Can’t Quit Diablo 3

Based on pure playtime I don’t know that I have spent more time playing a video/computer game as an adult than Diablo 3. I may have spent more time playing the NCAA Football franchise, but because each of those is a different game I don’t know if that counts.

Blizzard makes very successful computer games. The fact that World of Warcraft is still going strong almost 11 (!) years after it came out is a testament to that. But the bottom line is that they continue to build on and iterate their games is what makes them so great. Diablo 3 is a drastically different game than the version that was originally released a little over three years ago. Even the iteration coming in patch 2.3 (sometime next month) is significantly different than where the game was when I got back into it last year.

The inclusion of “seasons” means that, if people are inclined, they can start totally fresh every few months. This means that it’s easy to leave and come back to the game whenever, and also means that it can level the playing field for those who play constantly and those are more casual players. Starting completely fresh in a new season means that in addition to leveling back up you also have to find gear again. Since this is one of the more fun aspects of Diablo, this is a perfect way to enjoy the game repeatedly.

There is still a great deal of repetitiveness to the game. But the loot dropping, and pushing higher level rifts at least adds some variance to it. The problem with Call of Duty for me has always been that the new map packs are not enough to keep me going because the game doesn’t change enough. The patches in Diablo 3 always affect more than just level design, and that makes a big difference in replayability. The game is also fun by yourself, which Call of Duty isn’t. Playing bots isn’t fun, and the campaign mode is fun once, if that1. But Diablo 3 is fun by yourself. The only bonus from playing with others is faster XP gain and a better chance of finding better gear. But playing solo let’s you go at your own pace and play how you want the entire time.

If I was going to select my all-time favorite video game franchise it would be impossible for me to not select the (now defunct) NCAA Football franchise. If I was going to pick my favorite singular experience I think I would go with Red Dead Redemption. I loved playing through that game, and badly want it to be included in the backwards compatible games for Xbox One so I can play it again. But that game is pretty much a one time play through. I tried to go back and play side missions after but it wasn’t as fun. When I consider replayability it sure seems like Diablo 3 is the clear winner. I would be scared to see how many hours I have spent playing it, but it’s surely more than any single Call of Duty game, and it sure doesn’t look like it’s going to stop anytime soon.

  1. I don’t even know the last CoD game I played the campaign mode on []

2003 in Film

Check out the other year’s in film I have covered.

Best of the Best

If these are on, life stops

  1. Bad Santa – Might be my all-time favorite Christmas movie at this point. Raunchy. Hilarious.
  2. Confidence – Great cast (Paul Giamatti, Edward Burns, Dustin Hoffman and more). Great twists and turns. Under the radar the movie for most people.
  3. Bad Boys 2 – When a sequel takes 8 years it usually falls flat. This was a great sequel. Just as fun and funny as the first.
  4. Runaway Jury – Another under the radar movie with a tremendous cast (Hoffman, Hackman, Cusack, Piven) and twists and turns. Worth checking out if you haven’t.
  5. School of Rock – Peak Jack Black. My wife and I have watched this dozens of times.

Favorites

These are movies that I like and still watch if the opportunity arises.

  • 2 Fast 2 Furious – These movies all blend together for me at this point. This was one of the weaker ones if I recall though.
  • Anger Management – One of Sandler’s last above average films. Jack Nicholson is pretty solid too.
  • The Cooler – Underrated indie film with William H. Macy, Maria Bello, Alec Baldwin and others. About the seedy side of Las Vegas. So so good.
  • Lost in Translation – Definitely the movie that made Bill Murray an indie/drama star, and launched the career of Scarlett Johansson.
  • The Italian Job – Norton and Wahlberg are two of my favorites. Good heist movie, with lots of actions and trickery.
  • Matchstick Men – Nice Ridley Scott movie about con men played by Nic Cage and Sam Rockwell. Sidenote: Whatever happened to Alison Lohman?
  • Old School – A staple of my latter college years. One of the few movies I like that contains a Wilson brother, Vince Vaughn or Will Ferrell
  • Out of Time – One of Denzel’s lesser known movies (probably for good reasons). Eva Mendes and some good plot twists put it in this section.
  • Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl – Really enjoyed the first movie of the series. The rest all blend together, but at the time this was pretty remarkable.
  • Seabisquit – Enjoy historical movies and horse racing. Tobey McGuire is a little weak in this one.
  • The Station Agent – An indie film most people don’t know. A chance to see Peter Dinklage show you he is much more than just Tyrion Lannister.

Guilty Pleasures

  • A Guy Thing – For some reason Jason Lee and Julia Stiles are two performers I have always liked despite most of their movies not being very good.
  • Bruce Almighty – Lifelong crush Jennifer Aniston and a later Jim Carrey movie that was actually good.
  • Cheaper By the Dozen – At the time the cast of this movie looked like future stars, but a lot of them faded. Always have a soft spot for Steve Martin family comedies.
  • Finding Nemo – One of the few Pixar movies I will willingly watch.
  • The Real Cancun – Inspired by the rising popularity of reality TV, I shamefully watched this a bunch in college. It’s really bad though. Any episode of Real World is surely better.

