Archive | October, 2012

How to make the NHL awesome

31 Oct

If you’re not a hockey fan, watch this video first for a good rules primer

I don’t follow hockey very closely. I’m a basketball guy. But I am from Minnesota, which I think makes me qualified to talk about hockey like an expert.* The NHL has a lot of real problems right now. I am not the man to solve them. However, I did spend a lot of time today solving a fake NHL problem that I made up. For my purposes, the NHL lockout doesn’t exist because that would complicate things. This plan is a total pipe dream and will never in a million years be implemented. It was still fun to think about.

*Disclaimer: I am decidedly not an expert. I did no research for this. Some, many, or most of my statements and assertions may be totally wrong.

District 5 show me you’re alive

One thing that hockey fans always gripe about is how the NHL overexpanded into southern cities. The league is bloated, and having NHL teams in Miami, Tampa, Phoenix, Nashville, Raleigh, Dallas, Los Angeles, and San Jose feels wrong. That’s almost a third of the league. A common solution proffered is to shrink the NHL and/or move some of these teams to Canada. This has become more viable lately with the strength of the Canadian dollar, and the Atlanta Thrashers moving to Winnipeg was a good first step. Clearly, there are a lot of hockey fans who don’t have an NHL team to cheer for. There are quite a few minor league, junior, and college teams that regularly draw over 5,000 fans a game, and several that average around 10,000. Instead of contracting, the NHL should expand and split into divisions, with promotion and relegation. Yes just like European soccer. Yes this is a total hack sportswritery thing to write about. Every year some idiot writes a column about how the Kansas City Royals should be sent down to AAA and they don’t realize how stupid it makes them sound. This is especially dumb to suggest in baseball, but I think if the NHL really wanted to do it they could.

Of course, this will never happen. Sending current NHL teams down to a new second division is a total non-starter, and having a bunch of 30-team divisions is probably unworkable. TV money, arenas, player allocation, etc. would be unsolvable arguments. I don’t care. I’m doing this anyway.

Hockey is by far the most logical sport to adopt a multi-tier structure. Baseball’s need for extensive affiliated minor leagues would make it impossible there. Basketball and football would need to compete with their college counterparts in the lower divisions. That’s a battle they probably can’t win. No one’s going to follow a new Louisville NBA division two team instead of the Universities of Kentucky or Louisville. Hockey is perfect. There are a lot of established minor league teams whose major league affiliation is much looser than in baseball. It’s quite feasible that they could become independent operations. Plus the NHL doesn’t compete with college hockey for fans in any meaningful way.

Sometimes minor league sports have stupid promotions

The current system for developing North American hockey players needs to be overhauled. Elite teenagers don’t follow the same path as elite teenage football, basketball, and baseball players do. This has its benefits, but the patchwork system of junior leagues and development programs currently in place is highly inefficient. Players who are drafted by NHL teams very rarely sign with the team and start playing for their minor league affiliate. They usually go to either the NCAA or one of the Canadian Major Junior leagues* for a year or two or three first. In baseball, players who are drafted either sign with the team and play for a minor league affiliate under the parent club’s supervision, or re-enter the draft. In hockey, a team who drafts a player retains his rights for years, and instead of signing them and paying them money, teams usually elect to let the players keep playing for free until they’re close to ready for the NHL. This is a dumb way to do it.

*The NCAA v. CHL is a whole different topic that’s beyond my scope. People think one or the other is better hockey or better for the kids and there are huge fights about where talented kids should play and whether Junior teams illegally pay players under the table and it’s a whole stupid thing. I know this because I keep an eye on college hockey recruiting. My dedication to my dear alma mater is so irrational that I read about hockey recruiting sometimes. There are multiple blogs that cover my alma mater’s hockey recruiting efforts. And yes, college hockey would suffer under this proposal. The NCAA would lose most of their best players to new youth academies. The sensible thing for the NCAA to do would be to work out some way for kids who played for pro teams in their youth but didn’t make the big time to be eligible. I’m not going to delve into that. The NCAA’s tortured relationship with amateurism is a different topic worthy of its own long blog post. Suffice it to say that college hockey could survive and thrive if anyone competent were running things. Too bad that’s more unrealistic than this crazy NHL idea.

Not quite the same as the Stanley Cup

A better way to allocate and develop players would be to eliminate the draft and allow NHL teams (in all divisions) to run youth academies and sign players at will. This way teams have a vested interest in developing new players and those players will receive much better and more consistent instruction than they do now. Teams would have a reserve squad that would allow young players close to NHL-ready as well as players recovering from injuries etc. to compete against other reserve teams. They could also loan players out to other teams in lower divisions for some seasoning. Again, yes this is just like European soccer.

