Thursday, September 30, 2010

The game is rigged

I try to avoid blogging about work -- honest! -- but there are times where I just have to let loose about the insanity that takes place here.

Wednesday was the send-off party for one of my co-workers, a lovely lady who is as Texan as the day is long. Our motley crew included my fellow sports copy monkey, a couple wise heads from the metro desk, three more from the international desk and a trio of young women from the "Teen" section. Stories and alcohol flowed in equal abundance, but one regular topic was the latest indignity to be visited upon the staff.

The US edition of our paper had a pretty nasty front-page error more than a month ago -- "focus" somehow became "fucus." That apparently caused no end of grief for the muckety-mucks because now the whole staff (even the design desk) has to pass a closed-book style test. Did I fall into a wormhole and suddenly end up back in junior high? I'm sure this is how school kids here get treated, and I know standardized tests are the measure of competency in this part of the world, but we're professional journalists here. Plus, there's no sense in giving a closed-book test when the whole reason you print up style books in the first place is so people can refer to them! Do these people actually expect us to know correct transliterations, currency and metric conversions and the "proper" name for each ethnic minority off the top of our heads?

Apparently so, because this came in the e-mail this week:
We have to tell you that the big boss of [redacted -- ed.] is very angry about the result of the stylebook test for Chinese and foreign employees. But we believe that you will do well next time.
The HR department has decided to provide those who failed in the first exam only a second chance to retake it. If he or she fails again in the second, one will have to face punishment. And the detailed punishment will be issued by the HR dept soon.
Let's do some spot translation. The "big boss" is none other than the Vice-Minister for Propaganda (and you all know what rolls downhill). The "HR department" is the three people who serve as minders for the big, dumb foreigners. And the "punishment?" Anything from bigger fines (they're already fining people for mistakes, even ones that don't get in the paper) to suspensions and terminations. There's even talk of not keeping some people who are still in their probation period -- i.e. me -- though I don't know if it's because of all this nonsense or for budgetary concerns.

All this from a newspaper that doesn't know who subscribes to it. All the registration and distribution is done through China Post, the national postal service which has a government contract to do so. It's been that way since the paper was founded in the early 1980s and hasn't changed. CP doesn't deliver on the weekend, so whomever subscribes doesn't even get the new Sunday edition that started in July and of which the bosses are oh-so proud (they signed up for six days a week, receiving the Saturday and Monday editions at the same time). No one here has a copy of the list of subscribers, and CP won't part with or even share the list! The new Big Idea is to put fliers into copies of the paper and have subscribers -- those who know when they subscribed and for how many editions -- send them back. Direct mail always works, right?

All this from a newspaper that is bloated with local staffers yet can barely manage original content worthy of the name (read: no rewritten press releases). Our sports section in Jakarta kicked ass with all of four people, pumping out three or four local stories every day, yet we have twice as many people in sports here and on a good day we'll have one local story and a local brief. I think that's my main concern -- that this paper has the potential to be something great and fill a needed niche (an English-language version of the Chinese perspective) but instead gets caught up in adhering to the process and not stepping on the Party's toes, leaving Xinhua and the Global Times to fill that niche.

One wise veteran at Wednesday's fete agreed, saying: "The process is more important than the end product. As long as you do what you're supposed to do, everything will be OK. The people in upper management have been doing it this way for years and don't want to rock the boat." The problem with that reasoning is that the people who actually read our paper don't give a damn about how well we followed the process. If we give them a bland, gray product filled with "news" they read on the Internet 36 hours ago, they won't bother going back to us.

In short, know of anyone who's hiring? I may need a gig sooner rather than later.

Wake up! Time for science!

In case you haven't noticed, this blog doesn't have much in the way of a focus. Sure, I could only write about soccer, science, journalism, anime, living abroad or random events in my life, but why hamstring myself when my interests go farther than just one topic? While I appreciate the fact that my yodeling on soccer brings in the most hits (and many thanks to whomever is Tweeting my posts), I'd rather my little corner of cyberspace be a compendium of my thoughts on what is important to me or things I find interesting.

And what could be more interesting than kicking it in a space hotel?
Russian company Orbital Technologies has announced its plants to build a commercial space station (to be named the commercial space station, if you can believe that), which would also serve as a “space-hotel” for visiting tourists. The company claims the venture will launch in 2016.
... The station will be able to host up to seven passengers in its homey capsule, free of extraneous scientific instruments and pesky astronauts and cosmonauts. It will be built by RSC Energia, the same company that builds the Soyuz passenger capsules and the Progress cargo ships used by the Russian space agency. It will follow the same orbit as the International Space Station, and will be able to dock with shuttles from around the world.
... The developers say this orbital nest will host space tourists, scientists from other countries and private industry who want to perform experiments in space, and overflow from the International Space Station during maintenance or emergencies. There’s no word yet on how much a single room at the orbital hotel would cost, but it’s a safe bet that every room would have a stellar view.
Puns aside, this is fantastic news. It's the latest step in private industry taking over the transportation aspect of space flight and allowing NASA and its counterparts to focus on exploration. Make sure to check out the slide show and video at the Discovery News link, too.

