Thursday, September 30, 2010

One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest

A compulsive gambler checks opts for a mental hospital as an alternative to prison. Once there he tries to stir things up. He befriends the doctor, starts regular card games and takes a number of other bets. One of his big bets is that he can "break" the "big nurse" who has an iron hold on the ward. He pretty much succeeds. However, he looses his touch after he realizes that she controls his ability to leave. (Many of the other patients are there of their own free will.) He eventually organizes a fishing trip with the inmates, and gets some girls to come in with them before he planned his escape. Unfortunately, he got too drunk, eventually got in a fight, and had to undergo electro-shock therapy and a lobotomy before he was put out of his misery.

The story is told in the first person, from the point of view of a large Native American Indian who most people thought was deaf because he never talked. (Due to his perceived deafness, he was able to eavesdrop on many conversations others would not be permitted to listen.) His narration is a strong point of the novel. It allows it to drift back to some of his reminisces (about the injustice his father suffered as their land was taken) and thoughts, before returning to the main action of the story. Thus we get some fairly objective "first hand" commentary of the action as it takes place.

The book provides a somewhat tame view of the mental hospital. The residents have their mental issues and do some crazy things. However, things are not done purely for comedy's sake. The characters come across as real people who may do some funny things, but are simply trying to live their lives.

A Grief Observed

C.S. Lewis originally published anonymously these reflections on the death of his spouse. He finds his reaction is different now that he is feeling loss than it was before he experienced something first-hand. The reflections seem to be created shortly after his loss, and are rather raw. He comes across much 'insecure' and exposed than his other writings. Unfortunately, this is also one of his weaker works.

Till We Have Faces

It took a while to get in to this book. The first part had to do something with the tale of Psyche. The narrator completes clandestine martial training, and eventually uses it to challenge a nearby nemesis. This leads to her becoming a warrior queen. She has success in her kingdom. She also always wears her veil, thus adding to her mystique. She eventually discovers a small temple that tells the mythology of the people that she has known in her life. "What many people see is real, while what one person sees is a dream."

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

l8r, g8r

This book shows all that is bad with sequels.
While the first book had "readable" IM conversations, this one tries to be more "authentic", with a greater use of emoticons and abbreviations. There are also text messages that are integrated in the conversation (though they appear identical, aside from the "phone" icon.) However, there is still an attempt to weave the conversations in to a book narrative. Alas, this just makes things more tedious. It reads like a novel that was poorly "translated" in to IM.

Unfortunately, for this book, the poorly implemented style is the best thing going for it. The story itself is horrid. It primarily tells of three high school seniors and their senior-year relationships. In the first book, they were somewhat developed characters. Here, they are flat, with primary interests in debauchery and vengeance-seaking (what morals, eh?) Sure there are college applications, but they are primarily a tool to illicit fights. The book also tries to be "current" by dropping in pop-culture references, which, alas, already seem really dated. This is a book that is best skipped.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

The Prince

This is a no-holds barred "truthy" tome of what it takes to be a leader. Political correctness goes out the window as the focus is on what really needs to be done.

Most of the leadership points are illustrated by example (though with a book more than 5 centuries old, even the "recent" examples are now ancient history.) While some examples are of "pure" successes or failures, many also show leaders that did both good and bad things.

Depending on how a ruler comes to power, different things need to be done. Even rulers that come to power through evil stratagems have their own advice.

As for the advice, rulers are encouraged to maintain a small coterie of counselors who are encouraged to speak truthfully when asked. All other unrequested advice should be ignored. (Ironically, Machiavelli discourages flattery, but closes with his own flattery towards the Italian leaders in hopes of securing his personal position.) Leaders should also try to consolidate all "bad" in one single event, while parceling out the "good" piece by piece. Mercenaries should not be trusted, as they have no loyalty and would just as likely turn on you. Excess 'liberality' is even worse than stinginess as it leads to bankruptcy and higher taxes. However, liberality with other people's money is to be encouraged.

A politician who advocated the principles here would be duly castigated. However, successful leaders are likely following many of them.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010


Siddhartha is a tale of an Indian who finds his inner peace within nature itself. He spends almost all of his life in the quest for personal enlightenment. In the process, he suffers through many of the ups and downs of life. He becomes addicted to high stakes gambling as a result of trying to show that money has no value. He is such a caring, loving father that his son runs away (because he wanted more 'discipline') He spends time in pursuit of pleasure, while at other times eschewing it all. In the end, he finds much insight from the simple people. He decides that talk and thought are hindrances to his enlightenment as he finally reaches old age truly happy.

The book is fairly short and readable. The main message that Siddhartha has in the end is that the knowledge and enlightenment is best found when one is not looking for it. By looking, one puts on blinders that put the focus on certain things. By being open to everything around, the happiness can be found in what really exists.

Reflections on the Psalms

This is C.S. Lewis's acknowledged "lawman's" take on the Psalms. As in his other religious works, he apologizes for lacking the "learning" of religious scholars, before proceeding to show his deep study and learning in the field.

Much of the work discusses the differences between the Jewish worldview as expressed in the psalms and the modern Christian worldview in the new testament. The psalms present many of the great contrasts, with "loving" poems that seem the embodiment of Christian compassion, but that end with a death wish for enemies. Many bits of insight to the culture of the bible times are given to help put these in context.

This is not one of his best religious writings, but it is a quality work.

Dead Aid

Dead Aid has an interesting thesis. However, the writing seems to be a prosification of power point slides rather than an actual book. A bunch of ideas are jumbled together, showing problems with the current African aid regime and possible alternatives. However, there is little connection between the points. The early prefaces and introductions also give some of the best points.

A key point I got from this was that western-style aid is not helpful to Africa precisely because it seeks to benefit the liberal western institutions. Providing food from western farmers to Africa temporarily alleviates hunger. However, it also weakens local agriculture. Propping up African states because they adhere to the ideological line looks nice, but doesn't necessarily benefit the Africans. (It also can confuse matters. One day a strident anti-communist dictator is preferred. Later, democratic election is the "party line.") Aid institutions also have a tendency to be more concerned with giving aid than making sure it provides the desired benefits.

Chinese aid is seen as one of the bright spots because Chinese interests mesh better with African interests. China is interested primarily in natural resource extraction and manufacturing. They need good transportation infrastructure to access these, while they don't care about the country's political ideology or who builds the facilities. However, they do care that the facilities are properly built and able to function well for the long term use of Chinese and African businessmen.

Mediocre Kids' books

Nothing really happens in Good Night Walk. He walks around town and walks back. In Building, we do see the construction of a building. Unfortunately, the drawings don't mesh well with the story. In both, his drawings are more abstract doodles, while the content is fairly concrete. The contrast just doesn't work.

