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New family members

I picked up a new George Foreman grill last night. Anyone who has known me for the last year or so knows how much I love these things, and not having one for about a month wasn’t a lot of fun. I don’t really like cooking meat (hamburgers or steak, mostly) any other way, other than outdoors, and so having a Foreman grill back in my life really diversifies my meal choices.

In other, more expensive news, however, I also picked up an iPod Touch. After only owning the thing for a couple days, let me just say this: it’s a good thing I’m too poor for an iPhone. I see the appeal: having an iPhone basically gets rid of your boredom forever. No matter where you are, whether it be stuck in traffic (I wouldn’t use my iPhone while driving, but some do), waiting for a table at a restaurant, or even waiting in line somewhere, you never have to be bored. I felt like making an iPod Touch commercial only two days after I bought it – in fact, the only things dragging the iPod Touch/iPhone down are the Draconian App store and the inability to sync over the air. Other than that though, this is a platform which I admit (begrudgingly) is on its way up.

Somewhat differently than most, however, I’m using my iPod pretty much the same way I used my old Palm Vx and iPAQ Pocket PC: as a PDA. I don’t actually sync any music to my iPod Touch (I have my other two iPods for that), and I only sync video because of the ridiculously gorgeous screen (seasons 1 and 2 of The Office, wherever I go). The rest of the space on the iPod is reserved for applications.

If the App store has done one thing right, it’s that it has generated huge interest and excitement for the platform. There are already hundreds of thousands of apps available, many of which are executed beautifully: Facebook, Mint.com, and my little VLC remote control are among my favorites. I wish Apple would allow other ways to distribute apps, though.

Now all I need to do is decide on a name…

I beg to dream and differ from the hollow lies

I’ve been meaning to blog about some of these things for a while, but never really had enough for an entire entry. Therefore, it’s back to tidbits.

  • I’ve gotten really into Hell’s Kitchen and Kitchen Nightmares lately. Both are reality shows with Gordon Ramsay as the host/chef/boss, but while Hell’s Kitchen is a competition like Survivor, Kitchen Nightmares, if it were on ABC, would be called Extreme Makeover: Restaurant Edition. Two reasons I like these shows: a) restaurants are a fair industry (more on that in a minute) and b) Gordon Ramsay is hypnotizing, whether he’s yelling at a competitor on Hell’s Kitchen or pouring his passion into resurrecting dead restaurants. Ramsay’s philosophy goes along with what I said in a), and it’s pretty simple: restaurants that are successful are restaurants that do things the right way. Too many industries are rewarding to companies that cut corners to earn an extra buck or maybe break some rules to avoid hassle.

    The common theme with all restaurants featured in Kitchen Nightmares is that the food isn’t good, and the food isn’t good because the kitchen isn’t stocked with fresh food or isn’t clean, and those two things occur because the chefs or owners are trying to cut corners. Inevitably, in each episode, Ramsay gets in there, cleans up the kitchen and basically just revitalizes the menu with fresh ingredients and the rest takes care of itself.

    The same is true of competitors on Hell’s Kitchen: aspiring chefs who aren’t team-oriented are gone; chefs who can’t cook are gone; chefs who lack passion are gone. Ramsay has two shows on FOX, and he uses both of them to push his brand: pour your heart, soul, and mind into it.

  • The reason I’ve gotten caught up on both of these shows is thanks to a great new website: Hulu. Mark Cuban wrote about it in July, and now that networks are catching on, Hulu is taking off. It’s not just the fact that it’s a video site with actual TV shows: it’s the fact that Hulu is a well-designed, well-executed system. Each show you watch has some commercials (only thirty seconds each, for the most part, some less), but they’re unobtrusive (as in, they don’t create popups, they don’t cover the entire page (here’s looking at you, ESPN.com), and once they’re gone you’re left to your video. The video player is executed nicely too, with all the common controls and excellent quality, and it lets you skip around however you want without loading a new commercial each time (basically, if you try to skip a commercial break, you’ll see a commercial). And unlike YouTube’s main page, which feels cluttered and disorganized, Hulu’s main page is wonderfully designed and looks awesome.

    Just for fun, here’s the Super Bowl ad:

    (Of course. As I’m trying to rave about Hulu, the Super Bowl commercial wasn’t available from Hulu. +1, YouTube.)

  • The entire Indians team is now in Goodyear, AZ preparing for the 2009 Indians season. Many analysts agree with my prediction that the Indians will win the Central, albeit cautiously. Their reasons are that the Indians rotation, after Cliff Lee, is questionable.

