Monday, 31 March 2014

Quick Thoughts on Jonathan Martin & Richie Incognito

I've been short of time this month, but I just wanted to post some quick thoughts on Jonathan Martin/Richie Incognito affair, and the effect of it upon my favourite NFL team, the Miami Dolphins. For anyone unfamiliar with the story, Martin left the team in mid-season because of alleged bullying, led by Incognito. Firstly, and most importantly, when Dolphins veteran John Denney was asked for his opinion on the Wells report, he stated, "Ted Wells can go into any one of the 32 teams in the entire league and he's going to come out with the same investigation, same results." I think this is really important to state. I have read countless articles over the years which have praised the standards and setup of the Pittsburgh Steelers, so why did former Steeler and Dolphin of a mere few months Mike Wallace come to the defence of Incognito? Because I suspect the kind of hazing/teasing/pranks that took place are standard across the league. Does this make Incognito innocent in all the proceedings? Clearly not, and actions such as seeking to burn the fine book detailed in the Wells Report show that (and obviously the repeated use of racist terms is unacceptable). In my opinion though, that shows someone who has been pampered to due to his athletic ability, throughout his life, and has never been disciplined or told in any form that such behaviour is wrong. Now don't get me wrong, boys will be boys. Jonathan Martin complained about comments about his sister. Workmates of mine have seen pictures of my sister and made comments, and while they have not been to the same extremes, they haven't always been tasteful either. Have I complained? No, because such chat goes on between guys, and I know they're not being serious. As I've mentioned before, I moved around a fair bit through my childhood, and this led to some difficult times being the new kid at various schools. Do you know when the bullying stopped? When I stopped showing that it bothered me. Sometimes you have to make a change yourself, however difficult that may be, however unjust it may seem that you have to be the one to make a change first. Additionally, the way both the initial affair and subsequent report were detailed in the media were not balanced. Did anyone report that Martin, for whatever reason he deemed correct, talk about women in the same way as Incognito? Did anyone mention that in his lowest times Martin admitted to being an abuser of alcohol and controlled substances? No, because they didn't suit the narrative. Incognito, the guy with trouble in his past, Martin from a family of Harvard graduates, who himself attended highly regarded Stanford. To be clear, I don't think that either Incognito or the Dolphins have behaved perfectly in this whole affair. Indeed, I think it is the latest in a long line of public relations disasters under the ownership of Stephen Ross, and Incognito has more than enough on his record to show he is a less than stellar character (although on the evidence of his damaging his own sports car with a baseball bat, I also suspect mental health issues). However I don't think Jonathan Martin's move to San Francisco will be the last time we hear of him being involved in some form of controversy. For his sake, I hope I'm wrong.

Wednesday, 26 February 2014

In Defence of Gran Turismo 6

Following the launch of Gran Turismo 6 last November I looked forward to receiving it at Christmas. When Gran Turismo 5 came out my pre-order was quickly snaffled away by my wife for Christmas, and so on this occasion I by-passed the pre-order and accepted it would be a Christmas present. Between the release and my receiving it, I was somewhat surprised by the criticism, but with the present purchased a few weeks prior to Christmas I didn't consider returning it.

Do I regret that at all? Not in the slightest. I really enjoyed Gran Turismo 5, and my enjoyment of Gran Turismo 6 has lasted for a solid two months, and I don't think it will stop at any point soon. For one thing, it has met my biggest need from Gran Turismo 5, namely more circuits. Having visited Brands Hatch, I love having both the Indy and Grand Prix circuits to drive around. Having watched countless races from Silverstone, I love having all manner of Silverstone configurations to drive round. Additionally, the sadly fictional Apricot Hill is a fabulous circuit, offering challenging fast turns, an opportunity to get into a nice rhthym, and lots of overtaking opportunities amid the rolling contours.

(Billionaire to-do list: Build the Apricot Hill circuit in real life. I won't ever have an opportunity to do so, but if someone could that would be awesome, thanks.)

So why the criticism? Because the game isn't very different to GT5? So driving on the moon and on a hillclimb aren't different? The licence tests are now required to progress throughout the game, and if you throw in the coffee break challenges there is plenty of new content there. Because you don't see every intimate detail inside every car? That's a criticism I have never understood, although I'm more of a race fan than a car fan, with a keener interest in the circuits and driving on them as well as possible instead of as beautifully as possible. Because sounds of collisions still sound, as one critic suggested, "like elbowing a fridge"? Well, to be fair I can't argue that last point.

