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June 6, 2012

On the Cusp of a Cup

If you know me, even just through the site, then you know I’m a huge sports fan. I can pretty much talk any sport at any time to any one – hell, I’m probably the one guy you know who can explain Aussie rules. I’m someone who can appreciate the historic nature of certain sporting achievements, and I’m here to tell you – we’re about to see something epic.

Like most people who’ve spent their life in one place, I’m a homer when it comes to the local sports teams. Sure, there’s that torrid affair I have with the team from South Beach, but for the most part, I pull for the home team. Dodgers, Lakers, Galaxy, Rams, Raiders – all have held my affection at one point or another. At the top of the list, however, have always been the Los Angeles Kings.

Ask anyone who’s been around long enough to remember the gold and purple uniforms, and they’ll tell you how hard it’s been to be a Kings family. From their formation in 1967, most seasons saw the squad not getting so much as a sniff of the playoffs. But there was always a cadre of loyal fans.

Growing up, I was a huge Kings fan. I was a member of their fan club and had the framed certificate on my bedroom wall. We had Rogie Vachon between the pipes and Marcel Dionne leading the Triple Crown Line. There were high points, like 1982′s “Miracle on Manchester” takedown of Wayne Gretzky’s Edmonton Oilers, but they were few and far between.

That all changed in 1988. A new owner, new unit and a new stud named Gretzky meant that hockey in LA would never again be the same. Wayne seemingly brought half the Cup-winning Edmonton squad with him, so success couldn’t be far off, right? Well, as Bill Murray found out in “Groundhog Day“, some corners can’t be cut. The Kings made it to the finals in ’93 but came up short, losing to the Canadiens 4-1.

While it didn’t bring a Cup to LA, the Gretzky Experiment nonetheless changed the face of hockey. New teams appeared in San Jose, Anaheim, Denver and Phoenix – the latter two Canadian teams that, much to the chagrin of those north of the border, fled to warmer climes much like a pair of snowbirds. There was a renewed interested in hockey in America, and both the Ducks and Avalanche would soon hoist the Cup.

Not so the Kings, however. Gretz was shipped to the Blues in ’99, and owner Bruce McNall to jail shortly thereafter, his financial house of cards in ruins. They might not have looked like the Kings of old, but they soon played like them, as the word “hapless” was soon used to describe their play once again. It would be another decade before hope appeared on the horizon.

The hiring of Dean Lombardi in 2006, along with solid drafts throughout the decade, allowed the team to slowly grow, slowly build into a contender. The emergence of Anze Kopitar, Dustin Brown, Jonathan Quick and other home-grown players meant that hockey fans had reason to be optimistic. The 2011-2012 season looked like the year when it all might come together …

… And then they dropped the puck. Despite the acquisition of Mike Richards from the Flyers and a number of preseason pundits predicting success for the Kings, the team stumbled out of the blocks with a .500 start, leading to the firing of coach Terry Murray in December. Often, such turmoil would lead to a wasted season, but new coach Daryl Sutter brought a new level of discipline to the talented but underachieving team, and a trade-deadline deal for Richards’ one-time scoring partner Jeff Carter left the Kings with 4 well-balanced lines. The team had a big hole to dig out of, but finished strong and clinched the last playoff spot.

Watching this Kings team play is surreal for a long-time fan. We’re used to having our favorite players, people we love but understand are simply not as good as the other teams’ stars. This year’s squad – particularly now – are beasts. They only lost two games while blowing through the numbers 1, 2 and 3 seeds in the Western Conference, winning the first three games in each series. Favored in the Cup finals against the New Jersey Devils, they followed up a pair of overtime victories with a thorough dismantling of the Devils in Game 3. As desperate as you knew they were, New Jersey simply couldn’t stand up against Los Angeles. The Kings are bigger, faster and younger. They beat them on the power play and stoned them as penalty killers. The offense was better, the defense was better, the coaching was better – it was as dominant a performance as I’ve ever seen in a sporting final series, and a signature moment for the team.

As impressive as their performance was in the game, it was afterwards that the maturity and focus of this squad really showed. A big win on home ice in front of the largest sporting crowd in Staples Center history left them a single win away from hoisting the Cup, but there was no sense of celebration or joy – just a few glove touches as they moved on to the challenge of Game 4. Unlike their arena-mates the Lakers, I have no doubt the Kings will close out the series tonight and finally enjoy the celebration they so richly deserve – and have completely earned.

