Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Predictions for 2015

  Since Wednesday is on New Year’s Eve I was planning on doing a ‘Year in Review’ post but then I took a look at my predictions for 2014 and they were so bad that I feel I needed to make some predictions for 2015 to redeem my prognosticative reputation. Last year I predicted the New England Patriots would win the Super Bowl, the Miami Heat would win the NBA championship, the Democrats would retain control of the Senate and gain seats in the House of Representatives, and an unknown female singer would rocket to stardom with stunts that made Miley Cyrus look like a nun. None of these things happened. I also predicted a gaggle of ‘Duck Dynasty’ spinoffs and an outcry over people not being able to pay their Obamacare deductibles and co-pays and they didn’t happen either.

  The only prediction I made that was on the money was that no NBA team would come within five games of the all-time NBA best record of 72-10 set by the 1995-1996 Chicago Bulls or the NBA worst record of 7-59 (prorated to 8.6 – 73.4) set by the 2011-2012 Charlotte Bobcats which is about as safe a prediction that can be made. If I had only predicted $2 gas, an all-time record stock market, or Senator Joni Ernst I would be busy writing my new predictions for the Midnight Globe, National Enquirer, and the Weekly World News. For 2015 I’m taking the stance that nothing ventured leads to nothing gained and so I’ll take my stab at fame and fortune once again with more predictions for the coming year.

  I predict that former Florida governor Jeb Bush will spend most of 2015 exploring a possible candidacy for the Presidency but will back out in December when focus polls show that he cannot win the nomination or the presidency unless he changes his last name. I also predict that 2012 Republican nominee Mitt Romney will spend the year denying his candidacy only to 'decide' to run in December while already having a complete campaign team assembled for the Iowa Caucuses in early 2016.

  There will be a sustained economic boom well into the second half of 2015 fueled by falling gas prices that will reach a low of $1.19 per gallon with some gas stations going as low as 99 cents a gallon for publicity. General Motors will announce plans to restart production of the Hummer with a new Hummer H4 model, claiming the hybrid motor will allow the tank like vehicle a fuel efficiency of 15 miles per gallon. The plans for the Hummer will be put on hold in the second half of the year when a major earthquake in North Dakota will lead to an executive order suspending hydraulic fracturing (fracking) in the United States. The term ‘frackquake’ will become a common phrase when Oklahoma and Pennsylvania suffer similar earthquakes and the price of gasoline will reach $4.50 a gallon by years end and send seismic shocks throughout the economy.

  The price of gold will dip below $800 an ounce which will lead to an expansion of the practice of the well-to-do eating gold covered or gold sprinkled foods (it really does happen and you can click here to see). At least one celebrity will create a ‘gold dust’ beach to surround their indoor swimming pool and make a fortune selling their beach as the price of gold spikes to $2100 an ounce by the end of the year due to the oil crises fueled by the ‘frackquake’.

  The Tata Steel chess tournament in January will be won by China’s Diren Ling in a stunning upset and the young Chinese star will gain over 50 rating points by the end of the year to find himself comfortably amongst the top 10 players in the world while his countryman Yu Yangli will punch his ticket to the 2016 Candidates tournament by winning the 2015 FIDE World Cup in September.

  The New York Knicks will declare Carmelo Anthony out for the season with a knee ailment. The team will overtake the Philadelphia 76ers for the worst record in the league and win the draft lottery for the first pick in the 2015 draft. The Super Bowl will be won by the Seattle Seahawks over the Pittsburgh Steelers with quarterback Russell Wilson gaining Super Bowl MVP honors. In the NBA, the Golden State Warriors will have the best overall record in the league but lose their opening round playoff matchup to the New Orleans Pelicans. Warriors’ owner Joe Lacob will publicly criticize head coach Steve Kerr and question his game management which will cause Kerr to resign from his job and resume his broadcasting career with Turner Sports. All-Star point guard Derrick Rose will stay reasonably healthy all year and the Chicago Bulls will win the NBA championship over the Houston Rockets with Bulls center Pau Gasol winning the Finals MVP award.

  These are my predictions for 2015. If gasoline and gold drop to decade lows or rise to all-time highs, Yu Yangli becomes the next big thing in chess, or frackquakes happen all over the US remember you heard it here first!

  And now that those predictions are out of the way it’s time for me to make my annual NFL playoff predictions. As usual, this year I will be using the lines as listed on the Yahoo Sports page and these bets are for entertainment purposes only although I hasten to point out that my NFL playoff bets would have earned 95 mythical dollars in 2013 and 50 in 2014!

Arizona Cardinals at Carolina Panthers
The Cardinals had the best record in the league until losing quarterbacks Carson Palmer and Drew Stanton to injuries. They lost their last two games under the stewardship of Ryan Lindell and Logan Thomas and slid from having home field throughout the playoffs to being the wild card team playing on the road against the Carolina Panthers. The Panthers are one of the rare division winners to have a losing record (7-8-1) but won four of their last five games after getting running back Jonathan Stewart back from injury. Drew Stanton is a possibility to play for the Cardinals but I don’t think he will be able to make the difference. I will bet the money line and wager $260 to win $100 that the suddenly healthy Panthers will win their home playoff game despite their losing regular season record.

