December 28, 2006

pac-10 is pac oh-fer-three

Hopefully the Bears will stop the Pac-10's winless bowling streak this year. They have a difficult game, no doubt, and it won't be easy to be the first Pac-10 team to win a bowl this season. But they can do it. With only Oregon State vs Missouri and USC vs Michigan left, at best the Pac-10 can end up .500. A loss by the Bears tonight guarantees the Pac-10 will look like chumps when the fat lady sings.

I have not written anything significant in nearly two weeks due to holiday activities. I'm also back at work this week, with many year-end issues to wrap up. Argh. Still, I am feeling good about hitting the PNWA contest deadline with a quality entry.

December 20, 2006

speeding ticket!

Bend, Oregon is a friendly place. Lots of people being courteous and smiley. I counted no fewer than three pretty girls smiling at me yesterday (not including shop clerks, which are obligated to do so). Of course, it might have had something to do with the new jacket that Maria bought me, which makes me look sort of like that gay cowboy (the blonde one) in Brokeback Mountain.

Anyway, the mountains are beautiful, but I don't really dig the high desert in the winter. It's got that dirty feel with sand all over the roads and crusty, white dust coated on all the cars, and people bundled up in hats and gloves and bulky jackets. Mud in the afternoon, crunchy ice in the evening. I can imagine it's gorgeous in the summer, and I can't wait to come back then.

But I like the area. It feels much more real and down to earth than Walnut Creek. Not so much new money, not so much financial pressure, not so much judgment in the way people look at you. At least, that's my first impression of Bend. Favorable.

Vacation's been enjoyable. We've spent a lot of time with the friends we've come to visit and will see them even more in the next few days. Today we go to the High Desert Museum. Yesterday we xmas shopped downtown. The condo we're renting is huge and quite nice out at Eagle Crest. Friday we'll day-trip to see relatives in Eugene. All quite a nice break from the "reality" of work.

December 11, 2006

what tarot card am I?

You are The Hierophant
Divine Wisdom. Manifestation. Explanation. Teaching. All things relating to education, patience, help from superiors.The Hierophant is often considered to be a Guardian Angel.

The Hierophant's purpose is to bring the spiritual down to Earth. Where the High Priestess between her two pillars deals with realms beyond this Earth, the Hierophant (or High Priest) deals with worldly problems. He is well suited to do this because he strives to create harmony and peace in the midst of a crisis. The Hierophant's only problem is that he can be stubborn and hidebound. At his best, he is wise and soothing, at his worst, he is an unbending traditionalist.

Thanks to Written Wyrdd for the link.

What Tarot Card are You?
Take the Test to Find Out.

December 8, 2006

remembering and pondering

Yesterday was Perl Harbor Day, a day that will live in infamy. I did put out the flag, but I neglected to blog something about it. As we close in on nearly 3,000 American military deaths in Iraq, I think it is important to think of what happened back in 1941.

On that day, the US military lost about 3,100 soldiers (some died in the days after the attack due to injuries suffered on the 7th). Compare this to the 2,925 American military deaths in the Iraq war so far, and you get a sense of the devastation caused that day, particularly to the Navy and Marines. Then consider that the Iraq war in August became a longer conflict than the American part of World War II in Europe (that is, from the day of the Iraq invasion until mid August was the same number of days between Dec 7, 1941 and VE Day).

A WWII veteran lives on my street, and he was 25 when he heard of the attacks on the radio. Within days, his draft papers showed up in the mail. He said he could have gotten out of service on a work exemption, but he went. Eighteen months of training in San Francisco, Missouri, and Florida, followed by deployment to England.

If you did not take a moment on December 7th to think about the attach on Pearl Harbor, take a few moments now. Whatever your thoughts, take a few moments to focus on Pearl Harbor and what it did, what it caused.

3,100 soldiers killed in that attack
2,996 people killed or missing in the 9/11 attacks
2,925 soldiers killed in Iraq (so far)

An estimated 214,000 deaths in the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki
An estimated 50,000 civilian deaths in the Iraq war so far

And still people criticize someone for putting a Peace Wreath on their house during the Christmas season. Will we ever learn?

December 6, 2006

December 5, 2006

why does it make you uncomfortable?

I saw a memorial on my train ride home yesterday. A large number of white crosses occupied a visible hill in Lafayette, CA, accompanied by a sign that said the crosses were placed there in memory of American soldiers killed in Iraq. Apparently, it has caused quite a stir because some think the memorial is more of a political statement than an actual memorial.

Recently, I read of a woman in Colorado who was going to be fined $25 a day by her homeowners association because she wanted to put up a Christmas wreath. It wasn't just any wreath; it was in the shape of a peace symbol. Other residents complained that the Peace Wreath was an anti-war statement. They said that they worried that if they allowed it, they'd have to allow all kinds of political and social statements to be put up in their neighborhood.

God forbid that we allow freedom of speech on private land. God forbid that anyone actually would want there to be more peace in the world.

Regarding the crosses in Lafayette: Critics of the memorial say that it's just liberals using the tragedy of death to make a political statement. Huh. I don't recall that ever being illegal. In fact, I seem to recall our very own president referring to the tragic deaths of the 9/11 bombings to his own political gains--again, and again, and again. He also invoked the memory of the first 1,000 soldiers killed in Iraq in order to quiet war critics, saying that leaving Iraq at that time would be a cowardly disgrace to their memory.

Regardless, you can argue the aesthetics of such a memorial and the taste of such a political statement all you want. Bad taste does not make something illegal. Unpopularity also does not make it illegal. The people trying to get Lafayette to take down the crosses should learn a lesson from President Bush: When Cindi Sheehan's supporters camped on private property near Bush's ranch in Crawford, TX, Bush did not try to expel them. Instead, he ignored them, which was proper, all things considered. The critics of the Lafayette memorial have every right to criticize the memorial vociferously and energetically, to argue their points, to put up counter-memorials or whatever. What they don't have a right to do is declare anti-war statements illegal. The free speech laws exist to protect the existence of unpopular opinions. When unpopular opinions are outlawed, only outlaws will have unpopular opinions.

Regarding the wreath wrath: Unfortunately, the homeowners association probably has a right to compel the removal of the wreath. Such is life in a neighborhood governed by small-minded people, when you voluntarily sign on to obey their rules. I hope the other residents relent, however, as the symbol of peace should always (in my opinion) be welcomed. The owner has said that it is not an anti-Bush statement or even an anti-war statement. She said she wants to make a positive statement in support of peace rather than any negative, anti-anything statement. Put in that light, the homeowners association looks like pro-war, anti-peace neanderthals. In fact, they look downright anti-Christian as well, considering the message of every Christmas sermon I've ever attended has been peace on earth and goodwill toward men.

But the critics of the cross memorial in Lafayette should stop and think a minute about why it makes them uncomfortable to see it. They can say it's offensive because it uses tragedy for political gain. That means that either they're upset about the political gain or they're upset by the deaths. If they're upset by the political gain, they should ask themselves why 2,900 American soldiers dead does not upset them. If they're upset about the deaths, they should ask themselves why they would want to hide those upsetting deaths, ignore them, bury them without understanding the war's true cost.

They should ask themselves what about the memorial truly makes them uncomfortable, truly upsets them. And then they should take a long, hard look at the answer. Then, and only then, they should decide whether they want to protest its existence.

December 1, 2006

We want The Axe!

This year's Big Game is expected to be so lopsided that some Cal fans are actually bemoaning how it might ruin the tradition of the series. Screw that, I say. Things go in cycles, and Stanford is in a down cycle while Cal is in an up cycle. I am riding the joy because I know it will cycle back some day. It's the nature of college sports. With scholarship limitations and having to turn over the entire roster every five years, teams tend not to be too down or too up for too long.

All that said, time to revel in Stanford's state of abject woefulness while we have it.

The Bears are a 29 point favorite, and the over-under is 46 points. That means the bookies don't give Stanford much chance to score more than, say, a couple of field goals or maybe a kickoff return for a touchdown. Given the strength of Cal's kicking game, it is quite possible that Stanford not only doesn't score, but that they might not even make an appearance in Cal's end of the field.

OK, OK, Cal lost to Arizona. The difference: Arizona isn't all that bad. They were, but then they got their quarterback back from injury, and they matured. They beat Cal, Oregon, and WSU in a string. It is possible that Stanford could start their own string tomorrow. But don't count on it.

Stanford has improved in the second half of the season. In the first half, they were giving up a laughable 455 yards per game. Now, though, they've trimmed that to a respectable 315 yards per game in the last five games. Stanford's nonconference slate included bowl-bound San Jose State, Navy, and BCS-bound Notre Dame. Their only win was a 20 to 3 dismantling of the Washington Huskies on the road on November 11th. The following week they returned to form to get blasted by an Oregon State squad that had just lost at UCLA.

