way too much*. The cure is to wait a few days.

It's been a few days.  Her tail is still a little limp, but we've gotten some full-on wags over the course of the week. She'll be OK.

But I will formally declare that there is no sadder sight in the world than a dog that can't wag her tail.

*Or some other reason, probably because she refuses to listen to reason and probably tweaked her waggin' muscle.

Friday, November 4, 2016

Cubs Win! Cubs Win!

It's been a few centuries days since the Chicago Cubs won the World Series, and people have been appropriately excited.

I'm a very fair weather baseball fan. I enjoy it, although I don't follow it like I do some other sports, and my local Pittsburgh Pirates have been...disappointing.

Still, I'm a sucker for the underdog, especially in baseball, where the "luxury tax" system doesn't impress me too much. It was always fun to hear the anecdotes ("The last time the Cubs won the World Series, the Ottoman Empire still existed!") but I'm finally glad they won.

It's a little strange that sports can be so culturally different and yet have such similar structures. All four major professional sports in America are basically 30-team outfits with two leagues and similar setups for contracts, playoffs, seasons, etc. Football has a lot less games and basketball seems a little uneven, but by and large they're all the same. And yet a baseball game feels totally different than, say, a hockey game, beyond just the sport itself. Thew crowds are different. The culture is different.

Baseball has the advantage of being one of the oldest leagues, and even though those early years probably shouldn't count because it was largely a bunch of men throwing bags of sand at each other, it still produces some fairly impressive lore. Each team has their own weird promos, their enigmatic announcers, their curses and heroes.

And such as it is with the Cubs. In another 108 years, who knows what will happen? Probably robots.

Thursday, November 3, 2016

American Horror Story

One of my October guilty pleasures is American Horror Story.

Every fall, AHS starts off with a new concept or idea in the horror genre, and plays out a season's worth of exploration. The first season, for example, was a haunted house; the second, a mental institution; the third, a coven of witches, and so on. All play off of rather common horror tropes but builds off of them in interesting ways.

Well, mostly.

I call AHS my "guilty pleasure" for a reason--while the first season is some quality viewing, every other season has basically started off pretty awesome and then slowly descends into absurdity, as if the writers were writing it all on the fly. While Coven and Hotel managed to hold it together for long enough to finish out the season admirably--but just barely--the other seasons have more or less turned into a huge disappointment. Freak Show, in particular, seemed like it just gave up about seven episodes in and dispatched with almost all of the plot lines in a ham-fisted way--a shame, since it was really interesting for a long time.

I think the concept of having a recurring repertoire of cast members is interesting, but mildly distracting. It's sometimes put to good use--Denis O'Hare is fantastic in just about all of his roles--and most of the main cast manages to take the roles on and make them distinctive. And yet I can't shake the feeling sometimes that I'm just watching the same characters I did last season, even though they aren't really connected at all.

The current season, My Roanoke Nightmare, is more of the same--it's sort of dispensed with the "theme" of the previous seasons and just went with a standard haunted house/cursed land motif, wrapped in a clumsy reality TV show format. Having actors play actors muddies the waters, and then making the whole thing meta by having the actors and the people they were playing all stay in the house just seems like bad writing. Add into this that they don't have a well-defined antagonist--it's supposed to be the Butcher, I suppose, but they've spent an awful lot of time making the nurses and Sidney and the Polks the bad guys as well. Maybe they're resolve it all in a neat little package by the end of the season, but the track record is pretty sketchy on this point.

I'll continue to watch, of course; even if it's not always great television and even lazier writing, it's still interesting enough to catch weekly for about two months a year.

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

A Day In The Life

Here's a fascinating little visual data for you: How the average American spends their day. It's a little mesmerizing.

I'm always a little surprised how diverse everyone's schedule seems to be--which I guess makes sense. Most people are going to spend their entire lives interacting with people who are on the same schedule as themselves--in fact, that's pretty much by definition. So while most of this graph (or whatever it should be called) falls in line with what makes sense, there's still a few unanswered questions:
  • What on earth are people doing for leisure at 7 in the morning? Nothing is fun at that hour, but about 10% of us are doing it.
  • I know we're all a hedonistic lot, but I'm still a little shocked that just as many people are at leisure than at work pretty much through the day--at least after 10am.
  • Is dicking around on the computer considered leisure? That...explains a lot, actually.
  • I think it's weird that no one goes for professional care from pretty much 6pm onwards...until 11pm. Then it kicks on all night. Hmm, I wonder what that could possibly be?
  • I don't think Phone Calls goes above less than 1% all day long. That's how it should be, since only charlatans and ne're-do-wells talk on the phone like a barbarian.
  • Sadly, there doesn't appear to be any guide as to what the categories mean, so I don't know the difference between "Housework," "Household Care," or "Non-Household Care." I know it's probably the difference between scrubbing the dishes, fixing the gutters, and scraping gum off of your car seat, but that's an educated guess.
  • I tried following one of the dots to see if I could catch some weirdo who went from sleeping to religious services to work to housework to sports to professional services, but I slowly realized I was cornering myself into the mysterious "Misc" category, and who knows what goes on there.

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

The Name Is The Same

Any time you think you're having a bad day and want this sweet nightmare of an election over with, just be glad you aren't these two people.

Having the name "Donald Trump" or "Hillary Clinton" without actually being the individuals running for president has to be a living terror. You get absolutely none of the benefits and all of the random Twitter mentions that probably make you lose sleep at night.

Thankfully, I have a fairly unusual name, so it's unlikely that I would ever be confused with anyone else--except apparently there's another Steve-O who is an accomplished high school runner (I am, decidedly, not) and another who has had some run-ins with the law. The only way to combat this is to overwhelm Google's search engine with stupid cartoons of sharks and tasteless jokes.

"Harkleroad" is also fairly unusual, but not without its adherents--there's Bill Harkleroad from the psychedelic band Captain Beefheart, and of course there is Ashley Harkleroad, a person I have been told is a naked tennis player. There is also apparently an entire cadre of Harkleroads out east in Pennsylvania Dutch country, which sounds about right. I wouldn't be surprised if my namesake is out there somewhere selling expensive furniture or shoofly pie.

There's a rule in the Screen Actor's Guild where no two actors can have the same name to cut down on the confusion, which is why a lot of actors and actresses have prominent middle names or middle initials. (Or they just make up their names.) I sometimes wonder if we shouldn't do that with everyone--you type in a name, and it spits out whether someone has already claimed it or not. Then again, this would encourage people to name their kid Aaydein or Treylooore, so maybe that's a dumb idea.

Anyway, if you're out there and meet a Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump, you may want to double-check to make certain they aren't horrible people first. Only then can you be sure.