October 01, 2011

Now You Know

Wisconsin delivered an old fashioned asskicking to Nebraska tonight. Welcome to the Big Ten, Big Red! After the nonconference games I wasn't worried about the offense. Russell Wilson joined a pretty good unit that didn't ask much of its QB, and he brought a lot to the able (and made Nick Toon look good for once).

My main concern entering B1G play was the defense, which hadn't been tested by anyone to speak of. It looked bad in the first game of the season against UNLV's "pistol" offense. They did just fine against Nebraska today, neutralizing their running game and keeping mobile QB Taylor Martinez contained for most of the game. The line got plenty of pressure on him, and the secondary picked him off three times.

About the only complaint was what happened early in the first half, when Abbrederis fumbled a return and Nebraska punched it into the end zone. It anchored a stretch that saw Nebraska jump on three fumbles. Two of them were their own, so apparently they had lots of practice at is (laughing) (h/t cdw).

Wisconsin's schedule looks favorable, with Illinois as the lone ranked team on the schedule. It's always tough to count on a win in the Horseshoe though, no matter how unsettled the aOSU QB situation is, and I'm still worried about Sparty after last year.

vs Indiana
at Sparty
at aOSU
vs Purdue
at Goldy
at Illinois
vs Penn State

Should be a fun ride.

When you say Wisconsin, you've said it all.

September 18, 2011

Wisconsin Non-Con recap

Technically the non-conference portion of the season isn't over yet, but I feel safe in saying that anything I say about the first three games will apply to the last one and then some.

But really, what is there to say? Wisconsin's offense looks incredible. My only concern on the offensive side was whether Russell Wilson would have anyone worth a damn to throw to, but Jared Abbrederis and Nick Toon have risen to the occasion. The Badgers are still getting plenty of yards on the ground, though James White hasn't seemed quite as explosive as he was last season.

The only hiccups so far have been some rusty play by Borland and Taylor in the UNLV game (understandable) that seems to have cleared up, and some strange line play against OSU. Early in the game both of Wisconsin's lines were being pushed around, which is unusual to say the least. They won 35-0 so they must have figured it out I guess.

Bring on Nebraska!

September 06, 2011

NFL season predictions

AFC Playoff teams:

North: Steelers (12-4)
East: Pats (12-4)
South: Texans (9-7)
West: Chargers (12-4)
WC: Ravens (9-7)
WC: Jets (9-7)

NFC Playoff teams:

North: Packers (11-5)
East: Eagles (11-5)
South: Saints (10-6)
West: Rams (9-7)
WC: Cowboys (10-6)
WC: Lions (9-7)

NFC North:

Packers: 11-5
Lions: 9-7
Vikings: 7-9
Bears: 4-12

Super Bowl: Steelers over Saints

September 05, 2011

UNLV 17 - 51 Wisconsin

Like last year, I'm going to try to do some quick thoughts after each game this season. It might be tougher this year because I'm at a short term position in Rhode Island and did not bring my TV. It looks like I'll be spending some time in bars this fall (for the Packers too, of course).

I barely followed Wisconsin football this offseason. About all I knew was that Watt, Carimi, and Kendricks were all drafted (and should play major roles for their teams this year). If you asked me this summer who the QB was going to be I might have said Tolzein --- I couldn't remember if he graduated or not. After I finally emerged from the football-shaped rock I was hiding under I heard lots of great things about Russell Wilson, but my concern was that he wouldn't have anyone to throw to. Between this and the talent drain from the draft I was uneasy with the predictions being thrown around about UW winning its division, let alone winning the B1G and contending for a national title.

How Wisconsin won: Russell Wilson got plenty of praise for his performance, but it was Wisconsin Football that won the day - running, running, and yet more running. At one point they listed all of Wisconsin's drives and they were averaging fourteen yards per play . Ball and White look in midseason form. Wilson looked great in the pass attempts he did make, though he overthrew two passes early. However, there's little doubt that the run game set those throws up so it will be interesting to see how he does against a stouter defense. The Badgers didn't see many third downs and those they did see were mainly third and shorts. Wilson made some great plays with his legs, and the best compliment I could make was that he didn't remind me of Brooks Bollinger*. He made good decisions on when to tuck and run and ran one in for an easy touchdown with WRs blocking down field.

*Bollinger was notorious to me for giving up on plays and trying to run with it. I can't count how many times I heard "Bollinger on the keeper....gain of one yard on the play".

How UNLV lost: I can criticize a few things about UNLV's game (mainly lousy red zone execution), but given expectations this was a win for them. Aside from the financial aspect (which was the main reason they set up this series), their "Pistol" offense gave the Badger defense fits, as well as the camera crew. I must have been misdirected five or six times with their option plays and had no idea who had the ball. They were consistently getting to the edge against a Wisconsin defense that looked very slow. The defensive line was definitely missing J.J. Watt, and Chris Borland (who I had completely forgotten about after he missed last year with an injury) did not seem like the impact player that he was when he won the B1G Freshman of the Year award after the 2009 season. Jesse Palmer or (ugh) Craig James mentioned that they could just be gaming Oregon State with their defenses this week, which is right about the level of analysis I expect from those two.