My biggest bug-bears are the absence of the colossal rewards that some of the seasonal challenges offered in Gran Turismo 5, and complete disappearance of the Ferrari Formula 1 cars. While the F2007 was pretty challenging to drive, the rewards from setting it up perfectly and then driving it well rank as some of the most enjoyable moments I've had from any video game. I wish they would come back, although I suspect if the cars were not in the game at launch then there is no plan to add them later. Polyphony Digital, feel free to swap these in for the Ascari circuit, which looks pretty in an overhead plan but which is too twisty to really let loose and have fun on.

I have come to enjoy the opportunity to experience the longer races (i.e. ten, fifteen and twenty minute races), but an opportunity for further control over races would be welcome, as in fact would the opportunity to take part in the endurance races which although daunting where nice to take part in on days off from work. Opposition driver AI needs some work as well, for with the exception of occasional swerving from the racing line their refusal to fight overtaking sometimes takes the challenge away. Perhaps one day there will be the opportunity to change the challenges you face, whether that be in regard to AI aggression or to AI tactics in general. Want to run long on a set of hard tires? Why shouldn't an AI driver go to soft tires for a faster set of laps in a longer race?

I would suspect at this point that such resources and options may be saved for Gran Turismo 7, which will ultimately be the point that I will need to decide whether I'm a 40-something with a wife and two kids who is happy to "make do" with a PS3 or someone who feels younger than they actually are and who can't be without a PS4 and the opportunity to blast around Laguna Seca in Gran Turismo's latest incarnation. While I enjoy the present game the three year gap between GT5 and GT6 seems to set a precedent, along with a clock ticking. For the time being I will continue to enjoy GT6 on the PS3, and occasionally think ahead to what I might need to ask the family to put under the Christmas tree for me in 2016.

Friday, 31 January 2014

Words, Thoughts, Expectations and Considerations


Last week at work my shift colleagues and I were considering what the day may bring, when one of my colleagues spoke out in unusual confidence, stating that we were going to have a good day. I couldn't help but warn him, "Don't say that," but an odd thing happened, the day did actually go pretty well. The weird thing about this? It showed that ultimately what we say doesn't really have any power over anything.

Why is this a big deal to me? Ever since I was young I learned not to boast about what I might or might not do, for fear of the worst happening. In recent years that has only increased, to the point where I wonder why my colleagues ask what I have planned for my days off. Nothing is set in stone any more, I'm always gearing for the worst, or at least attempting to. Sometimes even your worst projections don't cover all eventualities, or worse still, you're completely blindsided by what has taken place.

What is the worst case scenario that people talk about? How about the numerous people, who have recounted to us for years about how they didn't receive support while their children grew up, lost a home, encountered health problems due to overworking to meet commitments, etc. Are they wishing this on us? Of course not, but as soon as someone mentions it I end up thinking, "Well, that's obviously going to happen to us." Does it have to be this way? Certainly not. To I expect all the worst case scenarios to become reality? Yes. Does that make sense? No.

Although I don't think it is really talked about, you reach points in your life where you realise that you still have a lot to learn. Part of me thinks, "I'm 38, I should have everything figured out by now," although I clearly don't. I'm really just coming to realise that at the moment I'm a strange blend of pessimist and fatalist, where I expect things to go wrong and just accept that I can't change them. When it comes to other people, I can't change them, but when it comes to myself, my family, and things which I may not be able to altogether control but may have an opportunity to influence, then I owe it to myself to do everything I can to seek the best for my family.

Some of the issues that I see at work on a daily basis are brought about by expectancies. These come in all manner of forms, the expectancy that a service will break, that a team member may call up and ask for a holiday, or even the self-expectancy that I expect better performance from myself. What is the expectancy I have from life? That things are bad, that they will continue to be bad and that they won't get better. And so I come back to the lifelong battle I've had with my parents, where they exhort me to "think positive" and I wonder what the justification is for seeing anything positive on the horizon. Even then, every once in a while something positive does come along, even a pessimist like me sees that. The difficulty is in making changes to make positive events more frequent.

