Monday, November 30, 2015

Movie Review - Creed (and the Fridley Theater Fraud)

  I went with Kathy to see Creed on Thanksgiving afternoon. Creed is the seventh movie in the saga of Sylvester Stallone’s ‘Rocky Balboa’ character and at the same time a stand-alone film with Rocky as an important but decidedly supporting role. Adonis Johnson is an orphaned juvenile delinquent that we first meet punching out a bigger juvenile delinquent in a juvenile delinquent center when he is rescued from his situation by Mary Anne Creed, the widow of Apollo Creed (the boxer who Rocky beats for the world championship and killed in the ring by Russian Ivan Drago in Rocky IV), dropping the bombshell that Johnson is Creed’s illegitimate son. Mary Anne Creed is played by Phylicia Rashad and when she gets Adonis out of the juvenile delinquent center the first thing that popped into my mind was whether she was looking for Bill Cosby so she could bail him out of jail.

  We next see Johnson as an adult working for a big financial services firm and boxing on the side in Mexico. He uses the name of Johnson to avoid unwanted comparisons to his father and to make his own name even though he has no problem living in the Creed family palatial mansion. Johnson quits his day job to become a full time boxer. He heads to the local gym but can’t get respect as a serious fighter so he heads to Philadelphia to get Rocky Balboa to train him.

  Rocky Balboa is much the same as the Rocky we left at the end of the 2005 Rocky Balboa movie except he is lonelier than ever before. Rocky still has his restaurant but Paulie is buried next to Adrian, Little Marie and her son Steps aren’t working at the restaurant any more, and his son Robert has moved to Vancouver. All Rocky does is feed his turtle, buy food for the restaurant, and visit Adrian and Paulie’s graves. Johnson spills the beans about his father and Rocky finds a new purpose in training him.

  After the introductions the movie becomes a version of the original Rocky except in a sort of funhouse mirror with Michael B. Jordan playing Rocky’s part and Stallone playing the role of Mick the trainer. Instead of meeting a girl in a pet store who lives with an abusive alcoholic brother, Johnson meets a singer in an apartment in his building that lives with a degenerative hearing condition. Rocky as Mick trains Johnson using the drills Mick made him go through like chasing chickens and boxing with his shoe tied to each other. I especially liked how Mick’s old gym has become a shiny redone showplace so Rocky finds a filthy dive gym to do his training.

  Johnson wins his first fight against the son of one of Rocky’s old pals but is outed as Apollo Creed’s son by the jealous father. This leads to an opportunity to take on the English World Champion in Liverpool under the condition that Johnson takes on the ‘Creed’ name to cash in on the box office appeal. Around the same time Rocky finds out that he has cancer and while he really wants to join Adrian and Paulie in the afterlife he and Johnson decide to take on their challenges like the champions they are, were, and want to be.

  Creed has gotten highly positive reviews and Stallone is being touted as a potential Academy Award winner. I liked the movie a lot but wouldn’t say it was the best movie I’ve seen in years or even this year (Terminator:Genisys gets my vote for 2015). I thought the fight scenes were the best I’ve ever seen. There were a lot of close-up shots of only one boxer that made it look like I was in the ring and could smell his breath. The fighting was fast and furious but I never felt like it was speeded up artificially by cutting shots to different angles the way some of the other so-called action movies do. Stallone plays his aging Rocky character to perfection. Before he decided to train Johnson he reminded me of a lot of old guys I see that have nothing to live for and are just waiting to die. When he decided to train Johnson he reminded me of the old guys I know that are always living for something even if it is just to wake up tomorrow. His waffling between the two view points when he finds out he has cancer is a great character study. I liked Michael B. Jordan as Johnson-Creed, especially how he showed that he was scared senseless before his fights even while he was putting up the obligatory tough guy stance.

  The thing I didn’t like about the movie was that since it was certainly a Rocky reboot I didn’t really understand Johnson/Creed’s motivation to be a boxer. Unlike the original Rocky who was a leg-breaker for the mob with no way out except his once in a lifetime chance to fight Apollo Creed, Johnson lives in a mansion and has a six or seven figure career as a financial services big shot waiting for him whenever he wants. I never really got the sense of desperation that I got from the Rocky movies. Out of all the Rocky movies I never cared for the third and fourth ones because Rocky had it made and his struggles seemed artificial. Rocky V is universally thought of as the worst of the series but it’s my favorite because it gets the character back to the struggles for survival and drags his family into it for good measure. I would have empathized with Creed more if the main character didn’t have a ready made safety net. That safety net may be the reason that the movie proves popular with the younger generation. It may well be that the new heroes of a world where the Kardashians are celebrities because of their celebrity aren't celebrated because they triumph against all odds but because they triumph an have a safety net.

  In addition to the drama on the screen I had a small dose of drama at the Fridley Theater in Marshalltown, Iowa where I saw the movie. The theater advertises free refills of soda and popcorn. I paid $12 for our movie tickets and got a large popcorn for $5.00 and a medium Mountain Dew for $4.5) instead of the $5.00 large soda. After the movie I thought I wanted some more soda so I want to the concession stand and asked for a refill. The young clerk stopped applying his pimple cream to one his many pimples and said “We don’t actually give refills for medium drinks.” As I was leaving the theatre without my refill I was telling Kathy about my lack of a refill an the lady trying to sell me a gift certificate for the Fridley Theater in Marshalltown, Iowa chimed by telling me I should get a large soda next time. What an asinine policy! If I was trying to beat the Fridley Theater in Marshalltown, Iowa out of 50 cents I would have tried for the whole dollar by getting the $4.00 small soda instead of the $4.50 medium soda. I was leaving the theatre and wasn’t going to be watching movies all day drinking out of the same cup. Get with it Fridley Theater of Marshalltown Iowa – give out a refill for the medium drink!

  Leaving the world of boxing drama for the world of basketball prediction drama, I overcame all odds to go 3-0 in last Friday’s games to boost my season record to 14-4-1 with my mythical winnings at a season high of $960. The odds I overcame was the Spurs covering against the Nuggets on the road despite leaving two of their better players (Manu Ginobli and Tim Duncan) in San Antonio to rest for the Saturday night home game against the Hawks which the Spurs also won and also covered. As usual I’ll be betting $110 to win $100 on tonight's picks using the lines as listed on the Yahoo Sports page for entertainment purposes only with no real money wagered.

Boston Celtics at Miami Heat
The Celtics started their five game road trip with a 20 point loss in Orlando last night and made the short trip to Miami to face the Heat. The Heat are starting a four game homestand, have had two days off and will have another two days off after this game. I expect the Heat to play with a lot of energy and easily cover the five point spread.

San Antonio Spurs at Chicago Bulls
The Spurs have now won 10 of 11 with nine of the wins by double digits after beating the Nuggets in Denver and the Hawks in San Antonio this weekend. Tonight the Spurs travel to Chicago to give 3.5 points to the Bulls. take on the Bulls who are home after splitting a four game western road trip. I think the Spurs are playing like a well oiled machine and will give the points even though the Bulls have only lost one game in Chicago this year and have had two days of rest.

Golden State Warriors at Utah Jazz
The Jazz are coming off two double digit wins over the Clippers and Pelicans and are home against the 18-0 defending champion Golden State Warriors. Is this where the Warriors finally lose? I think the Warriors will get their six game road trip off to a good start and will lay the nine points as they continue their chase towards the NBA records of 33 wins in a row and 72 wins in a season.