Enough prologue, here’s the proposal: 80 teams, four divisions of 20 teams each. League conferences and divisions are eliminated. Teams play the other nineteen teams four times each for a 76-game schedule. The bottom three teams get relegated, the top three get promoted. Don’t worry, I have a lower-division playoff structure all worked out. Keep reading.

I organized the top three divisions. It would be easy to find 20 places to put teams for the fourth, but I didn’t get into the details. I allocated the teams by recent standings and attendance, history, and geography. This is the kind of thing that could prove controversial, and there are a lot of other ways to do it. I like my way best.

Boston Bruins
Buffalo Sabres
Calgary Flames
Chicago Blackhawks
Detroit Red Wings
Edmonton Oilers
Los Angeles Kings
Montreal Canadiens
New York Islanders
New York Rangers
Ottawa Senators
Philadelphia Flyers
Pittsburgh Penguins
San Jose Sharks
St. Louis Blues
St. Paul Wild
Toronto Maple Leafs
Vancouver Canucks
Washington Capitals
Winnipeg Jets

Winner gets this

The Original Six. All the current Canadian NHL teams. US teams based mostly on past and current success and fan support. I included the Islanders instead of the Devils because of their move to the Barclay’s Center, their four straight Stanley Cups in the 80’s, I like their uniforms, and I’ve always thought it was cool that they represent Long Island.* That’s always struck me as kind of cool. Notice I changed the Minnesota Wild to the St. Paul Wild. Keep reading for all the info on the new Minneapolis team.

*The Islanders is a cool name but here’s an  idea: change the team name to the Pets, to match the Mets, Jets, and Nets. Their logo could be a puppy on a leash. Alternate logo: fishtank.

Anaheim Mighty Ducks
Carolina Hurricanes
Chicago Wolves
Colorado Avalanche
Columbus Blue Jackets
Dallas Stars
Florida Panthers
Halifax Mooseheads
Hamilton Bulldogs
Hartford Whalers
Kitchener Rangers
Lake Erie Monsters
London Knights
Minneapolis North Stars
Nashville Predators
New Jersey Devils
Phoenix Coyotes
Quebec Nordiques
Tampa Bay Lightning
Toronto Marlies

Here’s where things get interesting. I’m starting to include teams from the AHL and the Major Junior leagues (QMJHL, OHL, and WHL). A hearty welcome back to the Hartford Whalers and Quebec Nordiques. Anyone else excited for the return of the North Stars? One of the hard things in deciding on teams was what to do with cities that have more than one. I think the Twin Cities could pretty easily support two pro hockey teams as well as the University of Minnesota. The North Stars could play at Target Center. It would be interesting if nothing else. The Chicago Wolves are very popular now, and I think would get even more so in this structure. They’d peel off some Blackhawks fans and become the de facto team of the northwest suburbs. Toronto could probably support three teams. The only question is how many Maple Leafs fans would really defect. Everything I read tells me they’re by far the most popular NHL team despite being terrible for most of my 29 years. Second-tier Canadian cities and the dregs of the NHL fill out the league. These Canadian Junior teams draw in the 7-10 thousand range. Imagine what they’d draw with professional players. The Lake Erie Monsters play in Cleveland and have the dumbest team name I’ve ever heard. They should call themselves the Cleveland Spiders.

Craig Kilborn used to play this on The Late Late Show sometimes

Anchorage Aces
Calgary Hitmen
Edmonton Oil Kings
Ft Wayne Komets
Grand Rapids Griffins
Hershey Bears
Houston Aeros
Kelowna Rockets
Milwaukee Admirals
Ottawa 67s
Portland Pirates
Providence Bruins
Rochester Americans
Scranton/Wilkes-Barre Penguins
Saskatoon Blades
Seattle Thunderbirds
St. John’s IceCaps
Syracuse Crunch
Vancouver Giants
Windsor Spitfire

I picked a lot of these based on cities who already have successful minor league teams. I didn’t do any research about arena size, so some of them might not have much hope to grow and get promoted. The Providence Bruins and Edmonton Oil Kings would have to change their names since they’d lose their old NHL affiliations. I threw Anchorage in because it would be cool to have a team in Alaska. Some of these Canadian teams are tricky. The Edmonton, Vancouver, and Ottawa teams draw something like 9,000 a game, but would that continue if they were in direct competition with their established NHL teams? I don’t know. None of those are as large as the US cities with multiple teams. I think it could work.

I didn’t work this all the way out. Possible team locations:
Kansas City
Las Vegas
Moose Jaw
New Orleans
Oklahoma City
Salt Lake City
San Antonio
San Diego
San Francisco
Sault Ste. Marie

This is a statue of a moose in Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan

Lots of big US cities and small Canadian cities. A lot of those Canadian cities you’ve never heard of have Junior teams who draw 3-4,000 fans a night. It’d be cool to have teams in Minnesota’s Iron Range and Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. Lots of these US cities have NBA arenas ready to go. Easy.

