Sunday, October 31, 2010

German Military Begins Massive Buildup

Reliable European sources indicate that the German military, after decades of peaceful dormancy, has roared once again to life and has laid a greedy eye on Eastern Europe, Caucasus, and possibly Karelia S.S.R.

Germany is also suspected to have invested in four infantry, three tanks, and is debating whether to produce a fighter or opt for a couple of die rolls.

A worried United Kingdom, and indeed all of Europe, waits breathlessly for its turn.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Relief Has Come to the Football Fan

As a longtime Colorado resident and sports fan, I always get a bit excited when autumn comes, and it’s not hard to understand why: the NHL’s regular season begins in October, which gives grateful sports fans a reason to ignore the smoldering wreckage that used to be the Denver Broncos organization, and instead focus on a sport that’s superior in most ways anyhow: ice hockey.

Ice hockey lacks football’s long stretches of commercials, simplistic TV analysis, and brief blinks of actual game play; NASCAR’s hours of predictable high-speed tedium (go straight, left turn, GOTO 10); baseball’s lasseiz-faire approach to physical fitness; or basketball’s general unfamiliarity with teamwork, defense, and physical contact; so it’s not hard to see why the sport hasn’t fully captured the American imagination.

No, seriously, we’re athletes. Really! We mean it! We get uniforms and everything!
I prefer to believe, though, that this is mainly because casual fans of the game aren’t watching it quite right. Sure, casual hockey fans look forward to fights (often to the point of ignoring the actual game), and usually can identify when a goal has been scored, if only because they notice the flashing red light and the accompanying arena-shaking horn blast. Casual fans do appreciate goals (as they should) and admire and even idolize goal-scorers (which is cool), and that’s a good start.

What the casual fan is less likely to pick up on, though, is how often it’s a passer, rather than a shooter, that makes a goal happen, and by missing or disregarding this fundamental facet of the game, they’re missing out on much of the excitement the sport has to offer, and a great deal of the skill it puts on display.

Without the puck movement that sets up the goal—without players who can draw defensemen and goaltenders out of position —scoring would be virtually nonexistent, rendering the game of hockey slow, pointless, and boring . . . like some other sports I could mention.

And while it’s almost surely true that a good shooter will make his linemates look good, it’s as or more often the reverse, that a first-class passer will turn a middling player into a good one, and a gifted player into a star. To show the importance of the playmaker, let’s take a look at five shooters—one flash in the pan, two All-Stars, and two Hall of Famers—and see how they’ve done with and without the first-class passers with whom they’ve played.

Jonathan Cheechoo of the San Jose Sharks was officially crowned the Luckiest Guy in the World when Joe Thornton joined the team as Cheechoo’s center early in the 2005–2006 season. Cheechoo won the Maurice Richard Trophy—awarded to the league’s top goal scorer—that year, probably postponing his return to the AHL by at least a couple of years:
Jonathan Cheechoo Games Goals GPG
With Thornton (2005-2006) 82 56 0.683
Every other year:
419 114 0.272

Milan Hejduk, a three-time All-Star for the Colorado Avalanche—and perhaps the team’s best-ever player to look just a tiny bit like a ferret—had his best year in 2002–2003 as a right wing for Peter Forsberg—not just one of the league’s best setup men of the last two decades, but one of its best overall players. While the two played together for several seasons, Forsberg’s struggle with injuries limited his playing time—at one point he played only 56 regular-season games in a three-year span—so the 2002–2003 season is the best example of Forsberg’s effect on Hejduk’s production.

Milan Hejduk
Games Goals GPG
With Forsberg (2002–2003) 82 50 0.610
Every other year:
765 289 0.378

Simon Gagne followed Milan Hejduk as the winner of the Forsberg Lottery when the Swede joined the Philadelphia Flyers for the 2005–2006 season. While Forsberg missed just over twenty games that year, he skated with Gagne most of the time he was healthy, and it shows in Gagne’s career-high total of 47 goals.

