The Big Ten still doesn’t get a lot of love despite winning the National Championship last season. Ohio St. is the number one team in the preseason AP pool, and Michigan St. is a top 10 team as well. Wisconsin is the only other top 25 team, which means that there is not a lot of depth. On top of that there are a lot of new coaches in the league as well. But improvements from Penn St. and Michigan could make a big difference in the overall conference perception.
My prediction order has hardly changed at all from last season, and perhaps I was just a year early. Ohio St. was way better than expected last year, and should be better this year. If they avoid injuries, or more suspensions they will be hard to beat. They get Michigan St. and Penn St. at home which is a huge advantage. They avoid three of the top four teams from the West and get the 4th (Minnesota) at home. Michigan St. should be a strong second place, but they do have to go to Nebraska, so that is enough to make them an easy choice at #2. But they will be very good and could be a top 10 team until late in the season.
Penn St. was a mess last year, but a lot has changed. James Franklin is going into year two, and Christian Hackenberg is going to be a third year starter, who can’t possibly be as bad as last season. Everything about this team should be better this year, but their schedule does them no favors. They go on the road to both Ohio St. and Michigan St., but at least they luck out with the two Illinois schools in crossover. Michigan has a new coach, and he is getting a lot of hype already. This team has recruited well over the last couple of years, so it is possible they go on a big run, but I suspect there will be some breaking in time needed. Their non-conference schedule could beat them up, and they have to go to Penn St. the week before The Game. Not an easy path. Indiana couldn’t get anything at quarterback last season, and they could finish anywhere in the bottom three. Coach Kevin Wilson’s seat could be a little hot soon. Maryland had their moments last season, but they lost some key players. They could also finish pretty much anywhere in the bottom three. Rutgers has an impossible schedule that includes Nebraska and at Wisconsin as crossover games, so they will be lucky to not finish last.
The imbalance amongst the divisions is as staggering as ever. Wisconsin is the the clear favorite at the top, but they have a new head coach, and lost star RB Melvin Gordon. They have a nice replacement in Cory Clement, but there could be some growing pains in year one of the Paul Chryst era. They also have to play on the road at Nebraska and Minnesota, although their crossover games should be easy wins. Nebraska makes sense as the second place team, but they also are looking at a new head coach. They could finish 6–2 or 2–6 in the Big Ten and it wouldn’t surprise me. Iowa’s schedule makes them the third place choice, but they do have to go on the road to both Wisconsin and Nebraska. But they get Indiana and Maryland as crossovers which is just too good to overlook. Meanwhile Minnesota is the team I wanted to pick for third, but having to play Michigan and at Ohio St. in consecutive weeks is a tall task. They go get division big guns Wisconsin and Nebraska at home though.
Things drop off hard after that. Purdue might be better, but they have a murder’s row to open conference season (@MSU, MIN, @WIS) and might not survive that. If they win one of those 5th place should be no problem. Otherwise Northwestern probably takes it. They get Purdue at home, which could be the tiebreaker. Illinois fired their coach the week before the season, and they were going to be bad anyway. Their crossover games are Ohio St. and Penn St., and it’s really possible they could go 0–8.
Offensive Player of the Year
My predictions for last season in this category weren’t that bad. Ohio St. QB JT Barrett was soooo good last year before he got hurt. People forget how good he was, and he didn’t miss the entire season. As long as he doesn’t get hurt this should be his award to lose. Michigan St. QB Conor Cook seems like a safe backup plan. He was very good last year, and should be getting a lot more attention this season as his draft stock rises.
Penn St. QB Christian Hackenberg is probably the top of tier two. If he improves like people think he can/will, he could be the #1 pick in the NFL draft. Wisconsin will always have a RB in the race and this year Corey Clement will be in the discussion at some point. He might just have to many guys to climb over, but Wisconsin’s softer schedule could make a big difference. Ohio St. RB Ezekiel Elliot finished last season strong and probably rounds out the group of serious contenders. He might be battling his own QB(s) for hype though.
It is really hard to find a darkhorse outside of these five guys, so let’s get super crazy. Let’s say Ohio St. WR Braxton Miller as kind of a “career achievement award”. He could end up being a monster as an all-purpose guy.
As always, it’s hard teams in these categories because every team has someone who thinks they are really good/bad. Michigan got two points in the AP poll, which seems a little crazy. Most people have them in the middle of the Big Ten though. Maybe the Minnesota hype is too much (keep this in mind).