Friday, November 27, 2015

TV Binge Review - Jessica Jones Season 1

Jessica Jones is the latest Marvel Comics character to get to Netflix

  I took Monday through Wednesday off from work to combine with the Thanksgiving Holiday for nine days off. One of my activities was to watch the newly released Marvel Comics/ Netflix show 'Jessica Jones'. I’m too old to know Jessica Jones from the comics but I did know that Luke Cage, Power Man would be featured in the show and that was enough for me to want to take a look. I watched two episodes on Sunday, five on Monday, and finished up with the final six of the 13 episodes on Tuesday. The release of an entire season of a series at once is a tremendous idea from Netflix. There are a lot of shows I’d like to watch every week like Flash and Arrow but the only time I really have to consistently watch a television show are weekend evenings and not even then all the time (although I do make time for my Sunday post-apocalyptic dramas like ‘The Last Ship’ and ‘The Walking Dead’). Once I miss an episode it is easier to miss more and I have little desire to go back and watch old seasons six months to a year after the fact. Having the entire season of Daredevil and Jessica Jones available while it is brand new makes it easier for me to set aside the hour or two needed to watch two or three episodes at once.

  Jessica Jones is a private investigator in the Hells Kitchen neighborhood of New York. She has super strength and can jump high enough to simulate flight which makes her a desirable private investigator despite the fact that she constantly drinks whiskey and seems to only own one set of clothes. Maybe another of her powers is that she can’t get drunk or has a Febreze gland. The story follows Jones’ as she is pursued by and pursues the criminal Kilgrave (also known in the comics as ‘The Purple Man’) whose super power is that everyone must obey his spoken word. Jessica is helped by former child star now turned talk show host Trish Walker who Jessica lived with since she was orphaned in childhood (a long story that is slowly revealed during the 12+ hours of the series), swanky corporate lawyer Jeri Hogarth, New York cop turned drug enhanced super soldier Will Simpson, Luke Cage and his unbreakable skin, and the assorted druggies and freaks that live in Jessica’s apartment building where she has her office/dingy apartment.

  Kilgrave is a first class villain with no remorse as he mind controls his victims to shoot their parents, walk out of windows, shoot themselves, hang themselves, or simply provide him a ride or a place to live or cook him dinner all just for the asking. As is revealed in the show he used his mind control powers on Jones but the spell broke off when she committed murder at his request. Following the age old edict that we want most what we can’t have, Kilgrave wants Jessica Jones to fall in love with him without him controlling her. As with most Marvel villains there is an attempt to show Kilgrave as a victim as well as a villain. It didn’t work for me. David Tenant plays Kilgrave as a spoiled brat with a sense of humor that throws sadistic tantrums when he doesn’t get his way. While I understood Daredevil’s Kingpin as a complex character that could see his brutal acts as necessary to save his city, I thought Kilgrave was just cruel for the sake of being cruel and don’t understand why he just wouldn’t have had Jones killed when she broke free of his mind control. If i could get anyone but a single person to obey everything I said I would probably stay very far away from that single person, especially if she had super powers, wouldn't you? Near the end of the season Kilgrave does shine as he tries to amplify his powers and kill Jones in earnest but he seemed more like a English accented super powered buffoon for most of the season.

  The most likable character in the show was Luke Cage who is played by Mike Colter as the ultimate strong silent type who just happens to have super strength and unbreakable skin. Cage runs a bar and has numerous liaisons with Jones in their on again – off again relationship. Cage gets around town on an old style Harley wearing a small bucket helmet and is the epitome of cool. It will probably take a year before the Luke Cage Netflix series airs but I’m already looking forward to it.

  I liked Krysten Ritter as Jessica Jones. She plays the private eye role very well and her mad at the world attitude fit in nicely with her constant whisky drinking. I didn’t understand why she was never drunk because if she wasn’t getting drunk what was the point if drinking at least a fifth of booze every episode? I liked her chemistry with Kilgrave even though their relationship was the product of his insanity.

  The other supporting cast members were well played and they all had strange parts to play. Colby Minifie gets one of the stranger roles as Robyn, the semi psychotic neighbor of Jones who lives in an upstairs apartment with her twin brother Rueben. Neither of them seem to have any means of supporting themselves as Robyn bosses her brother around and constantly berates him and the other tenants while Rueben bakes endless loaves of banana bread as an excuse to visit Jessica. The other notable character was Carrie-Anne Moss’s Jeri Hogarth, the cold as ice lawyer who hires Jessica to serve summons, dig up dirt on her soon to be divorced wife, and even goes as far as to try to trade Kilgrave his freedom in return for getting her wife to file the divorce papers. Yes I wrote her wife and Hogarth could easily been written as a slimy male straight lawyer instead of a slimy female lesbian lawyer with no changes in dialog. Wil Traval plays Will Simpson, a former special ops soldier who is taken over by Kilgrave and tries to kill Jones’ friend Trish, then becomes her lover, then gets 'roided up with special black ops pills and tries to kill Jessica. While the other characters were consistently bizarre, Simpson was all over the map until he mysteriously disappears never to be seen again (at least until Season 2).

  All in all, I like Jessica Jones but not as much as Daredevil (the previous Marvel/Netflix series). Tennant’s Kilgrave could not hold a candle to Vincent D’onofrio’s Kingpin as a super villain. Kilgrave did provide some comic relief when he orders his cooks to not blink for hours while having then lookout for Jessica or order Hogarth’s estranged wife to kill Hogarth with a ‘death by 1,000 cuts’. By the end of the 12 hours I was watching out of inertia and was bored with all the characters (except Cage) and was uninterested in their fates. If you have 13 hours to spend watching Jessica Jones I think you have a lot of untapped potential that your time would be better spent unlocking.

  Leaving the mythical world of superheroes and mind controlling super villains to return to the world of basketball predictions I managed to split my three predictions on Monday thanks to Charlotte going to overtime against the Kings and winning by five points to give me a push. My season to date mark is 11-4-1 with my mythical winnings down to $660 from a high of $680 two weeks ago. This weekend there are three games I like and as usual I’ll be betting $110 to win $100 using the lines as listed on the Yahoo Sports page for entertainment purposes only with no real money wagered.

Miami Heat at New York Knicks
After beating the Knicks by 17 at home on Monday, the Heat were thumped in Detroit 101-84 on Wednesday while the Knicks are home after losing the last two games of a four game road trip. I expect the Heat to rebound from the putrid Detroit game and cover the point and a half they are giving to the Knicks.

San Antonio Spurs at Denver Nuggets
The Spurs have won eight of nine with seven of the wins by double digits. Tonight the Spurs find themselves in Denver to take on the Nuggets who have lost four in a row with three of the losses by double digits. Even though the Spurs may rest players for tomorrow's home game against the Hawks I will pick the Spurs to continue their winning ways and give the nine and a half points.

Milwaukee Bucks at Orlando Magic
The Magic have won five of their last six home games while the Bucks have lost six of eight. I believe the youthful Magic are finding their way while the youthful Bucks are struggling under the weight of their playoff aspirations. This game smells like a blowout to me so I'll take the Magic in this game and will lay the four points.

Monday, November 23, 2015

NBA Season to Date Observations and Predictions

  The NBA season is almost a month old with every team except the Washington Wizards playing at least a dozen games. As I write this on Sunday morning the defending champion Golden State Warriors have yet to lose and the perennial rebuilding Philadelphia 76ers yet to win.

  I thought the Warriors would get fat, happy, and selfish after winning last year’s championship. Instead they seem to be focused on proving last year was no fluke. None of the many role players have tried to break out of their roles, content to let Stephen Curry take (and make) the bulk of the shots while moving the ball, playing tough defense, and waiting for their chances to score. The Warriors have hit a tough stretch (for them) of late, finding themselves trailing the Nets and Clippers in the fourth quarter of their recent games but have managed to pull out wins. Do I think the Warriors can break the 1995-1996 Bulls record of 72-10? I believe they are sufficiently motivated and if they stay healthy this team is the one that can break the record. Having said that, it is a long season and I think that the Bulls record will withstand this challenge.