Then again, why settle for a better view of Earth when you could spring for a whole new home planet?

WASHINGTON – Astronomers say they have for the first time spotted a planet beyond our own in what is sometimes called the Goldilocks zone for life: Not too hot, not too cold. Juuuust right.
Not too far from its star, not too close. So it could contain liquid water. The planet itself is neither too big nor too small for the proper surface, gravity and atmosphere.
It's just right. Just like Earth.
"This really is the first Goldilocks planet," said co-discoverer R. Paul Butler of the Carnegie Institution of Washington.
The new planet sits smack in the middle of what astronomers refer to as the habitable zone, unlike any of the nearly 500 other planets astronomers have found outside our solar system. And it is in our galactic neighborhood, suggesting that plenty of Earth-like planets circle other stars.
Finding a planet that could potentially support life is a major step toward answering the timeless question: Are we alone?
Go ahead and call it an M-class planet. You know you want to.

Forget humanoids or animals. Even if there's just bacteria, it's a game-changer -- another blast of air let out of the already deflated balloon of humanity's supposedly privileged place in the universe. Now we just need someone to soup up a shuttle fast enough to get us there.

More after the break.

Fruitful is as fruitful does

So you're saying there's a chance I can retire after all?
If your dreams include retiring early, you're going to have to save money more quickly than someone who retires at a traditional age. There's a lot of advice out there about how to save more money: Forego a daily latte, give up cable TV, stop eating meals out, and get your books from the library. Sure, you will save a few bucks this way, which will add up over the years. But if you really want to supercharge your retirement savings, think big. Don't have kids.
 Done. And. Done.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Dark(e) days ahead

So the new voice of American soccer is ... English?
BRISTOL, Conn. -- British announcer Ian Darke, who called games for the network during the World Cup, is joining ESPN as its lead soccer voice in the United States.
"Ian's experience, authenticity [emphasis mine -- ed] and passion for the sport, which were evident throughout the World Cup, will resonate with our viewers, who have come to expect top-quality soccer commentary from ESPN," said Jed Drake, senior vice president and executive producer for event production.
Darke's assignments will include Premier League matches, U.S. national team games, the 2011 Women's World Cup, the 2013 Confederations Cup and the 2014 World Cup.
"Authenticity," eh? I wonder what it is about the new guy that makes him more authentic than his predecessors.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

It gets better

Bullying, it seems, is as much a part of school life as the three Rs and homecoming. As long as there are outsiders or people who do not conform to their society's definition of "normal," there will always be people who feel the need to ostracize and abuse them. If you're not part of the tribe, the thinking goes, you're not a real person.

Sometimes the picked-upon manage to shrug off the abuse and move on, focusing on a better life away from their tormentors. Other times the physical and mental scars linger long after the fact, affecting the victim the rest of their days. Most tragically of all, there are those for whom the abuse is just too much.

Advice columnist and blogger extraordinaire Dan Savage has seen too much of the latter and is doing something about it. In his most recent Savage Love column (third letter down), he mourns the death of 15-year-old Billy Lucas:

Another gay teenager in another small town has killed himself — hope you're pleased with yourselves, Tony Perkins and all the other "Christians" out there who oppose anti-bullying programs (and give actual Christians a bad name).
Billy Lucas was just 15 when he hanged himself in a barn on his grandmother's property. He reportedly endured intense bullying at the hands of his classmates — classmates who called him a fag and told him to kill himself. His mother found his body.
Nine out of 10 gay teenagers experience bullying and harassment at school, and gay teens are four times likelier to attempt suicide. Many LGBT kids who do kill themselves live in rural areas, exurbs, and suburban areas, places with no gay organizations or services for queer kids.
"My heart breaks for the pain and torment you went through, Billy Lucas," a reader wrote after I posted about Billy Lucas to my blog. "I wish I could have told you that things get better."
I had the same reaction: I wish I could have talked to this kid for five minutes. I wish I could have told Billy that it gets better. I wish I could have told him that, however bad things were, however isolated and alone he was, it gets better.
To that end, Savage launched the "It Gets Better Project" on YouTube, asking readers to send in videos describing their experiences of surviving bullying and going on to live happy, successful lives. The goal is to provide a beacon of hope and positive role models to kids who are struggling, showing them the torment doesn't last forever and that it does, in fact, get better.