After Iowa let me down in this category last season I can’t pick them here again, but the bottom of the conference is so bad. Maybe Purdue though. A lot of people have them at the very bottom, but I think Illinois and Northwestern could finish behind them.
Coach On the Hottest Seat
As usual, start with the guys completely safe: Dantonio, Meyer, Harbaugh, Franklin, Chryst, Riley, Kill.
Illinois coach Tim Beckman didn’t even last one game. The interim coach there might be long for the job, but that doesn’t really count.
Kevin Wilson took a big step back last season, and has now lost star RB Tevin Coleman to the NFL. This is year five, and the pressure has to be mounting. Four wins in conference probably saves him, anything less and that might be it. Kyle Flood starts year four, and last year wasn’t that bad. They went 3–5 in their first year in the Big Ten, but 8–5 overall. A repeat of that surely saves his job, but he might have a little wiggle room.
Kirk Ferentz is still the longest tenured coach in the Big Ten by a lot. He has been rumored to be on the hot seat before. Iowa slipped back to 4–4 in the Big Ten and lost their bowl game again. They haven’t won one since 2010. At this point you would think he either needs a trainwreck of a season or fail to meet expectations much higher than he has this season.
Randy Edsall was fine in year four at Maryland, and would probably need to backslide badly to get canned. They went 4–4 in the Big Ten (in the tougher division) and 7–6 overall (7–5 in the regular season).
Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald seemed like a lifer, but he has struggled a bit the last two seasons after a 10-win campaign in 2012. He is beloved by the school, but he has 4 conference wins total the last two seasons. He probably doesn’t get fired this year, but a bad season will definitely put him on the hot seat next season. Meanwhile at Purdue, Darrell Hazell has found it very hard to win. He is 1–15 in the conference in his two seasons, and as silly as it seems to fire a coach after three years, he has to at least improve upon his record to hang around.
Big Ten Champion
It’s pretty hard to pick anyone but Ohio St. here. They really should be better than last season. Their road games are Michigan, Rutgers, Indiana and Illinois. They could go 8–0. Michigan St. could be right there but their schedule isn’t as friendly. I want to go all in on Minnesota as my dark horse. They have a tough schedule, but it things break right they could at least get to the championship game, and then anything is possible.
Jared Newman wrote a Macworld/TechHive piece about how the Sideclick is shaping up to be a killer remote control for streaming video, including removing the main thing that annoyed me when it was first announced:
Rather than giving up, True Bloom made some tweaks. The company abandoned the idea of entirely separate Sideclick models for Apple TV, Fire TV, Fire TV Stick, and Roku, and instead created a single Sideclick with interchangeable clips for each remote. At the expense of perfect form-fitting, Sideclick is now much cheaper to produce, and will let users upgrade and switch media streamers as they please. (Each Sideclick will come with one clip-on adapter; additional ones will cost about $7.) The new design also works with Google’s Nexus Player, and it has eight buttons, up from seven on the original design.
This is suddenly a great, great idea. And I think that going to just one model will prove to me the right move in the long run. 100% for sure I will be buying one of these when it’s released. It will also probably cause me to use my streaming devices more since it will be that much easier to do. On top of that I can already think of some people this would make a great gift for. I am really glad they made this change, and I suspect they will sell a lot of these devices as a result.
Guardians of Galaxy (2014)
One Line Description: A mix of aliens have to join together to stop a villain hellbent on destroying the galaxy.
I am going to get right to my controversial opinion. I didn’t like this movie. Comic book movies are very hit or miss for me, and movies about aliens (outside of Star Wars) don’t really work for me. It had some funny moments, but that doesn’t automatically make it good. The aliens/space thing was a negative for me, and the story wasn’t that interesting. This was based on a comic book, but not one of the more well known ones to common folk. Not knowing that would have made me assume Chris Pratt’s character was a giant Han Solo ripoff. It felt slow, and boring, and the action just didn’t work for me. It was weird to me that Vin Diesel was paid to voice a character who only had a (couple) dozen lines that were all difference inflections of the same three words. Bradley Cooper did a nice job as the voice of the raccoon, but I didn’t find that as strong of a performance as apparently most did. I know most people loved this, but I didn’t.
This Is Where I Leave You (2014)
One Line Description: Four adult siblings are forced under the same roof for a week after their father passes away.