One of the changes I am going to need to make is to pay less attention to others. When I think about career options I consider what my in-laws will think. When my kids aren't happy I consider what other parents might think. When thinking about what I'm doing with my days off I think about what my colleagues will think about what I'm doing, and whether or not they think my life is boring/miserable/dull? I need to be less considerate of a lot of people, and actually put myself and my family first more often. Will everyone like it? I suspect not. Does it hopefully mean a better future for myself and my family? I hope so. Will all be plain sailing? Almost certainly not, but eventually we'll get there, in one form or another.

Tuesday, 31 December 2013

Ch-ch-ch-anges

This has been a year with a number of changes, both personal and technical, so I thought it may be interesting to write a bit about some of them here.

1) Shift Changes
In September my team at work, which had been running on shifts of four days on/four days off/four nights on/four days off switched to a trial of two days on/two nights on/four days off. I had really become accustomed to that pattern, I felt it really suited me, and I especially loved the night before my first nightshift. That was a time that I could catch up on my Sky+ recordings, play some games and generally have a little me time.

Now I don't have that. I tried staying up late after my second dayshift, but it didn't work. Lots of experimenting saw that the only way I can really work with this is to go to bed at a normal time after my second dayshift, and then get a sleep in the afternoon before my first nightshift. It's had a bit of a negative impact upon my personal life, but I've been able to get through work without feeling too tired.

2) No More Google Reader
For a number of years I had become somewhat of a Google Reader addict. For me it was the easiest way to keep in touch with my RSS feeds, especially the Lifehacker feed which frequently published over 20 items a day.

I held out until the end, hoping that Google would change their mind and continue to support Reader. However they proceeded with the shutdown as planned on July 1st, and I had to switch. I tried Digg Reader, but for some reason I didn't like it as much.

Additionally just after Google Reader died a digital death Lifehacker carried out what felt like their umpteenth instance of needless tinkering with their RSS feed, again changing their RSS feed so that only part of an article was shown. Their intention was clearly to drive more traffic to the site itself, but by doing this again at a time when I was considering the usefulness of RSS readers they managed to change my behaviour entirely. I unsubscribed from the RSS feed and began to follow them on Twitter instead.

So I'm no longer an RSS junkie. I was a Twitter junkie already, so that behaviour is unchanged, but Lifehacker are seeing much less traffic from me (N.B. I retweet them frequently, as I think their writers are usually fantastic). I keep a few low volume feeds in Digg Reader, but to be honest I can't remember the last time I even logged into it.

3) Farewell ESPN America
Although I had already unsubscribed, I was still disappointed when ESPN America went off the air on August 1st as part of the reshuffle of sports channels that saw the start of the BT Sport service. The disappearance of the only sports channel specifically for North American sport was disappointing, and forced me into a position where I could only keep up with my favourite shows by podcast (Pardon the Interruption, Highly Questionable) or in some cases not at all (yep, I've really missed College Gameday this season).

While I'm not party to the ESPN decision making process I wonder if part of the reason for the channel's ultimate demise was the restrictive nature of the highlights they were able to show, and the ultimate effect it had upon many of their programmes, including the flagship SportsCenter franchise.

In addition to being reduced to being a podcast listener, I've also come to find meagre highlights and features on various YouTube channels. To find other highlights and clips I've had to become somewhat of a YouTube ninja, and while this has been bearable (along with my reduced quantity of TV watching), I do still miss it somewhat.

Ultimately I look forward (hopefully) to a time where media rights can be eliminated, and programmes like Pardon the Interruption can be shown globally in their intended format. Until then I'll just have to get by in the way I do at the moment. It may sound naïve, but with torrenting and streaming still prevalent I think major channels like ESPN and Sky will look to find a way to monetise their broadcasts globally rather than losing out on additional income.

Monday, 23 December 2013

JFK: Random Thoughts 50 Years On

Firstly, sorry that this is a bit later than planned. I ended up having a pretty busy November, and didn't get time to complete this by the end of the month.

Perhaps though that's an indication of where I've personally reached with the most famous assassination of the 20th century. In 1993 for the 30th anniversary I watched and read as much as I possibly could in regard to it, taking on conspiracy theories, retrospectives and critical examinations of JFK's presidency itself. Now I'm a bit older, and in amid everything else that makes up daily life it doesn't seem so important anymore. With the responsibilities I have myself, I have less time to involve myself with things like this that do not directly affect me.