As I am heterosexual -- despite the numerous accusations and insinuations hurled my way over the years -- my posting a video wouldn't be much help. Nevertheless, I am 100 percent behind Savage's effort. Growing up a nondescript white boy in a nondescript, whitebread city in nondescript, whitebread Nebraska, I was still bullied and mocked for the heinous crime of being "different." Why? Who knows, but I'm sure those people felt much better about themselves then and still do to this day. While I'd be lying if I said I emerged unaffected -- I'm nowhere near as friendly or open as I used to be, and my cynicism and misanthropy can't all have come from listening to Bill Hicks -- I pushed on, graduated from high school and left town in search of a place where I could fit in. I wish all the bullied kids had the chance to do the same.

Resources such as Savage's are invaluable. Adolescence is tough enough for the "normal" kids, let along the outcasts. Who knows how many lives could have been saved if such support was widely available 10, 20, 30 years ago or more? To quote Yul Brenner from "Cool Runnings": "We're different. People always afraid of what's different." It's a shame that being different is seen as a negative, and all the more tragic that some people so virulently reject what's different to the point of hounding another human being beyond despair.

Awwwwwwww geek out!

George Hrab is a man of many talents. Not only is he an author, skeptical activist, snappy dresser and drummer for the Philadelphia Funk Authority, he also does his own music on the side (which also has a skeptical aspect to it). This heady mix of talents leaves him in high demand, and that notoriety in turn led him into a situation that would likely make my head explode.

Hrab recounts the tale in Episode 183 of his excellent Geologic Podcast. During the recently completed Dragon*Con in Atlanta, he was asked to give an impromptu introduction to a talk featuring Adam Savage (of Mythbusters fame) and Jamie Ian Swiss (The Honest Liar). This eventually led to an invitation to hang out with Savage, Swiss and friends later that evening. He sets the scene in a nearly empty, 30th-floor bar atop the hotel.

After Hrab, Savage and Swiss chat for a while, two more men arrive -- Kevin Murphy (Tom Servo) and Bill Corbett (Crow T. Robot) of Mystery Science Theater 3000 and Rifftrax. Next to arrive is the editor of, his entourage and a number of actors from the new Battlestar Galactica series (unnamed by Hrab as he doesn't watch the show). Add to the mix the man who played Gypsy on MST3K (also unnamed) and the guy who produces Kevin Smith's podcast.

Sometime in the middle of the discussion, a person attempts to squeeze past Hrab to greet someone on the other side of their table. That person? Marina Sirtis (a.k.a. Counselor Deanna Troi). She apparently is friends with some of the BSG folks and, upon finding out Savage is one of the Mythbusters, exclaims she and Mr. Marina Sirtis get into arguments all the time when he wants to watch Mythbusters and she wants to watch soccer. Why was she there? Apparently she was already hanging out with Brent Spiner, Jonathan Frakes and LeVar Burton at the other side of the bar.

This is Nerdvana on a scale my feeble mind fails to grasp. How Hrab kept from melting into a puddle of goo is beyond me.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Sunil or later

Et tu, Klinsi?

Not content with adding more misery to the country's most shambolic World Cup in the modern era, Juergen Klinsmann's latest flirtation with the United States national team has sparked yet another round of garment-rending and teeth-gnashing on the US soccer scene.

In short, the former Germany and Bayern Munich manager revealed during an interview for a Kansas City Wizards pregame show that he had held negotiations with the US Soccer Federation over possibly taking over as head coach of the men's senior team. He said there were "very positive conversations" but ultimately backed out of the talks because the USSF and president Sunil Gulati would not put into writing what had been verbally agreed with Klinsmann. The parties have done this dance before, with Klinsmann walking away from negotiations to take charge after the 2006 World Cup because of disagreements over his level of authority with the team.

In case you missed it

One of the benefits of working in the news industry -- other than the fat paycheck and hordes of groupies, of course -- is having ready access to feeds from the wire services. The current gig has Associated Press, Reuters, Agence France-Presse and the most recent addition, the New York Times. It also has the official government news agency, Xinhua, which has an interesting take on news judgment and often reads like a ham-handed Babelfish translation.

One of my responsibilities is to comb through the wires and find either updates for stories we're using or new articles we might have missed. The start of football season and the pennant races in baseball might dominate the sports headlines back home, but a couple stories I'm watching are the ongoing kerfuffle in New Delhi with the Commonwealth Games (threatening to bring the chaos people expected at this year's World Cup -- Scotland's living quarters were deemed "unfit for human habitation") and the ever-widening spot-fixing scandal during the Pakistan cricket team's tour of England. My take on the new Jurgen Klinsmann revelation will arrive a bit later.