One thing I haven’t talked about is money. How would TV contracts be awarded? How much would players earn? What would the differences be between divisions? How would minor league teams get the money to fund their new associated costs? I’m not going to answer those questions. The economics is really what makes this all unfeasible in the real world, so I won’t even bother. Let’s all just pretend it would work somehow.

In European soccer, there aren’t playoffs to determine league champions. Most points at the end of the regular season wins. In the lower divisions, the top two teams are promoted automatically and teams 3-6 have a playoff for the last spot. Obviously I wouldn’t eliminate the Stanley Cup Playoffs. In NHL1, the top eight teams would qualify for the playoffs, which would be the same as they are now.* In the lower divisions playoffs would work a bit differently. The regular season champion gets the league championship trophy and gets to hang a banner. But that’s not how you get promoted. That’s where the playoffs come in. The top nine teams qualify. They’re divided into three groups. Group A: 1, 5, 9; Group B: 2, 4, 8; Group C: 3, 6, 7. These groups play a sextuple round robin. Three home and three away against the other two teams. That’s twelve total games per team. Teams earn points just like the regular season, and the top two teams from each group advance to the “Promotion Round”. Group A winner plays Group C runner-up, Group B winner plays Group A runner-up, and Group C winner plays Group B runner-up.** Best of seven, the three winners get promoted. This would be incredibly exciting. It would make casual sports fans care about minor league hockey.

*Except there would be one fewer round of playoffs than there are now. This, combined with the shorter regular season, would help keep the season from being as ridiculously long as it is now.

**The groups are paired such that if the seeds hold, the promotion series are 1-6, 2-5, and 3-4. Figuring out the groups was the hardest part of this whole post. Let me know in the comments if you have a better way to do it. The groups, that is. Not the promotion system in general. I like my system.

This is a great idea and no one will convince me otherwise. I wish I were the commissioner of the NHL. I would be a hero to sports fans everywhere.

Comedy podcasts

29 Oct

I like comedy. I like comedians. Ever since I was a kid watching bad standups on Comedy Central, I’ve been fascinated by the whole thing. Not so fascinated that I’ve ever actually gone to a comedy club, but I think I’m more in touch with that world than the average man on the street.

I like your jacket Bill Maher

The internet has made the comedy world a very different place. I didn’t have HBO as a kid, so the only way I got long-form access to standup comedy was in edited reruns on the aforementioned Comedy Central. If I saw a short bit I liked, there was no way to learn more about the comedian presenting it. If I saw Fred Stoller or Andy Kindler do something funny on Dr. Katz, the best I could do was hope that they would be on the show again soon.

Now every comedian has a website that lists their tour dates. They’re all on Twitter. They’re all probably on Facebook.* Every comedian has clips, authorized and not, on YouTube. It’s very easy to keep track of comedy. It’s easy to find out about comedians that aren’t on TV a lot. There’s a whole little world of standup comedians and you can see them interacting with each other online. It’s very cool in a weird voyeuristic way.

*I wouldn’t know; I’m not on Facebook. I quit Facebook in 2006. You still needed a .edu email address to have a Facebook account then. Most people didn’t even know what Facebook was. Sometimes I’m so hip I don’t know what to do with myself.

One other new development in the world of comedy is the podcast. This is a way for two or more people to sit down and talk for an hour or so. There are a lot of podcasts devoted to comedy. Your favorite comedian has probably been a guest on five different podcasts this year. I don’t listen to a lot of comedy podcasts. This might be a bad decision, but I get such a negative vibe from a lot of them that the genre of “comedy podcast” holds very little appeal to me.

Long-time readers of TPY* know of my fondness for Dr. Katz, Professional Therapist. There are a lot of people from that show who are still around. Louis CK etc. One of the old Dr. Katz guys whose career has been resurrected by the internet is Marc Maron. He hosts the apparently** very popular WTF podcast. This piece on Grantland  sums up my feelings about the show better than I could, although I don’t find any redeeming qualities in his schtick like the author of that article. I’m a big fan of a lot of WTF‘s guests. A lot of them are very funny and well-known. Much more so than Mr. Maron himself. I don’t like Mr. Maron’s style or demeanor as host at all, but I’ve listened to a few episodes. Sometimes the guest makes it worthwhile. The Grantland article makes a case study of an episode featuring Mindy Kaling, which I listened to because I like Ms. Kaling. It was excruciating to listen to. I felt sorry for Mindy.

*The Pensive Years. That’s my new blog shorthand.

**I say apparently because I don’t know of any way to measure how many people actually listen to podcasts. This one seems to get a lot of buzz. I assume it’s the most popular comedy podcast.

“Do you like dogs?” A true Dr. Katz classic. I’ve remembered that for fifteen years.

