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Archive for October, 2011

When Your Favorite NFL Team Sucks

October 31, 2011 Leave a comment


We poor saps in the Nation’s Capital suffered over three decades before we could get a professional baseball team. After a decades-long wait, we now anxiously hope for a professional football team. Until then, though….we have the Redskins.

Many fans of the burgundy and gold could have been forgiven if they thought there might be a shot at an 8-8 season. After their 3-1 start, some foolishly dreamed about making the playoffs. After watching the 23-0 drubbing at the hands of the Buffalo Bills, coupled with the two previous losses that preceded that debacle- it is time to reassess our goals for the season.

Many knowledgeable fans look at the schedule and can’t find more than maybe three additional victories, max. I, for one, have given up on the concept of wins and losses. In all seriousness, I am wondering if they will ever score again. If I took a shot of whiskey for every 1st down they get, I couldn’t even get tipsy.

After recording 4 QB sacks though the entire season, the Bills notched 9 against the Skins Sunday. At this point, I’m even feeling differently about interceptions. I find myself being grateful whenever a Redskin quarterback remains upright, period. And even if it’s to the other team, hey- a completion is a completion. You take your small victories where you can get them.

You do have to admire how the players are taking their team’s collapse though- with complete and utter selfishness. I like the way our newly fabulous tight end, Fred Davis, celebrates late-game, garbage touchdowns against prevent defenses; like he just made a game-winning catch in the Super Bowl. But then again, that was back when we used to score points. We don’t have to worry about that anymore.

And LaRon Landry celebrated after tackling a Buffalo Bills player who had just gotten a first down. Apparently he thoroughly impressed himself with the vicious hit he put on the opponent.

But what about the injuries? Oh, that’s right. I forgot for a moment that the Washington Redskins, curiously enough, are the only team in the NFL to have suffered injuries this season.

You know what? Winning is overrated. When you root for a team this bad, this shallow, this steeped in total incompetence from owner, to coaches to players, one must take a twisted, macabre joy in watching the weekly car accident that is the Washington Redskins. How bad can they get? Can they set a new franchise record for sacks allowed? Can they set new standards for fewest offensive yards? How many consecutive games can they run the ball ten times or less? What more wonders will we behold from the results of the “Shanahan System?”

So near term, what do the Skins work on this week ahead of the 6-1 San Francisco 49ers? I mean besides tackling, pass defense, blocking, running, throwing, attempting field goals without getting them blocked and kick returns that go beyond the 15 year-yard line?

I would work on their celebrations more. There should be complete unit-wide, choreographed strutting and kick-dancing like the Rockettes. After every single tackle, no matter how mundane, no matter how many yards have just been given up, all the Redskins should take LaRon Landry’s lead and put on a friggin’Christmas show after every play.

The offensive players should all work on the Santana Moss football-spin move. This is where after you make a catch, you spin the football on the turf like a top or a gyroscope. This should happen after every play, regardless of its outcome.

And as long as we’re paying that expensive NFL entertainment dollar, I want to see Mike and Kyle Shanahan dressed in pink, polka-dot dresses with bright red heels on to match their lipstick. And Dan Snyder should come out of the owner’s booth schmoozing with his high-fallutin’ celebrity guests and sit on the bench with the team instead- wearing a clown nose and gigantic Bozo the Clown shoes. At the start of every game, Snyder can drive a tiny burgundy and gold clown car to the 50-yard line as player after player emerges from the circus vehicle wearing bright orange wigs.

As long as you’re going to be a laughingstock, dear Redskins, at the very least, make us, you know- laugh.

God Loves Baseball: Part Two

October 28, 2011 Leave a comment


Tim McCarver, the one time Cardinal catcher and now color commentator for Fox Sports said it best moments after one of the most improbable and dramatic games in the history of the World Series: How did that happen?