Game ball: Montee Ball

Next week: Oregon State (who just lost to a FCS team!) at Camp Randall. Wisconsin's non-conference schedule is nuts this year. Three games at home and one game at Soldier Field vs Nothern Illinois.

July 31, 2011

Summer TV Countdown: #2 Parks and Recreation and #5 Community

This summer, the Onion's AV Club published 4-part interviews with the showrunners of Community and Parks And Recreation (you can find the final installments, and links to the previous ones, here and here). In my brain Michael Schur will always be Ken Tremendous, so I refer to him simply as KT below.

(Obviously, spoilers if you haven't watched the most recent season of these shows).

These are both shows that I quite enjoy, but I had very different reactions to the interviews. KT's Parks and Rec interview reminded me of everything that I love about Parks and Rec, while Dan Harmon's Community walkthrough magnified everything I'm worried about on Community.

Let's start with the Community one, since it was first anyway. It's a show that is (intentionally) tough to define beyond the fact that it's a comedy. It has a large ensemble cast, pretty much all of whom work well together. It enjoys doing, for lack of a better word, spoof episodes, where they riff on some particular genre of movies or tv. Most importantly, unlike most tv shows (especially sitcoms) it takes risks by challenging and changing its characters and their dynamics, which is always nice to see. These risks the show takes, both with individual episodes and the characters themselves is why it can crank out such great episodes, but they don't always work out.

I thought the biggest character misstep they had this season was with Chang, who was the breakout star of the first season and was largely pathetic and used to little effect this year. What made his character great was how drunk with power he was in the first season. The change they made to his character was interesting in a "let's see what happens" sense and was an organic change with respect to the internal logic of the show, but despite adding the extra wrinkle with Shirley's baby this year it largely went nowhere, and the show suffered without him. Having more John Oliver was nice, but didn't fill in that gap. I don't know what else they could have done - it would have been interesting if he somehow became the new dean, but the current dean is so awesome that you can't write him off the show.

I wasn't a huge fan of what they did with Pierce in the second half of the season either, but I'll give them more of the benefit of the doubt there. He turned into a (even huger) huge asshole and it was hard to figure out why everyone was still friends with him. They did address this in the finale though, and it makes a little more sense if he's being set up as the villain in the next season, which could be interesting.

My biggest issue with the show, which was only magnified by this interview, is how much the show loves patting itself on the back for some of the sitcom-subverting things they do. I'm not sure why it bothers me so much - in some sense it's not too different from doing, say, the zombie episode or the war movie spoof that was the first paintball episode. In particular, I'm thinking of the Documentary Filmmaking episode, where they spoof the mockumentary format, Paradigms of Human Memory, where they spoof clip shows, and Critical Film Studies, where they base the entire episode on an elaborately framed joke related to a lesser-known 1980s movie.

People like what they like - I also am apparently the only one who doesn't enjoy the Troy freakouts they used in the second half of the season - but when the showrunner says things along the lines of "we don't have to reinvent television every week", and you take him seriously in context, it could lead to trouble. I recognize that it takes some careful planning to craft a good comedy show, but this kind of overthinking can spoil things. I don't have a problem with serious episodes - one of my favorites this season was Troy's birthday party. I thought it was just a factor of seeing how the sausage was made - I made these points in the comments to one of the interview parts and the interviewer said that all showrunners were like this.

Fast forward to the Parks and Rec interview with Ken Tremendous. He also goes into great detail about their strategy of crafting their show, but instead of making me nervous it just reminded me of everything I love about Pawnee and those characters in general. P&R isn't afraid of a little change either - it cut Mark from the show after the second season and more or less replaced him with Ben, Chris joined the cast, April and Andy got married, Tom quit his job. The show still had a few issues: they still generally have a tough time with Ann storylines, the Leslie and Ben stuff dragged a bit, and they could be in danger of leaning too much on Ron stories (though not too much, as every plot involving Ron has been absolutely hilarious so far).

The best part of the interview is just that you have a bigger sense of what KT wants to do with the show. Both Community and P&R have established a greater universe (Greendale, Pawnee) to interact with, but I have a better sense of what kinds of stories P&R wants to tell with its characters. Much more so than Community, what keeps bringing me back to P&R is that you get to spend time essentially hanging out with characters you like. The same is somewhat true in Community, especially with regards to Abed and Troy, Annie, and to a greater extent (for me at least) with Britta. But Community thrives more in intra-group conflict than P&R, which has much more to do with the inherent conflicts of governing. One thing KT mentioned about his vision for the show is that he doesn't like that most sitcoms are basically driven by jokes where the characters are all mean to one another. This is definitely something that's bothered me about a lot of the big sitcoms of the last 10-15 years or so, especially shows like Seinfeld (which I like less and less as time goes on) and Everybody Loves Raymond, which we used to love but just got tired of eventually due to all the hate flying around. The same is also somewhat true of The Office, though that show has some heart behind all of it.