For now, here are a few stories you might find interesting:

Murder suspect claims 'caffeine insanity'

NEWPORT, Ky. — A Kentucky man accused of strangling his wife is poised to claim excessive caffeine from sodas, energy drinks and diet pills left him so mentally unstable he couldn't have knowingly killed her, his lawyer has notified a court.
Woody Will Smith, 33, is scheduled for trial starting Monday on a murder charge in the May 2009 death of Amanda Hornsby-Smith, 28.
Defense attorney Shannon Sexton filed notice with the Newport court of plans to argue his client ingested so much caffeine in the days leading up to the killing that it rendered him temporarily insane — unable even to form the intent of committing a crime.
I'll have to keep this tactic in mind should it work, especially considering I'm off the soda wagon to the tune of three 600 mL bottles of Diet Coke a day.

Death of 9-year-old puts focus on Thai high school gang wars
Teachers and students say the violence is another outgrowth of the problems that affect the poorer half of Thai society, much of which feels overlooked by the government. The gap between rich and poor was highlighted by the "red shirt" anti-government protests in April and May, which some protesters called class warfare.
Gang violence has plagued Thai schools for years, mostly at the country's 835 vocational schools, which cater largely to the children of the working class: taxi drivers, security guards and factory workers. Police say there were 900 reported incidents in Bangkok in the first half of this year, but teachers say the actual number is higher.
Many of Bangkok's 106 trade schools frisk students on arrival. In recent years, the pencils and rulers that were the weapons of choice have been replaced by machetes, homemade bombs and cheap guns.
Puts a whole new spin on "school rumble," doesn't it, anime fans?

Atheist Hitchens skips prayer day in his honor

The way the English-born Hitchens sees it, the people praying for him break down into three basic groups: those who seem genuinely glad he's suffering and dying from cancer; those who want him to become a believer in their religious faith; and those who are asking God to heal him.
Hitchens has no use for that first group. "'To hell with you' is the response to the ones who pray for me to go to hell," Hitchens told AP.
He's ruling out the idea of a deathbed change of heart: "'Thanks but no thanks' is the reply to those who want me to convert and recognize a divinity or deity."
It's that third group — people who are asking God for Hitchens' healing — that causes Hitchens to choose his words even more carefully than normal. Are those prayers OK? Are they helpful?
"I say it's fine by me, I think of it as a nice gesture. And it may well make them feel better, which is a good thing in itself," says Hitchens.
Count me among those hoping -- not praying -- that Hitchens beats his cancer and lives well for many years to come. Think what you will about his stance on religion, but wishing sickness and death on someone is sub-human. My copy of "God is Not Great" is still in Jakarta, and I hope I won't be reading it as a way of honoring Hitchens' memory.

Families disguise girls as boys in Afghanistan

Six-year-old Mehran Rafaat is like many girls her age. She likes to be the center of attention. She is often frustrated when things do not go her way. Like her three older sisters, she is eager to discover the world outside the family’s apartment in their middle-class neighborhood of Kabul.
But when their mother, Azita Rafaat, a member of Parliament, dresses the children for school in the morning, there is one important difference. Mehran’s sisters put on black dresses and head scarves, tied tightly over their ponytails. For Mehran, it’s green pants, a white shirt and a necktie, then a pat from her mother over her spiky, short black hair. After that, her daughter is out the door — as an Afghan boy.
It's unfortunate families have to go to such lengths, if only to live up to the pressures society places upon them. Given what low esteem in which women are held in Afghanistan, though, you can hardly blame them for trying.

Lastly, a happier -- if slightly wistful -- story about one of the many things that makes baseball different (and better) from football.

A Ballpark Farewell, Played Adagio
After providing the home soundtrack for the White Sox for 41 years, Faust is retiring at the end of the season. Her music has been the grace note bridging memorable eras in the team’s history, from the baseball barker Bill Veeck to the showman Ozzie Guillen.
Faust was an innovator, choosing songs that played off names like a musical Chris Berman. She has a knack for matching songs to on-field situations, perhaps the most famous example being her inspired choice of Steam’s “Na Na Hey Hey Kiss Him Goodbye” when an opposing pitcher was pulled in the heat of the 1977 pennant race. For White Sox fans, the song became a part of the everyday rotation, right up there with “Take Me Out to the Ball Game.”
In the encyclopedia “Total White Sox,” it is written of Faust, “At times she was the best thing the ball club had going.”
Her role in recent years has been reduced, and her swan song has the feel of a requiem for baseball purists. The organ is being phased out of ballparks, with teams opting for keyboardists or canned music and video entertainment to pump up the fans’ experience.
What results is the sporting equivalent of FM radio, with the music virtually the same from one city to the next. In the effort to create a more interactive fan experience, is an intimate connection being lost?
I'll answer that -- yes. Among baseball's selling points are its quirks and pastoral charm. There's no need to go too deep into those as George Carlin already summed it up nicely.

