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The Top-100 College Football Teams of All-Time (allegedly)

One of The Beverage’s favorite sites, Football Outsiders, has now finished a month-long series listing the purported Top-100 College Football Teams of All-Time. If you aren’t familiar with Football Outsiders, the site is about math applied to football, and it is always good to provoke a thought or two. This Top-100 list is no exception. In order from 1-100 (installments of 20), you can read the whole list here, here, here, here and here and see what thoughts it provokes for you.

Sadly, Princeton and Rutgers did not make the list.

Here are my four observations:

First, this is obviously arbitrary, as acknowledged in the intro to the first installment with the disclaimer that “with just a tweak of the formula here and there, virtually any team that has finished in the Top 100 could have ended up in the Top 10.” So Vince Young’s 2005 Texas team could easily have been at the top, instead of at No. 92, presumably if the formula were tweaked to give slightly more weight to “Awesomeness.”

In actuality, the Football Outsiders formula uses total points scored for and against (the only quasi-fungible stats available across the decades) and strength of schedule derived from same. There is also apparently some math included to account for standard deviation in different eras, giving teams more credit for being dominant in an era of great parity.

The results are not perfect, but they are interesting. For my money the 2001 Miami team, which appears at No. 6 on this list, is for sure the best I’ve ever seen. This is the legendary squad of Clinton Portis, Frank Gore, Najeh Davenport, Willis McGahee, Andre Johnson, Jeremy Shockey, Bryant McKinnie, Ed Reed, Mike Rumph, Philip Buchanon, D.J. WIlliams, Sean Taylor, Antrel Rolle and Kellen Winslow, many of whom didn’t even play. In back-to-back games in November, the Hurricanes beat No. 14 Syracuse 59-0 and No. 12 Washington 65-7, then went on to beat Michael Vick in Blacksburg and Heisman-winner Eric Crouch in the championship game for good measure. Nothing else compares to that level of talent and domination.

Second, this is not just your typical list, but a mini college football history lesson. The author, Bill Connelly, has really done his work, and the five part series includes multi-paragraph entries for each team, describing forgotten personalities and big games of yore in new and interesting detail. As much as we love college football, its history is not as well known as that of, say, baseball, where the Ken Burns treatment has raised Joe DiMaggio and his ilk to secular gods. Most of us may know the recent past reasonably well (The Beverage’s mental archive begins with Craig James, Eric Dickerson and Doug Flutie) and have some sense of the not-too-distant history of our personal favorite teams, but this feature will offer something fun from the vault for almost anyone interested in college football, even ignoring the all-time ratings hook.

When you view college football from this long-lens perspective, some things really jump out. At the risk of going all-Beano Cook on you, one of the things that jumps out is that the November 1946 game at Yankee Stadium between Notre Dame and Army (Nos. 10 and 11 on the list) is pretty close to obviously the coolest sporting event ever played. This game finished in a 0-0 tie, with the opposing defenses shutting down otherwise potent offenses featuring three eventual Heisman trophy winners (Mr. Inside and Mr. Outside of Army and the Irish’s Johnny Lujack). Remember that they were literally shutting each other down, as guys played both ways back then. Notre Dame quarterback Lujack actually made the tie-saving tackle of Doc Blanchard late in the game. Can you imagine the buzz in Yankee Stadium that day with a New York crowd that had just survived World War II and the Great Depression? This is absolutely my “if-I-could-go-back-in-a-time-machine-for-any-single-game” game. What’s yours?

Speaking of (national treasure) Beano Cook, the piece de resistance appears in the top-100 redux column, which features a 45 min. podcast interview with Beano himself breaking down the best teams of all-time (and becoming outraged when informed of the alleged No. 1 team of all-time). Which brings us to…

Third, in the final tally SEC boosters will be pleased, as the Best Conference in College Football is well represented in the top half of the list, particularly from the late-50s through the 60s and 70s. The purported No. 1 team of all-time is from the SEC, but it was neither undefeated nor a national champion, facts that seemingly caused Beano Cook to have a mild stroke. That 1959 Ole Miss team wasn’t undefeated because it lost on Halloween night to Billy Cannon and No. 28 all-time LSU, on the supposed greatest punt return of all time, which honestly doesn’t look all that great, even after you factor in that the only other touchdowns Ole Miss surrendered that season were in garbage time of blowout wins. Note: If you want to see what these white guys looked like in color, you can watch Everybody’s All-American, even though Frank Deford swears the story has nothing to do with Billy Cannon, despite the fact that it obviously does.