I've loved most Mo Willems book. They typically have a wit that appeals to adults and children, together with an interesting story and drawings. Naked Mole Rat Gets Dressed, unfortunately, falls flat. In the story, one Mole Rat likes to where clothes. Everyone teases him. Eventually they tell the Mole Rat patriarch. He decides he likes clothes, so a lot of Mole Rats start wearing clothes. That's about all there is to it. There are occasional sparks of potential humor in the drawings, but nothing that really interesting. Try something like Knuffle Bunny: A Cautionary Tale (Bccb Blue Ribbon Picture Book Awards (Awards)) instead.

Uptown is a simple trip through the New York's Harlem neighborhood. If you live in, or are really intrigued by Harlem, you may find it interesting. Otherwise, there is no story to it.

In A Perfect Name, some animals attempt to give their baby a name. That's about it.

some good kid's books

The "I love" books both follow a simple formula, with simple drawings and simple text covering a variety of different "vehicles"

The first book is the award winner, but the story in "London" is more original. The drawings are simple, with plenty of scenery from the "big city" (Paris or London) where they take place. The text also has a charming feel, with some "forced" rhymes that actually work.


Next is a "dark comedy" exposing some of the critical problems that genetic advances are giving our legal system. It has some of the "thriller" qualities of other Chrichton books, complete with the "this could be possible" scariness. However, it seems to be more of a comedy, with bad guys suffering strange fates (often of their own doing.)

The novel consists of a number of distinct "stories", with the common thread being that most people are involved to some extent with biological research. Everyone has their foibles (with marital fidelity being a common challenge.) The number of characters and stories does get overwhelming, though many of them do find their way together at the end.

Bounty hunters go chasing after a man's offspring for his "stolen cells". A "whistle blower" indicts his boss for "organ harvesting" he did. A 20-something drug addict, hunts down an anonymous sperm donor to extract restitution for "bad genes". A daughter is "protected" from her mother because she is using reproductive-related drugs. A ruthless biotech businessman who has become rich on gene patents dies because the gene related to his disease has not been studied due to a gene patent. And of course, there is a chimp-human hybrid that gets in trouble at a school and a fully senescent parrot that has serious French attitude. And those are just some of the characters involved.

It does bring about some serious concerns with the speed of technology and the slowness of the law to catch up. However, the vast number of characters and their depravity can make it difficult to follow.

College Football playoff

What are the impediments to a college football playoff?
Money and ingrained interests.

College Presidents talk about academics and season length, but we all know that is bogus. After all, in the past few years, the season has increased to 12 games and conferences are adding conference playoffs. Bowl games are also being pushed out well in to January - often after classes have started.

So what can we do to maximize revenue and keep the fans happy with a playoff?
Move some games to the "early" season, especially the cold weather bowls. Detroit in late August sounds a lot better than Detroit in late December. These could be showdowns between expected powerhouses this year. (They would be scheduled after the end of the last season.)
Institute a 16 team playoff. Every conference champion gets a nod, as well as some at large teams. This way, a team can still lose an early season "show down" and make it to the playoffs. There would also still be room in the early season for low-revenue teams to be scheduled as "cupcake paydays".

Start the playoffs a week after Thanksgiving. Play games every Saturday, take a week off for Christmas, and have the championship game on New Years Day.

As an alternative, use an eight team playoff with "mega conference champions getting seeds". (This assumes Pac-10, Big-10 and SEC expand to 16 teams, with Big-12 and WAC dissolving) The seeding of the "smaller" conference playoffs could be determined prior to the season based on past performance. (Thus, the best performing conference would play the worst performing one.) The championship games would be in "known" locations, making travel planning easy for teams.
ACC vs Sun Belt
Big East vs MAC
At Large
At Large

With this schedule, the two top teams would play 11 regular season games, 1 conference championship, and three playoff games for a total of 15 games. This is the same number of games typically played by bowl teams that play a conference championship and a road game at Hawaii.

One of the current regular season games could be transformed in to a "preseason" game. This would give the teams a chance to fill the stadium early in a "less stressful" environment. However, with each conference champion getting a guaranteed playoff spot, this could even be a "real" game without the negative repercussions.

Post season poll games can still be played by the non-playoff teams. (Early exiters from the playoffs may also get a chance at bowl games. These will still have the same impact on the championship as the do today.)

From a financial perspective, the 4 first round playoff games should be similar to the current non-championship BCS bowls. The championship game should be even more of a money maker than the BCS championship. The two semifinal games are pure gravy added on top. Many of the other bowls would still remain.

And finally preseason guarantee games. The early season "bowl" games could provide a heavy financial payout, and provide an opportunity for "last minute" scheduling of current big powers. With the playoffs and early season bowls, even a team stuck in a week conference could get some good games. A "minimum guarantee" based on stadium size or revenue could also be put in place to add some balance to one-off games. (Though without the BCS this is not as important as it was.)

In the end, we have all teams getting more revenue, most teams playing the same number of games, and much more exciting games during the regular season.

Out of the Silent Planet

Before listening to lectures on C.S. Lewis, I didn't realize that Lewis had ventured in to the science fiction genre. I had to try it out. It was not bad, but doesn't fit in to the typical science fiction world, either.

In the book, a professor stumbles across some other professors that have a backyard rocket. They kidnap him to take him to Mars where they think the martians will make him a sacrificial victim. However, once they get there, it turns out they are peaceful. Martians live in a world where different beings communicate together, and all interact with angel-like beings that live outside of time and space. They have little concept of the conflicts that we have on earth. The narrator gets to know them and become friends. The others, however, treat them as brutal natives. Eventually the earthlings are sent off the planet, and manage to make it back to the earth after a close call with the moon.


In this second book in C.S. Lewis's space trilogy, the hero gets a quick trip to Venus courtesy of the "angels" he met on Mars. On Venus, he encounters the "Eve" character for the planet. Then, his nemesis from the first book shows up via his rocketship to play the role of the tempter.

The book has the religious overtones typical of C.S. Lewis, played out in a "lite" science fiction universe. The people, rather than technology, are the key here. (I'd almost consider it "interplanetary fantasy")

Flow My Tears, the Policeman Said

A famous musician/television show host suddenly finds his identity missing. He attempts to get a fake id and run from the law, but eventually gets apprehended. Once there, he meets the druggie incestuous sister of the police general. They both take a drug and find the world gradually return to normal. However, she ends up dead from an apparent overdose. It turns out that the drug causes a space-time continuum alteration in the world of everybody involved.

The book seems very dated within the early 70s culture, with tiring vulgar language, drugs and morality. He foresees a future of 3d tv, flying cars and video phones - yet still with LP records and the same big record companies and TV networks. Oops!

The premise is also fairly bizarre. A drug causes the taker to have an altered state of reality. However, this "altered state" is in fact "reality" to everybody else around. Thus, everybody else ends up perceiving the world the same way until the drug wears off (or in the case here - the user dies from the excessive strain of the drug.) This could get really strange if intersecting people started taking the drug.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

E Trade customer service

E*trade apparently wants out of the CD business. They have implemented a policy of not auto-renewing CDs, and instead issuing a check on maturity.