Some of my love for the show also stems from the fact that I can connect with Leslie's (and clearly from the interview KT's) view of government, especially the parks. I grew up going on vacation to dozens of National Parks (as my mother worked for NPS for 30+ years), and my wife and I both worked at Harpers Ferry National Park when we were in high school/early college, where we met and worked with many more people who loved their jobs and were very good at them. Leslie is a proxy for everyone we knew who are good at their jobs and enjoy public service. There are certainly plenty of other people on the show who aren't such great examples but they all work anyway because they all respect Leslie.

I could probably say a lot more about Parks and Rec, but the appeal of the show is nicely summed up with what I said above about hanging out with characters you like. I'm really glad to see the show and Amy Poehler getting some Emmy love this year. Apparently Community didn't win any friends by essentially basing their Emmy ad campaign in Hollywood by telling people who haven't seen the show that they're idiots, so it's not that surprising that they got zero Emmy nominations.

Top three episodes for each show this season:
1. Flu Season
2. Fancy Party
3. Jerry's Painting

1. Abed's Uncontrollable Christmas
2. Collaborative Calligraphy
3. Consipiracy Theories and Interior Design

July 09, 2011

Summer TV Countdown #14: Dexter

I probably have Dexter rated too low - blame it on how long it has been since I watched it. I got into the show a year or so ago thanks to all the Dexter fans over at Obstructed View. I enjoyed season five but have a reservation or two about the show. If I had to rank the Dexter seasons right now, I would probably go


Spoilers below, obviously.

The good things about this season:

Anything involving Dexter's main storyline. The I remember liking the first episode or two after Rita's death, and I love pretty much any interaction between Dexter and Astor. They eventually leave to live with their grandparents (while Harrison stays with Dexter), and there's a great episode later in the season when Astor returns. Michael C. Hall really carries the weight on this show.

On a similar note, Lumen was great. Julia Stiles really nailed her guest role - John Lithgow was probably the only major guest star that has been better over the course of the show. Despite how relatively formulaic the show has become in the past three seasons (Major Guest Star is introduced, gets Too Close To Dexter, leaves one way or another at the end of the season), one thing that speaks for the quality of the show and its guest stars is that they're compelling enough to share the load with Michael C. Hall in carrying the show. Jimmy Smits was not so good (hence the rankings above), but Lithgow and Stiles brought a lot to the table in their stints on the show.
At first when I looked back on the season I thought that it would have been better if the Lumen story arc occurred in season three, since this season did a far better job with the "Dexter teams up with someone" plot, but it works better this season in the context of Dexter getting over Rita's death.

The not so good things about this season:

While Lumen was a great character and I enjoyed the broader arc of her story, there was one weak link - Johnny Lee Miller (of Hackers fame!) as Jordan Chase, this season's big bad. What he and his crew did to Lumen and their other victims was terrible and I quite enjoyed seeing Lumen and Dexter hunt them down, Jordan himself was kind of meh. I mean, he was evil and deserved to die, but he didn't feel EVIL the way that the likes of Arthur Miller or even the ruthless Miguel Prado. Jordan was just more of an asshole. It feels weird to say that, since I'm going to go out on a limb here and say that sexual assault is bad and I have no sympathy for abusers like Jordan's group anymore than I do with criminals like Miguel or Arthur. But it was a different kind of season - killing him felt much more about closure for Lumen (and indirectly, Dexter) than about some epic confrontation to remove Evil from the world as we've seen in other seasons. Overall I liked the idea of her arc (and Stiles and Dexter did a great job), but it didn't feel executed well on the side of the villains. I'm not sure if it was acting, or writing, or both.

Everything not involving Dexter or Lumen. I'm generally pretty meh on all the sideplots on this show in general. I quite enjoy Deb, but any b-plot that involves anyone else in Miami Metro Homicide that does not involve Dexter is extremely blah. I like Batista's character but I'm not a fan with what the writers have given him to work with, especially his marriage to LaGuerta and all of the internal police department wrangling that those two deal with. Quinn had more to do this season and we got the bonus wrinkle that he knows Dexter is up to something, but every time I look at him I wonder if he's going to die in the next episode from anorexia and/or heroin addiction. I swear you can see his ribs through his back. The other big plot line this season was the hunt for the so-called Santa Muerte killer, which weirdly fizzled out midway through. I don't even remember if they caught the perps. I think there was a shootout at a public location at some point and LaGuerta rightly got in a lot of hot water over it. Overall my memory of it was that it felt poorly tacked on.

