Paul Rudd’s Career

Amos Barshad of Grantland tackles Paul Rudd’s career arc:

There is an alternate universe in which Paul Rudd becomes our next-wave Tom Hanks. He had the tools: the puppy dog charm; the unthreatening good looks; a deep well of finely cultivated, but ultimately unbitter, cynical smarts. If he’d wanted to, surely, he could have knocked out the rom-coms like a pre-McConaissance, naked bongo-smashing Matthew McConaughey. Maybe Rudd got lucky in that he never had one break out big for him to trap him in that look. More likely, though, from what we would come to understand about our man Paul is that he was always a little too off to hold aw-shucks for too long.

The amazing part is that about three years ago, BerserkHippo.com touched on this very subject:

What is Paul Rudd’s peak now, and what would it have been if he had broken out sooner? He still look’s young, so he has a lot of years ahead of him. But at the same time he could have potentially been this generation’s Tom Hanks. Goofy guy, very likable, eventually on to more dramatic things. Hanks did some silly movies in the ’80s, Turner and Hooch, Dragnet, Big, Bachelor Party and Money Pit to name a few. It really wasn’t until Philadelphia that he got serious. He then followed that with Forrest Gump, Apollo 13 and Saving Private Ryan. It’s really too bad IMDb doesn’t have a “most similar to” like Baseball Reference does because I wonder who Rudd would be most similar to?

Since that post in 2011, Rudd has released a bunch of movies, most of which I haven’t seen. But films like Wanderlust and This is 40 feel more like that early Tom Hanks, than later. Rudd is solid in This is 40, and he is good in parts like that. I never saw the independent film Prince Avalanche that Rudd starred in, but any hopes of that being a breakout dramatic type role were likely squashed by the fact that most people didn’t see it. Plus movies like the soon to be released They Came Together don’t make it seem like he is getting serious anytime soon.

Still Rudd is such a loveable guy. I compared him to Steve Martin three years ago, but Martin generally plays a snobby guy that, at least for moments in his movies, is someone the audiences are mad at. Rudd’s career still seems closely similar to the pre-dramatic turn of Tom Hanks, who seemed to be loveable in every roll in the late ’80s. It seems that Rudd is happy to just churn out mediocre rom-coms for a while, but that probably isn’t a bad thing.

Amusing List of NFL Backup QBs

Danny Kelly of SB Nation “ranked” the backup NFL QBs before training camp started. This is a super interesting list for two reasons. First, it’s amazing how many guys have moved around inconspicuously. Second, it’s amazing to see that certain guys are still in the league.

Philadelphia Eagles:

Starter: QB Nick Foles Backups: QB Mark Sanchez, QB Matt Barkley, QB GJ Kinne

Chip Kelly is accumulating PAC 12 QBs, and seems to be focusing on USC at that. Most teams won’t keep three QBs, so Matt Barkley, who at one point was a possible 1st overall pick, could be looking for a new team soon.

Green Bay Packers:

Starter: Aaron Rodgers Backups: QB Matt Flynn, QB Scott Tolzien

Hats off to Matt Flynn. He parlayed one fluke game in 2011 into a massive payday. Then he went to Seattle and was beat out by rookie Russell Wilson. Then he couldn’t even manage to stay on with the Raiders or Bills in 2013, two teams with pretty bad QB situations. Now he is right back where he started: on a good team, behind one of the 3 best QBs in the league. But he is a lot richer.

Seattle Seahawks:

Starter: Russell Wilson Backups: QB Tarvaris Jackson, QB Terrelle Pryor, QB BJ Daniels

Has to be the first team in history to have four African American QBs on the team at the same time. It’s interesting that Pryor is an afterthought already since he wasn’t terrible in Oakland. These are four athletic guys. I guess it makes sense to backup Wilson with these guys over Josh McCown.

Dallas Cowboys:

Starter: Tony Romo: Backups: QB Kyle Orton, QB Brandon Weeden, QB Caleb Hanie

Two former Bears, including one-time savior Caleb Hanie. Remember when Bears fans were so angry he wasn’t playing over Todd Collins? Now Hanie probably won’t even be on a roster this year. And Brandon Weeden, another first round QB who quickly vanished from existence.

Jacksonville Jaguars:

Starter: QB Chad Henne Backups: QB Blake Bortles, QB Ricki Stanzi, QB Stephen Morris

When everyone thinks of Big Ten QBs in the NFL they always think of Tom Brady and Drew Brees. No one ever mentions Chad Henne and Ricky Stanzi.