  The team that got fat and happy seems to be the Warriors 2014-15 Western Conference Finals opponents, the Houston Rockets. In the offseason Rockets superstar James Harden signed a $200 million dollar show deal with Adidas and has taken up with reality TV show icon Khloe Kardashian. Harden seemed out of shape and not at all in the mood to even pretend to play defense this season and when the Rockets started what they hoped to be a championship season with a 4-7 record including 4 20 point losses, head coach Kevin McHale was fired because in the words of Rockets GM Darrell Morey “The team was not responding to Kevin McHale”. The team responded to new coach J.B. Bickerstaff with a comeback win against the moribund Portland Trailblazers before further responding with a road loss against the Grizzlies and a home loss to the Knicks. I was high on the Rockets two years ago when they acquired center Dwight Howard but Howard can’t stay healthy (he is already taking games off this season to rest his back) and the fate of the team rests on Harden who is a superstar that is not playing like one which is an awful combination for a player that needs to handle the ball most of the time to be effective. This turn of events is a huge blow for GM Darrell Morey, making the huge proponent of basketball analytics seem clueless to the dynamic of team building for a championship run as opposed to collecting talent and draft picks.

  My pick to win the championship is the Los Angeles Clippers who rewarded my confidence by following a 4-0 start with losing seven of nine games for a 6-7 record after Sunday’s loss against the Raptors. Despite the rough patch I think the Clippers are built for the playoffs. They need to stay healthy and get superstars Chris Paul and Blake Griffin get used to playing with newcomers Paul Pierce and Josh Smith. The wild card for the Clippers to me is whether Clippers owner Steve Ballmer will push the panic button and order GM/Coach Doc Rivers to shake up the team or even fire Rivers.

  I picked the Los Angeles Lakers to win 37 games this year which would be a 16 game improvement over last year. The Lakers have started 2-11 and would have to win more than half of their remaining 69 games to get to 37 wins. My prediction doesn’t look good but I still like the chances of the Lakers’ young talent to develop significantly as the season goes along and the less Kobe Bryant plays the quicker this process will be and the closer the team will get to 37 wins. As great as Bryant was, he is an aged (not aging) former superstar who takes more shots than anyone on the team while shooting 34%. Not only is Bryant unproductive he is taking minutes away from the younger players and disrupting their ability to grow as a team. Meanwhile the big surprise in the West is the Dallas Mavericks with a 9-4 start defying the skeptics that predicted the Mavs would miss the playoffs. I don’t believe in the Mavericks and think their record is the result of their brilliant coach Rick Carlisle. As the season wears on talent will win out over schemes and the Mavs will struggle with their aging roster. In the east I predicted the Atlanta Hawks would struggle to get 50 wins after getting 60 last season. The Hawks currently are at 9-6 which is a pace for 49.2 wins so I’m spot on so far. I also predicted the surprise team to be the Orlando Magic and said they would make the playoffs. The Magic have been inconsistent so far with a 6-7 record. I’ve seen the Magic play twice and they are not just inconsistent they are maddeningly inconsistent – looking like world beaters in one quarter and a turnover machine the next. Coach Scott Skiles is already running out of patience with his young team, benching center Nik Vucevic for the second half of their win against the Timberwolves and subbing the entire starting unit earlier this month. I knew Skiles would wear out his welcome in Orlando as he has in every other stop in his coaching career but I think his act is going to wear thin faster in Orlando than his other stops. It looks to me like the Magic are running the risk of a player revolt and a lost season unless they can pull off a few upsets on their upcoming western road trip in December to get the players to see success from Skiles hardcore methods.

  The most impressive team in the east to my mind is the Chicago Bulls. First year coach Fred Hoiberg has successfully shaken up the lineup by starting Tony Snell and Doug McDermott and bringing former Defensive Player of the Year Joakim Noah off the bench. Snell and McDermott have looked more productive, Noah is more rested, and the Bulls have looked crisp while going 8-4 to start the year. The other surprise team is the Knicks who have gone 8-6 to start the year including road wins against the Thunder, Rockets, and Raptors The Knicks have coalesced behind 7-3 rookie Kristaps Porzingas who has become an instant celebrity much like Jeremy Lin three y ears ago as can only happen in new York. I am impressed with the Knicks progress under club president Phil Jackson but I’m not convinced yet, preferring to see how the Knicks react when they run into their early injury problems and Porzingas hits the rookie wall.

  My basketball prediction program may have hit the rookie wall. I split my 2 picks on Friday, leaving me with a 10-3 mark and trimming my mythical winnings to $670. My unpublished weekend picks went 3-4 to take the program’s season mark to 30-16. One of the program’s flaws has been exposed, showing a certain slowness to detect a turnaround in a teams fortunes whether due to injury or a team suddenly jelling like the New Orleans Pelicans seemed to do this weekend with wins over the Spurs and Suns.

  Tonight there are three games I’ll put up $110 to win $100 using the lines as listed on the Yahoo Sports pagefor entertainment purposes only with no real money wagered. My program likes Charlotte giving 5 points to the visiting Sacramento Kings, the Pistons giving 2 points on the road at Milwaukee, and the Thunder getting 4 points from the Utah Jazz in Utah which seems to go against conventional wisdom to stay away from road teams on the second game of a back to back but I'll give my program a little leeway and take the risk.

Friday, November 20, 2015

The Interviews

  Last week the company I work for hired me out to work for a company in Ames Iowa for the foreseeable future. Being farmed out is nothing new for me – I program for my employer’s clients who pay my employer, who then pays me. Normally I work out of my office but in 2013 I had to occasionally work 90 miles east in North Liberty Iowa and in 2014 I spent six months working in a bank in West Des Moines which was 55 miles southwest but only five miles further than the 50 mile commute to my downtown office. My new workplace is 37 miles west which is less than the 60 mile commute to my employer’s current office and more than the 20 feet I walked from my living room to my computer on the three days a week I’ve been working from home.

  Before I could work in Ames I had to go on an interview which must have went well enough since I was accepted for the assignment. During the 13 years I spent writing shoe store software I went on exactly one interview until 2007 when the owner of the company I worked for sold his company to people from Indianapolis who had their own programmers at which point I went on a number of interviews.

  I wasn’t very successful at interviewing in 2007 and I think it was because I badly wanted a new job and it showed which made me less than an attractive candidate in the way that the seemingly unattainable girls in high school were the most sought after at least that’s the way I remember it. Wanting a new job too badly made me not exactly myself in interviews. I came off trying to sound too professional and less funny than I am and I probably just seemed like a phony.

  Eventually one of my interviews panned out and I got my new job which was a two year contract so after two years I was out interviewing again in 2009. For this go round I was determined to be myself and even though I needed a new job instead of wanting one like two years prior I had a great time interviewing. I was at one place where I was told that the programmers were in charge of making the time estimates. I’d barely ever made estimates, preferring instead to say the project would take until it was finished and worked as hard as I could to get my projects done as soon as possible which almost always pleased my employers in terms of the time the project took and the quality of the completed project. I asked the interviewer how it would go over if I was able to complete a project earlier than scheduled. When the interviewer asked how that could be possible I explained that I had the occasional epiphany (meaning a burst of production or an amazing time saving idea) which enabled me to complete some projects well ahead of schedule. The interviewer sniffed “We do not have epiphanies at this company”. We made some more chit-chat but I knew there wasn’t going to be a job offer and the interviewer knew it wasn’t going to be accepted.

  I did much better on my next interview. The interviewer asked me if it was better to have a job done on time or done correctly. I said if the job wasn’t done correctly how could it be done on time? Since that got a laugh I told the story about how I took a job at a company and had to take over half of an overdue project from an overworked programmer who I shared the office with. The next week the overworked programmer was talking to our supervisor in our office at lunch not realizing that I was sitting at my desk reading. The supervisor mentioned that I did a good job on my half of the project and the programmer said that while I 'managed' to complete the project his design was “much more elegant” than mine. I got up from my desk and said that if the program didn’t have to work and didn’t have to be done on time I could be just as elegant. My interviewer roared at my story but I wasn’t offered the job because the company put on a hiring freeze. The happy ending was that a month later a position opened up at the company and I was offered the job without another interview.