No problem. They've sent out plenty of emails and letters giving notification.

However, they should probably work on the back end.

I recently received a letter detailing the policy change, with a suggestion to call an 800 to talk about options, including transferring to another etrade account.

Great. I'll just set it up to transfer to another account I have at etrade simple enough.

I call the 800 number, and get a voice response system. Hmm. Just stuff about balances. No options for CD maturity. Maybe another account. Nope nothing there. It seems to be a black hole zone.

They didn't mention any option to speak with a customer service rep, but 0 usually works. Yep. Got through to somebody quickly.

The account was set up to automatically send out a check on maturity. Could they transfer to my other Etrade account?

Uh. No they can't. I have to call back closer to maturity.

Don't you love the system.

Ranked Wolfpack?

Do either of the Wolfpack teams deserve a top-25 ranking this week? Both NC State and Nevada are 3-0 this week. Both have a victory over an FCS team, a midmajor and a BCS team.

For the FCS victory, NC State beat Western Carolina by 41 points, while Nevada beat Eastern Washington by 25. NC State's appeared to be the more impressive win. However, Eastern Washington is a top-25 FCS team, while Western Carolina lost its next game to a Division II team. We'll give the edge to Nevada.

For the midmajor victory, Nevada beat Colorado State by 45 points, while NC State beat UCF by 7. Colorado State has been downright awful and is the midst of a multi-season losing streak. UCF was a bowl team last year. Neither team has much more to go on this year. (Colorado State has a 3 touchdown loss to Colorado, while UCF has a touchdown win over an FCS team.) We'll give NC State a slight edge here for beating a better team, though we have to give Nevada style points for taking care of business.

For the BCS team, Nevada beat Cal by 21 , while NC State beat Cincinnati by 11. Cal came in ranked in the ocaches poll, while Cinci has been struggling all season. Nevada also looked convincing in its play, while NC State seemed to be trading fumbles with the Bearcats. Advantage Nevada.

Look for Nevada to show up in the lower section of the Top-25 (Cal's spot in the Coaches poll is up for grabs.) NC State should show up in "others receiving votes", with positioning depending more on what other teams do.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Screwtape Letters

The Screwtape Letters are a series of letters from a senior devil (Screwtape) to a junior devil (Wormwood), providing advice on his "temptation efforts" of a young Brit. In the letters, he expresses the subtleties needed to tempt man and bring his "soul" to the devil. Screwtape advises against the obvious frontal assaults, and instead in favor of more subtle maneuverings. Many of the best "destructions" of souls can take place by turning their own virtues in to vices. (For example, church attendance can be helpful to a devil - a person attending church may observe the defects of the others there and use that to imply church teachings are negative.) Helping them to give in to small temptations can bring about a gradual destruction of the soul. On the other hand, wars can actually lead a soul to separate from the devil.

In the end, Wormwood's target is killed during World War II bombings and "lost" to the Devil as he embraced God. However, he is now better prepared for his future targets, so we must be prepared also.


The meaning of the word "utopia" in the English language is a testament to the endurance of Thomas More's work. In this work, a traveler who has spent five years living in Utopia is having a political discussion with some stately figures. Initially, he provides some general criticism of the English penal system. (For example, the death penalty for stealing is seen as unjust and having no biblical base. Furthermore, it encourages people to murder their robbery victims as the penalty for murder is the same, and a death decreases the odds of them being caught.)

He then goes on to detail to the politics and life in Utopia. The country is now an island nation founded by the benevolent king Utopos. While once a peninsula, the Utopians later dug a trench to separate it from the world. The natural barriers make it difficult for others to attack. The society has no internal need for money and no leisure class. Everybody works. Gold is used as chains for slave. (Slaves are primarily made up of prisoners and volunteers from neighboring countries - all have the opportunity for freedom.) Only in times of war is the gold used as 'currency' - in this case to buy mercenary armies. The state has a complete freedom of religion - though many have adopted Christianity once introduced. Everyone works for 6 hours per day. There is no personal property or housing, with everything held in common. (This facilities a regular migration of people from town to countryside.)

Utopia is not without strife. However, it does have mechanisms in place for dealing with crimes. Slavery is often the punishment of choice, as it provides a reminder to others of the pitfalls of a life of crime. Adultery similarly leads to punishment. However, a fully forgiving spouse can help lead to a redemption from the punishment. The legal system is, however, very simple. It can be understood by all men and requires no lawyers.

The society he paints is very Utopian. The society is held together by a strong belief in the institutions as well as a shared religious heritage (even though it is expressed by adherence to various religions.) Part of the endurance of the society is a general de-conditioning of the value of "wealth". Gold is associated with slavery. Diamonds and gems are only children's toys. (When a pompous delegation visits, the Utopians mistake the elaborately decorated ambassadors as the slaves.) With this conditioning, they see little value in the accumulation of external wealth, and thus have a strong inkling to continue their society. This is also maintained by restrictions on travel (official approval and a passport are required.) Under these bounds, the survival of the society for 100s of years seems plausible, if not very likely. However Utopia does provide many ideas for improving society.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

The Invisible Man

The "Invisible Man" in this story is a dejected academic. He had worked hard, but seemed to not get the credit he wanted, nor find the money he needed to complete his work. At the start of the story, he seeks isolation in a small town. He covers himself completely to hide his invisibility, and finds his privacy very important. His journals and equipment are his most important possessions. Once he is outed as being invisible, he goes on the run, where he confides in a tramp and eventually an old University colleague (from whom he hear the backstory.)

The invisible man has let his invisibility go to his head, and can only think of using it for personal gain. He plans a great streak of robberies and murders to help strengthen his position. He carries out a number of robberies and murders one man before he is finally caught by a town mob and inadvertently killed. (They only realize he is dead when they can't find his breathing and see him become visible.)

The book provides a cautionary tale of science and scientists. Innovations can lead to benefit or great destruction depending on how they are applied. People who feel oppressed in their life can launch out on to the mass oppression of others if their needs and desires do not show a positive trajectory.

While the book starts slow, it ends as a fast moving action story as everyone tries to capture this "evil villain" before he unleashes more murder and mayhem.


The "gimmick" of ttyl is that it is written entirely in instant messaging conversations. This method works ridiculously well for conversation-driven works. Like works of drama, each character is clearly identified by name next to their dialog. However, it one-ups drama by also giving each character their own characteristic font, thus allowing you to know who is talking without even bothering glancing at the name. Another advantage is that IM is the method of communication, rather than a representation of it. Thus, all 'non-verbal' communication is succinctly embedded in the conversation (using emoticons, capitalization and brief '*' asides)
To be honest, this is more 'IM'-lite. The spelling and grammar are much more polished than typical IM conversations. The story flows well without too many jumps, and emoticon use is also lower than typical IM conversations. That helps it work reall well. Rather being a slave to authenticity, the work adopts IM to do the best job of telling the story. The author, does however, limit the story to IM conversations among the three characters (usually two and a time.) Other activities, in person chats and phone conversations are only told as through the instant messaging.