Down to their last strike in the bottom of the 9th and 10th innings and each time depending on a pair of 2-RBI desperation hits before the game-ending, walk-off homer in the 11th by a guy who nearly cost them the game by dropping a pop up earlier in the contest, the St. Louis Cardinals are not just the comeback kids. They are Lazarus, Jason and Dracula rolled into one- anything that’s ever come back from the dead.

The last day of the regular season, the single most dramatic evening to ever close out a baseball season and memorialized here, seems now like just the appetizer for the main meal that was served last night in the Cardinal’s 10-9 win over the Texas Rangers. It was on that last day of the season that St. Louis completed its comeback from 10 and a half games back on August 25th to take their place in the playoffs.

Baseball is often humbling. But it is also a vehicle for redemption. When Cardinal 3rd baseman, David Freese, dropped that easy pop up in the 5th inning and the Rangers capitalized and took the lead, he looked for all the world like the goat. And when he was down to two strikes with two out in the bottom of the 9th, he was looking like a cooked goat. Except he tripled. Two runs scored and the Cardinals had tied the game.

That they would do the same with Lance Berkman one inning later with two strikes and two outs is, of course, insane. And when Mr. Freese stepped up in the bottom of the 11th and hit his walk-off homerun to force a deciding game 7 Friday night, well, it was, as usual with this sport, stranger than fiction.

I would be very surprised if the Rangers recover from one the most devastating losses in the history of the Fall Classic. When Red Sox 1st baseman, Bill Buckner, had a ball go between his legs in game 6 of the 1986 World Series against the New York Mets, everybody knew what would come in game 7. And like the Mets, I have a feeling these Cardinals are also a team of destiny.

Before the game, the Cardinals carted out every conceivable living hero in their storied history; Bob Gibson, Lou Brock, Ozzie Smith, Stan Musial. It took that, and probably the ghosts of every other Cardinal who ever played, plus 50,000 screaming, towel-waving fans, several dollops of fate and a pinch of outrageous fortune to pull this thing off.

Twice, they’d put up the plastic in the Rangers dressing room and put out the cold champagne and prepared for the presentation of the championship trophy. And twice they took down the plastic and carted the champagne away. Definitive proof that in the greatest sport ever devised, it is always the final out that’s the toughest.

A Tale of Two Companies: Apple and Netflix

October 25, 2011 Leave a comment


You could write a textbook on this topic but I’ll try to do it in 600 words or less.

Netflix, once a phenomenally successful company has seen its stock price tumble 35% this week on news that it managed to lose 800,000 subscribers over the past six months and that four different analysts downgraded them because no one can make sense of their business plan. Apple just lost its CEO and resident genius but is riding an I-Phone computer voice and plans for a new TV that just might revolutionize how you watch the medium- all the way to the bank.

Earlier this year, Netflix hiked prices 60% when they decided that’s what you’d have to pay to get both DVD’s sent to your home and get streaming. And they did it rather arrogantly without much of an explanation or even, an “I’m sorry, it’s the cost of bringing you all this great quality.”

Then when they finally did apologize, they announced they were splitting into two companies, Qwikster, which would be the old DVD-sent-to-your-home business and Netflix, which would now be the streaming part. The two companies would keep separate data bases and be basically disconnected from one another- which confused their customers and made them mad all over again, because you’d no longer be able to go to one place to figure out if they had the programming you wanted to watch.

Then they changed their minds and dropped the Qwixter idea and said, nah, we’re going back to what we originally intended.

Meantime, they seem intent on cutting really expensive content deals with companies like Dreamworks in order to be able to provide decent streaming services- except with their current business model charging what amounts to about $10 a month, there’s no way they bring in enough revenues to pay for these content deals. Seems to me you either collect good (and expensive) content, suck it up, and tell your customers it’s going to cost more but its worth it- or you keep being a real cheap monthly service wih average to below-average offerings of old movies and TV shows. But you can’t have both.

