Month: January 2010 (Page 1 of 2)

Reader’s Notebook, January 2010

A hot start to the new year.

God Save The Fan – Will Leitch. Along with Bill Simmons, Leitch is one of the founding fathers of internet sports journalism. The creator of Deadspin, Leitch mainstreamed irreverence and snark in sports writing.

The cover claims that this is his look at all the things that are ruining sports, from ESPN to idiot fans to ESPN to dishonest owners to ESPN to, well, ESPN. It’s not really all about ESPN, but there is a lot of WWL bashing.

But really it’s more than just about the things that are wrong with sports. There are plenty of essays about what is right with sports. The piece about Leitch’s experience watching the clinching game of the 2006 NLCS with other Cardinals fans in New York is an ode to why we still care despite all the garbage we have to put up with these days.

Some of it is goofy, some overly self-referential, but there are enough fine essays to make it worth the read. Especially of note, in addition to his Cards essay, are those about PEDs and athletes who evangelize.

Where The Game Matters Most – William Gildea. Another in my reading tour through Indiana basketball. This book covers the final season of the All Comers high school basketball tournament in Indiana, which was played in 1996-7. Gildea focuses on four schools – tiny Batesville, just down the road from Milan; DeKalb, which features the state’s best talent and future Indiana and Iowa player Luke Recker; Anderson, a traditional power whose coach just had a liver transplant; and Merrillville, the previous year’s runner up who feel perpetually overlooked in the “Region” near Chicago. In addition to those four schools, Gildea visits others, hits the high points of Indiana basketball history, and examines the political battle that encompassed the move to class basketball.

I’ll admit, and I believe I’ve written about this before, that I never used to understand the fuss over class basketball. After all, 47 other states did it. And then I moved here. It took a year or two, but now I’m firmly in the single-class camp. I don’t know that going back to single class basketball would bring back all the glamor to Indiana high school basketball. There are numerous factors that have fueled its decline in popularity despite the fact a historic number of excellent players have come out of the state in recent years.* There’s no denying that high school basketball does not have the same hold over the state it once did.

(Including current NBA players Courtney Lee, George Hill, Josh McRoberts, Greg Oden, Michael Conley, and Jeff Teague. Of course, they’re all from the Indianapolis area, so perhaps that’s part of the problem.)

Written during the transition, the book is certainly steeped in the emotions of the time. Gildea is not a Hoosier, and at times his tone shows that. There’s a little too much reliance on rural images to characterize the state. Too many hackneyed devices like “There wasn’t a dry eye in the house.” But maybe that’s just me. It’s a decent, but not great, book.

Chasing the Dragon – Domenic Stansberry
The Big Boom – Domenic Stansberry
So I’ve been working my way through The Wire (getting close to the end of season one). Since I can’t really watch the show while the girls are awake/around, to supplement the show I decided to read some novels in the same genre. I’ve read quite a few Dennis Lehane, George Pelecanos, and RIchard Price novels, each of whom wrote for the series. Using the magic of the internet, I searched for similar authors I had not read yet. Stansberry came highly recommended.

These books are the first two of several that focus on Domenic Mancuso. In the first, while he travels back to his hometown of San Francisco for his father’s funeral, the mysterious, quasi-governmental agency he works for puts him to work setting up a trap for some local drug dealers. In the second, he has moved back to SF, set up shop as a private detective, and investigates a murder of a former lover during the glory days of the dot-com boom.

Each is taut, brief, and wonderfully detailed. Mancuso is the classic difficult-to-know detective with a dark past that always finds a way to unravel the threads of a mystery. Sometimes, though, while he unravels them just in time to save himself he does so too late to save others.

Stansberry, who lives in the Bay Area, does a wonderful job putting you in the City. If you’ve ever been to San Francisco, you know it has a particular feel that no other city has.* You sense the fog and cool air of the evenings, the ocean-tinged warmth of the day in these pages. As most of each story takes place in the old, Italian North Beach neighborhood, you feel the Italian roots with the creeping Asian culture that is slowly replacing it. Having lived in the Bay Area briefly, I ate these books up.

(You can probably say that of any place. But the unique qualities of San Francisco’s geography make them more noticeable.)

