Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Scottie Pippen Bitter About Kobe's 81

Scottie Pippen's never really been known as somebody you'd call "admirable." Nobody can ever forget the playoff game where he refused to play because the last play of the game was drawn up for Toni Kukoc instead of Pippen. Scottie did some blogging for the NBA on Kobe Bryant's recent 81 point game. I was amazed by how classless Scottie is in the article. Actually I guess that shouldn't amaze me. What's amazing is that the NBA allowed it on their site.
The article basically claims that NBA teams don't play defense anymore. Actually I think an exact quote is that "Today defense is no longer part of the game." This is the most ridiculous statement. The NBA saw a steady decline of scoring in the 90s. Why? Partly because players were drafted more on physical talent than shooting skill, thus overall shooting skills declined. But what do you do with such players? You teach them to play defense. It's a heck of a lot easier than teaching them to shoot.
You could see this starting in the college game first. Pressure defenses really became the norm in the mid-90s. This definitely became the case with the NBA, too. Over the years the NBA has changed the rules in some ways, to try to promote more offense. Now why would the NBA do this if "defense is no longer part of the game?" Obviously if things were like the mid-80s, then they would definitely not try to help offensive players by changing the rules.
So have the rules changes created a league devoid of defense? That's hard to argue given all the recent NBA champions. Detroit and San Antonio are both outstanding defensive teams and have been for years. Before their rein, the league was dominated by the Shaq n' Kobe Lakers. They were coached by Phil Jackson -- the same Phil Jackson who coached Scottie Pippen and the defensive-minded Chicago Bulls. Did Phil just forget about defense while coaching the Lakers? I think not. One of the teams that challenged the Lakers during their run was the Sacramento Kings. They really became serious contenders once they started playing great defense.
So why did Scottie make such a ridiculous statement? Because he needed some ammo to claim that his old buddy Michael Jordan could have scored 81 today. In fact he claims that Michael could have scored 100 today. In fact he says "If Kobe could get 81, I think Michael could get 100 in today's game." Well guess what, there's no if about Kobe scoring 81. Anyways, he goes on to claim that with the lack of defense in the game that he wouldn't be surprised to see players averaging 40 points a night. Way to put down not only Kobe, but every other great scorer out there like Allen Iverson, Tracy McGrady, Vince Carter, and Amare Stoudemire.
Then he goes on to claim that he thinks Phil Jackson will do everything in his power to make sure that Kobe doesn't have a game like that again. He claims that it's bad for the team. Was it bad for the Bulls all the times that Michael Jordan scored 50 or 60 points? He says that Kobe has taken a step backwards from a leadership perspective because he scored 81 in a game, since now Kobe should score 81 points a night and the Lakers should win 75% of their games.
The whole thing reminds of when Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa were making their magical run at 61 home runs. You had guys like Mike Schmidt bitterly claiming that if only they had played in the current era, they would have hit 75 home runs per year. It's amazing that great players from the past feel the need to belittle great accomplishments by current players. There's no reason to do it, except for their own insecurities and jealousy.

Impeach Bush (Seriously)

Yeah I know I sound like any random person from the Bay Area. However, after reading this article, I am really convinced that The President has gone too far. One of the things that the article touches, but I think is critical is exactly who was wiretapped without a warrant. The article points out that the law in question, FISA, allows for immediate wiretaps without a warrant, as long as a warrant is obtained within three days. It has been used over 10,000 times in the past 28 years with only four warrants turned down. Think about that only 4 out of 10,000 have been turned. It allows for immediate wiretaps in critical situations.
So can anyone really imagine a scenario where a wiretap is needed, but somebody decides that FISA will only get in the way? Hold on, let me rephrase that. Can anyone imagine a legitimate scenario where a wiretap is needed, but FISA will get in the way? For me, it's really hard to imagine such a scenario. So let's make the following logical generalization:

If a wiretap is needed for national security, FISA will not get in the way.