It’s all stated best by a guy named Tony Wible with Janney Capital Markets who gave this analysis to his customers, as quoted by Marketwatch.com:

We believe the [Netflix business] model is unsustainable, as the company faces rising costs that it hoped it could pass on to its [subscribers],” who appear unwilling to accept them, Wible wrote to clients. “The company has paid exorbitant prices for content while painting itself as a cheap rental service. Simply put, the company’s brand does not fit with its large/growing content obligations.

Meantime, Apple sold about 4 million of it’s new I-Phones a week after launch, mostly because of one added feature- Siri. This is the friendly computer voice you can interact with that looks stuff up for you and offers suggestions, tips, reminders, etc., etc. You can even talk dirty to Siri, though her sense of humor is such that all you’ll get back is words like “dirt and compost.” For the record, I have not tried this but so I’ve read.

And I see today that the “next big thing” Apple is up to is the launch of Apple TV. This would be a smart television that with a few easy, typically Apple-like steps, would allow you to see what’s available to watch without having to wade through category after category of Cable TV, Netflix and Hulu menus. And, of course it would incorporate a Siri-like application so you could ask your TV what’s on or have it find you the program you want to watch.

With their on-again, off-again, customer-belligerent and confusing business strategies, one of these two companies is coming off like New Coke on steroids. The other seems to be confidently pursuing its climb toward global domination. I’m going with the ghost of Steve Jobs over the seemingly aimless and perplexing strategies of Netflix CEO, Reed Hastings.

Quarterback Roulette: The Case for Instability

October 17, 2011 Leave a comment


I’m in favor of a lack of stability at the Quarterback position. That’s right. Especially if you root for a very average football team that has no proven QB- forget this business about establishing consistency at the position. I say shuffle ‘em in and out like a revolving door.

Everybody in Redskin nation is waiting for Wednesday to see if Washington Head Coach, Mike Shanahan, will appoint John Beck to succeed Rex Grossman, who, regrettably, is one of those people who thinks he’s much better than he really is.

After throwing four largely inexplicable interceptions against the Eagles Sunday, in his post-game comments, Grossman blamed his receivers for two of them. And then he said he has faith in himself even if the fans don’t- even if the coaches don’t. See, I would argue the fans and the coaches are key constituencies. Take them out of the equation and all you have left, really, are your wife and your dog. Lose the fans and the coaches and I would consider it a big red flag.

Rex has taken much criticism over the years because he has a tendency to give the ball to the other team, which goes against the basic principle that you try to score more points than your opponent. He pretty much averages two turnovers in every single game he’s ever played. If he’s not throwing passes directly into the hands of surprised but grateful defensive players, he’s coughing the ball up like my cats pass hairballs. Actually, statistically, Grossman is even worse this year than his pedestrian career average.

Here’s another analogy. In college football, coaches change quarterbacks like my girlfriend changes outfits prior to a night out on the town. A lot. The NFL should be no different, especially if, like the Redskins, you only have mediocre quarterback talent to choose from in the first place. And if truth be told, my girlfriend has better outfits than the Redskins have good quarterbacks.

So if your quarterback throws an interception that’s not his fault, a defensive player has made a great play or your receiver accidently tips the ball to the defender- he should get a mulligan. But the first time he appears to have mistaken the colors of the uniforms and hands the bad guys a gift- like Grossman did repeatedly Sunday against the Philadelphia Eagles- take him out. In with the next guy. If he sucks, pull him out too and go to the third guy. If he sucks, and you don’t have a 4th guy, go back to the 1st guy. One of them is bound to get hot sometime.

I would not favor this strategy if we had a real quarterback. I do understand the virtues of stability. If you’re John Elway, you get to throw a few bone-headed interceptions- but only because you’ve thrown twice as many touchdowns. But Rex Grossman? John Beck? Jonathan Crompton? Completely replaceable and interchangeable. Hockey does it with goalies. Baseball does it with pitchers. And the Redskins ought to do it with their quarterbacks. Especially these quarterbacks.

