Author Archive

Sense Memory

It’s funny, the feelings and memories that are stirred by the most innocuous of things. The way the brain makes associations is indeed quite peculiar. The fact that a certain smell can remind us of a place or a time gone by is truly quite remarkable and even bizarre. I always notice it in smells, which is why I mention that specifically, but I associate sounds and even sights with completely unrelated things as well.

Perhaps the best example of sensory association that I can come up with actually happened somewhat recently. Over last summer, I went bowling. As I was descending the escalator to the alley, I smelled something…odd. Something not quite familiar to a normal trip to the Texas Station bowling alley. Something had immediately brought me back to my childhood, to my summers spent in a daycare summer camp. I can’t even tell you what the smell was that brought such a strong memory on, but it was there. Suddenly I was recalling the minutiae of minor events over ten years prior.

When we – my dad was with me – reached the bowling alley itself, and I looked out over the lanes…there it was. There was a group of kids from a daycare summer camp. I was stunned. I still couldn’t – and never would – place the actual smell itself that took me back to such a fond memory, but there it was, right in front of my eyes. My brain automatically knew exactly what was at the bottom of that escalator with just the faintest of smells. Insane — even for someone with my excellent memory. I’m not even bragging really; my memory creeps me out big time.

Sounds, music especially, can bring about the same reaction in me. I will never hear an Owl City song without thinking of a wonderful summer and the tremendous heartbreak that followed. Tenacious D will never come out of my headphones without reminding me of beating Final Fantasy IX with Wonderboy and Tribute on repeat. Happy Campers will never reach my ears without reminding me of how I found my way into a world of punk music. Every artist has a story to me. Every song a different meaning.

Why am I writing this now? Unrequited love. When I watched Arrested Development for the first time, I had a huge crush on a gorgeous latina girl. She was my best friend for a time, though we haven’t spoken in a year now. Hearing the last conversation between Michael and Marta, when Marta is trying desperately to tell Michael how she feels and Michael completely misses the point, is what finally brought those memories back to life. It wasn’t that I had associated the episode itself with her, I had associated that moment, that specific conversation with her. That whole memory was firmly buried until I heard that exact sequence of words. I was reminded of so many similar conversations, with us both feeling the same thing and completely not realizing it about the other. When I watched that episode the first time, I had immediately tied all of my conversations with her to that one conversation between those two. Aside from the fact that I couldn’t help sympathizing with Michael, I couldn’t help but feel sorry for myself either. Talk about a huge mistake…

A wealth of feelings can come storming over me as if I was the Gulf of Mexico in August at the vaguest of reminders. Simple association. Much less simple emotion. Crazy.

Defining Momentum

Momentum is a difficult thing to really quantify in sports. Does it really exist? Does it have a tangible effect on a game? How would you even approach addressing this issue?

I will make no attempt to address the other sports in this post. This is just a post about the NHL. For the record, I don’t think momentum exists in baseball aside from, perhaps, a minor boost in confidence when things are going well. Having confidence can influence your play in a positive way, I suppose. That is probably the only way momentum really shows itself in baseball. What about hockey though?

Announcers and commentators league-wide use momentum as a talking point without ever addressing how one can attain momentum or how to sustain it or how it really affects play. Again, aside from the small boosts in play gained by confidence, I definitely DO NOT think momentum exists on a game by game basis. Individual games are a different beast entirely.

One of the coolest things to watch in hockey is the snowball-effect of a team that has momentum and is just pouring it on the opposing team. There is almost a knowledge that you’re watching something special when it happens. Sometimes momentum only lasts a shift or two shifts, but every time you have it, it probably has a deeper impact on the game than just that shift. That impact isn’t really quantifiable, but it exists; that impact will be addressed shortly.

One of the most obvious ways to gain momentum is the tremendous power play. Here is a perfect example, illustrated by the Sedins and the Vancouver Canucks.