Baltimore Ravens at Pittsburgh Steelers
In the absence of a team that is clearly superior to all the others the Super Bowl winner is the team that is playing the best at the end of the year. This year that would be the Seattle Seahawks, Dallas Cowboys, and the Pittsburgh Steelers. I like the Steelers team a lot. They can run the ball with Le’veon Bell, make big plays with Ben Roethlisberger throwing deep to Antonio Brown and have enough players from their last Super Bowl team still on board to know how to win in the playoffs. The Steelers lost to two of the worst teams in the league (Buccaneers and Jets) but were 5-1 against the playoff teams on their schedule. I was contemplating a 25-1 bet on the Steelers to win the Super Bowl with the idea that if they reached the big game I could hedge my bet by picking their opponent. Unfortunately, Bell sprained his knee and is doubtful for this weekend’s game against the Baltimore Ravens. I will still place $100 on the Steelers to win the Super Bowl for a $2460 payout but instead of picking the Steelers at home this weekend and laying the three points I’ll bet $110 to win $100 that the two teams will score more that 46.5 points.

Detroit Lions at the Dallas Cowboys
At 12-4, the Cowboys had their second best record since their Super Bowl years of the mid 1990’s. If the Seahawks hadn’t rediscovered their mojo I would be picking the Cowboys to make the Super Bowl since they can do the one thing I believe leads to post season success and that is run the ball. The Detroit Lions had their best record since 1991 but looked disjointed in their season ending loss against the Green Bay Packers with their vaunted defense not able to stop the run or the pass. The Cowboys are giving 7 points and while I do think they will win the game I have the thought of the Cowboys’ quarterback Tony Romo pulling another of his famous choke jobs giving me pause betting the money line at -310 or giving the 7 points. So even though Detroit’s best lineman Ndamukong Suh had his 1 game suspension for another of his immature acts (this time stomping on Aaron Rodgers injured calf) reversed I will bet on an offensive minded game and risk $220 to win $200 that the two teams will score more than the over under line of 48.5 points.

Cincinnati Bengals at Indianapolis Colts
I really like this Bengals team but the next big game they win will be their first while Indianapolis was 2-4 this year against playoff teams. This is a hard game for me to pick since I find both teams very uneven and flawed. The Colts are at home and one of their two wins against playoff teams was a 27-0 drubbing of the Bengals in October so I’ll pick history to repeat itself and bet $110 to win $100 that the Colts can cover the 4 point spread.

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

News of the World

"Twelve voices were shouting in anger, and they were all alike. No question, now, what had happened to the faces of the pigs. The creatures outside looked from pig to man, and from man to pig, and from pig to man again; but already it was impossible to say which was which." George Orwell's Animal Farm

  Welcome to the Independent News of the World broadcast – the news you can trust because it is fact checked and corrected during the broadcast. I’m Frank Fantasia and I’m Tina Truepointe. Our lead story comes from the dictatorship of North Korea, Frank. Tina, it seems that North Korean dictator Kim Jong-Un has declared the act of recording the activities of the communist state’s police force a felony offense punishable by prison time. Are there no lengths this depraved country will sink to in order to subjugate their people, Frank? First inviting Dennis Rodman in to watch a basketball game and now preventing their own citizens from protecting themselves by recording the abuses of their own police. Tina, North Korea is worlds away from the U.S. of A where our rights are guaranteed by the First, Second,and all the other amendments. No dictator is going to tell us that we can’t record our own police department! In fact the television show COPS has been on the air for 27 years and solely consists of recording police activities! The world is asking: WHAT ARE THE NORTH KOREANS TRYING TO HIDE? Tina, our fact checking department is breaking in to say --- the criminalization of recording police activities is occurring not in North Korea but in the United States where Illinois has passed a law designed to discourage the recording of police activities, New York police are accused of arresting people for recording police actions and reporters in Ferguson, Missouri were assaulted and arrested in a McDonalds when trying to report on the protests there last month.