As for the story, well, it is ok. Three girls start their sophomore year in high school. Each of them have different bits of boy trouble. Sometimes they get a little vulgar, but its generally pretty good. Their characters seem fairly reasonable. The external characters, however, seem to suddenly transform from one person to another. Perhaps it could be excused as being filtered through the blinders of the three girls. However, I would still have liked to see the guys developed in a little more "normal" pattern, rather than being drastically changing chameleons.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Literature of C.S. Lewis

The Literature of C.S. Lewis provides some basic background on C.S. Lewis's life, and then launches directly in to an analysis of his works. The content and delivery are quite good. However, the pacing seems a bit off. He spends entire lectures covering a novel or two, then at the end rushes through his other works. The novel discussions also provide a heavy dose of synopsis. (You could just about skip reading the novels after listening to the details of the lecture.)

The lectures do acknowledge the importance of Lewis's religious conviction in all his works. However, they also make clear that Lewis never thought of himself as perfect, and loved smoking, drinking and eating. He also brings up a debate the Lewis lost (to another Christian) at Oxford that lead to him to focus more on fiction than overt apologetics.

The content was informative, but it could have been improved replacing some of the novel summaries with analysis of the novels and other works.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Amelia Bedelia Treasury

Amelia Bedelia interprets every request literally. This makes for jolly good fun at first, though it starts to get tiring after a few reads. This book consolidates three early Amelia Bedelia books. The first book stands on its own very well. The next two are obviously derivative. They employ the same literal-speaking misunderstandings, but seem to lack the originality and spunk of the first one. (The "misunderstandings" also become more of a stretch.)

I'm also a little curious about the illustrations. The pictures are copyrighted by Fritz Siebel, yet the illustration byline of the second two books goes to Barbara Siebel Thomas - after the drawings of Fritz Siebel. I'm not sure what this means. Perhaps he drew black some drawings and she colored them?

Golden Gate

Golden Gate is a short (200 page) history of the Golden Gate bridge. Much of the book is devoted to the "prehistory" of the bridge. (The bridge does not get constructed until well past the halfway point of the book.) The language is flowery in an attempt to mask the lack of content. Cut through the fluff and you could have a nice "long article". I was also disappointed with the coverage of the construction - one short chapter, and bang, the bridge is done. The historical narrative of the book also ends here, with the remainder consisting of isolated chapters on city, suicide and art related to the bridge.

The one interesting tidbit from the book concerned the bridge's color. There was some debate over the color to be used (among those advocated were stripes and grey) While this debate was going, the bridge was primed with "safety orange" to help preserve the work in progress. People liked the look more than they liked the "opponents" color scheme, and eventually it became the bridge's iconic color.

The sorry state of the ACC

Prior to the season, some were opining the ACC Coastal as the best in the country. Alas, that was before the season started.

So far the best the Coastal can claim is a 3-1 record vs lower division FCS schools. Against FBS schools?
0-1 vs WAC
0-1 vs Big-12
0-1 vs SEC
0-1 vs Big-10
0-1 vs ACC Atlantic
0-1 vs PAC-10

Only Virginia's loss to USC could be considered a "great mismatches" to the ACC teams. Virginia Tech, North Carolina and Miami all lost to teams within ten spots in the polls. You may be able to argue that Miami and VT faced higher ranked teams, while North Carolina had just seen a good junk of its team suspended.
However, even those excuses hold no water for the ugly loses this week. Virginia Tech and Georgia Tech were both top 15 teams that managed to lose games that were supposedly gimmes. VT lost to FCS James Madison, while GT lost to Big-12 doormat Kansas (who were coming off their loss to an FCS team.) At least Duke's loss to Wake Forest was a 'fair' match-up between two conference teams that finished last year with identical records.

Perhaps we can look at a moral victory - the teams have all played close in their loses - which is something that cannot be said for Atlantic Division's Florida State. (Utah State's performance in Norman last week looked positively brilliant compared to what Florida State did there.) However, that is the lone loss in the Atlantic. Alas, there are not many quality wins there, either. NC States win over UCF and Maryland's over Navy are the lone wins over FBS teams that finished last season with winning records. Boston College's slugfest with a mediocre Kent State does not exactly inspire confidence, nor does Clemson's disposal of North Texas, or Wake's narrow victory over Duke.

When the new rankings come out, look for Georgia Tech and Virginia Tech to totally fall out. They probably wont even show up in "others receiving votes?" - though James Madison might. Florida State should also be gone. (Oklahoma tumbled after beating Utah State. Now that they embarrassed Florida State look for them to be gone.) Miami might have a prayer in the lower reaches of the poll. Without any convincing wins, it is hard to see any of the Atlantic teams making it in the polls at all. It wouldn't be surprising to see the ACC shut out of the polls.

Now why does the conference get an automatic BCS bid? Must have something to do with the pull of the basketball teams.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Balkans: A Short History

Referring to the region of southeastern Europe as the "Balkans" is a relatively modern innovation. Prior to that, it had often been considered a component of the Ottoman Empire or "European Turkey". The region was primarily a backwater of the empire, mad up of peasants with a greater allegiance to their village than to any "nation". Religion was always important, but often flexible, with some people being "Muslims that prayed to the Virgin Mary." Freedom of religion in the Ottoman Empire was primarily a mechanism for exerting political control. The leaders did not encourage mass conversions, and thus the religions seemed to get along. (In the end, however, the head of Orthodoxy found his dominion gradually limited to net to nothing.) Intellectuals in the region often spoke Greek and thought of themselves as Greek.

The "nation states" were groupings of people that did not necessarily have strong ties to each other. Romania, for instance was a combination of two Ottoman provinces that primarily spoke Romanian (though had a large number of different elasticities and languages also.) The boundaries of Macedonia and Bulgaria were also artificial and tended to differ. It almost seems as if you would try to create new nation-states out of the United States.

For the people, the new states did not provide much benefit. They simply brought in a new group of leaders. For minorities, the condition could be much worse. Population exchanges were also used to help "balance" the residents of the new states. ("Nationality", however, was also flexible, and often times could simply require changing a name to meet the new "language") However, even when encouraging a homogeneous population, the new governments needed many of their minorities to keep the economy going.

The independence of the Balkan states was really only made possible by the intervention of other European powers. This also meant that they remained pawns in the European games. World War II lead to further partitioning as most Balkan states fell under the influence of communist Russia.