Certainly statistical evidence seems to support this. Do the math, 10K warrants in 28 years is basically one warrant per day via FISA. The odds of a warrant being turned down is < 4/10K ~= 0.04%. I don't have more detailed data, but one would guess that such a small number over so many data points is statistically insignificant, i.e. it is statistically equivalent to 0. Thus our logical generalization. So the contrapositive of statement is:

FISA will get in the way if a wiretap is not needed for national security.

Now we have a scenario where one would want to avoid FISA. Such a scenario not only implies corruption and abuse of power, but really begs the question of just what information was being sought in these unwarranted wiretaps? In the best case, maybe the government was wiretapping any Muslim who called the middle east. In the worst case, maybe the government was wiretapping people in the press or political adversaries. When there is no oversight, we just don't know and anything is really possible. Sure they can claim that the needs for the wiretaps was legit, but that does not make any sense (see above logical statements.)
That is why this practice must be stopped. It must go to the courts and it must be stopped. Further, the people responsible, and that definitely includes President Bush, must be held accountable. They broke the law and they must be punished for it. For a sitting President, that means impeachment.

Weekend Cycling

This turned out to be a good weekend for cycling. I've been cycling a couple of days a week now since I got my bike for Christmas. I expanded my routes a good bit this weekend. First up, I wanted to explore the Guadalupe River Trail. In my trip planning, I found a great site called Gmaps Pedometer. Here's the route I traveled Saturday. I took the trail out to Lake Almaden. It was very cool. Here's a picture I took with my new cell phone:

That's not Lake Almaden, it's one of the ponds north of it on the trail. As you can see it was an overcast day. It was misty early in the morning, so I didn't hit the road until the around 1:30 PM. Over nine miles on the route, definitely the farthest I've biked so far.
On Sunday, I biked a shorter route up past the hillcap area in San Jose. As the name implies, this route took me up a hill. If you click on the route link and turn on the Elevation feature, you'll see that it's about a 180 foot climb up the hill. It's actually more gradual than Google makes it look. Anywyas, that's a fun route. I plan on biking it during the week, and maybe heading over to the river trail on weekends.

Monday, January 23, 2006

Can You Hear Me Now?

My wife and I are long-time Sprint cell phone customers. Well actually, we were long-time Sprint customers. My wife wanted to upgrade her phone, which she had had for 2.5 years, but after getting some not-so-friendly treatment from Sprint, we decided it was time to switch carriers. So we decided on Verzion, because we liked their phones.
The phone I bought from Verizon is the Samsung SCH-A950. This is the phone that was being touted for awhile as "The MP3 Maestro." It's supposed to combine some iPod functionality into a cell phone. That was an interesting plus to me, but I mostly bought it because it had a good camera (1.3 MP,) EV-DO enabled, and was Bluetooth capable (albeit only for headsets and handsfree operation) for just $99. The music playing was a plus, though I did like that it could take a microSD expansion card.
So far I am very pleased with the phone. Reception is good. It seems to never show more than 2-3 bars, but the sound is great and I've had no dropped calls using it all over San Jose, Campbell, and Sunnyvale. Battery life seems so-so, but I think that's because I've been using a lot of the extras, like the camera, web browser, and yes the music player. The camera is good as expected, though it is a little slow when you use its highest setting, 1280x960. The phone has two speakers for listening to music. Of course they're not that great for rocking out to your favorite songs, but they make for outstanding ringtone speakers.
As for the music player ... well you might have noticed that I said music player, not MP3 player. The phone does not play MP3s. Its capable and did so with an earlier firmware version, but not with the current. It seems that Verizon disable MP3 playing when they added the ability to buy/download songs from Verizon's music store. My phone was running the latest firmware, so it had never had the ability to play MP3s.
This is annoying. Verizon is somewhat notorious for disabling certain features on phones in order to push people to use their premium services. This seems to be another case of this. This is probably why they cripple the Bluetooth capibilities of their phones.
So I could buy songs for $2 a pop from Verizon and play them on my phone. To do this, I also need a $15/month VCAST subscription. Another alternative was to buy a USB cable for my phone, buy songs on my computer, and then sync them to my phone using Windows Media Player. Going this route, the songs are only $1 instead of $2. If you do the sync, WMP will allow MP3s to be synced to your phone. It doesn't actually transfer MP3s to your phone, but instead converts them to WMA files and copies the WMA files to your phone.
So with all this knowledge, I came up with a slightly different solution. I have not bought the USB cable. I probably will, but didn't want to just yet. I did buy a 128 MB microSD card on eBay for $5. The price was too good not to buy it. I already had a card reader for use with my digital camera. So I plugged the microSD card into the card reader (after I had used the card in my phone, so that my phone could set up its directory structure on the card.)
Now when I opened WMP and chose to sync, it gave me the option of syncing to the card. Very nice! I did not want to go the MP3-WMA conversion route, so I just took a CD ("Is This It" by The Strokes) and ripped it to WMA. I put the new tracks in my sync list and executed the sync. Voila!
One problem, though... WMP doesn't really know where to put the files and the phone looks for them in a particular location (the "MY_MUSIC" folder.) So I opened the card up in Windows Explorer, and it had put everything in the root directory. I moved the files there to the MY_MUSIC folder, and transferred the card back to my phone. My phone saw the files and I could play them with no problem. Now I just need to get some 2.5mm headphones...

