Thursday, March 18, 2010

construction update, and one of the better days in sports...

I can finally see the light at the end of the tunnel, but it's still a ways off in the horizon. Our house remodel continues and while our newest rooms in back are relatively done and habitable, the basement is now in the process of remodel. When it's done, it's simply going to be amazing, and last night was the first night that I could really see the framework of the changes for real. I understand all of the things that are being added, but last night, the skeleton was more apparent and I could visually see the direction it was going. It makes the temporary inconveniences, like no water at points, exhaust smells, and random tools lying about seem like nothing now that I can see the light.
Granted, my wife has had to live it far more closely that I've had to because I can escape to the relative sanity of my office, but needless to say, we're all happy to see the final pieces go in place. It makes the getting up at 7 AM each morning worth it, as we need to be up in time to let the crew in for their tasks for the day. I'm impressed with the hard work and craftsmanship they've done so far, and for those of you interested, you'll be able to get a full tour when things are finished. And yes, the housewarming is going to be pretty epic.
And today was a good day to be out of the house because it's one of my favorite days of sports. I put opening day of baseball on the top of my list of favorite days of sports, because it represents spring time and the start of better weather. Ok, in many years, there is still plenty of winter weather about and plenty of early spring baseball ends up being played in snow or misty rain. But unlike other sports, baseball for many represents the end of winter, and so people immediately start thinking of summer vacations and the like. Football gets rolling in late summer when the weather is still nice, and weather doesn't affect pro basketball or hockey. I do get the same charge when the English Premiership and the Timbers gets rolling, but that's my soccer fan part coming out, and there isn't a true opening day like there is with baseball.
But baseball's opening day is fast being replaced with the opening weekend of the NCAA college basketball tournament, or as many people know it as the land of brackets. For 3 weeks, college basketball dominates the airwaves with back to back games that showcase amazing upsets, unknown teams from all over, great individual play, and the ultimate concept of win to stay in. During the first 4 days, the competition takes 64 teams and whittles it down to a sweet 16 in some of the best moments of sports, because it's still relatively pure. The tournament directors put together a relatively even bracket and let the dice roll. Sometimes, the higher seeds win while other times, the cinderella team lives to fight another day.
My alma mater, Gonzaga, has become a household name not because I attended there, but because of their antics in the tournament. They fast became the sweetheart school from the initial thoughts of "where the heck is Spokane?" and "how do you pronounce it" after breaking up a few brackets because of their success, but then again, Santa Clara made a name for itself by upsetting Arizona, George Mason made the Final Four unexpectedly, and Villanova and N.C. State won tournaments way back when nobody expected it. Even the non sports fans can watch and be drawn into the drama, even participating in one of the simplest competitions in sports, completing a bracket.
There's no real secret in completing a bracket and winning, because winning a competition for the most part is pure blind luck. I've seen college basketball experts get blown out in the first weekend for not picking the right upsets while complete novices win the prize by choosing the teams based on names or colors. That's the beauty of this, because the upsets are unscripted and unknown as well as plenty of close games and dramatic moments. And because there are 32 games in two days followed by 16 games the following two days, there's plenty of chances to either look good or stupid at any given point. I have yet to meet anyone that has been able to pick things consistently year by year. Most of it is because of turnover in college basketball in players and coaches, but there's also the unknown factor of who will be this year's cinderella story. I'm sure there will be many people who say they picked the big upsets for this season already, but the magic of the tournament is that the slipper can fall off at any point. The cinderella could fall on bad luck in the very next game, which makes it interesting and compelling to watch.
I'm a little upset that the NCAA is thinking about tinkering with the tournament, because I think it's very good the way it is. It's simplicity in the setup, and it's easy for even the casual fan to follow along. But the NCAA doesn't care about that, they simply follow the dollar signs and want to generate attention however they can. Adding more teams means more money, and the NCAA is obviously oblivious to what the real fans want. They've let the BCS mess in football carry on far too long because while the fans want a playoff, the fans are watching the games anyway and everybody involved is making money so there's no incentive for change. And now the simplicity of the tournament is at risk because there's additional money to be made.
If things needed to be changed, I'd throw out a couple of ideas:
  • I don't like the single play in game so the field is 65, so replace it with more play in games. Seed 18 teams in each region, and have the final four seeds play each other on Tuesday/Wednesday in the tournament sites for the right to advance. Seed 15 plays 18 and 16 plays 17, and the winners get seeds 1 and 2.
  • This still leaves the initial tournament at 64 teams starting on the first Thursday and keeps things on schedule. Right now, 3 weeks is a bit long for the tournament, and if you do anything else, you run the risk of playing through the middle part of April.
  • Keep the games in March. Work with the conferences to get their tournaments done in late February so that March is what it's for, tournament basketball. Even if you did need a fourth weekend for play in games, you could still do it through March and it's done by end of March.
  • Finally, if you win the conference berth to get into the tournament, you avoid having to play in the play in game. This is probably the most controversial thing I'm suggesting, but seriously, having a team win their way into the tournament with the automatic berth only to be told you have to play another game just to get into the tournament just penalizes the smaller conferences. The play in games should be the middle fringe teams in the bigger conferences for the right to get into the tournament. You might get a few more upsets, and more compelling opening round games.