The author argues that the current warfare in the Balkans is not caused by deep-seeded tensions among the people, but by the desires of despots to invoke cruelty for their needs. These needs were often influenced by the external powers.

The book provides a good brief introduction to the Balkans and some of the background for the recent problems there. The facts presented bring out the point that the author is arguing. However, they tell only a small fraction of the story. Are they they most important part of the story?

The Time Machine

A time traveler voyages in to the future and finds a society of "playboy" humans. They seem to spend all day eating fruit and engaging in leisure activities. They also don't seem to do any work and the men and women seem to look a lot alike. Only later does he discover that humanity has apparently diverged into two different species, the decedents of the leisure class that he first met and the underground progeny of the working class.

In the end, he escapes and makes a side trip to see the end of the earth before returning back to tell his story. Later, he makes additional trips, never to be seen again.

The danger of the further separation of the working and leisure classes is obviously one of the principle goals here. Also, he regularly brings up the necessity of conflict and challenges to serve up advancement in society. Attempts to eliminate all pain and difficulty in society will also lead to the elimination of positive innovation. Instead, pent up desires will become a liability as society gradually denigrates. Wells does a good job of using science fiction to criticize problems in his current society.

Thursday, September 09, 2010

Mighty Machines

This book collects a half-dozen "vehicle" books under one cover. Each section groups together a set of vehicles (like cars), and provides a big picture and description of it on a page. The vehicles range from BMX bikes to mining dump trucks and all sorts of things in between. It is actually fairly readable, with a bit of progression through each section. However, it never tries to tell a narrative. The real purpose is pictures of all sorts of big machines. There are obvious "detail" sections for each vehicle that can double the length of the book - though it can easily be read without them.

Five year old boys love it.

Cheaper By the Dozen

This light read details the life of a family of 12 kids who lived in New Jersey around the time of World War I. The central character is the somewhat eccentric father, Frank Gilbreth, Sr. He was a proponent of using motion study to reduce wasted motion and increased efficiency. He would try out these methods of increased efficiency on his own family, resulting in unpredictable humorous outcomes.

The book spends a little time covering Frank Senior's early life and how he met his wife and had their first kids. However, most of the book details the misadventures of the father and the 12 young children. (Though some of these adventures clearly happened outside the time of 12 children, since he died when the youngest was still a toddler. However, knowing large families, things could have been so crazy during those years that they could fill a book.)

Aside from the family relationships, it is also an interesting account of changing culture and values in the World War I era and the "roaring twenties". Frank Sr. comes across as both very eccentric and very conservative. The book, even ending with his death, manages to stay light and cheery throughout.

The Super Soybean

The author credits the Illinois Farm Bureau with providing assistance in the book. The strong pro-agricultural stand is obvious. Genetic modified soybeans are shown as positive, while organic soybeans are subtlety shown to require cruel labor conditions. These slick ways around controversial issues detract from what is otherwise a good book on soybean agriculture and uses.


A young boy lives in a bucolic rough neighborhood. The town's big event includes a pigeon shoot, where sharppshooters shoot down thousands of live pigeons (with the remains being used for fertilizer). Ten year old boys serve as "wringers", gathering up the felled pigeons and wringing the necks of the living ones. As a birthday "right of passage", boys receive "the treatment" from an older boy - one hard punch in the shoulder for each year of age.

One day, a pigeon flies in to the boy's room. He eventually adopts the pigeon as a pet. After doing this, he gradually becomes alienated from the gang of tough's that he hangs out with - and closer to the girl across the street. In the dramatic conclusion, he saves his pigeon from being shot in the big pigeon shoot.

Similar to other Spinelli books, this one presents a kid who struggles with the desire to fit in, while also wanting to be himself.

Clockwork Orange

The narrator is a 15 year old who gets his kicks committing all kind of murder and mayhem with his friends. He also enjoys classical music. One woman they attack dies - but not until after calling the cops. He gets locked up in jail, where he generally acts the good guy - until he is provoked. One of these provocations results in him killing a new prisoner. This leads him to receive a treatment that will end his will to do violence. However, most of this treatment involves watching violent scenes accompanied by classical music. This, alas, results in classical music giving him the same ill feeling as violence.

After being set free, he returns home, only to find his room rented to a border, and all his stuff sold for restitution. He visits his old stomping grounds, only to get beat up by a bunch of old men he bullied earlier. The cops (who include one of his former buddies) take him away and beat him more. He eventually finds refuge with an author, who wants to use him as part of an anti-government propaganda. (He later learns that the author's wife had died to a beating from he and his friends.) He eventually tries to commit suicide, but survives, and finds the existing government trying to use him as a tool. Eventually, he ends the book as a mellower, older "man".

In the forward, the author complains that it is one of his inferior works, and that he doesn't like the movie which excluded the final chapter (which was excluded in the original American version of the book.) The book makes heavy use of a made-up slang (Nadsat). This adds to the flavor of the book and helps to tone down the violence. You can tell that he lives a life of all sorts of nastiness. However, you (as a reader) don't feel sucked in to it as you would with vivid modern language descriptions.

The message that is trying to be made is somewhat muddled. It seems to say that freewill is all important. Trying to reform society by restricting freewill is only replacing one evil with a worse one. However, the people that advocate this have their flaws - and attempt to restrict his freewill as a means to help bring about the downfall of the government. This muddling is seen in the modern society of today. People will often advocate "freedom of expression" for some issues, but on others attempt to regulate away others' freedom (because they think they know best.)

Tuesday, September 07, 2010

College Football Conference Rankings

Conference Rankings using "similar team" methodology:
1. Big 10
2. WAC
3. Mountain West
4. Pac 10
5. ACC
6. Big East
7. SEC
8. big 12
9. Conference USA
9. MAC
11. Sun Belt

Rankings are computed by comparing the results of teams against "similar teams" from other conferences. Games against independent FBS are not included, while only loses to FCS teams are included. A good win is a victory over a team with an equal or better record in conference play. A bad loss is a loss to a team with an equal or worse record in conference play. Loses to FCS teams also count as bad loses. (Of course, comparing this seasons records would be better, but we don't know them yet.)

This helps to exclude "body bag" games where a conference champion blows out the cellar-dweller from another conference. A game such as Alabama's victory over San Jose State really tells us nothing about the quality of the two conferences. After all, the WAC teams had no trouble disposing of San Jose State, while Alabama had no trouble disposing with the rest of the SEC.

The games that are included are ones such as Michigan State's victory over Middle Tennessee. Michigan State finished in the middle of the Big-10, while MTSU was at the top of the Sun Belt. This is a better indicator of the overall strength of one conference versus others.

The MAC, Sun Belt and Conference-USA are clearly the "lower conferences". None have quality wins over non-conference foes, while many have ugly loses to teams from other conferences with worse records.

The Big East is slightly above these, with Syracuse's victory over a similar Akron team from the MAC.