Statistically, Stanford is last in the conference in seven of eight major categories. They have the dead-last offense and are awful at defense except in passing yards per game, where they are a surprising #2 in the conference. This may be due to the fact, however, that teams have run so successfully on the Cardinal that they haven't had to pass. Opponents have rushed 486 times against Stanford for 4.9 yards per carry. Compare that to the rest of the league, which on the whole average 382 running plays by opponents. Meanwhile, the Cardinal's opponents have attempted only 294 passes; the other 9 pac-10 teams have faced an average of 357 passes. Basically, Stanford's opponents get so far ahead that they spend the second half of the game running the ball to kill the clock. And they do it successfully. (Stanford averages 4:20 less in possession time than their opponents.)

It's almost pointless to go deeper into the stats. Stanford went a month without an offensive touchdown at one point. They average 10.0 points per game, second-worst in division 1-A. They give up nearly 32 points per game, worst in the Pac-10 by far. Cal is the highest-scoring offense in the league at 32.4 ppg, but the defense has given up 20.4. Good but not stellar. Facing a woeful offense like Stanford's, Cal's defensive speed should dominate.

When the Bears do go to the air, they bring the league's second most efficient passing attack. Stanford's pass defense efficiency is terrible, 9th in the Pac-10. They allow 62% completion (worst by far) and have given up 13 TDs to just 7 interceptions. While 13 passing TDs is pretty good, the 7 interceptions is very low... and the TDs are offset by the fact that Stanford has given up 26 rushing TDs, which is 8 more than the second-worst in that category. Half the league has given up 11 or fewer rushing TDs on the season. Stanford's 26 is a real head-shaker. Teams don't have to pass for touchdowns; they just run the ball in.

An interesting comparison is that Stanford is not the worst in the league in yards given up per play. The worst is... California. Cal gives up 5.8 yards per play on average, while Stanford gives up 5.5. Both are awful (4.9 or better would be considered good).

Perhaps the biggest bane to Stanford this year (besides injuries) has been turnovers. Stanford is dead last (again) in the Pac at -10 overall. Only Oregon has fared as poorly. The Bears sit fourth in the league at +5.

A glance at one of the stats pages from this week's Pac-10 football release tells a compelling story. Of the twelve statistical tables on the page, Stanford is last in nine of them (Turnover margin, first downs, opponent first downs, 3rd-down conversion, opponent 3rd-down conversion, sacks by, sacks against, field goals, and PAT kicking) and 9th in one (pass defense efficiency). The two tables where they are not at the bottom relate to penalties. Stanford is the league's least penalized team, and Stanford's opponents get penalized about an average amount of time.

Stanford is also last in red zone offense, appearing there just 22 times this season and scoring only SIX touchdowns. Compare that to the next-worst team, Arizona, with 29 appearances and fifteen touchdowns. This means that of Stanford's 11 offensive touchdowns, five were scored from outside the red zone. I don't think the Bears will give up any of those on Saturday; the team speed on defense is astounding.

The Bears have 22 red zone TDs in 35 appearances. This means that Cal has scored 17 touchdowns from outside the red zone. The Bears have as many red zone touchdowns as Stanford has red zone appearances, and Cal has scored nearly as many outside-the-red-zone TDs as Stanford has red zone appearances. Yikes. Talk about a discrepancy.

On the other side, Stanford's red zone defense is just as bad. Their opponents have shown up in the red zone a whopping 53 times and scored an eye-popping 34 touchdowns while visiting. Compare to Cal, who have allowed opponents into their red zone only 29 times overall and have given up only 14 touchdowns on those tries. An interesting thing is that Stanford has given up only five offensive touchdowns this year from outside their red zone. This, of course, is in keeping with the idea that teams tend to run the ball successfully at the Cardinal. Run a lot, and you're likely to end up inside the 20 at some point. In addition, it's interesting to see that of the 34 TDs they've given up inside the red zone, 24 are rushing TDs. This means that they give up more rushing TDs from within the red zone than the number of times their offense has appeared in the opponent's red zone.

Are we getting the picture yet?

Here's a cool stat: Cal has made 44 of 44 PAT kick attempts. Stanford has attempted just 13 and made only 11. Egads.

Another: Stanford has kicked off just 27 times. Eliminate 11 for having to kick off at least once each game to start a half, and you're left with 16 scores in 11 games. The Bears have kicked off 65 times, which makes 54 scores in 11 games. Holy smokes.

No wonder the point spread is 29.

The good news for the Cardinal, and the tough call for those considering wagering on the game, is that the Bears already have their bowl invitation sewn up. They can't improve by running up the score. There is only the need to win the game and to get all the seniors on the field at some point. If the Bears take a big lead into the second half, expect to see second- and third-string players the rest of the way. Running up the score is not coach Tedford's style, and it serves no valuable purpose in this game. So, while I'd like to see Cal hang a hundred on the ailing Cardinal, it ain't gonna happen.

Final score: Cal 49, Stanford 6.

Go Bears!

November 28, 2006

we have a winner!

Got to 50,000 words on Monday high in the air somewhere over Colorado. I needed about 4,000 for my final push to the NaNoWriMo goal, and I hit it thanks to my mother-in-law, who sat on the other side of Southwest 267's aisle with the kids.

I figure I've got about 10,000 or 15,000 more words to finish before December 15th (self-imposed deadline). That will be my short rough draft. Then I'll do the synopsis and ferret out the holes that need filling, then I'll add in the new scenes with the goal of getting it up to 75,000 by the end of the first revision. Then I'll let someone who likes me read it.

If you'd like to read the rough draft, email me or drop me a comment here. Caveat: It needs a lot of revision, though it does hang together as a coherent story. I think it even has no significant plot holes.

November 25, 2006

42000 and counting...

I feel quite confident that I will hit my NaNoWriMo goal of 50,000 words by the 30th. I might even make my personal goal of 60,000 by then. The story is really falling into place, and I am beginning to think that some sections of the writing aren't awful enough to make your eyes bleed. You know, a word here, a phrase there. Even the occasional sentence.

The trick now, since I find I'm writing an accidental thriller, is to tie up all the loose ends. When you do 50,000 words in 30 days, though, it's hard just to identify all the loose ends, let alone corral them and force them into something resembling a knotted rope. But the story is almost writing itself at this point, and my main concern is that I will only get to about 65,000 words and it'll be all over. I could then either write a 20,000 word denoument or add some scenes and plot twists and such upon revision. I think I'll go with the latter.

Anyway, this is my third novel, and I think it will be the most commercially viable after revision. I'm actually feeling pretty good about it.

November 17, 2006

oh... shme!

I did not know that a friend I'd lost touch with had cancer until I read a post on the Cal footbal message board saying he passed away today. I hadn't seen Dave in several years, but he was utterly unforgettable. A nice guy, funny and zany, and about the biggest Cal sports fan you would ever want to meet (or maybe not want to meet).

Some quick memories of Dave:

He wore a black and white striped referee shirt and a whistle around his neck to Cal basketball games, sitting courtside and yelling at the referees from tip-off to the final whistle. Although I remember a newspaper photo with Dave prominently in the background, I can't find it via google. If you find it on line, send me a link!

Dave coined the term shme, which became part of The Jargon File. Although it was popularized mostly by Geoworks employees and spread from there, Dave was its originator.

Dave had an awesome room in his house in Berkeley for viewing football on TV. When he bought a big-screen TV, he wasn't satisfied with just picture-in-picture, so he put another smaller TV on top of the big screen so he could have picture-in-picture-AND-picture.

We roadtripped with Dave to the Cal v USC game at the LA Coliseum (I think it was 1992, when Cal led early and looked to be on the way to victory before a Bear lineman went down with a terrible neck injury and was driven off the field in an ambulance; after that, the fight went out of the Bears and USC came back to pull out a close, and undeserved, victory). The night before the game we stayed with Dave's mom. Many things about that trip I will always remember, including the mini pumpkin muffins, Dave yelling at the slow drivers in the left lane on I-5, and the bizarre, illustrated Swedish cookbook (in English): It looked like a kid's book, but all the illustrations were nudists, including a picnic with a kid in it. One of the recipes was Lutefisk. It went something like this: Go to the store and buy some Lutefisk. Soak it in water. Serve it.

One sentence: "Put the kitty in the Hobart!"

Another: "Where could he be?" (said with the whiny voice of Mark Hamill as Luke in the original Star Wars)

Another: "Third quarter gin and tonics!"

I will experience Cal football in a different way from now on knowing that Dave is no longer out there watching, too. (At least not in the same way I've always known him.)

November 14, 2006

Plugged in Utne Reader!

OK, I don't exactly get a plug in Utne Reader, but the debut issue of Thereby Hangs A Tale does, and that means my pub credit will be seen by a wider audience, sort of. Hey, you take what you can get when you've only got three pub credits so far.


On another note, my NaNoWriMo novel has taken a turn. My characters told me flat out that my original script was boring and flat, and they didn't relish the idea of taking 80,000 words to get to the tedious end. So they murdered someone and informed me that they would much rather take part in an action story. And the words are flowing a lot more smoothly; another 1100 and I'll be at the golden 25,000 (half way, a day early).

November 10, 2006

yip yahoo

Yes, you know I'm talking about election day.

animals rejoice
yay for the environment
pombo rejected

And, here's to the hope that my guys do better than their guys. I mean, the bar was set pretty low in the last six years, but politicians have a way of surprising us all.

And that's all I have to say about that.