I think a lot of podcast hosts don’t use their show as a vehicle for interviews or conversation, but rather as a way to advance their own career and to put their own names on something–the guest is incidental to their agenda. I can’t help but think that’s pretty sad. Marc Maron is probably the most successful exponent of this practice, but there are a lot of podcasts hosted by people trying to do the same thing. They’re all annoying to listen to. They interrupt, they talk over the guests, they insert their own jokes and personal stories, they have their own monologues at the start of the show, etc. This only works if you’re an appealing host who people like listening to. Given the popularity of this kind of thing, maybe I’m in the minority but I find that extremely off-putting.

Much of my podcast-listening experience has come in the past couple of weeks. I’ve recently become a fan of one Chelsea Peretti. You may know her from the pilot episode of Louie. She has also been a writer for Parks and Recreation, which I think is terrific. She is very funny and she has appeared on a lot of podcasts. I’ve listened to several of these recently. It’s been interesting. Not only is Ms. Peretti consistently funny, listening to the same guest on a lot of different shows provides a sort of control, making the differences and similarities between hosts readily apparent.

This is the only clip from that episode on the YouTubes

This past couple weeks has highlighted one of the best things about the podcast boom. There aren’t very many clips of Ms. Peretti’s standup act online, so being able to listen to her on podcasts is a convenient backdoor to getting a sense of her comic sensibility without actually watching her do her act. It’s also a way for comedians to get out in the public eye without developing new standup material. Podcasts at their best are a terrific development for fans of comedy.

Ms. Peretti’s appearance on the Todd Glass podcast is a good example of the type of host obnoxiousness I hate. You have to listen to the whole show to get a good feel for it, but this bit is a decent example. The overlaughing, the interrupting, we get it: you, Todd Glass, are the star of the show. Hey Todd, shut up and let Chelsea do her Home Shopping Network impression.

On the other side, the Parks and Rec episodes of Comedy Bang Bang were brilliant and are a good example of how podcasts can expose people to comedians and comedy that are otherwise hard to find unless you’re a regular at improv theaters. The “Jack from the Lumberyard” bit is beyond hilarious to me. (Be warned, this kind of comedy is probably not for most people.)

I have a feeling that the podcast medium will evolve into something great. It’s still in its infancy, and hosts will get better. Shows will get better. Ideas will get better. It’s already happening. Ms. Peretti is at the forefront. She hosts a new call-in podcast that is hilarious and feels different from all the other podcasts I’ve listened to. This is the way to make a show about yourself. Instead of trying to attract other, more famous comedians to the show, Ms. Peretti can insert herself as much or as often as she wants with her callers–that’s what people tune in for. It’s a brilliant idea. I hope there are more brilliant podcast ideas on the way. Maybe I just have to look harder. In any case, I’m excited. And I can’t wait for a day when I can listen to my favorite comedians talk about comedy with podcast hosts who aren’t insufferable.

I wonder if she has a fan club I could join

Public transportation

25 Oct

I use the Lake Merritt station

I have a car. Where I live it’s a necessity. I wish I didn’t need a car. Cars are a pain in the ass and I don’t like driving. When I lived in Chicago, I didn’t have a car and it was great. It was easy to get almost anywhere on the El or by bus. They’re both run by the CTA, and it’s easy to coördinate trips between bus and train. Occasionally I’d take a cab, but not often. Most places worth going were accessible via El. “Cool” neighborhoods, downtown, stadiums, etc. Public transportation in Chicago is generally terrific. People complain about it a lot, but people will complain about anything. People are idiots.

Living in Oakland makes me pine for the CTA. Public transportation in the Bay Area is a giant clusterfuck. The local transit website is That website lists 21 different bus operators, six rail operators, and five ferry operators. My movement is generally confined to Oakland, Berkeley, and San Francisco, so luckily I don’t have to deal with most of these service providers. The East Bay is serviced by AC Transit buses. To go across to SF you take a BART train. To get around SF, you take trains and buses run by the SFMTA (this is called the Muni).

Let’s provide a real-world example. Say I want to go to the de Young Museum in Golden Gate Park, which is in the City. (People here call SF “the City”, which I enjoy. Maybe more on that another time.) If I don’t want to drive I have to take two buses and a train. First an AC Transit bus, then a BART train, then a SF Muni bus. All of these agencies require a separate fare–there’s no transfer reciprocity. My total fare is $7.25 one way. That’s right, to go anywhere in the City not accessible by BART train costs $14.50 round trip. This is ludicrous. It’s easier to drive to a BART station, but parking there is nearly impossible. Still, it’s more convenient than taking the bus, even though I have to walk close to a mile if I want to park a) in a spot you can park in for more than two hours b) for free and c) in a place where I feel confident my car won’t be broken into. This reduces my round trip fare to $10.30. Still ludicrous. I’d drive if California gas prices, City parking, and bridge tolls weren’t even more ludicrous. The end result is that I don’t go to the City all that often.

