Saturday, February 27, 2010

Sports Saturday: 2/27/10

(Whoops! Meant to post this morning instead of now.)

Winter Olympics - I'll wrap up Olympic curling early next week. As for the other sports...gee, I really wish I had more time to watch more of the other events. But there are only so many hours in the day. You know, if they extended the Winter Olympics (and the Summer Olympics, too) into a six week long event, I think I'd be fine with that. Yes, I realize that will never happen, but my point is, there's too much going on all at once here to really take it all in. ... Well, that is, if you're like me and feel compelled to watch four to six hours of curling every day for a week and a half. If you don't care about hockey or curling, then you can get by on the NBC primetime coverage alone.

Over the years, NBC has taken a lot of flak for their tape-delayed approach to the Olympics. Rather than air events live, they save the most popular events for primetime viewing, even if the events themselves took place much earlier in the day. Things were different twenty years ago, when there was really no convenient way to find out what happened in the Olympics before NBC got around to airing it in primetime. But now, we have the "internet" and the "ESPN BottomLine". If you don't want to spoil the Olympic events of the day before you watch the NBC primetime coverage, then you better be careful which websites you visit and which channels you watch until then. This will be an even bigger issue with the 2014 Winter Olympics. Sochi is 8 hours ahead of Eastern Time, so in four years, will be no live events in primetime.

In today's day and age, should NBC (or whoever broadcasts the next Winter Olympics) change their approach? Should they broadcast more events live and fewer events on primetime delay? Personally, I like the way they do it now. Hockey and curling should be live, since those are specific events that do not draw a general audience, but instead only draw people interested in watching hockey or curling. As such, you might as well air it live, for the sake of the people who will actually watch it. But for the other stuff, I think putting the most popular stuff in a nice, neat, primetime package is the way to go. It maximizes ratings (and, therefore, advertising revenue), and it's most convenient for the casual Olympic viewers who make up NBC's target audience. This way, casual viewers don't have to look up event schedules, leave work early, or devote six or seven hours every day to watch the most popular events as they happen. They can just tune into primetime and get everything they want in a nice, neat three hour block.

To me, the end of the Olympics is always kind of sad. A nonstop two-week-long sports party comes to an immediate halt, not to be seen again for 30 months. How depressing. I do not plan on watching the closing ceremony. I don't think I've ever watched an Olympic closing ceremony, actually, out of fear that the extinguishing of the Olympic flame will make me cry or something. Regardless, I will probably feel very empty inside next week. First, Amber goes to India for a week, then the Winter Olympics come to an abrupt end...sigh.

Sat 12:00p, USA - Men's curling bronze medal game (Switzerland v. Sweden)
Sat 1:00p, NBC - Speed skating, snowboarding, cross country
Sat 6:00p, CNBC - Men's curling gold medal game (Canada v. Norway)
Sat 8:00p, NBC - Alpine skiing, bobsled, snowboarding
(plus the complete waste of time otherwise known as the "Figure Skating Champions Gala")
Sat 10:00p, MSNBC - Men's hockey bronze medal game (Finland v. Slovakia)
Sun 12:00p, NBC - Cross country
Sun 3:00p, NBC - Men's hockey gold medal game (Canada v. USA
- missed last week's preliminary game between Canada and the United States, but I'm not missing this one!)
Sun 8:00p, NBC - Closing ceremony


Auto racing - First, the obligatory Danica Patrick comment: after last week's Nationwide Series race, I think it's fair to say that Danica isn't going to do all that well in NASCAR this year. She appears to be so far behind at this point, I don't see her running near the front this year. Now, this isn't criticism; I fully understand that she is a rookie and will struggle. Everybody struggles at first. If she were doing NASCAR full-time, I would expect vast improvement by November, but instead she's only doing NASCAR part-time, so it'll take her even longer to learn. In hindsight, the idea of Danica "taking on the boys of NASCAR" right from the start (as has been promoted by television networks and race tracks) was a bit premature (ya think?). Memo to the media: give Danica time to learn. Until then, disregard her masterful media manipulation and go find something else to talk about. I guess what I'm saying is that until she starts running competitively, I see no need to mention Danica's name in a NASCAR context again. (Full disclosure: due to the Olympics, I did not actually watch the Nationwide Series race last week. I did watch the Sprint Cup race, however. Speaking of which...)

Three thoughts from last week's Sprint Cup race at California:
1) I was happy to see that at least one race this season didn't come down to a green-white-checkered finish.
2) I know we're only two races in, but the Richard Childress cars (#29-Harvick, #31-Burton, #33-Bowyer) are vastly improved over last year. That's been the biggest thing I've noticed so far. How much of that has to do with no longer having a fourth team?
3) California Speedway (or whatever they're calling it now) isn't selling a whole lot of tickets, so it probably doesn't deserve two Cup races. How about we move the second race back to Darlington? You're only going to get 50,000 people at the race either way, so you might as well continue the "back to basics" theme NASCAR is trying to promote and give Darlington its second race back, right? Only having to drive to South Carolina (as opposed to Southern California) is a lot cheaper for the teams, too. (Yes, I realize this won't happen, and that if California does lose its second race, it'll probably go to Kansas.)

Sat 4:30p, ESPN2 - NASCAR Nationwide at Las Vegas
Sun 3:00p, FOX - NASCAR Sprint Cup at Las Vegas


College basketball - I haven't watched any college basketball the last two weeks. And that's too bad, over that time, Florida State has won three straight games, and even Penn State has won a couple of games. This always seems to happen: when I'm not watching, these teams do great! Then, when I start watching again (which I will, starting next week), they fall flat on their face. Just in time for March!

Really, though, it's too bad the Olympics pushed aside my interest in college basketball for a couple of weeks. If I had known there would be so many empty seats at this week's FSU/UNC game, I might have actually gone myself.

Speaking of the North Carolina Tar Heels...according to the News & Observer (who is often accused of being biased towards UNC, fair or not), this week's loss to Florida State "put the final nail in any lingering Tar Heel hopes of an NCAA at-large bid". Uh, YA THINK?!?! UNC was 3-9 in-conference entering Wednesday's game. How many other 3-9 teams are still actually thinking about the NCAA Tournament? Get over it, Tar Heel fans: you're not going to the tournament this year.

Sat 12:00p, FSN South - Boston College at Georgia Tech
Sat 12:00p, ESPN - Michigan at Ohio State
Sat 12:00p, MASN - Pittsburgh at St. John's
Sat 12:00p, CBS* - Notre Dame at Georgetown
(* - not televised locally)
Sat 2:00p, CBS - North Carolina at Wake Forest
Sat 2:00p, MASN - Cincinnati at West Virginia
Sat 4:00p, WRAL (Raycom) - NC State at Miami (FL)
Sat 4:00p, WRAZ (Raycom) - Maryland at Virginia Tech
Sat 4:00p, Big Ten Network - Minnesota at Illinois
Sat 4:00p, ESPNU - DePaul at Rutgers
Sat 6:00p, MASN - Charlotte at George Washington
Sat 7:00p, CSN Mid-Atlantic - Massachusetts at Dayton
Sat 9:00p, ESPN - Villanova at Syracuse
Sun 12:00p, Big Ten Network - Northwestern at Penn State
Sun 12:00p, MASN - Marquette at Seton Hall
Sun 1:00p, ESPN2 - Richmond at Xavier
Sun 2:00p, CBS - Louisville at Connecticut
Sun 4:00p, CBS - Michigan State at Purdue
Sun 5:30p, FSN - Clemson at Florida State
Sun 6:05p, Big Ten Network - Indiana at Iowa
Sun 7:45p, FSN - Duke at Virginia

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Amber Goes to India

While the closest thing to a "business trip" I ever make is a short drive to the EPA complex just down the street, not so for Amber. As part of her job, she's made three international trips so far (Cagliari, Italy; Monterrey, Mexico; and Geneva, Switzerland). Trip #4 starts on Saturday: New Delhi, India. Yes, that India. (Side comment: every time I type "India", I almost type "Indiana" by mistake.) This trip will be the longest she's made thus far, both in terms of distance from home, and length of stay. (She's leaving Saturday and won't return until the following Sunday.) I think she's going to try to make this her last major international business trip before we start raising a family.

So...yeah. I know India sounds exciting and all. Although we do like that cows are considered sacred there (no, Mo the cow puppet is not going with her), in terms of the countries we'd like to visit, it's not high the list. Not that it really matters anyway, because like all of Amber's business trips, there won't be much time (if any) for sightseeing. Some of Amber's co-workers bring their spouses with them on these long trips and then make a vacation out of it. In theory, it saves money, because one person's airfare is paid for by the company. But what is there to see in India besides, you know, the Taj Mahal? And what would I do while she's busy at her conference all week? (Actually, if I had a week in India to myself, I would probably rent a car and check out their brand spanking new superhighway system.)

I think the thing Amber is most nervous about is the food. She doesn't like spicy food, and when you think "Indian food", you think spicy, right? Ironically enough, during her trip to Switzerland, her group ended up eating at an Indian restaurant. Is there a Swiss restaurant in New Delhi? Because that would be cool. What is "Swiss food", anyway, besides cheese and chocolate?

