december 2010

A solid game for the Ravens last weekend against Tampa Bay, but this week is their real challenge: the Steelers. They've already beaten the Steelers once this season in Pittsburgh, and if they can win this one in Baltimore, not only will they move a game ahead of the Steelers (both teams share the same record now), but it will essentially be a two-game lead in terms of winning the division, because if they were to tie the tiebreaker would go to the Ravens for having beaten the Steelers twice.

Win or lose, it's going to be a tough, hard-fought game, and fans of each team are likely going to think they should have won it or they were lucky to win it.

For the past couple of years, it seems like no one has really played Bill Murray's Scrooged, one of my favorite takes on A Christmas Carol, but this year AMC is playing the hell out of it. Now if we can just get NBC to release it's stranglehold on It's A Wonderful Life so we have more than one chance to stumble across this during the holiday season...

Despite a couple of nice new 10 inch labbits and a new mini-labbit series back in the spring of this year, it has been a really weak year for toys, Kozik or otherwise. Aside from those releases and Amanda Visell's first series of minis, I haven't really bought anything; Kidrobot has been really slowing down on their releases, and Toy2R, a once-prolific manufacturer that Kozik did a lot of work with, seems to have vanished from the face of the Earth except for their core Qee figures.

So I was pleased when Kidrobot released two figures from Kozik and Tara McPherson, both their interpretations of Hello Kitty:

Empress of the Underwold by Kozik

Magic Love by Tara McPherson

The Kozik piece has a lot of significance; not only is it based on a canvas he did for a gallery show a couple of years ago, the Hello Kitty line is what got him into designing toys. In the late 90s, he got a little obsessed with collecting Hello Kitty figures, and his Japanese friends suggested that if he wanted to collect toys, that he make some cool ones for adults, and that was the impetus to design his first labbit, which is still his signature piece and which has been released in over 100 variations at this point.

This next year will be a critical one for art toys; a year or two ago the hobby seemed on the verge of hitting the mainstream, but with new regulations about toys being made in China and the terrible economy, releases have been cut way back, and many of the local stores that used to bring the art toy culture to cities beside the hubs in NYC, LA, and San Francisco have gone out of business. Given the past year, I doubt it will break through to the mainstream, at least in the next couple of years (a resurgence in the economy could bring new interest to the hobby), and there's a real chance that it could be relegated to a few releases a year from more underground niche companies, and the once-big players like Kidrobot and Toy2R could become irrelevant.

Taking the rest of this week off (or at least not planning to go into the office—I'll still check email given that we're releasing the document imaging system to faculty this week and it's the week before our Early Decision letters go out), so I probably won't be posting again since I'm technically on vacation. I'm doing this partly to spend some more time with Will and partly because this week is the release of Cataclysm, the latest expansion pack to World of Warcraft.

I'm definitely not as into this game as I used to be, but I think I've settled into having it as a regular part of my suite of entertainment options, playing three or four nights a week or an hour or two. I'm not sure how much really new there will be in terms of gameplay—this latest release will be more about extending the story of the game and continuing to spend time with the friends I've made in the game.

They've continued to grow their playerbase year after year, but something tells me we might have reached the high water mark, and that after the burst of renewed interest from the holiday season and the new expansion pack, we might see the population start to fall as veteran players leave the game and the barrier to entry in terms of time and cost to get into the game as a newcomer deters new players from signing up.

That's not to say the game won't live on for several more years—EverQuest, the first really successful MMO, was released over a decade ago, and it also saw the release of a new expansion pack earlier this fall. And EQ has never been anywhere near as popular as WoW—their peak number of subscribers was just short of half a million in the US, whereas Warcraft currently boasts over 12 million subscribers, so even if the playerbase drops by half, that's still plenty of people to support the game for years to come.

Whether I'll be one of those or not remains to be seen, but I can tell you that a lot of it will depend on what my in-game friends end up doing—if not for them, I may already have cut my playtime or dropped my subscription entirely.

On Sunday we went to the local fire station for lunch to see Santa and let Will sit on the firetrucks. I'm not usually into this stuff when he's too young to remember it, but Julie is very into it, plus she had a friend whose four year old son LOVES firetrucks, so we met them there.

It was $6 for adults and free for babies, and it wasn't too bad. It was  really crowded when we got there post-church, but we found half a table and were all able to squeeze in. The $6 covered a hot dog or hamburger and a drink for lunch, but didn't cover Santa—you had to pay an extra donation to take your picture with him, even if you used your own camera. But of course we had to take a picture, and our donation was certainly less than it would have been to take him to a mall and have a picture taken there:

Don't worry, we're not letting him eat a candy cane—it was wrapped in plastic, but we think he's starting to teeth again and he really liked the shape for chewing. We also got a picture of him on one of the firetrucks with a junior firefighter:

We had already been to the 9:00 service at church that morning, and after this we had Julie's friend and her kids over for a while, so by the time they left he was exhausted and very cranky. After he ate, it took about an hour to get him down for a nap (it usually takes less than 10 minutes), and then he woke up from it less than an hour later. By the time we got through bath time and his final feeding, he was less than pleasant to be around, but he went right to sleep.

At the end of the day, a win is a win is a win, but after last week's heartbreak against the Steelers, it sure would have been nice to see the Ravens hold onto their 21 point lead going into the fourth quarter. But as we've seen far too many times this season, the offense was lethargic, the defense was exhausted, and the opposing offense turned into sharks when they smelled blood in the water.

One of the ESPN broadcasters commented on this last night, and it's true: if you are a championship team, you shouldn't have any problem trotting your defense back out onto the field with two minutes left and an 8 point lead and feel confident that they'll get the job done for you. Instead, the Texans scored on all five of their final possessions in regulation, including two final touchdown drives for 95 and 99 yards (the second of which also included a two point conversion to tie the game).