Additionally I've noticed a shift in attitudes in regard to the assassination. In the vast majority of the shows that I've watched or listened to, there seems to be much more acceptance of Lee Harvey Oswald having carried out at least a part in the assassination.  This certainly wasn't the case 20 years ago, and while it strikes me as being a bit too convenient perhaps there are bigger conspiracy theories to mull over that have taken place since then.

I wonder as well if the questions, suggestions and in some cases outright accusations of 9/11 conspiracy theorists have played a part in the reduction of conspiracy theories in regard to JFK's assassination. Personally I look at these and think that a lot of these diminish everything from the credibility of architects (buildings are meant to survive fully loaded jetliners flying into them, really?) to the bravery of victims (sure, United 93 was shot down and the actions of passengers were nothing to do with preventing the flight from reaching Washington). When I think about these theories and then wonder about the JFK conspiracies I do find myself considering whether or not it was similar people who promoted such theories in the last 50 years.

In saying that though, JFK presents the perfect storm for conspiracy theorists. The Russians, Cubans, the Mafia, the CIA, Communists and those who hated Communists. I don't think the soap opera bearing the name of the city JFK was killed in had such a wide range of suspects when JR was shot.

On a praiseworthy note, it was nice to see some new media that I had not seen before that managed to stay within the realms of taste and decency. National Geographic's investigation in to JFK's last days, and his influence upon ordinary members of the public who he met in Texas prior to the assassination was poignant. A short BBC clip on the part that the Blackwatch played at JFK's funeral was new to me. The George Clooney-narrated documentary on the media's coverage of the assassination was compelling, and while arguably trivial, a long-form article on what exactly happened to the original casket which took JFK from Dallas back to Washington was far more interesting than it should have been.

Of course not all media chose to go down that route. JFK: The Lost Bullet was in my opinion an attempt to justify repeated showings of the Zapruder film, in HD no less (as they also told us repeatedly). It became so bloodthirsty I couldn’t justify watching it to what I understand was a ludicrous finish.

I found myself wondering if the horror suffered by the Kennedy family was forgotten somewhat. I know the most significant living member of JFK's family today is his daughter Caroline, who recently began a post as US ambassador to Japan. While looking to balance historical perspective with a gaudy sense of intrusion, I do wonder just how much the horrific and public loss of his father had upon John F. Kennedy, Jr. Everyone remembers his farewell salute to his father, but how many people remember that was on his 3rd birthday? My eldest remembers things from a frightfully early age, so I do wonder what if anything he remembered, or if indeed that played any part in his fatal plane crash that he was at the controls for.

And then of course there is Jackie Kennedy. So much of an influence over so many people I have known over the years, especially my Mum. I pondered if there was a post-assassination bump in her popularity, similar to those I've witnessed to the likes of Freddie Mercury and Kurt Cobain after their deaths. Clearly Jackie's dignity and strength immediately following the murder of her husband is awe-inspiring, and I can see why people like my Mum would appreciate her style and grace. Did history treat her kindly? Yes, as I'd like to think a widow should be treated. Did history fully record her abilities in supporting her husband on the campaign trail, and later in life as a business woman and matriarch? I would suggest not. Through no fault of her own, too much is made of a blood-stained pink outfit and not enough of the woman who wore it.

Will we ever consider the assassination in such a way again? I expect we won't. Personally I don't class 60 years as a big anniversary, and by the time the 75th anniversary comes round there will be even less living witnesses to the horror of that day, and also unfortunately there will probably be another horrific world event that will be a new generation's "Where were you when…" moment. For a subject matter that fascinated me and a time in history that still interests me, I'd like to visit the Sixth Floor Museum and Dealey Plaza as a whole, to put myself in that area and to picture that time, just to help me understand it better. I'm not sure all the big questions are fully answered, but I don't think they will be definitively during my lifetime, and it is debatable at this point whether it really matters anymore.