Software Is Really Vulnerable

Quinn Norton on Medium writing about how everything is broken:

Look at it this way — every time you get a security update (seems almost daily on my Linux box), whatever is getting updated has been broken, lying there vulnerable, for who-knows-how-long. Sometimes days, sometimes years. Nobody really advertises that part of updates. People say “You should apply this, it’s a critical patch!” and leave off the “…because the developers [screwed] up so badly your children’s identities are probably being sold to the Estonian Mafia by smack addicted script kiddies right now.”

This article is long, and will come off a bit as a “tin foil hat” kind of piece, but it’s really a good look at how vulnerable computers are without getting too technical. The reality is that most people don’t understand how messed up most computer systems really are. From their personal computers, to their work networks to their banks systems, it’s one big mess. A lot of it has to do with money, and a lack of understanding.

Many companies, especially those with tight margins, which is probably most companies, don’t want to invest money on things that will not directly increase revenue. Spending the million of dollars to update antiquated computer security doesn’t rank high on the list of most CEOs or stockholders. Even software companies themselves suffer from the same ailment. If it doesn’t increase revenue, it’s a hard sell to decision makers. And the result is disasters like Target suffered in 2013.

And it can almost all be chocked up to naiveté. Companies increase physical security all the time. They get better cameras and most secure entry systems. How many companies use regular old keys anymore? Keys can be easily duplicated, and when they are lost they can’t be remotely disabled. A new lock has to be installed and everyone needs a new key. Why is it that people understand modern physical security but completely ignore the virtual equivalent?

Unfortunately this will almost surely get worse before it gets better. The Target incident was a nice wake-up call, but it’s probably going to take something much more impacting to really get everyone to change.

EA Access Is A Great Idea

Earnest Cavalli of Joystiq on the new EA Access program:

Those who spend $5 per month (or $30 per year) on an EA Access subscription will be granted free, all-you-can-play access to the publisher’s biggest Xbox One games, including Battlefield 4, Peggle 2, FIFA 14 and Madden NFL 25. EA plans to add to this selection of games over time, and according to a Game Informer tweet, the publisher has “no plans” to remove content in the future. In addition to the gratis games, EA Access members receive 10 percent discounts on all of EA’s digital Xbox One content and are granted access to big EA releases up to five days prior to their official debut.

Very interesting concept, and something that will no doubt be very popular.

Who is it for?

The biggest audience for this will be people who aren’t concerned with playing the latest and greatest. Battlefield 4 is still a massively popular game that retails for around$30 right now, which means that game alone get’s a person their money back. Throw in other titles, and the addition of more over time and it’s no doubt a great deal.

For me personally, the World Cup piqued my interest in soccer just enough that I wouldn’t mind playing FIFA 14, but don’t want to spend the $40 it is currently running. I could pick up this service for $10 less, and get a chance to play a little Battlefield 4, plus whatever else get’s added in the next year. Seems like a great deal.

Why is It Good for EA?

For years people have been wondering how publishers would find a way to combat used game sales. Microsoft had a bunch of things in the original Xbox One announcement to combat the resale of games, but outrage forced them to pull most of those features. Now EA has found a way to trump that $30 a year for a large collection of older EA games is genius. It’s hard to imagine that “last year’s” sports game won’t be added every single year as the current year’s game approaches, and even though a game like Titanfall isn’t available now, it’s entirely possible it will be by the end of year, meaning that someone could get a lot of gameplay for $30, which is likely what they would pay for one (two at most) used games from the last year or so.

Why is It Good for Microsoft?

There are two reasons it’s good for Microsoft. The direct reason is that it suddenly made a subset of games cheaper, and therefore much more appealing. The Xbox One is a great media center, and the voice commands with Kinect are super convenient when watching Netflix or Amazon or a DVD. Add in $30 a year to play some games when the mood strikes and while it’s not a system seller, it certainly sweetens the deal.

The indirect advantage lies with the fact that Sony declined to participate in the program (for now) claiming that it didn’t think it was a good deal for users. The reality is more likely that they don’t want to canabalize their PSN Plus subscriptions, or huge people who want to resell games. I am sure Microsoft isn’t complaining.

Why Don’t Podcast Apps Have Queueing?

How do most people listen to podcasts? Is it always oldest first? Is it always a specific podcast next? Most people probably pick and choose the next episode to listen to. So why do podcast apps make it so difficult to just pick individual podcasts to queue up for listening?