Based on a book of the same name (which my wife had read before we watched this), this one is a pretty loaded cast, including Tina Fey playing a (slightly) more dramatic role than typically. Jason Batemen is essentially the main character, who returns home for his dad’s funeral with a secret. His sister is Fey, and brothers are Adam Driver (from Girls) and Corey Stoll (from season 1 of House of Cards) . Driver showed some serious acting prowess on Girls and the ceiling for him over the next decade could be pretty high. The matriarch is played by Jane Fonda and she does a pretty great job as both the cause of, and solution to many of the kids problems. Kathryn Hahn, Connie Britton and Abigail Spencer play significant others’ of the siblings, and Dax Shepherd, Timothy Olyphant and Rose Byrne all have roles as well. The movie is plenty funny, but also does a nice job of showing how kids are shaped by their parents. There are a lot of cliches in this one about marriage, sex and love. That doesn’t made it bad, it just means this movie isn’t anything special or life changing. It was a fun and easy watch, and is something that wives/girlfriends would enjoy, and most husbands/boyfriends won’t hate. Not an all-timer, but was worth the time.
Straight Outta Compton (2015)
One Line Description: The rise and fall of the hip-hop group N.W.A, the godfathers of gangsta rap.
The great reviews undoubtedly led me to see this one. I was not into rap/hip hop as a youth, or really an adult for that matter. But I do know who N.W.A was and I do know that their influence (both good and bad) is worthy of a feature film. Having almost no knowledge of the true story going in, I wasn’t sure how much of it was historically accurate (and based on some reading afterwards it sounds like it was a pretty typical movie of this ilk: main themes hit, but lots of shortcuts to make it work as a movie). But again, as someone just familiar with the story at a high level, it was fun. It was a little long, and there was some pretty bad acting at times, likely due to the fact that they went for look-a-likes and probably had to sacrifice a bit of talent to get there. It was awesome to see Snoop Dog and Tupac just show up in the story at random points, as well as a few other recognizable figures. The film has received some criticism for glossing over the way the group treated females, and it is safe to say that other than internal strife the group was painted in a mostly positive light. This will rub certain people the wrong way, but at the end of the day this was a fun movie. I enjoyed it, and think it’s worth seeing for anyone that grew up during this time. Plus the original origins of “Bye Felicia” are revealed.
# Dumb and Dumber To (2014)
One Line Description: Harry and Lloyd reunite and go on an adventure to find Harry’s daughter.
Let me start off by saying this was not the worst movie I have ever seen. I will even say it’s not the worst sequel I have seen this year (hello Paul Blart 2). But it’s also not a good movie. I have seen Dumb and Dumber a dozen times. It was one of the first DVDs I ever owned and even before that I had see nit 5 times. But it has been a while, and I wish I would have watched it immediately before this to see how the characters compare. The characters felt stupider, but maybe not to an extreme. There wasn’t as much gross out humor as I expected. The story itself wasn’t actually terrible, although I am a little disapointed 20 years later they couldn’t come up with something more original than basically the same general story line as the first one. Jim Carrey was at his peak in 1994, and his brand of comedy made the first movie very funny. Here it feels like it rides the gags themselves more than Carrey’s performance of them. There are a few story connections to the original movie, including the background for the main plot point, but overall this movie tries to do it’s own thing. It’s funny at times, but mostly it just made me wish I had watched the original instead. Glad I never paid money to go see this. Can’t imagine ever watching it again.
Rumors are that if the Chargers and Raiders both moved to Los Angeles that one of them would have to change conferences and divisions. This makes a lot of sense. Any easy plan would be to flip the Seahawks (who were once an AFC team), Rams, 49ers or Cardinals to the AFC for one of the LA teams. Flipping the 49ers to the AFC for the Chargers creates the opportunity for the Niners to play the Raiders twice a year. But there is no fun in something that simple when the divisions already have geographical problems, so let’s flip it all on it’s head.
Denotes team changed divisions
Denotes team changed conferences
- New England
- New York Jets
- Buffalo Bills
- Baltimore Ravens
Not a ton to change here. Miami is out (more on them later) and Baltimore is added. This is just first example of something that makes a lot more geographic sense. Sure Baltimore could supposedly have a rivalry with the Browns, but technically neither team has existed together for very long. Things only get crazier from here.
- New York Giants
- Philadelphia Eagles
- Washington Redskins
- Carolina Panthers
Dallas was kept in the NFC East all those years just for the rivalry factor. This made little geographic sense, and I am sure it will offend some old-time fans, but that’s life. Fans will get over it just like they get over everything else. Carolina makes a lot more sense in this group than Dallas, that seems pretty obvious.
