Monday, January 30, 2012

"Now a word from our sponsor"

"Hi, I'm Budd Bailey, and I'd like to tell you about my favorite router..."

This advertisement, by the way, has nothing to do with fans.

Last week my laptop computer started acting oddly. The wireless connection seemed to be fine, but no Internet pages were popping up on my browser. This was not good news considering I was sending a story via e-mail to my newspaper on deadline. I figured out a way to get the type into the office, and then started to try to solve the problem.

I plugged in my laptop to a DSL line. I used a virus scan and a computer cleaner. I took it to the local computer store and asked for helped. They couldn't find anything wrong with the way the machine was working, and suggested a router problem ... which since I had used two different ones in two cities wasn't the best piece of advice I had ever received.

My laptop was at least 3.5 years old at that point, and probably more. I bought it used, and pages were slow to come up as it was. Flush (note: this is a relative term) with a signing bonus from my union contract at work, I dove into the computer market.

On Saturday, I came home with a spiffy new laptop. They sure have gotten lighter in a few years. We also decided to enter the 21st century in at least one way (note: this is from someone who doesn't think DVR's are worth the money as long as my VCR's work) by getting a router for Wi-Fi.

So, I brought home a router with the laptop. I had two choices at Office Depot, and one was from D-Link. It also was the simplest, since I didn't need many bells and whistles.

Once I got the laptop up and running a bit, I opened the box for the D-Link router and started to install it. When the CD Wizard started the process, it told me that it had detected another router in the computer and asked if I wanted to replace it. This wasn't true; I've never had one. But, I clicked on the button that said I wanted to replace the old one. I made it to Step Five of the seven-step process. Then things broke down, and I was informed that I should start all over again. I did, a couple of times.

Eventually, I went to the small manual that came with the computer. The instructions for starting the router are pretty simple, plugging in some wires in and out of the modem, but the instruction book and the wizard actually seemed to disagree on what went where. I made executive decisions on what went where, and got it working. The additional steps for configuration, etc., were also complicated and got me lost quickly. I was close to being ready to throw it all out. But at least I had a network.

Sort of.

On Sunday, I suddenly got an error message saying that some sort of new hardware was causing problems and that I should get rid of it if I got the message again. Otherwise, the computer probably would blow up. I jest, but not by much.

On Monday, my wife got that error message. I was convinced; time to start over.

I took the unit back to Office Depot, exchanged the unit for a slightly more expensive Linksys model, and took it home. I started the CD, and the questions and updating of software followed in a logical, reasonable way. I was done with everything in about 15 minutes in a stress-free manner. Best ten dollars I've spent in a long, long time.

If you see me on television doing ads for Linksys, now you'll know why.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Decisions, decisions

We're almost through the first month of the Presidential primary season, and as usual, the structure of the system is achieving its goals. Candidates have been dropping out for the past few weeks as the electorate, more or less, has spoken.

Gone are Michelle Bachman, whose high point was buying a victory in what she termed the "historic" Iowa State Fair straw poll; Rick Perry, who seemed to have some good credentials but lost his chance of winning merely by opening his mouth in a debate; Herman Cain, whose run seems even more odd in hindsight than it did at the time; and Jon Huntsman, one of those people who would be better Presidents than they are candidates for Presidents.

The survivors, as Florida approaches, are down to four. We all thought Milt Romney would make it, since he was well-financed and had the more moderate wing of the GOP more or less to himself. We knew Ron Paul could "live off the land," as General Sherman once said about the race, and campaign indefinitely without regard to winning anything. Somehow Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum made it through the obstacle course to represent the far right wing the party; well, someone had to do so.

Santorum is fading, and it's difficult to see him having enough money to go much further along. I'm not sure that a candidate who talks about the "global warming hoax," is anti-gay marriage, and worked for the government to interfere with the Terri Schiavo case while in the Senate represents anything close to the majority of mainstream thought anyway.

That's leaving the Republicans with an odd choice. From the books I've read about 2008, Romney wasn't exactly personally popular with anyone in the field back then. He's made a decision to move more to the conservative side this time around. I'm all for people who are willing to change their views as circumstances dictate, but changing views on something like abortion rights for political expediency does make me wonder if there's much in terms of core values there. His great wealth seems like it's counter-productive when protesters are sleeping in parks to protect economic inequities. When Romney speaks, the words almost seem more strident than the way they are delivered, as if he is reading from a script but is merely saying the words.