List of Shame

Movies that I have not seen

  • Bend It Like Beckham – I have no idea if this movie is actually good, or if I would even like it but it seems like it would have been worth checking out at some point.
  • The Lord of the Rings: Return of the King – I have never seen any of the LOTR movies all the way through. My wife and I watched the beginning of the first one recently and I was struggling to get into it.
  • Love Actually – Someone bought us this movie recently, and it is held in such high esteem by so many people it seems like something I should watch, but just haven’t.
  • Mystic River – This one has been on my DVR for a while and has a cast full of people I like. It was nominated for a crapload of Oscars.
  • Once Upon a Time in Mexico – The third movie in the El Mariachi/Desperado trilogy. I really like Desperado and like Robert Rodriguez’ over the top action style.

Other Films of Note

Films that jumped out at me or have significance that I haven’t seen or don’t have particularly strong feelings for

  • American Wedding – This sullied the good name of the American Pie franchise before Reunion revived it.
  • Basic – I always get this movie confused with Identity. I don’t think I have actually seen it. Seems like a decent cast.
  • Cold Mountain – Another movie nominated for a bunch of Oscars. Pretty great cast. I always like historical fiction.
  • Daredevil/Gigli/Paycheck – Grouping these together because at the time this trio looked like the end of Ben Affleck’s career. People still bring up Daredevil as people fear about the next Batman movie.
  • Dreamcatcher – More Jason Lee. Based on a Stephen King book. Never saw it.
  • Dumb and Dumberer: When Harry Met Lloyd – Horrible. Just horrible.
  • Elf – Loved by many. Too much Will Ferrell for me.
  • From Justin to Kelly – Regarded as one of the worst movies ever. This was Fox trying to push the American Idol craze a little too far.
  • How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days – One of my wife’s favorite movies. Not a bad movie though. Hard to believe Matthew McConaughey would return to glory after a series of movies like this.
  • Hulk – The “bad” Hulk movie. The Eric Bana one that everyone pretends didn’t happen.
  • Identity – I don’t remember much about this movie other than the fact that it was creepy and weird.
  • The Last Samurai – A time grossing film from the year. I was pretty out on Tom Cruise at this point.
  • Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World – Good Russell Crowe movie. Cool timepiece. Nobody makes swashbuckling movies anymore.
  • The Matrix Reloaded/The Matrix Revolutions – Was one of the few people (especially geeky people) who hated the original. Never saw either of these.
  • Mona List Smile – A “who’s who” of young female actresses at their peak popularity in a movie that was not very good.
  • Peter Pan – Saw this in the theater. Haven’t seen it since. There is another Peter Pan universe movie coming soon.
  • Phone Booth – Colin Ferrell probably proving he couldn’t carry a movie by himself. 12 years later this story seems crazy, and impossible (what the heck is a phone booth?)
  • The Recruit – Never saw this Al Pacino/Colin Ferrell movie. Doubt I was missing anything.
  • Shanghai Knights – Never understood how these movies were so popular. Not an Owen Wilson fan. Supposedly a third movie is in the works.
  • Tears of the Sun – A failed attempt by Bruce Willis to make another Die Hard like film. This one was not very good.
  • Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines – Hadn’t see 1 or 2 when this came out. Doubt I will see 3 ever though.
  • X2: X-Men United – I can’t remember a thing about this movie, but I know I never saw the third one, I think because I really didn’t enjoy this one.

Stop Comparing NFL Suspension Lengths

After the news was released yesterday that Tom Brady’s four game suspension would not be reduced or removed there began an outcry of people comparing his four game suspension to the four game suspension Greg Hardy received for domestic violence issues. These outcries mostly went something along the lines of “I guess deflating footballs is the same as hitting women”. By now everyone should be in agreement that Roger Goodell bungled the handling all of the domestic violence issues last year. And just because two things are equivalent in length, doesn’t make them equal in all respects. Once that is acknowledged, comparing the Brady suspension makes little sense.

The point of this article is not to determine whether or not Tom Brady is guilty of breaking any rules, it’s just about this idea of his suspension length. At this point he was almost certainly going to be suspended at least for one game. The violation in question took place in a playoff game. A playoff game that the violating team ended up winning. A team that subsequently went on to win a championship. It’s debatable whether or not this violation helped the team win the game in question, or whether they had done it previously and had it help them win games then. But that really doesn’t matter.

As for the four game ban, this seems somewhat about it being a meaningful deterrent. A one game suspension the season after winning a championship doesn’t seem like much of a deterrent. Is there any player in the NFL that wouldn’t sacrifice one game (and it’s pay) to win a Super Bowl?

And that is why the comparison to Hardy’s suspension is silly. Is what Hardy did indefensible? No question. In fact there is almost no punishment inside or outside of football that would seem unjustified. Unfortunately it seems that our legal system typically fails in circumstances like this. That is awful because that is where the punishment should be coming from. At the end of the day though the heinous acts he committed did not increase the chances of his team winning a (playoff) game. Both Brady and Hardy did things that impact the integrity of the league, but what Brady is found guilty of impacted the integrity of actual (playoff) games.