  I interviewed twice for my current job. The first time I went to the downtown office with my current supervisor and his boss. I tried to be funny and got a second interview to meet one of the programmers over lunch. I didn’t want to drive around so I suggested the snack bar at a nearby Target superstore within walking distance. I got the job and my supervisor told me that he never had an interview at a Target snack bar before. I don’t remember much from the interview except the subject of my age came up and I said that while I was a dinosaur one thing to remember was that dinosaurs have big teeth and are more than capable.

  I didn’t have an interview for three years until the company put out notice that they were moving to the west side of West Des Moines. This would make an interminable 52 mile commute an unbearable 62 mile commute through 10 miles of the worst Iowa traffic so I was out .interviewing again. Most interviews are done through recruiters that have a job opening and if you fit in the salary slot they will pitch you to their customer as if you are the programming world’s answer to Elvis and Michael Jackson but if you don’t you will never hear from the recruiter until months or years later when they have another opening they think you will fit into.

  I had one interview at a huge insurance company that was in a huge 5 story building even further west in West Des Mones than where my company would be moving to. I parked in the full shopping mall sized parking lot and went in. My first meeting was with the department director and a programmer. They were the most exhausted people I’ve ever seen with huge puffy bags under their bloodshot eyes and the stooped over seated posture of someone who was about to fall asleep which I think they did. Their first question was whether I was willing to work overtime. I said I was on occasion if I was paid for it or given time off as compensation. I was told there was no extra pay or compensation and that everyone regularly worked between 55 and 60 hours because they were all “team players”. I mentioned that if these kind of hours were expected the team needed a new manager which was not met by laughter or even a smile. Then I interviewed with two other programmers and I asked them how many hours they worked. They told me they worked between 50 and 60 hours every week and didn't like it but did it because they were “team players”. After that I met with the finance vice president that was in charge of the programming. She told me that she liked to meet all the interviewees but didn’t have any questions and asked if I had any questions. I asked how long it took her to get out of the parking lot. She said it took no time to get out of the parking lot because everyone else was working late because they were all “team players”. My next question was if there were any finance vice president positions available and there weren’t. I wasn’t offered a job which was just as well since I was certainly not their kind of “team player”.

  My next interview was with a medical insurance clearinghouse company that was taking their programming needs in house and severing ties with the company that had developed their programs for the past five years. I interviewed with the president of the small company who was a lawyer armed with a list of 20 questions that I assume came from Linked In or some other website that she read off. Here are some of the questions, the preferred answers in bold, and my answers in italics.

  Where do you see yourself five years from now? I see myself advancing in this company because I’ll be helping it grow so much. I’m almost 55 years old and I hope to see myself in the mirror and not the cemetery.

  What is your biggest and weakness? My biggest weakness is that I care about my work and company so much I work tirelessly to accomplish my goals and have no personal life because I give my all to my company. I don’t have weaknesses or strengths. I have qualities and it is up to my employer to not make them weaknesses. One of my qualities is that I get my work done fast. It sounds like a strength but if I work for someone that thinks out loud about what they want me to do I will get a lot of useless work done because the person I work for wasn’t wanting me to do anything - they were just thinking out loud. If that guy is making the decisions don’t hire me – hire the person that waits until the last minute to do anything which seems like a weakness but will be a strength at your company.

  How do feel about supervising employees? I take pride in mentoring and building relationships. Can I fire them? I can’t supervise someone I can’t fire.

  As you might imagine I didn’t get offered that job either and I didn’t mind a bit. It is politically incorrect in this age of team building to talk about wanting to fire people but I’ve been saddled with having someone work for me who would only do the very minimum of what I asked and there was nothing I could do about it because we both knew I couldn't fire them. I think for me to supervise people effectively I need to have a nuclear weapon. If I NEEDED the job my answers would have been a lot different but since I didn't NEED the job it made sense to me to be myself so there would be no illusions about who I was.

  I had a short interview for my new assignment. I was asked very few questions of mostly a technical nature that gave me no chance to be my normally funny or insulting self. I was quickly accepted for the assignment which had less to do with my interview and more to do with the fact that as a contractor I can be gone at the snap of a finger. That’s OK with me. I have a lot of confidence in my ability to pick things up and quickly contribute and if I cant we’ll all be better off if I’m somewhere else.

  If my basketball picks keep up their current pace I expect to be giving interviews with gambling magazines and web sites. As I wrote on Monday I went 4-0 on last Friday’s picks to boost my record to 9-2 and my mythical winnings to $680. My prediction program went 3-2 on Monday’s pick (that I didn’t bet on). I’m concerned about the bias the program is showing towards road teams but the program is 25-12 including last night’s Warriors-Clippers game in which my program picked the Warriors to give 6.5 points to the Clippers in Los Angeles. So operating on the assumption that 'if it ain't broke don't fix it' I will be placing my mythical bets from my prediction program using the lines as listed on the Yahoo Sports page and as usual for entertainment purposes only with no real money being wagered. It is early on Friday morning as I write this and my program has determined only one of the 11 games on the schedule is worthy of a prediction with the lines for the Pelicans-Spurs,Thunder-Knicks, and TrailBlazers-Clippers yet to be determined. If me program decides to place a bet on those three games I'll put it in the comments by 7pm tonight and here is my program's one pick for tonight.

Philadelphia 76ers at Charlotte Hornets
The 76ers are once again angling for the worst record in the league and are off to a fine start with 12 straight losses to open the season, including Wednesday's embarrassing 23 point loss to the Pacers at home. Tonight Philly travels to Charlotte to face the Hornets who are on the second game of a seven game home stand. My program likes the Hornets to win by 16 and the spread is 11 points, just at the 5 point predictive cut off line. The 76ers have been marginally less awful on the road but the Hornets have shown the ability to score points in bunches with the additions of Nicolas Batum and Jeremy Lin so I'll go with my program and bet $110 on the Hornets to cover the 11 points and win $100.

Monday, November 16, 2015

Movie Review - Spectre

  After our dinner at Rancho Adelinas (you can see the review here), Kathy and I headed to the movie theater to see the new James Bond movie Spectre which is the fourth in the series with Daniel Craig playing 007. The first two Bond movies featuring Craig portrayed Bond as more of an action hero than a super spy and I thought they were great. The last Bond movie Skyfall was one of my least favorites with Bond in ‘McGyver’ mode as he fought off an army of spies and soldiers in his childhood home in the Scottish highlands with some paperclips and a car battery. I also didn’t like the heavy emphasis on Bond’s childhood and past. When I watch a James Bond movie I like to see action, adventure, and witty dialog and Skyfall was short in all three areas while long on pontifications about how James Bond became James Bond.

  I had high hopes for Spectre with the expectation that since the origin sagas had been told and the familiar cast of characters like ‘Q’, MoneyPenny, and ‘M’ already introduced in Skyfall this movie would be long on Bond action and short on Bond angst. We sat down in the theatre with three dozen or so other movie goers and the movie began.

  I don’t want to give too much of the movie away and I don’t think I am by saying the first 15 or so minutes are as action-packed as one would expect from a James Bond movie with 007 hunting down a terrorist threat in Mexico City while the streets are packed with a ‘Day of the Dead’ parade. The parade allows for plenty of weird skeleton costumes and panic in the streets when Bond’s confrontation with the bad guys lead to a building being demolished and a fight aboard an out of control helicopter dipping and diving perilously close to the crowd while Bond and his companion take turns being almost thrown out of the helicopter that travels every direction including straight up and straight down. This opening action was almost as good as the chase through the African town in Casino Royale.