Gingrich, on the other hand, certainly believes what he says. Yes, politicians have a way of saying that this particular election is the most important election of our lifetime, because they are trying to stir up the electorate. It's never true, because life will go on no matter what, but that's OK. This is a cold warrior, as they used to say in the Fifties. Gingrich does have some interesting ideas, but he also has enough odd ones (moon base?) to keep opposing campaign operatives in ad ideas for months. And if you are looking for someone to represent the right-wing base of the GOP, who better than someone who worked in Congress for years and hasn't exactly been a paragon of family values in his personal life?

I could see a lot of far right voters staying home, or at least not working hard, if Romney wins the nomination. I could see independents running away if Gingrich gets the nomination.

In other words, it's going to take something dramatic, like another recession, to prevent Barack Obama from winning November. Right now, his margin seems like it would be less than it was in 2008, but he's still a good campaigner with an army of people ready to go out and work for him and vote for him like it did before.

And I'd still like to know what someone like Chris Christie and Mitch Daniels are thinking as they get ready to fall asleep. How about, "It could have been me"?

Friday, January 20, 2012

Anger squared

There are all sorts of levels of anger when it comes to professional sports. When teams don't win -- and remember, every team but one comes up as a loser at the end of a given season -- the emotion of the fans spill over. It's great for the teams when those fans pay more than $100 for three hours of entertainment, but not so great when the fan base isn't happy.

There are a couple of different stages of anger here in Buffalo right now. There are the Bills, who haven't made the playoffs in this century. There's a certain amount of resignation with a streak like that. Players and coaches have come and gone, but progress toward the postseason has been a rare sight. Then in the past season, just when it looked like the Bills were making progress, somebody pulled the carpet out from under their feet and sent them skidding off the road to success again. It was a little cruel to watch, but had the advantage of being at some level expected, particularly because of several key injuries.

Then there are the Sabres, who have taken the frustration level up a few notches in the past month.

In the past 30 years, Sabre ownership could best be described as having something of a commitment to mediocrity. The exception to that might be the guy who is in jail at the moment, although it's a little difficult even in hindsight to figure out his goals when owning the team at the time. Either way, the Sabres were often mediocre with a few rare excursions into the ranks of hockey's best.

Enter Terry Pegula a little less than a year ago, who needed only a news conference to enter the hearts of Buffalo sports fans. Here was someone with billions of dollars in his wallet, a longtime fan of the Sabres who wanted nothing more than to win a Stanley Cup. Or three. Western New York had never seen anything like it, except perhaps when the Bills kept a group together long enough to make it to four straight Super Bowls.

Then in July, when free agent season arrived, the Sabres were ready to go hunting. Two players, Chrstian Ehrhoff and Ville Leino, were signed to big contracts, and a third, Robyn Regehr, was acquired by trade. I can't say I saw many outsiders pick the Sabres to win the Stanley Cup back in October, but they were expected to be a team that could figure in the discussion come spring. Closer to home, the optimism rate had hit a record high.

After a decent but hardly great start, it's been downhill. Injuries have been a problem, with several regulars missing at a given moment. But, that doesn't let some of the team's best players off the hook. Only Thomas Vanek and Jason Pominville have had good years when looking at the team's top players. It's an odd sounding cliche -- your team is in trouble when its best players aren't its best players.

Here we are, just past the halfway point, and the Sabres are 18 points behind Boston in the division race. They are in 11th place in the Conference, nine games under .500, and nine points behind eighth-place Florida. They are 2-6-2 in their last 10, and haven't won a road game in their last 11 starts -- which means Dec. 3 was the last win.

If all that weren't enough for the fan base to handle, many fans haven't been able to see games on television between MSG and Time Warner Cable. You can make some sarcastic jokes about not wanting to see them play -- go ahead, everyone else has -- but it's never a good idea to be cut off from your fans in such a visible way.

Judging the level of frustration is difficult, of course. You always get people who love to complain when things go badly for a sports team, and they are out in force. Still, the disappointment shown by many people seems to have a level of bitterness that has hit some new heights. If you listen to the comments around the office or from your friends, and read the posts on Facebook, it's difficult to find anyone who harbors much hope. "Yup, fooled again."

And the worst part is, options for a cure from anyone are few. There are still a number of injuries, so recalls from the minors already have been made. Management has few options there. Trading a fourth-liner for a fourth-liner would qualify only as a cosmetic move. No one is going to be in a rush to acquire some of the Sabres' biggest underachievers, especially at their relatively high salaries. Firing the coach is the usual course, but Pegula has said he's a big fan of Lindy Ruff. A new general manager now won't salvage this season, although you'd have to think Darcy Regier would have trouble surviving a campaign that ended in early April.