In a vacuum what Tom Brady supposedly did warrants a multi-game suspension. Comparing it to other horrible mistakes Roger Goodell has made doesn’t make sense. All of this is magnified by the way Goodell looks incompetent at every turn, and he deserves all the criticism he receives for it. But if someone is charged with being a part of cheating on the field they deserve a deterring punishment.

Pygmy Reviews #58 – TV

Veep – Season 4

It’s crazy to think that Veep has already concluded it’s 4th season. These 10-episode runs make things seem much shorter than they are. It’s pretty rare for a comedy to still being going so strong after four seasons, but that is where the benefit of only being 38 episodes in helps. A more traditional comedy would have barely wrapped up two seasons by 38 episodes. The ensemble of this cast is strong, but there is little doubt that Julia Louis-Dreyfus is what makes it special. It’s bonkers to think she is 54, since she could pass for 40 and doesn’t seem to have aged much since Seinfeld, but she just carries the load so well. Everyone plays off of her since a majority of the cast are her subordinates, and that makes her that much more important to the show. She should win every Emmy she is up for because she is just that good.

But Michael Jordan didn’t win championships until he got a good supporting cast, and there is no shortage of that here. Tony Hale is amazing as her personal assistant, and Timothy Simons as (constantly changing role) Jonah Ryan is not only the main punching bag, but has some of the best lines in the recent history of television. Hugh Laurie was an excellent addition as her running mate, and Matt Walsh and the rest of the cast are all good. It’s amazing how a show about nothing but politics seems to do so well in not getting deep into the policy of it all the way that House of Cards tends to do. Sure the plots can go beyond being ridiculous at times, but the punchlines are almost always worth the build up. Not quite a current Mount Rushmore show for me, but not far off either.

# Silicon Valley – Season 2

Veep’s running mate is the goofy look at the tech start-up culture as they battle a monolith that is basically Google. Silicon Valley seems to have more outrageish gags, and definitely blows past vulgar a good chunk of the time, but it is hilarious throughout. This show could not be more perfect for guys like TJ Miller and Martin Starr who are hall of famers when it comes to playing eccentric/weird/stalkerish/cocky/rude a-holes. Thomas Middleditch does such an amazing job at playing the awkward, skittish Richard that it literally makes me uncomfortable to watch sometimes. Like Veep the gags and setups often pay off wonderfully in the laughs department. But this story suffers a bit at times for being too outrageous, and what I like to call the “Entourage Storytelling”.

Too outrageous comes into play with Chris Diamatopoulos’ Russ Hanneman character, who takes every stereotype and/or crazy trait of real tech CEOs to extreme levels. It get’s to a point late in the season where you just want him to go away. The Entourage Storytelling is more about the concept of the characters ping-ponging back and forth between good news and bad news, but at extreme levels. Frequently on Entourage really good news would either be immediately flipped by bad news, or at the latest this would happen in the next episode. It built a nice cliffhanger mentality to the show, but got old really fast. The second season of Silicon Valley felt exactly this way. And that is potentially it’s fatal flaw. Unlike Veep, which only slightly has a greater arc than the current episode, Silicon Valley has a large one hovering over the series. The fictitious company has to go somewhere sooner rather than later to keep this show fresh, but for now it’s funny enough to be a must watch.

Game of Thrones – Season 5

The 5th season ended with the 50th episode of this show. It’s amazing how much has happened to each individual character, and yet how little feels like it has happened to the greater plot. Season 1 opens with Whitewalkers. Dany starts marching towards Westeros shortly after that, characters both new and old have died, and yet zooming out it’s harder than ever to see the forest for the trees. The 5th season was certainly on the weaker side of the spectrum of the series to this point, but it was far from bad. Tyrion Lannister is still one of the best characters/performances outside of Breaking Bad and Mad Men that was have recently seen.

This show has always had a problem of having too many characters and too many stories running simultaneously. The fact that the show has already consumed most of the major (existing) book arcs, means they can take some liberties to tidy things up a bit, but at the end of the day the show still spends too much time on stories that either go nowhere, or aren’t entertaining. While it’s both nice and amazing that the story can interweave so many plots, and callback to so many little moments without overdoing it is great, but after 50 episodes it’s clear I am at a point where I wish they would spend more time with the best stories, and less time with things that aren’t even good. The twists and turns keep this show up there as one of my favorites, but as it turns towards the home stretch (rumors are there are only 2–3 seasons left) it seems like a good time to focus on the best stuff. The universe that this story is based on has a ridiculous intricate history, one that makes it obvious there won’t be a kind of finite ending at the end of the series. With that in mind, there is no closure to be had, so it would be far better to make the rest of the journey as good as possible. Again, not a bad season, just not a great on either.