Reporter’s Notebook

A few more notes from the notebook of a high school sports correspondent.

Last Friday was another first in my young career: I covered a boy-girl doubleheader. The assignment was fairly simple: watch two games, write one story and submit two boxscores. It was the host team’s winter homecoming, so there was an extra-long gap between games. Seemed like I would have no issues cranking everything out.

The only problem was the boys coach I needed to interview spent roughly 20 minutes with his team in the locker room after the game. By the time I asked my questions and got back to my seat, there were only five minutes left until the girls tip-off. Thus, I spent halftime of the girls game doing the boys stats, which completely through off my routine.

Fortunately, though, neither game was terribly competitive, so it was easy to sum each one up, add coaches’ comments, and get everything in well before deadline.

Last night I headed out again, this time to cover the best player in the county. It was a “special” night for her, as it was A) her final regular season home game and B) she was being recognized for being nominated to the McDonald’s All-American game. She was also approaching the county record for most career points scored, so lots of plot lines going into the game.

Apparently there was some early game – eighth graders? – which pushed the JV game back, which put the varsity tip at 8:10, or 40 minutes later than scheduled. It was a blowout – my team led by 19 at the end of the first quarter and the margin never got closer – the senior had a big game, and everything was coming together nicely for my story.

I interviewed her then waited for her coach. And waited. And waited. Finally, with only 30 minutes to deadline, I gave up and went to do my stats and write my story without comments from him. Which is a shame, because he’s one of my favorite coaches to talk to.

I had high hopes for the story, but after doing stats I had 15 minutes to put it together, and it ended up being rushed and far too brief. Disappointing. The team has won 16 games in a row; their only loss on the season came on a buzzer beating shot back in November. They’re in the same sectional as the school that has won the state championship four years in a row, but that school is in rebuilding mode, so it looks like they might finally make it out of sectionals. Lots of material for a good story but I was too busy making sure I got the basics in and then filed before 10:15.

Although I’ve covered more good games and winners this year than in the past, I still wonder if I’m a curse. The home boys team in Friday night’s doubleheader is talented but mercurial. They have a 6’7” guy who doesn’t seem to understand how to use his height. They have a fantastic sophomore guard who can light it up. They have a fine point and a big wing who can shoot. Yet they’ve only won two games this year. Naturally both of those games were against teams that I’ve been covering. It’s difficult not to ask the losing coaches “How in the hell has that team only won one/two game(s) this year?” but I figure that’s not a wise thing to ask a coach who just lost to a bad team.

My favorite coaching moment of the year came in the JV game last night. It was a tight game, and the home team was getting most of the close calls, but I didn’t notice any interaction between the visiting coach and the referees. In the final minute, the players were milling about during a dead ball and the visiting coach stomps his foot loudly and screams “TIME OUT!” Apparently he had asked for one but the refs had not heard him. I figured it was just the emotion of the game.

A few moments later the same thing happened. He quietly called for a time out, the refs didn’t hear, and he stomps his foot and screams at them again. This time you could hear the crowd gasp a bit and one of the refs came over and had a long conversation with him. It was weird. It’s not like he was screaming at the refs after every call, or even yelling at his players during play. But I guess if a ref standing 50 feet away in a loud gym doesn’t hear him gently call for a time out he gets pissed.

One thing that never gets old is watching kids bounce their heads to the side anytime “What Is Love” gets played. Some of these kids were 4-5 years old when <em>A Night at the Roxbury</em> came out, yet they know exactly what to do.

 

Super

There were some football games yesterday.

One of my favorite parts of Nick Hornby’s Fever Pitch is when he relates how he and his soccer loving friends debated what the perfect win was. They settled on a 3-2 win in which their team twice trailed and tied and then scored a late game-winner.

I’ve often thought of what my criteria would be for the perfect win. It obviously varies from sport-to-sport, but I think the perfect football win is when your team struggles early, rights itself, and by the end of the game has imposed its will on its opponent. The Colts’ win over the Jets Sunday might qualify. Down early, looking sloppy and overwhelmed, it appeared that the Colts might again be wetting the bed when the games mattered most.* They steadied themselves, remained patient, slowly turned the momentum, and midway through the third quarter turned into the Colts we watched through the first 15 weeks of the season.