- Tampa Bay
- Atlanta Falcons
With one of the LA teams moving to the NFC, it meant that someone had to move to the AFC too. I ended swapping two teams from each conference. This is one of the most changed divisions in this plan. Two teams move from the NFC South to the AFC version, and Miami slides over from the AFC East. This makes a ton of sense, putting all three Florida teams in the same division and creating natural rivalry in the state. Atlanta has been in the NFC forever, but keeping them with Tampa Bay makes some sense.
NFC Central (formerly South)
- New Orleans
- St. Louis
This is as crazy as things get. First off the division has been renamed from South to Central thanks to the addition of Minnesota. These cities are all relatively close to each other north/south-wise, and they are the NFC teams that make the least sense other places. Dallas doesn’t need to be kept with their rivalries, and based on recent history they might fare better in this division.
- Green Bay
This division remains mostly intact. I am sure as a Bears fan I will sound like a homer, so I am open to changing whatever. Detroit could make sense somewhere else. Moving Indianapolis doesn’t seem that controversial. Tennessee was the only team in the AFC South they were close to, and I never saw that being much of a rivalry.
Some would say that historically Tennessee is a “southern” state, but geographically they didn’t make sense with Houston and Jacksonville. Baltimore has the ties to this division from the Cleveland days, but we are killing tradition all over the place.
- Kansas City
- Los Angeles Chargers
Moving the Raiders out means that someone has to come in. Houston is the western most team not in a western division. It makes sense to add them, particularly since they are a newer franchise.
- San Francisco
- Los Angeles Raiders
As I said earlier, moving the Raiders makes a little sense so that the Bay Area Raider fans can see their team close to home once per year, and the ones that are mad can have a rivalry with their former team.
This is all pretty radical. I doubt the Roger Goodell NFL is going to do anything this crazy. Most likely it will be far less radical and the teams that move will get well compensated. A simple swap of, ironically, the Rams with one of the Los Angeles teams seems most likely.
Catastrophe Season 1 (Amazon)
Chris turned me on to this British show that Amazon picked up and added to Amazon Instant Video. It’s only six episodes, so it’s a might easy watch. The premise is fairly simple, an American businessman has a love affair with a woman while on a business trip in the UK. The woman ends up pregnant and things go from there. It feels a lot like You’re the Worst but with far less horrible people involved. It has that dry sense of humor found in British comedy, but many of the jokes still land. It is clear that there is enough talent here (both writing and acting) to sustain a storyline after the baby is born, especially if it keeps up with the 6 episode season length it has so far.
Because of the shorter length of the season there isn’t a ton to say about it. It feels like it is trying harder to be less stereotypical than the usual stories of this type, but it may just be the British style. There are some interesting supporting cast members who get a little zany, but not in a bad way. If you are looking for something to watch that you can blow through in on day, this is worth your time for sure.
The Americans – Season 3 (FX)
Not only is The Americans one of the best shows on television, but it probably is the most underrated. People often ask me what shows I am watching, and I am always quick to point out The Americans. I suspect this is one of those shows that will gain an audience late in it’s run as more people catch up and realize how great it is. Keri Russell was always that girl from Felicity but she and Matthew Rhys just keep churning out great season after great season. This season started to involve the couple’s daughter Paige as she comes closer and closer to figuring out her parents’ secret. Unlike some of my other favorite shows (Game of Thrones for example) there really isn’t a bad story arc in this show. Some of the stuff back in Russia isn’t great, but it’s good enough.
Elizabeth and Phillip are a totally new type of anti-hero. They aren’t as inherently bad as someone like Walter White, but the fact that they are Soviet spies during the Cold War instantly make them someone you shouldn’t root for. Seeing where things go with Phillip’s unwitting accomplice/wife Martha could be their undoing. Figuring out how the Jennings’ neighbor/FBI agent Stan Beeman fits in will also be a great reveal down the road. This show has so much to build on, and it feels like its just getting started.
Halt and Catch Fire – Season 2 (AMC)
Season 1 of this show felt like Mad Men meetings Pirates of Silicon Valley, but not in a good way. Joe McMillan was as much of a Don Draper ripoff as is humanly possible, and not in a good way. The characters were bland, and the story was just a thrown together mess. If not for the subject matter I don’t think I would have made it to the end. Season 2 was a drastic switch though. Female leads Mackenzie Davis and Kerry Bishe have been given an increased focus, and it works very very well. Bishe is growing on me in a hurry.
This show is far from perfect though. It feels like the writers are having the fictional company Mutiny come up with (or across) every future, groundbreaking idea: online games, chat rooms and whatever else they want to reward the founders with. At the same time the company can’t breakthrough and seems to run into problems at every turn. Much like Silicon Valley one has to wonder how much longer the company can boomerang back and forth between the highs and lows. Season 3 will be a big moment for the show to really figure out where it’s going. The company can’t remain small forever, but once it goes will it still be good?