The ACC does not have any directly comparable games - mainly due to a schedule full of FCS games. However, they did lose the two games to teams within a game of their teams. Similarly, the Pac-10 didn't win or lose any games against similarly ranked teams. The closest was the loss to by UCLA to Kansas State.

The Big 12 and SEC have some wins over the "lower 3" conferences. However, they both have ugly loses to FCS teams.

The only unblemished conferences are the Big-10, WAC and Mountain West. All three have quality victories over Big East teams. The Big-10 also has sunbelt and MAC victories.

Bad Loss: FCS: Kansas lost to FCS North Dakota State
Good Wins: CUSA: Texas Tech (5-3 in conference last year) over SMU (6-2 in conference)
MAC: Iowa State (3-5) over Northern Illinois (5-3)

Bad Loss: FCS: Mississippi lost to FCS Jacksonville State
Best wins: Sun Belt: Georgia over Louisiana Lafayette (both had 4-4 conference records)
Sun Belt: Auburn over Arkansas State (both had 3-5 conference records)
CUSA: South Carolina (3-5) over Southern Miss (5-3)

Big East:
Bad Losses: WAC: Cincinnati (7-0) to Fresno (6-2)
MWC: Pittsburgh (5-2) to Utah (6-2)
B10: Michigan over Connectiut

Best Wins: MAC: Syracuse (1-6) over Akron (2-6)

Big 10:
Best Wins:
Sun Belt: Minnesota (3-5) over Middle Tennessee (7-1)
MAC: Michigan State (4-4) over Western Michigan (4-4)
Big East: Michigan (3-5) over Connecticut (3-4)
No bad loses

Pac 10:
No unexpected or comparable wins or losses (Kansas St over UCLA is closest)

No unexpected or comparable wins or losses (LSU over North Carolina and Boise over Virginia Tech are the closest)

Mountain West
Wins: Big East: Utah (6-2) over Pittsburgh (5-2)
loses: none

wins: Big East: Fresno State (6-2) over Cincinnati (7-0)
loses: none

Sun Belt:
Bad Loses: B10: Middle Tennessee (7-1) to Minnesota (3-5)
SEC: Louisiana Lafayette (4-4) to Georgia (4-4)
SEC: Arkansas State (3-5) to Auburn (3-5)
Good Wins : none

Conference USA:
Bad Loses: SEC: Southern Miss (5-3) to South Carolina (3-5)
B12: SMU (6-2) to Texas Tech (5-3)

Mid American
Bad Loses: B12: Northern Illinois (5-3) to Iowa State (3-5)
BE: Akron (2-6) to Syracuse (1-6)

Monday, September 06, 2010

The Extraordinary Adventures of Alfred Kropp

Alfred is a 15 year old who is average in everything except size is orphaned after his mother died from cancer. He never knew his father and ends up living with his uncle, who is a security guard at a large office building. They become involved in a scheme to claim the legendary sword Excalibur. In the process, he sees his uncle murdered by a guy keen on destroying the world and ends up in a foster home. He later travels with one of the last decedents of the knights of the round table, and discovers that his father was the rich owner of the building where his uncle had worked and that he is the last heir to Lancelot. He eventually dies, but lives again, saves the world, and rescues the girl.

The story seems to be something made for a summer popcorn movie. They always end up driving fancy cars, and people (other than the hero) are getting killed all around. There are daring getaways in airplanes and helicopters, fight scenes at historical location and plenty of attempts to pull at emotional strings.

It also suffers from the faults of the popcorn flicks - the characters are shallow, some plot twists move too fast to really make sense, and it seems to get preachy without really having anything to say. Alfred seems to make every wrong decision, until the plot requires him to make a right decision. He somehow seems to be loaded with money, despite being a fifteen year old orphan dragged across the world without a procession. Believability is not a strong point here. If some of the complexity were trimmed it could be a good "brain-dead" novel. Unfortunately, it tries too hard, and doesn't do very well at what it tries.

Boise State over Virginia Tech and WAC power

Boise State knocked off ACC frontrunner Virginia Tech.
Fresno State knocked off defending Big East champion Cincinnati.
And the WAC is supposed to be a weak conference?

A bunch of WAC teams also beat FCS teams.

The loses? The middle of the conference lost close games to top-15 teams, while a predicted last place finisher was blown out on the road to a number 1 team. Suppose these were reverse and instead of San Jose State playing at Alabama, we had Boise State playing a Mississippi school or Vandy on the blue turf. Or have Kansas visit Fresno. Or even Stanford at Hawaii.

In fair fights, the WAC has shown it can compete. Perhaps Boise's president is right that we just need more "home and homes" to compete on a fair playing field.

Sunday, September 05, 2010


The book starts with getting to the Sahara. He stops in Gibraltar (where no Spanish newspapers can be found), takes a ferry to Tanger, travels over to Fes (where parts maintain their mideival customs), and then continues on down through Africa.
Maps can also be seen on Palin's web site.

The narrative is fairly engaging, with about an even balance between descriptions of the people and the surroundings. During parts of the book, they are traveling through remote areas of the desert, while at other times they end up in Mediterranean tourist resorts. Much of the countries covered are Muslim countries of the former "French Africa". However, there are bits of true "nomads" and others.

It seemed like an interesting topic. However, I had trouble getting engaged.

The Short Second Life of Bree Tanner

This short novella provides the story of a newborn vampire who appears briefly in the twilight books. Alas, she comes across almost the same as the human protagonist of Twilight, Bella. It feels like a short excursion on "what if Bella had fallen in with bad vampires instead of good ones." It doesn't add much to the stories in the books (the key relevant details are already known.)

On its own, it is a so-so sorry. A vampire girl lives with a bunch of childish vampire-lings. She casually associates with a loner among them because everyone stays away from him. She tries to be good, and ends up starting a relationship with a "good-guy" young vampire (Diego). He disappears shortly thereafter, (rumored to be on reconnaissance). She becomes slightly more friendly with the loner who planned to leave the group during the time of the big fight. She wants to leave too, but also wants to find Diego too. However, near the fight she finds Diego is already dead, but it is too late. She is caught and then killed by the vampire police.

Pretty ho-hum for a plot. There is plenty of violence, but all very tame (comic-book lite). It looks like it is supposed to be character driven. Alas, the characters seem flat and boring, with artificial relationships.

Oh well, I'm sure it made a lot of money for the author.

Err, What happened out west?

Opening weekend, and the Pac-10 wasn't all that impressive. The mountain west showed they were good at top, and perhaps made a good "rushed invite".

Cal and Stanford engaged in a bit of Bay Area vs. Sacramento football. Alas, the Sacramento reps are all I-AA, and the Bay Area dominated. Not much to say here. But, at least they are keeping their cupcakes local. Can't say the same about ASU with their win over Portland State.