(Had they lost, my postgame Facebook update was going to reference Colts shirts going on sale around the city tomorrow, but the buyer would be left to remove the pee stains.)

Whatever, the Colts are in the Super Bowl again. That’s pretty cool. It was a fine performance. Not as cathartic as the win over the Patriots three years ago, but still pretty great. On both sides of the ball it was the Colts who made the adjustments that changed the course of the game. The defense was outstanding, aside from two plays. The offense was as explosive as we’ve seen this year. It was interesting watching the Colts struggle with the Jets’ blitz early and then render it totally useless by the second half. Pierre Garcon was huge. Austin Collie and Joseph Addai made some plays. Peyton Manning finally played great in a big game. Check that, he’s never played as well in an important game in his career. This should help balance all those awful games in January in the first half of his career. And, once again, a few flukey bounces with their way (Reggie Wayne’s fumble that bounced right back to him between four Jets defenders being one example). They just might be a team of density, er, destiny.

So that might have been the perfect win. But the NFC title game was pretty damn exciting, too. Nice of the Drama Queen to wait until the last possible moment to revert to his classic form with a senseless turnover that cost his team the game. As much trouble as Minnesota had holding onto the ball, I was beginning to wonder if either the balls were being doctored somehow, or if the entire Vikings roster had money on the outcome.

It’s a shame we’ll have to see two dome teams built to play on a fast surface contest the Super Bowl on natural grass. Let’s just hope the weather is better than the last time the Super Bowl was in Miami, when the Colts and Bears played one of the sloppiest Super Bowls ever in the rain.

The Saints offense seemed out-of-sync yesterday, and I expect them to correct that. Their defense could not slow down the Vikings, though. Given what Manning and company just did to the Jets defense, that does not bode well. The Colts have been here before, and Manning will keep them focused all week as he did three weeks ago. I see an easy Colts win in two weeks.*

(Bookmark this post for jinx references after the game.)

 

Bearded Blogger

Personal grooming stories from your humble blogger.

Like many jackasses, um young men who were attending college in the early 90s, come finals time in December, I tended to eschew the razor for 10-14 days. The finals beard was an important part of college, right up there with puking in bar bathrooms and stalking attractive members of the opposite sex that you were infatuated with but afraid to talk to.

I’m not really sure what the purpose of the finals beard was. If anything, a good, hot shower and a shave might be just the thing to reenergize you when you were cranking out papers and cramming. I suppose the finals beard was a symbol to the world of your level of commitment to the educational process. “I might have blown this entire semester off, but I’m serious about the next two weeks,” was the message.

All this is preface to my admission that I just went 26 days without shaving, the longest stretch since I went 14.5 years without shaving to begin my life.* This was no finals beard, this was the real thing.

(That’s right, I was shaving as a freshman. I was 14! I was a man!)

It began out of typical laziness. I went roughly a week without shaving, mostly because I wasn’t leaving the house much, very cold weather was expected, and I don’t like to shave to begin with. Sometime around New Year’s, I took a long look in the mirror before I got to work with the razor and decided, what the hell. I cleaned up the neck and the cheeks, left the rest, and waited to see what grew.

I was both pleased and surprised by the results. Pleased in that, after a rough second week, I thought it filled in fairly well and looked decent. Surprised by the amount of gray hair in it. I have plenty of gray hair on my head, but I’m lucky in that it blends in with the rest of my hair and isn’t super noticeable. On the beard, however, it was quite apparent. I know I’m pushing 40 and all, but it did kind of bum me out to see these clear indications of my age.

I broke down and shaved everything off tonight. It was getting pretty itchy. Also I wasn’t really sure how to trim out all the wild hairs that were jutting out without setting the growth back a week or two. And we were going to an open house at the school where M. will move to next year. I wanted to present a well-groomed, clean cut image in case we got cornered by the priest. It’s bad enough I’m not Catholic; if I look like a dirty hippy they’ll have our girls under a microscope from day one.

So it was fun, I guess. Something else I’ve ever done that I can cross off my life to-do list, right up there with running a marathon and getting my own by line. The year is already off to a great start!