Going forward:

One of the biggest complaints about this show from the critics is that it hits the reset button too often and that the broad arc of the season is fairly predictable (as mentioned above, Major Guest Star is introduced, gets Too Close To Dexter, leaves one way or another at the end of the season). Except for season 5, for obvious reasons, pretty much every season has started with promos along the lines of "The old Dexter is back!!!!11!". But, given the premise of the show, I don't see how many ways there are for them to not hit the reset button without destroying the premise of the show, since once someone finds out about Dexter's secret he either has to kill them or get caught, and then it's show over. One way they could have changed things would have been to keep Lumen around past the season break. They might have even been able to keep her around even if she decided to stop with the killing. Maybe I'm just too optimistic about how that would work though.

I don't remember the guest stars that have been cast for season six, except for the always awesome Edward James Olmos. I don't really have the vibe that anyone is supposed to be the big bad that gets Too Close To Dexter. I expect we'll be getting a lot more of Dexter worrying if Harrison is evil, which is kind of meh. Dexter does have a sword hanging over him in Quinn, though Quinn does owe him one for fudging the blood work that fingered him for Liddy's murder. Still, just a few hints to Deb can ruin everything for Dexter. I don't know/remember if Dexter kept an insurance policy against Quinn.

One thing I am hoping for next season is that the plot action will be a little more spread out. The past few seasons have had a dud episode or two in the middle of the season that felt like filler to push us to the big plot points in the last few episodes. Dexter loves to set up all the pieces in the first 7 episodes or so before knocking them all down in spectacular fashion. Those last few episodes are great, but it pulls a lot out of energy out of the earlier episodes. Contrast it with Breaking Bad, where shit can Go Down at pretty much any moment, which does a better job of keeping its viewers on their toes.

June 25, 2011

Summer TV Countdown #17: Castle

I'm a huge fan of Nathan Fillion. We're both big fans of Firefly (of course), and we also loved Dr. Horrible. So the prospect of Fillion as a wise-cracking mystery writer hanging out with some homicide police sounded like it would be fun. And it is an enjoyable show, generally.

Here's a basic rundown of the show. Castle is a best-selling mystery writer who uses his clout with the mayor's office to attach himself to Kate Beckett, a hot shot (and also hot) ace homicide detective who is to be the inspiration for a new series of mystery novels. There are a few other supporting characters on the show, who are generally pretty good. Most notable are Ryan and Esposito, two other homocide detectives who generally serve as the comic relief in the series, though thankfully not through the "incompetent cops" trope - they're both good at their jobs. Even better are Castle's family. He lives in a big apartment with his hilarious former Broadway star mother Martha and his teenage daughter Alexis, from one of his previous marriages. All three of them have fantastic chemistry - especially Castle and Alexis, who is smart and does a great job grounding him.

Most of the time it's a fun show - there's some case of the week, they solve it, Castle cracks some jokes, and a good time is had by all. The show also does a decent job with the UST between Castle and Beckett, though it's not nearly as thick as it was between Mal and Inara on Firefly. They have some good capers - my favorite might be the one where they go through secret tunnels in the sewers while investigating some Prohibition era related crime.

However, the show does have a few problems. Whenever it verges into Serious Territory (especially in any of the episodes that focus on the hunt for Beckett's mother's killer) the show is not as good - I often find myself rolling my eyes at some of the cliched Hard Boiled Cops lines in their interrogations etc. I was also extremely annoyed by the season finale (SPOILERS COMING, IF YOU CARE). It gave some resolution to the Beckett's mother storyline...by revealing that Beckett's police captain, who is a regular on the show and is a great guy and great police, has been involved in the coverup for years and is blackmailed in to protect his co-conspirators. He eventually betrays his conspirators and is killed in a firefight protecting Beckett. It pissed me off because it felt completely manufactured by the showrunners who needed to ratchet up the tension for ratings, rather than for any particular plan or character arc on their part. Even more annoyingly, they gave us a "cliffhanger" where Beckett was shot while speaking at his funeral, but where's the suspense there? They're not going to kill off the co-main character and main love interest - this show just doesn't have the kind of balls to do that.

That pretty much sums up my main problem with the show - it's a fun show from week to week when they all run around and solve mysteries. Everyone has great chemistry with everyone else (it's Nathan Fillion's gift), but whenever they try to move away from their basic formula it generally falls on its face.

June 19, 2011

Summer project

I'm still plugging along with my Cubs series previews over at Obstructed View, but it's only a matter of time before my apathy with the AAA product on the field overwhelms me.

Luckily, there's a lot of great tv (and great TV criticism) out there. Now that the "main" TV season is more or less over and the award season is beginning it's been a good time to reflect back on the last year in TV. Last week on TV On The Internet, my favorite new podcast, TV critic Todd Van Der Werff and hilarious co-host Libby Hill along with two other AV Club writers break down their top thirty shows of the last season. You can find the list they cooked up here . I haven't watched half these shows but they make good cases for all of them.