Ole Miss went on to avenge that loss to LSU with a 21-0 triumph two months later in the 1960 Sugar Bowl, and the Syracuse team that won the 1959 national championship is only listed as No. 55 all-time. Which leads me to observe…

Fourth, how different would this list look if there had been a college football playoff? Would Beano Cook become outraged that the 1959 Ole Miss squad appears by some math to have been the best team of all-time if they had beaten LSU and Syracuse in a four-team playoff to win the official NCAA National Championship?

We will inevitably take this up again in November, but, for the record, The Beverage opposes a college football playoff. Why? There are a few reasons, none sufficient on its own, but together enough for me to argue for the status quo.

One, the status quo mostly works. As Football Outsiders notes, after Notre Dame and Army met at Yankee Stadium in 1946, there wouldn’t be another No. 1 vs. No. 2 clash in college football until 1963. The two best teams of the 1990s, according to the list, were the 1991 Miami and Washington powerhouses that both finished undefeated and split the national championship. That doesn’t happen anymore. What happens now is that a third team – which might be as good or better than the other two – doesn’t get to play, which is not ideal, but somehow unavoidable when only two teams can get on the field at once.

Two, having a playoff would trade the possibility of a handful of very-interesting games for the certainty of dozens of often-interesting games. Say what you will, but the Texas-Oklahoma game (or fill-in-the-blank with your favorite perennial regular season clash) would not be as interesting if it didn’t matter so much. These games are great because the loser is often done for the season, in October. You think we get a great Super Bowl every year because of the magic of a single-elimination playoff?

Which brings me to the final reason. Philosophically, I’m against a playoff because it reflects a sort of laziness, a desire to be told in advance when the most important game of the year will take place so that we can be sure not to miss it and can make sufficient guacamole. College football is great partly because it hits the ground running from the very first weekend. Nearly every season features inter-sectional games in September that impact the national championship. You don’t know which one it will be, so you have to watch them all!

For all the talk about the Sisters-of-the-Poor and Directional-U mismatches, there are big games on the schedule almost every week. I wouldn’t trade that for the possibility of two or three more pre-arranged meaningful games in January, especially if they intend to play them on Wednesday nights like the BCS title game (don’t get me started).

This is getting me excited. I need to relax for a bit now. Is the Women’s British Open on yet?

August can’t go by fast enough.

Five Great Football Books to Get You Through the Official Slowest Week in Sports

This is officially the worst sports week of the year. Some people refer to the second week of April or thereabouts – the time between the end of March Madness and the beginning of NBA and NHL playoffs – as the “sports doldrums,” but it really can’t compare to the last week in July.

Unlike some folks, I love summer sports. July is one of my favorite months on the sports calendar. I love the British Open, Wimbledon and the Tour de France – the old world trifecta of summer sports. Since before the Wright brothers, men have been vying for those three trophies over much the same ground that they are still contested today. You need look no further than Tom Watson last year at at Turnberry or John Isner this year at Wimbledon to know that the grand old dames of individual sporting events still have what it takes to tingle.

I also love this stuff because it comes on TV early in the morning. You can watch all the golf or tennis or bicycling you want, while many have barely risen, and still spend your summer afternoons doing summer afternoon things. Most summers there is also a good international soccer tournament to round out the sports offerings, not to mention the steady drumbeat of the MLB season grinding along.

Nevertheless, all but baseball finally came to a shuddering halt on Monday, and we are apparently left with nothing to ponder except which unfortunate team will find itself desperately needing the services of one Terrell Owens, a.k.a. “The Player” to Bill Parcells.  (Note: It is hard to believe, but Parcells really did this. He routinely refused to identify one of his own players by name, and he is still permitted to run an entire football team virtually unsupervised.)

When you look at the sports calendar, the last week of July puts the early-April sports doldrums to shame. In the days between now and the full-throated beginning of college and pro football training camps, we will be treated to several indoor tennis tournaments, the water polo world cup and the European track and field championships. As hard as it may be to believe, The Beverage just can’t get fired up for any of that.

But have no fear. When it gets so hot outside that it feels like a bus exhaust on your face, you know that pointy football is just around the corner. The assorted preview magazines are here to get you by until they line it up for real, but you know where to find that stuff if you want it, and I’ve never really enjoyed reading about how many special teams starters are returning at Purdue. That is the stuff we read because there isn’t anything else.