Meanwhile, I'll have a boring week to myself at home. So I suppose it's a good thing I still have 12 unwatched Olympic curling games on my DVR.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Random Pictures: 2/24/10

It's time to unload the phone camera picture repository! Let's see what we've got...


This was from three weeks ago, and since then, I've only added 115 miles to my car's odometer. February is shaping up to be my lowest driving month ever. Meanwhile, Amber's car passed 40,000 miles on Sunday and will soon surpass my car's mileage. (Recall that since my car is going on the Alaska trip, the plan is to take Amber's car most other places we go this year so that the year-end totals are about the same for both cars.


I already have an overhead picture of I-85, but not of I-40...until now. This one - from a February 14th bike ride - is from the Old Reedy Creek Road bridge, which dead-ends at Umstead State Park and thus has almost no car traffic.



Amber and I have an agreement to not celebrate Valentine's Day. We don't see the point in wasting money on forced gifts. But the next day, I came home from work and found this greeting on my chair. Happy Canada Flag Day! National Flag of Canada day is the day after Valentine's Day, February 15th. The familiar maple leaf flag actually hasn't been around all that long - only since February 15th, 1965. Prior to then, the Canadian flag featured the Union Flag in the corner and, therefore, was kind of lame. (Memo to Australia: Follow Canada's lead and dump the Union Flag! A simple flag with a couple of stripes and a kangaroo in the center would be pretty sweet.)



Geese like to hang out near my office building. Watch your step!


No, I couldn't make it to the end of the post without mentioning curling. The Triangle Curling Club has held several viewing parties over the last two weeks, including this one from last Friday. Dark room + bright screens + low quality camera phone = subpar picture taking.

And...that's it. I need to start taking more pictures. Or go on another road trip. Or something.

Olympic Curling Recap: 2/22-2/23/10

So far, I've been recapping each match USA curling plays at the Olympics individually. Even though there are still five games I haven't recapped yet (two for the men and three for the women), I'm not going to recap the remaining games in detail. Why not? For one, the United States lost all five of those games, by a combined score of 43-18. Also, I've only had time to watch two of the five anyway. Given the size of the egg the USA laid in these games, I'm not really anxious to watch them, either.

So, for those keeping track at home, that's a 2-7 finish for both the USA men and USA women. Both finished in last place. Not good for USA curling. I have one question: WHAT THE HELL HAPPENED?!

You could say that the women's team is too "old", and that while countries like China have vastly improved their curling programs since the 2006 Olympics, the USA has basically been stuck in neutral the last four years. Case in point: McCormick's team has represented the United States at the last four World Championships. McCormick's finishes in those four World Championships are 2nd in 2006, 4th in 2007, 7th in 2008, and 9th in 2009 (source). And now, they have a 10th place finish in the 2010 Olympics. Notice a trend? Sadly, I think it's over for McCormick. (Time for Nicole Joraanstad to skip her own team?)

Based on that, you might say that we need to get "younger". Well, that's what we got with the men's team, and they finished last, too. So, I don't know what the deal is. Suffice to say that other countries are putting more effort into their curling programs, and that the United States is getting behind. I'm not suggesting we take it as seriously as China does (more on them later), but development of young curling talent appears to be a little behind what you see in other countries. USA curling isn't worse than it was in 2006; it's just that everyone else has gotten better. A lot better.

One final thought on USA curling before I move on to the Olympic medal rounds. Even though the Olympics are by far the most important international curling tournament, I think I'd be panicking by saying that USA curling was in trouble based on the result of one tournament, despite the dual last place finishes. The upcoming Curling World Championships (March 20-28 for the women, April 3-11 for the men) will be a good test to see what condition USA curling is really in. Note that the teams representing each nation in the World Championships won't necessarily be the same teams that you saw in the Olympics. For example, the United States teams won't be set until the upcoming national championships (March 6-13 in Kalamazoo, MI), from which the winners advance to the Worlds. (See Wikipedia articles on the men's and women's national championships.) People you will not see in the World Championships include USA's Debbie McCormick and Canada's Kevin Martin. However, you will be happy to know that the Dupont sisters will be representing Denmark once again. (Woohoo!)

Alright, now...on to the Olympic medal rounds. Who's left? Let's start with the women:

#1 seed: Canada. Unlike the men, the Canadian women didn't go undefeated (losing to China), and I don't get the idea that Canada is as strong a favorite here. But they are the favorite nevertheless, and they have the best home ice advantage in curling history. And, in the absence of the United States team (and the Denmark team), I'm rooting for them. Let's go Canada!

#2 seed: Sweden. Both Canada and Sweden are, shall we say, veteran squads. Or, at least, Swedish skip Anette Norberg is. (Norberg is 43. So much for the "must get younger" idea. I guess fielding an old team works if the old team is really, really good.) Norberg is the most recognizable face in women's curling, and is the defending gold medalist. How long can she keep up her run?

#3 seed: China. As far as I'm concerned, China are the "bad guys". Why? It's not just the ongoing international rivalry (beyond sports) between the United States and China. It's also the fact that China appears to take all the fun out of curling. The women's team is paid by the government to devote their lives to curling. They hired a Canadian coach. They train, train, train. It's all business. China didn't get involved in curling because they thought it was fun. Instead, they're only here because the government thought the level of competition was "soft" in curling (women's curling especially) and that they could develop a competitive team quickly, easily, and efficiently. China wasn't even in the 2006 Olympic tournament, mind you. But since it is all business, Chinese athletes are under such intense pressure from their home country, it never looks like they have any fun out there. I'm not just talking about curling, either. I feel bad for the Chinese athletes in that regard. But nevertheless, the machine must go down.

#4 seed: Switzerland. I haven't seen the Switzerland women play yet, so I don't know anything about them, except that they must be pretty good. I expect them to give Canada a tough game in the semifinals.

My picks: Oh, do I have to? Darn it. I'm actually tempted to pick China to win the gold, but I'm going to go with Sweden gold, Canada silver, China bronze. (Yes, I know Canada beat Sweden 6-2 earlier, but I don't want to just pick the top seeds all the time.)

Now, the men.

#1 seed: Canada: Kevin Martin's squad is really, really good. Sure, they're prone to missed shots every now and then, and they can be beat, but they've always been able to pull it together, at least so far. And, of course, they have that home ice advantage. Martin has been known to choke away the last shot a time or two at the very end, so victory is far from guaranteed, especially if they have to face Scotland's David Murdoch in the semifinals.

#2 seed: Norway: Yes, everyone loves the pants. But while everyone has been focusing on the pants, Norway has quitely asserted themselves as one of the favorites. Never mind the pants; this team is good. Hard to believe John Shuster almost beat these guys.

#3 seed: Switzerland: Switzerland is the wild card here. I have no meaningful analysis of their chances.

#4 seed: Sweden or Great Britain: These two teams play this afternoon in a tie-breaker. Sweden is young; Great Britain (Scotland) is the defending World Champion. I would be shocked (shocked!) if Great Britain doesn't move on to play Canada in the semifinals.

(Speaking of tie-breakers, I'm disappointed we don't need more of them. Going into the final day of women's play, the possibility existed for a seven-way tie for fourth. There is no tie-breaker such as margin of victory in curling - since matches are often conceded early, margin of victory is meaningless - so just like in Major League Baseball, ties are broken by additional matches. A seven team tie-breaker would have been a lot of fun, don't you think?)

My picks: As much as I'd like to pick Great Britain (Scotland) to beat Canada in the semifinals...I can't do it. Not here. It's Kevin Martin's time to shine. Canada gold, Norway silver, Great Britain (Scotland) bronze.

Tournament format commentary: Unlike in the Olympics, most major curling tournaments (bonspiels, if you will) have something called a Page playoff system. In the Olympic system, 1st plays 4th and 2nd plays 3rd; winners play for gold (loser silver) and losers play for bronze.
But in a Page playoff, in the first round, 1st plays 2nd and 3rd plays 4th. The winner of the 1/2 game advances to the final. The loser of the 1/2 game plays the winner of the 3/4 game in what is called the "semifinal"; the winner of the semifinal moves onto the final to play the winner of the 1/2 game.

Which is better? I don't know, actually. The Page system gives a much greater advantage to the top two teams, by giving them two chances to advance to the final, while the 3/4 teams must win two in a row to make the final. This results in one additional "meaningful" game (as opposed to a "bronze medal" game). However, the final may end up being a rematch of the 1/2 game that just happened a day or two ago, which isn't as interesting in my opinion. (This is why Canada and Scotland played each other three times in the 2009 Worlds: once in round-robin play, once in the 1/2 Page playoff game, and once in the final.) The Olympic single-elimination format makes it much easier for 3rd and 4th to win the final. But higher seeds do still mean something, because in each elimination game, last rock in the first end automatically goes to the higher seed (I think). So...who knows? I actually don't know why the Page playoff has caught on with curling, but not at the Olympics.

Either way, we still have some good curling to go. Curling isn't done yet, folks! Just because the USA is out doesn't mean you should be done with it, too!

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

The Marathon: Revisited

Recall that a few months ago, I came up with a silly goal for myself: beat the on-foot marathon world record on my bicycle. Sounds easy, but on my first attempt, I was 17 minutes, 38 seconds too slow at 2:21:37. My second attempt two weeks later was a 12-minute improvement, faster than the women's world record, but still more than five minutes slower than the men's record.

