Still Not There

As expected, the Diamondbacks beat the Sun Devils yesterday. The score was 6-2, but that makes it sound closer than it actually was.

If, as I said yesterday, preseason baseball is horsehide methadone, then reading box scores from games between MLB and college teams is–with apologies to any heroin addicts who may be reading this–like sucking throat lozenges to stave off your cravings.

But in the absence of any more compelling ideas, let’s enjoy that cool menthol flavor.

Arizona took an early 2-0 lead off of Ryan Hingst, leaving him with a 9.00 ERA. Fortunately for Ryan, yesterday’s stats don’t count against his Pac-12 record.

ASU came back in the second, tying the game with a pair off Yuhei Nakaushiro, who went 1/3 of an inning. That gives him a preseason ERA of 54.00, and unfortunately, that number does count. Not as much as his performance in later preseason games will, of course, but it’s not a good start. Four straight singles out of the bullpen isn’t confidence building–on the other hand, he’s had problems with his control; at least his showing suggests he’s getting the ball over the plate.

All was quiet for a couple of innings, before the Diamondbacks broke the tie in the fifth on a walk and a two-out triple. That was followed by two more walks before ASU got a bases-loaded pop up to escape with no further damage.

And then, of course, the wheels came off in the sixth. Arizona beat up poor Brady Corrigan and Drake Davis for three runs on a combined four walks, one hit batter, and a single. Corrigan’s inning of work left him with a 9.00 ERA on the day, and Davis matched Nakaushiro’s lack of success, giving up two runs in a third of an inning for a 54.00 ERA.

At that, Davis only got the third out thanks to batter’s interference. Said batter, one Jason Morozowski had a lousy day day at the plate, going 0-2 and leaving six runners stranded. Had he not been nabbed for interference, the Diamondbacks could easily have picked up another couple of runs.

In an early sign that MLB’s emphasis on speeding up games this season is working, this one ended a bare two hours and thirty-three minutes after it began. Don’t look for that success to be replicated during the season, though, as this game was scheduled for seven innings and only went six and a half.

More exciting, unbroadcast pro/am play tomorrow, with five games featuring the Twins, Phillies, Tigers, and Red Sox (twice) against college teams.

It won’t do much for our desperate need for baseball, but at least our breath will be fresh.

Not Yet

These are the times that try sports fans’ souls…

Well, okay, maybe that’s an exaggeration. But honestly, this is the second-worst week of the year. The first, of course, begins the moment the third out is made in the last game of the World Series.

But this one, the one that began when pitchers and catchers started to report to their teams’ training camps, isn’t far behind.

Why? Because, despite what so many people on the Internet and assorted traditional media would have you believe, baseball is not back.

Yes, those who follow college baseball have a different perspective. Their seasons are already in progress. Those of us who don’t root for a college team have to wait.

The first pre-season game involving a major league team–the Arizona Diamondbacks facing the Arizona State University Sun Devils*–isn’t until Wednesday afternoon.

* Does anyone else find it as amusing as I do how heavily the Diamondbacks have stacked the deck in their own favor? Not only do they have the home field advantage, but ASU can’t even use their whole squad–they’re listed as sending a split squad, i.e. their backup players, even though they don’t have a Pac-12 game that day.

The first game available to those of us outside of Arizona and Florida isn’t until Thursday, when the Minnesota Twins host the University of Minnesota Gophers. It looks like the radio broadcast will be streamed through MLB.com (and, one presumes, the MLB app), but I don’t think the TV broadcast will be available anywhere but in Minnesota.

Friday, we’ll finally get the first games between major league clubs. There are fifteen on the schedule, and some of them will be televised outside of the teams’ respective markets.

It won’t be good baseball. The first exhibition games are always rough. Star players often don’t appear at all, and players never stay in for more than a couple of innings*.

* “What, never?” “Well, hardly ever.”

But no matter how sloppy it turns out to be, it’ll still be baseball. In ballparks and on our TVs, radios, and other media consumption devices.

Almost all of the stories we’ll get between now and then, designed to convince us baseball is back, will be nonsense. Nobody cares who’s “in the best shape of his life.” Nobody really cares that Pitcher X, coming off of surgery, took the mound: we expect he did, and as long as he doesn’t re-injure himself, tossing a double-handful of pitches is irrelevant to our view of the world.