Don’t settle for the fantasy football guide. There are plenty of good gridiron books out there to combine your late-summer vacation reading with your fall football preparation. Here are five recommendations, with links to Amazon (where all five are available for immediate download to your Kindle for $10 or less):

Next Man Up John Feinstein. If you really want to know what the player personnel business looks like in big-time pro football, this is the book for you. Truth is, you may not want to know, and you may enjoy it a bit less once you do. Life for an elite football player is nasty, brutish and short, and if you’ve bought into the NFL Films mythology of the noble warrior athlete with stirring orchestral music accompanying his every stride, Feinstein may burst your bubble. The cruel calculus wielded by front office men like Ozzie Newsome of the Baltimore Ravens – the book’s ultimate focus – renders human beings in the prime of life down to a commodity, bought and sold if not at auction then something like it. Newsome’s motto, “Right player, Right price”, sums it all up nicely. The average length of an NFL career is something like four years, and this book makes even that seem like a long time. (Note: You should follow the link for a cool Sporting News list of the 120 best numbers in sports. My favorite is the 259 pitches that Nolan Ryan supposedly tossed over 12 innings in a 1974 game.)

Friday Night Lights H.G. Bissinger. Still the best football book out there, and the perfect counterpoint to Next Man Up. Before the movie, and the TV show, there was the real deal. Just Odessa Permian Panther football. Mojo power. I remember it from real life as a vague legend of the high plains. Before cellphone video, Sports Center and the Internet, you never really saw things like 1980s Odessa Permian football. You just heard tell of them, through rumor and reference, stories in print and maybe a static, black-and-white photo. Buzz Bissinger’s classic book makes it all technicolor and real. Bissinger has lately become something of a weirdo, but Friday Night Lights perfectly captures the essence of why most of us ever played football and what we loved and hated about it when we did. In the process, he also tells the remarkable and often overlooked tale of the 1988 Dallas Carter football team, the arch-evil opponent at the end of the Permian story. The details of the Carter plot element were largely lost in transition to the screen, but it is a compelling story, especially if you harbor any half-rememberence of the real-life events, as most Texans of a certain age and inclination will.

Rammer Jammer Yellow Hammer Warren St. John. I am not really that fond of ‘Bama Fan. Long before the “Crimson Tide” speared Colt McCoy’s throwing shoulder to win the national championship, ‘Bama Fan had already risen fairly high on my mental list of the 10 Most Objectionable People at Disney World. Since then, it has reached new heights. As annoying as Gator Fan was in pre-annointing Tebow the Heisman winner last year, ‘Bama Fan is now ten times worse. They are justifiably very proud of the fact that they won the national championship, and there is nothing that they won’t do with puffy paint and glitter to make sure you know about it. However, ‘Bama Fan offers a unique opportunity to study the rabid fan in the wild, and this book is as pure an explication of devotion to team in American sport as you will find. If you want to read about some people who are definitely more fired up for the start of football season than you are, this is the place to start.

Dixieland Delight Clay Travis. Travis does basically the same thing that St. John does in Rammer Jammer, only he expands the palate to the entire Southeastern Conference, the self-proclaimed (perhaps accurately) Best Conference in College Football. This is decidedly low-middlebrow stuff, and it includes a section on “Women of the SEC” and faux-lurid stories about frat parties. Travis is something of a poor-man’s Sports Guy, and this book is a fun page turner that reads like the episodic series of columns that it is. You could probably read it cover-to-cover on a long plane ride and end the trip mildly amused and more ready for football season, and isn’t that really the point of life?

Twelve Mighty Orphans Jim Dent. Think Hoosiers meets Seabiscuit (I am summarizing the back cover so as to spare you reading Vern Lundquist’s quote). This Depression-era true story of the Mighty Mites of Masonic Home is written for a broad audience, and it hits its mark as true four-quadrant fare. It seems certain to eventually find its way to the silver screen, though not likely in the hands of these people. Read the book so that you can say you knew the Mighty Mites before they were famous.

Hope you enjoy one or more of these books and make the most of the last fleeting bits of summer. In a few weeks, it will be hard to remember when there wasn’t any football to watch.

The Killer Three-Step Streaming Movie Hack

Around the time that The Beverage’s hard drive crashed, the July issue of MacLife arrived with a typically triumphant cover promising “15 Essential iPad How-Tos!

An issue of MacLife is always good to inspire a project or two, and after having just resurrected the MacBook Pro from the ashes with spare parts and tiny screwdrivers, I was feeling the urge to take on something else. A tantalizing item on the cover tease said, “Rip & load DVDs,” so I cracked it open and flipped to the story.

You can find the on-line version of the MacLife article here, and it has a bunch of good tips for iPad owners. But the real killer hack is the process (described at page 5 of the link) for ripping and compressing DVDs into iPad compatible files. That handy step-by-step provided the tools and inspiration forming the first link in a chain that eventually led to a long sought holy grail of sorts in my digital life – streaming movies on the home network.

