Finals and Finales

Tuesday, September 27, 2005 | 1:51 am

A weekend of all sorts of bits and pieces and comings and goings has just passed, and it was quite the Friday night for the couch inclined.

My lovely wife arrived home late Friday night from her final week in Salt Lake, and our AM was then punctuated by the (mid) season finale of Battlestar Galactica, and the late night live viewing of the Aussie Rules Grand Final!


BSG first. (worried about spoilers? Skip to the footy!) An intruiging episode in what has been a slower season so far, with very little Cylon activity except for all the models in captivity. Can't quite get a grasp of the imitation-human models and their "architecture" yet. #6, whom my wife is hopelessly in lust with, can shield Baltar from nuclear blasts and flying glass (as per pilot), but can still be beaten up by average humans, as can Boomer. Anyone have insights?

The finale had a slow start, more "internal squabbling" than "get us to Earth" plotline, but slowly built towards a good ending, with the Chief and Helo in a precarious position. I do feel that one of them will have to pay the price. Should be The Chief (manslaughter), but my gut says it could be Helo, to clear the way for 'Daddy Baltar' perhaps? Frankly, the Admiral's concerns are pretty solid when you review what the crew of BSG have been getting up to the last few months. Then again, this is a mid-season finale, so it may be light on the death.

The wife and I both remarked on how crappy the music was for this "Pegasus" episode. We love the season 1 soundtrack, but there was all sorts of inappropriate instruments crowbarred into this episode. Lets hope thats not a sign of the future. And here's some nice BSG images

Even more of a suspense filled cliff-hanger though was the final game of the Aussie Rules season. Both the Aussie Rules and the Rugby League seasons culminate in "Grand Finals" (superbowls) one week apart at this time of year, a time referred to by Aussie comedy commentators Roy & H.G. as "the festival of the boot."

Aussie Rules, for the US inclined amongst us, is that long kicking game played only in Australia, with the four posts at each end and the crazy umpires and their double-finger-pointing 'goal' motions. Somehow, most Americans recognize that action when you do it. This season's Grand Final pitted the ferociusly named "Sydney Swans" against their most-distant rivals, Perth's "West Coast Eagles". A close game was expected, but Sydney with it all to play for as they have not won the Premiership since 1933, a dry-spell to rival the Red Sox.

[Leo Barry Grab]After a barnstorming start and then a miserable 3rd Quarter, Sydney went from 20 points up to 10 points down and looking shell-shocked. They grafted their way back with a bunch of "behinds" (any kick through the outside pair of sticks, worth 1 point) and finally potted a "goal" (a kick through the middle pair of sticks, worth 6 points) to have a 4-point lead as the clock ticked the last minutes. West Coast threatened and Sydney did their best to kill the ball and run the clock down. With all nails bitten, West Coast sent one last long kick into the Sydney goal area. All hearts were in throats as a bunch of players contested the "mark" (to catch a kicked ball on the full, which permits you an uncontested kick from where you catch it), only for Leo Barry (see picture) to appear out of the pack and take the most important defensive mark he will ever grab. Siren sounded straight after, celebrations began immediately.

Almost more gruelling than actually playing sport.

I'm Sorry, I Can't Do That Dave.

Tuesday, September 20, 2005 | 11:30 am

[HAL9000] Hating the IVR? (interactive voice response, that is, the guided recordings you get on most companies toll free lines that ask you to "choose from the following menu...")

Here's a website that tells you how to get to a human operator fast for many major corporations. Worth it just for the page name "Find A Human"

Watson -- you read this page thinking I was talking about you, didn't chya?

Ashes To Ashes

Sunday, September 11, 2005 | 10:02 pm

tombstoneNothing lasts forever, and indeed this rule of nature toppled the Aussies from the top of their cricketing perch today. After 2 days of interrupted rain, a day cut in half by bad light (nope, you aren't allowed to turn on the floodlights in cricket test matches), and a Flintoff rousting of our middle order, the Aussies left themselves a mountainous task to win this test on the last day. The mountain was too high.

As befits such a great series, it went down to the wire again, and the English were entertaining dark thoughts of the urn being yanked from their grasp during the early sessions, but after a couple of lives, Pieterson righted the ship and held on long enough to run the total too high with the time to short. The match was drawn, and the series was lost 1-2. Full credit to the Poms though. After being thumped in the first test, the hope could have been sucked from their hopeful young side, but they held their nerve and proceeded to hold sway over the Australian batsmen for enough of the next three tests to eke out that decisive extra win.

How important does McGrath rolling his ankle during the warmup to the 2nd Test and the subsequent 2 run loss look now. But let not the weather nor the result detract from a sparkling series. The Aussies aren't even used to having a test go past day four, and this series provided a host of nailbiting finishes. Good for cricket.