House of Lies – Season 4

I stopped watching this show sometime during season 3, but I don’t recall exactly when. For the most part, it’s not good. Why it is getting Emmy nominations still shocks me. Season 4 I watched as full on background noise in binge mode. It make the show much more tolerable because it condensed the best jokes over a shorter overall time span. Most of the stories are just so bad, and the constant bait-and-switch that goes on leaves me completely uninterested in any aspect of the story. That leaves just the funny conversations and one-liners. Those vary in laughs, but are generally solid enough to make this show bingleable while you are doing something else. But it is definitely a show I would not miss if it was gone.

The  Watch Is Too Limited for the Price

Katie Floyd on the intentional lack of Apple Watch features

Personally, I find the lack of Facebook, Snapchat and most of Google’s apps on the Apple Watch fantastic. Our phones are with us all the time. No one want’s to miss that urgent call or message. But having these devices with us all the time means that any time we have a few extra seconds we can check email, browse the web, see what’s happening on Facebook, catch up on Twitter or any of a number of other things. Have 30 seconds in the checkout line, pull out the iPhone. That’s fine, but it’s also a little mind-numbing.

This is a different spin on the theory that the  Watch is pretty limited in what it can do. In fact, that is specifically the sentiment Floyd is trying to combat. And what she is saying is not completely wrong, there is a niceness to knowing the only notifications I see are important ones, but of course this is how a person’s iPhone could be setup as well. The  Watch is a great a companion device, and when used in the manor Floyd describes, it’s just fine, except not for a starting price of $350.

That is where the limitations burst through. Whenever people see my  Watch they almost immediately start asking questions about it. My summarized response is always the same, “the things it does, it does well, but there are too many things it doesn’t do.” In order to do most of what it can do at it needs an iPhone to pair with. The entry level iPhone 6, or 6 Plus has a (subsidized) price at least $50 cheaper than the cheapest Apple watch. It’s nearly impossible to think of another scenario where an optional add-on device, that can’t function without the original cost almost as much, or more than the original device.

When people ask me if they should get an  Watch I tell them there are three questions to answer. (1) Do you have an iPhone? If not, it’s completely useless. (2) Do you wear a watch everyday currently? If yes, then this is probably an improvement. (3) Do you have cash to burn? If you don’t, save your money for a future revision.

It’s a well designed device. It’s surprisingly comfortable, and the fitness tracker is great. Being able to send text messages from it, or read text messages from it is sometimes convenient. But the times where you really want to take advantage of Siri, like while driving, it fails miserably. More powerful third party apps should make a big difference down the road, but for now the lack of functionality is a bug, not a feature.

I can see the  Watch (or a similar device) being the future of tech, it’s just not the present, at least in it’s existing form.

Perfecting the Home Run Derby

It’s been years since I watched the home run derby from start to finish. For what seems like forever now it has been boring, and way too long, and they have never quite gotten the rules right to make it exciting at the end. Then they totally threw the rules out. Then the threat of severe weather caused them to totally throw those rules out. What was left was a damn exciting time that laid the foundation for greatness.

The weather tweaks included changing each hitter’s time to hit from 5 minutes to 4 minutes, including eliminating the clock stopping on home runs in the final minute, and shorted bonus time to 30 seconds from 60 seconds, but made it easier to achieve.

It was very exciting, and probably much better than it would have even been with the original rules. Five minutes would have been a long time, especially when hitters were clearly getting tired with a four minute clock. The thirty seconds of bonus time for two home runs over 425 feet ended up being a gimme since no one failed to achieve this all night.

The clock element undoubtedly made it more exciting than the traditional 10 out rule, and most of the battles came right down to the wire, but the guy hitting second seemed to have a big advantage and won all but one of the head to head match-ups.

One of my biggest gripes with sporting events these days is that false time allotment. This was scheduled to run for two hours, but took about 2 hours and 40 minutes, and that was including the rule changes that sped things up. This would have been easily over three hours with the original rules.

There are lots of small tweaks I would make to improve things just a notch higher:

  • Change round time limits to 3-minute for 1st, 4-minute for 2nd and 5-minute for 3rd. This is six minutes shorter of regulation time, and people should care more about the finals. Plus there was no shortage of home runs, this was the most ever in a derby
  • Have the first round not be head to head and instead just take the top 4 guys (this hopefully cuts down on the guys quitting when they “have enough”, at least for part of it)
  • Add bonus time on right away without the extra break for the first two rounds
  • Make bonus time more variable but not as long as original rules; something like 10 seconds for every home run over 425 might work; it’s not a bonus if everyone gets the same amount
  • Do a better job of enforcing the rules of when to pitch. There is no way every pitch was legal and yet no home runs were waved off
  • Re-seed the 2nd round and finals based on who hit more the previous round; going second is a huge advantage and should be rewarded in later rounds
  • Have bonus time in the finals come after each player has done their regular time. In other words, player A goes for 5 minutes, player B goes for 5 minutes, player A gets bonus time, player B gets bonus time

If I had completely had my way I would probably drop it from 8 guys to 6 guys just to make it shorter. There is no reason that this event should take three hours. Two hours is a nice sweetspot.