Downcast offers a hack using it’s smart playlists and “locking” episodes. Essentially a playlist is created for locked episodes and then when an episode is marked as locked it shows on this playlist. The purpose of locking an episode is to keep it from being deleted automatically or deleted by another device and a sync.

But this is just what it is, a hack, and locked status doesn’t sync across devices. In fact it can cause headaches because locking episodes prevents episodes from being deleted elsewhere. So if an episode is locked on iOS, but finished on a Mac it must be manually unlocked or deleted from iOS later. Also because locked status doesn’t sync across devices. So the “queue” can’t be synced across devices. So essentially this queue is locked (pun intended) to an individual device.

Marco Arment’s new podcast app Overcast does a slightly better job. Within a playlist it allows individual episodes to be added. Unfortunately this list pulls from every episode on the device and therefore creates a very long list to survey, assuming that a person has more than 5–10 unplayed episodes at a given time. But at least it provides an option. Although in this case it would make a lot more sense to allow an episode to be added from the episode itself, rather than the playlist. That way the number of episodes on the device does not matter nearly as much. Perhaps this is a simple fix that will be created down the road, but in the meantime it’s lacking.

It is really strange that this so overlooked by developers. It must mean that most people don’t listen to podcasts in this format. But most music apps, including Apple’s own Music app, fail to provide this functionality for music either. Is it because all people just listen to podcasts in chronological order? Or entire albums from start to finish? How do people find so much time to listen? Wouldn’t everyone benefit from a simple queueing system?

How do you listen to podcasts?

Finding A Habit Tracking App

There is a productivity method popularized by Jerry Seinfeld that is referred to by some as “don’t break the chain”. The idea behind is that doing something every day (or at regular intervals) is not only a way to form habits, but also the way to get better at something. This evolved into a productivity method that started with the low-tech solution of putting a monthly calendar on the wall and putting a big red ‘X’ through a day when the habit/task was performed. Of course it was only a matter of time before someone took this concept and put it into app form. Here are four apps that setup to help a person form habits:

Clever Routines ($0.99)

One of the issues with Clever Routines is that it remains somewhat out of date. It has not been updated even once since it’s initial release in September 2013 and still features the pre-iOS keyboard and aesthetic. That doesn’t bode well for long term survivability. It’s nice looking though, and pretty easy to use.

Clever1Clever2

Routines are given a name, and optional description. A decision has to be made whether the schedule for that routine is “flexible”, which means does it have to be performed on/by a certain day/time or not. If certain days and times are selected, all the details one would expect are there (day of week, frequency and units of repeating). A final setting for reminders for the routine are available and come in four flavors: none, only if time is running out, only if the routine is not on pace to finish, or persistent reminders.

Where Clever Routines falls short is that there is no historical tracking. For things that need to be performed daily, it’s not possible to go back and check days missed. The slate is essentially wiped clear with each new interval for a given routine. This means that the app is really nothing more than a recurring checklist. It is not recommended.

Full ($0.99)

Full is a very pretty application that does include some tracking of progress, but unfortunately the way routines are setup is very different from the other applications on this list. Full is specifically designed to handle things at the month level. In other words it can only be used to track whether habits occur ‘X times in a month’. This philosophy works great for things that need to happen every day. It also works great for things that really could happen at any point. But if a goal is to “work out 3 times per week” this app doesn’t help with that. Instead a person could just work out any 12 days in a month and call it a victory. Perhaps that is OK is some cases, but most people prefer a more granular level.

Full1Full2

The graphs that show how well a month went are very nice, and the interface as a whole is very pretty. But the application also doesn’t track any sort of streaks/chains of habits and therefore somewhat defeats the purpose.

Habit List ($2.99)

Habit List is the first app covered here which really seems to hit the mark as a true habit tracking app. In addition to be able to select specific days for the event to occur, it also features less specific options such as “Every [x] days” or “[x] days per week”. Each habit features a reminder that can be set to a specific time of day as well. The home screen displays the current day and all habits. Next to each is the current streak, either positive or negative. This is a nice though that also helps a user understand how long it’s been since they did something in particular.

Habit1Habit2

Clicking on a habit brings up a calendar view that highlights the days the habit was performed as well as show the current streak, total completions and longest streak. Another bonus feature is the include of stats, shish show completion rate by week and by month, as well as aggregates for all-time, the last six weeks and the last six months. This data can be reset at any time, per habit.