  Well I suppose that the authorities have their reasons Frank! After all, it is a very dangerous world we live in. Our next story comes from Russia where the pariah of the free world Vladimir Putin is back to his saber rattling ways. The Russian ‘leader’ has bullied his parliament to draft a law allowing the seizure of foreign assets. Putin has to go after foreign assets since there likely isn’t any Russian money that their crooked government hasn’t already taken away, Tina. In 2003 billionaire Mikhail Khodorkovsky was jailed and his Yukos oil company appropriated by the government. Since then the other Russian oligarchs have been storing their money away from their mother country. We also received news the Russian authorities confiscated over $100,000 from two Americans traveling through the country on their way to a poker tournament. The public outcry convinced the Russians to return 90% of their ill-gotten gains. Tina, I didn’t know that there were Mexican restaurants in Russia but the Russian authorities sure do. A restaurant loosely translated as the ‘Mrs. Lady Mexican Food’ in a small Russian town known as ‘Lake of Sprit’ had their entire bank account seized by the Russian authorities under the trumped up charge of making small deposits in order to avoid detection of criminal activity. This was done even though no criminal activity was proven or criminal charges filed and the money was not returned. I imagine it went for some wall art in President Putin’s dacha, Frank. Nothing the Russians do would surprise me Tina. Luckily this story had a happy ending. The restaurant owner somehow managed to get the story published in the New York Times and the worldwide public pressure became even too much even for the Russians who agreed to drop the case and return the illegally seized monies although they did not admit to any problems in their so called ‘justice system’. Frank, our fact checkers are breaking in- it seems that the two Americans were traveling through Iowa in the United States on their way to a poker tournament and their $100,000 was seized by local police on a traffic stop and the ‘Mrs. Lady Mexican Restaurant’ is in Spirit Lake, Iowa and their bank account was seized by the I.R.S. Are you sure, Tina? I’m wondering if our fact checking department has been infiltrated by foreign spies like those North Korean hackers that are trying to stop me from seeing the Seth Rogan/James Franco comedy movie ‘The Interview’ on Christmas Day. These things just don’t happen in America. You better take the next story Tina…I have to make a call to management…

  Of course Frank. Our next story comes from Hong Kong where the citizens and police are at war. Protests have erupted over the decision of the ruling Communist Party to limit candidates to the Hong Kong Legislative Council to handpicked nominees from a secret council have met with a fierce push back from the authorities. We have reports from all over Hong Kong of police killing citizens. Grand jury probes in the Chinese administrative region have so far failed to indict any of the police officers in question. In one incident an officer put 8 bullets in a citizen after a dispute over said citizen walking down the middle of the street. In another situation, the police subdued a man using a choke hold and the man later died from ‘compression of the neck’. And in another incident, a 12 year old was shot dead in a city park by police while brandishing an 'Airsoft' gun that shoots plastic pellets. The possibility of a civil war seemed to intensify this past weekend when a Hong Kong citizen murdered two policemen that were sitting in their patrol car.

  Frank isn’t back yet but our next story comes from….wait I have another update from our fact checking department. It seems that even though there are protests in Hong Kong, the stories of police killing unarmed citizens did not originate from Hong Kong, but instead from Ferguson Missouri, New York City, and Cleveland Ohio with the police ambush also occurring in New York City…can we break for a commercial? – I’m feeling a bit dizzy and disorientated…Oh, Frank is back.

  Tina, I have a special announcement for our viewers. The ‘Independent News of The World’ show has been cancelled effective immediately but Tina and I will be back tomorrow with our new show ‘The New News Hour’ which will feature the same hard-hitting journalism you’ve come to expect but without any fact-checking getting in the way. Its news you can trust because our announcers are good looking well-dressed people with deep voices! Tune in tomorrow when we kick off a five part expose called ‘Tracked’ where we outline how the Iranians, Chinese, and Russian governments track every internet message and phone call of their own citizens. It sounds fascinating Frank – I‘m sure our viewers can’t wait – I know I can’t. Until tomorrow this is Tina TruePointe and Frank Fantasia wishing you a good night and urging you to stay informed!

Wednesday, December 17, 2014


The Marshalltown Mall will receive a major boost in February with the arrival of the Hobby Lobby.

  On Saturday I had my fourth annual handicap speed chess exhibition fundraiser for the Salvation Army at the Marshalltown Mall. In other years I prepared by playing plenty of practice games at the fundraiser time limit of one minute for me against 10 for my opponents. This year I was preoccupied with work and fighting a cold and only played a handful of handicap practice games at Zanzibar’s against Mike Jeter and a few at club. While I was able to play many games of one minute chess on the Internet Chess Club and, handicap chess has a completely different rhythm. In a one minute game both players are moving at the same breakneck pace but in handicap games the challengers can take more than a minute on a single move while I have to be ready to instantaneously bash out my move.

  I wasn’t very stressed by my lack of handicap practice since the main purpose of the day is to raise money for the Salvation Army and not for me to beat people at handicap chess time limits. Almost any tournament chess player can beat me at 10-1 odds if they just take their time but that doesn’t mean I want to be a pushover and when I do happen to beat a strong player at these odds I have bragging rights for life.

First stop - the Jiffy convenience store for my focus and energy needs.