Now, the obvious, immediate result was a goal. However, look beyond that. This is where it isn’t quantifiable and where you get off into tangential ideas, but you’d be hard pressed to convince me that fatigue doesn’t play a role for the entirety of the rest of the game, or at the very least for the rest of the period. That is an absolute beast of a shift by the PK unit of the Oilers. The Oilers went on to lose that game 4-1.

Jarret Stoll, Sheldon Souray, Marty Reasoner, and Matt Greene were the four men on the ice for the duration of that kill. Stoll did manage to pick up an assist on a goal later in that game, but the rest weren’t heard from. Souray ended up collecting two minor penalties before, essentially, being tossed out of the game with 11:14 left to play. Reasoner isn’t really worth noting as he only had nine minutes of ice time in the game (nearly a third of it on ONE SHIFT), but Greene was on the ice for a power play goal against just over two minutes later.

You don’t need to be an athlete to know how hard it is to recover after you’ve pushed yourself really hard and perhaps too far. At most, the two minutes of game time that elapsed between the goals took up five minutes, maybe seven with a commercial break. I know when I’ve pushed myself too far running, I don’t move the same even though I can technically still move around and drudge on. I certainly don’t feel the same. Then there’s the fact that none of them were heard from at all later in the game. For Greene, I suppose that’s a good thing as being heard from usually means he’s making a bonehead mistake or bleeding profusely OUT OF HIS FACE. For Stoll and Souray, not so much.

Stoll really shouldn’t be included, I suppose, as his shorthanded assist was essentially his goal. He created a breakaway and left Cogliano with a wide-open net. Still, it was on a breakdown by the Canucks, not some tremendously heavy cycle shift or a booming slapshot from the point like Stoll is noted for. Good hard work, yes. A testament to a wealth of remaining stamina…no. The Oilers created absolutely very little for the rest of that game, and two of their better offensive players in Stoll and Souray were either average or non-existent. Souray picked up 14 of his 36 penalty minutes on the entire season in the third period of that game. He’s not a Lady Byng winner by any stretch, but it’s not hard to point to fatigue being a factor in his penalties.

Still, this is flimsy. I recognize this. It’s completely anecdotal evidence and I really have nothing concrete. I believe it, but you don’t have to. My final point is a little more solid, though the actual effect is difficult to gauge.

When a team can put together even one good shift that involves holding the puck in deep in the opposing zone, it can at least temporarily swing the game around. Even if the defending team manages to work the puck out of the zone, they are either gassed or literally at the end of a shift. They dump the puck in, and the attacking team can regroup while the defending team changes lines. The new line starts their shift on the defensive. This is when you start to get that train-effect. This is how comebacks are created.

There is a feeling of inevitability when you start stringing similar shifts together. Anyone that has seen an epic comeback, like the one previously linked, knows exactly what I’m talking about. You start winning faceoffs, the other team is tired (common perception is that defense is more tiring than offense), and the chances just keep coming. It doesn’t only happen in comebacks, it’s just more noticeable when they happen in such a fashion.

I do not really believe in the mental aspect of momentum. That is an idea that I really wish to dispel, I guess. That’s where announcers point to and it irritates me. Yes, I mentioned having a “knowledge” that good things were coming, but it’s more of a fan-feeling than a player-feeling, I think. The real effect of momentum is more obvious and yet somehow overlooked at the same time. It’s fatigue. That’s why getting the “momentum” or “flow” going your way early in a game is so critical, and it’s why the first goal is so important. It’s not really a mental thing, although I’m sure that exists in some small amount. It’s the physical. It’s being put back on your heels, playing tense hockey, and coming out on the short end of the stick.

If you were going to define momentum, I think the latter point is what I’d more readily look at. You could probably compare it to field position in football, but it’s probably easier to overcome field position than it is to overcome constantly being on the defensive. While I certainly do not think momentum exists from game to game, I don’t think you can really deny that it exists within a game.