In a normal year, the free agent signings would be, by and large, over with by now; this year, for the most part, they’re not happening. Either way, it’s thin gruel to tide us over until Friday.

20-1We’ll get there. As the saying goes, “Hang in there, Baby. Friday’s coming.*”

* I used to own a copy of that poster, back in the dim reaches of history. I’d love to get a new copy, but not at the prices they’re going for on eBay these days.

Not all of the current news is useless. We now know there won’t be a pitch clock in MLB this year–no promises for next year, though.

And, if you’re following the saga of the Athletics’ search for a new stadium, you’ll no doubt be interested to hear BART has definitively ruled out the possibility of building a new stadium near the team’s second choice location. That’s a bit of schadenfreude that’ll keep me entertained until at least Thursday morning.

But actual baseball? Still a few days away.

New Hangout

Rufus has a new cave.
16-1

Well, okay, new to him, anyway.

He’s been hanging out in Maggie’s office lately. He likes it in there. It’s usually warmer than the rest of the house. His chief antagonist, Watanuki, isn’t allowed in there. And it’s got the cave.

Mind you, the room does have its downside from his perspective.
16-2

Kaja lives in Maggie’s office, thanks to irreconcilable personality differences.

And, by and large, Kaja doesn’t much care for intruders on her turf. She tolerates Maggie, thanks to frequent pettings. She’ll put up with Kokoro in recognition of her status as eldest female and queen of the crew.

But boys?
16-3

There are many wary looks. Peeking, peerings, and porings over. Glares, glowers, and gawkings.

Occasionally relations break down into hissing.

But for the most part, Kaja seems to recognize that Rufus is an amiable fellow.

And so the room remains largely at peace, and Rufus can enjoy his new cave. At least until Kokoro comes in and wants it back.

Salon’s Experiment

Have you heard about Salon’s experiment in revenue generation?

Like most sites offering free content, they show ads to bring in money. And like most ad-supported sites, they’ve been hit hard by the rise of ad-blocking software. So they’re exploring other ways to bring in the bucks.

One of those methods is cryptocurrency mining. If the site detects an ad blocker in use, it’ll pop up a dialog asking the visitor to either disable the blocker for Salon or to allow them to run Coinhive’s mining software on the visitor’s computer while they’re looking at the site.

It’s interesting to note that the software they want to run on visitors’ computers is the same mining software used by any number of porn, piracy, and malware sites. The only difference is that Salon asks for permission before launching it.

Which does make me wonder how much money the ads have been bringing in. According to Ars Technica, the software doesn’t generate much cryptocurrency, and Coinhive only passes a small fraction of the proceeds to the site that deployed the software. If that’s enough to make up for the lost ad revenue, it suggests Salon is hurting for bucks.

But I digress.

I approve of Salon earning money they can use to pay their writers (and editors, techies, and even managers*). And I certainly approve of them being upfront about what they’re doing.

* Of course, it’s the writers I really care about, for obvious reasons. Everyone else is there to support the writers, right?

Their experiment won’t affect me directly. I don’t use an ad blocker–although I do use the EFF’s Privacy Badger tool which some sites treat as an ad blocker–and I can’t remember the last time I visited Salon.com.

But cryptocurrency mining is CPU-intensive, and I do tend to keep a lot of browser tabs open. I worry that if the idea catches on, I’ll wind up with half a dozen sites all trying to use my computer to make money at the same time. That seems like a recipe for browser crashes and an unresponsive computer.

Still, it’s an experiment, and if it’s successful, it should mean fewer ads–and hopefully fewer obnoxious ads–to ignore while I’m browsing.

And we’ll see how it works out.

Curling?

Can somebody explain why curling is suddenly hot? It’s trending on Google, I’ve seen multiple excited blog and Twitter posts, and its even getting some primetime TV placement.

But nobody seems to be talking about why there’s so much excitement.

Don’t get me wrong. This is not a hit piece or a “How can you enjoy that boring sport” piece. I’ve seen far too many of the latter aimed at baseball to ever go there myself.

Serious inquiry. Of all the sports in the Winter Olympics, why is curling getting so much of the love? It’s just my perception–I don’t have numbers to back it up, but by comparison with previous Olympics, interest in figure skating, skiing, and luge seem down, while I’ve already seen more talk about curling than in any other two complete Winter Games.