  I got a good night’s sleep and woke up on Saturday ready to take on the world (or at least Marshalltown) at handicap speed chess. Kathy and I took Daisy and Baxter on two beef stick walks and at 11:30 I packed up my car with my chess stuff and the brand new tournament quality chess sets I was going to give away as prizes to whoever could defeat me and headed to the Mall. Expecting a full day of chess ahead I decided to make a stop at the Jiffy to pick up a supply of AMP Focus Energy (my preferred focus and energy beverage) in case I started to get tired. I was only delayed slightly by the lady paying for $40 worth of gas and three cans of Skoal by check and was soon on my way to the mall. The Jiffy was robbed at gunpoint early Tuesday morning by a slightly built man but I can't say I spotted anyone casing the place on Saturday afternoon.

  The mall's retail space is more than half empty just like last year but better days are ahead. In February the Hobby Lobby will be moving into the two year old empty space left by the Menards hardware behemoth, the mall has installed wireless internet, and there is a brand new sign in front of the mall with an animated display screen. I set up my chessboards on the alcove by the J C Penney store and start chatting up any passing shoppers to see if I could get anyone to play. There were a group of girls from the local middle school bell ringing for the Salvation Army at the Penney entrance 40 feet away. They were having some sort of contest to see who could make the most noise with their bells. The customers didn’t seem too pleased but I was happy to see them since I figured that I would be able to cope with the noise better than my opponents.

First up - Chandler (l) and Braymont

  Shortly after I had gotten set up, Chandler from our local club stopped over. Chandler’s mom was taking his baby sister to get her picture taken with Santa so he decided to get a few games in and try to win one of the chess sets I was giving out to anyone who could beat me. Chandler is 3 rating classes below me but has beaten me plenty of times in practice games with the time handicap.

  Our first game couldn’t have gone better for me. Chandler lost a piece early and I won with 40 seconds of my one minute left. Our game attracted someone I’d never seen before named Braymont to watch and when our game was done Braymont decided to play so he made a donation to the Salvation Army and we started a game.

  Braymont took his time but he lost a pawn and then a piece and I checkmated him with 10 seconds left on my clock. Braymont was pleased that he lasted longer than Chandler and I suggested that they play a game on one of the extra boards I had set up but Braymont's wife told him she was going to the Younker’s department store and was he coming or not? As it turned out Braymont was coming and Chandler decided to try again to beat me at the handicap time limit.

  I won the second game against Chandler almost as easily as the first and I thought it was going to be smooth sailing all day and was convinced of it when I won a piece in the third game but in my rush to checkmate Chandler I gave away a rook and lost on time. I gave Chandler his chess set and since his sister was still in line to get a picture with Santa we kept on playing and Chandler just destroyed me in the fourth game, checkmating me using less than a minute on his clock! I quickly downed an AMP Focus Energy drink and we played three more games with me winning two of them until the Santa pictures were taken and Chandler left.

Taking a break to check out Kathy's Christmas candle collection.

   At that point it was around one and I spend the next hour trying to get the passing mall goers to play but had no luck and finally bought a $5 chicken salad slider with a coffee and a pile of Wal-Mart potato chips from the food stand. At that point Kathy came over and we hung out and went to look at her Christmas candles that are on display in one of the many empty storefronts. While we were looking two groups of people stopped to admire the display of 1100+ candles and talk about which ones they liked the best.

  Once we were done looking at the candles, Scott from the club showed up to play. Scott is about one class lower than Chandler but is a therapist and came psychologically armed for our battle. Scott played crazy in the opening, throwing his wing pawns forward quickly but then slowing down and defending carefully afterwards. I kept on using precious seconds to find the weak spots in his setups and would win a piece or some pawns but then I had to scramble to find a checkmate or make a queen to finish him off. I played pretty smoothly but out of the seven games we played I lost once when I ran out of time, lost another game when I walked into a checkmate, and had to take a draw in a third by grabbing all his pieces before I ran out of time. We had some interesting games and Scott’s strategy of trying to run me out of time proved pretty successful.

Scott, Issac, and Isabel and that's all she wrote...

  After Scott left I tried in vain to get some more of the curious mall goers to try their luck but the only interest was shown by an errant three year old who tried to shove some pawns in his mouth before his mother stopped him. I had brought my computer along and was doing some writing when two kids came over and asked if they could play each other. I recognized one of kids as Isabel who I taught to play at last year’s exhibition. Isabel was with her brother Isaac and they were waiting in the mall with their grandmother while their mother was shopping. I reminded them how the pieces moved and they played from 3:30 to 5:30 while I unsuccessfully attempted to get some mall goers to play chess. At 5:30 the mall was pretty emptied out so I gave Isabel and Isaac the chess set Scott had earned and didn’t want, packed up my stuff, and was on my way home with two completely unused AMP Energy Focus drinks and 13 brand new chess sets.