I am sure the Aussies will face quite an inquisition on their return home. Old-age has a way of just creeping up on you, and many members of this world-dominating side are reaching their end. But never forget that some of the most senior players performed out of their skin. Warney bowled (and batted—more total runs for never scoring a century than any other batsman) like the legend he is, and the Aussies never lost a test while McGrath was playing.

Perhaps time to let the next generation of batsmen see some Test time though, and the blooding process could be painful for spectators who are used to just winning. The Aussie selectors are hopefully too clever to throw out the bathwater. They lost to the #2 side in the world in probably the closest fought series in my lifetime. That's nothing to be ashamed of, but many will feel that they never played their best, and that's the sign that some changes will be made. Gillespie, Kasper, Hayden may be making way. Gilchrist will be examined, but he can still dominate top sides with the bat, and is the best gloveman in the world, especially to legspin. A curiously opposite situation to England (keeper is a good bat, but a miserable keeper). Fielding expertise and dedicated bowling coaches will be the examination to come. And Buchanan, the coach, may feel the wrath (especially when 2 other top 5 international sides have Australian coaches!).

Congrats to the Poms. Though I'll hazard a prediction that they won't be holding the urn for twenty years. ;)

"But it's beautiful out!" Aussie spectators poke fun at the umpires decision to halt play for bad light.

How To Promote A Sport

Saturday, September 10, 2005 | 1:29 am

[Weather Concerns]
Look to Warney lads. And pray for sun.
The Poms (Aussie slang for 'Englishmen') have worked out an almost foolproof three-pronged marketing campaign that has, in the space of a month, pushed cricket to the top of the most watched and talked about pastime in all of the sports-mad British Isles. Here's how they did it:
  • Take the most famous series in all of cricket, and host the most exciting and closely matched test series for a half-century. And then balance nearly every game on a knife-edge, driving us mad with nerves till the very last day/wicket/ball.
  • As if the titanic struggle on the pitch is not enough, throw the unreliable English weather in as a factor that may very well be the fateful hand that guides this outcome.
  • Ensure your national soccer team is playing like arse, and blame the manager.

    My prediction for the all-important Fifth? The legend, Warney, will be the key (it's not a pitch for pacemen, although a soggy ball favours no man [now there's a quote]), and the English will feel threatened enough in their second innings that they will start to bat for a rain-assisted draw.

    Hard to explain why to all the Yanks, but trust me, this is nailbiting stuff. And two islands (one big, one crowded) will grind to a nervous standstill this weekend with one eye on the tele, and one on the English skies.

  • A Tale of Two Themes

    Thursday, September 08, 2005 | 1:00 pm

    [bsg #6] Picked up the Battlestar Galactica Season One soundtrack this week, and it finally resolved a question the wife and I had been pondering (not very hard admittedly) since Season 2 began — why the change of opening titles theme?

    As it turns out, it wasn't a change, but a return to the original UK Season One theme. The CD contains both. (I'm sure that Marcus and 50% of you reading this could have told me that.) In a surprise upset to the way these arguments usually go, we both much prefer the haunting US version. [flying high]

    Ok, so it doesn't actually answer my question. Why the change? Can anyone enlighten us? Often distributors make strange choices for their regional markets. Movie titles used to occasionally be changed for Australian release back in the day before internet and vapid half-hour entertainment "news" shows made the brand names universal. For example, "Airplane" was released as "Flying High" in Australia. Made for a few confusing movie chats when I came to these shores.

    Back on BSG though, still excellent viewing, but I do fear the greater quantity of episodes for this season will hurt the show. Hard to keep up the quality week in week out, and it doesn't take much to lose a sci-fi audience these days (especially a Friday night sci-fi audience). The wife and I both hope to be wrong on this, but Rescue Me is proving to be more compulsive viewing lately as far as the tiny handful of shows we actually try to keep up with...

    On a related note, I have grown to like the American version of The Office also. The British version still gets the props for concept and execution and a hall-of-fame major character, but the US "replicant" is also quite good, keeping the subtlety (often the first victim of the trip across the pond) and a effective duplication of the primary characters. No matter which you watch, it is a show that takes you a couple of viewings to warm to, primarily because it's hard to work out which character to barrack for, and then come to grips with the fact that he or she rarely comes out ahead. But well worth it, and a small episode count means quality every show. Great stuff from both sides of the northern hemisphere.

    It's a Gas Gas Gas

    Wednesday, September 07, 2005 | 12:09 pm

    [gas price board] When I got home from work last Friday night, my wife complained that we never go out, and that I should take her somewhere expensive.
    I took her to a gas station.

    Yeah, it's painful for all your big truck and SUV lovers out there (as if you ever worried about us being able to see around you, or your headlights directly into our rear view mirrors), but frankly, you still have it pretty cheap compared to the rest of the world. Why do you think Europeans ride those motorscooters?

    Track your local prices.