I suppose I’m not really asking any aficionados for an explanation. You’re part of the baseline of interest, not the current peak.

Maybe it’s because curling is a deceptively simple sport. One of those “easy to learn, difficult to master” things. Are people looking for something simple to understand in reaction to the increasingly baffling actions of our elected officials, who daily seem to become less inclined to act in their own best interests, much less those who elected them?

Perhaps the World Curling Association is running an astroturfing campaign. Will that be the next scandal to rock the international sports scene? Or is some other national or international sport group trying to raise curling’s profile to distract the public’s attention from their own problems–there’s certainly no shortage of candidates if your taste for conspiracy theories leans in that direction.

Is it just curling’s turn in the spotlight? A few months from now, will all the come-latelies be saying “Curling? Oh, yeah, I remember that. Does anyone still play it?”

Still, I’m no more immune to curling’s allure than anyone else. Whatever the reason for its current popularity, you can find me on the bandwagon.

Red In…

Warning for the sensitive-at-stomach: this post includes images of Nature, red of tooth and claw. Well, one image and it’s more like beak and talon. But you get the picture.

We’ve discussed the sorts of birds that show up in the backyard before. And, as we’ve seen, we do get the occasional visitor who doesn’t fall into the core categories of “Jays, Doves, and Little Twitter Birds”.

For instance, there’s this one, who’s often seen above and around the neighborhood.
09-1

We’ve never seen her* at the feeder; but she does sometimes get her dinner from the yard. Hang on, let me adjust the colors and zoom in a bit.
09-2

She’s much better about ridding the yard of gophers than MM and Tuxie. The meezer prefers Little Twitter Birds, and her sidekick is more interested in krunchiez.

* As usual, I’m guessing about gender identity and pronoun preference.

But the other day we got some impressive first-time visitors to the feeder.

There were actually two of them. Quite handsome and surprisingly well-behaved. Perhaps they figured if they were impolite, I’d pick up the seeds?
09-3

Even though they hung around for almost an hour, Sachiko was the only member of the security squad to notice them. She alternated between banging on the window, demanding to be allowed to attack, and–when they looked up at her–fleeing in terror.

Frankly, I think the latter reaction is by far the more sensible. They only outweigh her about four to one, and those beaks and talons are much longer than her teeth and claws.

Last Chance to See

Paul Simon is kicking off his farewell tour in May. This comes on the heels of Elton John’s announcement of his own farewell tour.

I was all set to suggest they save us all some time and money by combining their tours–call it “The End of an Era” show, take turns as headliner and opening act, mix things up by covering each other’s songs, and so on–and then I realized Mr. Simon is being a bit wimpy about his tour.

Twenty-nine shows over two months.

Mr. John is doing three hundred shows over the course of three years.

So much for that idea.

Seriously, though, both of them are outliers, albeit in opposite directions. And it does leave me wondering what the right length for a superstar’s farewell tour is.

On the one hand, fans want a long tour with plenty of shows, to maximize their chances of getting one at a convenient location. On the other hand, the performers are, by and large, tired of touring, possibly in ill health, and probably want to wrap things up as quickly as they can. And that’s without considering the possibility of wearing out their welcome. “What, is he on tour again? I thought he quit that two years ago?” “Nah, it’s still the same tour. Greedy, ain’t he?”

Maybe there isn’t a universally-applicable answer–almost certainly, in fact–but a few thoughts occur to me.

People like round numbers, and the double zeros in one hundred are particularly appealing. Similarly, they like numbers that are easy to grasp. Everyone knows viscerally how long a year is.

So how about setting a target of one year, 100 shows?

Consider the advantages for the performer. On a normal, lengthy tour, shows typically average about one every other day. That’s a big part of the grind that wears them down and turns them off of touring to begin with. With a year to work in, those hundred gigs can be spaced to average more than two off days between shows. A much more relaxed approach.

Granted, the economics of touring a big show mean it makes sense to bunch them. But it ought to be possible to insert more off days during the active periods without breaking the bank, while still leaving time for longer rest breaks. (As an example, instead of doing a three week tour of the West Coast, how about adding a few off days and a longer break between the Washington/Oregon leg and the California/Nevada leg and getting it done in five weeks?)

Let’s not forget: in addition to being tired of the grind, many musicians cite wanting to spend time with their families and an unwillingness to miss birthdays, holidays, school graduations, and such as primary reasons for wanting to give up touring.