  I'm disappointed this year’s speed chess exhibition attracted only one player from outside club and only two players from the club. This is less than half the players I’ve had every other year. Any time I spend raising money for the Salvation Army is time well spent but this year I could have helped them more by spending six hours trolling the streets for spare change and empties than by playing chess at the mall. I’m tempted to chalk up this years’ poor turnout to chance but the possibility having the exhibition isn’t a good use of my talents would also be a reasonable conclusion. I don’t have to make any decisions about the speed chess exhibition for a year but at some point a decision will have to be made.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Post-Apocalypse Sundays - The Walking Dead

  Sunday night was my favorite TV watching night of the summer with the TNT post-apocalyptic duo of ‘Falling Skies’ and ‘The Last Ship’. The Last Ship was a great show whose plots reminded me a lot of the original Star Trek with some episodes occurring on the ship and some episodes focusing on ‘away teams’ that explored the new societal orders springing up on a world that has seen its population decimated by a runaway virus. The end of the season has the crew docked in Baltimore where it is discovered that the local government is euthanizing infected people and burning them for electricity while the ship has been commandeered by the Baltimore police and Captain Chandler finding his family in order to inject them with the cure only to find out his wife has succumbed to the virus. It is almost criminal to have to wait 10 months for the next season and I wonder what the original Star Trek would have been like if they were allowed to have multi part story lines and cliffhangers 50 years ago.

  Season three of Falling Skies ended with our hardy band of survivors from the 2nd Mass regiment victorious over the invading Espheni aliens with the help of the friendly alien Volm race and on their way back to their home base of Charleston. But as season four started (a mere three weeks after the end of the previous season), the Volm had evacuated Earth (except for a small scout force) to deal with an interstellar Espheni threat, leaving the Espheni free to regroup and capture all the humans into electrically fenced in ghettos or reeducation camps to genetically modify them into mindless slaves with extraterrestrial appendages and powers. The only humans left to their own devices were the group gathered around Lexi, who is the daughter of the main character Tom Mason and was genetically modified by the Espheni so now she looks 20 years old even though she is less than a year old and is exhibits psychic and telekinetic super powers. After the trials and tribulations that seem to go hand in hand with an alien invasion, Tom and Lexi take a spaceship to the Espheni power base on the moon, Lexi destroys the base in an apparent suicide mission, and Tom is lost in space as season four concludes. If I’m making the season sound disjointed that’s because it was disjointed and I’m kind of glad that next year’s season of Falling Skies will be the last because it looks like the writers have run out of steam and are having a hard time putting a coherent storyline together.

  After both shows ended their summer seasons my Sunday night TV watching was reduced to reruns of ‘Bar Rescue’ on the ‘Spike’ network and the ‘Breaking Bad’ binge on AMC but in October ‘The Walking Dead’ came back for the first half of its fifth season with eight weeks of zombie apocalypse action with another eight weeks coming up in February. I never watched TWD until the Fourth of July Weekend when I was home alone with the beagles and AMC was running a marathon of the 16 episodes of Season four. I caught a few episodes and I was so hooked I watched the entire 16 hours over the holiday weekend.

  The Walking Dead follows the travels and adventures of Rick Grimes in post zombie apocalypse Georgia. In the second half of season four Grimes’ group got split up and were all making their way to a place called Terminus which advertised itself by signs and short wave radio as a sanctuary where ‘All who arrive survive.’ In the last episode of the season almost all the disparate parties had arrived in Terminus which turned out to be a large railroad yard but all who arrived are taken prisoner and put into a railroad car to await the beginning of season five in October.

This snippet of the season 5 premiere of The Walking Dead was released an hour before air time.
Is it any wonder it has more viewers than Sunday Night Football?

  The beginning of season five showed all but three of Grimes’ group trapped in the cattle car and tear gassed with eight of them (including Rick) bound, gagged, and brought to a slaughterhouse trough where one by one the prisoners are clubbed with a baseball bat and slit across the neck to bleed out into the trough. It becomes apparent that the people of Terminus lure survivors looking for sanctuary and kill, butcher, and eat them. Rick is working at his bonds with a knife he had hidden when explosions are heard and zombies overrun the Terminus railroad yard (a distraction by the members of Rick’s group that had not yet arrived at Terminus but figured out that it wasn’t a sanctuary after all). Rick frees himself, kills the two slaughterhouse butchers, and the entire group escape the cannibalistic tribe of Terminus and the marauding horde of zombies. Rick wants to go back into the zombie infested yard and kill all the Terminus people saying ‘They don’t get to live’ but is dissuaded by the rest of the group who don’t see the point of risking their lives to wreak vengeance on any Terminus survivors. Welcome to the world of The Walking Dead. In a zombie apocalypse I would think the living would band together to fight the zombies but every group Grimes and Co. encounters is bent on establishing their own supremacy over every other group. And (aside from the zombies) that is what makes TWD even more popular than Sunday Night Football – Rick’s group of survivors have banded together as a family but they have remained decent human beings who will help outsiders when they can while forming themselves into an elite zombie fighting survival unit.