We own not a small number of DVDs. Over the course of a decade, they’ve been picked up from grocery store checkout counters and giant bargain bins at Blockbuster, exchanged as gifts and accumulated in big, heaping binders under and around the TV. Some are classics, some are special personal favorites and some are forgettable. Over time, they had proliferated to the point that they became unwieldy and difficult to enjoy.

Various efforts to order this chaos – including a painstakingly constructed Bento database – had proven insufficient to bridge the gap between wanting to watch a movie and quickly finding a movie that we wanted to watch. Research revealed that giant DVD-changers often worked well for a bit, until the disks became so dusty that they would no longer play. The answer was obvious, if seemingly unattainable: digitize the collection onto a giant hard drive, get them into the magical iTunes database complete with metadata and stream them to the Apple TV.

The Apple TV is an awkward beast, a machine with seemingly great potential but left orphaned by Apple. The Beverage has included one in the home network for several years, but it has never seemed to work well for much of anything. It is, basically, a wifi-enabled video iPod with an HDMI-out port, and it syncs with iTunes running on another machine.

If you don’t have an Apple TV, don’t stop reading. This story ends perfectly well if you just want to watch movies on your laptop or even iPad. But for The Beverage, the Apple TV gathering dust next to the piles of DVDs gathering dust formed a perfect pair. One month and a lot of sweat equity later, I have nearly 100 movies stored in a 500 gig external drive attached to my old iMac and available for streaming to the Apple TV, each one complete with spiffy poster art and sorted into custom genres.

The process to get there is basically the same as the one you likely went through over the past 10 years with all your old CDs. It is more cumbersome and substantially more time consuming, but basically the same. Once you get used to the workflow, it is mindless and repetitive, but the result is glorious! It is ultimately three steps: (1) creating .m4v files, (2) importing them into iTunes and (3) syncing them to Apple TV (or iPad, if that’s what you want).

In case anyone is wondering, The Beverage does not offer legal advice, but this is clearly fair use under existing copyright law. The Supreme Court previously held in the Betamax decision that so-called “time shifting” of programs aired on broadcast TV by recording and replaying them later was protected fair use and did not constitute copyright infringement. The Ninth Circuit has recently reaffirmed that analogous “format shifting” or “space shifting” of media that you already own from one physical incarnation to another is “paradigmatic noncommercial personal use” protected under copyright law. The key words there are “personal” and “noncommercial.”

Step one in this process – creating a usable .m4v file from a DVD – is the hardest. Again, it is covered step-by-step in the MacLife article (skip to page 5), and I won’t recount it here. Briefly, you’ll need three pieces of software: RipIt, Handbrake and Subler. You use them in that order, and the process can take up to a few hours for one DVD, depending on how fast your machine runs. This is a pure speed test for CPUs, and the MacBook Pro encodes video literally twice as fast with its 64-bit processor than its 32-bit cousin the iMac does. You can queue up a tranche of files to encode overnight, so it isn’t like you have to sit there watching this work the entire time, but it isn’t quick.

Subler does the special work of adding the metadata to the file – like actors, directors and the all-important cover art – that makes it look pretty in iTunes. Sometimes Subler doesn’t find good cover art, but you can find it yourself. Just type the movie name into Google and do an image search. Find a good poster that you like, right click and “copy image,” then paste it into the “artwork” tab in the Subler window.

After encoding the files and loading them up with metadata, you have an .m4v file of around 1-2 gigs, which you can copy onto an external drive. For step two you need to get that file into iTunes. This is easy, except that you don’t want iTunes to copy the file onto your internal hard drive where the rest of your iTunes library resides (unless you have a massive internal drive and aren’t worried about a couple hundred gigs of movies). Here’s how you do it:

Open iTunes and the Finder window for the external drive where you copied the .m4v file. Now, hold down the option (alt) key then click and drag the file into the iTunes library. This will create a reference in your iTunes library to the file on the external drive without copying the file into your main iTunes library. The trick of this is of course that you have to have the external drive connected to watch the movie, but that shouldn’t be a problem.

Now you can watch the movies on your computer in iTunes, but that isn’t quite good enough. If you want to enjoy a movie on the big TV in your living room or the tiny screen on your iPad, you’ve got to take it to step three and sync-up.

The trick with syncing movies to the iPad is that the external drive again needs to remain connected to the computer when you sync with iTunes, but beyond that you should be able to figure it out.  At 1-2 gigs each, you can fit a few movies on even your 16 gig iPad, and Half-n-Half took several kid movies on hers for the long vacation airplane trip.