Cable car fare is $6. I think only tourists ride them.

Maintaining a tunnel under the Bay is expensive. I get it. Running a fleet of buses is expensive. I get that too. But there’s no common sense in making a person pay almost $15 to make what’s essentially a local trip. I’m not going to San Jose or Sacramento or something. My suspicion is that the people who run these transit authorities are very satisfied with themselves and realize that the best thing for consumers would be to eliminate their own jobs and create one central transit authority. So they’re as territorial as possible and refuse to coöperate in any meaningful way.*

*Opinion not based on any research, evidence, or facts.

The only way the disparate transit authorities do coöperate is with the Clipper Card. This is a card that you can use to pay fares on any system. In theory, this is a good idea. You preload your card with cash at a Clipper Card machine at a station and then touch it to the reader on buses and train stations. In practice, it isn’t always that easy. Acquiring a Clipper Card in the East Bay is not easy. They’re not for sale at BART stations, only at Walgreen’s drugstores for some reason. I can’t think of a logical one. If you don’t live near a Walgreen’s, you have to go to a Muni station in the City to get one. That’s where I bought my Clipper Card. I put in $20 to preload it and the machine spat out my card. Unfortunately, this $20 was credited to me as a Muni “ride book” which means that instead of having $20 on my card to spend on my choice of transit services, it gave me credit for ten Muni rides. This is bogus. Imagine my frustration when I tried to get on the BART before I realized what had happened. I put another $20 on my card at the BART station. (You can add value to your card there but not buy one. Genius.) When I got home I had eight Muni rides and something like $17 cash on my Clipper Card.

Imagine my surprise the next time I rode the Muni. Instead of deducting one of my Muni rides, it deducted $2 from my cash value. This is double bogus. The only way I can use my stored Muni rides is if I have less than a $2 cash balance on my card. This makes me angry. If I thought I could accomplish anything by writing a series of angry letters, I would do so. Now what I have to do is to try to anticipate my balance so that when I get to the City I have less than $2 on my card so I can use my Muni rides. This is a huge pain in the ass. But I will absolutely not give the Muni the satisfaction of keeping free money in the form of rides I already paid for that I can’t redeem. Fuck them.

I live on a major thoroughfare one block from a major hospital. You’d think this would be a place with frequent bus service. Nope. There’s one route on my street, and one route a block over. They both come twice an hour. That’s it. That sucks. To get to Berkeley or anywhere in Oakland other than downtown requires at least one transfer. Then coming home, you have to time your trip so you don’t end up waiting 29 minutes for the bus that only comes twice an hour. The end result is that I never take the bus, even though I’d prefer to.

Sometimes this happens on AC Transit buses in my neighborhood

I mentioned earlier. I don’t have much to say about this website except that it’s confusing, slow, and generally unusable. The trip planner will provide you with several options, none of which are close to the fastest, cheapest, or easiest. The maps are so small that they’re pointless. When you view a route schedule, it doesn’t show you a map for that route. The whole thing is a disaster. If you don’t know where you’re going and how to get there on your own, you might as well not even try. The AC Transit and Muni sites are better. Not much better. I’ve spent a lot of time on the Chicago and Minneapolis transit sites, both are easy to use and helpful. It’s not that hard to do.

When even people who want to ride the bus drive instead, your transit system has failed. When taking public transit so expensive that people stay home instead, your transit system has failed. When your websites are so terrible that people give up before they even give public transit a chance, your transit system has failed.

Who should I root for in the World Series?

23 Oct


UPDATE: I’m rooting for the Tigers. It just feels right. But not so seriously that I’m wearing my Tigers hat around town or anything. A loyal reader made a good point in the comments about Mike Ilitch and his efforts to put together a winning team. I agree. I might even get a delicious, convenient, and affordable Hot ‘n’ Ready pizza from Little Caesar’s for each game to honor Mr. Ilitch’s commitment to winning baseball.

The World Series starts tomorrow. Tigers v. Giants. I like both teams. I’m kind of torn about this.

I went to college near Detroit. I knew a lot of Tigers fans, and I went to Tigers games every now and then. Mostly to cheer for the Twins, but I developed a soft spot for the Motor City Kitties, as they are sometimes called, especially when the team’s bad, as they were when I was in college. Their records for the four seasons of my college years: 55-106, 43-119, 72-90, 71-91. The next year, 2006, the Tigers went to the World Series. The Tigers were endearing when they were bad. They played the Twins one of those years on Opening Day. They threw four pitchers in the game; all of them were making their major league debut. The 2003 team that went 43-119 was comically bad. But if you look at the roster, you’ll see a few guys who contributed to the 2006 Pennant winners. It was fun to see that team develop. My favorite Tiger in those years was Carlos Guillen. I drafted him in like the 18th round of a fantasy draft in a keeper league, and he head a great season. I hung on to him for a couple years. The team had an advertising slogan then of “Who’s your Tiger?” He was my Tiger. They haven’t won the Series since 1984. Tigers fans my age don’t remember seeing the team win, and it would be cool to see them have their moment.