Make room in the rafters, boys – a new banner is on the way!

May 30, 2012

Welcome Home “Big Stick”

In LA, we’re pretty jaded when it comes to celebrity. After all, on any given day you can stumble across crews filming everything from “Transformers” to “CSI Miami” to the next hot commercial you can’t get out of your head. Dare to get out of your car and you could end up face-to-face with Tom Selleck or Tom Petty or Tom Brady. It takes a lot to get and hold our attention.

Full 16-in IOWA broadside in 1984. She could bring it ...

Today, however, we welcome a special new celebrity who’ll be making her home in Los Angeles . The USS Iowa, among the last of a long line of proud American battlewagons, arrived this morning off LA Harbor after a 4-day tow from the Bay Area. She’s spent the last decade or so in the mothball fleet in the back bays up there, waiting for either a new home or a date with the scrap yard. I for one am thrilled that the former has come true, and even more so that the aforementioned new home will be in my back yard.

I’ve been a huge Navy fan all my life, particularly of the World War II era. While other kids were reading Sports Illustrated, I was reading Samuel Eliot Morison’s sixteen-volume “History of United States Naval Operations in World War II“. When I was old enough to afford it, I bought my own set – and still own them. A decade ago, when she was being prepped for decommission and museum duty in Pearl Harbor, I was lucky enough to spend time offshore near the Missouri – sistership to the Iowa – as she was stripped of ammunition off Seal Beach. Just two months ago, I spent an hour walking the decks of the battleship Texas – a pre-WWI dreadnought and the oldest remaining battleship – during a visit to Houston. I can’t wait to do the same when they open the Iowa up for tours in July.

IOWA sits at anchor off Seal Beach

The Iowa has had a proud and at times controversial career. The lead ship of a 4-ship class of battleships, she was launched during World War II and saw service in the Marianas and Leyte Gulf campaigns. She pounded the beaches of North Korea before spending nearly a quarter century in mothballs. Reinstated during the Reagan era and retrofitted with modern weaponry such as cruise missiles and Phalanx guns, the Iowa saw her career cut short when a 1989 explosion in the #2 main turret killed 47 sailors. The investigation of the accident, which included rumors of homosexual affairs and suicide by sabotage – all of which was ultimately shown to be untrue – was not the Navy’s finest moment, and marked the end of the road for Iowa. While her sisters Missouri and Wisconsin were firing Tomahawk missiles at Iraq in Operation Desert Storm, Iowa was back in the mothball fleet awaiting her fate.

For now, though, it appears that fate will be a bright one. Like her three sisters, IOWA will soon take up her final duty station as a museum piece. She currently sits anchored several miles outside of LA Harbor, where in the next few days a team of divers will scrub her hull of all the nasty things that collected during her decade in San Francisco Bay. After that, it’s a short tow to Berth 87 where she’ll be on display alongside the Maritime Museum on the main channel. Shortly after the 4th of July weekend, she’ll be opened to tours – and I
already have my ticket;-)

May 15, 2012

Sporting Nirvana

Is this a great time to be an LA sports fan or what?

Los Angeles has long taken grief from those who live east of it as some kind of wasteland when it comes to sporting events. A lot of that comes from the fact that we lost not one but two NFL franchises within a year, but the fact that whenever an East Coast team plays at Dodger Stadium there are usually more fans of the visiting team probably plays a role as well. Now I could hold up the pathetic records of those two football teams or the even more disgusting effect that the McCourt ownership had on the Dodgers as reasons why the people stayed away from the games, but the perception is what it is. But that’s all about to change …

All of sudden, LA’s sports franchises are all playing out of their minds. The Kings and Lakers are making title runs in the playoffs. The Dodgers have the best record in all of baseball. Heck, even the long-laughable Clippers are in the second round of the playoffs for the first time in … ever? The poor fans are losing their minds trying to decide which games to attend, even when they’re close to each other (and more on that in a minute). How in the Harry Carey did this happen?

Kobe and the Lakers are struggling to survive ...