Then we move on to the 'mid-major' cupcakes. Arizona had the guts to open AT Toledo. They also managed to show why the MAC doesn't get much respect. Oregon's blowout of New Mexico shows that the Mountain West has depth problems (and the New Mexico had made a horrible coaching hire.) However, before the PAC-10 can gloat, imagine what a TCU vs. Washington State game would have been like.
USC vs. Hawaii could almost be ranked as a disappointment. Sure USC won, but they
played no defense. A Hawaii team that was not supposed to have a chance was actually in it for most of the game.

Against the top of the mountain west, Oregon State lost a close one to TCU and Washington lost a close one to BYU. Neither was totally unexpected, but the Pac-10 did lose a chance to make a statement in the two biggest games. Both were essentially home games for the Mountain West teams. (Sure, Oregon State's Jerry-dome game was technically neutral, but it was only about 2000 miles closer to Ft. Worth than Corvallis.) All 4 teams expect to go bowling this year and could reasonably earn their conference championships (though only TCU is favored.) However, it was the MWV that did the impressing.
Against the Big-12, the Pac-10 also laid a goose egg (not so good for a conference they nearly destroyed.) Nobody really expected Washington State to do much against Oklahoma State. But Kansas State over UCLA? I guess UCLA was on the road. Maybe hald the team showed up at the wrong Manhattan...

3-0 vs I-AA
0-2 vs Big-12
1-2 vs Mountain West
1-0 vs WAC
1-0 vs MAC

As for the Mountain West, Colorado State lost the Colorado rivalry game and UNLV lost to Wisconsin (though they were in the game until the third quarter.) New Mexico embarrassed itself at Oregon. The top 3 teams made great showings against BCS-AQ leagues, and all the rest beat up on I-AA schools.
2-1 vs Pac-10
1-0 vs Big East
0-1 vs Big-12
0-1 vs Big-10
3-0 vs I-AA

The WAC probably had the best opening of the western conferences. Utah State nearly pulled off the huge upset over Oklahoma. This was not supposed to be close. Hawaii was also closer than expected in the USC game. Fresno did manage to take care of business vs. Cincinnati for the best win of the opening. San Jose State managed to get its paycheck in its body bag loss, and everyone else beat up on I-AA. We still have to wait for Monday for the big game with Boise State.
1-0 vs Big East
0-1 vs Pac-10
0-1 vs Big-12
0-1 vs SEC
3-0 vs I-AA
??? vs AC

Saturday, September 04, 2010

There's a Girl in My Hammerlock

A boy smiles at a Junior High girl (Maisie Potter). She gets a crush on him. She was awarded athlete of the year last year, but this year tries out for cheerleading to be close to him. When she doesn't make it, she inexplicably finds herself trying out for the wrestling team (as the lone girl). She overcomes all odds to make the varsity team. However, the community is not proud of having a girl wrestler, and many opponents refuse to compete. She has to endure numerous taunts and criticisms by her classmates, though eventually she achieves respect and goes out with the "boy" (who she decides she doesn't like anyway).

The novel is written as a giant "letter to the editor" in an attempt to set the record straight with the community regarding her wrestling experience.

In the story she suffers through the abandonment of old friends and the slow adoption of new friends. For a time, her only friend is her pet rat. (Spinelli love's pet rats.) Her parents are supportive of her moves, even if they don't agree with them. Her youngest sibling and friend are also supportive and two of her biggest fans. Eventually, she is injured while saving one of the kids and ends up living happily ever, contented and respected by her schoolmates.

Throughout, it is a light, fun read. The boy asking her out on a date seems a little baffling - but who really understands the workings of a teenage mind. The story is in the similar "be true to yourself" vein of other Spinelli books, though here it is more like "stick with what you started, even if you had stupid reasons for starting it."

TCU vs. Boise State in BCS championship?

In 2008, Boise State played TCU in the Poinsettia bowl
In 2009, they had a rematch in the Fiesta Bowl
With the game moving later and later, the BCS championship game could be in line this year.
Never before has one non-AQ team made it to the game - could we have two?
We should know a little more by the end of this weekend.
Both play Oregon State early in the season. Oregon State tends to lose its early games, then finish strong. If Oregon State goes undefeated in all but these two games, that will help the ratings, and eliminate the Pac-10 from consideration.
Pitt is a favorite in the Big East. They have already managed to lose to Utah. The Big East is not much of a threat for the championship game, but if Pitt runs the table for the remainder of the season and Utah finishes with a lone loss to TCU, it could only help things.
Also in the Big East, Cincy is playing Fresno. A Bulldog victory could help the WAC, especially if the Bearcats do well the remainder of the season.
For the ACC, Virginia Tech is the favorite. If Boise State takes care of business and Tech wins everything else, it will keep the power position.
Just three more conferences to go - and those happen to include every currently eligible team that has played in the past few championship games.
For the Big 12, ideally Oklahoma would win the championship - after losing to Utah State and Air Force. Ok. That's probably not too likely. However, with a 4 game stretch against Florida State, Air Force and at Cincinnati before the showdown with Texas, there is ample time to flop. They could easily overlook Air Force or Cincy. Lets have them fall to the Falcons before beating the longhorns. The longhorns will then take their vengeance out on Nebraska who will in turn clobber Oklahoma in the Big-12 championship game. (Though the cornhuskers would already had two loses - with another non-conference loss to Washington in Seattle) Every Big-12 team would have at least two loses - including some to MWC teams, thus keeping them down in the standings.
The Big-10 could be a little more of a challenge getting to two loses. However, it would also be tougher justifying a one-loss team over an undefeated TCU or Boise. Wisconsin opens with a late game at UNLV. They could easily fall asleep here as the Rebels 'ASU' them. This would wipe out any chance of the championship game, while helping the MWC. If they in turn take vengeance on Ohio State and Iowa, that leaves only Penn State as a possible interloper. However, with road games at OSU, Alabama and Iowa, Penn State is likely to fall at least twice. This would pretty much eliminate the Big-10.
Now on the SEC. This conference has won the last few championships - including one by a two-loss LSU. How do you exclude them? Florida could be the first one out of the picture. They did not look too hot against Miami of Ohio. Next week, South Florida comes to town. The Bulls have a habit of starting strong, only to flop down the stretch. They could pull off a victory here. With consecutive games against Alabama and LSU, the gators will probably have at least one more loss.
For LSU, there is always the possibility that North Carolina looks past the distractions and somehow manages to win. However, more likely come in a conference game. LSU is ranked low enough now that one loss should be enough to keep them out of the top spot. Similar story for Arkansas, who may stumble to a fired up Texas A&M.

Alabama is ranked first and would need a couple good loses to keep them out of the top spot. The road game against Arkansas (right before the Florida game) could be a great chance to slip up. Add in a hungry Auburn in the rivalry game and they could be out of the championship picture.