I wish you still played for the Tigers, Carlos

I just moved to the Bay Area. My roommates are Giants fans. I’m totally eager to get into the local spirit. I’d be more eager if I actually lived in the city, but there seem to be a lot of Giants fans in the East Bay. Going to a championship parade would be fun. Watching sports is generally more fun if you’re cheering for the same team as everyone else. When I was in maybe third grade, I had a satin Giants Starter jacket. It was totally boss. I got it at this very ghetto outlet store  in northeast Minneapolis called Bank’s. They were an insurance liquidator, and they always had a wacky grab bag of random products. My dad loved this store. We went there all the time. Hardware, clothing, electronics, furniture, anything you can think of. That jacket and a pair of Airmax basketball shoes were the two finds that I remember from the store.

Yes, Danny Tanner wore a jacket just like mine in the Full House opening credits

So I don’t know what to do. I’ll probably just start watching game one and see where my heart takes me. I’m afraid I won’t really be able to totally get behind either team. In any case, being in a town with a team in the World Series is a fun time. Maybe I’ll go hang out around the stadium before the games start.

Dogs and mail carriers: mortal enemies

23 Oct

Dogs hate mailmen

I live with two dogs. Neither of them are mine, but sometimes I find myself at home alone with them and that makes me the boss of the dogs. Recently there was an incident. My apartment is part of a small one-floor complex. We share a back yard. The dogs have free reign over the yard. The yard is fenced in, and there is a gate separating the yard from the stairs that lead to the street. Generally, we’ll let the dogs out and keep our back door open so they can come and go at their leisure.

The day I moved in, I was alone with the dogs. I was doing a load of laundry. Our washer and dryer are in the garage under our apartment. When I went down to get my load of laundry, I saw one of the dogs sauntering casually towards me. From across the street. The very busy street we live on. He had gotten out of the yard. I was surprised. I thought I had done something to allow him to get out. Nope. Apparently, he can easily jump over the gate. I was told this later. He’s a fairly large black dog with some white coloration around his face and paws. I like him. He’s some kind of retriever mix I’d guess (I do NOT know about dogs). So, he can get out of the yard. This wasn’t the first time he’d done it, and he did it once more a couple weeks later. His owners told me that he used to do this even more, but it isn’t a problem when he gets enough exercise. Every time he has gotten out he’s soon returned on his own. This mollified me, I suppose.

You can’t wait in there forever, mailman

Last Wednesday afternoon, I was home with the dogs. I let them out and left the door open. A few minutes later I heard barking from the street. I didn’t think much of it. A couple minutes later, I heard more barking. I went outside and sure enough, the dog was coming up the steps. The mail lady was standing maybe 20 yards away. She yelled something at me about the dog, I didn’t really hear. I was pretty embarrassed. I shouted back “Sorry!” and ushered the dog inside.

On Thursday we didn’t get any mail. This made me a little suspicious, since we get a lot of mail. (Including a lot of mail for several different people who no longer live here.) On Friday we got a letter from the Post Office. According to them, our gentle pooch tried to attack the mail lady. I doubt that very much. I don’t doubt that he did some barking and approached her in a friendly way; he’s a friendly dog. But attack is a strong word.

This is a humorous situation. Dogs chasing mailmen is a cliché so commonplace that awareness of the cliché overtakes knowledge of actual incidents that it is based on. I’ve certainly never heard of a real-life dangerous encounter between a dog and a mailman. Don’t let that fool you. This is apparently so common that the Post Office has a form letter that they send in such situations. I have taken the liberty of reprinting it below because it made me laugh out loud. The “painful dog bites” line struck me as especially funny for some reason. Maybe I’m not taking this seriously enough. I’m sure being a mail carrier in East Oakland can be a harrowing occupation sometimes. I don’t want my mail lady to be bitten by dogs. I’m sincerely concerned about her well-being and peace of mind; I won’t be letting the dogs out unsupervised any more. That being said, I don’t feel at all bad about finding this whole thing funny. And don’t worry, I called the Post Office and straightened everything out. We’re scheduled to get our mail tomorrow. I’m keeping my fingers crossed. Anyway, enjoy. Grammar and usage errors all sic.

Not quite fast enough, mailman

October 18, 2012

[My address]

Re: Suspended Mail Service/Loose Dog

My carrier recently informed me that a dog in your courtyard attempted to attack her during mail delivery hours. Postal service strives to provide excellent service to our customers. However, loose dogs unrestrained in the yard are a potential hazard and can not be taken lightly. Carriers nationwide have experienced painful dog bites because of owner’s lack of responsibility to restrain dogs during mail delivery hours. Therefore, your mail will be suspended for 10 days until you have contacted us in regards to restraining your dog.