If you’ve got a show Monday in Cleveland and the next one is Wednesday in Houston, you’re not going to catch Junior’s birthday in LA. But use some of those vacant dates to push the Texas shows out to the weekend and you can get a night’s sleep in Cleveland, still arrive early for the party in LA, hang out with the kid for a couple of days, and still make it to the Golden Buckle of the Sunbelt* the night before the show there.

* Yes, really.

There are probably reasons why this wouldn’t work–any professional musicians want to educate me? But from a layman’s perspective, it seems like a reasonable set of working guidelines.

Realistically, though, history suggests you’re always best off assuming your favorite performer’s current tour is their last, whether they call it that or not.

Super?

Yes, I watched the Super Bowl. Sorry, Jackie.

I could try to spin it, I suppose. An ecumenical gesture toward those who follow the Faith of the Oblong Ball, perhaps. But the truth is simpler and arguably less worthy. I wanted to see the Patriots lose.

Sure, I had some secondary motivations: wanting to see the commercials and the half-time show in context–important for proper snarkage–foremost. But the bottom line is that the Patriots exemplify all that’s wrong with sports teams setting themselves up as “America’s Team”. Like the Dallas Cowboys, LA Lakers, and Atlanta Braves* of yore, and the Yankees of, well, any day, they exhibit an arrogance and an attitude of entitlement that cries out for humbling.

* Ted Turner has much to answer for.

So it’s easy to root against the Patriots. It was harder to root for the Eagles, since–as Maggie reminded me–they’re the ones who brought Michael Vick back into football. But since they were the only team who had a chance to beat the Patriots on Sunday, we used the proverbial long spoon.

And I took notes, because that’s what writers do. Herewith, my thoughts on Super Bowl LII.

MassMutual served notice even before the kickoff that this was not last year’s television spectacle of Fox-sponsored odes to Amurrica. Can’t argue with the moral of the ad–don’t count on the government to help you through a disaster–but it would have been a stronger message if they’d mentioned Puerto Rico.

As expected, the camera angles during “The Star-Spangled Banner” made it impossible to tell whether anyone was kneeling or sitting. NBC’s not going to risk those glorious advertising dollars over three minutes of air time.

Apparently Sprint is fully prepared for the imminent robot rebellion, and is ready to placate our new robotic overlords from Day One.

Seriously, Turkish Air? If they think Dr. Oz is qualified to talk about the wonders of the human body, I’d hate to learn what they think qualifies someone to fly an airplane. Gonna put them on my “never patronize this company” list.

Bud Light’s sales were down 5.7% this past year. If their ads are any indication, those idiotic “Dilly Dilly” spots are the only thing keeping them in business. Hooray for living down to your smallest potential.

On the brighter side, NBC’s frequent promos for the Winter Olympics were considerably less annoying than Fox’s similar binge on behalf of the Daytona 500. Maybe because the Olympics aren’t a sport that glorifies unsafe driving and promotes climate change?

I’ll admit to enjoying the dual and dueling Doritos/Mountain Dew ad combination. I don’t like Mountain Dew, but the commercial didn’t drive me to forswear Doritos.

On the other hand, Diet Coke’s promotion of the desirability of uncontrollable, unstoppable dancing left me cold. Can I really be the only person in the world who still remembers Hans Christian Andersen’s “The Red Shoes“? Is a swig of mango-flavored Diet Coke worth pedal amputation and eternal damnation?

NBC hurried to assure everyone that no game action or commercials were lost to that eighteen second blackout. But they’ve been disturbingly silent on whether any jobs were lost.

I won’t bother with my screed about Dodge using MLK’s words to sell Ram trucks. Plenty of others have said more than enough. I’ll just put them on my list, right after Turkish Air.

Regrettably, Janet Jackson did not parachute into the stadium and rip Justin Timberlake’s pants off mid-song. But even in her absence, you have to know that NBC and the NFL paid close attention to the choreography of JT’s show. So now we know that both institutions believe it’s perfectly fine to hump a dancer’s leg on international television, as long as her breasts are covered.

And maybe it was just an effect of the television broadcast, but the much ballyhooed and equally derided “holographic performance” by Prince came off as a bare half-step up from projecting a movie on a bed sheet. And really, JT, choosing “I Would Die 4 U” was a damn tacky move.