  Rick has learned to go to any lengths to protect his family. In season four he bit open the jugular of the leader of a gang that was going to kill him and his friends. That’s why he wanted to exterminate the people of Terminus. His judgment proved correct when Terminus leader Gareth and a small group escaped alive from the rail yard, tracked down Rick’s group, captured one of them, cut off his leg, cooked it, and ate it right in front of him. It was a particularly grisly piece of theatre to have Bob from Rick’s group laying by Gareth’s campfire while Gareth is telling him that it’s not personal and that ‘we would have done this to anyone’ as he bites off a piece of Bob’s cooked leg saying ‘At the end of the day...a man’s got to eat.’.

The living are worse than the dead as this classic scene shows.

  The writers of TWD have a great sense of pace. I expected the Gareth storyline to have lasted throughout the entire half season as they devoured Bob one limb at a time, but in a great plot twist it turned out that Bob had been bitten by a zombie and was ‘tainted meat’! This led Gareth and crew to try to lure Rick’s group out in the open for their next meal only to find themselves caught in an ambush. Gareth pleads for his groups life but this time not only does the rest of the group not talk Rick out of killing Gareth and Co., they help in beating them to death with rifle butts (so as to not waste bullets) and stabbing them while Rick hacks Gareth to pieces with a sword. The Terminus saga could have taken all season but it suddenly and unexpectedly ended in three episodes, leaving a whole half a season for different stories to be told.

Rick Grimes - A man who will do anything FOR his friends and do anything TO his enemies!

  The rest of season five revolved around a missing cast member (Beth) who ended up being taken away in season four by a car with a white cross on the back of it. The car belonged to a group of survivors from Atlanta’s Grundy Memorial Hospital. The group is run by a squad of police officers that force anyone they rescue to work for them until they are all are saved by a military evacuation they believe is coming. Beth is assigned to be a nurse to Dr. Edwards (the only doctor in the hospital). When another doctor is rescued Edwards feels his position is at risk and has the unwitting Beth administer a medication that causes a siezure and eliminates his competition. The male officers rape the female inmates and abuse all the other inmates under the knowing but ignoring eye of head officer Dawn because she is concerned with maintaining her power and needs the support of the other officers in order to do so.

  Eventually Rick’s group finds out about Beth’s captivity from Noah (a wandering runaway Beth helped escape from the hospital) as well as the recent hospital ‘rescue’ of another member of their group and sets off to rescue her. Rick’s idea is to sneak into the hospital and kill everyone there but the rest of the group want a peaceful resolution so Rick devises a plan to kidnap two of Officer Dawn’s police officers.

  The plan works and as a bonus they capture a third officer who escapes and is running for his life at the beginning of the mid-season finale. Rick grabs a police car and orders the escapee to stop. When he doesn’t Rick just rams his car into him. The officer is laying on the ground unable to move with zombies slowly lurching in his direction and is pleading with Rick for his life. Rick tells the officer he should have stopped and shoots him in the head. It was a violent scene worthy of the end of an episode but in this case it is in the beginning with over 50 minutes left in the show. After a very tense hostage exchange where a gun battle threatens to erupt at any point the hostages are exchanged. The tension ebbs but Officer Dawn insists on having Noah back because ‘she needs a ward’. Rick says no and the tension gets white hot in a heartbeat but ebbs again when Noah agrees to stay in the hospital. Beth and Noah hug goodbye, Officer Dawn makes a comment about ‘they always come back’ and the tension escalates again but this time it erupts into two deaths before Rick and the group leave the hospital for good. This razor’s edge tension keeps me on the edge of my seat - even the quietest and most introspective moment bears the promise of turning into intense violence in a split second.

  The changing of the pace is one big part of what makes The Walking Dead one of my favorite shows. Another is the cast. I really like the Rick Grimes character – he can kill at the drop of a hat but accepts strangers the group almost as easily. I don’t care for every character but since it is a large ensemble cast I don’t get bored for too long with any one character. A new group joined the show late last season consisting Eugene Porter, a scientist who claims to have the cure to the zombie virus that reanimates the humans after death and two military type personnel that have taken it upon themselves to get him to Washington D.C. I found this crew pretty boring but since there are a dozen or so other characters they weren’t on enough to get on my nerves except for the fifth episode which featured the group but as much comic relief that can be found in a zombie apocalypse when we find out that Porter is just a fraud that pretended he had the cure to gain protection from others.

This scene is indicative of the amazing stop and start pacing of The Walking Dead that
makes even the quietest moment full of tension.

  No discussion of The Walking Dead would be complete without mentioning the zombies and the fact that I haven’t mentioned them very much up to now shows how many levels this show is excellent at. Having said that, the zombies look realistic and the special effects people use a lot of creativity in their use. Season five had some zombies trapped in a flooded basement and they were disgustingly bloated. Another episode showed some zombies melted into the pavement as the result of a military napalm attack in the beginning of the apocalypse but the melted zombies are still reaching out with any free limbs for any taste of human flesh they can get.