You could argue that it started last year, when David Beckham finally validated that big contract by helping to lead the LA Galaxy to the MLS Cup. But it really goes back further than that. Blake Griffin … Andrew Bynum … Clayton Kershaw – these guys don’t just step off the bus in LA. Intelligent scouting – and a little luck – made sure that the LA clubs had the people on hand to lead the revolution. But you still have to execute …

No one is surprised to find the Lakers in the playoffs – hell, it’s the LAKERS. But to see the Clippers matching them victory for victory is a treat, especially for those who suffered through the last two decades of mediocrity. That mediocrity has over the years garnered the Clips a number of lottery picks, but it wasn’t until Griffin arrived that any of those picks were justified. Even he had to go through a year lost to injury before blowing up last year. But it was luck in the form of a petulant David Stern that really set the Clipper table for this year’s playoff run. When he voided the trade of Chris Paul to the Lakers, opting instead to ship him to their cross-arena rivals, you could practically feel the ground shift under Staples Center. Streaky at times as they sought to find their rhythm in a strike-shortened season (and to overcome the quirky decisions of coach Vinny Del Negro), the Clippers stayed in the middle of the pack before securing their playoff spot and a series with Memphis, whom they defeated in a tough 7-game series. The Lakers, meanwhile, had their hands full with the Denver Nuggets, a team that stretched Kobe and Co to seven games as well. Both LA teams survived, but were forced to move forward dog-tired to a second round matchup with considerably more potent opponents.

... while another LA team is on a mission.

Over at Chavez Ravine, the Dodgers are off their best start in decades, but if you try and tell me you saw this coming, I’m calling BS. Sure they have the defending Cy Young Award winner Kershaw and the should-be-defending MVP Matt Kemp, but this is the exact same team that couldn’t shoot straight last season. Sure, they had a soft schedule to start, but I don’t think anyone saw this coming. Chris Capuano and Aaron Harang, mid-level starting pitchers brought in to fill out the rotation, have both pitched like they want Kershaw’s award. Kemp, meanwhile, has started this season even hotter than he ended the last, as improbable as that sounds. We’re only a month and a half into the season, and the team is as far above .500 as they were by the end of last year. No one else in the division seems to be stepping up, and the coast would seem to be clear for a Dodger playoff run.

Yes, halcyon days indeed – but there are dark clouds on the horizon. The Galaxy’s attempt to defend their title has been a bust, despite the surprising decision by Beckham to re-sign for another season. Both the Clippers and Lakers face difficult second round series, and if the Lakers’ thorough ass-kicking last night by the Thunder is any indication, the end of the road for both teams could be in sight. Over in Dodgertown, Matt Kemp is nursing a sore hammy that is threatening to put him – and most of the team’s offense – on the DL. The Blue Crew followed their amazing home start with a road thud, only winning half their away games so far this year.

If there is a bright star in the LA sports sky, it’s got to be the Kings. Unlike the other teams in town, the Kings were actually expected to compete this year for the NHL’s Stanley Cup. They had an established star in Anze Kopitar, a solid keeper in Jonathon Quick and new leadership in the offseason acquisition Mike Richards. But they stumbled out of the blocks, scoring fewer goals than any other team in the league, leading to the midseason firing of their coach. Normally, that would be the end of the line for a team, but much like my beloved Florida Marlins in 2003, the team rallied and jelled late in the season. They squeaked into the playoffs, but were clearly at the top of their game as they ambushed both the first and second seeds in the first two rounds. As I write this, the Kings are in the process of blowing out the league-owned Phoenix Coyotes in Game Two of their series. Assuming they wrap up the win, they’ll only be two games away from their first trip to the Stanley Cup finals since the Great One-led squad lost to the Canadiens in ’93 (remember Marty McSorley and Stickgate? I do … grr … ). An epic run to say the least.

One interesting side note to all the playoff excitement in the City of the Angels. LA has invested a lot of money (mostly private capital) in the region of town just south of downtown referred to as “LA Live“. That’s where you’ll find the Nokia Theater and Staples Center and, eventually, the new Farmers Field football arena. This weekend, if the schedules stay as planned, the area’s gonna get a workout like never before, as the Lakers, Clippers and Kings will all have home playoff games – sometimes on the same day. Add to that the Sunday afternoon finish to the Tour of California, the largest professional bicycle race in the country, and you’re going to have thousands of spectators competing for parking, real estate and air. Sports nirvana could quickly become sports armageddon – but that’s why we love it so much!

May 9, 2012

Moderating The Addiction

It’ll come as no surprise to those who know me that I’m something of a Facebook junkie. I’m not a stay-at-home mom posting 20 pics of the kids wiping their noses, or the needy guy who posts his location every 5 minutes – no more than every hour, I promise – but I spend my share of time there. Sure, I went through that ugly Mafia Wars phase, but I’m over that … really!