Then, this past Sunday, I made my third attempt. The world record (on foot) is 2:03:59; my SportyPal certified time from Sunday was 2:02:10. Woooo!

(Before I continue...yes, I know that SportyPal reported the distance as 25.94 miles, and that a marathon is 26.2 miles. However, here is my rebuttal. First, according to my bike odometer, the distance is 26.1 miles. My assumption is that the reason for the SportyPal/odometer discrepancy is that SportyPal isn't necessarily continuous, and as a result probably cuts corners a little bit. This will result in a reported distance that is slightly shorter than the actual distance. Second, I never claimed that the route was 26.2 miles. Since this is an arbitrary goal, I decided I wasn't going to worry about a tenth of a mile.)

I'm most impressed with the fact that I was able to improve my time by over 19 minutes from the first attempt in early December. I don't think I'm in that much better shape now than I was then, but I do think I've learned how to be more efficient. What have I improved since then?

- First, I learned something from watching Olympic cross-country skiing last week. Skiers exert all of their energy going up hills, and simply coast going down hills. I had already been doing this to some extent, but not as much as I could have. On a 26-mile bike ride, conserving energy is important, so as soon as I reached the crest of a hill, I stopped pedaling. I also maximized my downhill speed by going into a "tuck", which is surprisingly effective. I reached 29.1 mph at one point on Sunday; I don't know what my all-time top speed is but I'm pretty sure I've never cracked 30.
- Since this was my third time on the course, I was also getting familiar with the course itself, so I didn't have to stop to look at my sheet of directions. I also knew where the hills were, so I was able to more efficiently allocate my energy.
- On my first attempt, I probably took four or five breaks. This time, I only took one, just before the halfway point at the route's highest elevation. Three things helped me take fewer breaks: a squeezeable water bottle, padded bike shorts, and the afore-mentioned downhill strategy. (Related to the water bottle,
- Weather conditions were ideal: low 60s, low humidity (dew points in the upper 20s), and a light south wind. For this route, I'd much rather have a south wind than a north wind, for two reasons. One, northbound is mostly uphill and southbound is mostly downhill, so I'd rather deal with the headwind going southbound. Two, the northbound segment comes first, and starting a long bike ride with a headwind...well...blows. I'd rather save the headwind for the second half. That way, I have time to warm up, and don't wear myself out too soon.
- Or, maybe we can just thank WD-40 for lubricating my bike. Yeah...let's go with that.

So, I've accomplished a lame, arbitrary goal that at first glance thought I should have no problem beating. Good for me. Now what do I do to motivate myself? Well, keep in mind that I'm still a long way from Alaska. That should keep me motivated for a while. (The map hasn't been updated since last Thursday, but since then I've made it to Lebanon, IN, which is 27 miles northwest of downtown Indianapolis.)

Monday, February 22, 2010

WD-40

Some products have a reputation as universal problem solvers. Duct tape and caulk come to mind. WD-40 doesn't quite stand up to those two stalwarts, but does at least belong in the conversion. Do some metal parts in your machine of interest not sound right? Give it some WD-40! Are metal parts in your machine of interest not moving as efficiently as you think they should? Give it some WD-40! Recently, my bike was making some funny noises, so I sprayed WD-40 on my bike gearing. Problem solved. Yeah! And there are many other practical uses for the product.

But here's where WD-40 stands above duct tape and caulk. Duct tape and caulk are general products with many different brand names, each of which are nearly as effective as the next. WD-40, however, is the brand name. Other than "lubricant", I don't know what else to call it. When thinking of this type of product, the name WD-40 certainly comes to mind first. Why is that? Why are there no serious competitors? Is the formula for WD-40 so complicated that nobody else has been able to duplicate it? When I went to Target to get some, there was only one other option on the shelf: something called Jig-A-Loo. Fun name, yes, but it was nearly the same price per unit volume as WD-40. Sorry, but I'm going with the familiar blue and yellow can.

Finally, for normal household use, a single can of WD-40 can last you years. I think my parents have had the same can of WD-40 sitting in their garage since I was a kid. So, with our recent purchase, we might be set for life!

Olympic Curling Recap: 2/19-2/21/10

I've got some catching up to do here. Without further ado, let's see how the last few games for the USA women's curling team have gone, starting Friday morning.

Women's Game #4

End......... 1234567890 |TTL
----------------------------
USA......... 0010200102 | 06
Russia...... 0001002010 | 04

(Note that I am keeping with my convention of putting the team that has last rock in the first end on the bottom line of the box score.)

Woohoo, the USA wins a game! And it came down to the last shot, too - a Debbie McCormick hit for two. (Disclaimer: these Friday matches aren't exactly fresh in my mind, so I'm a little fuzzy on the details at this point.) As long as McCormick can hit rather than being forced to draw, there's no problem...but more on that later.

Women's Game #5

End......... 12345678901 |TTL
-----------------------------
USA......... 00011100111 | 06
G. Britain.. 10200020000 | 05

I was really looking forward to this one, given how impressed I was with 19-year-old Great Britain skip Eve Muirhead. However, Muirhead came up pretty lame in this one. In the 11th end, with last rock, she pulled a "Shuster" and missed her final draw for the win. All the while when I've been watching these matches, I was wondering when the other team would screw up for once, rather than watching our team do all of the crunch time choking. Finally, we get lucky! I am a little disappointed in Muirhead, though. I'm thinking she was a bit overhyped because of her age. Sure, she can make the crazy take-outs (88% on take-outs in this match), but she's not so good at draws (52%). And if you're going to be an elite skip, you absolutely must have draw weight.

Speaking of which...the USA was very fortunate to win this one, especially after USA skip Debbie McCormick missed ANOTHER FREAKING DRAW (two, actually) in the 3rd end to allowed GBR to steal two. That is just inexcusable. I'm also tired of the timid strategy. The USA women haven't had a three-point end the entire tournament. In this game, they couldn't even get a two-point end, but still won. If you can only score one at a time and still manage to win the game, that means the other team screwed up. You can't get four steals in a game without some help.

But I had to wonder how this team, with its timid strategy and McCormick's complete disregard for draw weight, will fare against one of the elite women's teams. Let's find out!

Women's Game #6

End......... 1234567890 |TTL
----------------------------
Canada...... 0040203--- | 09
USA......... 0100010--- | 02

Uh, yeah. Who didn't see this coming? As soon as we were done with the third end, featuring another McCormick missed draw, I knew it was pretty much game over. It's a shame, because the rest of the USA women's team has actually played pretty well in this tournament. Unfortunately, this match dropped the USA women to 2-4, and pretty much eliminated the women from medal contention. No curling medals for the United States this year. Darn it.

At this point, I had to think that it was time for a change, and sure enough, they decided to follow in the footsteps of the men's team and make a change. In last night's USA v. Sweden women's game, McCormick was no longer throwing last for the Americans. I haven't watched this game yet, however (it was last night's late game), so I don't know how it worked out. (I also don't know who was throwing fourth in her place, or which position McCormick played instead.)

Credit McCormick for taking herself out of the fourth spot (according to the announcers, this was her call), but according to sources close to the situation*, McCormick hasn't been practicing much. At least one night this week, Shuster stayed late at the arena and practiced after the last games had finished. However, McCormick has apparently not been doing the same. Why not? If you can't hit your draw weight, why aren't you practicing? (* - By "sources close to the situation", I mean "fellow curlers at the bar on Friday night", so this could just be rumor and hearsay for all I know.)

Now, on to the men. To recap the state of affairs as of Friday morning: the USA men were 0-4, with three of those losses thanks to last shot misses by skip John Shuster. So, I think it was perfectly logical to give someone else on the team a chance to throw fourth rocks. However, I don't necessarily agree with the decision to take Shuster out of the next game completely. I know Shuster has struggled when it matters most, but how is putting him on the coach's bench going to help is confidence? He's playing skip for a reason, and he's made shots before. Put him at second or third where the pressure isn't as intense. Taking him out of the game completely almost seemed like punishment. On the other hand, I guess they also wanted to give alternate Chris Plys a chance to play. Plys obviously had to take somebody's place, and the rest of the team had played fairly well up to this point, so...well, whatever. We can second guess the lineup changes all day. The question is, did it work?

Men's Game #5

End......... 1234567890 |TTL
----------------------------
USA......... 0000100021 | 04
France...... 0001002000 | 03

Woohoo!

Now, a comment about strategy. The announcers like to talk about scoring in the "even ends" (4th, 6th, 8th, etc). The idea is that if the team with last rock always scores, then as long as you're scoring in the even ends, then you'll have last rock in the 10th end, which is what you want. However, there have been so many blank ends in these games, I don't see how that should come into play until at least the 8th end, possibly even the 9th end. In the 9th end, there's no question that if you don't have hammer, you want to do everything you possibly can to force the other team to take one. But prior to that, I have to think that there are too many ends remaining for that strategy to play out. One blank end, or one steal, will throw the strategy off. And given how many blank ends there are in these games, it's silly to plan that far ahead. How often does it actually happen that the team scoring in the 4th end parlays that into last rock in the 10th end? I bet there is nearly zero correlation between "scoring in the 4th end" and "hammer in the 10th end". So, I think it's dumb for the announcers to be talking about the "even ends" that early in the game. Just my opinion. (On the other hand, when you're announcing three curling games a day for eight days straight, you run out of things to say. Curling play-by-play can't be an easy job. There are only so many things you can say about Norway's pants.)

