Friday, December 31, 2010

equation of love and death

This film is all about coincidences. The scenarios are a little far-fetched; however, it all seems to work. The production quality is excellent and the acting well done.

The plot centers around a female taxi driver. She happens to pick up a few passengers, and eventually gets entagled in a drug bust and the location of her long lost fiance. (Ironically, one of the young passengers is also in similar circumstances, entangled in drug smuggling in a quest to find his girlfriend.)

It does get a little hokey, but it still works.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Woman Soccer Player #9

This film had a terrible rating on IMDB. However, with only a few votes, I gave it the benefit of the doubt. Perhaps I should have headed the ratings.

The DVD looks like it was simply transferred from a VHS tape. There is not much in the special feature department. And the language? Well, there are Chinese subtitles built in to the movie. You get them whether you want them or not. And the dialog is in Mandarin. (The DVD has a title and synopsis in English. However, there is no English to be found on the DVD.)

The movie seems to be about a woman that had a baby and plays on a woman's soccer team. The team members get stuck doing some fashion shows and things that don't go over well. They play some games. And then the DVD stopped working. Oh well, it didn't seem like much of a loss...

Friday, December 24, 2010

Knuffle Bunny Free: An Unexpected Diversion

Trixie and Knufflebunny go on a plane ride to Holland - but KnuffleBunny gets left behind on the airplane. Trixie is a little more grown up now and is able to deal with it. Amazingly, however, she finds Knufflebunny sitting in the airplane on her return trip. As a kid behind them is crying, she willingly gives the kid Knufflebunny - to keep.

As with the other two Knufflebunny books, this is drawn with a hybrid of black and white photographs and color drawings. It works brilliantly and makes for another visual wonder. (And like most Mo Willems books, there is a pigeon to be found lurking in the pages - along with Elephant and Piggie)

This story is funny and shows growth of characters. We even related to the "discovery" of Knnufflebunny. (I had once lost my glasses on a bus. Later we boarded a bus, and found the glasses sitting right there next the seat we were.)

The story provides an original twist on growing up, rather than simply rehashing the original Knufflebunny book. Sure, the bunny is lost again, but this time, Trixie has the power to control her experience and even use this experience to help others.

Devoted To You

Devoted to You is a cheesy (in a good way) Chinese romantic comedy. A girl in Beijing has a chance encounter with a boy on a bus. She is afraid to talk to him (though she constantly dreams of it.) She runs in to him in a couple of additional chance encounters, but only gets that he will be moving to Shanghai to take a job at a Computer firm.

Finally, she gets the courage to go out of her shell, move to Shanghai and hunt him down. She takes a job there, meets another guy, and through some chance encounter comes across the guy she is seeking and they live happily ever after. (Ok, not that far, they do finally share their first kiss as the movie ends.)

I loved the first part of the movie, but the end seemed to drag on. And the finale was just awful. She is built up to be with a guy that really loves her. Infatuation dude is shown to have foibles (and a real jerkwad for a girlfriend.) All could lead to a nice happy ending where she has grown out of her shell and gotten over her crush. Then, bang! She somehow ends up with the dude. Ughh!

The production quality of the film is mediocre. It is not great, but not a bad enough production to distract from the movie. It has a lot of "dream" cuts where we see her dream behavior before she wakes up in reality. (Like a real dream, we don't realize it is a dream until she wakes up.) We also have a continuing motif of her hiding in a bathroom to wallow in her misery.

The movie is bright fun and clean, making it more enjoyable than many Hollywood chic-flics, despite its lame ending.

Short memories in the NFL

In the 2007 season, Brett Favre led the Green Bay Packers within a game of the Super Bowl and was selected for the pro-bowl. After the season he announced his retirement and seemed to be going out in glory. (Only a possible trip to the super bowl could bring him back.)

Michael Vick on the other hand was in a legal and financial mess. He was suspended indefinitely without pay. He lost his endorsements, and he was facing charges of dogfighting. His football days seemed over.