Yes, time stops for no one, not even baseball. Being behind the times is a one-way ticket to irrelevance these days (hello, newspapers!), but I would argue that harkening back to the past is part of what makes baseball great. Other than golf, it is the only major sport in America that is not played on the clock. If a game takes 27 innings to determine a winner, so be it. There are no penalty kicks, shootouts or sudden-death overtimes to hasten our attention-challenged society on to its next distraction -- the game finishes in its own time.

There is little point arguing that baseball is still America's most popular sport. It was only a matter of time before a game otherwise known as "war without death" -- complete with its heady cocktail of violence, sex, violence, booze and more violence -- supplanted the old pastime. That isn't necessarily a good thing, though. Football's compressed schedule, trumpeted by supporters as making every game a life-or-death encounter, also piles on the pressure and impatience when results don't come as they should. It's not all that pleasant even when things go well -- just ask Urban Meyer or Mark Dantonio.

You can have your watered-down gladiatorial combat. I'll stick to my baseball, soccer and Test cricket and watch the hours roll by slowly.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Flame on

Ready the cocktails and asbestos, Mabel.

The glow from the bridges I burn will light my path.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Itza me, Mario!

I would be remiss if I did not wish a Happy Birthday to one of the central figures of my formative years -- Super Mario. A day late, sure, but it's the thought that counts.

Two bits of the Guardian's rundown that stand out, especially given all the time I spent in front of an NES as a youth.

15. A Q Score survey in the early nineties revealed that Mario was more recognisable to American children than Mickey Mouse.
16. Footage from Super Mario Bros 3 appears in the climatic scene of appalling 1989 movie, The Wizard, about an emotionally withdrawn gaming champion. As this was the first chance that US Nintendo fanatics would get to see the game, the movie effectively acted as an advert for the release.
"Appalling" is a bit harsh. I remember that film being part of the Grand Theater's summer matinee series, joining such classics as 3 Ninjas, Encino Man and Flight of the Navigator. Fred Savage was the headliner, obviously, but apparently Christian Slater and Beau Bridges were in it as well. The only other bits I remember were the main antagonist drawing gasps as he whipped out his Power Glove in the final scene and the female lead loudly accusing a truant officer of molesting her in the middle of a crowded truck stop.

I've drifted away from video games since leaving my PSOne on the mainland when I moved to Hawaii, not including a brief Wii flirtation during my last visit home. Still, I would not be the man I am today without the help of Mario, Luigi and friends. Keep on jumpin', paisan.

Good science, bad science

Two bits of science news, both jaw-dropping -- one in a good way, the other notsomuch.

First, the awesome:
An early proposal calls for a wedge-shaped aircraft with scramjets to be launched horizontally on an electrified (magnetic levitation) track or gas-powered sled. The aircraft would fly up to Mach 10, using the scramjets and wings to lift it to the upper reaches of the atmosphere, where a small payload canister or capsule similar to a rocket’s second stage would fire off the back of the aircraft and into orbit.
Engineers also contend the system, with its advanced technologies, will benefit the nation’s high-tech industry by perfecting technologies that would make more efficient commuter rail systems, better batteries for cars and trucks, and numerous other spinoffs.
Hat tip to the guys at Weird Things. Not only is it awesome, the plan calls for technology that already exists, just pushed to a greater degree. The idea of space-faring craft bursting forth from a deep tunnel in the Rockies and screaming into the sky is very sci-fi, and yet oh-so plausible.

That was the good. The bad follows after the break.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Two steps foward, one step back

Well, crap. Barring having to bail out Brazil in 2014, it looks like the earliest the US will host a World Cup is 2022.