At this point, I thought we would never see Shuster again...but that shows what I know, because he was back in the lineup for the next game. While he was skipping, he was only throwing third rocks, while Jason Smith threw fourth rocks (as he did in the France game). I think that's about right given the events of the Olympics thus far.

I'm going to discuss the next two games together, since they contrast each other well.

Men's Game #6

End......... 12345678901 |TTL
-----------------------------
USA......... 11020100201 | 08
Sweden...... 00102030010 | 07

Men's Game #7

End......... 1234567890 |TTL
----------------------------
G. Britain.. 0000210001 | 04
USA......... 0100000100 | 02

There are two ways to approach an end, and it all goes back to what you do with your first two rocks. If you throw guards, they can't be taken out immediately thanks to the free guard zone rule, and this will result in a "mucky" game with lots of traffic. If you throw into the house and/or take-out other team's rocks that are in the house, then you're going to end up with a wide open end, and unless there's a mistake, a likely blank. Just looking at the scores, it's not hard to tell which match employed which general strategy. In the USA v. Sweden game, there was a lot of muck, and a lot of interesting strategy and shot calls. Meanwhile, the USA v. Great Britain game was very wide open.

There's no question which of the two strategies is more interesting. Wide open games with a bunch of blank ends is, quite frankly, boring as hell. The USA v. Great Britain men's game was easily the least interesting curling game I've seen so far in these Olympics. But in other sports, we have seen various teams (ahem) show that boring tactics can be very successful if they're executed well. Just like in other sports, curling teams are under no obligation to put rocks in play and make the match interesting. It's all about the win.

So, anyway...going into the match, the American men apparently felt that their best chance to win was to employ "boring tactics". The Great Britain men's team, lead by David Murdoch, is one of the best in the world, and Shuster and company no doubt felt that a "mucky" game would play in the Scots' favor, given how good they are at complicated run-backs and double take-outs and such. On the other hand...come on, guys! Do you really think that you can beat Murdoch in a wide open game? I would think that in order to beat a team that's better than you, you need to get lucky. Therefore, you would want a mucky game, since muck leads to luck (one way or the other). If they make the crazy shots and beat you, so be it. Also note that against a good team, if you're going to play a "mucky" game, it's important to get off to a good start. "Boring tactics" can lessen the margin of defeat against a good team, but it's not about margin of victory, it's about wins and losses.

The phrase in my statement about boring tactics is that they can be successful if they're executed well. In the 6th end, the USA totally blew it on their last shot. Both the strategy and the shot itself were questionable. Let's take a look at the situation, with only one United States rock to go following a Murdoch miss (USA is red):


Pretty good opportunity for two, don't you think? Just draw it into the four-foot and get your two. Shuster had been calling a conservative game up to this point, so that call would have been consistent with that strategy. But instead, they decided to go for three. The call was to hit #1 onto #2 and knock #2 out of the rings, or at least far enough so that #1, #3, and the shooter would all count. When they were drawing this shot up, I had a hard time figuring out how the physics would result in three. If you nose hit #1, then #1 might roll out, leaving you with two anyway. If you're too far right of #1, then the shooter could roll out, or take both the shooter and #3 out, leaving you with one. The weight and line had to be absolutely perfect, in order to ensure that both the shooter and #1 would stay, while giving #2 had enough umph to leave the rings. I just didn't see this shot happening. Not only is the USA not precise enough (both in terms of Shuster's calls and the shotmaking itself) to make a low percentage shot like this, there is also a high risk here. If you're left of #1, then you could end up rolling out #1 and the shooter, giving Great Britain a steal of one. And...guess what happened!

I guess when you're going up against a good team, you have to take some chances, and Shuster felt they weren't going to get a better chance than this the rest of the way. I can see that argument. But personally, I would have taken the two, or at least limited my weight (say, back four) with knowledge that would get me the two at the minimum, and that there's a very slim chance I could luck into three if I'm a little heavy. They had to secure the two, and their call did not guarantee the two. I don't feel the percentages were high enough on the shot for three to justify going for it banzai-style. Unless of course you have a skip like Murdoch or Kevin Martin who can make that shot, which the Americans do not.

So, as of 10:00 PM (Eastern) last night, we have 2-4 for the USA women and 2-5 for the USA men. Not so good. I just hope neither team finishes last at this point. I'll have one more recap on Wednesday (or maybe Thursday morning) after the round robin games are done, and then a final one after medals have been awarded.

But as for today, I'll leave you with some BONUS CANADIAN CURLING!

Women: Canada v. Denmark

End......... 12345678901 |TTL
-----------------------------
Denmark..... 01000200010 | 04
Canada...... 10010001101 | 05

I like Canada as much as any non-Canadian, but I was actually rooting for the underdog Danes here. I think their team is really fun to watch. It's kind of hard to explain without making it seem as though I'm only rooting for them because I find the Dupont sisters attractive. (But I can't lie - that is a part of it. The skirts, too.) Although that certainly helps, it's not just that. They just seem like a good group of humble, enjoyable Scandinavians who have a lot of fun with curling. Or something. I felt really bad for them when they lost.

Well, anyway...I have a couple of comments on this match. For one, the 11th end was about as expertly played by Canada as it could have been. Denmark started the end by throwing center guards. That's standard strategy when you want to steal a point, because you want to prevent the other team from throwing to the button with last rock. With the free guard zone, Canada can't remove the guards until their third shot. However, they can move the guards out of the way. They can't just remove them from play completely. This is called a "tick" shot - bump the guards off the center line, but don't remove them play in accordance with the free guard zone rule. Both Canada tick shots were perfect. After that, it was easy - Canada could just peel each and every guard out of play the rest of the way, and draw to the button with last rock for one. Expertly done.

Meanwhile, much has been made of the crowd noise, which isn't something non-Canadians are used to with curling. According to the NBC announcers, Danish curler Madeleine Dupont (I really like that name, by the way - this Danish team has everything going for it!) was in tears after the match, saying the crowd noise affected her last shot in the 10th. So...were Canadian fans in error by being loud during Madeleine's shot, or is it up to her to tune out the crowd noise and execute?

I think I fall somewhere in the middle on this one. In other American sports (especially basketball), it's fair game for fans to distract the other team as much as possible when they're, say, shooting free throws. On the other hand, curling is not basketball. It's much more like golf. In golf, the crowd is silent during each shot. But it's not completely like golf, either. I think if raucous crowds were commonplace at curling arenas, the players would adjust over time, and it would eventually not be a big deal. But the current culture of curling does not lend itself to that. I think the thing that has bothered me the most about the crowd is when Canadian fans cheer a miss by the other team. Whether you're a fan or a competitor, that's not proper curling etiquette. Canadians, of all people, should know better than to cheer a missed shot.

Men: Canada v. Great Britain

End......... 1234567890 |TTL
----------------------------
G. Britain.. 0030101100 | 06
Canada...... 0201020002 | 07

This match lived up to the hype. Two of the best teams in the world making incredible shot after incredible shot (although, to be fair, they were far from perfect at times). If you're a curling fan, you have to watch this match. Or, wait until they meet again in the medal round.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Sports Saturday: 2/20/10

(First off, for the non-sports fans out there, I promise I'll have non-sports related content next week.)

Curling has dominated my consciousness this week, and I'm certainly not done talking about it (especially now that the USA has a couple of wins). But just for today, I'm going to try to make some room for some other sports.

Winter Olympics - I've talked ad nauseum about curling so far, and I'm certainly not done. However, for today...I'll provide some random thoughts on the other sports. To do this, I'm going to rank each of the Winter Olympic sports from my personal "favorite" to my personal "least favorite". Starting with the obvious:
#1 - Curling
#2 - Short Track. As I've said previously, it's as close to NASCAR as you get in the Olympics. Really fun to watch.
#3 - Snowboarding. The Snowboard cross, where four boarders race down the ice together, is fun. The freestyle and halfpipe snowboarding? Meh.
#4 - Alpine Skiing. One run at a time, stopwatch events aren't all that TV-friendly, but these guys go really really fast, and there's always a chance of a spill, which at the expense of the atheletes, makes for exciting television.
#5 - Ice Hockey. I watch a lot of hockey throughout the year, so I don't feel obligated to watch hockey during the Olympics, as opposed to the other sports that don't get much attention outside the Olympics.
#6 - Nordic Combined. Unlike in cross-country skiing, the cross-country portion of Nordic Combined has everyone against the same clock. The end of the race on Sunday (was that Sunday?) was fun to watch.
#7/#8/#9 - Bobsled, Luge, and Skeleton (in that order). Not as interesting as alpine skiing, for two reasons. One, there aren't as many mistakes. Two, the track is more confining than the ski trails.
#10 - Speed Skating. I've watch quite a bit of this, but only because it's been on NBC a lot. Meh.
#11 - Ski Jumping. Looks like a lot of fun, doesn't it?
#12 - Biathlon. Only because it's kind of quirky. It's kind of like a couple of guys had a late night at the bar, and had a conversation like this: "We need another Winter Olympic sport." "Hey, what if we combined cross-country skiing and...oh, I don't know, shooting?" "Brilliant! Let's do it."
#13 - Figure Skating. I absolutely recognize the atheletic ability required to be a good figure skater. Amber's older sister used to figure skate, so I have first-hand knowledge of how difficult it is and how fit you have to be. However, I really don't like the costumes (less sparkles, please), and I don't understand the scoring at all. Perhaps the IOC's solution to the judging controversy from 2002 was to complicate the scoring system to the point where nobody understands it, and therefore, nobody questions it? What ever happened to the 0 to 10 scale? They've done the same with gymnastics, and it's lame. Don't just show me the final number. Show me the components! If I don't understand how the winners and losers are determined, then I can't get around it. (I also don't care enough to do more research regarding the scoring.)
#14 - Cross-Country. The staggered start makes the races hard to follow, and cross-country skiing is slow.
#15 - Freestyle Skiing. Not as "cool" as snowboarding, and it's another judged sport, so...not worth my time.