Simon Gagne
Games Goals GPG
With Forsberg (2005–2006) 72 47 0.653
Every other year:
598 212 0.355

Jari Kurri’s 601 career goals are good for eighteenth in league history, and he was the first Finn to be inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame. Wayne Gretzky assisted on 364 of Kurri’s goals, or right around 60% of the total. While Kurri may have made it into the Hall of Fame with somebody else as his center, it’s safe to say that Gretzky—not just the league’s all-time leading goal scorer but also its most gifted playmaker—helped nudge him in that direction. The two played together for the Los Angeles Kings for several years, but their chemistry and Gretzky’s playmaking effect were most evident in their years with the Oilers:

Jari Kurri
Games Goals GPG
W/ Gretzky (Oilers) (1980–1988) 600 397 0.662
Every other year:
651 204 0.313

Brett Hull ended his career known for more than just his big mouth, which is in itself a hell of an accomplishment. He retired with 741 goals in nineteen seasons (1,269 games), more than all but two players in league history. However, nearly a third of those goals (228, to be exact) came in just three seasons, from 1989 to 1992. In those seasons, Hull’s center was Adam Oates, one of the most gifted passers of his era, and Hull’s 86 goals in 1990–1991 set a league record (which still stands) for goals by a non-Gretzky.

Brett Hull
Games Goals GPG
With Oates (1989–1992) 232 228 0.983
Every other year:
1037 513 0.495

Without Oates, Hull still scored just under a goal every two games, a pace that likely would still have gotten him into the Hall of Fame. Had he played a couple more seasons with Oates, though, and maintained anything approaching that ludicrous .983-goals-per-game pace, he could have finished his career as the league’s all-time leader.

Based on this admittedly very small sample—in a half-assed study that is almost certainly rife with illogical assumptions, mathematical mistakes, and incomplete or misused data—these truly gifted playmakers appear to be able to add somewhere around one third to one half of a goal per game to a good shooter’s scoring average. In a sport where one out of every seven or eight games ends in a tie—and probably nearly as many end with a one-goal difference in score—an extra one-third to one-half goal per game is a huge.

So the mostly mundane and fairly obvious point I’m trying to make here is that the next time you’re going wild about the goal your favorite player just scored, take a good long look for the guy who got the puck to him, because he’s doing a lot of work to make that favorite player look good. Not to mention adding a couple of zeros to the end of the guy’s next contract.

. . . the other point I’d like to make is that Adam Oates looks a little bit like Ray Liotta. Like if you were to take Regular Ray Liotta and make him about 90% less intense and scary, you’d have Adam Oates:

Left: the Ray Liotta of the NHL. Right: The Ray Liotta of pretty much everything else.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Some Guy’s Adventures Through the Pint Glass

Special Aloha Edition

There comes a time in nearly every married man’s life when he realizes that he’ll eventually have to cave in to the relentless pressure, pack his bags, and take that Hawaiian honeymoon his wife has been badgering him about ever since they got married two days earlier.

That time finally came for me not too long ago, and I return with good news: you, too, can make it through the interminable weeks in this hellish tropical paradise if you’re properly prepared. A good way to start is by bolstering yourself against relentlessly pleasant weather, horribly clear water, and nauseatingly beautiful scenery by familiarizing yourself with local customs and, if possible, popular slang terms. The following is far from a comprehensive list, but the terms below—coupled with the fact that everybody down there speaks English anyway—should be enough to get you through the day:

Ohana: family. I didn't actually hear this phrase in Hawaii, but it’s used a lot in Lilo & Stitch, and it seems safe to assume that Disney is as dedicated to accurate portrayal of languages as it is to authentic depiction of alien/islander interaction.

Mahalo: thank you.

Aloha: used interchangeably as both a greeting when arriving and a farewell upon departure. Renders any translation of the Beatles’ 1967 hit song Hello, Goodbye nearly meaningless.

Holy shit, check out the albino: I’m not convinced that this phrase is actually Hawaiian, and I don’t have any idea what it means. For some reason I heard it a lot, though. Usually when I had my shirt off.

Howzit: Hey; hello; what’s up. If you stand there and wait to hear “. . . going?” you will wait for a good long while, and look pretty stupid while you're at it.

Mai tai: Tahitian for “Fuck you, brain, you can’t tell me what to do anymore!!”

Ono: delicious.

This last one will come in handy if you decide to eat or drink anything while you’re in Hawaii, for example,

Primo Island Lager, Primo Brewing Company, Honolulu, Hawaii.

This beer was good, and the book was even better. Can’t say
I’d recommend the forty-five-dollar airport sandwich, though.

