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Archive for November, 2006

Nov. 30, 2006 — When in doubt, adapt

When I purchased my very first iPod, it came with the usual accessories — USB cable, AV cable, FireWire cable, plug-in charger, docking base, and so forth. It also came with two items that I really could have done without: the carrying case and the earphones.

I don’t like Apple’s earbuds at all. You have to wedge them in your ear canal and hope they don’t come out by themselves. Plus, wearing white cords dangling from your ears tells everyone around you, “I’m listening to an iPod.”

But I found a solution: the old-school yellow Sony foldable headphones that usually accompany a Sports Walkman. I have always liked them since I got my first Walkman, a WMW-800, back in 1986.

These days, however, Sony and other companies have been going with the earphones that either go in the earhole, or clip to the auricle, or envelop the ear entirely like a headset from the 1970s.

Sony no longer makes the yellow Sports earphones, but the foldable MDR-A35 is a worthy successor. It even makes talk radio on the AM dial sound fuller and richer than anything else out there. And I like the fact that I can listen to an iPod without telling anyone else I am doing so.

Now, the other thing I had to replace was the iPod’s case. It was a Lycra sleeve which has a rigid insert in the front and the back, and used the fabric’s elasticity on the sides to hold the player in the case.

Once, I dropped the thing on a very hard concrete surface in our building’s parking garage. The iPod popped open from the impact on an unprotected upper corner. After calming myself down and carefully re-snapping the player shut (whew!), I resolved to find a new case.

As it turns out, the millions of iPods and other MP3 players out on the market have spawned a secondary industry of companies looking to create exterior cases. The iPod cases come in a kaleidoscopic variety of colors, sizes, and features, made of all sorts of materials including leather, plastic, and rubber.

None of the cases, however, could give me the features I really wanted:

  • Edge protection around the side of the entire player
  • Access to the top of the player where the earphones plug in
  • Easy access to the front of the player (i.e., no front flap)
  • A clip or handle that is reasonably unobtrusive

I went to store after store. I even thought that I could combine two different cases: a jogging case from Radio Shack with an adjustable handle and a generic cell-phone case from Best Buy.

But I found a solution for less than one-seventh of the price of that. I found a generic silicone case at a Wal-Mart in Massaponax, Va. for 52 cents. Then I found a spring belt clip selling for four bucks at a Five Below near my apartment.

Voila! All the features I wanted, and such an elegant solution. My high-school calculus teacher would be proud.  

Nov. 29, 2006 — The Wii Project

One of the major consumer electronics items being introduced this quarter is the Nintendo Wii (prounounced “wee”), a video game console which uses a gyroscopic wand instead of a traditional keypad to control characters on screen.

Sports games out on the Wii include tennis, bowling, boxing, baseball, and golf. Many more can be adapted or written for this kind of controller.

Field hockey and lacrosse would be ideal video games for this sort of console. Imagine playing a field hockey game where you actually have to rotate your controller while it’s pointing to the ground in order to control the ball. Or, you can place the wand on the ground to make a block tackle, and open the face of your Wii while taking a drive in order to execute a chip shot.

Or in lacrosse, having to move your stick around to create that little centrifuge in order to keep the ball trapped in the pocket. Jump shots, quick-sticks, and set plays using settings in the game could also be employed.

Last night, I chatted for a few minutes with a developer for one of the major video game manufacturers, and he pointed out that his company has introduced sports games around the world, even for niche sports such as cricket. And Nintendo has developed hundreds of games, even in the early days of the Nintendo Entertainment System, based on niche sports.

I’d like to see our national governing bodies make it known that there is a ready gaming market for field hockey and lacrosse games on the Wii and any future gaming system that employs a wand-like controller that can simulate a stick. 

This starts with you. Make this a topic in the blogosphere, on message boards, on MySpace pages, in email threads. Talk it up out there if you want lacrosse or field hockey on your Wii. It’s not going to happen by itself.

Nov. 28, 2006 — Being “on form” when it really counts

The U.S. women’s national soccer team qualified for the 2007 FIFA Women’s World Cup in China last week.

No big surprise. Not only is the United States the unquestioned pioneer of the sport of women’s soccer worldwide, it also only had to win a single game to guarantee itself a spot in the World Cup.