Thursday, 31 October 2013

A Month In Sporting Torment

Anyone who knows me really well knows I love sport, and especially my teams, but to say the least this month hasn't been the happiest month sports-wise. When I say it hasn't gone well, I mean it has been historically bad. Let's take it team-by-team:

Crystal Palace: Lost every single game, including a 4-1 home defeat to Fulham which included an incredible goal (I refuse to use the term "worldie") by Fulham striker Pajtim Kasami. This culminated in the departure by mutual consent of manager Ian Holloway, who I had only passed and said good morning to a month earlier prior to our home defeat by Swansea City. Really, really not a good day. For reasons I never completely understood Holloway wasn't completely accepted by some members of the Palace support, and although I had seen us play badly under his watch an element of patience, a delivered promotion and a personal belief that he was a good guy (backed up by this link found by my friend Ben after his departure) I felt it was a shame he left. I think we're poorer for his exit, regardless of present form.

Atlanta Braves: It's October, time for more Baseball heartache! At least the Braves managed to win a game in October, and indeed they even won a play-off game in their series to the Dodgers. But a series defeat, culminated by a game four loss snatched from the jaws of victory, stung. The Braves still haven't won a play-off series since 2001. On the bright side, having a work colleague who is a Cleveland Indians fan helped on the basis that you see Postseason Baseball futility isn't solely limited to Georgia's capital city.

Miami Dolphins: Remember the 3-0 start? Remember the 3... and oh, yeah, whatever happened to that? It all went pear-shaped, that's what. Just like Palace, the Fins lost every game in October and now sit with a 3-4 record. There's no sign of coach Joe Philbin leaving though, which I think is a good thing. He's a good coach and a good guy, and hopefully he's here for the long haul. Fixing the offensive line might help though.

Chicago Bulls: The Bulls season began on Tuesday... with a defeat. Which makes perfect sense this month. At least Derrick Rose's surgically repaired knee seems to be better for not playing last season. Now excuse me while I go and find some wood to touch.

Warrington Wolves: Who? Yes, my infrequently mentioned Rugby League team, who I took on board due to my best friend at University. This month saw them play in their second consecutive Grand Final. Of course it finished with a second consecutive defeat. I haven't told my friend Chris about the sporting month I've had. I don't think he'd blame me, but it isn't worth mentioning. Also if I'm honest I know it doesn't mean to me what it meant to Chris. When I'm happy about Warrington results I'm happy for Chris, when they've lost a big game I think about what it means to Chris. Arguably this could be worse for me, let's just move on.

Anaheim Ducks: The Ducks are doing... pretty well actually, winning 10 of their first 13 games this season. Small problem, like the Bulls they're at the start of their season, and to all intents the start of the NHL season is effectively meaningless. In recent years top seeds have come a cropper in the Stanley Cup play-offs, and therefore it seems to be more important to be in the Stanley Cup play-offs instead of just being highly-seeded within those. It seems that all tickets are equally capable of winning the raffle. On a positive note, winning is better than the alternative.

Hopefully one day soon, preferably from a Braves perspective also in October, I'll have a blog post where I can report exactly the opposite from what I'm writing today. For the time being though I'll welcome even a small improvement.

Monday, 30 September 2013

What I'm (Not) Watching, September 2013

Here's a twist to my should-be-annual TV review, because as the title implies, I'm not watching anything at the moment. It seems astonishing in some respects. I grew up in a house where watching TV, especially at night and over the weekends in the winter, was the main communal activity.

Right at this moment I'm in a TV vacuum. Mad Men, my favourite show, is on a break between the sixth and seventh seasons. The Apprentice is also between seasons, and due to my cancelling ESPN I don't have access to PTI, DLHQ, Around the Horn (all victims of the ESPN cull of ESPN America) or College Gameday. I made an effort to watch The Americans, until I found myself four episodes behind at the end of season one and wasn't really bothered about it (which I blame on the fact that the two strongest actors, Keri Russell and Noah Emmerich, are never on screen together).

Over the years my interest in reality shows has faded, so the recent run of regular and celebrity Big Brother didn't just leave me disinterested, but left me feeling significantly aggravated. Any form of dancing does the same, purely thanks to the catty judges, so that makes Strictly Come Dancing a no-go for me (even with noted celebrity Palace fan Susanna Reid on it). And X-Factor... X-Factor, ugh. How many ways can you say that you're fed up with all the dramatics, sob stories, last chances and every other overblown cliché they come up with? If it was purely a talent show I could live with it, but with everything else that is incorporated within the X-Factor package now makes that a no-go for me as well.

Breaking Bad? No, too violent, as I mentioned before, not my thing. Game of Thrones, the stuff of fantasy, not my thing either. Downton Abbey? Sorry, there's something about period pieces that I've never liked. Homeland was must see TV for me last year but the end of series 2 was so badly butchered that I'm not sure I can muster the enthusiasm for series 3.