About fifteen years ago, during the early days of the information revolution, I heard a speech from Scott McNealy, the CEO of Sun Microsystems, in which he introduced himself with the then-cryptic moniker, “scott@sun.com”.

“That’s an email address”, said McNealy, “and soon you’ll all have one.”

Sure enough, I started seeing the names with the funny symbol appearing in advertising everywhere – it was clear that Scott’s premonition was coming true. Today, I’d be thrilled to have only one – or even just five – email addresses.

As Ron White would say, I told you that story so I can tell you this one. Much like the email address – and shortly thereafter, the web site – became a ubiquitous element for businesses large and small, the Facebook fan page is now at the center of many advertising plans – even SCMO’s. But there’s one big difference between then and now – while the internet was controlled by a relatively neutral governance board, Facebook is a for-profit company, one that often has business purposes that are at odds with some of those who have come to so completely depend on the social network to attract customers.

A key tool for content publishers who want to raise their presence among Facebook’s near-billion users is the social reader app. If you’re a FB user, you’ve probably seen a social reader in your news feed. An entry will appear stating that so-and-so recommends an article, and when you click on it to see if you like it too, the app intercedes, wanting to access your permissions before allowing you to view the content. If you’re smart, you stop right there, but millions of people don’t – as recently as last month, for example, the Washingoton Post’s SR app was pulling in over 4 million hits a day from Facebook users.

But when you tie your cart to a horse you don’t control, you never know when you’re gonna step in a road apple. Facebook management could see those big numbers being raised by the social readers, too, and wanted their share. So they quietly changed their code to harvest the articles being hyped by the social readers and display them as “trending articles” in the News Feed of their users. Click on a link and instead of going to the site where the content is located, the content is brought to you – without ever having to leave Facebook. How devastating is it to those websites depending on Facebook to feed them traffic? The Washington Post has seen their traffic drop from the aforementioned 4M hits a day to 220,000 – a brutal hit in a world where eyeballs equate to dollars.

But that’s the price you pay if you’re Facebook user, whether a large corporation or single person. It’s their world, their code, and they play by their rules. I certainly get as irritated as anyone when they jerk with the user experience, but I try not to become on of those hyperventilating fanboys you hear interviewed in the news every time FB makes a change. Of course, having counterculture tools like FB Purity to help keep your sanity doesn’t hurt … ;-)

Back to my own Facebook addition for a moment – like most addictions, it started out innocently enough. Wanting to expand the Marlinnut brand, I established the SCMO fan page and Twitter feed as a way of reaching new billfish fans. If you haven’t checked out our Facebook page, I’d encourage you to take a moment and give it a look. It’s our way to share some of what we see elsewhere on FB with our fans and friends, and to spread the good word of SCMO to a whole new group of fishermen. If you like what you see, I’d be honored if you’d “like” the page, and share it with your friends!

May 3, 2012

Who Are You, And What Have You Done With Albert?

I won’t lie to you – picking on the Angels comes as naturally to me as breathing. Raised a Dodger fan, I learned early that the Angels are like that bratty little sister that wants to tag along with you and your friends. And quite honestly, that whole “Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim” BS is every bit as bush as the worst of the McCourt regime.

Winners and losers ...

This year, though, it’s almost like they’re trying to make it even easier for me. As long time MB followers know, my heart beats true to the teal of the Florida Marlins. When they made the call to rebrand the team I was on the fence about whether to stay a fan, but I saw how hard they were working to improve and stuck it out. At the top of their shopping list – slugging first baseman Albert Pujols. A decade of play with the St. Louis Cardinals brought personal fame and team success, and he was the biggest free agent to hit the market in years. The Fish seemed to be in pretty good position and looked very much like the only team with any real chance to convince him to switch uniforms – until the Angels swooped in and nabbed not only Pujols but another almost-Marlin, C. J. Wilson. Clearly, the hated Angels were in line for an amazing season. Clearly …

As I write this, Pujols and his Halo teammates are playing in their 26th game of the season, and Albert is still waiting for his first American League home run. Worst still, it’s not just a power thing – he’s just not hitting, period. Pujols, a career .327 hitter is hitting a miserable .206 – barely above the Mendoza – and is only getting on base 1 in 4 times by any method at all. Tonight, the game is only in the second inning and the mighty Albert has already hit into a double play. It’s the worst possible scenario for a guy making $12M a season – not to mention the guys writing the checks. Forced to carry the load not being toted by Pujols, the Angels are 10 and 15 for the season, and the chatter has already started.