 

Karma Or Redemption?

The football gods are watching!

We can take at least that much from this weekend’s playoff games. The football gods are watching and next Sunday they will render their decision on the Colts pulling their starters against the Jets a month ago.

That’s the only explanation for the Jets clawing their way first into the playoffs and then through the first two rounds to reach the AFC title game, right? The gods want to offer their judgement on Jim Caldwell’s decision for all to see? Either his hubris will be punished, karma will kick his ass, and the Jets will make an unlikely run to the Super Bowl,* or they will signal their approval and the Colts will attempt to capture their second championship of the Manning era.

(Remember back when the Jets were sizzling in the early part of the season and I called them sexy and they promptly went in the tank? Just to be safe I’m going to say it again: the Jets are sexy. I like the match-up better than going against the Chargers, but I’m not going to risk it.)

It’s an interesting match-up, to be sure. The Jets were hanging in there in week 16, down 9-3 at the half, before Manning et. al. took to the bench. They have a stout defense, a fantastic running game, and can do just enough in the passing game to keep you honest. In many ways, they’re the mirror opposite of the Colts, who are lucky to manage three yards a carry and do everything in the air. The Jets have no fear, are on a serious roll, and have a coach that is pushing all the right buttons. If they win next week, that Super Bowl itinerary is going down in the coaching motivational ploy Hall of Fame.

Yet I’m confident the Colts are going to win. They may not have all eight cylinders turning in unison the way they did in the middle part of the decade, but they have learned to compensate for the lack of explosiveness by making all the little plays. Reggie Wayne can’t get open? Dallas Clark, Pierre Garcon, or Austin Collie will. Need seven yards on third down? Any of those guys will get eight. Blitz Manning? The line will give him just enough time to put the ball on the fingertips of an open receiver. They’re a little more workman-like than in the past, but they still get the job done.

I had to chuckle at some of the post-game analysis Sunday. One talking head after another kept pointing out how the Colts haven’t been getting big plays out of their offense, how they “struggled” to score 20 Saturday. Apparently all these people forgot the Colts were playing Baltimore, one of the stoutest defenses in the league. I don’t know a whole lot of coaches or players who will turn down 17 point wins, that are essentially over at halftime, in the playoffs.

It’s all setting up so, if they want to, the Colts can somehow play the underdog card on Sunday, despite being the #1 seed with home field advantage. Everyone is going to be pimping the Jets and Rex Ryan and Mark Sanchez’s beard.* The Colts are old, can’t run, were lucky to get every call against the Ravens, etc. Something tells me the defense, especially, comes out pumped up and, much like they did against the Chiefs in their Super Bowl year, shut down the Jets running game early and dare the Sanchize to beat them. Meanwhile, the o-line will pick up the blitzes, the offense will move the chains, and they’ll put together another win more reminiscent teams that grind it out than the high flying Colts of the Harrison-James era.

(As I type this, I’m still unshaven after three weeks, so I better not make too much fun of other bearded people.)

Colts 20 Jets 13. OK, maybe I’m not that confident after all.

I was hoping for more from the New Orleans – Arizona game. Some big plays, yes, but not the back-and-forth sequel to last week’s game in Arizona I was hoping for.

Nice of Dallas to wait a week to lay their annual playoff egg. Who knew Prince was such a big Vikings fan? That NFC title game should be a good one. Favre has to blow up at some point, right? And by blow up I mean force balls into triple coverage and kill his team with untimely picks. I think I’d rather the Colts face New Orleans than Minnesota if they beat the Jets, so I’m hoping the blow up comes this week.

I know I have fans of many teams reading this: Cowboys, Colts, Chiefs, Broncos, Rams, Bears to name a few. We all agree that Philip Rivers is a prick, right? It’s a shame he doesn’t play in a bigger media market so he can become the most disliked player in the game. I’ve never met anyone who wasn’t a Chargers fan or North Carolina State alum who likes him. I’m glad he won’t be torturing the Colts’ defense this weekend. I hate that dude.

 

Sports Briefs

Let’s take a look at the burning sports topics of the day (or week), shall we?