Orange is the New Black – Season 3 (Netflix)
Orange is the New Black held it’s momentum from season 1 to season 2 reasonably well, but because the cast is stuck in prison it’s more difficult to mix the plot up too much. Season 3 was good, but this show definitely feels like it’s trending down. The inciting character of the show, Piper, has (thankfully) become more of a background character in season 3, although her plot to make money late in the season is entertaining. As good as Laura Prepon is, it feels like her character has also run it’s course. This goes back to the first statement I made about how the plots can only go so far when the characters are in prison. The construction of bunk beds at the end of the season, and showing the arrival of several busloads of new inmates should increase the potential for plots to expand, which is good because what is here as somewhat felt like it’s run it’s course. There are still funny moments, and the flashback scenes are both enlightening and very well constructed, but for the show seems to have lost that “hanging on every moment” feeling it had in season 1. I would be shocked if this show has more than two seasons left in the tank, and it would be nice to make that known and just start wrapping things up over the next 26 episodes rather than try to make this work longer than it should. Certainly it’s still an above average show, but has dropped from being in the class of “great”.
After two months with an Watch not much has changed from my early thoughts. I still find the device pretty limited in what it can do, and will be interested to see if watchOS 2 changes much of that. Having the time close at hand has been nice, and more useful than I thought it would be, but I still wouldn’t wear a regular watch just for that privilege. The notifications are one of the best features, but finding the right balance of what is worth seeing and what isn’t is a challenge. I have stripped it way down to just a few apps and I feel like I mostly have found the sweet spot at this point.
Siri works very well for voice dictation, and sending SMS/iMessages from it works pretty well, but I still don’t like to do it anywhere but my car or house because it’s weird to talk into your wrist with people around. The fitness tracker is cool, but I still have failed to compare it to an old Fitbit I have just to see how it stacks up. The “stand-up and move” reminder every hour is nice, but sometimes it doesn’t register. Also (and I was the last person to realize this) it pops up at the same time every hour (10 minutes to), which means that theoretically it could have been nearly two hours since you last stood up. I wish this was configurable because I would like it be more frequent (every 30 minutes) and be a rolling 30 minutes instead of static wall time.
At this point outside of notifications, messaging, occasionally taking a phone call when my phone is in another room or turning audio volume up/down, there is almost nothing else I do on the Watch. There is no reason to stop wearing it because I already paid for it, and it does provide some value. And I will reassess after watchOS 2 is released (probably in the next month). In the meantime though, I don’t recommend spending money on this device. I am not sure that I have ever been disappointed with an Apple device purchase, but this time I am.
There are plenty of people out there who think it’s time to fire Robin Ventura. I think that fans’ expectation going into this season were higher than they should have been. But with every passing day I think Robin Ventura deserves to be fired more and more for the simple reason that he continues to play Adam LaRoche. Using LaRoche has a pinch hitter for Trayce Thompson in Wednesday night’s game was ridiculous. LaRoche hit a solid fly ball to center field on the first pitch, but Thompson has been hitting really well since coming up.
LaRoche has been awful.
There are 156 major league hitters who have qualified for the batting title so far this season, LaRoche is ranked 151st of those players in fWAR. There are a bunch of notable names after him: Starlin Castro, Billy Butler and both of Boston’s big free agent signings Hanley Ramirez and Pablo Sandoval. In Ramirez’s defense he has been horrendous on defense. Just because LaRoche isn’t the only recognizable name at the bottom of the list doesn’t make it OK.
Looking just at the White Sox, and shifting to wRC+ (which is a number that tries to look just at how offensively productive a player is relative to the league average, which is exactly 100) things don’t get better. To put wRC+ in perspective, Jose Abreu is at 134, which is 34% better than league average. LaRoche is at 82. He is far from the worst on the team, in fact he is right in the middle. But the guys below him are either gone (Micah Johnson and Conor Gillaspie) or at least add some positive defensive value (Sanchez, Beckham, Saladino, Ramirez and Flowers).