  By this point in the show’s evolution almost anyone who hasn’t learned to be a full-fledged zombie killer has long since disappeared (except for Porter and Father Gabriel, a newcomer to the show who has been locked in his church until his food finally ran out). To have any shock value a zombie attack must have either the element of surprise or an overwhelming numerical superiority and even then the survivors just club the zombies to death or stick a knife in a zombie’s head and eradicate the threat. The main use the zombies seem to have at this point in the show is weaponry. When Beth is confronted by her would-be rapist in an office in the hospital she spots a former rape victim who committed suicide and goes along with her abuser feeling her up until the suicidee reanimates into a zombie. Then Beth clocks the officer with a bowl which doesn’t knock him out but does knock him down and he is soon devoured by his former victim. There were plenty of episodes in the past when a rival group would drive a truck full of zombies into Rick’s camp, forcing the group to deal with the zombies and a human attack at the same time. But the all-time best use of zombie weaponry was in Episode 7 of the current season when Rick’s friend Daryl is fighting one of the police officers and getting the worst of it. Daryl is on his back and being choked and forced ever so closer to a napalmed zombie’s hungry teeth. Daryl desperately reaches for the zombie’s face and sticks his fingers into the zombie’s eye sockets, which he uses to gain the leverage to yank the zombie skull off its body and beat the police officer senseless with it.

   I had always thought the show was about the zombies and I was always wrong. After having watched most of the episodes the show to me is about what lengths people will go to survive and the struggle is not people versus zombies but the survivors struggle to retain both their humanity and their lives. The zombies are great to have because they are so versatile but it is the story and cast that has me counting the Sundays until The Walking Dead returns in February.

Only 61 days till February 8th....

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

A Morning at Zanzibar's

Welcome to Zanzibar’s Coffee Adventure!!
Home to fine coffee, chess players, and the occasional celebrity sighting!

  For the third year in a row I combined three vacation days with the Thanksgiving holiday to have a week off from work. Or at least that was the plan. My main responsibility at work is a program that closely interfaces with a government agency program. On Sunday, the government’s program stopped working which caused my interface to stop working. I shut down our side of the interface and restarted it at 11 that night after the government agency performs a weekly reboot. All was well or so I thought until 8am on Monday when I got a call from a client to let me know that all the transactions we were sending to the government’s program were failing. It seems that the government agencies program lost all the permissions for their registered parties and no one had permission to do anything.

  After spending the morning sorting through that mess, I was able to resume my vacation and had a relaxing afternoon. On Tuesday there were no government agency problems and I had a relaxing start to the morning but just as Kathy and I got Daisy and Baxter ready for their 9am walk, the phone rang. It was Fred (not his real name), a customer of the retail store software company I worked for from 1994 to 2008 when it was sold to a company from Indianapolis that had their own programmers. The new company switched the software from a desktop version to the ‘cloud’ and discontinued support for the desktop version in 2011. Since then I’ve been helping the old desktop users with their problems for an hourly fee.

  Normally I can help these people via email. Fred had switched to the cloud version and wanted to go back to the desktop version. He didn’t want to work via email and had a setup where I could remote into his computer. Last month I spent 90 minutes one Sunday remoting into his computer and talking on the phone configuring his software (printers, screen preferences, etc…). Once we were done Fred realized that he had been logged into the software as the wrong user. And we had to do all the work all over again. The next day Fred restored a backup of his data and overwrote all the changes I had made and we spent another hour configuring his software. Three days later Fred accidentally restored his data and we spent another 45 minutes configuring his software. The good news was that we were getting faster at configuring the software; the bad news was that we had to keep on doing it.

  On Tuesday Fred called because he wanted to go over the procedures for getting the data from the registers to his desktop computer and vice versa. We spent some time going over that and while we were talking I got some emails from another retail store customer who had a problem with getting the data from one of her registers. All in all I spent two hours on Tuesday helping retail store customers and while I like helping these people and I like getting the extra money and most of all I like the satisfaction I get from knowing a software program I hadn’t changed in more than seven years is still working like a Swiss watch I wasn’t feeling like I was on vacation.

  On Wednesday I had a relaxing day with no work related issues and after a nice Thanksgiving and uneventful Friday I did have a fairly relaxing vacation after all. On Saturday my vacation could be said to be technically over since I wouldn’t be working on the weekend anyway but on Saturday I made the time to visit one of my favorite places and headed to Zanzibar’s Coffee Adventure for some coffee and coffeehouse chess with my friends Dan and Mike.

Dan Troxell and Mike Jeter, the Zanzibar's regulars!