My how things have changed since then. While Vick made a fool of himself before going to prison, he has shaped up his public persona since incarceration. He eased back in to the NFL with a relatively small contract. He accepted the backup role and gradually eased himself back to the NFL. He seemed contrite. When the starter was injured this season, Vick had a chance to shine. Since then he has been on fire, and mentioned as one of the top MVP candidates.

Favre on the other hand seemed to retire after every season. He came across as a snooty and vindictive in public, hurting his reputation among Packer fans. His performance had its positives, but also plenty of negatives. His reputation suffered a hit with allegations of inappropriate behavior.

Vick has used his performance to help rehabilitate his image, while Favre has gradually tarnished his. Vick has shown that one can actually recover from the "death penalty" of a prison sentence. (Though it seems ironic that while there have been plenty of personal crimes and even deaths linked to NFL players the strongest conviction is for dog fighting...) Will his positive image remain, or will he return to his crass behavior once it is overshadowed by his performance?

We'll see how short the memories really are in the NFL.

Ms. Mccaw Learns to Draw

Dudley has trouble in school. He often doodles instead of focusing on his work. He also gets teased by other kids for his "slowness". However, one teacher, Ms. Mccaw, takes the time to help him out. He thrives in her class.

She seems to know just about everything.

Then one day, she tries to draw a person's head from the side. She just can't do it. Dudley, feeling brave, decides to try to teach her. He dries a whole board full of faces, and the class as a happy 'ol time drawing.

The drawings are lively, and the kids seem to love to have this book read over and over.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

We Are In A Book

This is easily the funniest of the Elephant and Piggie series. (And just to make sure you don't forget, there are a few pages filled with He He Ha Ha's.) Elephant and Piggie realize that they are in a book and are being read. Similar to The Monster at the End of this Book, the characters interact with the reader. The drawings help to accentuate this "relationship" between the reader and characters.

The start also continues an inside joke started at the end of the book. This is one that will be rad over and over again, and require plenty of belly laughs.

Monday, December 20, 2010

The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe

This was better than I remembered it. A girl goes exploring in an old house and discovers a wardrobe that leads to another world. The time moves at a different rate and she comes out shortly after entering (even though she was there for a while.) The other kids do not believe her. A boy stumbles in and encounters the evil "queen" who offers him magical Turkish delight. He craves it and wants more and more (along with promised kingship and glory.) When he returns, he tells the girl he was there, but then tells the others that she simply had an imagination. Eventually they all end up in Narnia, where the boy discovers that the "queen" is just trying to use him for her means. Eventually the lion dies for them, thereby reversing magic and saving everyone (including himself.)

The Christianity is obvious,(kids are daughters of eve or sons of Adam), yet subdued. (The evil queen comes from another parallel line of Adam.) The Lion is a pretty obvious Christ figure, complete with the sacrifice. However, the world is still a world of its own, unique from any biblical one.

One message seems to be to not give in to temptations to mess up your life in search of yummy food. (Hmmm, that is a tough one to follow.)

Magician's Nephew

Some kids associate with their Magician uncle. They see the witch and unlock the world of Narnia, and inadvertently bring the evil witch back to earth. Luckily, she seems to have no power here.

The story didn't seem all that bad, but I did have trouble getting in to it. It did have some pretty clear Christian metaphors. As the "creation" story for Narnia, it had many similarities to the biblical creation (complete with fruit.)

Fueling the Planet

Fueling the Planet provides a basic history of the means of providing fuel for human activities as well as the geological origins of the fuel. The tone is basic and easy to understand. He comes down and the pro-status quo, pro-environment side. His view is that by mandating better efficiency standards and moving most energy consumption to wind-generated electricity, we can solve the environmental issues. (Hmm - what about making changes that improve the quality of life and reduce energy consumption?).