So what do you do when you're effectively a television free-agent? You're free to become more selective, picking up an occasional documentary here and there (if I see an episode of Banged Up Abroad on National Geographic I'm probably taking at least a cursory glance), try an occasional new show here and there (and usually find they suck, yes Prisoner: Cell Block H remake, I'm talking about you) as well as re-runs of old sitcoms (Big Bang Theory on E4 is a repeat offender here) and quiz shows (yes, I finally succumbed to the addictive quality of Pointless).

Beyond just the TV is the freedom that you allow yourself. Thanks to Sky+ I rarely watch anything when it is shown anyway, but not having appointment TV frees you up from having any point where you really have to be in front of a TV. And that doesn't even cover the times that I'm actively looking to try and get away from a TV. The pity then is that life is busy enough that I can't make better use of the time, especially when that coincides with time that I need to be relatively quiet so I don't wake up my daughters when they're sleeping.

At this point I'm actually enjoying not having to actively work to keep up with a series. It may be a product of strange events and odd timing, but I'm actually quite enjoying this turn of events. When Mad Men ends after the split seventh series I'm not sure that I'll be picking anything up. Unless something exceptional comes along I think I can live without it.

Saturday, 31 August 2013

Top 10: Fighting Talk Contestants

Following on from last month's review of my favourite BS Report guests, I thought I should detail my favourite Fighting Talk contestants, coming after today's new season debut (which I've not listened to yet, I'm a podcast subscriber). Like last month, let's start with the contestants I'm not bothered about:

10 > - Simon Day (every answer comes back to Boxing), Brian Read (every answer comes back to Liverpool) and Jim Smallman (every answer comes back to Leicester City, specifically 1996 Leicester City, which I've written about before). It honestly wouldn't sadden me if they never came on the show again, although I wouldn't wish the fate of Stuart Hall on any of them.



10 - Henning Wehn
The German stand-up comic is the perfect foil for some of the more serious contestants. He's also wonderfully random, and frequently not politically correct, especially about the Dutch. I almost dread to think what his stand-up is like. My favourite moment of his? When he butchered a late Canadian Snooker player's name:


9 - Richard Osman
I wasn't a big fan of his to begin with, but he's grown on me with his dry, witty humour. Additionally he gets merit points for posting this on Twitter. It probably helps that thanks to the cleaner at work I'm in danger of becoming a "Pointless" fan as well.

8 - Gary O'Reilly
Purely a personal preference, due to lots of Palace mentions (especially the self-indulgent 1990 Palace mentions) and an introduction from the Miami Dolphins cheerleaders.

7 - Neil Delamere
A number of comedians work their way through the Fighting Talk studios (or in some cases, ISDN lines), to varying degrees of success with precious little interest in either sport or preparation (yes, Kevin Bridges, that means you). Neil Delamere, in my opinion at least, tends to be the best of them.

6 - Dougie Anderson
Following the antics of his namesake Freedman, Dougie "Two Answers" (sometimes "Three Answers") Anderson might now be becoming my favourite Scotsman, mostly because I like his self-depreciating humour. Oh, by the way, as of Friday I've lived in Scotland for 16 years now. Just thought I should mention that.

5 - Martin Kelner
If my best friend at University hadn't come from Warrington Kelner might be my favourite proponent of Rugby League. Additionally his "Any Other Business" answers are usually hysterical, such as the time that he was told about Country Vegetable soup and wondered if there was an Urban Vegatable equivalent. He's quite random at times:




4 - Bob Mills
Speaking of my best friend from University, when most people there were off getting wildly drunk (or worse) on Friday nights he and I would go into one of our rooms and watch "In Bed With Me Dinner". We hadn't heard of Bob Mills before, but we loved his offbeat comedy. Tragically I can't find any clips of his legendary destruction of Leslie Grantham's performance as Mick Raynor, so this will have to do instead.


(Yikes, that's 20 years ago. I'm really getting old.)

Mills is still just as offbeat, frequently extolling the virtues of lower league football in among various other comments and frequently terrible impressions. Apologies if you came here expecting a lecture on communism.