Pygmy Reviews #57 – Movies

Entourage (2015)

One Line Description: Vincent Chase tries to move behind the camera thanks to his former agent turned studio head Ari Gold.

Entourage was one of my favorite shows of all-time at one point. The first couple of seasons were just amazing portrayals of like every 20-something male’s fantasy. Things got rocky and repetitive as time dragged on, and the weakness of the actors started to really shine through. The abomination of a finale still sticks in my craw to this day. All that being said, there was still no way I wasn’t seeing the movie in the theater. Most of the reviews pretty much said the same thing, “if you liked the show, you’ll like the movie”, and that is pretty accurate. After not having these guys in my life for several years, it was nice to get them back for a bit with at least a bit of a new story, although for the most part it ends up being the same recycled story from every past season. The celebrity cameos are great as always, and there is enough Ari and Drama one-liners to make it fun. On it’s own though, this movie wasn’t great, and as some have pointed out, suffers some egregious continuity issues from the end of the series. Still if you enjoyed this show for most of it’s run the movie won’t be a waste of your time.

Fun Size (2012)

One Line Description: A girl searches for her mute little brother on Halloween.

I stumbled on this movie by complete accident, it came on after some other bad movie (The Sitter maybe?) had ended and for some reason I just couldn’t stop watching. Apparently this movie was drummed up by Nickelodeon as a way to appeal to the now over 15 adults who grew up on the shows. Really it just felt like something out the Mean Girls universe though. Chelsea Handler plays the widowed mom hooking up with a 20-something while she makes her daughter (Victoria Justice who I have never heard of) babysit her little mute brother on Halloween. When the brother goes missing the daughter must find her, and the adventure begins. The movie felt a lot like a less-raunchy, female version of Superbad. Johnny Knoxville plays the “bad guy” and is lame. But it’s Thomas Middleditch’s (aka Richard Hendricks from HBO’s Silicon Valley) small role that saves the film. His performance on Silicon Valley has always made me uncomfortable due to his character’s extreme awkwardness, but it turns out this guy can really bring it. He is hilarious as a convenience store clerk who gets involved in the rescue of the boy. It had a lot of potential if it had gone full Superbad, but the way that it tries to hover in between as being some cleaner comedy makes it fall kind of flat. Middleditch’s scenes were almost worth the price of admission, but even he couldn’t save this one.

She’s the One (1996)

One Line Description: The interconnecting love lives of two Irish brothers from Long Island

I have always enjoyed Edward Burns as an actor and a writer/director. His first movie, Brothers McMullen might be his most well known, but he wrote and directed some others than I finally saw. This is one of the mid-‘90’s indie movies that capitalized on Jennifer Aniston’s still relative obscurdity (see Office Space) to get someone who in retrospect is a huge star. The movie also has a pre-Something About Mary Cameron Diaz looking dapper. Burns and Michael McGlone, like in both Brothers McMullen and Fitzgerald Family Christmas (see the next entry) play brothers. McGlone works on Wallstreet and is married to Aniston, but we soon find out he is having an affair with Diaz. Burns meanwhile is a cab driver who meets a girl on the way to the airport and falls in love. Of course there is a big twist I won’t reveal, but like McMullen this movie isn’t so much about plot, as it is about people and family. It is not nearly as low budget as McMullen but certainly has an indie “feel” to it. It has a very mid-’90s feel to it, which could turn some people off. Still it’s great to see Aniston and Diaz in this era in something they aren’t famous for. People that were in their mid-20s when this came out probably loved it, but it’s hard to relate to a generation later.

Fitzgerald Family Christmas (2012)

One Line Description: Seven siblings debate whether to let their estranged father of 20 years come to Christmas.

More Edward Burns and Michael McGlone playing Irish brothers, but this time they have have another brother (played by Tom Guiry a.k.a. Scott Smalls from The Sandlot), and four sisters (including Kerry Bishe from AMC’s Halt and Catch Fire and Caitlin Fitzgerald from Showtime’s Masters of Sex). The main plot of the story is that their estranged father, who walked out 20 years ago wants to spend Christmas with his ex-wife and children. But just like every other Burn’s venture, this one is more about the family dynamic than it is the main story. Connie Britton and Noah Emmerich both make appearances as very polar opposite characters, and the typical Burn’s indie “feel” is here. Burns loves to make these movies about Irish families from Long Island, and this one feels right at home in the “unofficial Long Island trilogy” with Brothers McMullen and She’s the One. It has a nice real-life feel to it with the dynamics between siblings and parents, and doesn’t fall into the typical tropes of a movie like this. That makes it more enjoyable, as it feels less predictable as it moves along. When it’s all said and done this is the kind of movie that falls into the solid B+ range.