Sunday, January 08, 2006

Cycling in 2006

My wife bought me a bicycle for Christmas. Here's a picture of me with it:
She got it for me to give me some variety in my exercise routine. Currently I run three miles, four days a week. Now I plan to run three days and bike three days.
It's an awesome gift, and totally unexpected. However, it's my first bike since college. I've been riding it around my neighborhood in San Jose. The city has a lot of bike lanes. In many cases, these lanes are not next to the shoulder, but about a car's width off the shoulder. Why? So that there's room to park on the shoulder. The net effect of having a bike lane plus parking room between the right lane and the shoulder is that a lot of people use this space as a turn lane. So needless to say, this can be very nerve wracking to a newbie rider.
So one thing I'm looking forward to is riding the bike on bike trails at some of the many parks in San Jose. I just need to get some kind of device for my car, so I can transport my bike to one of these parks. I've heard there's a nice one near Lake Almaden, which is just a few miles from my house. I'm really looking forward to that, especially once the weather dries up and warms up.

Saturday, January 07, 2006

CES and The Big Three

The Microsoft -- Yahoo -- Google contest got off to a quick start this year at CES. Each company was there making keynote speeches at CES. A few years ago it might have seemed odd for software companies to be making the big announcements at CES. If you think about it though, in the world of hardware/gadget/convergence, the hardware has really been there for awhile. Sure Intel and AMD are making some nice innovations for mobile and media based systems , but its simply the perfecting of existing technologies. No, the hardware for the "digital lifestyle" has been there. The software has not been, and hence software makers are now in the spotlight at CES. Here's my thoughts on what The Big Three had to say and show.

  • Microsoft -- The only thing "new" was Urge, Microsoft's MTV backed entry into selling digital music. This just seems like a waste of money by MSFT. We just got through a holiday season that saw ridiculous iPod sales. People who own iPods are only going to buy digital music from iTunes. Urge, like Yahoo's music store, seems like a Napster style service offering subscription. This has its merit, but it won't be enough. MSFT also had some interesting things to say about their software in cars and mobile phones, and announced an HD-DVD player for the XBox 360. Yawn.

  • Yahoo -- Yahoo announced their Go service for the Desktop, Television, and Phone. This sounds pretty interesting and a nice way to leverage their purchase of Konfabulator. Go for the TV sounds a lot like Apple's, which is cool. I also like the idea of having Konfabulator Widgets on cell phones. Seems like there won't be a lot of cell phones capable of this at least for awhile.