Sat 12:00p - Men's Curling (USA v. Sweden), MSNBC
Sat 1:00p - Freestyle Skiing/Ski Jumping/Cross-Country, NBC
Sat 3:00p - Men's Hockey (Norway v. Switzerland), MSNBC
Sat 5:00p - Women's Curling (USA v. Great Britain), CNBC
Sat 7:30p - Men's Hockey (Latvia v. Slovakia), MSNBC
Sat 8:00p - Alpine Skiing/Short Track/Speed Skating, NBC
Sat 10:00p - Men's Curling (Canada v. Great Britain), CNBC
Sun 12:00a - Men's Hockey (Belarus v. Germany), MSNBC
Sun 3:00a - Men's Curling (Norway v. Denmark), MSNBC
Sun 12:00p - Freestyle Skiing/Biathlon, NBC
Sun 12:00p - Women's Curling (USA v. Canada), MSNBC
Sun 3:00p - Men's Hockey (Czech Republic v. Russia), NBC
Sun 5:00p - Men's Curling (USA v. Great Britain), CNBC
Sun 7:00p - Ice Dancing (ugh)/Alpine Skiing/Speed Skating/Bobsled, NBC
Sun 7:00p - Men's Hockey (USA v. Canada), MSNBC
Sun 10:00p - Women's Curling (USA v. Sweden), CNBC


Auto racing

Sat 5:30p - NASCAR Nationwide from California, ESPN2 - While I am growing weary of Danicamania, at least she'll make this week's Nationwide Series race more interesting. On the other hand, I don't expect much out of her today. But that's okay, because this is her second race. She shouldn't be criticized for her performance her rookie year in NASCAR - which, based on last week's showing at a track that should come easily for rookies in good equipment, won't be great. But she likely will get criticized because of how much she's hyped and promoted herself, by her choice.

Sun 3:00p - NASCAR Sprint Cup from California, FOX - I watched last week's Daytona 500 via DVR anyway, so the two pothole red flags didn't really bother me a whole lot. (If it had delayed or preempted "The Simpsons" curling episode, however, that would have been a different story. I would have had many angry friends if that were the case.) On the other hand, it was an absolute buzz kill for the sport. There had been a lot of buzz going into the race, and the red flags killed it, likely shooing away any "casual" or "lost" fans the sport was hoping to bring back this season. And, the Daytona 500 was a good reminder to fans like me that in today's NASCAR, in the era of the "lucky dog" rule, "shootout-style" restarts, "debris cautions", and now multiple green-white-checkered attempts, the first two-thirds of the race is more irrelevant to the outcome than it's ever been. No doubt, the drivers are also catching onto this, and kind of "taking it easy" the first half of the race. The proof is in the highlight package: when NASCAR Now recapped and discussed the race on Monday, almost all of the highlights they showed and analyzed were from the last 30 minutes of the race. With this in mind, I imagine it's hard for most fans to justify devoting three hours to a NASCAR race anymore. Maybe this is just my opinion, but if NASCAR wants to increase TV ratings, shouldn't they give fans a reason to actually watch the start of the race?

College basketball - Last week, I said "See you in March", but I actually did watch a couple of games last weekend. However, I did not watch any of the mid-week games, and I do not expect to watch any more games until the Olympics are over. That's too bad, because even Penn State managed to win a game this week. Wow!

It takes me about 30 minutes to put together the ACC/Big Ten/Big East/A-10 schedule each week, and I didn't have time for it today, so...no TV schedule this week. Sorry, folks. Do yourself a favor and watch curling instead.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Olympic Curling Recap: 2/17-2/18/10

If you've been paying attention to the Olympic curling festivities, then you already know the deal. United States curling has been, shall we say, a bit of a disappointment thus far. The women are 0-3; the men are 0-4. Both are in last place.

So, what's going on? Let's start with the women.

Women's Game #2

End......... 1234567890 |TTL
----------------------------
USA......... 0001011011 | 05
Germany..... 1000300200 | 06

Women's Game #3

End......... 1234567890 |TTL
----------------------------
Denmark..... 1100013010 | 07
USA......... 0021100101 | 06

While the men's games are coming down to a final shot in the extra end, the women's games are turning against the Americans well before that. The USA women have given up a three-point end in every game, including two against Japan. Meanwhile, they have yet to score a three-ender of their own in the entire tournament. I think the problem is that skip Debbie McCormick isn't being aggressive enough. It's a combination of playing "not to lose", and not executing the shots you need in order to set up a big end. Denmark is not a great team, and yet, the USA could only get one two-ender the entire game, let alone a three-ender. Meanwhile, McCormick's final draw in the 7th end was light, allowing Denmark to steal three. At that point, I said, "there goes the match". Make that shot, and you're up 5-3 and still in control. Instead, you're down 6-4. The missed draw to finish the 7th was the difference in the game.

So...I'm not sure how good this team is, but it doesn't look good. Fortunately at noon (Eastern) today, they get a chance against a Russian team that just lost 10-3 to Great Britain.

Speaking of the Scots - a "Great Britain" curling team is basically a Scottish team - I watched their women's team play Sweden yesterday. In that match, Great Britain looked like a team with a weak front end but a good third and a very strong skip. Scottish skip Eve Muirhead, despite being only 19 years old, bailed her team out in almost every end with some absolutely incredible shots. Sweden won the game 6-4, but without Muirhead's heroics, the game would have been a blowout. Check out the Great Britain women's team if you can - they play the United States Saturday at 5:00p (Eastern). Or, for those who don't know, you can watch a full replay of any curling match, plus any live match, online here.

Now, on to the men.

Men's Game #3

End.......... 12345678901 |TTL
------------------------------
Switzerland.. 21100000111 | 07
USA.......... 00021111000 | 06

Men's Game #4

End......... 12345678901 |TTL
-----------------------------
USA......... 10200200100 | 06
Denmark..... 02010011011 | 07

The broadcasting team has beaten this to death, but USA skip John Shuster has now had four game-winning shots on his plate, and missed all four. His inability to make the last shot is becoming legendary.

But why do these games always seem to come down the final shot? If the United States rink is as bad as their 0-4 record indicates, then why haven't they had a blowout loss yet? How are they managing to do just enough to lose by a hair every time? This team isn't awful, but there are a few glaring weaknesses:
- The front end is decent, but not good enough to set up a big three or four point end. Just like the women, the USA men have not scored more than two in any end so far.
- Shuster isn't lining up the shots as well as he needs to. A few of his team's shots have been off, not because of a mistake by the shooter, but because Shuster put the broom in the wrong place (i.e. "gave the wrong ice"). You have to be more precise than he's been to compete at this level.
- And, of course, Shuster is now 0-for-4 on "match points". (That isn't a curling term; that's just my attempt at a tennis analogy.) If you can't read the ice or make the clutch shot, then you're not a very good skip. Now...he's done very well at both in order to qualify for these games, and the very same team went 7-4 at last year's World Curling Championships. But that was last year. Perhaps determining the Olympic teams over a year before the fact isn't the way to go? That's something the USCA is going to have to look at going forward.

The most discouraging thing here is that Denmark is one of the weakest teams in the field, and still escaped with a win. Denmark might be the only team in the men's field where the guy throwing last rock is worse than Shuster. Nonetheless, the Denmark fourth made the shots when he needed to, and Shuster did not. As poorly as the Switzerland team played in the middle ends, they came through in the clutch when they needed to, as has all of the USA's opponents thus far. Shuster has obviously had no answer. And since this team isn't good enough to win going away, they must rely on clutch shotmaking from Shuster to win games. And that's bad news. We could seriously be looking at 0-9 here.

When I watch our teams struggle, I have to wonder what kind of ripple effect this will have on USA curling in general. Naturally, the better our teams do in the Olympics, the more popular curling will be in this country. It's human nature. The most popular sports in the United States are the ones in which the United States is best at. (That's true with every country, not just us.) Thinking in terms of our home club, the Triangle Curling Club, the USA's giant egg-laying on the biggest curling stage of them all can't be good for our club. Talk about a buzz kill. Curling had a lot of momentum going into the games, but our teams' struggles aren't helping in the least. The casual fan may have already tuned out curling by now, whereas if the USA was winning games, they would still be watching and would still be excited about curling. Now...I'd like to think that the people who are likely to love curling so much that they stick with the club are going to come out to a "Learn to Curl" regardless of how well the USA does in this here Olympics. But if our team continues to struggle internationally, what if they don't even qualify for the 2014 Winter Olympics? That would truly be a disaster for our sport in this country. Let's face it: in a place like North Carolina, we can't survive without the Olympics.