Explaining Tampa Bay

When you’re analyzing a hockey team’s success and trying to predict if it’s sustainable, one of the first things most people point to – rightfully so – is goal differential. Goal differential is a very quick, easy, and effective way to assess a hockey team’s fortunes. Honestly, it’s about as close to an ideal stat as you can get when you’re evaluating a team solely with numbers. That doesn’t mean it doesn’t have pitfalls.

 

I believe, though I’m not sure and don’t care to research it, that goal differential came about after run differential rose to prominence in baseball. Since “statheads” are much more prevalent in baseball than they are in hockey – this is mostly because it’s much easier to dissect baseball than it is hockey – you much more frequently hear a team deemed a fluke if their run differential doesn’t quite add up to their record. So you’ll hear how a team that has a, say, +20 run differential at the halfway point yet only a .500 record is about to break out. More often than that, you’ll hear how teams overachieve.

 

The Angels (both from Los Angeles and Anaheim at various points) were frequent victims of this assault on our intelligence. As I said, run/goal differential is an extremely quick and dirty way to analyze a team, but it is definitely dirty. Where it fails is in teams that sit at extreme ends of the style spectrum. The Angels were a team that relied heavily on pitching and, stupidly, on small ball. They did not generate offense and did not allow other teams to generate offense. Since they could not generate offense and pitching is inherently volatile, there were nights when they would get blown out, but they frequently could win games by small margins because they just didn’t give up much. Their success was sustainable, it just didn’t give them lots of big wins.

 

The Lightning sit at the other extreme. They are terrible defensively and they don’t have great goaltending – though Roloson was a deft addition. One of their top defensive pairs has both Randy Jones and Pavel Kubina. That’s horrifying. This isn’t really an affront to them, it’s just what they are and it’s what they had to work with. On the other hand, they are tremendously talented offensively. All of their players can contribute. Even fuckin’ Randy Jones. They have exceptional top end talent (one can even argue that their top end talent has underachieved – LOOKING AT YOU VINNY LECAVALIER AND SIMON GAGNE – thus far). They have very good depth on top of that. This basically means their games generally meet a fork in the road and have two roads to travel:

 

High-octane, high-action games like the thriller against Philly. Generally when they play as well as they can, against teams that can bring similar offensive talents – enhanced by playing against a terrible defense – they will get these enormously entertaining games. They rarely dominate games, though. Even when they control the flow and pace of the game and keep the puck in the opposing team’s zone, they don’t — or weren’t — getting the stops they needed to blow teams out. So even in games that saw them bring their ‘A’ game, they weren’t blowing teams out and helping that goal differential in a positive direction.

 

Basically, the Lightning can beat any team on a given night. I mean, any team can beat any other on a given night, but the Lightning aren’t less likely to beat a good team like Philly or Pittsburgh than, say, Detroit. They can stack up.

 

The other path their games take are games like the 8-1 loss against Pittsburgh, although that was obviously an extreme. Even though they are tremendous offensively, there are nights when they either just won’t have it or will come up against a hot goalie or will play against a dominant goalie and so on. Teams with a good forecheck can definitely hem the Bolts in their own zone. Because they are so bad defensively, they have trouble taking the puck away from a dominant offense. There are also nights when they get stuck in their own zone and just can’t get the critical save to settle the game down. Nights like these affect their goal differential in an extremely adverse fashion, but they aren’t necessarily indicative of the kind of team Tampa is.

 

Think of it this way:  when they’re good, they’re just good. However, when they’re bad, they’re all kinds of awful. Most of this is a result of shoddy goaltending. Yzerman took steps toward correcting this by acquiring Dwayne Roloson, but it certainly doesn’t solve their issues. I mean, come on, he’s like 874 years old. He’s good, but he’s gonna have some really bad nights. Tampa Bay, like Washington the last few years, can win in spite of their goaltending and defense. They bring SO MUCH firepower, that they will win on some nights even when their goaltending just isn’t there. Most teams cannot boast this. However, their goaltending can also lose games on nights that their offense is firing away.