Of interest, is the mention that the US is about evenly divided in energy use, with industry, transportation and home using about one third of the energy. China is presented as another end of the spectrum, with huge amounts of industry (and a greater reliance on coal.) He does present some of the pros and cons of many different types of energy and does a good job on bashing carbon sequestering and corn-ethanol (both from energy viewppoints.)

The course does not provide a great deal of new information, but it provides some interesting factoids. The author tries to be balanced, even though he does have some wacko ideas of his own.

Monday, December 06, 2010

BCS chaos scenario

What would have happened if a few close games went the other way? Or a few upsets didn't happen? Here is the "BCS chaos scenario". I've "reversed" some games that

South Carolina L Alabama, L Clemson; 7-5; Newton Dq'd, win SEC champ: 8-5
Oregon: L Cal, Stanford, Oregon State 9-3
Hawaii: Beat USC, Colorado : 12-1
Fresno: Beat Mississipi 9-3
Virginia Tech: Beat James Madison: 12-1
Wisconsin: L ASU, Wisconisn 9-3
Oregon State: W Washington, Washington State, UCLA, Oregon 9-3
Utah: W Notre Dame: 11-1
Ohio State: L Iowa, L Illinois 9-3
Arkansas: L Texas A&M, W Alabama, L Mississuppi 9-3
LSU: L Tennessee, Mississippi 8-4
Oklahoma: L Utah State, Air Force 8-4
Missouri: L San Diego State, W Texas Tech, L (Big 12 Champ. A&M) 10-3 
San Diego State: W BYU, Missouri 10-2
Alabama: W South Carolina 10-2, L Arkansas
Air Force: W Oklaoma 9-3
Teas A&M: W Arkansas, L FIU 9-3, W Big 12 champ (Missouri)
UCF: Win NC State, Kansas State 12-1
Oklahoma State L  Troy 9-3
Iowa: W Ohio State, Wisconsin, L Indiana 8-4
North illinois: W illinois, Miami (OH) 12-1
Pitt: L FIU, W UConn, L USF (6-6) [5-2]
West Virginia: L Louisville (8-4) [4-3]
UConn: L Pitt 7-5 [4-3]
Stanford: W Oregon 12-0
With the results, we end up with BCS results something like this. All the potential at-large teams are from non-BCS conferences. Boise State and TCU end up in the championship game. The Orange bowl figures 6-6 Pitt will travel well, so they pick them against Virginia Tech. The Sugar goes the service academy route. The Fiesta figures that Utah would travel well again. The whole BCS blows up in smoke, as they are stuck with a bunch of games they really didn't want. They finally cave and decide a playoff wouldn't be so bad after all - especially if they can use their stadiums for venues. Or maybe the presidents get mad and say enough is enough and return the bowls to their old New Years Day special reward.

1. TCU: 12-0 [BCS Champ]
2. Boise State 12-0 [BCS Championship]
3. Stanford: 11-1 [Rose]    
4. Michigan State: 11-1 [Rose]
5. Virginia Tech: 12-1 [Orange]
6. Hawaii: 12-1 
7. Utah: 11-1 [Fiesta]
8. UCF 12-1 
9. San Diego State: 10-2
10. Northern Illinois 12-1
11. Nevada: 11-2
12. Texas A&M 10-3 [Fiesta]
13. Air Force 9-3 [Sugar]
14. Fresno State 9-3
Oregon: 9-3 
Wisconsin: 9-3
Alabama: 9-3
Missouri 9-3
Nebraska 10-3
Florida State 10-3
Arkansas 9-3
West Virginia 9-3
Ohio State 9-3
Oklahoma State 9-3
Oregon State 8-4
Oklahoma 8-4
Mississippi State 8-4
LSU 8-4
Pitt 6-6 [Orange]
South Carolina 8-5 [Sugar]
Auburn 12-1 [ineligible]