From the consistently excellent Steve Goff:
With the FIFA inspection tour complete, U.S. Soccer Federation President Sunil Gulati, head of the American bid to host the 2018 or '22 World Cup, addressed questions about the five-city stop and where things stand in pursuit of the sport's grand event. Some highlights:
On the possibility of dropping out of the running for 2018, amid clear indications that FIFA wants it in Europe: "We would certainly listen and have the appropriate conversations with the FIFA president and the UEFA president at the right time. We haven't been asked to withdraw, but I acknowledge, and we have really from the beginning, that there is a sentiment within a number of members [of the FIFA executive committee] that 2018 should be in Europe. If at some point, between now and Dec. 2 [when the hosts are named], we think it is in our best interests to do that, we would make that decision."
Conventional wisdom -- as much as anything can be conventional or wise when FIFA is concerned -- is that England or Russia lead the pack for the 2018 bid, given the preference for a European host. I could get behind either one, really. England would make sense as it would be a huge money-maker for FIFA (which is likely the most important thing), the infrastructure will already be there following the 2012 Olympics in London and, if any country was due to host a second World Cup, it would be hard to argue with the birthplace of soccer. Russia, on the other hand, would allow FIFA to throw Europe and its power base a bone after two successive World Cups away from the continent while also keeping with FIFA president Sepp Blatter's push to take the sport's showcase event to new parts of the world.

If the US withdraws from bidding for the 2018 World Cup, it joins Japan, South Korea, Australia and Qatar in the running for 2022 (since confederations that win hosting rights are disqualified from hosting for the next two cycles). Remember that two-cycle bit as it becomes important. With Europe and South America out of the race, 2022 is all but a stone-cold lock for North America or Asia (Africa hosted in 2010 and, unless Vanuatu makes a late charge, Oceania is out of the mix). Japan and South Korea's odds are slim as they hosted back in 2002, leaving Australia (a strong bid, complicated only by a remote location and schedule/stadium clashes with other sports) and Qatar (a Gulf nation with 1.6 million people and only three of eight planned stadiums in existence) competing with the US. Asian Football Confederation president Mohammad bin Hammam is a Qatari and a close confidant of Blatter, but bringing the World Cup to Qatar would require a volte-face that would stun even Frankie Five Angels.

So who, other than the US, would benefit from Asia missing out on the 2022 World Cup? Everybody's new bestest friend, China!
On China's interest in 2026 impacting the 2022 race, which includes contenders Japan, South Korea, Australia and Qatar: "It is a decision for FIFA to consider all the long-term implications of their decisions. [Of note: If they choose an Asian bid for 2022, China would not be eligible in 2026.] Down the road, China has indicated that it would be interested in hosting a World Cup. How that plays into the decision FIFA may make for 2018 and 2022 remains to be seen, but I don't think anyone would doubt that China would make a great host in the future, especially after what they did with the Olympic Games and the growth and size of the economy."
Now, I'm not saying China would at all relish putting one over on Japan and South Korea (it would). However, you might just find relations between the United States Soccer Federation and the Chinese Football Association a good bit warmer than those between their respective governments in the coming years.

Happier news after the break.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

3-D girls = overrated

This can't help the birth rate.

ATAMI, Japan — Long a favourite of lovers and honeymooners, a Japanese beach town with fading sparkle has found a new tourism niche in the wired age by drawing young men and their virtual girlfriends.
One recent sweltering summer's day, a tour bus from Tokyo pulled up at a sun-kissed beach at Atami, a Pacific coast resort southwest of the metropolis, and disgorged more than a dozen excited, iPhone-clutching young men.
The determined youngsters, paying scant attention to the bikini-clad girls frolicking on the sand, instead headed straight for a bronze statue that depicts Kanichi and Omiya, a couple from an old love story set in Atami.
The focus of the men's attention -- and of their smartphone cameras -- was a tiny black and white square, a two-dimensional barcode that, thanks to "augmented reality" (AR) software, brought to life the object of their desire.
"Look, it's like I'm in a snapshot with her," said Shu Watanabe, 23, as he showed off his iPhone display, featuring himself next to the image of a doe-eyed cartoon character named Rinko, a smiling high school girl.
Japan's anime industry has used otaku as a crutch for quite some time. Given tie-ups like this and the boost the Washinomiya Shrine saw from "Lucky Star", though, could tourism be next?
Game makers have gone a step further and teamed up with the very real city of Atami, an onsen or hot spring town 100 kilometres (60 miles) southwest of the Japanese capital.
They have selected 13 romantic locations which can be overlaid with images of Rinko or her teenage friends Manaka and Nene, who have all swapped their usual sailor-style school uniforms for casual summer wear.
Local souvenir shops in the resort town have caught on and capitalised on the love-struck new clientele, selling Love Plus-themed souvenirs, from good-luck charms to steamed buns and fish sausages.
The local Ohnoya hotel even offers traditional rooms to the unusual couples, which feature two sets of futon beds and another barcode panel that allows the men to visualise their girlfriends in a flattering summer kimono.


You bring me in to fix mistakes, I fix the mistakes. Now you tell me you don't like the way I fix mistakes, but your way will let in even more mistakes. No consistency, no direction, no hope.