I’ll be honest – I figured of all the free agent movement during the off-season, nothing was as automatic as the fact that Pujols would hit the crap out of the American League West. In Miami, we’re tearing our hair out watching Heath Bell blow save after save, but the idea that Pujols could look this confused at the plate is simply shocking. Long considered one of the most dangerous hitters in baseball, it’s clear that pitchers simply do not fear him now. Watching a game last week with Pujols up in late innings, I saw a relief pitcher mow Pujols down on three pitches. The guy didn’t even bother nibbling the corners or trying to get Albert to swing at a bad pitch – he just threw the ball past him three straight times. It was as amazing as anything I’d seen.

As a Cardinal, one of the things that always set Albert Pujols apart from his peers was his mental approach to the game. Nicknamed “The Machine” by the media, you just couldn’t get into his head. In a way, it was reminiscent of another elite athlete known for his mental toughness, Tiger Woods. Woods seemed invincible until his carefully crafted world crashed around him; for years he couldn’t find his ass with both hands. St. Louis is well-known as the best place in baseball to play, with knowledgable fans who understand the ups and downs of the game – and knew that even if The Machine got into a rare slump, the old Albert would soon be back punishing the ball. Now, he’s in a new league, a new town and the only support he has is a freaking Rally Monkey.

One wonders just which direction this story will go …

April 30, 2012

Galveston, Oh Galveston

After my workshop in Houston ended last Thursday, I had a half day to kill before my flight home. Being a child of the ocean, I was going to check out the waterfront – and that meant a run down to Galveston.

I love history, and Galveston is dripping in it. The island city is probably best known as the victim of the 1900 hurricane which killed 8,000 of Galveston’s residents, still the worst natural disaster in American history. You can’t travel around the city without seeing signs of the storm, from the monuments along Broadway to the stone mansions that survived the storm, to the impressive 10-mile-long seawall that was built after the storm and allowed the height of the land behind it to be raised by over 10 feet.

Pink granite groins - imagine how many countertops that could have made!

Speaking of impressive, you should see the local choice for break wall materials. Like many beach cities, Galveston has a series of groins – short perpendicular break walls that extend from the beach and slow the lateral movement of sand. We have similar structures in Redondo, and use local materials to create them. For us, that means modest granite blown out of the quarry on Catalina Island. Here in Galveston, the material is also granite – but it’s pink, and looks to be high quality. Can’t help but think the stuff would look a lot nicer in some high end home somewhere.

The architecture of the homes here belies the biggest threat from a hurricane – storm surge. In 1900, the surge was several feet higher than the highest point in the island and basically swamped it; as a result, most of the deaths came from drowning. Even with the additional height of the seawall, the island is dangerously low – Hurricane Ike in 2008 managed to overtop the wall. Builders accept this a certainty, and take it into consideration when they design their homes. Most houses – and many businesses – have a sacrificial lower floor, consisting of little more than an enclosed staircase and a carport. All of the living spaces are on the second or third floor, presumably above any potential flooding.

Driving in this morning, and as I explore the island, it’s clear that the damage from Ike was significant. Nearly half of the waterfront homes show some level of damage or repair, and construction activity is evident everywhere. There are several piers on the south side of the island, and you can see that several are missing the final segments, presumably due to storm damage. On the bright side, one pier destroyed in 1961 and bashed again by Ike is about to debut as a tourist attraction on a par with our own Santa Monica Pier.

The wind is actually blowing pretty good here in Galveston today, and I suspect there are at least Small Craft Advisories in place. As you can see from the video I shot down at the seawall a little while ago, it’s no day to be on the water:

And this was only three out of five on the warning flag scale they use along the beach. Good thing it was low tide, or it would be slapping the seawall.

I actually started this MB entry while sitting in a restaurant on 61st street in Galveston, waiting to enjoy a different kind of cultural experience – a Waffle House breakfast. As a Cali guy, there are certain experiences that aren’t available to me, so I feel obligated to seek them out when possible. Last night, a bacon-and-cheese Whataburger; this morning a Waffle House All Star breakfast. Quite the cultural enrichment … :-)

April 26, 2012

Thoughts of a Foreigner

I’ve been kicking around this part of Texas for the better part of four days now, and I still don’t even know what to call it. The news peeps refer to the “Houston/Sugar Land/Baytown” metro region, but that’s all north of here. Whatever you want to call it, I like it – it’s close enough to the water to feel its effects without feeling its property values, and close enough to Houston to enjoy the city without having to enjoy the traffic. It is different than home, though, and as I drive around I continually see things that confuse, bemuse or amuse me …

Texas Trees

Know what kind of trees these are? Hit the Comment button below ...