  • Google -- Ah, Google. Their big announcement was their video store. There are some cool ideas behind this, such as letting content name their own prices and download/streaming options. The capitalist in me likes this. They've also got some quality partners such as CBS and the NBA. However, there are a lot of problems. Number one is that their scheme seems more about making content providers comfortable than it is about providing value to the consumer. That's where Apple gets it right. Of course Apple is not as interested in making money off video downloads, since they think it will help the continuing growth of iPod sales. Whatever their reasons, they keep it simple for consumers. You know it's going to cost you $1.99 and that you'll be able to watch it on your computer (and your work computer for that matter) and on your video iPod. That brings me to the next problem with Google's video store. Of course they had to put DRM on the videos (unless the content provider opts out) and they've come up with their own DRM technology. That means no watching videos you downloaded on any mobile player. I think there's a chance this turns out ok, as video downloads may take off while mobile video might not. But it's hard to say on this. Quick sidenote: When it comes to mobile video, as a parent I would love being able to download episodes of my older son's favorite shows (Oobi,
    Jack's Big Music Show, and Sesame Street) and watch it on a video system in our minivan. Another sidenote: Here's an interesting article about where Google could be headed with video. It's an idea I've heard thrown around before, about Google doing targeted advertising for television. There are a lot of problems with this idea, though. It underestimates the current sophistication of ad placement via demographic profiling. It also fails to understand that a big part of the value of AdSense is that you only pay for succesful advertising. This doesn't carry-over to TV. Then the worst part is that it ignores the TiVo effect, i.e. that people watch less and less commercials since they can fast forward through them on recorded shows. So I wasn't impressed with Google's video offering. Their more minor announcement, Google Pack, is much more promising. Not because of the currently included software (which is mostly good stuff I already had on my computers,) but because of their Google Updater. This thing is a great device for Google to push new software, both from them and open source stuff like Open Office, to the masses. It's a nice Windows bypass mechanism. A nice move by Google, and I wouldn't be surprised to see Yahoo follow suit.

Monday, January 02, 2006

It's Time for Michael Vick to Grow Up

There I said it. Somebody needed to. There seems to be this notion that Michael Vick's game cannot be questioned. Anybody who says "he needs to run less and pass more" is some kind of idiot who just does not understand that Vick is The New QB who has changed the game. It's too old school to say that Vick needs to run less. Well I've been hearing this "wisdom" for several years and I just don't see it. The Falcons have been good at times during those years, but it's hard to argue that's because of their quarterback. No they've been good when their defense has been great.
The fact is that Vick has a career 75.8 quarterback rating. He's never passed for more than 3,000 yards in a season and he's never thrown for more than 16 touchdowns. Those numbers aren't going to produce championship caliber offense. Atlanta will have to go the Baltimore Ravens route if they want to win championships with Vick, or they will have to ask more from Vick.
Of course it's not really as simple as "pass more, run less." What is really needed is "pass better." Often that means finding open receivers when today Vick does not. That will obviously lead to more completions and less interceptions, but the side effect of finding open receivers is less running. It's not like all 102 rush attempts by Vick this year were designed runs. I would guess that very few were in fact. Some were bootlegs where he did not find an open receiver. Others were pure scrambles. Either way, if he finds more open receivers then he will wind up running less.
If you look at great QBs who could scramble, like John Elway, Steve Young, and more recently Donovan McNabb, you will see this trend. Look at Randall Cunningham's ridiculous season with Minnesota a few years ago. If you look at Brett Favre's first four years in the league, you see the same thing.
The only QB who has seemed to defy this kind of common sense was Daunte Culpepper in 2004. He seemed to run a lot, pass a lot, and pass really well. This may have been a single season anamoly. Either way, Vick does not seem capable of this. If he was truly a rule-breaker, a quaterback like none ever before, then his lack of passing production would be made up and his team's offense would still be great. This is just not the case. Atlanta was 12th in yards/game this year and 14th in points/game. That's middle of the pack.
However, it's entirely possible that a lot of people have no interest in seeing Vick improve. Why not? Well because Vick's style of play makes for very entertaining football. Maybe the Falcons will sell more tickets and the NFL will get better ratings with a scrambling Vick than an efficient Vick. Certainly it's got to be more fun for Vick to scramble than to become good at reading defenses. And that's why he has to grow up. He needs to do the hard thing instead of the fun thing. He needs to listen to critics instead of fans. He needs to stop "keeping it real" and start keeping it in in the air and off the ground. He needs to learn from some of the more succesful players who have half his talent (Tom Brady anyone?) They're not as cool and as sexy, but they're better quarterbacks.