It would be one thing if this was a fluke, but last night's game was the seventh time this season that the Ravens have had the lead in the fourth quarter and allowed their opponents to score and either tie the game or take back the lead, and this was the case in all four of their losses. Great football teams win more close games than they lose, especially when they're supposed to be great defensive team and they've got a lead late in the fourth quarter.

The defense at least redeemed itself for their horrible play in the second half with an interception for a touchdown in overtime, but that kind of luck is going to be much harder in the playoffs, where they're likely to face most of the teams who have edged them out in the regular season (Atlanta, New England, and Pittsburgh).

They need to win two of their final three games to have a lock on a playoff slot, and next week's game against New Orleans is likely to be their toughest challenge, likely leaving them with must-wins against Cleveland and Cincinnati. Those games are winnable on paper, but the Browns have steadily improved this season, and the animosity between these two teams always amps up the play, while Cincinnati is the only non-contender to have beaten the Ravens this season. So they've got a good shot, but much like their actual games, their season will be a nail biter and we won't be sure of the outcome until the very last second has ticked off the clock.

Our Early Decision letters go out today, and just as I've done every year since we started sending emails as part of the notification process, I'll be the one responsible for getting the emails out. So far I haven't screwed this up, but every year there's at least one big name school that does something like, say, admit all of their waitlist kids or deny all their admits. So it's always a bit nervewracking sending them out.

After the ED letters were put in the mail yesterday (I didn't send out the emails until after 6 eastern time; we do that so the kids on the west coast don't get their decision email while they're in school), the entire office headed to a local bowling alley to repeat our office party from last year (last year was the first time we did it, but it's been such a hit that it looks like it's going to become an annual tradition).

I think I might get to go to the Saints-Ravens game on Sunday. Very excited about this—the last (and only) time I've been to a Ravens game was when I took my brother for his birthday five or six years ago, and that was before I was really a fan of the team. The Saints are going to be tough to be, even at home and in the cold, but it shouldn't be a blowout, and the Ravens definitely have a chance to win it. This is exactly one of those matchups they need to win if they're going to make it to the playoffs and continue to advance to the Super Bowl. But win or lose, I'm psyched at the chance to see them in person.

Holy cow. I can't even express how amazing it was to see the Ravens beat the Saints in person. It was cold as anything, but the crowd was really into it, and my friend and I screamed our heads off along with the regulars for the whole game. This is the first game in a while where they've been playing a top-flight team and they made me believe they could get to the playoffs and go toe-to-toe with any other team in the league, beating one of the hottest offenses and one of the most solid defenses pretty convincingly. Yes, it was close, but they never lost the lead once they gained it, and even though, as usual, the game came down to the last second, they managed the fourth quarter well and stayed in control.

Our seats were about as high up as you could get—we were five rows down from the very top of the upper deck—but it was still a great view, and nothing beats sitting out in the cold weather with tens of thousands of other Ravens fans, having a couple of beers and really being able to cheer for your team. The fact that it was against the current world champions and that it turned out to be a victory were just gravy; the experience itself was something I'll remember for the rest of my life.

To top off the day, the Steelers lost to the Jets, putting them in a tie with the Ravens for the AFC North division lead with only two games left. The Steelers own the tiebreaker, and their schedule is weaker than the Ravens—they both play Cleveland, but Pittsburgh gets the awful Carolina for its other game where the Ravens get Cincinnati. True, Cincinnati hasn't been that great this season, but they beat the Ravens earlier this season and they always seem to give us trouble. So a division win is still possible, and a playoff berth is probable (if they win next week, they clinch some kind of playoff spot), and winning this game could turn out to be the turning point for an already-impressive season.

The Comeback, Lisa Kudrow's spoof on reality shows that fizzled when it first came out back in 2005 but which is enjoying a revival on Sundance right now, isn't a bad show, but it's not great, either. The main character has moments of likability, but they don't really counterbalance her moments of selfishnes and nastiness; it's one thing to get turned off by the veneer of a shallow person, but it's another thing entirely to realize that the shallowness is masking a deeply unlikable person (I'm comparing Kudrow's Valerie to Steve Carrell's brilliant Michael Scott on The Office, who comes off as a clueless, cowardly, narcissistic buffoon much of the time, but who has moments when you can see that he's really a decent person who has been left bewildered by his life).

I can understand why it was a failure when it was originally released, and I guess I get why the campiness is making it a must-watch among a certain set of hipsters now. Ultimately, it's a failure, and although it's an interesting cultural document for both the criticism of how things really work on a reality tv show and for seeing some ambitious acting and writing from one of the most popular actors on one of the most popular sitcoms of the 90s. But don't get fooled into thinking it's brilliant. Interesting and watchable in a meta sort of way, yes, but once you're done consuming it, I bet you'll never feel compelled to watch it again.

We're leaving tomorrow morning to go on our visits to different parts of the family for the holidays, so this will be my last post for this year. Things are quieter at work than they sometimes are, but there's still a lot of stuff to wrap up before I take off, and I haven't even begun to think about packing, Christmas shopping, etc. (although I think Julie has taken care of most of the presents—except for hers, of course).

We'll be taking Will on his first extended trips in the car, and hopefully he'll do okay. We're trying to be as fair as we can this year, visiting Julie's mom, my mom, and my dad and stepmother for two days each. The first leg will only take about five hours, but that's three hours longer than any other trip will has been on. The travel time to location 2 and location 3 are only a couple of hours, so hopefully those won't be too bad. But we're a little concerned about the trip back home from my dad's—it usually takes us seven hours or so, and with the extra stops we'll likely have to make for Will, it could easily turn into eight plus.

So enjoy your holidays, have a happy new year, and I'll be back in a couple of weeks.



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