Compare that with the men’s team, which started its road to Germany with a tougher-than-it-looked series against Grenada, a four-team semifinal round, and the “hexagonal” final round, which involves home and away matches in some of the most unforgiving environments.

All the American women had to do, in comparison, was win one game in the CONCACAF Gold Cup, a competition the U.S. had dominated by beating teams by margins of up to 10 goals.

Thing is, it wasn’t all that easy this time around; the clincher was just a 2-0 win over a Mexican team which featured a few players who had participated in varsity programs at U.S. colleges, WUSA veteran Maribel Dominguez, Telefutura television commentator Fatima Leyva, and two teenagers: Monica Ocampo (19) and Charlyn Corral (15).

Even when the World Cup trip was secure, the United States needed an extremely fortunate referee’s decision in stoppage time at the end of overtime to earn Kristine Lilly’s penalty kick in a 2-1 win over Canada in the Gold Cup final.

The United States is therefore going into the Women’s World Cup ranked second in the world, as Olympic gold medalists, and with a claimed unbeaten streak of some 31 matches under head coach Greg Ryan (we use the term “claimed” because there was a loss: a penalty kick shootout loss to Germany after a goalless draw in the 2006 Algarve Cup final).

Despite all of this, there are numerous problems to be addressed in the next 10 months. This American team is not the high-flying, charismatic, skilled team which steamrolled opponents, made them look silly, and ran all day long without seeming to tire.

Defensive shortcomings need to be addressed. Shannon Boxx will be coming back from knee surgery, and it is anyone guess if Danielle Slaton will ever lace up the boots again. Christie Rampone and Kate Markgraf, both coming off of maternity leave, need to round into shape again.

Too, the allure and awe that surrounded the American team has vanished with the loss of names such as Hamm, Chastain, MacMillan, Foudy, and Fawcett. And the team has also seen the departure of good players such as Siri Mullinix and Tiffeny Milbrett from the national team pool.

That has left an extremely young team to carry forward a very burdensome legacy. The players would be wise not to fumble it.

Nov. 27, 2006 — Field hockey on the frozen tundra?

Saw a segment on SportsCenter last night about the football team at Barrow High School in Alaska, parts of which you can see and read through this link.

But there could be an even more amazing sport introduction in the offing if the right resources come together.

When it was pointed out that the Juneau public schools were out of Title IX compliance a few years ago, a poll was distributed to female high-school students in the Alaskan capital. The sports on the ballot included the game of field hockey, which, given the fact that a day field hockey camp was available at one local facility for the first time over the summer, might have given hope that the sport would take root in our 49th state.

The female students’ first choice was snowboarding. But logistics and costs (realistically, how many high-school officials know how to judge a frontside 540 off the inside edge?) forced the Alaska School Activities Association to pick an alternative. That choice? Girls’ flag football.

The first season saw some excitement amongst the players and new experiences for female athletes who may not have had a chance to play a varsity sport which requires quick changes of motion, speed, and skill — even though there are no scholarships for flag football in college.

Which makes you wonder if there is room for field hockey — a sport which does offer  opportunities to play after high school — in Alaska schools.

Of course, in places as far-flung as Barrow, it may be impossible to get the game organized. There is no grass — even artificial grass — in some places north of Anchorage. But with the number of installation of artificial competition surfaces nationwide, you wonder if someone will get the notion to get the sport going in Alaska.

It could happen.

Nov. 26, 2006 — Jammo

Bob Kelly, a television traffic reporter for KYW in Philadelphia, puts his own spin on the severity of traffic during his traffic reports. He stands in front of a green screen while images are projected behind him describing what is going on.

All of the Philadelphia-area traffic reporters use a system of green, yellow, and red boxes to indicate where the severe traffic is. But while most use the term “Light” for the green traffic boxes, or “Moderate” for the yellow boxes, Kelly does not use “Heavy” for the red boxes. Instead, he uses the term “Jammo.”

Today, heading back to the apartment from Delaware, I saw rows and rows of stopped cars just south of Exit 4 on Interstate 95.

Jammo!

A car accident six miles into Maryland set me back a good hour and a half on one of the heaviest days for automoblie travel in the United States.

If there’s anything I hate more than turnips and overbaked soccer commentary, it’s traffic. I dealt with driving to Georgetown for more than a year when I was a legal assistant at an import firm, and I think that was responsible for some of my gray hair.