Apple is Not Slipping

By buddy Tom Reding on Apple:

In saying that, I realize that even Steve Jobs has just been copying ideas and improving on them over the years, making them more user friendly and “prettier”. The iPod wasn’t the first MP3 player on the market by a long shot, but it did improve on what the other guys were doing. The iPhone wasn’t the first touch screen phone on the market, and the iOS certainly wasn’t the first mobile OS to use the icon based system. And the iPad most definitely was not the first tablet to come to market. And let’s not get started on the Apple Watch, but there was definitely something to be said by the way Apple marketed their products and improved on various subtitles to enhance the overall user experience and tie everything together under one roof. And that is what I like about Apple in general, but with the introduction of Apple Music, and the minute steps forward in improving their phones and other devices, it’s starting to seem like Apple is slipping a bit.

People have been saying this for years, every time Apple releases a phone or tablet or computer or operating system without some revolutionary feature, there becomes a theory that Apple “isn’t who they used to be”. In the world of over-analysis, and kneejerk reactions, and social media, it’s easy to understand how this happens. There is so much content out there, and so many voices that people can (and do) write about anything. The biggest problem for Apple, like almost any company these days, is that there is no way they can regularly meet the unrealistic expectations people have for them.

It’s really no different than a pro sports team like the late ’90s Yankees, or the Patriots of the last decade or so, where once you continually win at the highest level there is no where to go but down. No company can just invent new products with revolutionary features all the time. First of all, it’s just not humanly possible, secondly there needs to be improvement of existing features, not just new ones. That was long the problem with sports video games. Every year a new game would come out with some big heralded new feature, but the same broken things from the year before would still be there. There has to be refinement.

People hone in on small features of devices and exclaim ‘meh’, without looking at the bigger picture. The titanic shift in personal devices that the iPod, iPhone and iPad brought about to technology, music and mobile devices has not been closed to matched by anyone else. That doesn’t mean that no one has made a better music player, smartphone or tablet, it means that no company in the last 20 years has done more to shake-up and push forward the way people use technology and mobile devices.

Maybe iTunes Match wasn’t a great success, and maybe Apple Music will be a colossal failure. But this notion that Apple has lost a step is just stupid. Standalone HBO finally happened with HBO Now. It was exclusive to Apple initially. Does that seem like a random partnership? Google keeps shutting down projects one by one (Google+ anyone?). Supposedly these other music companies like Spotify and Rdio are not sustainable long term because they aren’t profitable enough. You know who is profitable enough? Apple. They can afford to lose money on a service if it sells them more hardware where their make tons of money.

Some might consider me an Apple fanboy, and I do love a lot of Apple products, but I am far from the one of the people that think Apple can do no wrong. I still don’t own an Apple TV, never signed up for iTunes Match and still haven’t activated my trial of Apple Music. When Apple stops selling craploads of computers, tablets and phones people can start talking about them slipping. It’s not unprecedented by any means. There is little argument that some missteps early in the millennium hurt Microsoft, and there is no doubt that Motorola, once the unquestioned big dawg of cellular phones, is completely irrelevant now. But bringing up things like the Microsoft Hololens or Oculus Rift glosses over the fact that these things are not even for sale yet, let alone proof that they will be successful and profitable. There was a point where motion control on the Wii and Microsoft Kinect was the best thing since sliced bread, and both are essentially dead at this point.

Apple has risen and fallen before, but it’s a little early to start talking about their downfall. They are a stupid rich company that continues to change up their products and try new things frequently. No other company has released a product as revolutionary as the iPod, iPhone or iPad in the last decade, and until someone does, Apple is no worse off than other companies doing similar business.

Finally A White Sox Check-In

All of the stats in this post came from Fangraphs.

I haven’t written any sort of thoughts on the 2015 White Sox. They have been incredibly hard to watch and not playing well. But it’s time to did into some of the numbers.

Offense

The White Sox are 30th in runs scored1. The White Sox are 28th in SB, 29th in walk percentage, 29th in ISO, 29th in wOBA, 30th in baserunning runs above average (which is basically a measure of how well a team runs the bases) and 39th in offensive runs above average which also includes baserunners.

Tyler Flowers and Geovany Soto have somewhat split time at catcher, they are 25th and 23rd respectively in wOBA amongst ML catchers with at least 100 PA. Both have been slightly positive WAR players. Flowers has always been a decent defensive catcher, but he has been lousy this year. His offense has somehow been worse than his career marks. Not much was expected here, but these guys have been really bad.

Jose Abreu was a rockstar last season, but his numbers are down. There was a fear that pitchers would figure him out, but his strikeout rate is slightly down. Unfortunately his walk rate is way down, as are most of his offensive stats. He is 16th amongst ML 1B in WAR. He would be rated higher if not his really bad defense. Speaking of which, Adam LaRoche has not delivered the defensive prowess he was supposed to possess. His strikeout rate is way up and his power is down. Somehow coming to a hitters park has not led to more home runs. He has not added anything to this team, and at 35 it’s not like he might get better. The White Sox went the wrong direction going from Thome to Dunn to LaRoche.