It includes a couple of other small features, like just a general daily reminder, a passcode lock, icon badge support and a few font choices.

The combination of looks and deep functionality make this an excellent option.

Goal Streaks ($3.99)

Goal Streaks does not have the same kind of iOS 7-esque design, but still looks good, and offers at least some minor differences. Like Habit List, it allows goals to be slotted for specific days, intervals or non-specific days. This flexibility is what makes Habit List and Goal Streaks stand above the other options here.

On the home screen for Goal Streaks all of the goals are listed with 7-day calendars. Clicking on a spot in the calendar makes an X and connects to previous X’s if the current streak is continued. This creates a nice visual effect and lines up more to it’s physical counterpart of a big calendar X’s on certain days. It also displays the current streak, and best streak as well. Clicking on a specific goal essentially expands the calendar to as much screen real estate as is available. On an iPhone 5s this ends up being about the last 8 weeks or so.

Goal1Goal2

While it also includes a passcode lock, there isn’t much else. It does not include any data tracking like Habits List, and outside of the current and longest streaks there are no other stats at all. The 8-week calendar is a nice touch, but doesn’t add a ridiculous amount of value. This is a solid option though.

Wrap-Up

Habit tracking is not just a good way to get better at something, it’s also a simple way to not only build better habits, but “gameify” them to add to the sense of accomplishment. When a person sees visually that they haven’t missed a workout in 40 days, it’s an extra little bonus to get that workout in so the streak continues. Sometimes this is how people’s minds are wired, and it makes them more productive. Habit List is probably the strongest offering, and is also cheaper than Goal Streaks. There might be other options out there as well, but amongst these four, it’s a pretty easy call.

How Did Frank Thomas Only Make Five All-Star Teams?

Frank Thomas will be inducted into the Hall of Fame this weekend. He is easily the best hitter in White Sox history, and probably only has to fend off Luke Appling in any conversation of greatest player ever in White Sox history1. Thomas leads the White Sox in most offensive categories, and many of the ones he doesn’t he still ranks in the top 10. But what was very surprising was the fact that Thomas only made five All-Star teams with the White Sox. Paul Konerko made six. Something seemed off, so it was time to do some digging.

Year Age G HR RBI BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS OPS+ bWAR 1st Half
1991 23 158 32 109 138 112 0.318 0.453 0.553 1.006 180 6.9 0.961
1992 24 160 24 115 122 88 0.323 0.439 0.536 0.975 174 6.9 0.959
1993 ★ 25 153 41 128 112 54 0.317 0.426 0.607 1.033 177 6.2 0.970
1994 ★ 26 113 38 101 109 61 0.353 0.487 0.729 1.217 212 6.3 1.311
1995 ★ 27 145 40 111 136 74 0.308 0.454 0.606 1.061 179 5.3 1.143
1996 ★ 28 141 40 134 109 70 0.349 0.459 0.626 1.085 178 5.5 1.069
1997 ★ 29 146 35 125 109 69 0.347 0.456 0.611 1.067 181 7.3 1.115
1998 30 160 29 109 110 93 0.265 0.381 0.480 0.861 126 3.5 0.852
1999 31 135 15 77 87 66 0.305 0.414 0.471 0.885 125 2.3 0.931
2000 32 159 43 143 112 94 0.328 0.436 0.625 1.061 163 6.0 1.086
2002 34 148 28 92 88 115 0.252 0.361 0.472 0.834 119 1.9 0.774
2003 35 153 42 105 100 115 0.267 0.390 0.562 0.952 146 4.2 0.952

Looking at Thomas’ stats above for all of his full seasons with the White Sox, it’s really hard to figure out what went wrong. Thomas made all of his all-star appearances from 1993–1997. It’s a bit understandable how Thomas didn’t make the team in 1991, his first full season, but how did he not make it in 1992? His first half was a bit worse than his second, but he was coming off a pretty remarkable 1991. It just goes to show how undervalued OBP and OPS were then, as Thomas led the league in both in ’91 and ’92. Although he dropped off significantly, how did he not make it in 2000? He was a long established player at that point, and he had 18 home runs on July 1st. Let’s examine these two seasons.