    I’m looking for Fausto Carmona to bounce back and emerge as the true ace of the Indians staff. Cliff Lee had an amazing season last year, but I don’t see him repeating that this year (although it’d be nice if he did). Carmona’s stuff, if he’s on, is simply electric, and he’s not yet in his prime. Cliff Lee, on the other hand, has a good fastball and an above-average curveball, but he’s not going to throw that fastball by you, so he’s more of a control specialist.

    In any case, the Indians aren’t quite sure about the rest of the rotation. Carl Pavano is a huge question mark (although I have a feeling that he’ll be someone like Paul Byrd: he won’t pitch phenomenally, but he’ll get enough run support to win). Jeremy Sowers has quite a bit to prove, but he showed signs of improvement at the end of last season. Aaron Laffey showed what he could be last year and then ran out of gas; I’m looking for him to regain that form. And that’s not even thinking about Zach Jackson, Anthony Reyes, or Scott Lewis, who all pitched last year for the Tribe with varying degrees of success. Dave Huff is being mentioned too. And don’t forget that Jake Westbrook will be back hopefully in mid-season to give the rotation a boost.

    So sure, the Indians have some question marks in their rotation, but they also have some options. (The same goes for most of the team, actually.) And as fun as it is to speculate about these things, I can’t wait for the season to start so these questions can start getting answered.

  • Isn’t Feburary a sweeps month? Why are there no new episodes of Big Bang Theory, How I Met Your Mother or The Office until the week of March 2?
  • Video of the day:

    Probably one of the better fan videos you’ll ever see. Absolutely awesome.

Hope all is well, wherever you’re reading this from, on a cold and snowy Thursday morning.

Fear is power, part 1

I caught most of Obama’s speech tonight (the nerve of that guy, interrupting The Big Bang Theory and How I Met Your Mother), and largely was not surprised. Some tidbits:

  • Even the NBC anchors knew beforehand that Obama would “play up the fear”. Using dramatic language, Obama’s idea of the future without this bailout plan slightly resembled the future portrayed in the Heroes episode Five Years Gone, where Peter had exploded and the world changed forever. The thing is that even with the bailout, the future isn’t that much better. Obama conceded that 2009 was going to be tough, but by 2010 we might be seeing things start to turn around. Maybe.

    If you really want to fix the economy, you should do what Ronald Reagan did: inspire people to work hard and get out of it yourselves. That’s what Obama did during his campaign, for most of it, and now he’s just a normal politician again, striking fear into the hearts of everyone and making sure they trust the government to get them out.

  • He mocked those who disagree with him, saying that people who don’t think the New Deal worked are stuck in the past. Here’s the thing: this stimulus he’s proposing might as well be called “The Newer Deal”. It makes sense to look back in history and see what has happened in similar situations – we do it all the time. And honestly, The New Deal failed. There was only one thing that brought us out of the Great Depression, and it was World War II, when men had to go fight and women stayed home to produce unprecedented amounts of American-made products to ship to our troops and Allied troops overseas. The New Deal was passed in 1933 and was active until 1938 – but in 1939, we were still in the Depression. I believe that FDR was a great president, maybe one of our greatest ever – but this idea failed. The Newer Deal is probably destined for the same result.
  • He feigned bipartisanship, by claiming that he’s willing to work with Republicans on the little details, but ultimately, it’ll be what the Democrats want. They’re in power; they’ll do what they want, and that’s spend money on renovating government buildings to make them more green (“How could anyone call that frivolous? People can be so naive, don’t you think?”), improving roads, etc. He mentioned improving schools – that’s really the first part of the stimulus I agree with. Here’s the thing: you improve schools, and you’re making a long-term investment in our future. Instead of simply burying the next generation in debt, you’re giving them a mortgage – a way to get out.
  • You could tell the media was a little nervous here – after all, here was Barack Obama not speaking about peace, hope and happiness. So they asked him about Alex Rodriguez. (And by the way: I give A-Rod major props for coming clean like he did. If he’s telling the truth, and he hasn’t used steroids since 2004, and he’s admitting his mistake, I’m ready to forgive the guy. As for calling him a Hall-of-Famer, that’s another story. I’d like to see his numbers minus his steroid years when his career is over, and then I’ll make my decision.)

What’d you guys think of his speech? Was it another gold mine? Or are we finally starting to see the real person we voted for?