  What struck me the most about Spectre was how it seemed mix the classic Sean Connery Bond with Daniel Craig’s action oriented take on the character. Craig was certainly channeling some Connery smooth when he seduces the widow of the man he killed to get some information about the criminal organization that he worked for. Did I mention that the seduction occurred the evening of her husband’s funeral. There was also a Conneryesque fight on a train where a physically outmatched Bond fights a massive hitman and only escapes via a conveniently placed rope wrapped around his adversary’s neck and some beer kegs which the hitman follows off the train. Once the train fight is over we get to see Bond in Craig mode as he and his latest love interest lustily go at each other after she was professing hatred at Bond for exposing her identity less than a half hour beforehand.

  Another element that came straight out of a Connery movie was when the villain of the movie captures Bond but instead of killing him like any pedestrian super-villain, decides on an insidious plot to strap him to a chair and drill holes in his head to gradually take away pieces of his mind with a device he no doubt specifically designed for that purpose. Naturally Bond escapes only to captured, hooded, zip-tied, and held in a truck under the watchful glare of two massive armed guards. As the truck doors open, the Daniel Craig Bond appears and takes out both guards in hand to hand combat while hooded and zip-tied.

  Writer John Logan and director Sam Mendes continued their use of Bond’s past as one of the main plot drivers with the main villain using the resources of his global empire to not only take over the worlds information systems but also to revenge a childhood grudge against Bond by revealing he was behind the deaths of the former ‘M’ and Bond girl Vesper in the previous movies. Thankfully these tidbits of Bond’s past served to give the movie nudges in particular directions and not become the entire story.

  The only thing I didn’t like about this movie was the portrayal of MI-6 (the spy agency that employs Bond and runs the ‘00’ license to kill program) and the one of the most ineffectual agencies ever. This group had no clue that the mysterious ‘Spectre’ organization even exists and has so little intelligence on the members of their own group or the mysterious ‘C’ that is taking over the entire worlds intelligence gathering through the ‘Nine Eyes’ initiative that everyone is shocked when some of them turn out to be agents of ‘Spectre’. I would have enjoyed more of a battle of wits between two highly competent organizations instead of MI-6 waiting for Bond to save the day.

  Spectre is a great spy/action movie and the best of the Daniel Craig James Bond movies. It looks like the franchise has found a way to integrate the smoothness the character should have with the action oriented slant Craig brings to the role. Craig is signed on for one more Bond movie and then it may be time for a new Bond to appear. With a few ups and downs along the way the Bond franchise is still going strong and it appears the proper formula has been found to mix the secret agent and action genres. James Bond movies are over 50 years old. When I think of long lasting entertainment franchises only Star Trek comes to mind as a rival to James Bond. Both franchises have had reboots, cast changes, and went dormant in the movies for a period (Bond was movie less from 1989-1995 and Star Trek from 2002-2009). Star Trek is different in that it has ensemble casts and had multiple television shows. I can’t imagine James Bond ever being a television show but I can easily see it being one of the binge-watch type of shows that gets released all at once on a Netflix or Amazon Prime. Marvel and DC comics have shown the profitability of combining movies and television shows and I think it’s only a matter of time before the Bond franchise follows suit and cashes in with a television series.

  You may not have noticed but my computer aided basketball predictions went 4-0 on Friday to boost my record to 9-2 and my mythical winnings to $680. This has prompted me to add a 'Donate' button so the readers that are profiting from my basketball predictive prowess can throw a tip or two my way. The formula I'm using has a decided bias towards road underdogs which is a hard way to make a living in my opinion. The road dogs in Friday's games could have gone either way with the Timberwolves, Hornets, and Trailblazers all trailing by more than the point spread at some point in the last five minutes. My program went 2-3 over the weekend and has spit out five picks for tonight's games with four more road teams being picked. I want to see this formula in action a bit more so I won't be risking my bankroll on tonight's games but I will publish the computer predictions for information purposes only. My program likes Indiana getting 5 at Chicago, Boston getting 4.5 at Houston, the Thunder getting 2 at Memphis, Dallas giving 8.5 at Philadelphia, and the home Spurs giving 12 to the Trailblazers. The lines are from the lines as listed on the Yahoo Sports page and I want to stress again that I am not playing tonight's games, mythically or otherwise.

Friday, November 13, 2015

Dinner Before a Movie

Welcome to Rancho Adelinas in beautiful downtown Marshalltown located conveniently next to the Villager rooming house...

  When Kathy and I take our beagles and occasional guest bloggers Daisy and Baxter on their evening walk we always pass the corner of N. Center and State streets. There have been very few changes to this corner in the 21 years I’ve lived in Marshalltown. The northwest corner is the police station and city hall parking lot which diagonally keeps an eye on the southeast corner’s ‘Corner Tap’ bar which has been suspiciously closed the past few weeks after being sold and having a grand reopening less than three years ago. The southwest corner used to have the library until it moved a few blocks away using money from a tax levy which the supporters promised if passed would allow the library to be open on Sundays which it has never been but a new tax levy was passed last week which the library promised would allow it to be open on Sundays which it has not been yet. The building received a $618,618 grant from the State of Iowa I-Jobs to convert it for use as the town’s Parks and Rec office and the City Council chambers which created 10 temporary part time jobs (I wrote about it here).

  The northeast corner of N. Center and State streets has seen a flurry of activity this year. There used to be a rundown building that contained a trophy store. There was an older man running the store and while I did use him to occasionally relabel older trophies his process couldn’t compete with the online trophy stores. The old man also had the U-Haul franchise and then a Ryder Truck franchise running out of his tiny parking lot until his death a few years ago. At that point the tiny rundown building was empty until this spring when we would occasionally see some workers refurbishing the building. A new concrete parking lot was laid down, an addition put on the newly gutted and rebuilt existing building, a lawn was created with fresh sod, and a fence put up to presumably keep the rabble from the Villager rooming house next door from wandering over.

  I assumed that the building would house an ethnic grocery store since there are four Mexican grocery stores and two Myanmar stores within four blocks of the corner of N. Center and State streets but I assumed wrong. Over the summer a sign went up proclaiming the building to be the new home of ‘Rancho Adelinas’ which would serve “Real Authentic Mexican Food” (Are there any restaurants that serve ‘imaginary authentic’ or ‘real fake’ Mexican food?). Slowly but surely the restaurant began to take shape with a dumpster and a large street sign making their appearance and the grand opening was announced for October 30th.

  I hadn’t been to a Mexican restaurant in years. Kathy and I used to go to the El Portal restaurant that is in a strip mall by the K-Mart until we went there one Valentine’s Day. We arrived and were seated by the drafty back door which sent occasional bone chilling blasts of freezing air right through our table where we were given a bowl of chips, some salsa, water for Kathy, and coke for me. We ordered some food off the menu and waited. And waited. And waited some more. After about an hour of freezing and rationing our dwindling supply of chips (no refills were offered) we left. Kathy has gone back to El Portal on occasion but I won’t step foot in the place. When I helped St. Mary with the Fall Festival we had a final meeting in 2011 at the Mexico Antiguo restaurant a few blocks from our house on Main Street. I had a bowl of Sopa de Mariscos (Seafood Stew) and it was awesome! The soup was spicy without making my eyes water and there was something different in every bite with shrimp, fish, octopus, clams, and crabmeat. We went to Mexico Antiguo on occasion until they closed a year later and I haven’t gone to a Mexican restaurant since unless you count Taco John’s which I don’t.

We sat in a large eating room with plenty of tables and selected from a large menu of choices.

  Kathy and I decided to go to Rancho Adelinas last Friday night and then catch a movie afterwards. We took Daisy and Baxter past the restaurant on their evening walk as usual and made our way back home. After putting the beagles in the kitchen we took the two minute drive to Ranch Adelinas and arrived at 6:15. The restaurant had one big room with booths, round tables, and square tables and a smaller row of tables on the other side of the restaurant near the bar with the kitchen in the middle. As we waited by the sign asking us to wait to be seated three of the waiters/waitresses were engaged in an animated conversation but after about two minutes the manager came out of the kitchen and joined the conversation which broke up quickly and Kathy and I were soon sitting in a booth.