In 1992, Mark McGwire was selected as the 1B starter, and no other 1B was selected to the roster, although DH Paul Molitor was selected, and the game was in an NL ballpark. McGwire had been an all-star the previous five seasons, so he had a major edge. But he was coming off a weak 1991 campaign where his home run numbers had dropped. He had clubbed 10 home runs in the first month of the ’92 season though, and had 26 home runs at the end of June. Plus he was voted in by the fans. Hard to argue with. Molitor was in his 14th season, and was a four-time former all-star. He led the league in hits and triples in ’91 in addition to hitting .325. He hit .319 in the first half of 1992 and had enough of a reputation to get in on that. Another hard to argue with decision.

The White Sox also had two other all-stars in 1992. Robin Ventura made his first (of two) all-star teams. He had his 23 home runs in ’91 and won his first Gold Glove. He was also coming off a monster June. It’s amazing he only made one all-star team, but he probably didn’t deserve to make it over Thomas at this point. Positional value played a big role here. Jack McDowell made his 2nd straight all-star game and would go on to win the Cy Young in 1992 (and 1993). It’s hard to argue with his selection as well.

What happened in 2000? Four first basemen made the cut, plus Edgar Martinez as DH. Thomas was essentially a DH at this point, which likely played a role in being left off. This was Giambi’s first all-star game, and PEDs or not, this was the beginning of his peak. He had finished 8th in MLB voting the year before, and had a pretty nice first half. Fred McGriff was 36, coming off a pretty decent 1999, had [15 home runs on July 1st], and was coming off a ridiculous June. More importantly, there was no one else on this Tampa Bay team that was an all-star, so he was helping fill a quota.

KC’s Mike Sweeney was similar. Also the only KC player to make the team, at least Sweeney was 26 and on the rise (he would make four straight all-star teams). Sweeney had a solid first half, and as the only KC player on the team, it makes some sense. Carlos Delgado was hitting his peak, and had hit 44 home runs in 1999. Delgado was essentially unconscious in the first half of 2000. He had 27 home runs on July 1st and hit .363 in the first half. Edgar Martinez hadn’t made an all-star team since 1997. The 2000 power surge netted Martinez 37 home runs. He never cracked 30 any other year (suspicious?). He hit .354 in the first half, so again it’s hard to argue with his inclusion.

The 2000 White Sox, who eventually won the division, had three all-stars anyway. Ray Durham made his 2nd team, and had clubbed 13 first half HR. He was the only backup 2B. Magglio Ordonez made his 2nd (of six) all-star teams. Ordonez was having a sick first half, and was probably the star of the White Sox at that time. James Baldwin was the last selection as a pitcher.

Was Thomas screwed? Maybe. Walks were so undervalued in the early ‘90s that him being left off the team in 1991 and 1992 is probably the worst, and likely wouldn’t happen in current times. It’s hard to find anything wrong with the selections in 1992, but the one player from every team rule no doubt hurt him in 2000 when he might have been more deserving than Sweeney or McGriff. Thomas’ steep drop off in 1998, and his injury shortened 1999 hurt him a bit. Those were his age 30 and 31 seasons, both considered prime years. So Thomas missing the all-star team on his own accord those two years were ultimately his demise.

  1. Appling edges Thomas in overall bWAR thanks to playing SS and being a plus defender. []

Mark Buehrle’s Surprising Success

Rany Jazayerli of Grantland on [The Curious Case of Mark Buehrle]( http://grantland.com/features/mark-buehrle-surprising-success):

By almost every metric, Mark Buehrle is a thoroughly average pitcher. So how has he managed to find such success, especially at his age?

Great read for any White Sox fan. Buehrle is the most underrated pitcher of the century so far. He is also the best pitcher in White Sox history at least as far back as Wilbur Wood. Had he finished his career with the Sox, and pitched as well as he had since he left, he would be 3rd all-time in wins instead of 6th. Even with his modest strikeout numbers he would be #1 by the end of the season.

He should still get his number retired, especially for his longevity and of course his impact on the 2005 World Series team.

Buehrle’s only shot at the Hall of Famer is sticking around long enough to win 300 games1, which doesn’t seem like something he is interested in. Instead he will go down as pitcher that defied traditional logic, who should have spent his whole career with the White Sox, and whom was never appreciated enough anywhere else.

  1. The article estimates he would need 10 more years to do so []

Returning to Diablo 3

After a nearly 1.5 year absence, I returned to Diablo 3 last month. I had an itch to play, and within a week I had purchased the expansion Reaper of Souls and have not looked back since. The improvements/additions are countless and the game is even more enjoyable than the first incarnation. For the purposes of this article, the “old/original” version refers to prior to the 2.0 patch released early in 2014, and the present day stuff refers to things after. Anything that specifically requires the expansion would be indicated as such.