  • Kansas Loses to Tennessee. This kind of sucked. It was, arguably, KU’s most losable non-conference game at the start of the season. Tennessee was supposed to be good, played us tight for 39 minutes in Lawrence last year, and rarely get a chance to host a name team from outside the SEC. Then a third of their team decided to run afoul of the law, which changed the math a bit.

In theory.

Apparently it changed the math, just in the opposite direction that most people expected.

Plenty of KU fans had been wringing their hands about KU’s sometimes listless performance so far this season. I chalked it up to a typical Bill Self team that cruises through the first two months of the season, winning on pure talent, looking ugly at times, but with the expectation all will come together beginning in mid-January and they’ll be humming along come February and March.

That’s still probably the case, but there are certainly concerns. Cole Aldrich is a beast on the boards and defensively, but has yet to assert himself on offense. Things may have come too easy for Xavier Henry early on, and he’s turned into a jump-shooter only. Despite apparent depth in the backcourt, Sherron Collins is again being asked to play most of the minutes and make every big play. That didn’t work out so well last year, when he was playing on fumes the last two weeks of the season. And Tyshawn Taylor is apparently a big-time knucklehead.

I continue to believe this is just a bump in the road, an example of a team that is younger than most people remember learning how to play together. They’ll work things out. But it may not matter. The way Kentucky looks right now, I’m not sure anyone is going to beat them.

  • Mark McGwire. Yawn. We all knew he was juicing, so other than balancing his pathetic testimony before Congress a few years back, his admission of steroid use doesn’t change how I view him or his career at all.

I just read a book by Will Leitch, creator of Deadspin. He begins with a chapter about PED use by athletes, pointing out how little the difference between banned substances and cortisone shots are, yet cortisone shots are not only legal, but encouraged for athletes who are suffering. Leitch writes that one day there’s going to be a super drug that offers all the advantages of steroids, HGH, etc. but has no adverse side effects, and thus is safe and legal. How will we think of that drug: like andro or like cortisone? If a player doesn’t use that supplement, isn’t he cheating his team and his fans?

I can’t get too bent out of shape about steroids because I think most MLBers were/are using them, and the legal/ethical/moral lines are far vaguer than the talking heads want us to believe.

  • Pete Carroll / Lane Kiffin. Wow. I did not see this coming. I think Carroll is making a huge mistake going back to the NFL, but maybe he doesn’t want to be one of those guys who coaches well into his 60s and this is his last job. He’s always been far better suited to the college game than the pro, in my opinion.

I was at a friend’s house Saturday when the news broke and we were talking through the possibilities to replace Carroll. We mentioned Kiffin’s name, but then agreed that he didn’t have the established resume yet, nor could he leave Tennessee so soon. Shows what we know.

It’s going to be very interesting to see how Kiffin handles the USC job. They’re probably looking at NCAA sanctions of some kind. He’s shown a tendency to view recruiting rules with some disdain. He’s yet to prove he can be an effective head coach. Yet, because it’s USC and he’s assembling a monster staff I have every expectation he could continue to win big. Or he could be a total disaster, which I know would make a lot of people happy.

Interesting that Kiffin and Rick Neuheisel are the two college coaches in LA right now. Kiffin is kind of Neuheisel 2.0: a media darling that may be more substance than style. We’ll see.

  • NFL Playoffs. I missed making predictions last week. For what it’s worth, I would have gone 1-3, I think. I’m not really sure why I’m sharing picks for the rest of the playoffs given that record.

The big game here is obviously the Ravens vs. Colts. They’re rescheduling high school basketball games all over the area because of the game. In basketball crazy Indiana! The Ravens worry me a little; they’re obviously coming together at the right time. The whole three weeks off thing could put the Colts in a hole early, and you don’t want to have to comeback against the Ravens D. But I think the Colts are too good to blow this one.
Colts 27 Ravens 17

The Jets are a nice story, the Chargers aren’t the balanced team they’ve been in the past. None of that will matter.
Chargers 31 Jets 14