I'd like to do something similar this summer on the blog, but I'm not going to use such restrictive criteria. Their list was based only on the shows' most recent season, though of course characters, goodwill, etc., built up from previous seasons do obviously affect people's subjective rankings.

Instead, I'm going to base my list on the following things:

  1. Show that I have watched several episodes of in the last year. That includes shows that I watch on DVD, either for the first time or for the 37th time.
  2. Shows that are fresh on my mind right now. There are a lot of shows that I love that either won't make or should be higher on this list, but I just haven't necessarily been in the mood for lately (most Whedon shows apply here).

Some shows on the list may be more spoiler-alerty than others so if you haven't watched them (I'm thinking specifically of Game of Thrones) I'll try to put spoiler alerts where necessary.

Anyway, without further ado here's my list. I thought about counting down to number one over the course of the summer but I'd rather just choose them more or less at random, as I have a lot more to say about some shows than I do others and don't want to wait (laughing). I reserve the right to change the order of any of these (or insert stuff) as I think about them/watch more things.

  • 17. Castle
  • 16. Saturday Night Live
  • 15. True Blood
  • 14. Dexter
  • 13. The Office
  • 12. Archer
  • 11. Kids in the Hall
  • 10. Good Eats
  • 9. How I Met Your Mother
  • 8. Breaking Bad
  • 7. Mad Men
  • 6. Game of Thrones
  • 5. Community
  • 4. The Wire
  • 3. Firefly
  • 2. Parks and Recreation
  • 1. 30 Rock

March 25, 2011

Wisconsin loses in Sweet 16 to Butler

I can't really say I'm surprised by this loss. Even aside from how flat the team has looked since the end of the regular season, it's tough to bet on a UW squad to go far in the tournament. The blueprint has been the same all the way back to the pre-Bo days: play defense, and hope someone gets hot. No one did today. At least the Law of Gus tried to make an appearance.

Aside from all the bricks, one thing that drove me craziest in tonight's game was the announcers complaining that Wisconsin was shooting too many jump shots. Hello, Gus Johnson? How many Wisconsin games did you watch this year? That's UW's game. They live and die by the jump shot.

I made a last-minute change to have UW go to the elite 8 in my bracket - I originally had them losing in the second round to K-State. For quite a while, K-State was actually my pick out of the mess that is the southeast bracket. Really though, I didn't like any of the top 5 teams in the bracket. If I had remembered that Butler went to the final four last year that might have been enough for me to pick them to win it. Instead I have Florida winning that region.

March 09, 2011

Various cubs blogs to join forces (Updated)

This hasn't been much of a Cubs blog lately, as most of my Cubs writing has been happening over at Another Cubs Blog for quite a while now. As was announced on Monday, ACB is going to close its doors sometime in the near future (we really mean it this time!). We're forming a new Cubs blog (address TBA) with Adam Kellogg of And Counting and Tim McGinnis of Tales from Aisle 424. Much like The Planeteers, with our Powers Combined we will reforge our snarky, sometimes stat-flavored powers to ramble and rant about the Cubs with a 37% increase in efficiency. I guess I'm the communist one. Obviously Koyie Hill is Captain Cubs.

I'll keep this blog around to ramble about all the other non-baseball things I sporadically ramble about. Once we finish putting the finishing touches on the new site I'll drop a link here.

UPDATE: The new blog is named Obstructed View (http://www.obstructedview.net), and it will launch on 3/27. See you there!

January 30, 2011

Gender Bias in mathematics (with an assist from baseball)

Jordan Ellenberg, a mathematics prof at my twice-over alma mater, put up a post on his blog yesterday inviting discussion over gender bias in conference speakers. I had high hopes that it would spark an interesting conversation but it has ended up being pretty frustrating and depressing, mostly driven by a few privilege-blinded men who don't think there's a problem at all, as well as a more overly sexist anonymous coward or two.

Anyway, I just want to braindump a few of my own thoughts on the issue, as well as a few of those comments (Jordan's blog has eaten the comments I've tried to post over there). Of course, these are going to be colored with my own biases and experiences as a white male from a middle class background, and someone who does not actively explore or think about gender/racial issues all that much. However, I was raised by a feminist (and am married to one!) and hope that at least some of that rubbed off on me.

Jordan puts forth a simple question - does math need a campaign similar to the one linked in his post, which acts as a watchdog on conferences with all-male speaker lists. My answer would be - of course! There's nothing wrong in and of itself with all-male speaker lists. Subject-wise, mathematics can be such an esoteric field that simple probability says that sometimes the list of folks qualified to talk about it are all men. Of course, there are many other reasons why the availability of women mathematicians are so low that don't have anything to do with conference invitations, but let's get back to that for a moment.