The worst part about LaRoche is that he has only gotten worse as the season has progressed. Looking back at his wRC+, his number dropped all the way to 15 (!!!) during the month of July. This means he was 85% worse than league average. The awful Brent Morel got 125 plate appearances in 2012 and he has a wRC+ of 11, just to put this month into perspective. Gordon Beckham got 400 plate appearances last season and was worse offensively, and he actually wasn’t very good on defense last season. They cut him off at 402 PA. Paul Konerko got 520 PA in 2013 with a season long wRC+ of 84. But let’s be serious, PK earned every PA he got late in his career. Assuming LaRoche gets to 500 PA without getting much above the 82 wRC+ he is at now, you have to go back to  when Alexei Ramirez (72) and Gordon Beckham (80) had a lower wRC+ with at least 500 PA, and of course both of them played well above average defense that season, especially Ramirez. In the three seasons that Dayan Viciedo got significant playing time he never finished below 90 wRC+.
That is how bad LaRoche has been.
Playing bad isn’t enough to cost Ventura his job. He isn’t the one swinging the bat. But he is the one making the lineup. Therein lies the problem. Especially since in limited playing time Geovany Soto has been raking. He has the highest walk rate, 3rd in OPS, 2nd in ISO, 3rd in wRC+ (one of those guys is 13 PA Trayce Thompson), tied for 5th in home runs (and remember he is 11th in PA). Can he keep any of this up? Probably not. But the numbers are insane compared to his career numbers. His walk rate is spot on, his BABIP is just a littler higher than his career total (meaning he hasn’t been abnormally lucky), his OBP is right on the mark and his slugging percentage isn’t ridiculously off. His HR/FB ratio is way off right now, and that means he probably won’t keep hitting this many home runs, but the bottom line is that nothing he is doing is that ridiculous. He is crushing left handed pitching (in a limited sample size), and we know LaRoche can’t hit lefties to save his life. The only reason Soto can’t start at DH is because then there is no backup catcher.
The problem with the White Sox, like so many AL teams, is that they only carry 4 bench players. Assuming one of these is LaRoche, and one is another catcher (just anyone just in case Flowers get’s hurt), that leaves just two spots for Beckham, Leury Garcia and Trayce Thompson. Thompson is playing well enough to get regular playing time, and with him they could even rotate any of the other OFs to DH as well. Garcia offers the ability to play IF or OF, so he might be too valuable.
That means the only option is to get rid of a pitcher, which they probably can’t afford to do. Or they need to find a reason to put LaRoche on the DL (I am assuming they can’t send him to the minors without him being able to refuse the assignment and still get paid). But the guy has 15 hits in the last 30 days!!! The equally bad at the plate Tyler Flowers as 13, but in 17 less PA. Oh, and Flowers is an above average defensive catcher (very underrated). LaRoche isn’t even walking. He has less than Alexei Ramirez, who is historically awful at walking. He does have one whole home run though, as many as Trayce Thompson does in his first 13 Major League plate appearances. Carlos Sanchez, Tyler Saladino and Adam Eaton each have three over that time. Did I mention Soto has 4 in just 32 plate appearances.
LaRoche should not be playing. The White Sox are in striking distance of a playoff berth. Between Soto and Thompson there is no reason LaRoche should be playing at all. And if he does he should never be hitting against lefties. If the Sox just miss the playoffs, and LaRoche hits 500 plate appearances Ventura does deserve to get fired.
I had no plans to re-watch The Wire any time soon, but then my cousin from Baltimore came to visit and after a bunch of talk about the show I decided to casually put on the pilot episode as background noise while I was doing some stuff in the kitchen. About two weeks and 60 episodes later I completed my third complete watch through of The Wire in three years1. I did an extensive write-up last fall when I watched it a second time, and not much has changed. The second watch through allowed me to have a better understanding of things going on because I knew what to look for early on that would be important later. A third watch allowed me to really soak in how wonderful this show is.
This show doesn’t just show how perfectly bureaucracy supersedes common sense, but also how much inequality there are between the rich and poor. Unlike many crime shows of the decade, this is not a “case of the week” style story. In fact, the story’s overall arc never really ends. It goes from the start of the series to the end, which different characters involved, but the same flowing story throughout. Each of the seasons has a lens through which the drug dealing and crime are viewed through. Season 2 uses the ports and organized crime, season 3 politics, season 4 the school system and season 5 the newspaper industry.
This show is almost perfectly constructed, and although it is hard to follow on the first time through, it doesn’t take away from the awesomeness of this show. Sure at times it seems like the police might be a little too smart at figuring things out, but this is hardly the first TV/movie to do something like that.