  Once we were seated things happened pretty quickly. We got our water and some overcooked chips with two kinds of sauce; a mild red sauce and a hot green sauce. I say sauce and not salsa since there were no chunks of anything. The menu had all the familiar items and while everything seemed a dollar or two more than I remembered. Could it be that the price of food in Mexican restaurants had gone up in the past few years just like all the other staples of modern living like coffee and beef stick treats? Without thinking too much I went straight to the soup section and ordered the fish soup. If I had been looking more carefully I would have ordered the seven seas soup since that more closely resembled my El Antiguo favorite.

  Kathy doesn’t eat meat and normally gets a Mexican food staple with beans replacing any meat item. After getting over the shock of having the waiter call her 'Sir', she asked the waiter for a burrito with beans instead of the meat and a small chess quesadilla. The waiter had to ask the manager how to write up the ticket which only took a couple of second and our orders were on our way while we ate the chips and sauce. The big room we were seated in was very clean and quiet even as it filled up during the dinner hour and in ten minutes our food had arrived.

Looking at the pictures, Kathy's burrito and quesadilla may seem more appetizing than my fish soup but appearances can be deceiving.

  I ordered fish soup and I got plenty of it. Before me was a big bowl of soup with a fish in it! The fish was cut into three pieces and floating in the red broth with a few chunks of carrot and celery to keep it company. I broke the fish into more pieces. There were a few patches of skin but thankfully no fish head or fish eyes staring back at me. Kathy’s burrito looked huge but filled mostly with rice and lettuce and very little beans. He small quesadilla was good but she didn’t think it was worth the $4 it cost.

  As for me I liked the fish soup. The fish tasted good and the broth was just like Mexico Antiguo‘s- spicy but not enough to make me reach for some bread or water. The only problem I had was that every mouth of fish came with a mouthful of bones. I didn’t care much for having to pull bones out of my mouth all the time but I got used to it.

  We quickly paid $24 for our meal and were off to the movie. I think $24 is a little high for a dinner for two considering that there were no drinks involved – not even a soda but I liked the restaurant and Kathy and I were full enough that we didn’t feel the need to spend $10+ on movie popcorn and drinks. Rancho Adelinas is only a week old and hopefully the next time we head that way they will have figured out how to get the bones out of the fish soup, put more beans in the bean burritos, and not call my wife 'Sir'. I wouldn’t call give the restaurant an ‘A’ but it was a long way from failing either. Sticking with my grading system I’d give it a B- and an occasional place in our restaurant rotation which is almost completely occupied by the Buffet King all you can eat Chinese buffet just a couple of blocks away.

  Last week's basketball picks proved to be fishier than my soup as I went 1-2 to trim my season record to 5-2 and my winnings to $280. I was a game late on the Pistons fatigue on their West Coast swing and the inconsistent Wizards rewarded me with more in-consistence by getting blown out my the Celtics. This week I am using the assistance of my basketball prediction program. The season is so young there isn't enough data to rely and my program has spit out 3 road underdogs and a home favorite that I will go with for my mythical bets of $110 to win $100 using the lines as listed on the Yahoo Sports page for entertainment purposes only with no real money being wagered.

Charlotte Hornets at Chicago Bulls
The Bulls have had 4 days off to get ready to avenge their 25 point loss to the Hornets 10 days ago. The Hornets have won 4 of 5 games and have lost only one game this year by more than 10 points. Charlotte is getting 7 points in this contest and I agree with the computer that they will cover the spread if not win outright.

Minnesota Timberwolves at Indiana Pacers
The Timberwolves lost to the defending champion Warriors last night in a game that was close for the first 40 minutes and are traveling to Indianapolis to take on the Pacers who are on a 2 game winning streak with 2 days of rest. I think playing the Warriors last night will make the Pacers look slow to the youthful Timberwolves. I'll take the 'Wolves to cover the 7 point spread against Pacers.

Portland Trailblazers at Memphis Grizzlies
I am less sure about this game than the first two. The Grizzlies have been moribund so far this year and are on a 4 game losing streak but their bulk inside should bother the smallish Blazers who are riding a three game losing streak of their own. I like the fact that the Blazers won the matchup between these two teams two weeks ago in Portland and will take them and the seven points.

Philadelphia 76ers at Oklahoma City Thunder
Once again the 76ers are barely competitive and have lost their first 8 games this year while the Thunder rebounded from a 3 game losing streak with two straight blowout wins. A complicating factor will be the absence of Thunder all star Kevin Durant with a hamstring injury but I consider the Thunder to be a far superior team even without Durant and think only giving 13 and a half points to be a discount at home.

Monday, November 9, 2015

Beagle Birthday Reflections

It's that special time of the year to give the Broken Pawn over to America's favorite beagle bloggers - Daisy and Baxter

Hi Everybody! It’s Daisy…  and Baxter with another blog for our readers. It’s about time Hank let us write another blog Daisy.  I’ll say! I didn’t mind Hank writing on and on about playing chess in Minnesota because he won $65 dollars that he can use to buy us beef stick treats.  But then he went to South Dakota to play chess and he didn’t win any money to buy us beef stick treats but he still kept writing about playing chess and how the chess tournament was in a zoo and he saw zoo animals and there were a bunch of stuffed animals.  How boring. There’s no need to write about zoo animals and mounted animals when Hank lives with the two most interesting animals in the world.  Really! Who?  That’s us you silly Baxter! HELLO!  Oh yeah, I forgot how interesting we were for a second. 

Here we are eating premium dog food out of a can in our new coats. I blend into the background in my camo coat so well you can hardly see me!  There I am at the duck pond in my new heart coat!

Maybe some of our readers didn’t know that we had our birthday yesterday! Happy Birthday Daisy!  Happy Birthday Baxter! We turned five years old and thanks to all our fans that sent us birthday wishes and presents. What was your favorite present, Baxter?  That’s easy! My favorite present was premium dog food out of a can! YUM! I love premium dog food out of a can. It’s so moist and meaty.  I like premium dog food out of a can also but my favorite present was my new coats. In the spring Kathy got me a new hot pink leash and it just didn’t make the statement I wanted with my brown coat. My new coats are both pink and match my leash. One coat has a dog bone pattern for everyday wear and the other has hearts and a stylish button for a sassy yet refined look.  I got two new coats too! One is blue and the other is a camouflage coat. When I walk down the street in my camo coat I could be an action hero like Chuck Norris or Steven Seagal! 

Steak! YUM!!
Steven Seagal is so dreamy! I love his ‘Under Siege’ movies where he plays Casey Ryback the master chef and human killing machine!  Yeah. It’s too bad Steven Seagal didn’t send us a birthday card or a specially prepared meal. YUM!! I love specially prepared meals.  I was so sad Steven didn’t send us a birthday card but Kathy’s friend Amy gave us a steak this year!  That’s right! She said her family was cooking steaks and one was a little tough so she gave it to us! YUM!!! I didn’t think it was tough at all. YUM!!  A couple of months later she sent us another steak. They were both very tasty and we wish Hank and Kathy would take the hint and feed us steak on a regular basis. HELLO!  YUM! I love steak. YUM!  And don’t forget our friend Becky from down the block. She got us five giant Jack Links beef sticks!  YUM!! I love giant Jack Link’s beef sticks. We even got to see Becky’s mom Marilyn yesterday!  Marilyn and Bill and Abby the Cairn terrier live down the block next door to Becky. We visit with them when the weather is warm. Bill and Marilyn are really old and don’t like the cold weather so we won’t see them much until spring.  That’s why it was extra special to see Marilyn yesterday. 