While there are still games to be won, I think a 3-6 finish is the best either team can hope for at this point. Forget about the medal round. Just win a couple of games, please. I'd like to think that for John Shuster, the pressure is off at this point. He's already become the butt of jokes in this country, and at this point, he's expected to screw up. Expectations = pressure, but now there are no expectations, and the Olympic tournament is already a lost cause at this point, so...can they beat France this afternoon? Sure! This is as good an opportunity for a win as Shuster and company will get the rest of the way. (Side note: I couldn't verify this online, but if I heard this right, the French curling team's home club is an arena club like ours, not one with a dedicated curling facility.)

Meanwhile...if you want to watch good curling, watch the Canadian men's team. Canadian skip Kevin Martin is, quite simply, The Man. Unlike Shuster, you can always count on him to make the last shot. These guys absolutely know what they're doing. They'll surely be in the medal round, so don't tune out curling as soon as the Americans are eliminated. Stick around for the elimination games next Thursday and Saturday and watch the best curlers in the world. Yes, I know Martin failed to win Olympic gold last time he was here, but I think this is their best chance yet.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Olympic Curling Recap: 2/16/10

The next two weeks, it's going to be ALL CURLING, ALL THE TIME. (Well, most of the time.) It's really fun to see all of the attention my adopted sport and the Triangle Curling Club has been getting over the last week or so. Here is one such article from the [Raleigh] News & Observer. (Who's that dork standing in the background there?)

Curling isn't the only thing I'm going to talk about the next two weeks on this blog, but also it's the only thing I've got in the pipeline for today, so...this is what you get. I also don't know if I'm going to do this every day, especially if I get behind on my DVR viewing.

Men's Game #1

End....... 1234567890 |TTL
----------------------------
Germany... 102011020i | 07
USA....... 010200101i | 05

Since the last Olympics, almost all of the competitive curling I've watched (online, of course) has been Canadian curling, such as the Tournament of Hearts (Canadian women's national championship) and the Brier (Canadian men's national championship). Three matches into the Olympics, after watching non-Canadian teams play, I've already noticed something. The best Canadian teams play excellent defense. They won't give you any easy shots, and they're always trying to prevent against the crippling double take-out, for example. Team USA, on the other hand, seems to have a problem with that. Both in this game and in the Norway game, too many times, the Americans opened the door for the other team to make the shot of the end - for example, leaving its two best rocks in position to be easily taken out with one swing (well, easily for an Olympic-level curler). It's not that the Americans haven't been trying or don't know what they're doing; it's just that the shot-making hasn't been precise enough. At this level, you need to be perfect, because chances are, the other team will be. (It does seem like USA skip John Shuster is in a little over his head, at least so far.) On the other hand, well-executed defensive curling isn't as fun to watch, so I have enjoyed the action so far.

Women's Game #1

End....... 1234567890 |TTL
----------------------------
Japan..... 0010303011 | 09
USA....... 1201020100 | 07

Early on, it looked like the Americans were going to win this game going away. Then, they missed a couple of shots, and all of a sudden Japan has two three-enders on the board. The Japanese really got off to a slow start, but completely outplayed the Americans from the 5th end on.

Now...a strategy question. Normally, when I watch good curling teams play, I give them the benefit of the doubt with respect to strategy, under the assumption that they know far more about curling than I do. But in this instance, I really have to wonder. 7th end, Japan (yellow) with last rock, one shot remaining for each team:
(I labeled the hog line, front, and back of the house to clarify the orientation. This is upside-down from what is presented on television, but is how the curlers themselves view the house, at least mentally.)

USA has one shot left. It's going to be difficult to steal one in this scenario, so I would think the play is to try to limit Japan to one. And, since a triple take-out is not a realistic option, I would think the best way to do that would be to freeze their final rock to the yellow #1 rock, so that Japan can't remove it and can only draw their last shot for one point. Instead, USA skip Debbie McCormick called for the double take-out, in an attempt to remove #1 and #2. I don't understand that call at all. Best-case scenario, they execute the double take-out, and Japan has an open hit for two points. Instead, McCormick missed the double, taking out only the #1 rock, leaving Japan an open hit for three, which of course they made.

I know a freeze is a difficult shot to make, and if you leave the freeze short you give up four, but McCormick should have been able to make the freeze, I would think. There was corner guard out there somewhere (not pictured because I don't remember exactly where it was), and perhaps McCormick wanted to roll the shooter behind that guard, but a double take-out plus precise hit and roll is much more difficult than a freeze, in my opinion (reinforced by the fact that McCormick didn't get either). Am I missing something here? Why was the freeze not called? (It's fun playing "armchair quarterback" with curling, isn't it?)

Here's another thing I was wondering. With one end to play, are you better off being down one with last rock, or up one without last rock? According to the announcers, up one without last rock wins 60% of the time in this scenario, so...there you go.

Men's Game #2

End....... 12345678901 |TTL
----------------------------
Norway.... 01001002011 | 06
USA....... 00010020200 | 05

While I did record the tape-delayed telecast of this match, I thought I would save some time and watch it online while I was...err...not at home. There are two problems with that, however, at least if you want to avoid the result of the match. For one, the final scores are right there on the Full Replay page. While I did manage to find the correct "Full Replay" link while hiding the final score with a sheet of paper, little did I know that the title of the page that actually shows the video would be "Norway steals win from U.S. in extra end". Darn you, NBCOlympics.com!

The Norway team has really awesome pants. But more curiously, while they speak their native tongue when discussing strategy, they yell "Hard" just like everyone else. The Germans and Japanese also used English curling terms like "Hard", "Yep" and "Clean" to direct the sweepers. Why is that? What's Norwegian for "Hard"?

Since I did already know the outcome of this one before I watched it, I watched the entire last end wondering how USA would manage to give up one with last rock, knowing that they only needed to score one. The general strategy was for Norway to get one in there and/or guard the center line (preventing USA from drawing to the button with their last rock), and for USA to leave the center as open as possible so that the final shot draw would be an option with the last shot. How did Norway steal? Three factors: 1) USA missed a shot early in the end and got a shot behind (giving Norway a center guard and shot rock simultaneously, rather than one or the other); 2) Shuster's next-to-last rock didn't finish as shot rock, allowing Norway to guard with their last rock and make Shuster's final draw more difficult, and most importantly: 3) Shuster's final draw was heavy. It was tough to watch it pass right through the button with the game on the line. Very tough.

So...not a good opening day for Team USA. But they have been close in every match, so here's hoping they can turn it around today.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Curling Recap: 2/12/10

Before I get started, I know the power of Google searches - and there will be a lot of curling-related Google searches the next two weeks - so let me get this commercial out of the way: Yes, believe it or not, there is a curling club in North Carolina. Come on out to the Triangle Curling Club and give it a try! Our next Open House is on Friday, March 5th at 9:00 PM, at the "Polar Ice House at the Factory" in Wake Forest. We're 15 miles north of downtown Raleigh and 25 miles east of downtown Durham. Visit trianglecurling.com for more information.

End............ 1234567 |TTL
----------------------------
Our team....... 0100010 | 02
Other team..... 1021202 | 08

Pretty simple analysis in this one: the other team played better. In most ends, they were able to get position early, and then they guarded the heck out of what they had, leaving us with not too many options. Or, the one time we actually did manage to get two in the house (the 4th end), they were taken out immediately. Then, once my turn came up, we found out that I'm not yet good enough of a curler to make the really good shots that can rescue a team from despair. (Then again, I couldn't even make the simple draws, either. Not last week, anyway.)

So, yes, the other team played a lot better than we did, and the final score reflects that. But from a strategy standpoint, is there anything we could have done differently? Probably not that would have been enough to give us the win, given how well the other team played. But we could have perhaps kept the game closer for longer if I had adjusted my strategy accordingly. Preventing the "big end" is an important part of my strategy as skip. That generally means getting at least one rock in the house (counting or not) before we try any take-outs. My rationale is that given how tough take-outs are on arena ice, if you miss three or four take-outs in a row (which seems to happen a lot), then that's three or four rocks you don't have in play. That means a wide-open house for the other team, and that leads to big scores. While that strategy did what it was supposed to do - we never allowed more than two points at a time - this match showed a weakness in that strategy: if the other team is really good, then they might have two in the house and three guards in front before you know it. Against a good team, it's better to try take-outs early, and if you miss them, oh well - you tried. While take-outs are very, very, important on good curling ice, you can sometimes win without them against an average team in our club. But if you're playing a really good team, then you need to make a take-out or two.

This was actually the "league championship" game (of a short four-week league, I should mention), so perhaps I should have adjusted my strategy accordingly. Lesson learned: "sticking with what got you there" doesn't always work. (On other note, I should have also done a better job hiding my frustration. I won't go into too much detail there.) Then again, a 3-1 record - and 2nd place out of 8 teams - is pretty good.