And so, the fan base waits. They wait for good health, they wait for some sort of chemistry-altering trade, they wait for a shakeup in the front office. Mostly they wait for something like a 9-0-1 stretch that would put the Sabres in the playoff race.

In the meantime, we can see the pool of good feelings for the Sabres slowly empty before our eyes.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Moneyball, lacrosse style

With the Academy Award nominations coming out soon, it's worthwhile to discuss an interesting aspect of ... the Buffalo Bandits' roster.

Don't worry, I'll get there soon enough.

"Moneyball" might get Brad Pitt an Oscar nomination. He played Oakland Athletics general manager Billy Beane in the movie. Beane became famous in the early 2000's for trying to figure out ways to compete with teams that had more to spend on payroll that his team did.

What's more, he was successful at it for a while. That probably was due to a group of young pitchers who came up from the minors and were good right away, thus giving the Athletics an edge. However, Beane also discovered the on-base percentage was undervalued by the rest of baseball, so he could stock up on players who were good at that skill at a relatively cheap rate. It didn't get the A's any championships, in part because of a little bad luck in the playoffs, but they had a nice run.

It gets more and more difficult to find a competitive edge through roster selection like that in any sport. Still, the idea comes to mind when looking at the Bandits.

The Bandits have a Native American general manager/head coach in Darris Kilgour, as well as several players on the playing roster who are Natives from either the United States or Canada. I'd have to do a ton of research into the numbers, and figure out how to count them. But ... I'd guess that the Bandits have had more Natives than any other team, and they've drafted more such players over the years as well.

Part of the reason is certainly geography. The Bandits have tended to use players who are from the area, and thus able to drive to games and practices. That area does contain a good amount of Natives, including Six Nations near Brantford, Ontario, and the Syracuse region as well as some Western New York locations. The Natives have played lacrosse almost forever, and the game attracts the best athletes. In that sense, it's a good fit.

There's another issue that more difficult to quantify, though. Are ther Bandits going out of their way to select Native talent, or are they are taking advantage of an underutilized source of players? Teams that go out of their way not to take the best player when they have a choice usually face severe penalties in the standings. Remember when teams like the Red Sox and Cubs were slow to sign African American players? They paid for it in the Fifties and Sixties.

But that's not happening here. The Bandits have not a record under .500 since 1999; By the way, Kilgour came aboard in 2003.

It's even tougher to guess if other teams have avoided acquiring Natives for whatever reason. Geography might be a factor there too. But it's at least worth noting that a team with a large Native percentage has been better than average in the league over the long term.

Wonder if Pitt is interesting in doing a lacrosse movie?

Thursday, January 12, 2012

One of a kind

I've never talked with anyone about this hockey-related subject before, but, under the circumstances, this is probably the time.

I ran the Sabres' press box for six seasons during my time in the team's public relations department. I tried at all times to be cordial, friendly and professional to visitors. But I am willing to admit now that there was one team that I hated to see come to Buffalo: the St. Louis Blues.

And the reason for that was Ron Caron, who passed away the other day at 82.

Caron was the Blues' general manager during those years of the late 1980's and early 1990's. I can't speak for his personality when he wasn't watching a game by his team. But during those times in Memorial Auditorium, Caron turned into the proverbial "mad man." As the joke goes, here was a man who wore out his suits from the inside.

The press box was mostly open in terms of seating, meaning few areas were sectioned off from the rest of the occupants. When Caron came to town, you could expect plenty of yelling and screaming, with press notes flying around like a ticket-tape parade in New York when the situation called for it. Which it usually did.

As I recall, and it's been a while, he did some loud complaining a couple of times to me about the Sabres' operation not meeting his specifications somehow. My job then was basically to take it and shut up, which I did. I also saw Caron belittle my press box staff, which was comprised not only of my friends but who were volunteers who showed up because they loved the game. They didn't fight back either, but simply rolled their eyes when the Blues came to town too. Because they knew it would be a long night.

The calmest I remember Caron, oddly enough, was the night Clint Malarchuk had his jugular vein cut during a game with the Blues. At one point, Caron grabbed someone nearby and demonstrated what to do to stop the bleeding in such a situation. Mostly, though, I stayed away from that end of the press box.

This story is about Caron's full life. It's almost comforting to know that he didn't act like a maniac all the time, and could be, if anything, a bit charming and funny.

But I can't say I'm surprised that the obituary included a story about how he wound up getting banned from the press box in Detroit. Caron is a good reminder that it only takes a moment to be civil to those around you, if only because the memories you create can last a lifetime.

Be notified of new posts via Twitter @WDX2BB.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

A eureka moment

Here's a story about a relatively common problem in computerland, with a happy ending no less.