3 - Kath Merry
I'm probably shocking some listeners by placing her this highly, but she gets bonus points for being uncompromising and sharp, especially on the episode where the guest with the same name as an over-rated Br*ghton player decided to act a little strangely.

2 - Greg Brady
Can there just be a clip on YouTube of my favourite Canadian radio host butchering people's names? You need to hear him say Yakubu. Or West Bromwhich Albion. Or Snooker. Or anything with the potential to be verbally mangled. There's something likeable about him well, although I do tend to like people who don't take themselves too seriously.

1 - John Rawling
Psycho himself can go anyway you want on Fighting Talk, he can talk expertly on any subject, but at the same point he can see the humour in matters as well. Probably best of all, I'm no Boxing fan, but Rawling can talk about the history of the sport he covers most with reverance and class. It's never a bad show when JR is on.

Honourable mentions: Ian Stone, Tom Watt, Steve Bunce, Des Kelly, Steve Lamacq, Mark Watson.

Wednesday, 31 July 2013

Top 10: BS Report Guests

Thought I'd put in a few top 10 lists, as a way to put in some different content on the blog. Don't expect these to be as entertaining as David Letterman's top 10 lists. They're leaning in the direction of information instead of entertainment, and they are my opinion only so feel free to disagree.

The first list is in relation to The BS Report, the ESPN/Grantland podcast hosted by Bill Simmons. Here are my top 10 guests (people who appear on at least a semi-regular basis), but before I get to that point, here's a candidate who won't make the top 10:

10 > - Zach Lowe
The go-to BS Report guest for everything NBA, which would be fine if he was anywhere near as entertaining as Steve Kerr or the more informal Joe House. I'm sure Lowe is a fine writer, but he's not a particularly easy listen unless you're looking to fall asleep. Every podcast he's on is too long, and he's possibly more over-exposed than Emile Sandé. For Lowe, less is more. Less Lowe, more variety on NBA topics please.

10 - Matthew Berry

The ESPN Fantasy Sports expert appears ahead of every American Football and Baseball season, and yet the one podcast I remember most of all was the one where Berry and Simmons fondly looked back at Beverly Hills 90210. Make of that what you will.

9 - Steve Kerr

The NBA expert and commentator, who unfortunately isn't on very much these days. A thoughtful commentator on the game today, with lots of great stories from his time as a General Mananger and also his days as a player (especially as a colleague of Michael Jordan).

8 - Jalen Rose

When Simmons first started having Rose on the podcast I thought it was more to do with their new working relationship on ABC's NBA coverage. Scratch that, Rose is a fantastic guest. He's fantastically engaging, endearingly honest and candid, and has a host of stories of what he got up to as an NBA player. If you have a spare hour, go to the Grantland YouTube channel and get a listen to some of these stories, they're well worth your time.

7 - Chuck Klosterman

The Rolling Stone writer surprised me by being an always-interesting guest, regardless of the topic. Not afraid to argue contrary opinions, although always with a purpose and not to just seek attention. Always very interesting, although possibly not the person to listen to if you're looking for humour.

6 - Chris Connelly

The man of many hats, all of them interesting. He's told many stories that I haven't heard before (like the one about Chris Paul's tribute game to his Grandfather), given valuable insight on past eras (e.g. Michael Jackson and the early 1980s) and also recommended some interesting documentaries and films (e.g. Rachel Getting Married, which I hated, but never mind). He's a great story teller, and to his benefit I think I would struggle to pinpoint any of his biases, he simply presents as an interested neutral.

5 - Alan Sepinwall

The TV writer at hitfix.com,  Sepinwall is an engaging, thoughtful TV critic. He was one of the first people who pointed me in the direction of Mad Men as well as early proponent of Homeland (and to be fair, a pointed critic of the end of series two). Like anyone, I won't always agree with everything he says, but at least his points are well considered and his appearances are an easy listen.

4 - JackO

Call this a conflicted point. Simmons' old college friend (full name John O'Connell) is the Yankees supporting balance when Red Sox supporting Simmons wants to discuss Baseball. They're often disparaging about the National League, but they remind me of how I talk with my friends on the phone, so their discussions make me smile for more than just the obvious reasons. It's  just a pity that JackO's Irish ancestry make him so clearly anti-English.