It was so difficult to do everyday things wearing that stupid collar...  I didn't have to wear a collar all year so I could concentrate on more important things...

It sure has been a great year with steak, plenty of walks, and lots of beef stick treats, Daisy!  That’s very true Baxter, but don’t forget we had some difficulties along the way this year.  That’s right! I had to get my teeth cleaned and I accidentally bit Hank on the leg when I was trying to protect him from the crazy looking husky that got loose by the Depot liquor store.  I had some cosmetic surgery this year. I had a big wart under my chin removed and while I was at it I decided to have some skin tags removed.  Don’t you want to tell everyone where your skin tags were, Daisy?  Not especially. I had stitches and had to wear a collar for two whole weeks in the summer. It was so uncomfortable but I made the sacrifice for all my fans who want me to look as good as possible.  The skin tags were on your rear end. The vet had to shave your behind…hee…hee…hee. You sure looked funny.  Well thanks for sharing Baxter! As long as we’re sharing let’s be sure to mention that you bit Hank on the back of his leg while you were cowering behind him, not protecting him.  WAS NOT!  WAS TOO!  WAS NOT! I was trying to bite the husky and Hank got in the way.  OK. Baxter. Have it your way…sigh 

There was one thing we didn’t get for our birthday that I really wanted, Baxter.  What’s that Daisy?  I wanted to see more recognition for dogs in general and beagles in particular. I hardly ever see any dogs on television when Hank watches his shows.  What about the German Shepard on The Last Ship, Daisy?  He is a fine specimen but the German Shepard on Fear The Walking Dead didn’t make it past episode two and the only dogs on The Walking Dead were shot by Sasha!  And then Rick and the rest of the crew cooked the dogs and ate them! YUCK! 

Maybe if dogs had a better profile Harry the cockatiel would stop making fun of us.  Why is Harry making fun of us Baxter?  Harry says that there aren’t any professional baseball or football or basketball teams named after dogs but there are tons named after birds like the Falcons, Seahawks, Blue Jays, Hawks, Orioles.  I did hear him chattering about the Pelicans, Ravens, Eagles, and Cardinals but I didn’t know he was making fun of us. I wonder why there aren’t any pro sports teams named after dogs. There are plenty of college teams that are named after dogs but they're all Bulldogs for some reason.  It’s really kind of embarrassing. Even fish have sports teams named after them like the Dolphins!  Well Baxter I know what I want for my next birthday!  What’s that Daisy?  There’s a football team in Washington that has to change their name because it’s so offensive.  You mean the Redskins? I thought they were named after red skin potatoes. I love red skin potatoes! YUM!!  No Baxter, they aren’t named after red skin potatoes. For our next birthday I want to name the Redskins the Washington Beagles!  Then I know what I want for my present, Daisy!  What’s that?  I want Direct TV’s NFL package so I can watch the Washington Beagles play.  That’s a great present, Baxter. Then Hank can watch the games with us and we can share his snacks like pretzels and chips and salsa!  Oh Boy! I love pretzels and chips and salsa! YUM!! 

Wait 'till next year...  Can we get a picture of pretzels or chips in here? YUM!!

Friday, November 6, 2015

Pancakes Past and Present

  I was working at home a few weeks ago when the doorbell rang. Daisy and Baxter started howling and barking and I got up from my computer, settled down my noisy pair of beagles, and answered the door. It was Roger the young man from around the corner. Roger has a disability that makes him talk slow but I’ve rarely seen anyone work harder. He has a day job doing manual labor and does odd jobs for at least a half dozen people around the neighborhood. I can see Roger mowing lawns, clearing brush, shoveling snow, or some other odd job nearly every weekend.

Welcome to last Saturday's Matins Kiwanis Pancake Breakfast! My neighbor Roger is in the picture on the left wearing the red shirt.

  I assumed something was wrong because Roger had never rang my doorbell before but Roger was selling tickets to the Matins Kiwanis Pancake Breakfast on October 31st and wanted to know how many tickets I wanted.

  I’m not much of a pancake person. Over 35 years ago I was a dishwasher, busboy, and short order cook in the International House of Pancakes in Elizabeth New Jersey. On my first weekend one of the busboys showed me the ropes by taking me into the walk-in cooler and showing me this big pan of pudding that we were supposed to scoop into bowls when asked by a waitress. The busboy took the plastic off the pudding tray and proceeded to use his fingers to spoon two handfuls of pudding directly into his mouth.

  My ‘trainer’ offered me the opportunity to enjoy some pudding with my own hands while he was licking his fingers off. I declined at which point my companion’s freshly pudding-less hands used a big plastic spoon to smooth out any telltale finger marks before scooping out a bowl of pudding for the unsuspecting customer.

  The IHOP didn’t get any better when I learned the ropes of short order cookery. Once a top of a hamburger bun got burned so the cook grabbed a spare bun – OUT OF THE GARBAGE! Another time it was discovered that a big tub of tuna salad was left out overnight so the head cook promptly mixed it together with more tuna salad, whipping the two concoctions with such expert fervor that the crusty parts of day-old unrefrigerated left over tuna salad was undetectable to the naked eye.

  It should come as no surprise that the International House of Pancakes was closed by the Elizabeth Board of Health and couldn’t reopen until a week later when the owner (the Union County Sheriff) either paid off or threatened the right people. Some corporate IHOP types from Pennsylvania came to inspect the restaurant since in addition to being closed by the board of Health was the most unprofitable restaurant in the territory. They took a big hose and sprayed it under the grill late one Sunday when I was working. Three rats that were larger than some cats I’ve seen were rendered homeless by the cascading water and scurried out the emergency exit.

  Even though the IHOP pancakes sold so fast there was hardly any way for the cooks to gross them out I’ve never been a big pancake or IHOP fan and prefer restaurants like the Waffle House where I can see my food being made. I have good company in my distaste of pancakes. 9 time NBA championship coach Red Auerbach wouldn’t let his players eat pancakes on the day of a game. Auerbach once caught star guard Sam Jones eating pancakes on game day and fined him 25 dollars. Jones said that as long as he was getting fined he would finish his pancakes until Auerbach said the fine was $25 a bite!

  My dislike for pancakes is not shared by Kathy and the Matins Kiwanis is a respected service organization so I fished out $12 and bought two tickets for the pancake breakfast. Since the pancake breakfast ran until 12:30 we decided to skip our weekly Saturday lunch at Taco John’s and get our pancake breakfast instead.

  After our weekly excursion to the second hand stores to look for additions to Kathy’s Christmas Candle collection we headed to the Veteran’s Coliseum, host of the pancake breakfast, arriving around 11am. When we drove past an hour earlier we saw a line of people waiting to get in and nowhere to park around the building but now the coliseum was empty and there was plenty of parking. We handed in our tickets and went straight to the front of the pancake line.

The pancakes were kept surprisingly warm by the Styrofoam plate covers while the sausage met my approval and the approval of my beagles when I brought a link home for them.

  I saw Roger among a large group of volunteers making pancakes and sausages, cleaning up tables, and moving supplies to the front lines. Each Styrofoam plate of pancakes was covered with another Styrofoam plate. I thought that the pancakes were going to be cold but soldiered through the line. Kathy doesn’t eat meat so I got four sausage links instead of two and we saved one for Daisy and Baxter. We each got three pats of butter and I got a coffee. The ‘orange juice’ was really an orange drink that looked like a pitcher of melted butter which made Kathy pass on the ‘orange juice’.

  Kathy and I sat down in the now fairly empty coliseum and commenced to eating. I was pleasantly surprised that the pancakes were hot enough to allow the butter to melt on them. We covered our pancakes with maple syrup and talked while watching all the activity around making a pancake breakfast run. There was a DJ playing loud 1970’s music (this told me the target audience was old people with hearing aids) but he thankfully turned the volume down after a few minutes.

Kathy loves orange juice but she stuck to water this time around.