Hit 17,022 words this afternoon. Ahead of the 50k pace, but not enough to make up for Saturday's and Sunday's projected combined zero word count. Have begun thinking my story is weak sauce. My plot is pathetic. My characters are flimsy cardboard cutouts with bad voice-overs. The writing has as much lyrical quality as the flock of Canadian geese I heard fly south today. And there's about as much tension in my story as there is in a rubber band that's been left on a Phoenix parking lot through the entire month of July. In other words, I am thinking that it sucketh. But I will finish it, quality be damned. I do believe there is a nugget of story in there that can be saved by hard work and revision.

To quote Thomas Edison, "Opportunity is missed by most people because it is dressed in overalls and looks like work." Once the rough draft is done... that's when opportunity shows up in its overalls.

Huh. Sort of like election day. The Democrats that won the legislature had better not turn away opportunity just because it's dressed in overalls and looks like work.

November 5, 2006

way behind but keeping up

Wednesday I struggled to get to 2400 words. It just didn't feel right, wasn't flowing, wasn't the kind of quality prose I had written for my published short stories.

Thursday I rocked my way to 4500 words and felt the rust flaking off, the energy coming back to the writing. Partly because I got the hell out of my own way and jumped right to the action.

Friday I got caught up in work but managed to get 1400 words done on the train home and then another 8oo later that night to end up around 6700 for the first three days. Ahead of even my goal of 2000 words a day!

Saturday I went camping with E on a Webelos campout. Sunday... well, it's still Sunday and I've got an hour or so of energy left after dishes, laundry, more cub scout den meetings, housecleaning, getting the kids to bed, and catching up on emails. Let's see if I can accomplish anything in that time.

October 30, 2006

they totally rock

Last night's Evanescence concert at the Warfield in San Francisco totally kicked ass. I just had to say that. I haven't been to a real concert since college (I saw Squeeze at the Greek Theater in Berkeley). Amy Lee is awesome. She rocks.

October 26, 2006

2,809 and counting...

It's worth repeating. 2,809 American soldiers killed in the Iraq war. See them. Read how and where they lived. Read how and where they died.

It is time for new leadership in this country. Regime change begins in November.

October 21, 2006

Sold Again!

Today I got my third acceptance for publication. This was a long time in the waiting but a very happy conclusion. The journal is THEMA, a small lit mag out of the Gulf Coast region. They were displaced by Katrina and are recovering, but slowly. My short story entitled "Joseph's Mother" will appear in the Spring 2007 issue, for which the theme is "rage over a lost penny."

Although their profile on says their circulation is a mere 350, the writeup they received in The Writer magazine back in late spring or early summer might have impacted that. And, they actually pay. Which is nice.

October 17, 2006

home again, home again

Even with Isaiah Stanback, the Huskies would have had two chances to win this weekend: slim and fat. Take Stanback (the Pac-10's #2 player in total offense) out, however, and the Huskies really look to have an insurmountable task on Saturday. (If you didn't know, Stanback--the heart of the Huskies' offense and a big reason they are 4-3 overall--is out, probably for the season.)

Shed no tears for the Pac's puppies from the north, however. With ASU and Stanford still on their home schedule, I am confident the Huskies will play in a bowl game this year, even without Stanback. That would make me happy as they are my second favorite Pac-10 team, and I will root for them every weekend but this one.

You don't need to know much about the stats or schedules to see how this one will shake out, though. The Bears should dominate on offense and, especially with Stanback out, dominate on defense.

The Bears possess the conference's #1 or #2 offense, depending on what yardsticks you use. Cal and Oregon are #1 or #2 in the four major offensive categories: Rushing (Oregon #1, Cal #2), Passing (Cal #1, Oregon #2), Total Offense (Oregon #1, Cal #2), and Scoring (Cal #1, Oregon #2). In addition, the Bears present the conference's leading rusher (Lynch, with 108 yards per game and 6.8 yards per carry), most efficient passer (Longshore, with 63.3% completion, 17 TDs, and 7 interceptions), top all-purpose producer (Lynch, with 146 yards per game including kickoff returns), and top TD scorer (Jackson, with 10 TDs). Jackson, the league's best game-breaker, is also #7 in receptions per game, #3 in receiving yards per game, #5 in all-purpose yards per game, #2 in overall scoring per game, and #2 in punt return average.

The Bears score a remarkable five touchdowns per game and average 6.5 yards per play. The Bears lead the league in first downs and have +5 turnovers in their 7 games. Only Oregon and USC protect the QB better (Cal has given up only 8 sacks in 7 games). Finally, while the Bears rank 3rd in red zone offense, they are the most efficient at getting points there with 17 TDs in 22 appearances (77%). And as Mr. Dempster pointed out last week, the Bears don't need a layover in the red zone to visit the end zone through the air; they have 10 passing TDs from outside the red zone. An explosive and efficient offense if ever there was one.

WSU had pretty good defensive statistics with some pretty good players. The Huskies, however, give up 24 points per game (7th in conference). They have the league's worst pass defense with a very generous 7.8 yards per pass (worst in the league) and 250 yards per game. Only ASU gives up more passing TDs per game than UW, and I'm betting they will flip-flop after this weekend. Their rushing defense will not measure up either, though their 3.7 yards allowed per carry is better than Cal's 3.9. UW is 9th in total defense, giving up 371 yards per game and 5.7 yards per play. (Compare to Cal, however, which is 8th at 366 yards per game and an equivalent 5.7 yards per play.)

What's the difference? Simply put, the Bears don't let the other team score. Cal has by far the best red zone defense in the conference. Only UCLA has allowed fewer red zone touchdowns, but they've played one fewer games. The Bears have allowed only 8 TDs in 18 opponent opportunities. We all heard about (or read about) the goal line stand last week after Thompson hurtled down the field to save a long touchdown. We know the Bears have supreme confidence when they have a short field to defend. Without Stanback, we may never see UW in Cal's red zone anyway, but if they get there, the Bears will keep them out of the end zone.

Cal also has the league's best punt team, though this game is never going to be about field position. The Bears are also near the top in punt and kickoff returns while the Huskies wallow at 7th in all the kicking and return categories.

But it's not like UW has built their 4-3 record on a diet of creampuffs, right? After all, Sagarin rates their schedule 11th toughest in the nation (Cal's is rated 3rd toughest). They've already faced (and lost to) Oklahoma and USC, both on the road. Their other loss was to a reasonably talented and highly motivated Oregon State team last week. Their wins were over SJSU (6 points), Fresno State (1 point), UCLA (10 points), and Arizona (11 points on the road). They still have to face Cal and Oregon on the road but get ASU and Stanford at home, then finish up by visiting WSU.

This is not a record that inspires fear. It is not an offense that looks like it could break out on any given play. It is not a defense headlined by a couple of outstanding players holding teams under 15 points per game four games running. In short, this 4-3 team from the Pacific Northwest is very different from the other 4-3 team from the same state. Sagarin's algorithms predict a 21-point victory for the Bears. That to me seems a bit low, but it's not unreasonable considering we may see Ayoob in the 3rd quarter and Levy in the 4th. We may be treated to Marcus O'Keith gaining 6 yards a carry throughout the fourth quarter to run down the clock.

In short, this is predicted to be a blowout, and I see no reason it won't be, particularly with the offense coming off a poor performance and the defense fired up and faced with a backup quarterback.

The biggest question on Saturday night will be, how will we survive a bye week with no Cal football on Saturday the 28th?

I'm saying Cal 42, UW 13.

Go Bears!

October 12, 2006

not the end of the world but you can see it from there...

Until I read it today, I hadn't realized that Tedford has never appeared in Pullman as a head coach. Two years Cal did not meet WSU, and two years the Cougars came to Berkeley. This means that although the Bears have not won in Pullman since 1979, they also are unbeaten in Pullman in the last five years.

I think that the Bears win this game 9 out of 10 times. I just can't shake the feeling, though, that this has the same feel as the game when Cal beat USC in Berkeley lo these many years ago. USC underestimated the Bears, but Cal had seen similar top-notch competition (Kansas State) early in the year. The Bears were at home, ravenous for a signature game, ready to break out.

If you read cyberbears, Bear fans are certainly looking right past WSU. It's a checkmark on the list, a stamp in their Pac-10 passports. Oh, we'll say "one game at a time" and all that, but truth be told, very few Cal fans think much of WSU. But in fact, they were quite possibly the best 1-7 team in Pac-10 history last year. They lost by three to Stanford, UCLA, ASU, and Oregon, and they lost by four to Cal. Every week it seemed they were on the verge of a big win, but they never got one (can't really call beating UW last year a "big" win).

This year they're 4-2, and one of their losses was their opener on the road at Auburn. If we can write off the Tennessee game, then we have to give them similar respect. Which means that they are 4-1 in games that count, with the one loss a reasonably close affair against USC at home (28-22).

This one has "upset" written ALL OVER it, folks.

The big talk in Berkeley this week? The banana uniforms. The team is either loose or overconfident--it's impossible to tell which. No TV to pump up the Bears. The smallest crowd in the Pac-10 (yes, even smaller than Stanford--WSU averages a league-worst 35,302 per game). WSU homecoming day. The Palouse... it's not the end of the world, but you can see it from there. A talented, underrated team ravenous for a signature win...