Again unrestricted dogs during mail delivery hours are very serious to us at the Postal Service and can not be taken lightly. This not only protects our carriers from injuries, but the homeowners as well. Please do not hesitate to contact me at [phone number].


[Post Office Boss]
Manager Customer Service
[Their address]

NFL overtime blows

22 Oct

Until this year, everyone always complained about NFL overtime. They used to play sudden death, meaning that the first team to score in overtime won. The team who won the coin toss got the ball first, and a lot of people thought it was unfair that teams would take the kickoff, gain 40 or so yards, and kick a field goal. The other team didn’t have a chance to possess the ball at all. Sometimes idiots on TV would defend sudden death by saying things like, “Well defense is a part of the game too.” You’re right, genius. Defense is part of the game. And the team who won the coin toss didn’t have to play any. I hated NFL overtime.

College football uses a different system. Each team gets the ball at the opponent’s 25. If it’s still tied, then they go to another overtime period. This has all kinds of its own problems. Games go to two or three overtimes pretty regularly. It wasn’t uncommon to see games go to five or six overtimes once, but there’s a rule now that you have to go for two starting in the third overtime, which helps end things faster. It seems kind of shitty to me to change things up only in the third overtime period. Even with that rule change, these games can take forever. There’s also no possibility of a tie, which is still possible in the NFL if no one scores in overtime. Rare, but possible. I always root for ties in NFL overtime games.

Having overtime games end after one possession isn’t ideal, but the really galling thing is how games would usually end. NFL kickers are so consistent that there isn’t much suspense in a kick from under 50 yards. NFL coaches are also incredibly conservative and fearful of criticism. In their mind, trying to score a touchdown is a reckless gamble that might end in a turnover. If they just stop playing offense when the team gets to the 30, then they can just blame the kicker if he misses. After all, field goals are supposed to be automatic, right? Nothing was worse than watching a game where a team took the opening overtime kickoff, ran a few plays, and kicked a field goal. It’s the most anticlimactic ending possible. Game ending field goals in regulation are exciting because of the time pressure. A team runs out of time and kicks a field goal as time expires! Wow! Sometimes teams will stall and not go for a touchdown at the end, but it’s not nearly the epidemic it used to be in overtime.

I say used to be because of the new NFL overtime rule. Now, if the team who receives the kickoff kicks a field goal on their first possession, the game continues. They can only end the game with a touchdown. This is an improvement. Now teams do at least try to score a TD on the first overtime possession. This solves part of the problem. Not the whole problem. I was watching the Raiders play the Jaguars today. The Jags fumbled on the opening possession. The Raiders recovered, and promptly lined up for a field goal. Game over. They didn’t run a single play. Bogus. This is still a systemic problem. After the first possession, any team inside the 25 will stop playing offense and kick a field goal. This is boring and insulting to fans. The other overtime game today was the Patriots and Jets. The Pats opened with a field goal, then ended the game with a turnover. This was a better outcome than Jags/Raiders, but it still wasn’t exactly satisfying. And notice that the decisive score in both of these games was a field goal.

I still do not like NFL overtime. College overtime isn’t ideal either–there are the problems I mentioned above, plus there are no punts. Punt blocks and returns are exciting. Additionally, the teams get the ball close enough to the end zone that they don’t always run their full regular offense and they can’t try to spread the field vertically. It also limits defenses, knowing that a single error or penalty can have an increased impact, so there isn’t as much an incentive to be aggressive.

It’s a good thing I have a solution. It’s easy. If the NFL adopted it I would be a national hero. Instead of the “you need to score a touchdown, but then you can kick a field goal” rule, simplify things. Just play sudden death. And ban field goals. You can only win in overtime by scoring a touchdown or a safety. If it’s fourth down, you can punt or go for it. Think about how exciting this would be. First and ten at the opponent’s 20? Big series for the defense instead of game over. The offense kept moving and now it’s fourth and goal from the one? Dramatic exciting play instead of game over.

I can’t think of any reasonable objections to this plan, but I know idiots on TV would say, “But field goals are part of the game and kickers are part of the team too whaaaaa.” Fine. Field goals in regulation are a necessary evil. Teams should be rewarded for getting close to the end zone. Teams should have an option at the end of the half and the end of the game. Anyone who likes field goals or thinks there should be more of them or is fine with them being the decisive play in almost every overtime game is an idiot. If a game is so evenly matched that it goes to overtime, one of the teams should have to do something decisive to earn a win. Getting a three and out and then gaining 40 yards just doesn’t do it for me.