Legendary Items

So-called “Legendary Items” are unique items, generally with excellent stats and some type of special feature, are pretty scare. In the original incarnation of Diablo 3, they were incredibly scarce. To put it into perspective, 6 months with the original version of the game netted just two legendary items. Two days with the most recent version netted three. Part of the reason for this is that Blizzard has built-in a failsafe that ensures players get one every several hours of playtime if they have gotten one recently. This is a nice touch that encourages all skill levels to play a bunch. The legendaries are also better than in the original version and are almost always better than rare items of the same type/level.

Adjusted Difficulties

In the original version of the game, there were four levels of difficulty, Normal, Nightmare, Hell and Inferno. Inferno was basically impossible without the most elite gear, and the other modes were unpredictable at times. Now there are five base difficulty levels, Normal, Hard, Expert, Master and Torment. And there are six sub-difficulties that comprise Torment, meaning there are truly 10 difficulty levels available now. More importantly, these difficulties scale somewhat with character level. Meaning that a player who is level 20 on normal mode will face easier monsters than someone who is level 50 on normal mode. The rewards per difficulty level increase, so there is incentive to move up. But until Torment 2 and higher, nothing can be gotten in Torment 1 that can’t be gotten in Normal, just the likelihood of that changes.

Paragon and Level Cap

Paragon levels were added in a patch in the original version of the game, and basically offered a system of continuing to level up a character after the level cap (60) had been hit. Each level of paragon boosted skills just like normal levels did. The new system has been changed. Now this paragon number has an insane max and there is one number per account that is shared across characters. The points earned at each level can be put into a variety of attributes adding a new wrinkle to the game once level cap is reached. The boost from paragon isn’t so extreme that it makes players regular capped out players that much more inferior, but it at least adds to the “end game”.

The level cap itself remains at 60 unless the expansion is purchased. That bumps the cap up to 70 and unlocks one new active skill and a few more passive skills per class, including ability to use four passive skills at once instead of three.

Adventure Mode

Adventure Mode is probably the coolest addition of the Reaper of Souls expansion. Although a 5th act is also added, unless you are nut for the story/lore of the game, it’s nothing special. Instead Adventure Mode add a totally different concept to the “end game”. Instead of re-running the same levels in story mode like in the original incarnation Adventure Mode puts a new spin on it.

First are bounties. Essentially a bounty is a specific area/location in a particular act with a specific objective. When a new Adventure Mode game is started there are 5 bounties per Act. Basically a player goes to a waypoint and is given a task, kill a certain boss, clear a cave, etc. Upon completing this bounty, gold and XP are provided. If a player completes all five bounties in the same act in one game, they are rewarded a Horadic Cache, which is essentially a bunch of loot, including some cache-only legendaries, as well as more XP and gold. This by itself is a nice addition because it forces players to mix up what places they play and adds a bonus to completing a bunch at a time. But there is more.

Upon completing bounties 2 and beyond in a particular game, and within the cache reward are “rift keystone fragments”. Five of these fragments can be used to open a “rift”. A rift is a randomly generated dungeon with a high monster density, a lot more elite monsters and a goal of hitting a certain percentage of monster hitpoints accumulated. Once that number hits a certain point, a “Rift Guardian” shows up. These big bosses take time to kill and can drop good stuff, including Blood Shards (more on this soon). But more importantly, the randomness of the level and the higher monster density make this a bit more fun than regular runs or even bounties. Again, this is only available in Reaper of Souls.

Blood Shards and Gambling

The aforementioned Blood Shards that are rewarded for rift guardian kills are used for one thing, and one thing alone. Gambling with Kadala. Essentially a certain number of blood shards can be exchanged with Kadala for a random item of a certain type. In other words, a Wizard could trade 5 blood shards for an off-hand magic source. This is a way to quickly “find” a bunch of items and can produce both legendary and set items. Because blood shards cannot be used for anything else, this is a good place to try and land something really special, but just like everywhere else in the game, the chances are slim. It’s a nice touch, but it’s a bit limited.

Re-Rolling Skills and Transmogging

Another Reaper of Souls (I think) addition is the ability to re-roll an individual attribute on an item. In other words, a weapon might have 3 or 4 really good stats, and then one crappy one an no socket. For a certain amount of gold and crafting items a player can try to replace an attribute of an item with another attribute.