This one is either a nail-biter to the end or the biggest blowout of the season. I'm hoping the latter, but I'm afraid it will be the former.

OK, on to stats: In the stats, the Bears clearly own offensive superiority. No doubt about it: Cal scores nearly 40 points per game (5th nationally) to WSU's 26. The Bears are 11th nationally in pass offense and 8th nationally in total offense. But wait! WSU is 24th nationally in passing offense and 17th in total offense. So the superiority may not be so clear. Let's dig deeper:

Cal nets 6.8 yards per play, best in the Pac-10. WSU is third, however, at 5.8 yards per play. The Bears have scored 27 offensive TDs to WSU's 19, so that's a big difference. Cal has 18 TD passes to just 6 interceptions, but WSU is nearly as good with 13 TDs to just 5 interceptions in the same number of games. Both teams are just above 60% completion rate. We know Cal has a great passing offense; WSU also has a very good passing offense.

Similarly, both teams are good at running the ball. Cal nets 4.9 yards per carry and 167 yards per game, but WSU is right behind at 4.5 yards per carry and 162 yards per game. Both teams also have positive turnover margin. Cal leads with +6 (+1.0 per game) with WSU at +2 (+.33 per game).

WSU is #1 in the Pac in first downs with 135 in 6 games; Cal is right behind with 130. Both the Bears and WSU are around 43% in 3rd down conversions. WSU has allowed 12 sacks to Cal's 7, but they're slightly better in time of possession. The real difference may be in the red zone, where Cal has scored 14 TDs in 19 appearances (plus 2 field goals). WSU has 14 TDs in 27 appearances plus 6 field goals. Three of their fumbles have come in the opponent's red zone, and their red zone TDs are overwhelmingly through the air.

All this says to me that the Bears had better be ready for a team that will attack with a very strong passing game. They will get big yardage and will probably score a few. Although Jason Hill injured his shoulder last week, it looks likely he will play. Against ASU and Oregon, the Bears faced inexperienced quarterbacks who got rattled under pressure and gave up big turnovers. Don't expect the same hospitality from Alex Brink. The best way to keep WSU from scoring will be to keep their offense off the field.

But that may not be an easy task, either. Everyone is raving about WSU's underrated defense, which has held four opponents under 15 points (their four wins). The Cougars allow a miserly 18 points per game (3 better than Cal's 21 ppg allowed). They are strong against the run, holding opponents to 3.3 yards per carry and just 98.8 yards per game. They have not allowed a 100-yard rusher since Auburn's Kenny Irons in their opener. Cal, meanwhile, is just 7th in the Pac-10 against the run, allowing 3.8 yards per carry and 131 yards per game.

Like Cal, however, WSU has a weaker pass defense... at least at first glance. They give up 221 passing yards per game (better than Cal's 238), bu they are more efficient, collecting one interception per game and allowing just one passing TD per game. The Bears, meanwhile, are a big-play defense: 10 passing TDs allowed, but 11 interceptions grabbed. WSU leads the nation in sacks with 27 (4.5 per game!). The Bears have been improving in that category and are 5th in the conference with 16 QBs bagged. The Bears are good at protecting Lonshore, though, giving up a little more than one sack per game.

WSU also has the better red zone defense, giving up just 8 TDs in 20 opponent appearances. The Bears have given up 8 TDs in 15 appearances. So... does that mean WSU is better in the red zone, or does that mean the Bears are better at keeping opponents out of the red zone? Hmmm...

So, these teams are remarkably similar. How about their competition? WSU has a blowout loss in their opener at Auburn and a close loss to USC at home. Their wins came at Stanford and Oregon State, and at home against Idaho and Baylor. Their win last week at Reser Stadium was 13 to 6. Certainly, Cal fared better in Corvallis.

Finally, a quick look at turnovers and special teams. I have this nagging feeling in the back of my mind that says, one of these days the Bears are not going to benefit from a lot of turnovers by the opponent. One of these days, the opponent is going to protect the ball. I worry that it will be WSU on Saturday, and the Bears will have to prove they can finish a close game in the second half.

On special teams, the Bears appear to have the hands-down advantage. Cal is 3rd in the league in kickoff returns, and WSU is 9th in kickoff coverage. Maybe this week will be the week the Bears run one all the way back. On the other side, the Bears are 7th in kickoff coverage but WSU is only #8 in kickoff returns, so it's a wash there. Both teams punt well: WSU is 4th with a net of 35.5 yards per punt and 1 touchback, while Cal leads the Pac with 38.3 yards per punt with 3 touchbacks. Cal has the league's second-best punt return average at 14.8 yards per return, however, and is one of two teams with two punts returned for touchdowns. WSU, however, gets only 5.8 yards per return and has not (yet) run one back all the way.

All in all, I do think the Bears win this game 9 times out of 10. The talent and depth is simply awesome, and the defense appears to be improving each week. I think Cal has played a tougher schedule, though not THAT much tougher.

I think this game hinges entirely on two things: First, Cal's defense shutting down WSU's passing game. They don't have to keep Brink and Hill from getting yards... they have to keep Hill out of the end zone. Some of that will be pressure, and the middle of the O line is where their inexperience is. The Bears need a good push in the middle of the line to disrupt Brink's pocket and rush his passes.

The other thing this game hinges on is Cal's ability to protect the ball. If the Bears suffer minus-two or worse in turnovers, they will lose. If they hold on to the ball and don't get sloppy, they should roll.

I am hoping for the blowout victory, of course, but I think this one won't have the benefit of a first-play-from-scrimmage turnover. We can't count on the Cougars imploding the way the Ducks did last week, and I think they will play tough for all four quarters. In the end, though, this is not that tenth game out of ten that the Cougs win. It is maybe the fourth game out of ten, which is still a Cal victory, with the final score Cal 38 WSU 28.

Go Bears!

October 5, 2006

duck season is open, too

It's obvious this Saturday's game pits two extraordinary teams against each other. But something's gotta give. Cal's time of possession is 28:43 per game, and Oregon's is 27:26 per game. Unless the game is called early, one of the two teams will have to come in over their average.

OK, just a few notes this week. Basically, this Oregon offense looks, on paper, like the best offense in the Pac-10. Check it out: The conference's leading passer, leading rusher, leader in receptions per game, leader in receiving yards per game, and leader in scoring all play for Oregon. Some other scary stats: Oregon leads the league in scoring at 40.2 points per game. They're also #1 in rushing offense (227 ypg) and total offense (497 ypg). Oregon gets the most first downs per game of any Pac-10 team. They are #2 in red zone offense, scoring 21 times out of 23 tries, with 16 of those being touchdowns. They average an astounding 6.2 yards per rush and 6.8 yards per play. And they have allowed just one sack in their four games. It's not like they've played a bunch of patsies, either.

Cal is no slouch on offense, though, sporting the league's most efficient passer, the league's leader in touchdowns scored, and the league's leader in all-purpose yardage. The Bears are right behind Oregon in scoring offense (38.4 ppg) and total offense (452 ypg). The Bears are a skitch better in the red zone, scoring on 13 of 14 opportunities with 11 of those being TDs. Someone on cyberbears analyzed the two teams' big play tendencies, and although I don't have the stats, it went something like this: Cal had a lot more big plays (over 20 yards) than Oregon. Apparently, this means Cal is a more explosive offense while Oregon is more a constant mover.

It's on the defensive side of the ball where Oregon appears to outclass the Bears--at least, statistically. Oregon has the league's leading tackler and has the league's best and most efficient pass defense. They've allowed just three passing TDs in four games and hold opponents to a miserly 50% completion and 5.3 yards per pass. Their run defense is suspect, though, as they give up 163 ypg and 4.3 yards per carry.

The Bears, meanwhile, appear to allow teams to walk up and down the field but don't let them into the end zone. Cal is #9 in the conference in pass defense and #7 in rush defense. While they lead the league in interceptions (Hughes has five of the team's eight), they have given up a league-worst 8 passing touchdowns and allow 7.7 yards per pass. Only Stanford has worse total defense stats as Cal gives up 5.7 yards per play and 370 yards per game (both #9). But the Bears are #4 in the conference in scoring defense at 20.4 points per game. (Oregon allows 20.0 ppg.) So they're doing something right. Indeed, the Bears are #2 in red zone defense, allowing just 6 TDs in 12 opportunities.

The only other stat that jumps out at me (besides the all-important Time Of Possession, noted above) is turnover ratio. The Bears are +3 on the season, but the Ducks are -1.

This is bound to be a close game. Recent history has the Ducks winning 8 of the last 9 games, with Cal's only win in that stretch two years ago in Berkeley when the Duck TE dropped an easy pass that would have given Oregon a chip-shot field goal for the win. But the last three games have all been close nail-biters, and this one should be no different. I only wish I could be there.

I honestly don't understand how Cal is a 5 point favorite unless there are injuries I'm not taking into account. I know the Bears have the talent to win this game, but I'd call it even. Given the offensive propensities, I think Cal might have a slight game planning edge--the Bears appear to have more explosive capabilities and may be able to focus on the running game more. Meanwhile, Oregon's offense may be unable to fully exploit Cal's youth at DB to provide explosive plays--the Bears have tremendous speed on defense and have proven to be good tacklers when they get their paws on a ball carrier.