January 15 can't come soon enough.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Somebody's watching me

Astute readers of this blog will note I try not to mention my job too much -- only slightly more than my love life.*

There are a few reasons for this. First off, I didn't create this little corner of cyberspace to network, increase visibility, advance my brand or any of this corporate buzz-nonsense. It's a creative outlet, nothing more. Also, some people have had issues blogging while working in this neck of the woods. Most of all, though, everyone has issues at work now and again, and the last thing they want is to waste their free time reading other people moaning about their workplace.

That said, I'm about to have myself a good kvetch. If you'd rather not waste valuable seconds of your life reading my virtual spleen-venting, you are hereby absolved of responsibility and free to go about your day. Thank you for coming, and good surfing.

Face the music

Now even the music downloads for which fans are willing to pay are threatening to shake up record companies. An appeals court ruling in California could pave the way for artists to receive millions more in royalties. Here are the interesting bits:

Reversing a lower-court jury decision from last year, the court ruled that Eminem and his production company are entitled to nearly triple the royalties they've been receiving for track sales and ringtones on online services such as iTunes.
...Today's ruling could have fallout in the evolving world of digital music, experts said, pushing other artists to negotiate with their labels for higher online royalty rates. It could even pave the way for some holdouts, including Detroit’s Bob Seger, to finally offer their songs online.
That last sentence could make it easier for collectors or fans of old-timey music to find their favorite songs, some of which may have been out of print for years. NFL Films soundtracks, anyone? Dr. Demento's greatest hits?

The central question: When a label provides a track to an online distributor such as iTunes, is it licensing the song rather than selling retail copies?
In Eminem’s case, the appeals court wrote in its ruling that yes, “the transaction is a license,” a conclusion it said is supported by federal copyright law.
While iTunes and other online services have grabbed a greater share of the music market, some high-profile artists have declined to jump aboard.
Among them is Detroit rocker Bob Seger. His manager, Punch Andrews, said the ruling “absolutely” clears the way for Seger’s songs to be sold online.
Andrews, who called the decision “staggering,” said “every musician should read these 10 pages. It affects everyone.”
The Motown Alumni Association, whose membership includes Martha Reeves and the Four Tops, had filed an amicus brief on FBT’s behalf.
“All the Motown artists who now receive a penny (per download) may be in a position to negotiate a new royalty because of this decision,” said Martin.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Murderer's Row?

What do you think -- nefarious plot to humble the new kids in town, or karmic payback for all the years of Big 10 Smack coming out of Nebraska?

2011 schedule
Sept. 10 -- vs. Fresno State
Sept. 17 -- vs. Washington
Sept. 24 -- at Wyoming
Oct. 01 -- at Wisconsin
Oct. 08 -- vs. Ohio State
Oct. 22 -- at Minnesota
Oct. 29 -- vs. Michigan State
Nov. 05 -- vs. Northwestern
Nov. 12 -- at Penn State
Nov. 19 -- at Michigan
Nov. 26 -- vs. Iowa

Tom Osborne, as usual, was diplomatic.
"The scheduling process was difficult because the Big Ten is attempting to preserve a large number of rivalry games and have as many of those games as possible fall at approximately the same point in the season as they have in the past. The schedule will be challenging, but also interesting for our players, coaches and fans. Nebraska is not a voting member at this time so we were not able to vote on the schedule, but I was allowed to provide input. We look forward to being in the Big Ten, but at this point need to turn our attention fully to the task at hand this season. We hope to finish with a good year in the Big 12 Conference."
More prestige, better academics, more research dollars, no Texas mafia, more egalitarian league. Don't complain, Husker Nation -- this is the business you've chosen.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Turn and face the strange

How odd it is to be able to throw around "why, back in my day" in a non-ironic fashion.

I am admittedly not as big of a sports fan as I was in past years. Five or 10 years ago, I would have made time to watch the entirety of the United States-Iran game at the FIBA World Championship (you can relax, Glenn -- the good guys won). Instead, I watched most of the first quarter while enjoying some post-work cumin fried rice at NZBM and made a couple cursory check-ins as the US ran away with the game. Odds are the teams won't be as lauded for their sportsmanship as when the US and Iran met at the hypothetical 1998 World Cup (which never actually happened).