Ok, this probably stretched credulity a little too far. (Teams like 'bama and Oregon would probably be ranked above some of these non-AQs.) However, getting TCU vs. Boise in the national Championship required nothing more than flipping an NCAA ruling and a few scores.
Auburn misses a field goal in the OT win vs. Clemson (and perhaps at Mississippi State also)
Boise doesn't miss a field goal in OT loss at Nevada
Cal scored a field goal vs. Oregon
Virginia Tech wasn't caught by surprise by James Madison
And for good measure, ASU didn't miss the extra point vs. Wisconsin

This would leave:
12-0 Boise State
12-0 TCU
12-1 Virginia Tech
11-1 Oregon
11-1 Auburn or (10-2)
11-1 Stanford
11-1 Ohio State
11-1 Michigan State

Its probably best to give Auburn two losses to make sure a 1 loss SEC team doesn't sneak in to the championship. It would be hard to justify sending any of the remaining one-lossers over undefeated Boise and TCU. (Ohio State has the biggest "name brand". But they also have the loss to one loss Michigan State - and a schedule strength comparable to Boise and TCU. Stanford had looked the best, but they have the loss to Oregon. Virginia Tech would be on the tear, with 12 wins since the season opening loss to Boise. However, who wants a rematch?

Just a few field goals away.

Sunday, December 05, 2010

Thump, Quack , Moo: A Whacky Adventure

This is a rare derivative book that actually exceeds the original. Click, Clack, Moo: Cows That Type was a fun book. However, the many other books by the same authors were mere variations on the same theme.
Thump, Quack, Moo, however, tells a great original story. Here, the farmer is enlisting his animals to build a giant corn-field maze. All the animals help out - except for the mice who are taking a meteorology correspondence course. The Duck reluctantly decides to help out, but spends the nighttime hours subterfuging the Statue of Liberty maze. It finally reaches the climax as they go up in a hot air balloon to see the finished finished product.

We made the mistake of reading this as a final "bedtime" book. The kids could just not stop laughing. It is a great, funny book.

Pac-10 bowls

The Pac-10 only has 4 bowl-eligible teams. Only the Sun Belt has fewer bowl-eligible teams.

In spite of this the Pac-10 is one of the strongest conferences this season.

With 70 available bowl spots, you would imagine the top 70 teams would be playing. So, lets take a look at the top-70 teams that did not make the cut:

Top ranked nonbowl teams
22. USC (8-5)
24. ASU (6-6)
31. Oregon State (5-7)
34. California (5-7)
53. Texas (5-7)
58. Colorado (5-7)
59. UCLA (4-8)
62. Iowa State (5-7)

Hmm... The top 4 are all from the Pac-10. This list takes in every Pac-10 team save Washington State (and they are not that far down at #82). So why are the Pac-10 teams ranked so highly, but not in bowls?
USC was declared ineligible for something somebody may have done a long time ago. (They should have hired Auburn's Cam Newton case lawyers.)
ASU had 6 wins, but played two 1AA schools due to San Jose State dropping out at the last minute. It didn't matter that one of these schools was ranked higher than SJSU (and the other was not far behind). A rule is a rule. SJSU also dropped Stanford for the season. Luckily, Stanford did not have a 1AA scheduled and was able to fill the spot with Scramento State. (And it wouldn't have mattered anyway.) Who did SJSU play instead? Wisconsin and Alabama. If you have the money, you can buy your way to a "quality" victory.

Oregon State and California both had some tough non-conference road games (TCU and Boise for the Beavers and Nevada for California) Replace one of these top 15 teams with a more manageable team (say a middle of the pack SEC team?) and both would be bowling.

Another source of blame could be the 9-game conference schedule. Had Oregon State and Cal only had an 8 game schedule, they could have schedule an "easy win" non-conference game and voila, they would both be bowl eligible.