- Singing roads: If someone tells you “it’s hotter than asphalt in Texas,” you know they’ve never been here. I assume it’s due to the heat, but the roads here are all concrete. Being as this is hurricane country, and concrete and rain don’t play will with cars, the roads are all grooved to allow the water to slough off. The result is that as you drive down them, particularly at speed, the tires play a melodic tune. Takes a little getting use to, but soon you realize that sound like a squealing Britney Spears fan is in fact another driver about to overtake you. Which brings me to …

- Drivers: As a native Angelino, I take a certain amount of abuse about our drivers, but they’ve got nothing on the folks around here. I’ve never been to New York, but I’ve been to Tijuana, and I can tell you the locals here are far worse. They drive with their adrenaline at full, and consider turn signals to be for sissies. I can be going twenty miles over the speed limit on a midsize highway and traffic will be stacking up behind me – or passing me on the shoulder. From now on, when I need to kick it up a notch in LA traffic, my mantra will be “channel your inner Texan” …

- Signals: You know those traditional red-over-yellow-over-green lights we all have? Not here – rotate them 90 degrees clockwise and read ‘em left to right. I’m guessing it’s either a stable-when-it-blows-like-hell thing, or just a desire to be different.

- Starbucks: I don’t want this to make me sound too left coast, but it took me two days to find a Starbucks around here. Worth noting that in the same time, I found four Waffle Houses and six Whataburgers …

- Trees: There are two and only two kinds of trees here. The first is some kind of weed tree that seems to grow everywhere, and I suspect was the native cover here before any development. The other are the water towers that poke above the treeline, one per suburb. Inasmuch as this place is flat as a board, it’s the only way you’re ever going to have any water pressure. They also make wonderful navaids, since each is conveniently labelled with the town monicker.

Battleship Texas

Firepower is a wonderful thing ...

- DejaGoo: This isn’t so much a comment on the area as the the technology available to familiarize yourself with a strange region. I had an hour to kill last Friday, so, anal-retentive toad that I am, I scoped the place out in Google Maps. Using their Street View, I was able to virtually “drive” from my hotel to work, seeing all the landmarks. Once I arrived in the real Webster, I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve seen something that I recognize – even though I’ve never been here. Cool and eerie all at the same time.

Our workshop ended earlier today, and I had a chance to spend an hour touring the battleship Texas – an awesome experience. Tomorrow it’s Galveston Island for half a day then home.

April 24, 2012

Houston, We Have A Problem …

(C’mon … you knew I had to use that one …)

—–

Greetings from Deep in the Heart of Texas – specifically, Webster, a little town alongside I-45 about halfway between Houston and Galveston. Webster is one of several towns that surround the region’s most famous resident, the Johnson Space Center – home of America’s manned space flight program.

These are dog days for the astronaut corps. The shuttle program has ended, and the remaining orbiters are being decommissioned as we speak in preparation for their new lives as museum pieces. The International Space Station still orbiting overhead, a huge and impressive piece of machinery that’s controlled from the Chris Kraft Mission Control Center over at JSC.

Unfortunately, it’s also a station that America currently has no way to visit or resupply. There are European and Russian and Japanese cargo ships, but none from the US (although the good folks at SpaceX are hoping to change that soon). And of course, the Russians are more than happy to sell our crewmembers a seat on one of their Soyuz workhorses – a set that doubled in price the moment the wheels stopped on the last shuttle mission.

Barring some unforeseen challenge from the stars (cue Bruce Willis’ asteroid here), we may have seen the end of America’s dominance in space. Born out of the chill of the Cold War and fueled by a desire to fulfill the dream of a dead president, NASA saw a similar doldrums in the mid-70s after budget concerns and dwindling interest led to cancellation of the last Apollo missions. Skylab and the Apollo Soyuz Test Program were done on the cheap by using excess moon flight hardware, but we didn’t really move forward again until the shuttle arrived.

While the results were spectscular, and we couldn’t have assembled the ISS without it, the cost of the shuttle in blood and treasure ultimately proved its downfall. Now we find ourselves once again becalmed, adrift in space awaiting the return of solar winds and political will. It’s a sad state for the proud men and women of NASA, but sitting as I am only a few blocks from the entrance of JSC, I can tell you this – I’m proud just to breath the same air they do.