With these games, it could be possible for a Boise vs. TCU championship game - especially if some MWC and WAC teams make a good showing in some of their other non-conference game. With this being the last year they are in separate conferences, this is the last year they an really continue the rivalry in the post season. The matchup requires a lot of things to happen "just right", but doesn't require any massive upsets (though some could really help.) By Tuesday we should have a more clear picture of the possibilities.

Friday, September 03, 2010

Maniac Magee

"Maniac" Magee was orphaned at a young age, and forced to live with relatives in a dysfunctional marriage. He eventually runs away. He has near super-human athletic and knot-untangling abilities. He also has the naivety and willingness to do just about anything that suits him. He is perfectly comfortable hanging out with bison and eating their vegetables as he is joining random families for dinner.

He finds himself in a town with a heavy black/white segregation. However, he is oblivious to it. He borrows a book from a black girl, and becomes "adopted" by their family as he returns it. He gets along great with the younger siblings, and does a great job doing chores there. However, some old-timers are not comfortable with a white guy in their part of town. So, he goes back to the zoo, and eventually helps an old former-minor leaguer learn how to read. After he dies, he ends up staying with a "white-trash" family, cajoling the kids to go to school. This family thinks the blacks are out to get them. However, he manages to get the black and white families to finally come to peace with each other - in part by setting up the situation where a former black "bully" could save a white boy from a dangerous situation.

In the end, the town is more at peace with each other, though not necessarily "happily ever after". The theme of race relations is fairly blatant, though more subtle is the general theme that it is easy to "hate" somebody you don't know (and much harder to hate them once you know them well.) This was fairly well written, and manages to be fairly serious, while still being somewhat light-hearted, though not quite as light as Spinelli's other books.


The narrator is a street urchin growing up in Warsaw during the build-up to World War II. He doesn't remember much of his past history, though he does "discover" that he was a gypsy who was separated from his parents (and horse) during some "bombing practice". He doesn't know much about "society", but he is great at stealing things from people. He even steals the birthday cake from the person who will be his best friend.

He has a general naivety. When Jews are rounded up and forced in to the ghetto, he wants to go too, and sneaks in to visit them. Eventually he gets sent there too. However, he finds a way to sneak out and uses his pilfering skills to help feed his "adopted family".

The story is fairly dark in tone. However, considering the subject matter, it is incredibly optimistic. Here is somebody living through the prelude to the Holocaust who is still willing to laugh at how silly Himmler looks. There are bits and pieces of Nazi atrocities. However, the focus is more on his personal life. He lived a life "outside" the law. Once the world disintegrated, he found his life style to be more respected (and even needed) by those around him.

Wednesday, September 01, 2010

Big East as WCC template

The Big East has 8 mostly small religious schools that play basketball, combined with 8 larger, mostly public schools that play basketball and football. The West Coast Conference has 8 small religious basketball schools, and just added 1 large football-playing school. Could it be going down a western model of the Big East?

With the battles going on in the conferences west of the Mississippi, there could easily be some "remains" to gather to form a conference. Cast-offs from the Big-12, WAC and MWC could band together within the existing banner of the WCC. Or big schools like Texas may do the casting off.

Far fetched? Yes. But there is the template.

Where does the Mountain West go?

The quick invites to Nevada and Fresno are looking a little on the stupid side now, but at least Utah State didn't accept an invite. The Mountain West tried using the best sticks in their arsenal to hang on to BYU. Alas, this only seemed to make BYU more eager to dart. Perhaps if the MWC were more willing to address BYU's concerns, they might still have them in an eight team conference.

As it is, Mountain West is a 10 team conference that still has aspirations of a BCS autobid. A ten team league with Boise, TCU, BYU, Utah and Air Force on top would probably been able to secure the bid. Surprisingly, the defections of Utah and BYU have only minimal impact on the "objective" criteria. Thanks to the strong showings of Boise and TCU the past two seasons, the MWC still meets two of the three BCS inclusion criteria.
For the first, the highest ranked team in the conference needs to finish in the top 6 of conferences. TCU's 4th place ranking last season obviously fit the bill. For 2008, Boise's 9th or TCU's 11th are both good for 5th best conference.(Utah's 6th would have been 4th.)

For the third criteria, the teams ranked in the top 25 are put through a convoluted formula to obtain a number. A conference needs to score at 50% of the score of the highest ranked team to meet this criteria. For 2009, the "one-day" mountain west (with Boise before defections) was the top team. Even without BYU and Utah, the high rankings of TCU and Boise the last two seasons keep them in good condition. The invitations of Fresno and Nevada actually hurt in this criteria, as the score is weighted by conference size. However, even the new Mountain West should easily meet it.

The second criteria is the big problem. It takes the final regular season computer ranking of all teams in the conference. To automatically get the bid, a conference needs to finish in the top 6. Using the Sagarin conference ratings as a proxy, the MWC is a pretty solid 7th best conference. Number 6 is Big 10, which, alas has upgraded with Nebraska. Behind MWC are Conference USA and WAC. The WAC is pretty much out of the picture with the MWC grabbing their 3 best teams. Those three teams help the MWC to maintain their led over C-USA, however, they actually bring them further away from the Big-10.

A conference is able to seek an "exemption" if they are in the top 5 in criteria one or two and the top 7 in the other and have a score on number 3 that is at least 33% of the top team. The "new look" MWC easily meets all those criteria. However, this leaves things in the political realm. The MWC containing the state of Utah had a strong case for deserving the exemption. They also had a US Senator pushing strongly for opening the BCS. The new MWC? The on-field product is not quite as good and the political pressure not nearly as strong. The audience is also an issue. The top teams draw an average of less than 40,000 fans per game. TCU, Air Force, Fresno and Boise all draw in the 30,000s. New Mexico, San Diego State, Colorado State and UNLV are in the 20,000s while Wyoming and Nevada are in the 10000s. (BYU has far and away the leader at 64k, with Utah 2nd at 45k) Every other BCS AQ conference has multiple teams ranked higher than the highest ranked MWC team (TCU).

Market sizes also don't look so hot. MWC has a strong hold on the Fresno and Boise markets. There is also a lock on the states of Nebraska and Wyoming, as well as a strong showing in New Mexico. Unfortunately all of these are rather small markets, many with significant newcomer population (not many people in Nevada have a connection to the schools.) For major markets, MWC has toeholds. TCU is in Dallas, though it is second fiddle to the Texas, Tech, and A&M (as well as in competition with SMU). Colorado State and Air Force are both somewhat close to Denver, though they are second to Colorado in a fairly week college football market. San Diego State is a "lesser" school in San Diego. There are probably more people their routing for the LA schools.

Numerically, the MWC is in the same condition for BCS auto-qualification as it was before BYU and Utah left. It is still a possibility. However, obtaining an exemption has become much more difficult. The best scenario now would be for the bottom of the conference to rise to the occasion and be worthy of a BCS conference.