Not surprisingly, the conversation turned into a discussion as to whether gender bias exists in mathematics at all. Denying that any such thing exists is ridiculous, in my opinion. But the problem is that, from a casual observer such as myself, it's tough to pin down. I've never run into anyone within mathematics who says that women aren't as good at math as men, nor that they are worse conference speakers (not that it means anything, but by FAR the two worst speakers I've seen were both men). However, even my shy, asocial self has heard about bad experiences by fellow female graduate students. I also think that few would argue that bias against women in mathematics/sciences exists in our culture at large, which is one of the reasons that there are relatively few women who major in things like math and computer sciences (my undergrad majors). But suddenly when they become grad students/postdocs/faculty members we're supposed to believe that these biases disappear?

Again, I'm not a scholar in this stuff but I think it's clear there is an implicit bias against women in mathematics. The problem with these biases is that it's really hard to point out without invoking strong reactions in those who benefit from it. I can't speak to gender very well but this has been a drum that we've been beating at Another Cubs Blog for a long, long time with respect to sports reporting (and, by proxy, sports fans) and racism. Just look at how different players are treated by the media - how many times have you heard a black or latino player described as "scrappy" or "gritty", compared to the long line of David Ecksteins and Ryan Theriots of the world? Sammy Sosa was one of the greatest and most popular Cubs of all time and he was run out of town on a rail with little protest by Cubs fans. Milton Bradley, abusive asshat that he is, was never given a chance by the Chicago media. Soriano and Ramirez are repeatedly blasted as lazy, despite the mountain of injuries they've been carrying in their Cubs tenure. Jacque Jones and Dusty Baker were subjected to racist taunting. But if you put a typical Cubs fan to question about it, they'll just say that they just have problems with those individual players, and hey look, Cubs fans all love Ernie Banks so we're not racist, see? (Ernie Banks is our Black Friend!) Bringing this back to math, I don't think that it's enough to say that since there are women in your field/women in conferences you've been to, the problem doesn't exist.

What it boils down to is equal opportunity - and that means for everyone. Simply saying "work harder" isn't enough. Talent will rise to the top, and the female mathematicians many of us could point to demonstrate that fact. But 'everyone' doesn't just mean the most talented. Again, returning to baseball look at how rosters are constructed. Of course you're going to want your biggest stars playing every day, and teams pursue them without any regard for race. But what about the average to replacement level players? There's a lot more of them, and this is where bias comes into play. It's not too surprising that a lot of those 'scrappy' players are both backups and white. Anyway, there isn't really an appropriate analogy for this in mathematics, but simply saying that anyone can be a star, as one of the anonymous cowards on Jordan's blog put it, isn't enough. Not everyone can win a Fields Medal if they just Try Hard.

Anyway, my last point is this. I'm a white male, not a woman, or any other minority, and it's not my place to discount what they express about their experiences and how they differ from mine. I haven't read extensive research or blogs on racial or gender issues, nor do I sign petitions or participate in protests, and I don't really see myself making these things a big part of my life in the future. But I can keep an open mind, treat people fairly, and make sure I question myself every once in awhile whether I'm doing a good job at those things. And that's just what such a campaign would do.

January 15, 2011

Your turn, Bears

Packers win 48-14.

Tonight the T in T-Pain stands for...TRAMON WILLIAMS


January 09, 2011

FF XIII quasi-review/extended rant (and general rambling about the FF landscape)

(In case the title didn't already clue you in, big time Nerd Alert on this post)

I picked up a PS3 with some of our Christmas swag, largely on a sense of nostalgia that had been kicked up in the previous few weeks playing FFX and meeting Felicia Day at a signing here in Austin, who did voice work in the new Fallout* game. So I grabbed a copy of the newest iteration of the Final Fantasy series to kick off the console (since X was the main reason I bought a PS2).

*I've never played any of the games in the Fallout franchise but they certainly look up my alley. I picked up New Vegas and Fallout 3 since Gamestop had a buy two get one free deal on.

I haven't actually beaten the game yet but so far it has largely been a disappointment, and I just want to rant about it (laughing). I'm floored by all the positive reviews for the game. A lot of it comes down to what you expect from a game. I wouldn't say I'm expecting any one specific thing from FF - I'm not going to be offended if there aren't say, chocobos or dudes named Cid, and I'm not opposed to them experimenting with the battle system. I have a hard time picking my favorite FF game so I'll compare it in terms of the categories that my 4 favorites do best at: Story/atmosphere (FFVII), battle systems (FFX), environment (FFXII), and challenge (FFT).