Help Me, I’ve Fallen and I Can’t Use my Blackberry

October 13, 2011 Leave a comment

Man, can you imagine being an engineer at RIM, the makers of the Blackberry? Your company is already facing a stockholder revolt, your stock price has plummeted 60% since the start of the year, you’ve already had to delay your next round of new smart phones, nobody even knows you’re selling a computer tablet meant to compete with the I-Pad, and now….oops…a little planetary failure.

I suppose if you’re going to screw up, do it big; do it globally. The whole thing felt like some digital-viral-pandemic. The first of the zillion people who stopped receiving their Blackberry e-mails were in Europe. And then the Middle East. And Latin America. And India. And Africa. There was a bad “switch” somewhere on one these continents. RIM hasn’t been real detailed in their explanation. But then the back-up switch that supposedly had been previously tested also failed.

Then the e-mails started stacking up, log-jammed, like a bazillion airplanes with suddenly no place to land and RIM playing the role of frantic air traffic controllers. As the suddenly constipated Blackberry system continued to clog up, the outage spilled over to the United States, Canada, Japan and Singapore.

My own Blackberry is testimony to the failure, like a clock that stops at the exact time an earthquake hits. It was 6:56am. Then total e-mail silence until 8:48am. Then nothing from 9:03am until 3:37pm.

But that 3:37 experience was really something. Suddenly, six hours worth of work e-mails started coming over the transom all at once. The vibrating was constant. It caused a momentary epiphany as I thought for one brief moment (brief, I swear), about how the Blackberry, if set to constant vibrating mode, might somehow be repurposed for other uses. I urge you not to linger on this thought too long.

But even though millions were affected and some important meetings may have been missed, I noticed a next-day disturbing trend for RIM. Last major Blackberry outage a few years ago, it was clearly a universal experience. This time around, it was less of an elevator conversation-starter.

“So, did you survive the Blackberry outage?”

“What are you talking about? I have an I-Phone.”

“Oh.”

Next week, at the San Francisco Marriott hotel, RIM happens to be holding its annual Blackberry Development Conference. Because right after you have a monumental failure across every continent of the globe that calls into the question the reliability of your service that could easily be displaced by others- what you want to be talking about to the assembled media hordes, is a rehash of your single, most embarrassing corporate moment.

Assorted Thoughts on Steve Jobs & Professional Basketball

October 11, 2011 Leave a comment


NBA: Rich Guys vs Rich Guys

I’m in mourning today after hearing the news that the first two weeks of the National Basketball Association have been cancelled due to an impasse in contract negotiations. Crushed beyond belief. Why can’t millionaires all just get along?

No, seriously. You could have cancelled the first two weeks of every NBA season since the dawn of time and no one would have noticed. I would argue that, really, there are very few people in this country who care all that much about the NBA, except in April, but not usually until the final round of the playoffs.

But what is charming about the current labor dispute is the picture of grown men fighting selfishly over how many hundreds of millions of dollars to split among themselves. At this time, with the economic calamity that has befallen so many people, it is the perfect message for your sport to be sending to America: We Are Clueless About Your Pain.

Steve Jobs Contrarians

I have noticed that one of the most predictable trends in the world of blogging is the 2nd day contrarian viewpoint. This is the opinion that is forged by people way smarter and more clever than you and I who decide the initial consensus on any given story is too quaint or trite or too predictable, whether it’s valid or not.

Gawker recently posted an article on the “dark side” of Steve Jobs. He was mean. He once told someone at Apple their work was crap. He fired a project manager. Shocked, I tell you, I’m completely shocked. Why, he must’ve been the first successful media mogul in history to have been an SOB. Hey, I worked for Ted Turner. A visionary. A hilarious man. A great businessman. Check, check and check. Nice? Not so much.

And Andrew Sullivan published a reader letter today that says the notion that Steve Jobs changed the world is a ridiculous exaggeration. All he did was repackage existing technology and charge outrageous prices for it.