But I don't expect this to be done, because the NCAA isn't going to do what is sensible here. They're going to listen to the TV and advertising money, and take what is already a wonderfully compelling competition and turn it into an unwieldy mess. The NFL plays one game to determine a champion, and until recently, the games haven't been compelling but now, they are spectacles of sports. Most other sports use long series to determine a winner, which while somewhat more fair that a one game title, it does lend itself to a champion being crowned because they handled the number of games better than their opponents. Seriously, the NBA takes 2 and a half months to determine a title, and I can't think of a compelling reason why.


If the NCAA cared, they'd watch what happened this weekend, they'd view the crowds at sports bars and the cubicle people hiding in their cubes to get scores and realize they have a good thing going already. The money might be compelling, but you have the perfect system now and there's no reason to tinker with it. And thinking that it needs to be changed means that the almighty dollar is far more important that the drama and the competition of sport.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

I'm Still Hearing Construction Noise in My Head at Work

My wife is an incredible person, and I can't imagine how she has handled the events at our house the last few weeks as well as she has. For those of you not in the know, we agreed to have some house remodeling done, which started in mid-January and the first phase was completed this past weekend. Ok, there were a few minor hurdles that have come up since the back room was completed, including some painting, a few nicks in the wall, and some sealer that wouldn't dry right.
The first phase of the construction is to add two rooms to the back of the house, a new family and television room and a room for our collective of felines. Yes, folks, we have a bunch of cats that live with us, and up to this point, they've had free reign of the house, which usually isn't a problem. However, at certain points, the cats leave their hair and pee wherever they want. Some of this is involuntary, but the peeing thing is usually marking territory for whatever reason. When you have a big group of them, sometimes they don't get along and that usually braces for a turf war. This whole issue doesn't lend itself to inviting people over for social gatherings, because up until now, it involved a massive clean up effort after trapping the cats temporarily. Now, they have their own room and are away from everybody. Plus, with some big windows and a couple of window ledges to lay on, the cats will finally have space for their own.
To get to this point, we've had to deal with construction noise and the constant barrage of questions and noise. I've had the ability to get away from things by escaping to the relative sanity of my office, a massive cube farm collective. My wife, though, works from home and so she's on the front line, and can't get away no matter what. Seeing the rewards this weekend with the new room were worth the temporary problems, even with a few things that have happened later on. The cable wasn't hooked up right, the sealer on the concrete pad didn't dry right so we couldn't put the cats in there, and right now, the downstairs of our house is a construction zone with walls disappearing.
I got another huge dose of reality yesterday when we put our cats in our room and the office temporarily so that they would be safe from the construction noise. Figuring this was a one day thing, what bad could possibly happen if they had to live in a room for day? Well, getting home at the end of a rough day at work, I was told as I got home that the sealer was still having issues, so the cats would have to remain locked up in the rooms for the night until today. So, two cats were in our room all night, while we heard the other cats yowling and scratching in the office wanting to get out. I tried to use my computer in the office to do some things, but instead, the cats simply yowled and howled to get out, and let me know what they thought of being locked up.
Cats, like kids, are difficult to reason with simply because they can't understand why you as parents or caregivers do what you do. We locked up the cats simply to keep them from the construction noise and potential danger, although telling them this doesn't mean anything. They wanted out, period, which meant me saying a lot of times that "No, you need to stay in here." Later on, I went into our room with our two special cats, and they were very upset about being locked up, but once I laid down on the bed to watch television, they didn't seem to mind. Well, initially anyway.
About 9 PM when Lost came on, the boy cat started yowling to get out. He was a feral cat that my wife saved after his parents were killed by a car, and was only days old when he became a member of the family. And while he's the sweetest cat about, he's extremely skittish around unfamiliar people and noises. He didn't understand why he needed to be locked up, and spent most of the day hiding under our bed until that point, when he decided to scream to get out. I went up to him to ask what was wrong, and put him near the water and litter box to see if that was it, and he fought that at first. After a few attempts, he finally drank some water and used the box for what seemed like the first time of the day. He wasn't happy about being confined, but at the same point, explaining it to him doesn't mean anything if he can't understand what construction means.
Going to bed later on, the cats sort of settled in but once the lights went out, it became more of wandering about and making noise. My wife sleeps very lightly, so she hears everything and so she didn't sleep much last night. I had to spend a few times getting up to grab the cat and put him back on the bed to go back to sleep with some reassuring words and signs of affection. I felt like we were dealing with a newborn, and in this case, we had two cats and so there were two young ones about. The girl cat is blind, and while she's very sweet, she's also extremely curious about things and so she gets into everything. At some point, I heard my wife yell at them both for sitting on her night stand because they wanted to, even though there wasn't any room. About the time I got to sleep, another noise riled them up and it was on again. At 5:45 AM, I woke up to feed them in the morning simply to get them to settle in, and they finally laid down to sleep for a bit until the other cats stirred about.
I've never hated an alarm clock more until this morning when it rang at 7 AM and it was time to prepare for the construction crew to arrive. The remainder of the morning was tending to cats while keeping them locked up, showering and eating a bit of food. I showed up at work today exhausted and just hoping for a quiet day at work. Well, the phone rang quite a bit, but so far, it was a quietly mellow day and that was what I needed. I got a chance to get away from the cats, the house, the changes, but yet all it did was give me a greater appreciation about what my wife deals with daily. I can't imagine what it would be like to deal with constant interruptions so that you can't get anything done, and while I do deal with that in my current job, it's a bit different because home is supposed to be slightly more stable, and our house right now is anything but.
I'm already looking forward to the end result, and want to thank my wife for everything she is doing to keep our house going. Tonight, the cats get to settle in to their new home, and we will be one day closer to having the house of our dreams. Nothing good comes without a price, and right now, our price to have this work done is paying for our dream with money, sanity and sleep. I'll remember these days later this summer hanging in the new room, and look back at these issues as temporary hurdles towards a greater good. Granted, I am starting to do that now, but that doesn't make the here and now any easier to deal with unless you keep the greater good in mind.