A view of the world through rose-tinted glasses

If the buzzword of the Barack Obama campaign was “change”, there’s no doubt that the buzzword of the Barack Obama administration is “transparency”. As the nation readies itself for the (as I like to call it) mother of all bailouts, one thing that both the Obama administration and Congressional Democrats are harping on as a difference between this plan and the last plan is that this plan, unlike the last plan, will be transparent. Tables like this one, this one, this one, and this one which is run in part by Mark Cuban all aim to keep track of what the government is doing with all that money. President Obama, eager to get in on the website fun, has launched this website, which he claims will be used to let Americans know how their tax dollars are being spent.

First of all, transparency in government is one of those things that definitely can be overdone. For example, US citizens don’t necessarily need to know how much money the CIA gets each year, for the same reason that al Qaeda doesn’t need to know how much money the CIA gets each year. That’s confidential information. However, this bailout, which is landmark legislation in the United States, needs to be as open as possible, for a couple reasons: a) as citizens, we need to know what banks to NOT put our money in, and b) the Feds really screwed up in the last bailout.

I think everyone knows that I was skeptical about the last bailout and I’m just as skeptical about this bailout. In the fall, we heard debates on the floor of Congress that go along the lines of “we can’t just throw money at this problem and expect it to go away,” and invariably, a couple weeks later, Congress announced that they are giving hundreds of billions of dollars to the banks in hopes that the problems will recede.

I think this is the attitude of the Congressional Democrats:

This time around, however, things are going to be different. The same Congress that ingeniously doctored the first bailout is on the case, and if it weren’t for those old, senile, penny-pinching Republicans, this time the bailout will work. The only problem with the first bailout was that those darned banks, having learned their lesson, saved the money they got in the bailout instead of returning to the American way of providing loans to people who can’t afford them. This time, they’ll do what we tell them, because we’ll put strings and fine print on that money. And to top it all off, we’ll make it transparent! That way, everyone can see how great we are and reelect us in 2010!

Sounds like it’ll work, right?

Quite a few Congressional Democrats were interviewed this week (predictably) on the Sunday talk shows (and to be fair, a lot of Republicans were too). The weird thing is that every Democrat said basically the same thing: this plan is different, our guy’s in charge, he’ll make sure it works, and it’ll be transparent.

Still sound good?

Here’s where I’m going with this: does anyone think, for a second, that the Obama administration will release numbers that are displeasing to the American people? I don’t. I think that the illusion of success is more important to this administration than success itself. “Ah,” you might say, “checks and balances. They’ll stop this.” What checks and balances? Washington is controlled by the Democrats right now, who are all on message, and wouldn’t dare speak out against Obama.

Think about it this way: how does the administration benefit from transparency on this bill? They don’t – they only benefit from the image of having transparency, but to be honest, they’d rather keep all that stuff behind closed doors. The easiest way for the Obama administration and Congressional Democrats to keep the pristine image they have with the public right now but maintain power is to manipulate what data is shared.

For those of you who voted for Obama as well as other Congressional Democrats (and I know a lot of you did), and didn’t think we were headed for a socialist economy, this is what socialism looks like. The government has control of a large portion of the economy, and I fear it’s only a matter of time before they get more.

Obviously this is just a theory; I have no way of proving these are his intentions. All I’m saying is this: I wouldn’t be surprised.

Americana 2009: My annual list of baseball parks to visit

Since an unexpected opportunity arose today to take a trip to the Baltimore/DC area, I decided that today I would finalize my list of baseball stadiums to visit this year. To review, last year I visited:

  • Progressive Field, Cleveland Indians, Cleveland, OH
  • Great American Ballpark, Cincinatti Reds, Cincinatti, OH
  • Shea Stadium, New York Mets, Flushing, NY
  • Yankee Stadium, New York Yankees, Bronx, NY

I planned on visiting a couple more, but at least I was able to see Yankee Stadium and Shea Stadium before they closed. This year, hopefully with a little bit more disposable income, I’ll be able to visit the following stadiums:

  • Progressive Field, Cleveland, OH. Sort of goes without saying, but I hope to attend quite a few games at Progressive Field this year (and hopefully the Indians will be a fun team to watch at home this year).
  • Oriole Park at Camden Yards, Baltimore, MD. Since my mom will be taking a trip to the Baltimore area in May, the opportunity seems perfect to visit one of the more important stadiums in baseball. Camden Yards was only built in 1992, but more importantly was the first stadium to go for the retro, one-purpose feel, as opposed to the multi-purpose doughnut stadiums of the 60s, 70s and 80s. The Orioles haven’t been competitive for years, but the park is consistently ranked high in terms of customer experience and from my early scouting, tickets are a good value.
  • Nationals Park, Washington, DC. Until Yankee Stadium and Citi Field open in April, this is the newest park in baseball. Similar to the Orioles, the Nationals aren’t very competitive so it’s likely that prices will be reasonable. I haven’t been to DC since 8th grade (which seems hard to believe, it feels like I was just there recently), so that’ll be fun too. This park would be lower on my list, but since I’ll be around there in May, it seems like a good opportunity to knock it off.
  • Busch Stadium, St. Louis, MO. I’ve always been a casual fan of the Cardinals (mostly because of Albert Pujols and Tony LaRussa) and St. Louis is a great baseball city. Prices here are less reasonable, as the team is competitive and the people of St. Louis are baseball-obsessed. I’d like to visit in July sometime, for an ultra-American, ultra-traditional summer’s night of baseball.
  • Kaufmann Stadium, Kansas City, MO. As long as I’m out in Missouri, might as well see the other great baseball stadium. Renovations are being done now that should make Kaufmann Stadium even better than before. If possible this is a team I wouldn’t mind seeing the Indians play on the road, since the Indians have a high chance of winning and the Royals fans are said to be the nicest in baseball (I guess you can’t really afford not to be, at that point).
  • PNC Park, Pittsburgh, PA. To think, if the recession had happened a couple years ago, PNC could have bought the naming rights to Jacobs Field and we could have had TWO PNC parks. This is probably the best value out there, at least for me – the stadium is only three hours away, the team hasn’t been competitive in nearly twenty years, and the people in Pittsburgh are a bit preoccupied with their football these days. I’m targeting an August visit for this park.
  • Fenway Park, Boston, MA. I’ve been to Fenway Park once, but it was when I was less interested in baseball and I’m not sure I appreciated it as much as I could have. Also, I was there in June last time – this time, I’m going for a September game. As far as tradition, it doesn’t get much more traditional than Fenway in September. It’d be really nice to get a divisional showdown between the Sox and Rays or Sox and Yankees (yikes, that just sounds dangerous), but any game in September would be good.

Overall I’d be pretty happy if I knock these stadiums out this season, but if I don’t get them all that’s okay too. For 2010, I’ll definitely look to visit New York again and see the new stadiums, and then I’d like to go out west to Colorado, Texas, or maybe even California.

Anyone want to share gas money?

Two sports stories

Two sports stories on this very early Monday morning.

  • First, what some are calling the best Super Bowl of all time, even better than last year, and the reason I’m not sleeping tonight. This year was rough for me because I had more of a vested interest in the game, but thanks to this catch from an Ohio State alumni, the Steelers won their sixth championship:

    Totally agree with the opinion that this broadcast was second to none. Al Michaels knows enough about football to know when to get excited and when to shut the heck up, and Madden was his normal self. I didn’t catch anything except the end of “Glory Days” by Springsteen, but I heard good things about that too. The game was great: it had its fair share of controversy, a 100 yd interception return, and great storylines that dated as far back as 2006.

  • The other story is less happy: led by our main man Dennis Kucinich, certain Congressmen feel it’s their duty to interfere in the naming rights of the Mets’ new stadium. It’s as if these career politicians couldn’t figure out that agreements have already been signed. Clearly they haven’t been in New York lately – that Citi Group sign was up when I visited over the summer (more photos):

    Even if the sign wasn’t up, even if the patch wasn’t chosen, even if they were complaining about this months ago…aren’t these the same guys that are throwing around trillions of dollars in bailout money? Who are they to talk about conservative spending? And more importantly, did we really elect you to worry about that stuff? I’m not sitting at Lazorpoint on work time writing music or checking my fantasy football teams; they shouldn’t be spending their work time worrying about sports (it must be a liberal thing, to want to control everything – search “barack obama bcs” and you’ll see).

    Instead of making the bailout work, these guys are looking for ways out if when the bailout doesn’t succeed. “Maybe if Citi group had saved that extra 400 million, we would have made that 800 trillion dollar bailout work. Or the next 800 trillion dollar bailout,” they’ll say. “It wasn’t our fault.”

    I’m tired of politicians making excuses, pointing fingers and not doing their jobs. That’s the kind of change we need – but no one is accountable anymore. Until that happens, we won’t turn around.