  The last time I visited Zanzibar’s was the Saturday after Thanksgiving last year and I played poorly. Mike trapped by queen with a tricky tactic and I gave away a piece against Dan (luckily only after I had already won a piece). Between work and beagle walking I didn’t have much time for chess on my vacation but I did take breaks for bursts of one minute chess games on and the Internet Chess Club so I could be in good form for my visit to Zanzibar’s. I wanted to play well against Dan and Mike but there was also the chance that I could impress one of the many celebrities that frequent Zanzibar’s and get some extra Christmas money giving chess lessons or playing time odds blitz. Some people doubt I've really seen all the celebrities I claim to have seen at Zanzibar's but I have plenty of photographic evidence to back up my claims (you can see my past celebrity sightings here) so they can doubt all they want while I keep adding to my celebrity photo collection from Zanzibar's.

The $9.99 ‘Breakfast Eggstravaganza’ was
  After taking Daisy and Baxter for their 4:30 am Saturday beef stick walk to the Jiffy, I hung around the house with the beagles and Harry the cockatiel until 7 when I started on the hour long drive to Zanzibar’s. I wanted to hit the ground running so I took along a can of AMP Focus Energy (my preferred energy beverage) and drank it on the way down.

  I arrived at Zanzibar’s at 8 but Mike and Dan weren’t there yet so I decided to have some breakfast. I ordered the top of the line ‘Breakfast Eggstravaganza’ which consists of two steamed eggs with cheese, two slices of toast, a small glass of orange juice, and a cup of coffee. My favorite Ethiopian coffee wasn’t available so I ‘settled’ for Kenyan Dark Roast which was strong but not nearly as strong as the Ethiopian brew.

  Between the time I ordered and the time my food was ready, Mike came in. He ordered the ‘Breakfast Eggpress’ and we sat down to chat while waiting for our food to arrive. Just as our breakfast arrived, so did Dan. Dan set up the board and Mike and I ate our breakfast. My breakfast was pricey but very good. The eggs and cheese were melted together expertly and the toast and juice were perfect. My only quibble is that for $9.99 I would have liked a bottomless cup of coffee. Mike and I decided to play first and I drew the black pieces for what was my first time playing a long game since the Jackson Open in August.

pgn4web chessboards courtesy of
  Except for losing his queen to a trap, Mike played pretty well and the game lasted almost an hour. I was happy with my play and the way I kept the game under control once I had the edge. During the game I recognized one of the diners that kept on walking back and forth checking out our game as Pat Boone. With the Iowa primaries less than 14 months away he was no doubt scouting the territory to determine which conservative candidate he was going to stump for. I told Pat that I got a number of his phone messages to urge me to vote for Joni Ernst for the Senate and asked him if he’d like to play a game of chess for a small wager. Like most of the celebrities that frequent Zanzibar’s, Pat values his anonymity and acted like I had him mistaken for someone else. He did say that that while he’d like to play chess, gambling was a sin and I should find someone else to gamble with. While we were talking I noticed that Pat had his gaze fixed at a table on the other side of the building and he muttered ‘What’s she doing here?’ I looked across the room and there was Hillary Clinton reading the paper! I was tempted to ask for an autograph but Dan wanted to play me so I settled for a picture, drew the Black pieces and started my second game of the day.

Pat Boone and Hillary Clinton were as far apart in Zanzibar's as their political views as they each try to scout out Iowa in advance of the upcoming primaries...

This game took around 45 minutes and except for Dan losing a rook at the end it could have gone on for another hour. Dan had to bring his daughter to work so Mike and I loaded up on another cup of Kenyan Dark Roast and had a rematch with me having the White pieces this time.

  This was another hour long game and I think I made it a lot harder on myself by using my queen too much. Pat and Hillary were long since gone and it seemed that the Hollywood crowd had taken over Zanzibar’s. I spotted Ben Affleck at a nearby table. I would like to have played the future Batman in a game of chess but Affleck is more of a poker player (as you can see from this article). Mike asked me if I had ever seen the ‘Hunger Games’ movies. I told him I hadn’t and he told me the star of the movies was Jennifer Lawrence and she was standing at the counter. I took a quick picture and wondered how many celebrities were at Zanzibar’s that I failed to recognize because I’m so out of touch with modern ‘culture’. Hoping to spark some chess interest among the breakfasting ‘Who’s Who’ I played Mike 4 games at the time odds of 1 minute to 10 minutes. We split the four games and the banging of the pieces and slamming of the clocks drew quite a bit of attention and some people even took pictures but we couldn’t entice anyone to join us. I can only assume they were too busy reading scripts for upcoming film and television projects.

Mike spotted Jennifer Lawrence while I was able to snap a close up picture of Ben Affleck (who looks much younger in person).
Meanwhile, Mike and I attracted a crowd of picture takers playing time odds blitz. Maybe they mistook us for celebrities...

  Once Mike and I were done playing speed chess it was time for me to get back home so I said good bye to Mike and Zanzibar’s until my next visit. Looking at all three long games I thought I could have been more aggressive but I never left myself open to any shots and never in danger of losing any of the games so I think I played pretty well in the chess department but before my next visit I’ll have to study the Weekly World News and Midnight Globe to brush up on my celebrity spotting.