Of course the blatant attempt to promote “Super Bowl Selfies” as a hashtag was mildly nauseating, if completely predictable.

All in all, I score it the most soporific halftime show since at least 2000, when we had Phil Collins, Christina Aguilera, Enrique Iglesias, and Toni Braxton lulling us to sleep.

I got a chuckle out of the self-referential commercial for The Voice. But then, I’m an easy mark for self-deprecating, self-referential jokes.

Budweiser partially redeemed themselves for the stupid “Dilly Dilly” nonsense with their “Water” commercial, which did mention Puerto Rico.

My two favorite commercials of the day ran in succession. My Number One was the Jack In the Box / Martha Stewart spot. Juvenile throughout, but with a nice twist on the old “Got Your Nose” bit. And then, Number Two, the payoff to the sequence of apparently pointless Peyton Manning spots, recreating Dirty Dancing as a touchdown celebration. Stupid and pointless–perfect for the message that the NFL isn’t going away.

We’re putting Tide on the list, too. Not that their ads were bad. The concept was mildly amusing the first time. But by the end of the game, they’d completely run it into the ground and arrived at “thoroughly annoying”.

Unrelated to the actual game or the commercials: We discovered that Dish doesn’t think anyone has a four hour attention span. With about ten minutes left in the game, right on the four hour mark from when I turned on the TV, they popped up a message box that said (I’m paraphrasing here, because I didn’t get a picture) “It looks like nobody’s watching TV right now. If you don’t click ‘Continue’ within 20 seconds, we’ll shut the receiver off.” Uh, guys, you’re going to be sending the satellite signal whether the receiver is on or off, so why do you care if I’m watching? If I want to waste electricity by leaving the TV on all day, let me!

And, finally, my prize for “Worst Commercial of Super Bowl LII”.

No, it’s not Tide, Bud Light, or even Turkish Air.

Not only did this company completely ignore the well-documented complaints about their business model, but they’re actually promoting class violence. Congratulation, Groupon, come up and claim your trophy.

Or am I the only one who heard the message “He didn’t use Groupon, so we sent a couple of thugs to kick his rich, white ass”?

Seriously, there’s a right way to do things, and in this case, TV commercials aren’t it. If we’re going to have a revolution of the proletariat and forcibly redistribute the wealth, can we please do it as a spontaneous popular uprising, rather than because a coupon service wants to improve their bottom line?

A Cold Truth

While I’m thinking of it–I just got back from the store–Saturday is Ice Cream for Breakfast Day.

As TFoAHK reminds us, this holiday is not a corporate invention. There’s no mascot, no gifts to wrap*, and you need not give a single cent to our corporate overlords**.

* Do not hang tubs of ice cream beside the fireplace unless you like cleaning up sticky messes.

** I’m too lazy to make my own, hence the aforementioned trip to the grocery store (Tillamook Mountain Huckleberry, if you’re curious). But don’t let my laziness prevent you from digging out the ol’ churn.

Even better, ICfB Day is an international celebration, not something confined to the United States, or even the North American continent. Nearly everybody loves ice cream, so observing the occasion can only bring us all closer together. Imagine how much calmer the country would be next week if Robert Mueller and Donald Trump shared a Saturday morning sundae.

Okay, maybe that’s a little optimistic. But it can’t make their relationship any worse–at least not as long as nobody hogs the hot fudge.

Anyway, before you start leaving me nasty notes about good nutrition in the comments, I’m well aware of the issue. And, to preempt the comments from the other side, I’m also aware that the much-touted “ice cream for breakfast” study has been roundly debunked. (If you missed it, the study supposedly showed that eating ice cream for breakfast improved alertness and mental performance. What it actually showed–if it was even performed; there’s some doubt about that–was that eating anything for breakfast wakes you up and helps you think. So don’t skip breakfast, but don’t feel obligated to eat ice cream. Except for Saturday.)

No, eating ice cream for breakfast isn’t the greatest thing you can do for your body. Not even in the top ten. But unless you’ve got an overriding medical issue that requires you to avoid ice cream under any circumstances, a scoop for breakfast once a year isn’t going to do you any significant damage.

Live it up. Give yourself a treat. Cone optional, because I’m too chill right now for an argument over cake versus sugar versus waffle.