 

Even though they CAN beat any team on a given night, their porous defense makes them susceptible to losing to any team on a given night by a lot. Offense, like pitching in baseball, is volatile. There are stretches when even the best offensive teams just aren’t going to put pucks in the net for whatever reason. There’s much less system and structure relied on in offense, so players can’t just “go back to the system” like they can with defense.

 

This does not make them an inherently bad team. It just means that they’re a different kind of successful. Their wins are legitimate. Their offense is capable of winning games on its own. Their defense is also capable of losing games on its own. They’re definitely a bipolar team, but their success is legitimate (in my opinion anyway). They won’t blow you away, they will give up lots of goals, but they’ll be able to outscore you on a pretty regular basis, even if it’s only by a goal.

http://www.sportsoverdose.com/thumbs/jonathan-quick-32-nhl.jpg 

Explaining Tampa Bay

 

When you’re analyzing hockey team’s success and trying to predict if it’s sustainable, one of the first things most people point to – rightfully so – is goal differential. Goal differential is a very quick, easy, and effective way to assess a hockey team’s fortunes. Honestly, it’s about as close to an ideal stat as you can get when you’re evaluating a team solely with numbers. That doesn’t mean it doesn’t have pitfalls.

 

I believe, though I’m not sure and don’t care to research it, that goal differential came about after run differential rose to prominence in baseball. Since “statheads” are much more prevalent in baseball than they are in hockey – this is mostly because it’s much easier to dissect baseball than it is hockey – you much more frequently hear a team deemed a fluke if their run differential doesn’t quite add up to their record. So you’ll hear how a team that has a, say, +20 run differential at the halfway point yet only a .500 record is about to break out. More often than that, you’ll hear how teams overachieve.

 

The Angels (both from Los Angeles and Anaheim at various points) were frequent victims of this assault on our intelligence. As I said, run/goal differential is an extremely quick and dirty way to analyze a team, but it is definitely dirty. Where it fails is in teams that sit at extreme ends of the style spectrum. The Angels were a team that relied heavily on pitching and, stupidly, on small ball. They did not generate offense and did not allow other teams to generate offense. Since they could not generate offense and pitching is inherently volatile, there were nights when they would get blown out, but they frequently could win games by small margins because they just didn’t give up much. Their success was sustainable, it just didn’t give them lots of big wins.

 

The Lightning sit at the other extreme. They are terrible defensively and they don’t have great goaltending – though Roloson was a deft addition. One of their best defensive pairs has both Randy Jones and Pavel Kubina. That’s horrifying. This isn’t really an affront to them, it’s just what they are and it’s what they had to work with. On the other hand, they are tremendously talented offensively. All of their players can contribute. Even fuckin’ Randy Jones. They have exceptional top end talent (one can even argue that their top end talent has underachieved – LOOKING AT YOU VINNY LECAVALIER AND SIMON GAGNE – thus far). They have very good depth on top of that. This basically means their games generally have two courses of action:

 

High-octane, high-action games like the thriller against Philly. Generally when they play as well as they can, against teams that can bring similar offensive talents – enhanced by playing against a terrible defense – they will get these enormously entertaining games. They rarely dominate games, though. Even when they control the flow and pace of the game and keep the puck in the opposing team’s zone, they don’t, or weren’t, getting the stops they needed to blow teams out. So even in games that saw them bring their ‘A’ game, they weren’t blowing teams out and helping that goal differential in a positive direction.

 

Basically, the Lightning can beat any team on a given night. I mean, any team can, but the Lightning aren’t less likely to beat a good team like Philly or Pittsburgh than, say, Detroit. They can stack up.