The White Sox gave Carlos Sanchez a shot at the starting job after Micah Johnson didn’t work out. He is 45th out of 46th in WAR amongst 2B with at least 100 PA. That is really bad. He has always been pretty lousy at taking walks, but has been downright awful so far. Alexei Ramirez has been awful as well. He is 43rd out of 45 SS. Most of his stats continue to slip year after year, and he has been pretty bad on the base paths and he is almost completely out of power. 3B has been bad as well. Gordan Beckham is 37th and Conor Gillaspie is 46th, out of 46 3B. Glimpse’s hitting stats are way down from last year, although he has played a somewhat limited amount. The plan to hit him only against righties hasn’t improved his offense. Gordon Beckham is walking more, but also striking out more. His BABIP is way down though, which is why he has such a low batting average. He has show decent power though, and is one of the few candidates to have a chance to improve his stats in the 2nd half.

Melky Cabrera didn’t work out so much. He is 64th out of 66 LFs so far. His numbers are pretty much universally down across the board. There isn’t a lot more to say. He has been bad. And has two more years on his contract, and outfield is the one place where the White Sox have actual prospects. Adam Eaton was great last year, but this year, not so much. He is 43rd out of 45 CFs. His walks are down and strikeouts are slightly up, but he has also found enough power to double his career home run total already. You have to dig deep to find his issues, which mostly seem to be around the fact that has been hitting a lot of infield fly balls and not getting nearly as many infield hits. Maybe that is something he can figure out and correct. Continuing a trend, Avisail Garcia is 43rd out of 46th of RFs. He has been one of the worst baserunners in the ML at any position. After he recovered from getting hurt last year there was high hopes. He has regressed in pretty much every category and his usually high BABIP (.364) means it is not going to get much better.

There really isn’t anyone on the bench worth mentioning.

Defense

Good news, the White Sox are the worst team in defensive WAR, and it’s not even close. They have been seriously bad. Tyler Flowers has been pretty bad. 30th out of 31 catchers. It doesn’t get better from there. Carlos Sanchez is in the top half of 2B, but barely. Gordon Beckham is in the top half. But the three outfielders have been amongst the worst. There isn’t much more to say about the awful defense.

Starters

The White Sox starting pitching is 7th in WAR, 10th in FIP and expected FIP. They are also third in K/9 and 8th in BB/9. Their BABIP is the 2nd worst, mostly thanks to their awful defense. Chris Sale doesn’t need much analysis. He is 3rd in the ML in WAR and a strikeout machine. Somehow it seems like he is just getting better. Strikeout rate is up, walks are down, FIP is down, all of this with his home run rate is a bit up. He is as good as advertised. Jeff Samardzija is getting better. He is 27th in WAR (there are 93 qualified starters). He has a respectable FIP and his ERA is probably a bit higher than it should be. He has a great walk rate, even better than Sale, even though his strikeout rate is down. His BABIP is unusually high, as his LOB% (both of those are probably due to porous defense). Jose Quintana is 29th in WAR. For those keeping score that is three in the top 29. Only the Pirates have three as well2. Quintana is higher in walks than Samardzija or Sale, but he is better with home runs. His numbers aren’t as good as last year, but he is still one of the best #3 starters in baseball easily. And like the rest of the rotation he has suffered badly from horrible defense. Things fall off from there. John Danks is 79th in WAR, somehow still above zero though. His strikeouts are higher than hey have been since 2011, but his home run rate is even higher than his already lousy career average. The defense hasn’t hurt him quite as much, but his FIP is still as good as it’s been since 2011. Carlos Rodon is 10 starts into his career, and he has a major walk problem so far. But he is good at striking guys out, and has a great home run rate so far, mostly because of a low ground ball rate. It’s early, but he is going the right direction.

Relievers

The bullpen isn’t as good as the rotation, but it’s not horrible. 20th in WAR, 13th in K/9, 21st in BB/9, 22nd in HR/9, all of which leads them to 22nd in FIP. Despite a few rough outings, David Robertson is third amongst relievers in WAR. He has kept his walk rate down well below the career mark which has undoubtedly made an impact. Somehow his ground ball rate is way down too though, which is a bad sign. His FIP is almost the best it has ever been though, but he has probably been a bit lucky so far. Even still, he has been great, and for better or worse too expensive to trade. It’s easy to understand why the White Sox are so low when you see that after Robertson, the next White Sox reliever is Jake Petricka at 82nd. Petricka was one of the bright spots last season and he has done a decent job so far. Strikeouts are up, walks are down, but his ERA and FIP are right about where they were last year. He is 27 and relievers are unpredictable, so it’s hard to know how much of this to count on going forward. Scott Carroll is 89th in WAR, but somehow just got sent to the minor leagues. Carroll has been a bit lucky thanks to a low home run rate, but he has still been decent.