This is probably the weakest link in this game. I don't expect Shakespeare by any means from a FF game, but this was pretty awful even by FF standards. I just don't give a shit about really any character. They went from being entirely unsympathetic at the start of the game to being just okayish, for the most part. A lot of it I blame on terrible writing, *especially* with regards to Lightning and Snow (the erstwhile main characters). I spent the first 15 hours or so of the game wanting to punch them (and Hope) in the face for their ham-fisted idiocy. The biggest problem that I had was that their actions didn't seem self-consistent with the universe they live in. For fuck's sake, they were leading an armed resistance against *Genocide* of everyone in their city by their rulers, and yet Snow is crippled with guilt over the death of one volunteer, and Hope is fueled by rage against Snow over his mother's death while trying to prevent it. If you want to chalk it up to extreme loyalty to their societal norms, that's fair enough, but the game didn't sell it at all. In VII, we wanted to hate the Shinra and the game did a great job of introducing us to the enemy through Barret's ecoterrorist organization. Here everyone is just blindly lashing out against an arbitrary and nebulous fate, which still isn't really that established hours into the game. The whole L'Cie 'Focus' would be a much better plot device if they actually gave some direction on what it was. Even after they defeat the Primarch and he tells them their true direction things aren't abundantly clear - I'm still waiting for some plot twist that he lied to them somehow (though the Sanctum fal'Cie motives as stated in and of themselves don't make much sense).

The same goes for Lightning's extreme bitchiness to the rest of the crew early on, doing her best to alienate herself from the rest of the characters. I'm sure we're going to learn more about her own past but if you're going to establish a character you better do it well before the 20-25 hour mark in the game. She's still a cipher. At least with Cloud we got the epic look back on the events in Nibelheim when the crew escapes the ~5-hour prologue of escaping Midgar. They did a decent enough job of her mini-rivalry with Snow in the flashbacks, but even then for people in a society raised to despise L'Cie they both jumped to Serah's defense pretty quickly.

Fang and Vanille remain largely underdeveloped, and the whole Vanille-keeping-memories-secret-from-Fang subplot was pretty undercooked. It seemed like they threw it out merely for an excuse to collect Vanille's eidolon for lack of any other personal conflict.

The only note that they've hit particularly well was the Sazh-Vanille subplot involving Sazh's son.

Overall, if you read the various entries in the game's database the story and the world in general seems pretty cool and carefully thought out. The game has a background atmosphere that looks quite mineable, but it's the details that are terrible. To make a cooking anaolgy, it's like they assembled a lot of top notch ingredients and chefs and made a PBJ.


We've seen many many systems in the FF series over the years, from a turn-based-ish system in the original game, to a more classic ATB-ish one in 5-9, a return to a very turn-based one in 10, and a more AI-centric one in 12. This one builds off the near twitchy ATB system from Final Fantasy Dress Up (i.e. X-2), which was basically a lot of button mashing. I'm fine with adding a bit more automation to the process - after all most of the time you're just attacking, attacking, attacking and it's nice to make a nod to that.

I appreciate many of those aspects of this system and can see the allure of this role-switching based system but the timing in it just drives me nuts. Maybe I'm just old, but the battles generally run waaay too fast and many are largely reliant on luck as much as strategy (anyone who's played this game and has been randomly killed by a bunch of bombs that decided to cook off at the same time knows what I'm talking about). I know you can slow the battle speed down but that just feels like cheating to me. As far as ATB like systems go I liked 12's system better where you *could* leave it on AI, but you could always switch to issuing your own commands if you so desired.

I'd like this game a lot more if you could hybridize, say, two of the roles. Synergists and saboteurs can be pretty useful but it's a big annoyance to bring them out because that's *all* they do. I'd much rather have an offense-oriented class with a few minor abilites, like say a commando that can cast cure, slow, etc but saves the more powerful spells for someone who specializes further in that role. Having to switch in medics all the time drives me nuts because the system rewards speed, so keeping in three offensive roles as much as possible is generally a must. I'm not asking for creating an uber class that can do everything, just saying that it would be nice to have an attacker who could also cast a simple cure spell.

Something else that drives me crazy is the formation switching (and no, I won't call them Paradigms because that's completely lame). I'm all over being able to customize your party mid-battle (it's one of the things I loved about FFX), but having such a long animation to change formations (and having that longer animation happen seemingly arbitrarily) in a battle system that demands speed in insanely annoying. Too many times my lead character has been at/near full health, been hammered by some attack, and killed before I can wait through the animation and for my support character's ATB gauge to fill up and actually cast their cure spell. Gragh.

Speaking of the lead character stuff, the whole "if your lead character dies it's game over" rule drives me nuts too. It just seems unecessary - just do what 12 did and have the 'leadership' shift to someone else in the party.

Overall FFX easily had my favorite battle system* - each character had defined roles (except Kimhari), which they more or less do in this game, and you could use them as you needed without too much micromanagement. But the key difference is that you had time to think in FFX. Your time to think in this game is after you've picked up the pieces and had your ass kicked a couple of times before you figure out how to beat the opponent and/or get lucky (see: just about everyone's eidolon battle).

*FWIW FF8 had my least favorite system, only because it made the game laughably easy. Stupid, stupid junctions.