 

The other path their games take are games like the 8-1 loss against Pittsburgh, although that was obviously an extreme. Even though they are tremendous offensively, there are nights when they either just won’t have it or will come up against a hot goalie or will play against a dominant goalie and so on. Teams with a good forecheck can definitely hem the Bolts in their own zone. Because they are so bad defensively, they have trouble taking the puck away. There are also nights when they get stuck in their own zone and just can’t get the critical save to settle the game down. Nights like these affect their goal differential in an extremely adverse fashion, but they aren’t necessarily indicative of the kind of team Tampa is.

 

Think of it this way. When they’re good, they’re just good. However, when they’re bad, they’re all kinds of awful. Most of this is a result of shoddy goaltending. Yzerman took steps toward correcting this by acquiring Dwayne Roloson, but it certainly doesn’t solve their issues. I mean, come on, he’s like 874 years old. He’s good, but he’s gonna have some really bad nights. Tampa Bay, like Washington the last few years, can win in spite of their goaltending and defense. They bring SO MUCH firepower, that they will win on some nights even when their goaltending just isn’t there. Most teams cannot boast this. However, their goaltending can also lose games on nights that their offense is firing away.

 

Even though they CAN beat any team on a given night, their porous defense makes them susceptible to losing to any team on a given night by a lot. Offense, like pitching in baseball, is volatile. There are stretches when even the best offensive teams just aren’t going to put pucks in the net for whatever reason. There’s much less system and structure relied on in offense, so players can’t just “go back to the system” like they can with defense.

 

This does not make them an inherently bad team. It just means that they’re a different kind of successful. Their wins are legitimate. Their offense is capable of winning games on its own. Their defense is also capable of losing games on its own. They’re definitely a bipolar team, but their success is legitimate (in my opinion anyway). They won’t blow you away, they will give up lots of goals, but they’ll be able to outscore you on a pretty regular basis, even if it’s only by a goal.

A Burgeoning Market

The evolution of storytelling is an interesting process to follow. Seemingly every new advancement in technology has included a new way to tell a story. In days long gone, men drew crude drawings on walls to represent myths and stories and rules to live by. Before cameras existed, plays and dramas captured the collective imagination of an audience and transported it to a place it could hardly dream of. Men like Shakespeare and Marlowe shaped the minds of generations to come. This is starting to read like a Brit Lit essay, so I’ll try and get to the point.

In the 19th century, many writers (including Wilkie Collins whose novel, Moonstone, I’m on the verge of finishing) released bits of their stories in magazines to engross readers on a weekly basis. It may not seem huge, but the framework for the current mode of storytelling was set.

After serialized novels, there were movies, radio programs, TV shows, and video games among others. Obviously some people have told stories (albeit small ones) on Youtube. I’m disappointed that I didn’t act on the idea when I had it myself, but there have even been stories told on Twitter. I may still have to act on this at some point. Perhaps I should come up with a story first. Crawl before you walk, right?

When I was growing up, it was pretty easy to point to novels as the most respected form of fictional communication. Movies were an increasingly close second. Video games and TV shows rarely received respect in this regard, although they’re clearly two of the more prominent modes of narrative. Now, probably thanks to the advent of films like Date Movie and the like, aspersions have been cast on a lot of movies.  The increasing cost of film — rather, the increasing cost of getting the full experience of a film — has also helped drive people toward other outlets.  At the same time, shows like The Sopranos and The Wire and Breaking Bad and Mad Men have helped provide life to a medium that has not even begun to reach its full potential.

Television started out with popcorn shows like I Love Lucy and the like, rarely daring to dream or achieve very much. Although shows like Seinfeld had some fun, they didn’t really break any new ground or even attempt to. Perhaps the first great attempt at a true, meaningful narrative in the medium was Roots in 1977. M*A*S*H was another solid foray in this regard, actually. In fact, it seems from my limited research that writers had ambition, but the networks themselves were afraid. Since, at the time, writers could not turn to cable television, they were pretty much forced to submit to the will of network heads.