I think perhaps this game is the single biggest reason Tedford hired a new Offensive Coordinator. Tedford got too predictable last year and second-guessed himself too much against the Ducks. resulting in a very flat offense. Having a new guy throwing curve balls at Bellotti can only help the Bears. Plus, the Bears have serious momentum after four beautiful games. But Oregon still has something to prove after The Replay two weeks ago. They spanked little poser ASU last week, but that's not enough for them. If they want to be part of the nation's elite, they need to wipe out that Oklahoma memory with a pasting of one of the big boys. Motivation and momentum and to spare on both sidelines this week.

All in all, this game is huge, and it has all the look of the Cal vs Virginia Tech game a few years ago--a real shootout with the last team having the ball to be the one to win.

I'll go out on the limb and say that the Bears will benefit from two interceptions in the second half and will be able to ride Marshawn's running game to victory. Final score: Bears 38, Ducks 35.


Boy, I wish I could be there.

October 1, 2006

NaNoWriMo site is open

Just one month away from National Novel Writing Month. Their spiffed-up web site is now on line, the forums are open, and the store is stocked with tee shirts and mugs and posters. My day job has commanded so much of my time recently that I have written just a few minutes here and there, but November 1st I sit down and pound out the novel that's been fermenting in my mind for two months already now. Before that, I have two short pieces to write and send off somewhere.

Any of you all who regularly (ahem) read this blog going to join me this year? 50,000 words is not that hard if you have say two hours a day to commit. The trick for me will be to make the 50,000 word goal and to have it be quality work. This will be my third novel. The first was publishable. The second... well, I haven't read it yet, so I don't really know. I think it's a little boring, to be honest, though in sections the writing looks really good. This third one will not only be publishable but will be published (eventually). I have little doubt of that.

Unless, of course, I get hit by a bus or something.

September 29, 2006

I am so tired. But there's still energy for Cal at OSU

A harder week at work I have not had in probably 15 years. I'm exhausted.

But I think the Bears will win up in Corvallis this weekend. Oregon State has good defensive stats, especially in the secondary. Only one touchdown allowed to five interceptions and only 5.9 yards per pass. They're also allowing only 3.6 yards per rush and 115 yards per game on the ground. They allow opponents only 12 first downs a game (Cal allows 19.5), and they have 11 sacks in 3 games. They've also held opponents to an astounding 5 third-down conversions in 33 attempts (15.2%).

Their worry on defense, though, is in the red zone. Oregon State has not yet stopped an opponent from scoring in the red zone, giving up five TDs on their opponents' five opportunities. USC and UCLA are the only teams to allow fewer red zone appearances... that's one reason they're #1 and #2 in the conference in scoring defense.

But the Beavers will face an offense like they've not yet seen in the likes of Eastern Washington, Idaho, or even Boise State. Cal QB Nate Longshore has won two of the four Pac-10 Offensive Player Of The Week awards and is the league's top-rated passer in efficiency with 66% completion, 10 TDs, and 3 interceptions. DeSean Jackson has six receiving touchdowns in four games and is the league's top receiver in yards per catch at 18.5. Then there's Marshawn Lynch, the league's second-leading rusher at 112.2 yards per game. He has three touchdowns and leads the league's top rushers at 7.2 yards per carry. Cal's offense has faced Tennessee on the road and Minnesota and Arizona State at home--all of them supposedly tough defenses. Cal's scoring has gone up game over game, and they've scored 42 or more in their past three contests. Will the Beavers' stats hold up when they face this kind of offense?

On offense, the Beavers do not look so dominant. They take care of the ball and score well (36 points per game), but they're middle of the Pac in most statistical categories on offense. While the Beaver defense makes plenty of appearances at the top of the statistical tables, you have to go pretty far down the chart to fine the OSU offense. In fact, I can't find a single category worthy of note.

Cal's defense is not so hot, statistically, however. They're allowing 4.3 yards per rush and 165 yards per game on the ground. Meanwhile, they're last in pass defense with 223.5 yards per game. Daymeion Hughes has five interceptions in his last three games, but Cal is #9 in the conference at 7.8 yards per pass given up, and they've allowed a league-worst 8 passing touchdowns to go with their league-best 8 interceptions. Sort of a big-play defense on every down, you'd guess, one way or the other.

The only other stat to note is that this game pits the only two Pac-10 teams that have scored on punt returns. The Bears did it last week against ASU, and Oregon State is the only team to have done it twice in this young season. Plus, they sport an eye-popping 19.3 yard average on their punt returns. Special teams could be a big factor in this game if it's a close game.

For me, this game hinges on two things:
First, is the Beaver secondary as good as their stats? We saw last week that ASU's high-powered offense built their hot stats against weak competition. But sometimes good stats are good stats, no matter who the competition is. Can the Beavers shut down one of the best offenses in the league, if not the country? Or are the Bears balanced enough to score even if OSU takes away the pass?

Second, will the atmosphere bring down the Bears? Cal is third in the Pac-10 with an average home attendance of 58,000. The crowd is pretty enthusiastic at Memorial, too. But get into Corvallis and they'll be lucky to play in front of 40,000. Tedford's teams tend to play better in front of big crowds, TV audiences, loud pressure (Tennessee is the exception). Ironically, the best thing for the Beavers could be a half-empty stadium with no noise at all. The Bears would have a hard time gearing up for that environment.

All in all, though, I come back to this: OSU's schedule so far. Destroyed Eastern Washington at home, 56-17. Got creamed at Boise State, 42-14. Demolished Idaho at home, 38-0. They can mop up the patsies, but can they play a good team like Cal close?

I predict Cal would win this matchup 9 out of 10 times, barring crazy injuries. The Beavers just don't have enough of an offense to compete with Cal's offense, even if the defense is pretty strong.

Cal's more difficult schedule is an advantage, though Longshore still has never won a game on the road.

I'm betting on a relatively mundane game. No crazy turnover frenzies or kicks returned for scores. A lot of running on both sides, a lot of clock management and balanced offense. I think the Bears will build a steady lead, up 21-10 at halftime and 35-23 at the final gun.

Go Bears!

September 26, 2006

Unskilled at writing, but unaware of it

Miss Snark keeps saying, "Good writing trumps all," when she's referring to the process of getting published (or rejected, the less amusing alternative). Many of her readers ask, "What about 'write well' do people not get?"

I think it's that people who do not write well are unaware of their lack of skill. That is, they think they do write well; therefore, they think it must be something else—discrimination, bad luck, aliens, George Bush, etc.—causing their stories to get rejected time and again. There is not a human on the planet who has avoided this type of trap their entire lives. Maybe not in writing but in other areas. The guy who thinks his "special move" will please every woman concludes that the woman who isn't satisfied is a cold fish. The rookie soccer player who thinks he's hot stuf quits the team when he's not elected MVP. The amateur chef who loves to experiment doesn't realize he's making all his dinner guests struggle not to barf at the table. The "excellent" and opinionated mother who thinks she's got all the answers will later find herself on Nanny 911 with two little monsters controlling her life.

If I remember my 9th grade trig, the contrapositive should be true: If you are aware of your lack of skill, then you should be reasonably competent. It seems to hold true in my limited experience: Those people who are most humble about their need to improve also appear to be the ones who already have decent skills but who are most likely to improve with teaching and critique.

There are, of course, the extremes that fall outside this norm: The truly great know they're exceptional, and the truly awful know they're tragically abysmal. I am hopeful that I fall into the category of "most likely to improve." I take confidence from the fact that I've placed two stories in my first eight months of serious writing, and I am proud of the fact that my writers group helped improve both pieces. I think that means that I can learn and improve.

I do think my first novel is good enough to sell--I just have to read the critiques from the PNWA contest to believe that--but I know in the future I'll do better because I know I'm not quite "there" yet.

September 23, 2006

Arizona State visits Bear Territory

While I haven't done a full analysis, and while I'm still stinging from how atrociously wrong I got the Tennessee game, here goes...

This game will come down to three things:

  1. Can Cal's injury-plagued offensive line hold up against a D line that leads the nation in sacks with 18 and has not allowed a rushing TD in three games?
  2. Can the Bear pass defense, 9th in the Pac-10 statistically, hold up against the #2 pass offense in the Pac-10?
  3. How much weight do you put on ASU's weak schedule and Cal's difficult schedule when looking at the stats?
ASU and Cal are ranked pretty closely by most services and polls. 3-0 ASU is #20/#18 in the AP & Coaches polls, while Cal is #22/#20. Sagarin puts Cal #21 and ASU #24, predicting a 5-point Cal win when you consider home field advantage. The betting public seems to like Cal better, with the line having gone from Cal -7 to Cal -9 in one case.

But looking at the stats doesn't really bear that optimism out. I think this game is much more even, and the stats would give ASU the slight edge, I think. (But again, how much weight do you put on the strength of schedule after only three games?)