    What's Religion Without A Few Rules

    Tuesday, September 06, 2005 | 11:31 am

    My ridiculously-gorgeous wife spent the week in Salt Lake City, a city she both loved and hated at the same time. She describes the place as insanely beautiful, yet strangely claustrophobic. I haven't been there, but it sounds like a great plot for a Twilight Zone story.

    Anyhow, she came across this story from another lady working there for the week. This colleague brought a morning fill of Starbucks into the center begging everyoe to help themsleves. She learnt to her chagrin that there were no takers. "We're not permitted to drink coffee" explained the patient Mormon staff. Ix nay on da caffeine-ay. Fair enough. This lady was surprised later that day to note one of the staffers partaking in a Coke. She couldn't help but enquire "you know Coke has caffeine, right?". "Oh, I know" replied the staffer, "But the Mormon church has shares in Coke, so it's acceptable to drink." This from the mouth of a Mormon? Seemed odd. A little web-research revealed the following more factual data:

    The great debunking reference site, Snopes notes that the Mormon church owning Coke/Pepsi is a noted urban legend, and in fact the church-goers are only advised by the church leaders to avoid caffeinated beverages. Indeed, Spencer W. Kimball noted in his book of teachings that he avoids all "cola drinks", and would hope other god-fearing (such a grea term!) Mormons do too.

    But, it should be noted that coffee and tea, as with alcohol and tobacco are included in official church doctrine as no-no's. Further delving shows that it is actually "the hot drinks" that were specifically verbotten by Our Lord. Apparently a bloke called Joseph Smith, regarded as a Prophet, is responsible for making this leap. In 1833, he and Hyrum Smith and a gent called Joel Johnson -- "with whose family the Prophet was intimate" (grounds for divorce, surely) had the Prophet reveal that: "I understand that some of the people are excusing themselves in using tea and coffee, because the Lord only said 'hot drinks' in the revelation of the Word of Wisdom. Tea and coffee (the hot beverages of the day) are what the Lord meant when he said 'hot drinks.' "

    This is all related to, primarily, a basic interpretation of "your body is a temple" in The Doctrine And Covenants, Section 89. The Holy Ghost dwells in you, and he'd appreciate it if you don't mess up his flat. Mind you, the same section also tells you what you can feed your ox, and you can only have fruits in season (surely confounded by the use of hothouses and growth hormones).

    The section then finishes up with some rousing words of common sense, which are meant to show you how you will be rewarded for following these doctrines. In summary, you shall "receive health in [your] navel and marrow to [your] bones". You'll find "wisdom and great treasures of knowledge", and you'll "run and not be weary, and shall walk and not faint." All good things.

    But being a Christian religious document, they couldn't leave it at just appealing to common sense. They had to throw in some fear at the end: If you follow the dietary rules, then "the destroying angel shall pass by [you], as the children of Israel, and not slay [you]." Bonus. Pass the grain please.

    Congrats to the Mormons though for such a helpful prophet! While us Catholics have had nothing but Jesus/Mary's face appearing on random household objects, they have a bloke who pops up to define grey areas in scripture like some benevolent lawyer (an oxymoron?). Kind of takes all the fun out of it though. For example, where would the Crusades, the Spanish Inquisition or Venezualan President Hugo Chavez be if "thou shall not kill" was not able to be loosely interpreted by Christian leaders of the day as "except if we say God asked you to."

    So the question now is when can we expect the next prophetorial ammendment? For example, is hot chocolate forbidden? Are iced tea and coffee ok (must it be decaf)? What if my soda has been sitting in the sun? What about green tea (surely limiting Mormon uptake in China)? Sports drinks must be questionable, and I am sure Red Bull is right out.

    You draw a black line through a grey area, and you just end up with two grey areas.

    Reliving the 80's... the 1680s!

    Thursday, September 01, 2005 | 7:52 pm


    NY Times covered some research by a political scientist, Dr. Miller, concerning his ongoing research into adult Americans and their understanding of basic scientific principles. For example: "One adult American in five thinks the Sun revolves around the Earth, an idea science had abandoned by the 17th century."

    Coincidentally, I stood amongst three work colleagues today, none of whom could tell me what the capital of Canada was. A common question I throw out at parties, sometimes for fun, and sometimes just to be a supercilious prick. Indeed, one workmate didn't even guess a city, but a province.

    The article carries some great comments about the gaps within the educational system, and the weaknesses of school funding, including his personal tale of a fruitless quest to save his local school. My favourite quote is easily the last one though:

    "But not everyone is happy when he says things like that. Every time he goes on the radio to talk about his findings, he said, "I get people sending me cards saying they will pray for me a lot."

    There's a correlation there that I am not brave enough to state, but is further validated by nearly everything Pat Robertson says.

    And never forget: "There are three types of lies - lies, damn lies, and statistics." So what are the stats for Australian adults? Well, we may not be the smartest race on earth, but we are smart enough not to publish that research. ;)