For living room viewing, you could simply copy the files over to the Apple TV, but that takes forever over wifi and the hard drive on mine is only 20 gigs. What you want is for the movies to stream to the Apple TV while still residing on the large external drive. The trick to do this is to set up the syncing preferences correctly on the “Summary” tab of the iTunes sync screen for your Apple TV.

First, select “Custom Sync” and then uncheck the button that says “Show only the synced items in my Apple TV.” Now, when you sync your Apple TV, you should see all the movies that you’ve mapped to iTunes from your external drive available for immediate viewing under “My Movies.”

This all sounds hard, but you can do it. The result is amazing. It is already changing the way I interact with video content in the same way that ripping all that audio into iTunes did 10 years ago.

It used to be that we listened to entire CDs. We may have skipped a bunch of tracks, but you popped one in, used it up, then popped it out and listened to something else entirely. Now, we pick up audio in bite-sized chunks. In fact, a whole genre of modern popular music is composed of basically assembling bite-sized chunks of audio from other sources into nifty new patterns.

The same thing is happening with video. We used to watch whole shows, but then TiVo liberated us to skip the parts we didn’t like. Next YouTube gave our attention-starved brains a limitless source of tiny bite-sized videos. Now people are creating new forms of art by mashing together videos from many different sources into compelling montages.

With our old DVD collection digitized for on-demand streaming, I am starting to watch only parts of movies. Maybe I’ll watch the last half-hour of Miracle before a big game, or the “Coffee is for closers” scene from Glengary Glen Ross to get fired up for a crucial meeting. Eventually, the idea of sitting down to watch an entire two-hour plus movie will seem like sitting through the Vienna Opera wearing a tuxedo and holding tiny spectacles up to your face. People will still do it, but only out of a sense of ostentatious anachronism. Welcome to the future.

Final Verdict – World Cup Soccer TV Ratings

The tally is in, and, as The Beverage predicted a few weeks back, the World Cup final game last weekend between Spain and the Netherlands was the most watched televised soccer game in U.S. history. The game drew more than 25 million viewers between ABC and Univision, far-and-away besting the previous high of around 18 million who saw the U.S. women beat China in the 1999 World Cup final on home soil.

That is still a few million viewers short of the audience that saw the historic Game 7 of the NBA Finals a few weeks back, but remember that was the most watched NBA game in a generation. The World Cup final had a larger television audience than every single other NBA basketball game played in this century, including all-star games. Speaking of all-star games, fewer than half as many viewers watched the MLB all-star game on Tuesday night, the lowest ever for the event once commonly referred to as the “Mid-Summer Classic.” World Cup is that much more popular than the baseball all-star game? Really?

It is probably even more dramatic than it seems. In comparing both the NBA and MLB events to the World Cup ratings, it is critical to note that the soccer game was played on a Sunday afternoon in the middle of July, while the others were in prime time on weeknights. There’s a reason why they call it “prime time” and why the major pro sports leagues in the TV era schedule their important events to fall on Mondays, Tuesdays and Thursdays instead of Sunday afternoon. With the exception of golf fanatics, most people don’t watch TV on Sunday afternoons, especially in July. I remember Sunday afternoons from my youth without cable as the “Grizzly Adams-zone,” devoid of anything whatsoever worth watching. If the World Cup final had been on a Tuesday night at 9 EDT, I dare say it would have exceeded the total number of viewers posted by the NBA Finals Game 7.

That result is dramatic enough to prompt some to jump to conspiracy theories. Our local sports talk radio curmudgeon declared that it was simply impossible for a Sunday afternoon soccer game to have drawn that many viewers, and thus it must be the result of a conspiracy (amongst whom was not clear) designed to inflate the apparent interest in soccer here in support of a bid to host the 2018 or 2022 World Cup. He wasn’t kidding, and I’m not making this up.

Unless you believe that wackadoo stuff, the truth is that the World Cup brand of soccer, at least, is a successful television property in the U.S., and will continue to be for the foreseeable future. ESPN doubled down on their investment this time around, and you can only expect that they will redouble when the next World Cup in Brazil falls in much more friendly time slots. The haters had better get used to it, because – whether as the result of a clever pointy-headed intellectual paternalistic conspiracy or not – international soccer has captured a part of the American sports consciousness. “Nobody really watches soccer” guy will sound even more confused and isolated next time around.

Hard Drives, Entropy and the Wisdom of The Breakfast Club

Hard drives die. As Bender says in The Breakfast Club, “Screws fall out all the time. The world is an imperfect place.”

If you’ve never experienced this special joy, count yourself lucky. If you have, the first thing that went through your mind on recognizing the device’s mortality might have been something like:

“Baby pictures? *Random Sailor Cursing*. BABY PICTURES!”