Let me give you just one example of his genius and how he changed at least the music world. Do you remember life before the I-Pod? Yes, others had digital media players but they were crap. Here’s what life was before the I-pod; CD’s. The genius was not just the simplicity of the device but the development of the business model that connected it to countless amounts of content: I-Tunes. By charging 99 cents a song, he singlehandedly saved the music business, even as the industry complained that selling songs for a buck was bad business. To the contrary, it saved the music industry from pirates who were giving the stuff away for free and artists were once again able to receive royalties for their work.

And by the way, I bought my I-Phone precisely because it was so integrated with I-Tunes and my song list and everything else you can get from videos to podcasts. So as the I-Pods become obsolete, the appetite for the technology is now transferred to smart phones.

We don’t even have to go into Jobs’ development of the first computers designed for use in the home. Or the first personal computers to connect with this thing called the World Wide Web. No, he didn’t invent the mouse, but he did make the graphical computer interface the world standard.

So Steve Jobs was no saint. He did not reinvent the world, just portions of it. He had a temper and he was single-minded and intense and ignored his kids and family for years and he said nasty things to his workers when they didn’t execute his vision properly and he wasn’t generous with his philanthropic giving. And blah, blah, blah.

I, for one, did not nominate him for sainthood last week. I just thought he had a hell of an impact on the world and certainly as much as famous innovators before him like Thomas Edison.

And he lived and urged others to live life as if every day was their last. Find me the contrarian point of view on that one. I’m sure it’s out there somewhere.

iSad


That’s what someone wrote on a post-it note and put on the glass wall of an Apple store last night. A lot of people are doing that today. Paying heartfelt tribute in one form or another to Steve Jobs.

I thought about him this morning as I slipped my I-phone into my jacket pocket after checking my e-mail and my messages. I thought about him last night as my girlfriend tapped away on her I-Pad. And then again as I used my mouse and clicked and dragged an item on my non-Apple PC. I thanked him silently on the subway as I put in my ear-buds and listened to a beautiful song composed and performed by my own son- a tune I had transferred from my I-Pod to my I-Phone. And I think about him as I write this- knowing he was the guy who produced the first personal computer designed to interact with the internet.

Many have compared Steve Jobs to Thomas Alva Edison (very interesting piece on that here). In terms of impact on the everyday lives of billions of people throughout the world, the analogy is spot-on. And like Edison, he didn’t exactly invent any of this stuff. He figured out how to put it all together. He’s the guy who understood the creativity that could be realized if only computer technology were made simple enough to use by anyone, not just techie geeks who knew how to maneuver through MS-DOS.

And when he got fired at Apple, his way of dealing with unemployment was to revive a then dormant animation studio called Pixar.

Of all the lovely tributes being penned about the genius of Steve Jobs, one of the most eloquent came from the White House in a statement released by the press office at 9:15pm last night:

By building one of the planet’s most successful companies from his garage, he exemplified the spirit of American ingenuity. By making computers personal and putting the internet in our pockets, he made the information revolution not only accessible, but intuitive and fun. And by turning his talents to storytelling, he has brought joy to millions of children and grownups alike.

Steve was fond of saying that he lived every day like it was his last. Because he did, he transformed our lives, redefined entire industries, and achieved one of the rarest feats in human history: he changed the way each of us sees the world.

I’ve always been taken by the sleek, modern simplicity of Apple products. Their lap tops were the lightest and thinnest. The I-pod was the size of a pack of gum, but thinner. The I-Phone is a simple rectangle activated by one button. Besides a virtual one, the I-Pad doesn’t even have a keyboard. And here is the essence of what I think was one of Steve Jobs’ guiding philosophies; that there is great virtue and elegance in simplicity.

Thank you, Steve Jobs, for your spark and your vision and your good sense and good taste; for the lessons you leave behind about how to live life and for your undying belief in the enormous creativity and possibility that can be unleashed by the digital age you helped create and that you made accessible to us all.

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