So...that's it for league curling for a while. Normally we have an eight- or nine-game league, but we're taking a mid-season break to help promote the club during the Olympics. League curling will return at the end of March with a brand new league. (Two leagues, actually, although Amber and I will likely only participate full-time in one of the two.) It's "to be determined" whether I'll be playing skip again in the Spring, or whether I'll be back to my usual position of vice-skip. I think I'd be fine either way. Calling the strategy is fun and all, but the only way I can really compete as a skip is if I'm playing against an equally inexperienced skip. And, sweeping is fun, but skips don't sweep. I think I'd be fine with playing any position from Lead to Skip in the Spring.

Until then...let's watch the Olympics! Olympic curling starts at noon tomorrow, and I can't wait. My DVR and I are more than ready. Go Team USA!

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Snow Pictures: February Edition

The snow has come and gone once again. And our storm total is...drum roll please...2.25 inches.


So, it wasn't a dud (as I originally thought it would be when it first got going last night), but it wasn't a complete dumping, either. I expect most of it to be gone by Sunday, and almost all of it gone by Monday.

Now...I just took a bunch of snow pictures two weeks ago, and that was a much more impressive event. However, no two snowstorms are created equal, so I took some pictures anyway (just not as many as last time).


This snow was much "stickier" than what we got two weeks ago, so more of it collected on trees and such. Amber really likes this kind of snow because it makes the trees look pretty. Compare to two weeks ago, when practically nothing stuck to the trees.


This isn't my newer bike; this is my older cheap Wal-Mart bike, which has been sitting outside doing nothing for eight months. Anyone want it?


The snow wasn't enough to completely cover the roads, or even our driveway. And that's quite alright with me.


During the last snowstorm, my car was parked in the carport, and Amber's car was parked out in the open. So it's only fair that we changed it up this time around, don't you think?

And yes, I realize that by northern standards, less than 3 inches of snow does not constitute a "storm". Please keep in mind where we live.

Sports Saturday: 2/13/10

First off...it's time for the Winter Olympics! Hooray! I'm going to be spending a significant amount of time watching the Olympics over the next two weeks, so I'm going to devote several paragraphs to the Olympics today.

I like the Winter Olympics more than the Summer Olympics. Why? The main reasons are hockey and curling, but I'm also a fan of bobsled/luge/skeleton and short track speed skating. (Short track speed skating is as close to NASCAR as you're going to get in the Olympics. They have multi-car pileups and everything!) A secondary reason is because my favorite country, Canada, while nearly invisible in the Summer Olympics, is front and center in the Winter Olympics. And given that the Games are actually being held in Canada this year...OMG, CANADA OVERLOAD! The next two weeks will be a good test to see how much I really like Canada. Could I possibly ever get sick of hearing about our wonderful northerly neighbors? I doubt it, but you never know.

I'm going to spend so much time watching curling and hockey, I may not have much time for any of the other sports. I am setting up my DVR to record every second of Olympic curling coverage, men's and women's. Curling is rarely on television in this country - if ever - so I better take advantage of it. It's also one of the few sports I watch that Amber willingly wants to watch with me! We're looking at two full games per day, which is quite a time commitment on our end. I'm hoping that on a DVR, we can get through an entire curling match in 90 minutes or less. Either way, the Winter Olympics only happen once every four years, so I don't mind pretty much ignoring most everything else that's going on for a couple of weeks. I'll watch hockey from time to time as well, but I won't record any hockey games until the medal round. As for every other sport...we'll squeeze them in as best we can. By next Wednesday or Thursday, I'll have a better idea of how to best coordinate our TV viewing.

Since I will be watching most of the curling on DVR delay rather than live, I have a feeling I may have to avoid Twitter and Facebook altogether these next two weeks, especially if we get too far behind on our viewing. We'll see how it goes.

Finally, I'm rooting for Canada in every Olympic sport...except one. As much as like Canada, and despite the fact that curling is definitively Canadian, I am an American curler, so I want the American curling teams to win, darn it. But aside from curling...go Canada!

Neither curling nor men's hockey starts until Tuesday, so this weekend might be a good time to watch some of the other events.

Sat 2:00p-6:00p: Ski jumping/speed skating/biathlon, NBC
Sat 3:00p-5:30p: Women's ice hockey - Sweden v. Switzerland, CNBC
Sat 8:00p-11:30p: Short track speed skating/downhill skiing, NBC
Sat 8:00p-10:30p: Women's ice hockey - Canada v. Slovakia, CNBC
Sun 12:00a-1:00a: Luge/short track speed skating, NBC
Sun 1:00p-6:00p: Downhill skiing/speed skating/luge/biathlon, NBC
Sun 3:00p-5:30p: Women's ice hockey - United States v. China, USA
Sun 7:00p-11:00p: Downhill skiing/figure skating, NBC
Sun 7:30p-10:00p: Women's ice hockey - Finland v. Russia, CNBC


Auto racing - The season has barely started, and I've already heard enough about Danica Patrick. So...let's talk about the Daytona 500 instead, which will feature 43 drivers not named Danica Patrick.

(Side note: I'm going to assume that if you're reading the "auto racing" section, that means you actually care about it, and that you follow it at least to some extent.)

The Daytona 500 is, of course, NASCAR's biggest race of the season. But does that mean that only the best drivers can hope to win? Nope! Actually, the list of drivers who have won the Daytona 500 over the last 10 years contains a good mix of series champions (Jeff Gordon, Jimmie Johnson) and drivers who haven't done much of anything else in their careers (Michael Waltrip, Ward Burton). I think about half the field has a legitimate chance to win on Sunday. The way the race has played out over the last few years, you'd have to argue that being lucky is more important than anything else.

Does it bother me that winning the biggest race of the season requires more luck than skill these days? Not really, because that actually makes it more entertaining to watch! This is an important race for everybody, and they're all going to do whatever they can to win. Many drivers will have a chance and will be in contention at the end, but only one will win. If the winner ends up being an obscure driver who doesn't stand much, then that's great! Jimmie Johnson will have plenty of chances to win this season. But if you're A.J. Allmendinger, on the other hand...this is pretty much the only chance you have all season to do anything noteworthy. So, I'm rooting for guys like "the Dinger".

Best of all, they're running the Daytona 500 in the afternoon this year! Hooray! Of all the changes NASCAR has made recently, the "uniform start times" is my favorite. Not so much because they're uniform, but because it means the races will start earlier. Daytona 500 started at 5:00p or something last year, and that was stinky. I like my NASCAR served warm on a Sunday afternoon, not leading directly into "The Simpsons". (Speaking of which, Sunday's episode of "The Simpsons" is about curling. Oh yes.)

Sat 1:00p - NASCAR Nationwide Series at Daytona, ESPN2
Sun 1:00p - NASCAR Sprint Cup Daytona 500, FOX

NHL - Men's Olympic hockey doesn't start until Tuesday, so the NHL decided to squeeze another couple days' worth of games in today and tomorrow. Not sure how much I'll watch today and tomorrow, however.

Meanwhile, the Carolina Hurricanes have won four straight games and eight of their last ten! That's great, but...they still only have 23 wins in 60 games, and are still only 28th best in the 30-team league. This season is still a lost cause, and their best option is still to trade away the expiring contracts and get the best draft pick possible. Unfortunately, the Edmonton Oilers (3-15-2 in their last 20 games) obviously want the #1 draft pick more than the Hurricanes do. (There is a lottery for the first overall draft pick, but the team with the worst record will pick no worse than second overall.)

Sat 2:00p - Tampa Bay at NY Islanders, Sun Sports
Sat 7:00p - New Jersey at Carolina, Fox Sports Carolinas
Sat 7:00p - Boston at Florida, NESN
Sat 7:00p - Philadelphia at Montreal, NHL Network
Sat 7:00p - San Jose at Buffalo, MSG Buffalo
Sat 7:00p - Ottawa at Detroit, Fox Sports Detroit
Sat 8:00p - Washington at St. Louis, Fox Sports Midwest
Sat 8:00p - Dallas at Phoenix, Fox Sports Southwest
Sat 8:30p - Atlanta at Chicago, SportSouth
Sat 10:00p - Anaheim at Calgary, NHL Center Ice
Sat 10:30p - Colorado at Los Angeles, Fox Sports West
Sun 1:00p - Tampa Bay at NY Rangers, Sun Sports
Sun 1:00p - Nashville at Pittsburgh, Fox Sports Tennessee
Sun 3:00p - Vancouver at Minnesota, NHL Center Ice
Sun 5:00p - Ottawa at NY Islanders, MSG Plus
Sun 5:00p - Chicago at Columbus, Fox Sports Ohio
Sun 7:00p - Anaheim at Edmonton, NHL Center Ice
- The last NHL game until Tuesday, March 2nd. Yes, there is one game on March 1st. But it's on Versus, so as far as I'm concerned, it doesn't count. (I'll revisit the whole DirecTV/Versus thing once we get closer to the playoffs, but with no resolution in sight, it looks like I'll have a decision to make in a couple of months.)

College basketball - Four words: See you in March!