Meanwhile season 4 is always heralded as one of the greatest seasons in TV history, while season 2 gets shortchanged. What I wrote about the second season last fall still sums it up:
Season 2 was never well received because it deters from what appears to be the main storyline, but ever [sic] future season is the same. There is a new set of characters front and center, still with ties to the established gang of drug dealers. Even in season 4 (largely considered to be the best) the drug story is told greatly through the lens of the school system. In retrospect season 2 gets a raw deal because even though it’s a weak link in the first four seasons of the show1, it’s not like it’s season 2 of Friday Night Lights, an absolute mess that should be left out upon future viewings. It’s like the 5th Chicago Bulls championship. It wasn’t the 72-win season, it wasn’t Jordan’s final year with the game winner, it was a season that most people kind of forget about in Jordan lore. But the team won 69 games and an NBA championship, so when held up against 99% of individual team’s NBA seasons in history, it’s still historically great. Season 2 of The Wire is on a similar plane. It’s compared to the rest of the seasons of the show, but the reality is that season 2 of The Wire is still better than almost every show’s current season.
The second season includes some great evolution of the characters involved, and while season 4 is great because it’s so eye opening, and includes great performances from younger actors, the gap between it and the rest of the seasons is probably over exaggerated a bit. In fact I would like to share the controversial opinion that season 1 slightly edges season 4 for me as being the best. I would put season 3 and 2 a bit further behind but close together, and it’s really season 5 that is the dog here. Outside of some nice closure for a bunch of the stories it’s pretty bad. There is a bright spot though, the finale of this show is probably underrated. For those who like the montages that nicely wrap things up this might be one of the most rewarding I have seen.
As great as Jimmy McNulty is, upon a third watch it’s Ellis Carver who ends up being my favorite police character (c’mon could anyone but Omar be everyone’s favorite character in general?). He’s funny, he shows so much growth throughout and he seems to be one of the few guys always looking to do the right thing. Him playing straight man to Herc’s fool in the early seasons is just great TV.
If you somehow haven’t seen this show yet and you have access to HBO On Demand/Go/Now, shame on you. This might have risen to the top of my favorite TV shows of all-time. If not, it’s second to Breaking Bad by a nose.
- Yes I am sure I could find better uses of my time [↩]
Old Line Description: FTP/SFTP (and more) including local storage
From the fabulous Panic, Inc. this software is for so-called “power users”. It can download files and upload files, and thanks to the sharing abilities added in iOS 8 it can send files to/from tons of different applications. In addition to FTP and SFTP, it can also connect to WebDAV and Amazon S3. It uses Touch ID for extra security when needed as well. This definitely is not an app for regular people. It just wouldn’t be useful to most people. Like most of the apps in this post, this application would be super useful for anyone trying to use their iPad as a laptop replacement. But it’s a well designed (S)FTP client that is more than worth the money for anyone that would regularly use it. For people doing web development it’s probably a must have.
Old Line Description: An SSH client for iOS
Another piece by Panic Inc., this is an nice companion to Transmit. SSH clients are another “power user” tool that would likely be even less useful to a “regular” user than Transmit. But for someone that needs to administer servers it’s an invaluable tool. It has more than once saved me when I was nowhere near a computer and needed to fix a server issue. It’s useable on the iPhone, but really only in a pinch because the screen is just too small. But just like Transmit it’s essential on the iPad for anyone trying to do more serious development. It has a lot of the same features as Transmit, including Touch ID. It is a little bit buggy at times, and I have had some issues with editing text in certain editors, but it’s worth it for the security blanket it provides.
Old Line Description: An automation tool to save taps for repetitive tasks in iOS.
Workflow is another “power user” application, but is not necessarily for web development. It can allow even regular users to automate tasks, or save combinations of steps to make things easier. It can be used to do all sorts of things, like adding a shortcut to your homescreen to call/text someone, tweet a song you are currently listening to, make a PDF file from pretty much anywhere, or many more tasks. I mostly use it for nerdier stuff. Unshortening URLs, combining screenshots, quickly creating Due reminders to call someone later are just a few of the things. One of my favorite, less nerdy ones, is used to do price comparisons between products. Many stores put unit prices on their price tags to help with this, but not always. I don’t make nearly as much use of this application as I would like to, but I just can’t find tons of use cases personally. Just like the aforementioned applications, this would be extremely useful to anyone trying to use their iPad as a full blow laptop replacement. There are a lot of tasks that just require too many taps.
Old Line Description: Team communication app used to access the service of the same name.