Zach Putnam but another bright spot last year, and has once again been solid. His strikeout rate is way up, unfortunately so are walks and homers. He hasn’t been as good this year as last year, and he is 28, so like Petricka it’s hard to get excited about the long term value. Dan Jennings is back from an injury, and he has just been OK so far. His ERA is artificially high thanks to some real bad luck, but he still hasn’t been great. Zach Duke on the other hand has been downright awful. He has been worth –0.5 wins above replacement. All of his numbers are way down from last season and he is giving up way more home runs. All of this with a low BABIP, one of the few on the team with that, and a high LOB%. His ERA is artificially low making it seem like he has been doing better than it seems. He hasn’t.

Outlook

It’s not good. The offense is abysmal. Abreu and Eaton have been slightly worse than last year. Cabrera and LaRoche did not deliver on high hopes for veteran stability. At 24 Avisail Garcia still has time to get better, but it definitely isn’t looking great. Neither Micah Johnson or Carlos Sanchez appear ready for the Majors. And Gillaspie, Beckham, Flowers and Ramirez have not improved. The defense was always a possible sketchy area, but Carlos Sanchez and Adam LaRoche didn’t improve things as expected.

The starting rotation has been pretty darn good. Sale, Samardzija and Quintana are a legitimate trio, and Carlos Rodon has been good enough to be a #4. Unfortunately this is the only playoff worthy portion of the team. At least Sale, Quintana and Rodon aren’t going anywhere.

The bullpen has been a mix of good and bad. Robertson is probably the only piece the White Sox can count on going forward. In other words, if any of the rest of these guys could be traded for anything useful it would make sense to do so.

It’s probably safe to say that the playoffs aren’t happening, so I hope the White Sox give some of their prospects a chance before the season is over.

  1. To put into perspective the #1 Blue Jays though, the gap between them and #2 Astros is more than the gap between #2 and #25 Rays. Unreal. []
  2. Nats, Indians, Dodgers, Cubs, Cards each have two []

International Soccer is Fun

I am sure that I would be considered by some to be a sports junkie. Having season tickets to baseball and watching between 8–12 hours of college football every Saturday probably is enough to get me there, but it certainly doesn’t end there. I watch every Chicago Bears game, and usually 1–2 other NFL games in a week. I didn’t watch any regular season games of the Chicago Blackhawks but I saw almost every minute of their playoff games. I watched almost none of the NBA regular season, but watched a couple dozen NBA playoff games. I never miss the horse racing Triple Crown races, and even used to at least watch the Daytona 500 every year. One sport I never thought I could get into was soccer.

Last year I went out of my way to watch a bunch of he Men’s World Cup, mostly the games with Team USA playing. I enjoyed it. Sure soccer can feel slow at times, but the games move at a relatively good clip with just two 45 minute halves with running clocks. It’s amazing to watch a sporting even with so few commercials. Plus it means the time commitment is just two hours. And the slowness of the game just makes the intense moments that much more intense. In basketball for instance, there are a ton of points scored, so really there isn’t a tense moment (unless it’s game 7 of a playoff series) until the 4th quarter, and probably late in the 4th quarter. In the NFL or college football, it’s true that a score could happen on any play, but more often than not it’s easy to see when the probability is very high, and again the moments of those games aren’t tense until late, especially with modern offenses scoring so much more. Hockey and soccer share the scenario that any goal could be the last.

Hockey can have the puck go in from a lot of places, but in an average game there are probably 30 or so shots on goal for each team. And let’s be honest, it can be pretty hard to tell what is a goal and what is a save until the referee or someone reacts. I still remember the Stanley Cup winning goal for the Blackhawks in 2010 where even players on the ice didn’t realize the puck had gone in for a few seconds. Soccer has the advantage of having far fewer shots, and most of the time a much easier time knowing the ball went in.

I enjoyed the men’s World Cup last summer, but the combination of the ridiculous theatrics of flopping, and the fact that the US got knocked out quickly made it hard to get too into. But this year with the women, who are one of the best teams in the world, it was different. There are lots of good stories on this team, and there was a lot of hype going in. Women’s soccer is fun to watch. There no flopping, and mostly the only time some is writhing on the ground is when they are legitimately hurt.

I had plans on Sunday so I had to watch the game timeshifted a bit. It meant going on radio silence on social media so that I could get the full experience. And boy was it worth it. The early scoring barrage was incredibly exciting, and being a soccer n00b the goal from midfield was something that I had never seen before and rewound and watched several times. 4–0 should be an insurmountable lead in soccer, but because it was so early, and Japan is one of the world’s best, I was a little nervous. When the score got to 4–2, it was tense again. That is what makes soccer different. 28–14 in a football game doesn’t feel tense. 4–2 in a baseball game wouldn’t feel tense without at least one guy on base.

Being honest though, I don’t know if I could get that into it without it being the national team. I tried to watch one of the European league championships a month or so back (UEFA maybe?) and I couldn’t get into it. The fact that I didn’t know the teams and players surely played a role, but that couldn’t have been the only thing. I did get my first live soccer experience a couple of years ago at a Chicago Fire MLS game. Seeing soccer live made it so much better. But watching the women’s national team win the World Cup was easily the most fun I have had watching soccer ever. It won’t be the last soccer game I watch this year, and I am suddenly very excited for 2018.