Primo Island Lager is, according to the Primo Brewing Company’s own website, ono-licious. Oddly, because ono means delicious (see above, again, if you have the worst memory on Earth), onolicious therefore translates rather clumsily as deliciouslicious.1 I’m not going to dwell on that here, though; if you feel the need to read an asshole’s opinions on language use, check here, here, here, or here.1

Know your Onos. From left to right, Oh no; Ohno; Ono; Ono-licious.
Primo Island Lager is not the heavy, thick kind of beer you might drink on a cold snowy night with your hands wrapped around a steaming bowl of hot chili. This is a good thing, of course, because it’s brewed in a place where the temperature rarely dips below the mid-60s. The visionary who brings his meaty, paint-thick winterbrau recipe to the Hawaiian islands is nothing less than a big fat idiot who’d better be prepared to accept failure.

Seriously, though, who really gives a shit how this beer tasted? This is where I drank it:

So without further ado, and at the risk of short-circuiting the positronic brain of any robot who happens to be reading this column, Some Guy’s carefully considered but somewhat logically-circular rating for Primo Island Lager is: Three (3) bottles of Primo Island Lager. High praise indeed.

For more of Some Guy’s Adventures through the Pint Glass, check here: Day 1  Day 2  Day 3  Day 4  Day 5  Day 6

1. Linguistically speaking, this makes as little sense as the half-octopus, half-platypus creature known to science as the platypustopus. You’ve never heard of this animal before, but I know you want one.
2. Wow—looking at it right now, I realize that’s an awful lot of links to me being an asshole about language use. I’ll be happy to point you to a moment when I’m not being an asshole, as soon as one actually presents itself.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Hubris and the Indestructible Plastic Car

At the risk of sounding like an After-School Special or an early South Park episode, I’ve learned a valuable lesson today, one worth sharing with as wide an audience as possible.1 I’ve learned that if you’re willing to brag about how durable your car is—aloud, in writing, or even just smugly to yourself—you should be prepared to have it fall apart on you, Bluesmobile-style, almost immediately.

My list of suspects for this poetically just but financially shitty piece of automotive vengeance is long and not particularly coherent—I don’t know whether to blame karma, the Car Gods, fate, the Underpants Gnomes, or simply some harsh and unyielding cosmic force that specializes in cruelly expensive comeuppance.

Some might say that I’m blowing this out of proportion—that it’s not out of the ordinary for a fourteen-year-old car with a mostly spotless track record to eventually break down, that it’d be unrealistic to expect to hit 300,000 miles without every once in a while having to spend a few hours waiting for a tow truck on the side of a busy highway.

Bullshit. I don’t want to hear it.

So now, one week and several dollars later, my once-indestructible plastic car has two new shifter cables and a shiny new corrosion-free head gasket. As an added bonus, I got an oil change that was probably 4,000 miles overdue. I prefer to believe that I got a free head gasket and shifter cables, but had a four-digit bill on the oil change. Whether that’s denial or just plain stupidity I will leave up to you to decide.

An example of a healthy, happy head gasket.
My head gasket (artist’s conception)

Take a lesson from me—if you have a great, durable little car that doesn’t give you any trouble and costs you very little, shut the hell up about it. Don’t tempt the mystical forces of comeuppance unless you’re prepared to pay the consequences.2 The engine you save could well be your own!

1. Given how little I know about marketing a blog, and how little time or money I’m willing to spend on it, the widest possible audience is right around six people. Thank you for your support, by the way.
2. By which I of course mean “mechanic.”

Friday, October 15, 2010

One of These Things is Not Like the Others

Literally1 trillions of American adults in their twenties to thirties grew up watching Sesame Street, and most will easily be able recall the short sketch in which viewers were presented with four items accompanied by a bouncy little tune that informed us that one of those four things was not like the other. And, sure enough, after several seconds, the car with only three wheels, or the single square among the three circles, or the kid who didn’t like sports was singled out for mockery.

Yes, that’s exactly right: Cookie Monster is the only one without a nose. Well done!
With that common memory firmly in mind, I humbly present my own version of the Sesame Street game:

Q: Can you tell which one of the following is different from the others?

1. Sasquatch
2. The Dungeon Master
3. The Denver Broncos’ running game
4. The Loch Ness Monster.

A: Ha ha! If you said “The Denver Broncos’ running game,” you have my gratitude for refusing to believe that I’d go with the dumbest and most obvious joke available—but you’re wrong. Nice try, but this was a trick question. In fact all four of the above things are exactly the same, in that none of them actually exist.