The hard drive on The Beverage’s Macbook Pro began its death rattle on a Sunday. Fortunately, because we have many, many Macs and hard drives in the family network, I was spared any real concern over baby pictures or music or the like.

What followed was a few days of trying to save then resurrect the dying drive, replacing it with a new drive and restoring data from backups. I had originally intended to write a post on the technical lessons learned from this adventure, but as it took shape in my head, I realized that it was of very narrow interest and already well covered elsewhere. So, the short version is this:

  1. have (very) tiny screwdrivers
  2. keep an old computer working so that you can get on the Internet if your primary machine dies
  3. don’t be afraid – you can do almost anything with step-by-step instructions from the Internet (iFixIt is good for Mac, iPhone, iPod) coupled with sufficient time and motivation
  4. maintain frequent, redundant backups

Here’s the rest of the story: To repay what I view as a karmic debt from the survival of my laptop, I set about telling everyone point 4 above as a public service message. Briefly, if you have a Mac running Leopard, it is shamefully easy to maintain good backups. Buy an external drive at least as large as your internal drive, plug it in and set up Time Machine. You don’t need the very expensive Apple wireless Time Capsule product. You can pick up a good, portable external drive for under $100, and the Time Machine setup screen ought to launch when you plug it in to the computer. Here’s the Apple instructions page.  If you still need any help, just let me know. (I’m sure there is also some easy way to do this on a PC, but you can figure it out yourself.)

In the course of spreading the gospel of Time Machine over the past few weeks, it turns out that almost everyone has a story about backups that they’ve been meaning to set up or wished they had. Once you have this conversation a dozen times, it starts to reveal a certain pervasive unease regarding the fragility of our digital lives. But I think our instincts are probably precisely wrong about this. The things we have long viewed as solid and permanent – hard copies and steel file cabinets – are much more ephemeral than the ones and zeros, the bits and bytes that have come to comprise our external world.

If a meteor had hit your house in 1990 (while you were fortunately away on vacation), most evidence of your previous existence would have been stricken from the face of the planet. Maybe there would have been a bank box somewhere with vital records, and there would have been a few childhood pictures scattered among the shoeboxes of relatives, but almost everything you ever recorded for posterity or filed for future reference would have been gone. From the most mundane to the most precious – pictures, correspondence, bills, recipes, VHS tapes, CDs – there would have been one extant copy at the bottom of a smoking crater.

Twenty years later, we live in a cloud of data, most of it our own. Many pictures of you and your kin likely exist in dozens if not more copies on the computers of friends and family and Facebook, and hardly anything of consequence that crosses our paths these days is entirely analog. If the meteor struck your house today, much of your life could be quickly – if not entirely easily – reconstructed from the cloud. Even if you hadn’t backed up anything, you’d be surprised at how much data is just sitting in your pocket. Email, electronic banking and the rest of the ministerial fabric of your life would come flying back good as new when you found a computer, a working electrical outlet and a Starbucks wifi hotspot. If you also happened to have good Time Machine backups on a portable drive in your carry-on bag, then you’d have almost everything. That and homeowner’s insurance without the falling celestial bodies rider and you’re golden.

So each of us is individually probably more ok than we think and better off than we were in the analog world, but what about all of us together? The new engineering library at Stanford apparently will have very few books, and this certainly marks only the beginning of the end for the dusty stacks. But if we have our Jurassic moment with a big meteor, are the underground dwelling post-apoclyptic unfortunate survivors better off with hard copies or digital?

This philisophicopractical question is well above The Beverage’s pay grade, but just for fun…At first blush, one is tempted to jump to the same answer that we do instinctively on the individual level. When the walls finally come tumbling down, it somehow seems like it would be better in a world without much electricity to have hard copies around for reference by the light of torches. This is probably also wrong.

More copies in more places in more durable formats are better. Some mad monks somewhere could figure out how to get a computer working and resurrect the step-by-step for smelting copper from the ashes of civilization. Also, The Book of Eli is not a good movie. I haven’t thought much more about it than that, but The Beverage would love to hear your views.

Anyway, after all the fussing and fixing of the Macs prompted by the hard drive death, I ended up with much more electronic storage space and a renewed technical confidence. Those conditions permitted the accomplishment of a long sought goal – digitizing the movies from our trove of DVDs for streaming to the Apple TV. In what will constitute Part II of this post, next week The Beverage will discuss that process and what the end state means for how we experience video content. Until then, thanks for reading.