Some quick hits (all Pac-10 rankings, not national):
  • ASU brings the #2 pass offense against the #9 pass defense
  • ASU's rushing offense is slightly better than Cal's, averaging the same yards per carry (4.8), one more rush yard per game (162), and gaining two more touchdowns than Cal (6 vs 4).
  • ASU's pass offense is for real, leading the league in TDs (9) and yards per pass (9.3). They also have a good 63.7% completion rate. (Carpenter has thrown 4 interceptions, however.)
  • ASU allows a measly 12.7 points per game, #2 behind USC. Cal allows 22.7 points per game.
  • ASU's rushing defense has been outstanding, allowing just 104 yards per game, 2.6 yards per carry (best in the conference), and no touchdowns. Cal's rush defense gives up 3.9 yards per carry and 140 yards per game, but they have held opponents to just 2 rushing TDs.
  • ASU's pass defense is mediocre except for 5 interceptions in 3 games while allowing just 4 passing touchdowns. They do allow 7.5 yards per pass, 3rd worst in the league. Cal, however, allows 9.2 yards per pass, far and away the worst in the Pac-10. In addition, Cal has given up 6 passing TDs but gained 4 interceptions, and they're giving up nearly 240 yards passing a game.
  • Overall, Cal's defense is 2nd worst in the league, allowing 6.2 yards per play and nearly 380 yards a game. They've given up 8 TDs, 3rd worst in the league. ASU, meanwhile gives up just 4.4 yards per play (2nd best) and has given up just 4 offensive TDs (3rd best).
Nothing else really jumps out at you except for 18 sacks and the fact that ASU has outscored opponents 49-7 in the second half this year.

Are some of these stats starting to sound familiar? I think the ASU defense sounds a lot like Cal's dominating defense of the year we got screwed out of the Rose Bowl. Low point totals. Low yards per rush allowed. Dominant in the second half of games.

On the other side, ASU has as strong a passing attack as Cal has seen. The young DBs must improve, or Cal must get huge pass pressure, if the Bears are to keep the devils from getting to the end zone frequently.

Cal fans no doubt remember that Dirk Koetter's teams are 0-10 in the state of California, and ASU are 0-3 in their last three games against Cal. But the Bears did not see ASU last year, and the Sun Devils have been improving since they got thumped 27-0 the last time the two teams met. The Devils have been to two straight bowl games (though they had to rally to beat Arizona to end last year at 6-5).

Finally, do not count on any emotional wreckage from the whole Sam Keller affair. ASU has been performing well since then. The risk for the Devils is if Carpenter gets injured; their only backup is a redshirt freshman who's never played.

So... predicting this game comes down to a few philosophical questions:
  1. How much weight do you put on ASU's weak schedule and Cal's strong schedule when analyzing the stats?
  2. Do you believe the stats reflect the team at this point in the season?
  3. Do you believe in home field advantage?
Personally, I think that after three games the stats start to show the overall character of the team. There will be some movement, but generally Arizona, Washington, and Stanford will still be at the bottom at the end of the season, and USC, Oregon, ASU, and Cal will be at the top (offensively, at least). Cal's pass defense has been surprisingly atrocious (thanks to the injury to Tim Mixon), and the run defense has not been as good as expected. Will that continue, or will the Bears climb up the rankings statistically? (I believe the latter.)

Finally, there's the wildcard. Last time the teams met, the Sun Devils handed the ball over five times. That's not likely to happen this week, though we'll see if either team suffers fumbleitis or pick syndrome.

This is Cal's first true test. Was the Tennessee game an aberration or a predictor of how the Bears will fare against very good teams? Cal still has a lot to prove, and they can go a long way towards that with a solid victory today. But ASU also has a lot to prove, facing their first good opponent this year. It's a big test for them, too, and they'll be ready to fight hard.

In the end, I believe that Cal is still the superior team, and that the stats are lying just a little bit. This will be a close game, but I think the Bears will hang on something like 30-28.

Go Bears!

September 22, 2006

unavoidably delayed

stories still unread
unavoidably delayed
katrina damage

I wish the mainstream media would not forget important stories like the devastation caused by last year's hurricanes. I'm not talking about the finger-pointing "blame game" and the incompetence displayed by federal, state, and local authorities. I'm talking about the tragedy of families still living in FEMA trailers or much worse. The tragedy of a rebuilding process that will take years just to get to third-world status in some areas.

I may have the opportunity to attend a meeting in New Orleans in January, and an extra day would be added for the attendees to get involved in a volunteer project in some of the hardest hit areas. A year after the hurricanes swept through, I am told that the devastation is still mind-blowing. I hope I do get the chance to attend that meeting so I can see and help firsthand.

September 18, 2006

I was right the first time

While some people I know have (incorrectly) self-diagnosed many fatal or near-fatal diseases, my self-diagnosis was correct. I finally saw an orthopedic surgeon last week, and he did the x-ray thing and the poking my foot thing and the wiggling my foot thing. He proclaimed nothing worse than plantar fasciitis, which was both a relief and a frustration.

So now I can forget about the possibility of broken bones or surgery. I just have to stumble through the pain for another month or two (or three or four if I get back out on the soccer field in the meantime).

I can not wait to get back to writing and working out. Work has finally dropped to a regular pace, at least for the moment, so I hope to get back onto track with regular life. Wish me luck.

September 12, 2006

A poem that made it to the "final cuts" at one litmag

Blessed Coffee
by Peter Dudley

In the beginning, there was emptiness.
Not one single drop.
While the priest turned
Water into wine and labored to
Convert the masses in his echoing
Stone and concrete hall,
I percolated, converting water into

Such a church should have
A bigger kitchen and
A sink that works.

Black mystery of the divine
Heat of his love
Steam ascending toward Heaven
Glass window into God

The ladies will arrive soon, ignoring
Doughnuts and fussing over brooches.
They will sip from their
Styrofoam fonts,
God’s love burning on their lips and
In their throats.

If Father Brian asks,
I don’t know what happened
To the rest of his
Holy water.

But I do know the number of a good plumber.

September 11, 2006

The First Line Has Arrived!

I can't believe the fall issue of The First Line is already out. Very cool to see my fiction in print. I have not had a chance to read the rest of it, but the intro by the editors makes it sound like interesting reading. Git yerself a copy.

September 10, 2006

Thereby Hangs A Tale has arrived!

My first sold story in print has arrived in the mail. It's a lovely job they've done with the design and photos, and it was a great feeling when Maria read the story again last night and laughed in all the right places and then said, "This is really good."

To buy copies, go over to Thereby Hangs A Tale.

And to subscribe to The First Line in time to get the fall issue containing my second sold story, head over to The First Line.

I love that I've sold two stories. I've got five other stories in review right now at small litmags, but no ETAs on when they'll render judgment.

I hate that I haven't been able to write anything or work on any stories in over a month. But that's the nature of my day job... From June to October, I'm at full sprint, and the past three weeks have seen me burning the midnight bandwidth at least three or four nights a week... on work, not writing. But it pays the bills, right? I have been able to do a little plotting and character development for my third novel, which I'll draft during NaNoWriMo in November, when the pace of my job settles down to a comfortable stroll. I just hope I don't get sick of the story by the time I finally get to write it. The effort scares me a little because I'm going to try writing in a voice from a POV I've never tried before. If it works, I think it'll be really good. If it doesn't, well... it'll be a learning experience, I guess.

September 8, 2006

2,666 and counting

A high school classmate of mine is shipping off to Iraq today. I have not seen him or kept in touch with him since graduation 21 years ago. A good friend's husband is currently serving in Afghanistan.

2,666 and counting.

When will it end?

September 3, 2006

guess I got THAT one wrong

Wow. 35-18. I was pretty close on the differential... but I picked the wrong team to win.

How lucky was I that I was nowhere near a TV on Saturday? Instead, I was enjoying a sunny day at Lake Sonoma with a whole bunch of friends, my family, and a few beers. Unfortunately, I also had my AM radio, so Starkey spent a little time with us, too. I turned the game off at halftime, and when I turned it back on, what I heard was this: "The kickoff is again very deep (oh, good, I thought, I'm tuning in just in time for the second half comeback), so the Bears will again start at their twenty (uh-oh... shouldn't the Bears kick off to start the second half?) down twenty-eight to nothing." Click. Off went the radio. I turned it on twice more just to catch score updates.

All I have to say is this: Unlike Stanford, Cal is undefeated in the Pac-10 this year!

August 31, 2006

Cal at Tennessee

How in the world could Cal have dropped from a two point favorite to a two point underdog? The line should have gone the other way.

After all, Cal is ranked much more highly (#12 in the USA Today poll, #9 in the AP poll) than the Volunteers (#23 in both polls). Sagarin’s preseason calculations rank the teams closer at #20 and #30, giving the Volunteers the two-point edge due to home field advantage. The Volunteers finished 5-6 last year and stayed home during bowl season; the Bears stumbled to a 7-4 finish and then hung on to beat BYU in the Las Vegas Bowl.

The first game of the year is, of course, the most difficult to predict. Player turnover, coaching changes, and injuries all have an effect. The emotion of the college game inspires more intensity among the fans, the players, and even the media.