I’m still in a bit of shock that the Cowboys have played so well for the last month. This isn’t supposed to happen. Romo is supposed to throw picks, the defense is supposed to get burned, and they’re supposed to go down in flames in December/January. The Vikings are the first balanced offense they’ve seen in over a month. I think the Cowboys D can contain Favre or Peterson/Taylor, but not both.
Vikings 24 Cowboys 21

I don’t care how much mojo the Saints have lost since Dallas pounded them. That Cardinals defense isn’t slowing them down. Hopefully the Saints D doesn’t show up, either, and we can perhaps have a repeat of last week’s basketball on turf game between the Cards and Packers. I would appreciate that, since I had to miss it to watch the damn KU game.
Saints 45 Cardinals 31

Current most likely Super Bowl pick: Colts vs. Saints, although there’s not a ton of confidence behind that pick.

Robbed

Monday was my big chance. The chance to finally see the worst girls basketball team that I cover win a game. Over the last three years I’ve covered roughly ten of their games. None have even been close, if I recall correctly. They have one good player, some girls that try hard, and for the first time ever have a number of freshman and sophomores who play a lot who could be decent. They had even won six games this season. Of course, I didn’t cover any of those games; they were 0-4 when I showed up.

Maybe it was me, not them.

Anyway, Monday all that was going to change. I was assigned to their game against the state school for the deaf, who were 2-6. I wouldn’t have to struggle to come up with useful questions to ask a coach who just watched his team lose by 40!

Even better, their best player had an excellent shot of going over 1000 points for her career and breaking the school scoring record.

I was licking my journalistic chops as I drove down to the gym this evening.

But when I got there, something was weird. The JV game seemed to be going awfully late. There was just a minute left in the fourth quarter, but usually the JV game is over around 6:45. It was 7:20. Why were there varsity players on the court? And why was the varsity coach barking out plays?

I’ve heard, from other reporters, about schools moving up the tip-off time when they don’t have a JV game. But I had checked the schedule earlier in the day, and had exchanged messages with my editor in the afternoon, and never heard about an early tip.

My question was answered when the coach walked right over to me after the postgame handshakes ready to be interviewed.

Great.

Yes, they won. Yes, the girl broke 1000 points and the school scoring record. But I missed it all.

I was so flustered I didn’t ask the coach about the girl breaking the record at all. Fortunately I got some good stuff from her, copied the scoring from the scorebook, and was able to file a story that focused on her. Not as good as it should have been, but it’s printable.

Still, I feel cheated.

 

Reader’s Notebook, December 2009, Part 3

The final installment in my review of December readings.

Ripped: How the Wired Generation Revolutionized Music – Greg Kot. For months I’ve been mentally drafting an essay about how music changed over the last decade. As I thought about it, I’ve read numerous articles, columns, and now a book about the same subject. So I’ll try to share my thoughts without plagiarizing too much.

Kot’s book is a fine jumping off point. While it’s not intended to be a decade-end review, it serves as one. He examines how technology, business decisions, and the changing relationships between consumer and artist have turned the music industry upside down. He focuses on how bands, from the biggest selling to the unsigned, have leveraged the power of emerging technologies to distribute their music.

The impression that is left from Kot’s book, and the other decade-end examinations of the music world, is that the Aughts were the most revolutionary and destructive decade in the history of recorded music.

It began with file sharing and the emergence of high speed internet access. Suddenly nearly every song ever recoded was available through a variety of services for fast and free download. While some people dabbled, others amassed massive libraries of music without passing any money back to the record companies or artists.

The next major change was the iPod. While there were many digital music players before the iPod, it wasn’t until the iPod’s small size, simple interface, and sexy design appeared that the MP3 player became a must-have device. Those collections of music that people downloaded or ripped were no longer stuck in their living rooms. Listeners could now carry every song they owned in their pocket.

The final major shift in music was the embrace of technology by artists, and to a much lesser extent, the record labels. Wilco got around a label that wasn’t interested in releasing their album by streaming it for free from their website. Radiohead and Nine Inch Nails offered their albums for whatever price their fans wanted to pay. Smaller artists learned that creating a community for their fans was often the easiest path towards making a living off of their music. And by the end of the decade, there wasn’t a major label that didn’t make its music available for digital purchase through the iTunes Music Store, Amazon, or other digital music outlet.