I’ll do just about anything to avoid traffic jams. When I make my annual pilgrimage to Virginia Beach for the National Futures Tournament, I’ll get up as early as 4 a.m. to avoid the mad rush down I-95 where it always seems to clog up at Quanitico, and again on I-64 East near Williamsburg, which is a two-lane interstate with very narrow shoulders built uncomfortably close to the treelines — one mistake by an inattentive driver or even an accidental blowout could block the highway for 50 miles with no workarounds.

I was so averse to the trip that last year, I even stayed an extra Monday after the July 4th weekend so that I’d have an easy drive up I-95. Usually, the holiday weekend traffic delay on that roadway can stretch up to 65 miles between Richmond and Dale City.

My aversion to heavy traffic also extends to holiday weekends with my family, where I’ll always make sure to get away from home as early as I can. Normally, my exit time the Sunday after Thanksgiving or Christmas is around 9:30 to 9:45 a.m., just after the morning Eucharist at the Cathedral.

Today, however, I didn’t get away until just after 10 a.m. Did those extra minutes make a difference?

Nov. 25, 2006 — Not your parents’ Times Square

Visited New York City last night and went to a place called Connolly’s up on 45th Street just off 6th Avenue. Had three hours, so I went north from Penn Station to the intersection of 7th Avenue, 42nd Street, and Broadway, commonly known as Times Square.

If you’ve ever seen newsreel footage of V-J Day, or movies such as On The Town or Taxi Driver, you know that the area is perhaps the single greatest people-watching zone in the entire world.

Food and merchandise vendors line the sidewalk. Hucksters hand out flyers trumpeting everything from strip steak to comedy-club tickets. People of questionable mental states (and some who are quite sane) are decked out in colorful costumes.

And especially in the evening, you notice that lights are everywhere. There are three or four buildings with teletype “zippers” made famous by The New York Times Building.

Advertisements — the bigger the better — trumpet Broadway shows, restaurants, shoes, big-box stores, cell phones, airlines, and beverages.

But whereas the lights in the past were colorful neon or were made of hundreds of rows of incandescent bulbs, today’s Times Square lighting comes from big plasma screens. Some are bolted right to the sides of the buildings in the neighborhood, making entire 12-story structures appear to swim and vibrate with the light that washes through the screens.

Gone are the days when Times Square was a dangerous collection of flophouses, peep shows, and prostitution. But is the light pollution of today’s Times Square, and all of that visual and aural stimulus a good thing?

Nov. 24, 2006 — On the periphery of Black Friday

The local news affiliates this morning weren’t talking about high-school football, terrorism, the post-election moves by politicos, or serving Thanksgiving dinner to homeless people.

Instead, camera crews and helicopters were dispatched to massive crowds at shopping centers. One camera crew witnessed a pair of women being trampled entering a Wal-Mart.

Black Friday, to me, is an occasion which really reflects badly on us as a society. We, as a country, are obligated to give thanks one day, then get in long lines at 5 a.m. the following morning so that we can elbow our fellow citizens out of the way for that one possession that we think can give us happiness when it is supposed to be given to someone else on Christmas Day.

Every year, it’s some different hard-to-find consumer product — the Cabbage Patch Kids in 1983, Trivial Pursuit in 1984, Tickle Me Elmo in 1996, and the PlayStation 3 of 2006. Certain items are clamored for because they are thought to be in short supply, then thousands of them start appearing shortly before Christmas or on auction websites and certainly do not appear to be “rare.”

There are some “door buster” sales that are, frankly, anything but a good bargain. Two stores this year are advertising notebook computers with price tags of $100, but you have to sign up for a two-year agreement with a cell phone or wireless internet telephone company.

Of course, why go through the hassle at all if you have a computer, a modem, a good plan, and a change in attitude? Just look for stuff that you need, rather than what you want.

The one thing I got today through a Black Friday sale was a necessity for one who owns a wireless laptop computer: a little keychain-sized device to sniff out WiFi signals. There were plenty of them left, and I got one before the noon sales deadline.

But I also have been looking for a good digital video camera for when this website starts vodcasting next year. The thing is, I desire one without all of the expensive and unnecessary gewgaws. I’ve looked at a few cameras in the circulars, but none of the ones I am seeking are on the “door buster” lists.

Oh, well — there are always the after-Christmas sales …