But in the end, the fans and media don’t play the games. And I am not one who subscribes to the idea that a packed house of 100,000 Tennessee fans will equate to a four point or even a seven point swing. In fact, I think the size and intensity of the venue is a benefit for and Tedford-coached Bears squad.

You may be getting the sense that I think Cal will win. You would be right.

Sizing Up The Vols Offense
Tennessee is coming off a losing season, a huge disappointment to everyone involved in the program. The coach has challenged everyone to redouble their efforts, practice harder, study harder, come out harder. The players are “angry” and “have a chip on their shoulder,” says the coach. If the Vols are to win, it will be due to this singular increase in effort.

On offense, the Volunteers are not overwhelming. They rushed for under 130 yards per game in 2005, and it was often posited that the defense did more than their fair share to win more than five games. Part of the problem was at quarterback. After a good go as a freshman, Erik Ainge came back to have a mediocre sophomore season. Only a fool would think he would be bad again, and in fact he is one of 21 preseason candidates for the Manning Award.

Ainge has a few good players to throw to, but the three top receivers have only 13 combined career starts. Still, they’ve been around as backups and are capable of scoring. Robert Meacham is six foot three and led the team in receiving yards in both 2004 and 2005 despite having just two career starts. Given the Bears’ recent loss of Tim Mixon and the loss of key coverage men to graduation, east-coasters must be excited at the prospects of seeing Ainge come back to form against a depleted Cal secondary.

Supplementing the Tennessee passing game will be a two- or even three-headed rushing attack. Sophomore tailback Aaron Foster leads the way after a freshman year of over 800 yards rushing and ending last season with five straight 100-yard games.

The weakness, though, is that pesky offensive line. Despite the return of 320-pound preseason all American LT Arron Sears, the offensive line is young and constitutes the weakness of the team. Only this week did the lineup solidify with the selection of Michael Frogg at center. If the Tennessee depth chart is accurate, outside of Sears, the other four offensive linemen return a total of seven career starts.

Although I expect Tennessee wants to present a balanced attack on offense, I think they will look to establish a running game out of the gate. With an inexperienced, big offensive line, they will want to get some success on the ground before laying into Cal’s depleted secondary.

Unfortunately for them, it won’t work.

Cal’s defensive front is outstanding, and despite the loss of a few key players, the depth and speed of the Cal defense is probably greater than in recent years. It is not impossible for this Cal defense to average 10 or fewer points over the season, and we know what kind of schedule the Pac-10 offers. The linebacking corps has two freshman all-Americans on the bench, and the speed is unparalleled.

I believe the Volunteers will have to draw on every ounce of anger and motivation to establish any offensive rhythm. They won’t be held scoreless, but they will have to work hard for every point.

Defensive Turnover
The biggest question for the Vols besides QB play is whether their depleted defense will reload or rebuild. The turnover for Tennessee was remarkable, losing three defensive linemen to the NFL and all three of their linebackers to graduation. The defensive backfield is in better shape and looks to be a very strong unit, but gone are the biggest factors that led to Tennessee being #2 nationally against the rush in 2005.

Big DT Justin Harrell (300 pounds) provides the only experience in the front seven, with 22 career starts in 32 career appearances. He is a force and can plug up the middle. The remaining six of the front seven, however, return just nine career starts; there is some significant game experience among the DL, however, with all four linemen having appeared in at least 20 games.

I think over time, the Tennessee defense will become known as a strong side with impressive statistics. They will create some problems down the road. Unfortunately for them, however, they face what may end up being the nation’s best rushing attack by season’s end (barring injury). Add in a bevy of speedy wide receivers and a crafty, deceptive offensive scheme, and the youngsters in orange are likely in for a long day.

My Prediction
As with any opening game, there are too many questions that can not be answered by statistics, media guides, or speculation. If the Bears can’t field a competent quarterback, Tennessee’s defense may gain confidence and momentum. If Cal’s secondary goes cold and Ainge catches fire, the Vols could rip off some long plays.

But I think it’s more likely that the Bears will control the game through a strong running attack, quieting the huge crowd and confusing the young defenders. I also look to the Bear front four to get pressure on Ainge every time he drops back, keeping him from getting into rhythm with his receivers and allowing the linebackers and safeties to make big plays.

The usual caveats about turnovers and injuries apply. If the game goes as I think it will, however, the Bears will show a level of class that will surprise the betting public and will impress the pollsters. Meanwhile, Tennessee will make a good showing but will, ultimately, not be able to keep up. I expect good things from them later in the year, but they’re too young in all the most important places to win this one.

Final score: Cal 28, Tennessee 10.

Go Bears!

August 25, 2006

writing group written up

Penny Warner, a writer of books who also has a column in our local paper, penned this column about the writing group that has helped me so much this past eight months. Although there is a factual error (or two) and the quotation at the end was edited a little too severely, it captures the essence of the group.

August 23, 2006

Airport Security

So I flew to Chicago today. I got to the airport ridiculously early, just in case someone decided to smuggle some Old Spice roll-on on the plane and they had to shut the place down.

As it turns out, the check-in line and security line were... the same as they've been for the past three years. Security was a little slower, but not much. (Instead of 18 minutes, I had to wait 20 with the same length line.) It's a pain in the ass to have to carry a larger bag and check it for such a short trip--I wasted about 30 minutes waiting for my bag in Chicago--but all in all, the process went smoothly.

Which begs the question: What are they really doing there? Does the x-ray machine pick up the presence of liquids, or does it just see bottle-shaped items? I understand that some bags are hand-searched. Three guys with white shirts and blue latex gloves stood by the gate as we all borded, "randomly" searching carryon bags. I never saw them inspect a single one.

I have yet to hear anyone say that banning carryon liquids and gels actually makes flying safer. In all the flights I've taken, and all the flights everyone I know has ever taken, there has not been a single attempt at hijacking, blowing up, poisoning, or aspifying the flight. Statistically, that's a very low percentage of flights targeted (it approaches zero pretty closely, for those still trying to do the math).

Yes, but remember Lockerbie. Remember 9/11. "Never again." That is, in a word, bullshit. I don't have the stats (who does?), but I would bet money that mechanical or pilot failure is responsible for more airplane deaths than terrorism... even before 9/11. Should we be vigilant in security? Sure, within reason. The steps taken recently have stepped outside the realm of reason and into the realm of action motivated by pure fear. And guess what? That means the terrorists have already won! Isn't that ironic? Terrorism's goal is not the deaths of a few hundred people or even a few thousand; it's to make people live in fear. That's why it's called terrorism. (The linguists among you may have picked up on that already.)

I'll tell you what we need. We need insurance companies to make the rules for airport security. Talk about a group who understands risk management. Airport security should not be an exercise in eradicating every possibility of risk. Somehow, fear and paranoia have turned it into that. Instead, it should be an exercise in managing risk against convenience and economics. It has become run by politics and political correctness when what is really needed is good ole Republican heartless analysis and cold calculation. Get the actuaries in and let them declare how much time and money should be spent on bag and passenger screening, how many restrictions should be placed on passengers on various flights (face it, Duluth to Fargo is not going to be a highly targeted route), and what the real risk levels are. Hell, post the risk values of each flight just like airlines now post the on-time percentage of each flight. Just like McDonald's has to post nutrition information of their foods. Let the consumers understand the risks they're taking when they get on the plane. How likely is it to crash due to faulty manufacturing? How likely due to drunk pilots? How likely due to aging and cracks in the fuselage? How likely due to terrorist activity?

Post all that information, then stand back and let the market sort it out. I bet the airlines already have all this information.

The way it's done today is stupidity at its most elegant.

Did you know that you're statistically more likely to die in a car crash on the way to the airport than you are in a terrorist-related flight incident?

I heard someone in line today saying they thought the "no liquids" rule was simply a way of making people buy more $3 and $4 drinks on the airplane. The more I think about it, the more I bet they're right.

August 22, 2006

Car For Sale

Vintage 1978 VW beetle, candy apple red convertible, Karmann edition. 121,000 miles. Original owner. Asking $8,000. Passed California emissions testing (smog) today. Runs well. Draws a crowd and interested comments from onlookers, especially when a pretty girl is driving.

It's Lit Season

With the start of school imminent, it's time to pull out those short stories that did not find a home over the summer and send them out. One went out today; another goes out at the end of the month. Three additional queries for Jumping The Stream also went out today, bringing to four the number in circulation.

Still waiting for Thereby Hangs A Tale to appear in my mailbox. Still floating a bit that The First Line will be publishing "Saved" in the fall. Have identified some older poetry I can dust off and improve for another submission after I get back from my business trip to Chicago the rest of this week.

August 20, 2006

I hate being injured

Being injured sucks.

My plantar fasciitis (if that is indeed what I've been struggling with for the past several months) seemed to be healing. I could walk most days with only a little pain in the morning or after sitting for a long time at my desk. Then, last Thursday, I played soccer on it, and something slipped. Today is the first day that I had stretches of as much as fifteen minutes without it hurting like hell. But it's possible that I have a separate injury because the really excruciating pain is more on the side of my heel rather than the bottom of my heel.

I will be missing at least the first month of my soccer season to try to rest it and heal. I hate that boring slog on the stationary bike at the gym. But that will have to suffice until I can get back to normal. I bought some inserts [pdf] for arch support and heel cushion, but I wonder if I'll play this year at all. I already feel myself going soft in the gut.