Onward and upward …

Via iPad …

April 22, 2012

Unequivocal Proof Auto-Tune is the Devil’s Tool …

I am an unabashed music fan. I remember discovering pop AM radio in the early 70′s and quickly graduating to FM album rock. The day I bought my first album – Queen’s “A Night At The Opera” – was a game changer.

Although I’m definitely a rocker, I’m open-minded enough to appreciate the best of all genres. After all, while trends have come and gone, good music is always good music – you can sit me down with some big speakers and a copy of “Straight Outta Compton” and I’m a happy boy.

To me, the one thing that separates good music from the rest is talent. If you have skills, whether as a singer or a player or a producer, you’ll produce good music. There’s an honest to good music that can’t be faked.

Which brings me to Auto-Tune. A software plug-in used to smooth out the rough spots in otherwise good performances, it was the music industry’s dirty little secret until it was abused on Cher’s “Believe” in 1988 and became all the rage. As producers recognized the power of the tool, they realized it could not only be used to distort a good vocal performance but also to make palatable an otherwise-unlistenable one.

There are lots of examples of Auto-Tune cleaning up the performances of attractive but untalented Pop-Tarts (see Spears, Britney or Simpson, Ashlee), but nothing comes close to this. I have no idea who Lisa Gail is, and nothing indicates that this was done as some kind of joke, so I can only assume it’s a vanity performance paid for by a loving (or henpecked) husband. Be warned … you’re gonna want to poke chopsticks in your ears before the end of the first minute …

They say guns don’t kill people; people do. In this case, though, Auto-Tune is the gun and good taste is the victim …

April 20, 2012

Drop a Nickel in the Can and Pull Up a Stool …

A dusty room in a grimy building. A group of people sit on folding chairs, tightly packed into a circle. The smells of burnt coffee and cigarettes fill the air …

One man stands and looks at the group sheepishly. “Hello, my name is Stan, and I’m … I was … a blogger.”

(group, enthusiastically) “Hi, Stan!”

(group leader, with weary, knowing smile) “It doesn’t matter that you haven’t blogged lately … you’ll always be a blogger”

(heads nod around the room)
—–

Yes, once upon a time, I ran a little thing called the MarlinBlog. For four and a half years, the words flowed from my fingers like wine from a vineyard, and tens of people reveled in the unique combination of snark and humor it served up daily. But time takes a toll on creativity, and in December of 2010 the MarlinBlog went dark.

I’ve always enjoyed writing, even when it seemed a chore, so I knew I’d come back to this space one day – it would just take the right combination of time in my life to fill and angst/frustration at the world around me to serve as fuel. Looking at my life today, the work project I’ve been driving forward for the last few years has gone into production, the live-in girlfriend has moved out and I’ve received my first AARP card. As you might imagine, there’s a lot for me to work through. So, much like the recovering alky who is always a sip away from his next bender, I’m raising the bottle to my lips and taking a hearty swig. To the joy of some and the chagrin of many, we’re back – welcome to the resurrected MarlinBlog.

As before, look for the ol’ MB to be my unique, sometimes twisted look at life and the people who make it so damned interesting. One thing I learned long ago remains true now. While Daryn Kagan may be able to make a happy blog work, mine runs smoothest – and gets the most visibility – when I’m probing into the darker corners of society, looking for seams and cracks and voids where something might be hiding … and then dragging it into the light to poke fun at. Politicians, celebutards, even the common man aren’t safe from the rusty yet rapier-sharp wit of your humble host. We’ll find the silly and nonsensical and laugh at it together – and then drop in a serious-as-a-heart-attack post just to see if you’re paying attention. It should be fun …

Back in the day, we had regular features we’d run, such as the Monday Sports Rant and the Weekend Eye Candy, but I think for now we’re going to be a little more organic and avoid anything so predictable. That said, if I feel like bitching about the Marlins or sharing a picture of some hot little number I will, not because I have to but because I want to. Same goes for the regularity of posting – when I have something to say, I will, but I won’t bore you with crap. You can always visit Ariana Huffington for that.

So that’s it for now. If you’re excited, let me know. If you’re terrified, let me know. If you’re bored, well, you can just go in the corner and nod off. For now, we’re back – older, wiser but no less pithy. Tell a friend …