This system is very well done. First of all, it will show the player all the possible attributes that can replace the currently selected one, as well as their ranges in points. Once a player selects and attribute and replaces it, they are presented with three options. Keep the current attribute, or replace it with the choice of two that were randomly rolled. This means that a player can try rolling a new attribute but not be forced to keep it if it’s not an improvement.

Of course there has to be a catch (or two). As soon as the new options are generated the materials and gold needed are consumed. This “enhancing” of an item is costly. Second, the biggest catch is that only one attribute slot per item can ever be re-rolled (although it can be re-rolled an infinite number of times). In other words, if an item has increased life and increased attack speed, and I choose to re-roll life and replace it with +all resist, I can only re-roll +all resist in the future, I can never switch and re-rill increased attack speed.

Crusader Class

Also part of Reaper of Souls is a new character class called the Crusader, which seems to be heavily based on the Paladin of Diablo 2. I have spent a very small amount of time with the Crusader so far, but it seems like there are a lot of shield-based skills. The reviews around the interweb seem positive though, and I hope to spend more time with it soon.

Wrap Up

The 2.0 version of Diablo 3 was a great improvement that had definitely made the “end game” better than it ever was before. The new difficulty modes made it easier to find a sweet spot for a particular character, and legendary drop rates are so much higher that there is always a chance for something awesome right around the corner. Adventure Mode is by far the key piece of the Reaper of Souls expansion and is a must for anyone who wants to play the game long term. Re-rolling of individual attributes means that finding items that were just so close before, is no longer a problem. There is enough of a new feel to the game, and the promises of the 2.1 patch which is due in the next couple of months, are going to make it even better. So far, returning to this game after time away has been amazing.

Explaining Carmelo

There have been some Bull’s fans drinking the Carmelo Kool-Aid that he was always going back to New York. One person’s theory (my dad) was that he was trying to drive up the price, but that’s not how salaries in the NBA work. And when it all comes down to it, this was driven primarily by money, but only because Melo couldn’t get the money elsewhere.

Unlike baseball, salaries in the NBA have a limit. Not just in a salary cap sense (more on that soon), but in a sense that depending on a particular player’s experience level there is a maximum yearly salary they can receive. For example, if every single team had an infinite salary cap, no one team could offer a player a higher yearly salary than another player. But a team re-signing it’s own player can offer that player a 5-year contract instead of a 4-year contract. So even though the yearly salary can’t be higher, the total value of the contract can be higher if the player re-signs with their current team.

That is not the only advantage a team has when re-signing their own players. Because there is not an infinite salary cap, teams can only offer a salary equal to the amount of money they are under the salary cap. In the case of the Bulls this number was somewhere around $16-18 million if they amnestied Carlos Boozer1. So barring any sort of maneuvering, Carmelo could not only get an extra year on his contract with New York, but also a higher yearly salary.

There is a workaround to the salary cap restriction. Re-signing a player allows a team to go over the salary cap. This is why New York could offer Carmelo a “max” contract no matter what. The other workaround is to trade for players. Even if a team is over the salary cap, as long as they trade salaries away to make sure that their payroll doesn’t go up by more than 25% these trades are legal. When it comes to free agents like Carmelo, the answer is what is called a “sign and trade”. Essentially Carmelo signs a contract with the Knicks who have already agreed to trade him to another team. It’s hard to fathom a situation where this was not Carmelo’s #1 option. He would have received all the money he wanted plus end up on a very strong contender. Most likely Phil Jackson either refused, or asked the Bulls for more than they were willing to part with (likely some combination of Taj Gibson and/or Jimmy Butler).

Some would say that he should want to win bad enough to take less, but it’s easy to say that when $30M dollars is not hanging in the balance. The pressure in Chicago to win would have been pretty high. Most pundits were already saying Carmelo would easily make the Bulls the best team in the East. Staying in New York still leaves much lower expectations, and one would assume most of the pressure there now falls on Phil Jackson. Plus if Carmelo were to win a title in New York, he would be the hero of the franchise and that is worth way more than being second to Michael Jordan in championships in Chicago.

Carmelo is going to make some serious cash over the next few years, and the ceiling for winning in New York is well beyond anything that would come with winning elsewhere. As much as it breaks Bulls fans hearts, it makes a lot of sense for him.

  1. It’s not worth digging to deep into this concept, and it happened yesterday anyway []