3 - Joe House

Simmons' Washington-based friend always seems happy to talk Basketball, although he's also keen to talk about food as well. The conversations are similar to those with JackO, but a bit lighter and with no such anti-English slants. There's just something likeable about him. Maybe it's the incredible eating feats?




2 - Adam Carolla

Rarely seen these days, which is a pity, but the now-annual Fast & Furious reviews are always a must-listen. Additionally, his fictional film pitch for "Pedif Isle" in the early weeks of the podcast quickly made the BS Report a must listen for me. Very funny, usually quite bizarre. Okay, very bizarre, but I wouldn't miss them.






1 - Cousin Sal

My favourite guest, Sal Iacono  bar none, usually for his weekly NFL picks that he and Simmons do every week during the NFL season. In jokes, impressions and the weekly staple of the fake voicemail message from Simmons, these are the podcasts I look forward to most every week from September to the start of February. (Please don't mess up the recordings at any point this season - week one of last season wasn't fun.)


Sunday, 30 June 2013

How Does Mad Men End?

I was probably the only person who ended up seeing the final episode of Mad Men's penultimate season at 8am on a Saturday morning (them's the breaks of shift work), but given how quiet social media had been about it I was pleased with how the season ended.

With one last season left to go, it does leave questions regarding how the show will actually end, so I've decided to take some guesses at what will happen to the main characters:

Don Draper
While his professional career is looking at a nadir and his marriage to Megan looks to be heading towards disaster, I wonder if there appears to be an uptick in his relationship with his children. As a Dad I found Sally's near-throwaway comment about not knowing anything about her father to be particularly cutting, so to end a series with him taking his children back to where he grew up was interesting.

A brief attempt to move away from alcohol at the culmination of the series leads me to think we'll see further health issues for Don in the final series. Personally I wouldn't be surprised to see him die at the culmination of the series.

Footnote: If Jon Hamm plays Don Draper for the full seven seasons and doesn't earn a major acting honour, that's an absolute shame on those organisations who overlook him. He's fabulous in the role, I can't imagine anyone else as Draper.

Peggy Olson
For quite a while I've felt that the show will end with one of the female characters becoming the one that the show was really all about. While thinking - and to some extent, hoping - it might be Sally I just think that too much time has been invested in Peggy for it not to be her. It fits too nicely, young secretary becomes copywriter, becomes respected, leaves, rejoins and (as I would guess) becomes partner and finally figurehead of the firm.

Let's be honest, every guy in the show has disrespected Peggy in one way or another. I think the show ends with her on top... and alone (unless you count her cat).

Roger Sterling
Fact: no-one remembers that in the first series of Mad Men Roger Sterling suffered two heart attacks. Changes of behaviour in that time? None. This is rearing it's ugly head again next season, trust me. I think we lose Roger at around episode nine or ten, and no-one will be sadder than me about that.



Megan Draper
As series six wore on there were rumours that Jessica Paré (who plays Megan) would be leaving the show, and that the character itself would be killed off. I love Mad Men, so it probably makes me a bad person that I'm disappointed that she appears to be coming back in season seven.

Seriously, just about every scene with Megan makes me ask, "What was the point of that?" She's my least favourite character by a long way. I think she and Don split early in season seven, and we see precious little else from her after episode five.

Pete Campbell
I wouldn't say I like Pete as a character, after all he's a pretty horrible person, but I've come to appreciate him, and certainly appreciate Vincent Kartheiser's portrayal of him. I just can't really muster the enthusiasm to see where he ends up. I suspect in some way though he gets back on side with poor, kind, trusting Trudy. She deserves better.

Sally Draper
The last few weeks saw Sally lose trust in her father, and suddenly strike up a liking for cigarettes and alcohol. Hold on, give me a moment here...

(I need to compose myself here. I originally liked Sally because in the early series she was a little like my eldest daughter was then, which of course leads to fears regarding how that same daughter may turn out like Sally one day...)

So this makes Sally easy to predict. She gets into drugs, into boys and goes to Woodstock.

(Excuse me while I go away and throw up.)

Betty Francis
I suspect that Henry (another character I'm not particularly bothered about) is dispensed with at some point in series seven, but quite how that occurs is something I'm not too sure about.

I do think that Betty and Don regain a more amicable relationship for the sake of their children, but it only remains platonic. I don't think it goes back to where it ever-so-briefly did in series six.

Joan Harris
Meh.

What do you think ends up happening with the major characters?