For the most part this has been a very cool thing. At the most basic level, music listeners are empowered as never before. If you love music, there are nearly limitless ways for finding interesting music. Most important, you don’t have to rely on the corporate gatekeepers to direct you to the new, exciting stuff. It’s not what MTV is playing, what the record companies are “encouraging” radio stations to play, who gets the prime rack space at Best Buy, and what artists have massive ad campaigns behind their releases that matters. It’s music bloggers, online magazines, streaming independent radio stations, and indie labels that allow customers to sample their music that drive listeners’ choices.

There is a price, of course, for all of this progress. While many artists are seizing control of their careers, countless mid- and entry-level artists have been lost in the shuffle as record companies struggle to understand the new economics of their industry. There is the suggestion that the value of music has been cheapened as more-and-more people expect it to be free. The album as a work of art is disappearing.* The reduced space between artist and listener have destroyed the classic Top 40 format, dividing us into limitless audiences of sub-genres.

(You can argue this is a good thing, as consumers are able to focus on the best music artists create and not have to listen to the extras used to fill the capacity of a CD.)

Looking at my own listening habits, I can sum up the changes in one relationship: Back vs. Next. I was always a person who listened to songs I liked repeatedly. When I was really feeling a song, I might listen to it four, five, ten times in a row, hitting the Back button each time it ended. Now, with more music to select from, I find myself more interested in what’s next. My periods of music bliss are based on extended sets of related or complimentary music rather than the repetition of a single song. Even when a song connects with me, it’s far less likely I will listen to it on repeat than I would have ten years ago.

Is that good or bad? I honestly don’t know. If you take my favorite songs from the 90s and compare them to my favorite songs of the 00s, I’m sure I listened to the songs of the 90s far more often. Even as we approach the 20 year anniversary of the grunge explosion and alternative music revolution, I am more familiar with many of the songs of that era than songs from the last five years. As I sift through the mountains of new music, I think my relationship with songs I like is less intense, less personal than it was in the days of CDs. But I like a lot more music than I did back in the day.

I suppose the summary is that we still don’t know where this revolution in music technology is going to lead us. Artists, content providers, and listeners are still trying to make sense of the options that are available. Maybe in five years we’ll have a new normal that we can compare to the glory days of Top 40 radio. Or perhaps technology is going to keep the music industry in constant flux, and consumers will always be rethinking their listening habits.

Slump Buster

I’ll admit it: I’ve hit one of my periodic blogging funks. I’ve found it difficult to write over the past week.

I think most of that can be attributed to my sleep cycles getting all jacked up.* I’ll only say that I’ve been spoiling our youngest child at nap and bedtimes, and as a result I’m getting plenty of sleep, just at odd times.

(That is the proper medical term.)

So let’s bust out some quickies and hopefully that will prime the pump so I can complete a few of the longer posts I’ve put into the queue.

Speaking of L., we got her an official big girl bed this week. She had been sleeping on her crib mattress on the floor for almost a month. Costco finally got the twin mattress sets back in stock, so we upgraded her. She’s just on the mattress for now; we’ll save the box springs for later. She loves it! Well, at least she loves to climb onto it and yell “BED!” Sleeping is hit and miss, but we’re used to that. Today I asked her if it was her bed and she screamed “YEAH!” in a very Dave Chapelle doing Lil’ John voice. “WHAT?!”

As I mentioned, I received a smoker for Christmas. I took my first crack at a pork shoulder on Monday. I give myself a B. I didn’t have enough hickory, so I didn’t get the amount of smoke into the meat that I wanted. And I didn’t get it quite as tender as it should be. But I am grading on a curve; the high temperature was around 20 that day. The meat stalled out at around 140 in the smoker and I had to bring it inside to the crock pot to finish. It was good, there was just room for improvement. I was very pleased with my sauce, though. It was just something I found online but seems like a good base to do experimentation from.

Oh, so the other smokers know what kind of hardware I’m rocking, I have a Brinkman electric smoker. I know there are serious smokers who think electric is for losers, but I’m not sure I have time to hang out and monitor a fire for 12 hours. Maybe once I perfect the electric thing and all the girls are in school.