UCLA is a more difficult case. They managed just 4 victories for the season. However, it would not be a stretch to see them bowl eligible in another conference. They had a particularly brutal non-conference tour of Big-12 country with wins against Houston and Texas and a loss to Kansas State. Replace the K-State game with a 1AA school and drop a conference game and they, too, could be bowling. Alas, they are not in the SEC. At least they can take solace in knocking three teams (Houston, Texas and Oregon State) from bowl contention.

So there you have it, the Pac-10 just needs to emulate the SEC's scheduling practices (and hire their lawyers) and they could have 9 teams bowling.

Oregon State vs. Connecticut

Continuing the "using UConn to bash on the BCS" theme:

Oregon State finished 5-7. Their season is over. Revenue-wise, they should do ok. The Pac-10 has two teams in BCS bowls. However, they failed to fill the Sun Bowl spot. (The other two Pac-10 bowls would probably just cover the expenses of a team.)

Connecticut? They are 8-4, the Big East champs and are going to the BCS Fiesta bowl. A total of 6 BCS teams are going to various bowl games. With only an 8-way revenue split, Connecticut should be doing rather well.

Now, does UConn deserve a big game, while OSU stays home?

Not according to Sagarin rankings: UConn is #54, while Oregon State is #31.
Not according to similar opponents: OSU beat Louisville, while UConn was shut out.

So why is UConn bowling and not Oregon State?
You can blame the Pac-10.

Oregon and Stanford dominated the Pac-10. Even without them, you are still left with a strong conference with close parity.

Sagarin rankings of the conference teams:
Big East:  30,41,54,65,68,70,78,100
Pac10: 1,3,22,23,24,31,34,42,59,82

Both the Big East and Pac-10 have full round robin schedules. However, the Pac-10 has two additional teams, and thus two extra non-conference games. With Stanford and Oregon dominating at the top, that means two additional losses for each team.

If each Big East team had to lose to Stanford and Oregon, only two teams would be bowl eligible. Similarly, if each Pac-10 team could replace their Stanford/Oregon loses with "easy" games, then every Pac-10 team save Washington State would be bowl eligible.

In addition to the conference schedule, the Pac-10 also tends to hurt itself with hard non-conference scheduling. Oregon State was the poster child for this. Their easy non-conference game happened to be Big East member Louisville. For their other opponent, they got two top-10 teams on the road. Talk about fun!

Here are the comparisons of Sagarin rankings of all Oregon State and UConn opponents: (bold+ denotes a win)

OSU:  1,3,4,8,22+,23+,24+,34+,42 ,59 ,   ,68+,      ,82
UConn:                    30+,41+,48 ,65+,68 ,70+,73,78+,100,122+,159+,183+

OSU played 7 teams ranked higher than anyone UConn played (and won 3).
UConn played 4 teams ranked lower than anyone OSU played (and lost 1).
Hand Oregon's top four opponents to UConn in exchange for their bottom four and the Huskies could easily be 4-8 instead of 8-4.

Oregon State is a little baffling. They lost to all the top-10 teams (4) they played. However, they beat everyone between 20-40. (4) Then they lost 3 of 4 to teams ranked below 40.

UConn had a similarly odd performance. The beat their highest ranked team (#30), then went won,loss,won,loss,won,loss,won,loss between 41 and 100 before beating the three remaining teams rankings above 100.

Were OSU in the Big East, they would have had a high probability of securing a BCS bowl bid. Alas, they were in the Pac 10 and had a to stay home.

Connecticut vs. Temple

Connecticut and Temple both finished the regular season 8-4.
Both are located in the northeast.
Both have played football in the Big East (Connecticut 'replaced' Temple's football spot.)
Temple defeated Connecticut by two touchdowns.
Connecticut is going to an elite $18 million payout BCS bowl game.
Temple? They're staying home.
So, suppose the Big East divides revenue equally, and Connecticut splurges and spends $2 to "travel" to Arizona for the game. They get an extra month of practice time, a load of extra money and perks for their players and coaches, and then they get the $2 million extra for their program on top of that. Temple? Nada. The rich get richer.