XII makes a big push for being one of my favorite FF games because of the world it's in. Just exploring the place and wandering around was tons of fun. There was still a larger plot-path you had to take (which started strong but fell flatter as the game went on) but for the most part you were free to explore the world around you (and the hunting sidequests actively encouraged you to do so). As for this game, well, so far it has been a complete railroad-fest of chasing the orange objective arrow, aside from ONE zone on Pulse (which from what I've gleaned from other reviews is basically just a hub for a bunch of Pulse railroad dungeons). This game did bring over the hunting sidequests but so far they've been pretty meh. For one, since they're mostly in the same zone, it makes in pretty difficult to so much as locate your mark.

The primary thing I've seen this game praised for is its graphics. They're pretty awesome but I've never been much of a videophile as far as these go - it's something that's nice to have, but not crucial to my enjoyment. If anything, the graphics are being wasted by the railroading aspects of this game. Everything is just one long chain from one battle to the next, and because you're fugitives/outcasts you don't get much of a chance to interact with society at large anyway. Rabanastre felt like a living city in 12 - here the characters have only themselves to bounce off of so you need strong characters for it to work (see above).


Look, I have no problem with games challenging me. Final Fantasy Tactics is one of my favorite games of all time, and it's legendary for its ability to make players weep with frustration (and that's just for the translation job - heyo!). The Weigraf/Velius battle and the Elmdor battle at Linberry castle are easily the two hardest *mandatory* battles in any game with the FF label that I've played. But despite that this game is driving me nuts at times, either for the aforementioned multiple-bomb-self-destruct scenario above or for some of the Eidolon battles or even some of the monsters-in-the-path battles (Boxed Phalanx = most recent example). Generally I hate grinding but I enjoyed the battles (and leveling up system) of FFT so much that it didn't really bother me. Here, the level-up system feels about as railroaded as the environment. You can get some new skills, but for the most part, meh. There aren't many game-changing skills as you move up the tech tree, just stats for the most part.

In general, with FF games my expectation should be that I, as a veteran of these games, should be able to plow through without a strategy guide/gamefaqs lookup/etc. with little difficulty and simply sit back an enjoy the game. Some bosses should give you a little trouble but when you lose it shouldn't feel like it was at the whim of the battle system instead of your own strategy. Yes, I can see the logic FAIL here but at least in FFT you knew that you could think about what you were doing.

Things I do like

It's not all bad. Easily my favorite thing to come out of this game is its weapon upgrading system. It reminds me very much of the Disgaea one, without the annoying 'weapon dungeons'. So I guess it has that going for it (laughing), My only complaint is that they didn't adequately explain it, leaving me flailing to figure out what catalysts I needed to upgrade my starred weapons by trial and error. I hope they keep this idea going in the future games.

Final thoughts
I'm not done with this game yet, as I mentioned above, but it would take a lot for this to move out of the bottom of my FF rankings (of games that I've played). Right now it would probably be

  1. FF7/FF10/FF12/FFT - tied for excelling in different areas
  2. FF6 - I still hate the world of ruin. FF12 hit my nonlinear gameplay right. This, not so much. Though the first half of the game is probably my favorite FF, if you were allowed to cut them up.
  3. FF4 - Solidly good, no real complaints or praise. The Evil Wall in the Sealed Cave is probably #3 on the difficult mandatory battles list mentioned above.

  4. FF9 - Again, solid but not particularly memorable.
  5. FF5 - Never finished, but I'll admit to being prejudiced against this because I was an old hand at FFT before playing this and loved the job system there a lot better
  6. FF13 - So far this slots in around here.
  7. FF8 - Squall - so whiny. The junction system made this game a complete joke difficulty-wise, and the story was poorly executed. I will cop to my nerdy teenage self loving the final song.
  8. FF1 - Grind, Grind, Grind.
  9. Final Fantasy Dress Up (X2) - pure fan service, but fun if you took the game for what it was.
  10. Final Fantasy Mystic Quest - I'd love to put this higher because it was the first JRPG I ever played and has big nostalgia value, but the game was laughably easy. I still burn through it every once in awhile on an emulator for kicks.

January 01, 2011

Why Wisconsin lost

This one is easy

1. Not enough speed on the edges from the defense. Maybe it would have been different with Borland in the game - who knows.

2. Too many dropped passes, especially by Nick Toon (though he did make a nifty snag on that overturned call).

3. They didn't play Wisconsin football on offense, except for the first and last drives. Clay and Ball were running all over TCU, and they threw the ball waaaaay too often. Then when they finally figured it out in the last series and ran down their throats, they went out for the conversion in a 3-WR shotgun formation. What the hell? Play to your strengths, coaching staff.

It was still a fun year, but a bummer of a way to end it.

Rose bowl halftime thoughts

The three key plays in the game -

1. The complete horseshit pass interference call on TCU's first drive.

2. Welch's missed fg.

3. The ill-advised fake put that worked.

More Montee Ball please.

Quick prediction

I'm too lazy to write a full preview for the UW-TCU game, so I'll just put up a score prediction:

UW 34 - TCU 30

Go Badgers!