My computer is more than six years old, and it has a limited amount of hard drive space by 2012 standards. I think it's 37 gigs of memory off the top of my head. That's not much, but we don't do much in terms of video, pictures, programs, etc.

So it was some discomfort a couple of years ago that I noticed the amount of available space was slowly shrinking. I believe I was down to three percent. I did the logical thing shortly after noticing the problem -- I bought an external hard drive. When I had a new program to add to the computer, it went there. And, I moved some files over as well. That created enough space for a while. I also frequently used the disk cleaner and defragmenter that's built into the computer.

But in the last couple of months, the free space on the main hard drive was almost gone again, and little was helping. When I tried to move big problems over to the external drive, I got warnings along the lines of "Are you sure you want to do this?" Well, no, if you are going to be that way, I'd better not.

I asked a friend of mine about the problem; we're about at the same level of computer proficiency. He told me, "I have the exact same problem."

So ... I did a search for techniques on what to do about it. I found something called CCleaner, which found some loose files I didn't need floating around but didn't really solve the problem. I also read that something called "TreeSize Free" was a great, free way to determine what the heck was on the drive. The program reads your hard drive and tells you exactly what's on it and how big each file is.

I scanned it, and looked around for files I could remove. Eventually, and it took a while, I found the file that attached to the program I used for making copies of compact disks. Then I noticed it was taking up 20 gigs of space.

Upon opening the file, I noticed about 15 "temporary files" that took up more than 18 gigs of space. In other words, it was sucking up half the space on the hard drive. I removed them.

And suddenly, more than half of my hard drive was empty, and the computer started to work much more efficiently.

I'd say "Yahoo," but there are copyright issues there. So "eureka" will have to do.

(Keep up with posts on Twitter @WDX2BB).

Monday, January 02, 2012

Going bowling

Could someone please tell me why we are in such a hurry to preserve the current bowl system? Does anyone think it actually works?

Right now there are about 30 or so bowls, depending on the year. Anyone who has won six games or more, which translates to a not-so-gaudy .500 record, is eligible to go. That leaves the calendar filled with a handful of good matchups, and some others that you might watch if you were sleepy on a Saturday afternoon in October and needed background noise for a nap.

Some of the universities involve lose money on accepting a bowl bid, since they are require the guarantee the purchase of a certain amount of tickets. That leads to some teams being more likely to get a "better" (translation: a bigger paycheck) bowl bid because they "travel well" (translation: more their fans will pack up and go).

And based on some of the minor games that I've glimpsed so far, the host cities don't seem too excited about the games either. There are acres of empty seats.

Yes, the current system does allow about 30 coaches and teams to win their last game of the season, which gets them a nice trophy in the lobby and a ring. And ESPN gets to show a couple of games a night for a two or three weeks; the outlet has even gone to the trouble of owning a few of the games. That's better programming than a poker game from a couple of years ago, at least.

Back in the Stone Age, known as my childhood, the college football season climaxed on Jan. 1 with a bunch of games throughout the day. It was sort of like the last day of the regular season in baseball in 2011 at times, as teams had to win games and then watch the scoreboard to see if they wound up number one. I'm not saying that was better than a playoff, because it wasn't. But it did have its moments. There were a few other games (Sun, Liberty, Cotton, Gator, Bluebonnet) in the week leading up to it, and that was that.

We've got to do better. Maybe we can.

I believe I've written here before about the merits of a "plus-one" bowl system. That's when you have four teams named to a national tournament. That creates semifinals and leads to a final, just like the current BCS title game. Yes, it would be tough to pick the four teams, but it would be fairer than choosing two. This year, I could live with LSU, Alabama, Oklahoma State and Stanford pretty easily.

Designate two of the current BCS bowl games each year for the semifinal. This year, the Fiesta Bowl could match LSU and Stanford, and the Sugar Bowl would have Alabama and Oklahoma State. Then the winners could play a week later in the Rose Bowl (although THE Rose Bowl would still be played on Jan. 1, because people need to do something after the parade). Rotate the sights among the BCS locations.

Oh, and cut out any bowl games that are played before Christmas. No exceptions. If college presidents say the student-athletes need time to prepare for finals in December, it's silly to have a football game on Dec. 20. Survival of the fittest can determine which bowls can make it when placed between Dec. 25 and Dec. 31. Might be a good economics lesson for the kids. Not to pick on the Beef O'Brady Bowl, but it probably wouldn't be missed by many if it exited.

That should lead to a more meaningful end to the college football season. Bowl games in themselves would be a nice reward for a good season. The semifinal games probably would make a ton of money.

I can't see a downside to any of it.