Slack’s popularity is soaring. It has become the de facto standard for team communication, especially within teams distributed across geographic locations. The service is easy to use, reliable and fast. It has great file attachment support, private messaging and syncing across devices. It also has tremendous emoji support, and great integration with a countless number of services. Slack’s popularity is only going to grow as more and more people find ways to use it outside of the corporate environment. Public slack channels are catching on, and it’s become the IRC of the 2010s. The mobile app itself is solid. It looks nice, it’s responsive and performs well most of the time. The push notifications could be designed a bit better because sometimes it’s confusing exactly who sent a message and who they sent it to, but that is probably as much iOS’s fault as it is Slack’s. Overall the iOS app does nothing but promote the solid service, and make it even better.
College football season is less than a month away at this point. It’s time for the previews to start flowing, and this includes my usually blabber which will come in a couple of weeks. In the meantime Grantland’s Matt Borcas did a piece about college football coaches on the hot seat, and I thought I would share some thoughts about some of them.
Les Miles is an interesting name to see make the list. The guy is 103–29 at LSU, which is an astonishing clip of winning 78% of his games. His 56–24 record in the SEC is nothing to slouch at either (70% wins). He won a National Championship, lost a National Championship and won two SEC conference championships in his 10 seasons in Baton Rouge. But he is coming off a rough 8–5 season, 4–4 in the SEC, and his volatile playcalling and personality have always been a factor. This is a classic “what have you done for me lately” argument. Miles should have a better team on the field this year, so this will all probably be moot very soon, and even going 4–4 in the SEC again probably isn’t enough to cost him his job yet.
I personally wonder what Miles would do if he was fired. He is 61 right now. He has times to Oklahoma State (more on them in a bit) and Michigan. Would Harbaugh bring him in as like an assistant head coach? Hard to see him starting over as a head coach at this stage in his life, especially at some place like Kansas or something.
Frank Beamer is Virginia Tech football. He put them on the map and led them to by far the greatest success in their history. Since moving to the ACC in 2004 he has led the Hokies to 5 conference championships. This is remarkable, even in the weak ACC. He has struggled a bit the last few seasons, including his first losing conference record since 2002, but this is a classic case of a coach inadvertently setting expectations too high by overachieving. Virginia is not a fertile recruiting ground for football. Virginia Tech is not a slouch with academic standards. Yeah the ACC is a thin conference, but the idea that someone else could come in and do significantly better is probably pretty off base. This school would probably end up with a Tom Herman, Pat Narduzzi, Chad Morris type of hire. Is that really better than a living legend?
A few bullet points on other guys mentioned:
- Kirk Ferentz was a candidate for the Michigan job both when Rich Rodriguez and Brady Hoke were hired. Now he’s on the hot seat. At only 68–60 in the Big Ten he hasn’t had as much success as people think. Iowa is never going to be a top tier Big Ten program, but they should be in the top half most years. If he has a bad season and isn’t fired, one has to wonder if he ever would be.
- Al Golden was living up to his name at Temple, and seemed like the obvious next guy to make the jump. He didn’t end up at Penn St. when so many people thought he would, and his tenure in Miami was hampered by NCAA investigations. It’s hard to believe he is already entering his 5th season there, but things are probably at the point where he has to finish better than 7–6 and 4–4 in conference to stay around. He probably wouldn’t have any problem at least getting a coordinator job though.
- Tim Beckman is about to enter his 4th year. He has improved each year, but he has some off the field stuff that is dragging him down. For some reason Illini fans have far too high of expectations, and the idea that they would grab someone much better seems crazy at this point. But Beckman at least has to make a bowl game, that is for sure.
There were curiously a few names left off the list that I was surprised by.
Dan Mullen might have saved his job with a solid 10-win season last year, but the team fizzled a bit down the stretch. Expectations will be much higher this year, and even as hard as is it to win at Mississippi State people are expecting a lot. Mullen is too good of a coach to give up on this soon, but his seat is at least a little warm.
Kevin Wilson’s seat in Indiana was definitely warm last season, and after backsliding to a 1–7 conference record it has to be much hotter now. QB was a mess last season but Tevin Coleman and Shane Wynn eased the burden before both moving to the NFL. Wisconsin and Nebraska are probably the prohibitive favorites, but the Big Ten East is definitely not a stacked division. Wilson probably has to at least get back to the 3 conference wins of two years ago to keep his job.
Mike Gundy is entering season 11 at his alma mater. He has definitely had ups and downs, but after winning the Big 12 in 2011 expectations went sky high. After going 4–5 in conference last season people are getting a little antsy. Oklahoma St. is getting some preseason hype, which means expectations are going to be high. Another losing record might be enough to cost Gundy his job, especially with some of his off field stuff over the last few years. His seat is definitely warm.