  The pancake breakfast was better than I thought. Even though I can’t say I’ve become a pancake fan I will probably go again next year if Roger tries to sell me some tickets and if the event ever becomes beagle friendly I’ll double my support and get four tickets instead of two.

  If the Kiwanis wanted to raise some real money all they had to do was follow my basketball predictions for this season as my 4-0 record has me 400 mythical dollars to the upside and thinking about adding a 'Donate' button so the gamblers in my readership can leave me some 'tip' money. Except for the Heat and Nuggets, no team is playing a back to back game which removes one of my favorite things to look for in a bet. Nonetheless I am going to press my luck and wager on using the lines as listed on the Yahoo Sports page and as usual for entertainment purposes only with no real money being wagered.

Phoenix Suns at Detroit Pistons
Detroit won their first three games in fairly impressive fashion but had shooting woes in Tuesday's game at home against the Pacers and now embark on a six game western road trip. Phoenix followed an opening night blowout at home against Dallas by winning three out of four with the only loss against the Clippers on the road. I think the Pistons will struggle on their road trip and will pick the Suns to cover the four and a half points and make me $100 on a $110 bet.

Washington Wizards at Boston Celtics
The Wizards followed an inexplicable home loss to the Knicks with an equally inexplicable home win against the Spurs. Tonight the Wizards go up against the Celtics in Boston. The Celtics have lost three of their first four games this season and I expect their struggles will continue against the Wizards who I will bet $110 to win $100 and cover the one point spread.

Atlanta Hawks at New Orleans Pelicans
The Pelicans have followed last years playoff season with an injury plagued preseason and have lost their first four games this year. I predicted the Hawks would struggle to win 50 games this season. I looked pretty smart when the Hawks lost their season opener at home to the Pistons and less so when they followed the loss with a five game winning streak. The Hawks are favored by three which I think is rather low and will bet $110 on the Hawks to cover to win $100.

Monday, November 2, 2015

The State of Sports Podcasts

  After five months of inactivity, Bill Simmons finally returned to podcasting last month with the appropriately named ‘Bill Simmons Podcast’. Simmons’ new podcast has his usual breezy commentary on the NFL and NBA with his friends Cousin Sal, Joe House, and Jack-O. The commentary is the backdrop for sports bets Simmons and company are planning or the triumphs and travails of Simmons’ preferred Boston teams and teams from his adopted Los Angeles home.

  I missed being able to listen to Simmons and having him back podcasting is like hanging out with a familiar friend that has been away for a while. There was one problem with Simmons’ return. Since I only make my long commute to West Des Moines for work two days a week instead of five I now had too many podcasts and not enough hours to listen to them. In the past six months I had replaced Simmons’ B.S. Report with the CBS Eye on Football podcast and ESPN made up for the absence of Simmons by increasing the podcasts of the sports and pop culture site that Simmons created for them. The Zach Lowe Report was on more often and the Jalen Rose/David Jacoby podcast increased to five times a week from once a week to reflect the assignment of Rose and Jacoby to a nighttime slot on ESPN Radio.

  This was too much to listen to already and the start of a new NBA season meant an increased frequency of the CBS Eye on Basketball podcast which is a must listen for me. I was about to have to make some difficult choices when Simmons hired away some of the writers he originally brought to This is part of a trend of Grantland writers finding new employment following the departure of the site’s founder. How did some writers changing jobs affect me? Bill Barnwell and Rober Mays of the Grantland NFL podcast used part of their October 13th podcast to say farewell to their departing colleagues. That part of the podcast was edited out by Grantland editor-in-chief Chris Connelly. This led to a boycott of sorts and there was no Grantland NFL podcast for two and a half weeks. More podcast reductions came when ESPN’s radio broadcast of the baseball playoffs and World Series pre-empted the Jalen & Jacoby radio show at least three times a week so there were few podcasts from them during October.

  Last week the Grantland NFL Podcast resumed and with the baseball season coming to an end (meaning five Jalen & Jacoby podcasts a week) I was finally going to have to face my difficult listening choices but ESPN announced Friday afternoon that they were suspending operations of The announcement said they were going to be folding the Grantland content into ESPN’s other digital properties but when Simmons departed ESPN last May the company affirmed its commitment to Grantland and that it could stand on its own with or without Simmons. That ‘commitment’ lasted only five months and ESPN recently laid off 4% of its workforce. I can’t see the Grantland podcasts continuing on another ESPN property unless they are generating revenue in and of themselves which I doubt they ever did.

  I always thought ESPN was the biggest moneymaker in sports broadcasting and they may well be but in researching this post I saw that ESPN lost over 3% of its subscriber base at the same time as its rights fees for baseball, football, and basketball live broadcasts have skyrocketed. With over 90 million subscribers paying their cable systems for ESPN programming in addition to ad revenue I have to assume that ESPN is still a huge moneymaker but the thing to remember is that ESPN is owned by the Disney megacorporation and is expected to not only make money – they must make the amount of money their corporate masters command or heads will roll. Corporations understand far better than governments that when revenues decline expenses must be slashed in order to balance a budget which is more complicated for a company like ESPN whose budget includes their profit.

  At the time Simmons was removed from ESPN programming I wrote that it was because of his comments about the NFL, one of ESPN’s most valuable business partners. I may have been too hasty. If ESPN knew they were going into cost cutting mode it would make sense to remove some of their higher priced talent. Simmons was making $5 million a year at ESPN and while that would maybe cover one half of one NBA game that the network is paying $1.5 billion annually to broadcast every little bit counts and live sports broadcasts is an ESPN hallmark much more than Bill Simmons. ESPN has constantly created television personalities via their Sports Center shows like Dan Patrick, Keith Olbermann, Rich Eisen, Chris Berman, etc... With few exceptions ESPN has watched most of these personalities move on to other networks to cash in on their Sports Center created fame and ESPN has the gone on to create the next generation of personalities through Sports Center.

  I would never pay to listen to a podcast and I even fast forward through the ads so if ESPN, Bill Simmons, and CBS are creating these podcasts to make money from me they are out of luck. Now that baseball season is over for five months I have 5 Jalen & Jacoby podcasts and 10 CBS and Bill Simmons podcasts a week loaded into my iPod for me to listen to. This represents around 15 hours of listening for five hours of commuting. For now I’m listening to a couple of hours of podcasts in the morning during work which takes on the quality of background noise like a radio instead of providing entertainment during an interminable commute. I try to save the CBS Eye On Basketball podcasts for the commute because I find them the most informative with the Jalen & Jacoby podcast next in preference. Choosing what to listen to during my commutes and what to have as background noise was a difficult decision but I’m glad that I’m able to have so many quality podcasts to make to decision difficult.

  In my last post I ripped Iowa State Cyclone football coach Paul Rhoads and the Cylones promptly proceeded to make me look like a fool with a 24-0 shutout of the Texas Longhorns. Luckily my basketball predictions were anything but foolish as I went an easy 3-0 with only the Grizzlies-Pacers game needing a little divine intervention as the Grizzlies came back from a double digit third quarter deficit to a double digit win to cover the spread. I see several promising games on tonight's schedule but only one game I choose to wager on and risk my $300 profit. As always I will be placing my mythical bets using the lines as listed on the Yahoo Sports page for entertainment purposes only with no real money being wagered.

Milwaukee Bucks at Brooklyn Nets
What was expected to be a promising season for the Bucks has started as a disaster with a humiliating home blowout to the Knicks and last night's blowout in Toronto sandwiching a respectably close loss tot he Wizards. Tonight the Bucks head to Brooklyn to take on the 0-3 Nets who have looked equally abysmal. Both teams will undoubtedly thinking this game is their chance to finally get a win and even though the Nets are better rested I will pick the youthful Bucks to run the Nets ragged. I'll take the Bucks on a $110 bet to take the road win or at least cover the point and a half spread and win me $100.