The other objection I can think of is that this system will make games longer and result in more ties. I see this as a huge strength, but whatever. In college, the game can go on theoretically forever, and the short possessions allow constant TV timeouts. This wouldn’t be a problem in my new and improved overtime. The game can only last one extra quarter, and it doesn’t have the timeout problem. A lot of people hate ties. I don’t really get that. Sometimes a tie is the best outcome. I guess people hate fairness. More ties would also make end-of-season playoff scenarios more exciting. Everyone loves it when a team can make the playoffs only if “they win, the Bears and Lions lose, and the Cardinals, 49ers, and Rams tie.” Maybe more ties would mean more teams alive for playoff spots until the end of the season. Maybe it would mean more relevant late-season games. Maybe it would mean fewer players sitting out of meaningless games in week 17.

I would hate it if teams started playing for ties, but I don’t see how that would be possible. You can’t play for a tie for a whole quarter. If a team decides to take a knee with a minute left, fine. I’ll be disappointed, but that’s their prerogative. I don’t think that would be much of a problem. There’s not much of a downside to at least trying to run plays. Worst case, you can punt. It would still be just as exciting as a team kicking a field goal on first down with a minute left, and a lot more exciting than someone kicking a field goal with twelve minutes left. You just got twelve extra minutes of tense, high-stakes football for free. Buffalo Wild Wings patrons already love this idea.

So that’s the main solution. The one remaining problem is the coin toss. It’s still possible for one team to start with the ball and score to end the game. That’s not really solvable in a sudden death scenario, but there’s a better way to hand out the ball to start overtime. It’s not my idea, but I can’t remember where I read it. Instead of a kickoff, the head coaches would bid for field position. The coach with the lowest bid gets the ball. Here’s how it works: Home team gets the first bid. He’ll take it at the 30. Visiting coach will take it at the 25. Home coach will take it at the 22. 21. 20? 19? How low will they go? This is so much better than a coin toss and a kickoff. Fans would love it. I know I would. Just imagine some of the league’s dumber coaches trying to manage the process. The entertainment value of someone like, say, Brad Childress trying not to fuck up the overtime auction might exceed that of the game itself.  Regardless of the coaches involved, it would be one of the highlights of any overtime game.

Watching football on TV is one of my favorite activities. It’s disappointing that the most exciting games so frequently have such a terrible ending. Even more so since it doesn’t have to be that way. Tell all your friends about my idea. If not for yourself, then for me.

Gambling on sports

19 Oct

I don’t think there are enough blogs about sports, so sometimes I will talk about sports.

Last night’s 49ers/Seahawks games featured one of the most amazing endings I’ve ever seen. Some people might hear that statement and immediately agree. But I think most people who watched the game would think I was crazy for saying so.

This was a boring football game. Two mediocre quarterbacks and two good defenses playing on a short week of practice. With a minute left, the 49ers were leading 13-6. The Seahawks had the ball at their own 4-yard line. It was 4th and 17. Seahawks QB Russell Wilson threw a pass to a receiver who was juuust short of a first down. On the play, the Seahawks were called for a chop block in their own end zone. This would result in a safety, and make the score 15-6.

49ers coach Jim Harbaugh had two choices: take the penalty, the two points, and have the Seahawks kick off; or decline the penalty and take the ball at the Seahawks 20. Normally, this is sort of a moot point. No matter what decision Harbaugh made, the 49ers were going to win. The game was, for practical purposes, over.

Jim Harbaugh is intense

While Harbaugh was making his decision, the referees decided to review the play to make sure that the Seahawks hadn’t gotten a first down on the pass. During the commercial, a thought came over me: I wonder what the line is? I checked. 49ers -7.5.* Holy shit. I read today that there was something like $200 million in action on the game in Vegas. Imagine the joy of people betting on the 49ers. To cover a spread on a penalty that results in a safety in the last minute? That has to be one of the most unlikely endings in the annals of gambling. Of course, it wasn’t that simple. If this had happened on 3rd down, or if the Seahawks had gained another six inches on the play, the decision is easy: take the penalty. If only it were that simple.

*For all of my readers inexperienced in picking NFL games against the spread, this means that if you bet on the 49ers, they had to win by 8 or more points for you to win the bet. A 49ers loss or win by 7 or fewer and you lose.

The safe decision is to decline the penalty, take the ball, and win 13-6. That’s what Harbaugh eventually did. Taking a knee up one score is safer than risking an onside kick up two scores. But to take points off the board is almost unheard of. Sometimes teams will take a safety on purpose late in the game when they’re ahead, in order to avoid a blocked punt. This was the inverse of that situation.

That 4th and 17 becomes, in retrospect, one of the NFL season’s most dramatic moments. 49ers bettors went from a sure loss to a miraculous cover to giving away the cover all in one play. I’ve never seen anything like it. I probably never will again. I’m glad I don’t bet on football.