1. No, not literally. Remember the First Rule of National Football League Broadcasting: “ ‘Literally’ is literally never to be used to literally mean ‘literally.’

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Mangled English

Part 2 of a Potentially Infinite Series

If you live in the right part of northern Colorado, once or twice you may well have driven past an establishment called Fantastic Cut’s, nestled away near that store that sells all the used sporting goods and the other place that’s full of all sorts of hobby crap and has been getting remodeled for the last fifty-six years. The sign outside of Fantastic Cut’s—which was established in 1998 by local entrepreneur “Fantastic” Ernie Cut1—is easily recognizable, right down to its unfortunate apostrophe, to anybody familiar with Fantastic Sams, a chain of haircut salons with over 1,400 locations across the United States and Canada. 

Whether these two organizations are actually associated with one another, I don’t know and won’t bother to find out. They do, however, have one thing in common2 in that their logos—probably their most noticeable and effective means of advertising—don’t tell us what they’re intended to.

I described that apostrophe as “unfortunate” because, as any snotty English graduate3 will tell you, apostrophes used in this way indicate possession,4 which means that you don’t have any way of knowing, from the sign, what kind of Cut one would receive from Mr. Cut at Fantastic Cut’s . . . but you sure do know who owns the place: the sign tells you that the store is owned by Fantastic Cut.

Fantastic Sams has a similar problem, except in reverse and compounded by inconsistency. Fantastic Sams was founded in 1974 in Memphis, Tennessee, by a guy named Sam Ross.5 Based on the nationwide success of his hair salon franchise, Sam was indeed fantastic, and was, before his recent death, almost certainly wealthy enough to buy a lifetime’s supply of proper punctuation.

Judging by the company’s website and the majority of official graphics, coupons, advertisements, and storefront snapshots found in a half-assed web search, however, that wonderfully appropriate apostrophe has been or is being phased out in favor of a mistake, for reasons we can’t quite figure out.

Top: Hooray! Bottom: You suck!

This suggests either the marketing or the accounting department determined that making the company look illiterate would be good press or a money-saver. The newer signs suggest that you go to Fantastic Sams to buy a fantastic Sam.6 What it doesn’t tell you is who owns the place, or after whom it’s named.

This isn’t the first time I’ve griped about dumb misuses of English, and it’s not likely to be the last. And the next time I get called a “Grammar Nazi”—an awfully offensive phrase, in my opinion—will not be my first. But before you chime in with the name-calling, please consider that I’m not criticizing people for failing to grasp something extremely complex, like aeronautical engineering or quantum physics, or some other field that requires years of experience and usually multiple advanced degrees.

Instead, I’m criticizing people for failing to grasp or refusing to care about a simple and direct concept that was first introduced to them in grade school. Concepts that are taught in grade school are introduced because grade schoolers can understand them. If you haven’t figured out something as a grown-up that you were taught when you were eight—tying your shoes, simple math, thorough wiping, how to eat with utensils, or the simplest and most fundamental rules of a language that you've been reading, writing, speaking, and hearing nearly every hour of every day for the vast majority of your life, shouldn’t you expect a little criticism?7

1. All historical and biographical information made up on the spot.
2. In addition, that is, to providing haircuts, shampoos, and waxing; presumably stocking similar magazines; and having the same basic floorplans—so they actually have several things in common. But I’m not talking about any of the rest of these, because I can’t find a good reason to complain about them at the moment.
3. Like me.
4. Mathematically, when P = possession, P = Law x 0.9.
5. This part is actually true.
6. If you want to get technical—and I usually do—it suggests that you can buy multiple fantastic Sams. But it’s not implied anywhere that you need to buy more than one. And if you really need more than one, how fantastic can they really be? They’d have to call the place “Barely Adequate Sams.”
7. Yes.

Monday, October 4, 2010

How to Fail at Marketing, Lesson 1

Unless I’m looking at it wrong, the central message of this commercial—the fundamental truth that it wants to deliver to us as potential buyers—seems to be this:

People who eat Jack Link’s Beef Jerky are assholes.

I don’t work in advertising, so I guess I never realized how important it was for marketing departments to target the asshole sector of the population. Still, I can’t help but yearn for simpler, more dignified times, when our dried beef treats were willing and able to promote themselves with a decorum that, sadly, seems to no longer exist.

The good old days are gone, and they'll never come again.