Monday, March 1, 2010

The Final Nail In the Coffin

I'll admit it, I tried to watch some of the Olympics coverage despite the evidence that it was a complete trainwreck. I wanted to see the events for myself and so I subjected myself to the choppy approach of tape delayed, back story heavy broadcast that NBC followed. They didn't air most events live, instead figuring people would watch regardless. And apparently they did, quite a bit. But I finally learned a few days into the broadcasts that I could go to CTV in Canada and watch videos and see results as they were happening. If it was something that I wanted to watch later, I could put up with the crap knowing the end result was worth watching.
I'll admit that it's an uphill battle to see things go back to the way they were, simply because there's too much influence and money involved with things, and right now, ratings and advertising dollars are the only thing that matters. Loyalty doesn't mean anything in television, as evidenced by the rather curious decision to forgo some of the coverage of the closing ceremonies party for the premier of some crappy pilot. Seriously, this is almost equatable to leaving the coverage of an NBA playoff game in the third quarter because we need to show the next episode of the Hills. NBC doesn't care about its viewers at all, and if you thought anything different, well this should finally convince you otherwise.
Now some crazy people have said that we'll miss NBC as soon as they're gone from the Olympics, and the thing is there are parts of what they did that was OK. I liked the use of technology to super impose athlete images in the same frame to compare runs, and some of the commentary was actually good from experts that know what they are talking about. But seriously, the rest of it was the worst possible coverage of sports simply because NBC treated it like entertainment rather than sports. I hope the next network will learn that events need to be seen live, the stories need to unfold naturally rather than try and create them before hand, and the promotional stuff needs to be kept to a minimum. And it's not a good service to your fans when you put games on channels that might not be available everywhere. Look, I get it's a challenge to cover it all, and tastes vary, but at the same point, shoving skating at us every moment doesn't do most sports fans any good.
Besides, it will be good to talk about different things for once. I mean, seriously, tomorrow is Dr. Seuss's birthday and so I'll need to celebrate as best I can, because that's what I do, it's GK I am.