5 Tasty Treats to Feed your iPod this Fourth of July Weekend

The only thing that can make America’s favorite secular holiday better is some new music to liven up the BBQ, beer and incendiary devices. Each of the five artists below isn’t for everybody, but one of the great freedoms we enjoy in this gilded age is the 99 cent song. Remember when the only way to get music was to go to Sound Warehouse and drop $15 on a whole CD that had three good songs on it if you were lucky? For each of these albums, The Beverage has selected a single track to recommend, and the links should launch it for you in the iTunes store. Give it a try. If you don’t like it, you’re only out a buck. You may find something you enjoy.

  1. Alejandro Escovedo Street Songs of Love. The Beverage doesn’t claim to be a longtime Escovedo fan, but people who have been there for years swear by the central Texas roots rock/punk practitioner. He sometimes sounds like Springsteen and sometimes like Jesse Malin, but Escovedo always makes simple rock-n-roll sound really cool. He nearly died a few years back, and the lyrics and vibe of Street Songs of Love imply a man reborn. On Anchor, the album’s first single, Escovedo belts out “I’m in love with love” in a way that makes you believe what would otherwise sound pretty sappy. And you have to admire a guy who unabashedly employs a full compliment of doo-wap backup singers like the Commitments or something. This is perfect fare for the family barbecue. Broad appeal, easy on the ears, just enough edge. Escovedo is reportedly gaining a bigger following now as he nears 60, and when you hear this you’ll understand why.
  2. Monsters of Folk Monsters of Folk.  If you’re not already familiar with the Monsters of Folk, it’s a collaboration of the Bright Eyes duo Conor Oberst and Mike Mogis with Yim Yames (ne Jim James of My Morning Jacket) and solo artist M. Ward. That’s a mouthful, but the music is worth the effort. The mood swings around a bit through the course of the album, befitting the mixing bowl of styles. But the best track, Map of the World, is jaunty and bright, despite its somber lyrics, and it currently ranks as The Juice Box’s second most requested song after Vampire Weekend. If you enjoy this, you should also check out the further meta-collaboration between Monsters of Folk and The Roots (Jimmy Fallon’s house band) on Dear God 2.0. When you add jazzy hip-hop to that already interesting mix, it gets extra saucy.
  3. Broken Bells Broken Bells.  While we’re on strange combinations, this one hardly makes any sense at all, but it works. Broken Bells is a new project of James Mercer, the voice of The Shins, and Danger Mouse, the Grammy-winning producer and Gnarls Barkley pioneer. The first single they released back in March, High Road, is a minor revelation. Acoustic guitars share the soundstage with electronic beepings and noodlings, and it finishes with a Shins style multi-part vocal chorus. There have been reports that this is supposed to be a long term endeavor, but it has the feel of a prototype, not intended for mass production. While it lasts, sit back and enjoy the mellow groove.
  4. Neutral Milk Hotel In the Aeroplane over the Sea.  This is not new. In fact, it’s more than 10 years old. But The Beverage discovered it recently and likes it very much. The group came to a sad end after this album achieved critical acclaim in 1998, with bandleader Jeff Mangum retreating from the public eye almost entirely after a reported nervous breakdown. You can understand how that might happen if you spent a year holed up in a closet writing songs about Anne Frank, but the album apparently has a well deserved cult following in the world of lo-fi indie rock. This 2005 Pitchfork review explains it much better than I can, if you want to read more, but I recommend the track Holland, 1945 for a listen if you want to challenge your ears with something a little different.
  5. Eminem Recovery.  Wait, I know what you’re thinking. Left this for last because I didn’t want (almost) everyone to stop reading, but Em is back. Parts of Recovery are good. First, the obvious, by way of warning. This stuff is virulently, extravagantly profane. But at his best Em can make you feel 10 feet tall, and when he operated at the peak of his powers a decade ago he produced some of the most original American popular music of our generation. I remember to this day the time when I first heard Stan, Em’s iconic anthem to a psychotic and murderous fan. It just grabs you. Em is certifiably crazy, so it has always been spotty, but a couple of tracks on the new album are as near to perfect as he’s come since we were partying like it was 1999 because it was. It makes you want to go out and get right to work on the Y2K problem. The track Em shares with Rihanna, Love the Way you Lie, is the easiest listen on the new album and the most popular. It evokes Stan, with Rihanna’s lilting vocals bracingly juxtaposed against Em’s staccato rhymes. I’m pretty sure that near the end Em threatens to burn an entire house down around his ex-wife and erstwhile muse Kim, but I try to ignore that. He’s a troubled lad.

Hope everyone has a safe and fun holiday weekend, and let us know if you try any of these tracks and like them (or don’t). Pig burying has been postponed until Winter on account of weather (it is too hot to dig a hole that large), but we’re firing up the smoker this evening to do a big, giant all-American brisket. To our family back home floating the river (you know who you are), we wish we could be there too.