Sat 12:00p - Miami (FL) at Clemson, Fox Sports South
Sat 12:00p - Michigan State at Penn State, ESPN
Sat 12:00p - Cincinnati at Connecticut, MASN
Sat 1:00p - Maryland at Duke, CBS
Sat 2:00p - Indiana at Wisconsin, Big Ten Network
Sat 2:00p - Providence at Villanova, ESPNU
Sat 2:00p - Richmond at St. Bonaventure, CSN Mid-Atlantic
Sat 4:00p - NC State at North Carolina, ESPN
Sat 4:00p - Dayton at St. Louis, ESPNU
Sat 4:30p - Iowa at Purdue, Big Ten Network
Sat 6:00p - Xavier at Florida, ESPN
Sat 8:00p - Georgia Tech at Wake Forest, WRAL (Raycom)
Sat 8:30p - South Florida at Marquette, MASN
Sun 12:00p - DePaul at Seton Hall, MASN
Sun 1:00p - Ohio State at Illinois, CBS
Sun 1:00p - Louisville at Syracuse, ESPN
Sun 4:00p - Georgetown at Rutgers, MASN
Sun 4:00p - St. Joseph's at Massachusetts, CBS College
Sun 5:00p - Minnesota at Northwestern, Big Ten Network
Sun 7:30p - Boston College at Florida State, FSN
Sun 7:30p - St. John's at Notre Dame, MASN

Friday, February 12, 2010

Snow: February Edition

Looks like we're going to get some more snow! Hooray!

Actually, I have to admit...I'm forcing the excitement this time around. I can do without this particular snowstorm. I'm going to try to limit the "complaining", considering what other parts of the country have dealt with over the last two weeks...but maybe I would feel differently if there was more of a lead-up. The local NWS forecasts didn't pick up on the fact that the storm that moved through Texas and Louisiana might affect us as well until late Thursday night. Up until then, the official forecast for Friday and Saturday was for partly cloudy skies, so I was preparing myself for a sunny - albeit cold - weekend. Now, the official forecast is for 1 to 3 inches of snow tonight, which (if it verifies) means light turnout at curling tonight (again), likely no Ziggy's (the bar next to the rink) after curling, and no bike ride tomorrow. Why can't these snowstorms get here on, like, Tuesday or something?

I also don't like this recent turn of events because it makes me look dumb. On Monday, I sent an email to the curling club (I send weekly league updates to everyone) proudly proclaiming the following; "There is NO THREAT OF SNOW OR ICE OR ANYTHING this Friday." Whoops! Of course, this was based on the forecast at the time (Monday), well before the models were even suggesting a chance of snow for this area - but regardless, now I look like an idiot.

Well, anyway...I'll let you know how much snow we end up getting out of this storm over the weekend. It could be anything from "Trace" to 3 inches. I really want to be excited about it, but I just can't...not yet, anyway. Maybe that'll change once it actually gets here.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Random Thoughts on 'Lost' and '24': 2/11/10

(SPOILER ALERT)

I was going to hold off on this for another week, but I have enough material from each show to make up a full-length post, and I don't have anything else lined up for today, so...here you go.

First off...the goal of these posts is not to provide "full episode recaps". There are plenty of other websites out there that do episode recaps. Instead, I'm just going to give some unorganized "random thoughts" that come to mind when I watch each show. With "Lost", that means trying to untangle the complex plot and find links between events. "Lost" is, by design, a mysterious show with lots of "what the hell is going on?" moments, but it also has outstanding continuity, so it lends itself well to this type of discussion. With "24", on the other hand, aside from the occasional surprising "oh, he's actually a bad guy" or "wow, didn't expect him to die" moment, what you see is what you get. Unlike with "Lost", "24" contains no clues whatsoever as to what will happen next, so there's no point in trying to predict or analyze. Instead, I'll spend most of my time complaining and/or making fun of the show.

I should also make note of this important fact, as it applies to both shows: I avoid websites that give away spoilers of future episodes - for example, TV "gossip" sites that have "exclusive information" should something leak from a future episode. My discussion is only based on my own opinion, without having any actual idea what will happen in any future episodes. My "spoiler alert" warning applies only to episodes that have already aired, not future episodes. As long as you're up to date, you don't have to worry about me giving anything away.

Lost

Rather than flashbacks or flashforwards, now we have...something else. The consensus interpretation I've seen is that we are seeing two alternate solutions to the bomb aftermath - "sideflashes", if you will. But only one of these actually happened, right? Personally, I think that the 2004 time reset solution is, in a manner of speaking, a "flashforward", and that as we move along in the season, eventually the two split timelines will be linked together, and we'll discover that time did eventually get reset...just not immediately right after the bomb detonation. "Lost" has a way of revealing what happens in the future well before the main storyline gets that far - for example, showing the post-island lives of the Oceanic Six before they actually made it off the island. If Juliet says "it worked" (or intended to say, at least), clearly, she knows something that we don't. And we wouldn't be devoting this much time to an alternate storyline that never actually happens, right? But really...who knows? Also, are we going to have the split storyline all season long?

So...it appears that when you're "healed" by the "healing water", as Sayid was, then you get "infected", and eventually you're "not the same person you once were". (Note - when I use quotes, I'm not quoting the show directly. I'm only paraphrasing.) I'm assuming the same also applied to Ben when he was brought to the temple after Sayid shot him back in 1977, citing Richard's similar warning. "Sure, I can take Ben to the temple and save him, but he will never be the same again. Are you sure you want to do this?" First question: why wasn't the healing water clear, and what difference does it make? This fact was important enough to make last week's "Previously On Lost" segment, so it's obviously important. My guess is that Jacob's death has something to do with the water color, but I don't know what difference it makes. I also don't know how Sayid could apparently "rise from the dead", given that last season, Ben said in relation to Locke, "Dead is dead; you don't get to come back from that." There must be more to it than that. Sayid can't be another incarnation of the Smoke Monster / Man In Black, because it's still Sayid's body, and the SM/MIB currently is somewhere else on the island...right? Another question: was Claire healed at some point, or is there another way to get "infected"? Claire seems to be the "new Rousseau", so was Rousseau infected at some point, too? (I ask the latter because Rousseau is, shall we say, a little different when we see her in 2004, as opposed to when she landed on the island in the 1980s. That could just be a function of living on the island for 16 years, however, and I doubt we'll hear much more about Rousseau's story the rest of the way.) Here's another question: assuming that Ben was in fact "infected" when he was healed in 1977, is that related to the "loophole" that the Man In Black needed in order to kill Jacob?

Kate is my least favorite character (pretty much everything she does invokes a "what the hell are you doing?!" reaction from me), and Kate episodes are my least favorite ones, so I'm glad we got her episode out of the way early. As for Claire...her appearance at the very end of the 2/9 episode wasn't actually surprising, given that Dogen (I had to look up his name) just mentioned Jack's "sister". Well, obviously, that means we're going to see her very soon. Why even bother with the suspense? Immediately as we cut back to Jin in the woods, I knew for sure, "this must be where we see Claire again".

24

So...I don't think the writers give one crap about realism anymore, at least as it relates to Jack Bauer. And that's okay. The show crossed the "this is just plain silly" line a long time ago, so they might as well have fun with it. "Having fun with it" means having Jack kill bad guys in the most interesting and visually appealing way possible (with sharp objects flying across the room, for example), and being able to absorb a FREAKING STAB WOUND TO THE STOMACH and continue on as if nothing had happened. And does Jack appear to be affected at all by the fact that he was supposed to be on his way to Los Angeles hours ago with his family? Nope! Jack is more than willing to surrender himself to the Russians. The background story doesn't matter anymore, but that's okay, because the writers know that the audience doesn't really care about that. They just want to see Jack in action. Who cares if it's "realistic"?

I thought we were going to see a new, hardcore, bad ass Renee Walker this season...instead, we've now had three consecutive episodes featuring Renee crying at some point. Enough is enough - just take her out of her misery already.

The plot hasn't been all that predictable so far, which is good. The most interesting plot line so far (in my opinion) has been the transition of President Hassan from "good guy wanting to make peace" to "paranoid bad guy who thinks everyone is against him and will stop at nothing to, umm, 'seek justice'." (Speaking of which, they actually gave the Fictional Islamic Republic a name: "Kamistan". Ha! The writers try to avoid using the name Kamistan as much as possible, however, often referring to the country as the "Islamic Republic".) The least interesting plot line is the Dana Walsh blackmail storyline. I don't really care if Walsh gets fired or hurt or anything. The writers had barely established her character before they decided to make her into nothing more than another annoying character we can all do without. I guess they needed an extra side plot to fill time. I did like the "GIVE ME THE MONEY...haha I'm only holding a water pistol, just kidding" sequence, though.

Finally, once again, there is simply one object (or group of objects) that Jack and crew must obtain: the rods. I'm patiently waiting for Jack to yell "Where are the rods?!?!?" to someone's face. The season will not be complete without Jack grilling a bad guy for the location of something important. The focus on this show has always been on obtaining the weapons, not necessarily apprehending the suspects at large. I guess that's fair. No weapons, no attack. More often than not, the bad guys end up dead anyway. And there are always so many levels of conspiracy on this show, you can apprehend (or kill) all the bad guys you want, but there will always be the next guy up in the chain of command.