Still, I can't help but feel both intrigued and a bit wistful at the latest developments in the two sports I enjoy the most -- soccer and college football. Even the bluest of bluehairs know Nebraska is leaving for the Big 10 after this season, but what wasn't known until just now is how the new-look conference would be aligned. The Big 10 Network blocked off time tonight for a live broadcast that is likely for that announcement, but leave it to ESPN to leak the news.
The Big Ten will announce its much-anticipated, two six-team divisional setup for the 2011-12 season later Wednesday, with traditional football powers Ohio State and Michigan in opposing divisions and new member Nebraska aligned with the Wolverines.
Multiple sources told that the two divisions in the Big Ten will look like:
• Michigan, Nebraska, Iowa, Michigan State, Northwestern and Minnesota.
• And Ohio State, Penn State, Wisconsin, Purdue, Indiana and Illinois.
The Big Ten issued a press release saying it would announce its divisional alignment at 7 p.m. ET Wednesday. According to sources, the divisions were decided upon Monday.
According to multiple sources, the Big Ten wanted to preserve a number of traditional rivalries such as Michigan-Michigan State, Iowa-Minnesota, Purdue-Indiana and Indiana-Illinois.
The Big Ten is also expected to announce a consistent crossover game in football similar to Ohio State-Michigan that will be played each year. Expect to see longtime rivals Wisconsin and Minnesota playing every season.
The potential alignment isn't too surprising, though I thought the Big 10 would rather keep Northwestern and Illinois together. Then again, Champaign is pretty much halfway between Chicago and Bloomington. In addition to Michigan-Ohio State, my guesses as to the crossover games are Nebraska-Penn State, Iowa-Wisconsin, Illinois-Northwestern and two more games few people will actually care enough to notice. Nebraska fans can moan about 1982, Penn State fans will counter with 1994 -- boom! A rivalry is born.

My other beef is with CONCACAF -- the Confederation of North, Central American and Caribbean Association Football, for our hipness-challenged readers. What bothers me isn't the weakness of the region (as deep as a kiddie pool), its referees (laughably inept) or its leadership (so corrupt Trinidad & Tobago's team from the 2006 World Cup still hasn't been paid).

No, my issue is with the restructuring of the region's World Cup qualifying tournament and abandoning of the one thing that sets CONCACAF apart from the rest of the planet -- the Hex. (That's short for hexagonal, or six-team tournament, not some voodoo curse.) Rather than have one group in the final round of qualifying, FIFA is expected to rubber-stamp a proposal that will eliminate the early home-and-away rounds and the Hex in favor of three group stages -- eight four-team groups, then four groups, then two. The winners of the final groups qualify for the World Cup, with the runners-up playing off for the other place.

So what's the problem? After all, this will allegedly help the smaller nations by giving them more games against the big boys, and a deeper CONCACAF can only be good for the US and Mexico. For starters, this idea came from CONCACAF, so it's worth taking with an Everest-sized grain of salt. These are the same masterminds who brought us the Giants Cup, a continental tournament for the clubs with the highest attendance, not to mention retain an unabashed crook in charge of the confederation.

More so, though, it's about the loss of the two US-Mexico games, the biggest dates in the CONCACAF calendar. The region's top teams only play games that matter so often -- Hex matches at Crew Stadium and Azteca, plus the occasional Gold Cup final (the 2002 World Cup meeting was sheer dumb luck). They can play all the friendlies they want -- and they will, seeing as Mexico is the US Soccer Federation's one sure-fire box-office attraction -- but it just won't be the same. I was in attendance at the new Mile High Stadium in Denver when the US and Mexico played a friendly in April 2002, a game the US won 1-0 when the Mexican goalkeeper collided with a teammate and Clint Mathis cleaned up the rebound. Even with the majority of the stadium decked out in green (El Tri verde, alas, not Rapids green), there was nothing on the line and not much in the way of intensity. If CONCACAF gets its way and the US and Mexico are kept apart as the two top seeds in qualifying, that's the best we'll be able to do.

Team USA vs. Mexico is supposed to be a nasty, intense and fun clash of cultures -- playing and otherwise. La Guerra Fria, when the US opened 2002 World Cup qualifying by beating Mexico 2-0 in frigid Columbus, Ohio, is cemented in US soccer lore. Not nearly as legendary but no less important was the Golden Point, when a 10-man US earned a 0-0 draw in front of 115,000 hostile fans at Azteca in November 1997. That point is the only one the US has taken off of Mexico on its soil since they started playing in 1934. Winning at Azteca is the last great hurdle for the US in CONCACAF, but with both sides and the confederation well aware they all make more money when games take place in the US, even the opportunity to keep chasing that elusive first win may be hard to find.

It's bound to happen since the CONCACAF leadership has its Caribbean voting bloc in lock step and North America is just along for the ride. FIFA is not about to sign off on the US and Mexico (and maybe Canada?) leaving for South America and any of the aforementioned staging a coup de federation isn't happening in our lifetimes, so soccer fans have to hold their nose and jump in with two feet. Of course, if the US opens up with a group of Belize, Bermuda and the Bahamas, fans may be too busy calling their travel agents to protest too much.