Being injured sucks.

August 18, 2006

Flying Naked II

So this is news to me. You'd think I'd have heard of this when it happened. Huh.

August 16, 2006

Politics or Security?

This article at MSNBC says that the terrorist suspects arrested the day after Lieberman lost his primary did not have plane tickets and that in fact no attack was iminent. This is not to say they weren't bad guys; they were. The British had been watching some of them for years and wanted to continue surveillance for another week or more.

But the United States pressured to arrest them immediately.

Why would US officials do that if there is no imminent threat? Some of the arrested blokes did not even have passports, apparently. Wouldn't it be better to watch them a little longer, hoping to get more information and evidence, maybe have them give up some other conspirators or contacts?

Instead, the US pushed Britain to make the arrests the day after Lieberman's loss.

This is the way our government makes us more secure? Decide the timing of significant arrests based on political rather than security concerns?

August 14, 2006


A short story of mine has won acceptance in a paying market. The First Line, a literary journal out of (of all places) Plano, TX, has finally capitulated under my relentless onslaught of submissions and selected one for publication in their fall issue. Probably out of pity.

Seriously, my story, Saved, is probably my best short story to date. I look back at what I wrote just six months ago, and although I'm not exactly embarrassed by it, I see how improved my writing is now. I owe it all to my writers group, soon to be featured in a column in our local newspaper. (Well, maybe not all of it, but their critiques and my dad's comments helped immensely.)

I am not sure when the fall issue comes out; I am expecting it some time in October. They appear to be quite quick at turning around their print issues.

August 11, 2006

Flying Naked

It can't be far away.

I don't remember which sci-fi book it was (I read a lot of Asimov, Heinlein, and Niven as a kid), but one author had their characters walking around in disposable paper clothing. Sounded uncomfortable to me at the time.

First it was nail clippers. Now it's shampoo. Aftershave. Mascara. Toothpaste. You just can't carry anything on the plane any more. When I travel with my family, that's not a hardship; we simply drop everything into our checked luggage and wait for it at the far end. Of course, in the past 18 months I've flown about 20 round-tips and had my luggage lost no fewer than seven times.
So that's not always a reliable solution.

But what about my two-day business trips to Chicago, Denver, Orlando? My business overnights to Seattle? There's no reason for me to check luggage and waste an extra 45 minutes at the far end just to pick up my aftershave and toothpaste. And yet, if I buy them at the far end, I'll spend just as long shopping... then I'll have to mail them home or throw them out a day or two later. And I've got it easy--I've got no hair products to worry about.

The terrorists have already won. If every business traveler on a one- or two-night stay now has to check their luggage, then we're talking another 45 minutes of lost productivity for every business trip in the country, every day. Checked luggage will get lost more frequently when there's more of it to move. Claiming bags will take longer when the number of people waiting and the number of bags to be claimed increase 50%. This is going to be a huge economic drain.

But I'm certain it won't stop there. Some clever terrorist will find a way to make an explosive stick of chewing gum like James Bond used. Squish the two colors of gum together, and kablooey. At that point, all food will be banned on flights, and we'll be stuck with cross-country cheese nips or $10 cafeteria sandwiches on tasteless bread with squeeze packets of mayonnaise.

Then it won't be long before someone comes up with explosive or poison-gas-generating fabrics. Imagine a pair of socks that, when rubbed together vigorously, create a fatal poison gas. Shortly thereafter, we'll be forced into holding areas at check-in where we take off all our clothes and put on those disposable one-piece coveralls used in hospital surgery rooms, neatly printed with the logo of the airline we're flying that day. We'll stuff our regular clothes into our checked luggage and get on the plane. We'll get off the plane and wait 40 minutes to find out our luggage never got on the plane with us, and we'll stand another 40 minutes in line to file the lost-luggage claim. Then we'll rush off to our business meeting in our disposable one-piece outfit with only our IDs and cell phones and boarding pass stubs and lost luggage claim checks, and we'll sit around the table with our colleagues dressed in other airline-branded disposable outfits and our messy hair and bad breath and talk about how we should really invest more in videoconferencing, or maybe teleportation research.

The terrorists have already won. It's only a matter of time before air travel becomes more of an inconvenience than a benefit.

August 10, 2006

Amazing Timing

I love how national security victories tend to occur immediately after Republican political losses. Is there anyone in the entire world who thinks it a coincidence that big news about a terror threat against the US was released the day after the Rupublicans lost an ally in a primary election?

Democrats are soft on terror! George Bush is keeping us safe! 9/11! 9/11! Awk! Pretty birdie! Polly wanna cracker!

Six years of history has shown that this administration knows no media coincidences, only policy screwups, indictments and convictions, and a blatant disregard for truth, individual liberty, and transparency in government. The fact that I no longer automatically scoff at conspiracies about these things says a lot about how little trust I have in any aspect of the Bush administration. I mean, it is no longer entirely, unequivocably ludricous to suggest that the Bush administration set up this "terrorist plot" just so it could be "thwarted" in order to create a media frenzy at a sensitive political moment.

Lieberman, the only Democrat to continue to support Bush's inane war in Iraq, lost to an anti-war liberal. The media began a feeding frenzy about how this was a turn in the tide, a shift in political momentum--and the Republicans had better watch out in the midterms in November, just around the corner. Then, wham! Out comes this amazing news showing how secure we are under Bush's watch... after absolutely no such news in the past several years, not since the shoe bomber was thwarted. A political victory for anti-war elements is immediately turned into a "See? See what could have happened if lily-livered pansy pinko fag-loving marriage-hating fetus-killing liberals are allowed to be put in charge of homeland security? We'd all be blown to smithereens today."

Won't be fooled again.

August 8, 2006

yet another knot in the rope

no time for haiku
rejections wait for no man
I've run out of words

August 7, 2006

words to live by

From the venerable and incomprehensible (oh, wait, I think I meant incontrovertible... no, that's not right... incompatible? interminable? oh, drat, it'll come to me... indefatiguable... um... indescribable... interesting... oh, to hell with it) Miss Snark:

"Quit asking me why I said no, and go find someone to say yes."

I haven't actually asked the three agents who've passed on Jumping The Stream why they said "no", but I admit it gets under your skin the first time through the system. With hundreds of agents to go (and two still in consideration at the moment), I am quite confident I'll find someone to say "yes". Especially given the positive feedback I've received so far.

August 3, 2006

bruce, kenny, and the ponies

Every horse I picked lost today at the horse races in Minneapolis. But all my 2nd choice horses won, and at least I didn't pick the one horse that didn't finish. Of the seven of us picking horses tonight, only my two kids picked winning tickets. I came oh-so-close, but E picked a place and a show and walked away with $8.60 in profit, and S picked one show ticket and picked up $3.20 in profit. (It helps their P & L numbers that they were spotted the original price of the $2 wagers.)

The highlight of the day, however, was when a pretty young thing at the ice cream stand paid me a compliment. Here is the conversation:

PYT: Did anyone ever tell you you look like Bruce Willis?

ME: No. Someone told me I looked like Kenny Chesney, but I didn't believe her either.

PYT: Oh.

ME: But Bruce is getting kind of old.

PYT: No! I meant a young Bruce Willis.

ME: Want to get married?

July 28, 2006

Cover Art

Check out this sneak peek at the upcoming debut issue of Thereby Hangs A Tale. Easy to purchase issues for yourself, your friends, your family, your dentist's office, your library, your coworkers, and your elected representatives. If you buy one and I see you some time, I'll sign it for you! Although I've had articles published in much larger publications (EE Times comes to mind with a circulation of 150,000), this is the first publication of my creative writing. The first of many to come.

July 27, 2006

Critiques on "Jumping The Stream"

I received my two critiques from the PNWA literary contest to which I sent my first-draft version of Jumping The Stream. At that time it was titled Across The Stream, and since then I've made significant revision and enhancement. These critiques are from agents, published authors, or editors.

The first is even-handed, doling out praise such as "You draw a wonderful picture of Anna with few words" and "You have good imagery, a clear style, an understated and effective sense of humor in Kate's [sic] character." (Her name is Katie, but I'll take Kate.) This critique also offers many opportunities for improvement. I believe that most of them were also noted by an additional critique I got and have since revised the manuscript accordingly.

The second essentially gushes about the entire story, noting only that another pass to turn the few "telling" parts into "showing"parts would be worthwhile.

Both critiques covered only the synopsis (5 pages) and first two chapters (21 pages). Here are my favorite quotes from the gushing critique:

"The opening scenes grabbed my attention and were quite realistic. Great job setting the stage and immediately creating drama. My interest was piqued from the beginning and I was curious to find out more and wanted to read on."
"The well planned out synopsis points to an intricate plot. The writing in the first 21 pages leads me to believe you will pull it off with great success."
And the kicker:
"Wow! What a great story. You have great writing and story telling skills. The story is very publishable and would be one I'd read if I picked it up off the shelf and read the jacket cover."
Here's hoping an agent and an editor agree. I think I will eventually get this novel published, but I also know I have better work yet to be created.