I was back to work tonight after three weeks off for the holidays. I covered perhaps the best team in the county against undoubtedly the worst. It was a 36-point win, and really not that close. The losers had 23 turnovers in the first half. The winners shot 79% in the second quarter. Their best player dropped 29 and had close to ten assists.* The winning coach is a super nice guy who is great to talk to. The losing coach has been coaching for years and it’s hard to ask him about yet another 30+ point loss. It’s not easy writing about a game that was effectively over two minutes after the opening tip.

(I don’t track assists. Someday I’ll write a super-meta post where I breakdown what all I do during a game I’m covering.)

As I texted by friend Billy the Poke, one of the girls had her shorts on backwards and had to flee to the locker room to turn them around. Unfortunately, there were no “Shorts on backwards!” chants.

So I’m filing my story around 10:00, and as the e-mail flies away, I notice a bunch of messages in my inbox referencing some strange goings-on at Allen Fieldhouse. What followed was ten minutes of frustration as I attempted to navigate a small, sleepy Indiana town in the dark while following the Yahoo play-by-play on my iPhone. Kids, don’t try this at home. Worse, Yahoo was having some serious issues. The score would change without any accounting of why. KU went from -1 to +4 and Yahoo only accounted for two of the points. I got worried that the score was wrong and it would suddenly show no time left and Cornell winning. That did not happen, thank goodness. But Yahoo does suck.

600+ words without too much effort. Perhaps that will get me back in the swing. I’m going to try to get some sleep now.

Reader’s Notebook, December 2009, Part 2

Continuing my review of books read in December.

Sharp Objects – Gillian Flynn. I’m sad to say I knew not of Ms. Flynn until this summer. That’s a shame, as she’s both a Kansas City native and a KU alum. And I only learned of her by chance; while visiting Kansas City there was a feature on her in the Sunday Star that I happened to glance at while digging for the sports page.

This is Flynn’s debut novel; I’ve been trying to get her most recent work but it is constantly checked out at the library. In Sharp Objects, Camille Preaker, a Chicago crime reporter is sent back to her hometown in southeast Missouri to investigate what may be an emerging pattern of serial killings. While in SeMo, she is forced to confront her family, which has loads of buried skeletons that seem to explain her assorted issues. Somewhat predictably the trail leads back to her relatives, although there is a nice twist at the end.

For a first novel, this is a fine book. While not quite as dark, it recalls the work of another KU alum, Daniel Woodrell, who writes about the western side of southern Missouri. Still, it’s spooky and tense and an entertaining read. Flynn’s second novel, Dark Places, is supposed to be even better. One day I’ll track it down and see for myself.

Hoosiers: The Fabulous Basketball Life of Indiana – Phillip M. Hoose. I’m somewhat ashamed I haven’t dived into the history of Indiana basketball more in the six-plus years I’ve lived here. Since I’m now a regular basketball correspondent, it seemed like a good time to get to know the local roots a little better.

This is a nice, if not terribly comprehensive overview of the local game. It looks at some of the most famous high school teams in Indiana history – Milan and Crispus Attucks being the obvious inclusions – a chapter on Bob Knight and Gene Keady, one on the emergence of girls basketball, Larry Bird, and Damon Bailey. Interestingly, there is nothing other than casual references to John Wooden.

It’s a decent jumping off point, but I was looking for more detail on the high school game. It’s also dated by the focus on Knight, Keady, and Bailey and its copyright date, which was before the end of single-class basketball.

The Attucks chapter, though, makes the book worth the read. It’s not just an accounting of the first team that was all-black and from Indianapolis to win the state title (behind a young Oscar Robertson), but the many factors that lead to Attucks’ 1955 state title. Factors such as the Klan’s control of Indiana government, the bizarre racial attitudes of the early 1900s, and the fight to allow black high school athletes to compete against whites. It’s one of the many pieces of our history that is flabbergasting to read now, just a couple generations down the road.

VH1’s 100 Greatest Albums. I received this from my mother-in-law for Christmas and raced through it in a night or so. Mini-essays on the top 100 albums in VH1’s countdown from earlier this decade, whoops, last decade. Good stuff.

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