While it is easy to criticize a TV head for not wanting to try something daring, it’s hard to blame them when the public is so slow to accept the medium as a viable means of communication. When you look at the shows on broadcast TV that really try to do something, they rarely draw ratings. The current case would be Fringe on FOX. When it premiered, it was much ballyhooed as the first JJ Abrams show after LOST. It did not initially hook the viewer. A slow start may have ultimately sunk this show, despite the fact that it has evolved into one of the best shows currently going on the networks.  Even cable channels simply cannot commit to a show for an extended period to begin with, so it’s hard — nearly impossible — to plot out a show beyond a season.  Then, if a show is successful, frequently they can’t work to an end that they really want.  They have to keep stuffing new plot points and filler into a show because it makes money.  As such, the artistic integrity of a show is frequently compromised, whether the writers want to help it or not.

Thankfully, in recent years, cable networks like AMC, HBO, and FX have stepped up to grab grittier, better shows to give them a chance. Largely, this has resulted in an explosion in the quality of TV on cable AND on broadcast. FX has been home to some of the better comedies in recent years. It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia may not always be a beacon of social relevance or importance, but it’s still fucking hilarious. Archer debuted last year and received largely positive critical reviews despite being a somewhat crudely animated cartoon about a perverted, stupid spy and his like-minded peers.

AMC has given birth to two of the most critically acclaimed genres in the history of television with Breaking Bad and Mad Men. HBO may have paved the way with The Sopranos, but they continue to churn out quality serials like Boardwalk Empire and the late series, The Wire.

The success of these popular shows has led several higher-profile actors to pursue new careers in television.  Steve Buscemi wasn’t exactly hurting for work in film, but the popular character actor went to Boardwalk Empire. Elijah Wood recently expressed this same opinion after signing up to star in the new FX show Wilfred.  More and more, you’ll see popular actors gravitate toward a career in TV, as the negative connotation normally associated with television continues to dissipate. 

Why does TV have an advantage over other mediums? Basically, it comes down to the episodes themselves. TV can present a chapter a week (much like the old serial novels released in magazines), and continually hook the viewer. This ultimately lets a skilled writer draw in the viewer for much longer than a movie or even most novels.

So while TV is definitely a flourishing medium for narrative, it has flaws that have not quite been overcome yet. The Wire came close, but the 5th season was not quite up to the standard set by the first four (especially the 4th). It, perhaps, would have benefited from having another season so as to not rush the last new storyline it introduced.

There will be, maybe soon, a perfect show, that is strong for an extended run. The seeds have been planted for television to flourish.  Only time will tell if writers can truly achieve the possibilities the medium presents.

The Widening Gyre

I come bearing gifts.  I own, in my possession, the rare ability to think without clarity, realize it, and act on it anyway.  My gift to you, ideally you actually exist, is the ability to express my lack of clarity articulately and with alacrity.  I also like hockey, and will talk about that when the situation calls for it (probably more often than my alarmingly unalarming life, actually).

 

As a gift to me, I give myself this blog.  I need to broaden my horizons, and more importantly I need to write.  At one time, in the long long ago (5 years ago), in the far far away (the bedroom down the hall that used to be mine), I wanted to be a writer.  I even wrote somewhat regularly.  I don’t know if I wrote well, but I wrote.  Now, I write about as often as the Chicago Cubs win playoff games.  P.S. I used to be a Cubs fan.  Now I hate baseball.  Weird, right?

 

As I said, ideally you are actually out there, existing, enjoying my blog, sharing my mind, and much more faux-poetic nonsense that I have to save for another time.  One can’t waste all of one’s F-material on an introduction post.  Hopefully, the general population of yous will grow over time and I will enjoy this writing thing and keep at it.  Occasionally, I have something worthwhile to say.  So stick around.  Or don’t.  Other blogs might have blackjack and hookers.