The Agony of Defeat

Well, that was disappointing.

As sports fans, we’ve all had this peculiar morning-after feeling countless times. On this particular morning, it comes with the special bitterness of knowing that we’ll never see precisely this team again. Next year is four years from now.

For what it is worth, it was fairly won by the Ghanaians. We had our moments, but they beat us twice with the same ball and exposed the central defense as our true weakness. Both goals were wonderfully struck, but the first was all on Tim Howard, I hate to say, and the second was on the skipper, Bocanegra, who was carrying tired legs and an earlier yellow card when he couldn’t put himself into the path of the onrushing Gyan.

As if to level accounts, the refs seemed to do us many favors this time, including granting the penalty that provided our only goal. Bob Bradley is being heavily criticized for some of his lineup selections, but that’s what happens when you lose. There just isn’t anything else available to criticize about coaching. Truth is we looked to have run out of gas after the emotional highs and lows of the preceding week.

So now we look to the future, and hope springs eternal. Qualifying for the 2014 World Cup in Brazil will be just around the corner. With that in mind, here are five questions coming out of South Africa 2010:

  1. Will Bob Bradley stay on as coach? Before the World Cup, Grant Wahl said that Bradley could only stay on if we died a noble death in the second round, whatever that means. If that is the standard, I’d say it was met. I’d also say that Bob should get to stay if he wants to. His players apparently love him, and he has consistently produced results with his first choice squad. But both of those things were also true of Bruce Arena after the successful 2002 World Cup (more successful than this). Arena stayed on, only to lead the dismal 2006 campaign in Germany. Sunil Gulati has a tough choice. I predict that Bob goes.
  2. What of this team will be back in 2014? Altidore will still be only 24, so he’ll be there. Tim Howard will be 35, but he’ll probably be there too. Spector, Torres, Edu, Holden, Findley and Bradley fils will be well under 30 and likely just peaking in their careers. They have four years to get better and, except in the case of Bradley, try to find a role with the national team, whoever may be coaching it. Bradley is my bet to be the next captain, especially if his dad isn’t the coach. As for the current captain, Carlos Bocanegra probably has a few good years of club football left in him, but this was his last World Cup and maybe his last performance as national team skipper. Dempsey and Donovan will be 32-ish next time around. They’ll be there in 2014, but not to run 90 minutes and lead the team again. For Buddle and Gomez, sadly, their national team flower will have bloomed too late. This was their one shot. Gooch is an interesting question. For a player with such promise four years ago, I’m afraid to say we may have seen his last World Cup, and the central defense, which once looked a strength, is now a clear weakness. Which brings us to the next question…
  3. Where is the next U.S. soccer star? Hopefully at home, getting ready to watch the England v. Germany game this morning with his mom and dad while eating a good, healthy breakfast and then going out into the sweltering heat to kick a soccer ball around all day and pretend he’s Landon Donovan. As the Beverage discussed in the World Cup lead-in, demography is destiny, and continued attention to soccer in popular culture will inexorably produce the first great American soccer genius. This World Cup will not make soccer an everyday topic of conversation at the collective American water cooler (see question no. 4), but it is just enough to keep the ball rolling, so to speak. Somewhere out there some freakish specimen of a 15 year-old is trying to decide between the baseball select travel team for next summer or the soccer developmental residency camp, and maybe he saw the flashbulbs and the girls and the soda commercials and thought, this World Cup thing is cool.
  4. Does this mean soccer has now hit the big time in America? Not by a long shot, but more is always better. People will not turn out in droves for the MLS games next fourth of July weekend or name all of their babies Landon. And it is a good thing, because they’ve built nice, tidy suburban stadiums for all of these MLS teams that only hold about 25 thousand people, and the crowds would overwhelm them. But 20 thousand or so will turn out, in cities across the country, to watch professional soccer, some of which is televised live nationwide, in color and HD. Aspiring for even that much was deemed folly 20 years ago, and the trend line has already carried soccer past hockey, whether anyone cares to acknowledge it or not. If we had gone out against Spain in the semi-final instead of against Ghana in the second round, things might have lurched forward a bit more, but this is good enough for now.
  5. What should the Beverage write about now? There is the previously promised Apple TV streaming movie post forthcoming, but I’d appreciate any suggestions for new topics. We are now in the full throws of BBQ season, and we may be planning a neighborhood whole-pig pit burying for next weekend, which could make for a good multi-media culinary post.  Half-n-Half is out of town and not yet aware of the pig burying plan hatched yesterday evening, so no promises…