November 29th, 2008
OK, so we both went 2-1 on Turkey Day. I guess the Eagles still do have some life left in ‘em, and the Cards really aren’t the same team on the road. Also a good FF day for me, since I started Westbrook.
Anyway, on to the rest of this week…
Niners @ Buffalo(-7)
First game on the board, and it’s a tough one. The Niners have shown some signs of life lately, but west coast teams traveling east to bad weather and a 1:00 start haven’t impressed of late. I’ll give the points.
Ravens @ Cincinnati(+7)
I don’t see the Bungles getting more than a couple field goals here. Baltimore
Colts @ Cleveland(+4.5)
Indy is clearly on the rise, the Browns are still confused. Give the points.
Panthers @ Green Bay(-3)
I know the game is in Green Bay and all, but this seems to be the wrong team favored here—I was expecting a spread of +2, not -3. I’ll go with Carolina and the points here.
Dolphins @ St. Louis(+9)
Stephen Jackson may be back, but Bulger might not be. Rams are in a tailspin either way. That’s a lot of points but I see no reason to think the Dolphins won’t cover.
Saints @ Tampa(-4)
Useless trivia: in this matchup, the road team is 8-3 against the spread in the last 11 and the underdog is 9-4 against the spread in the last 13. Seems pretty good to me, I’ll take the Saints.
Giants @ Washington(+3.5)
Even with Burress out (moron), the Giants are the class of the league. I have the G-Men covering.
Falcons @ San Diego(-5)
Too many points. Even if Atlanta loses, they’ll make it a squeaker.
Broncos @ New Jersey Jets(-9)
WTF is wrong with Denver? How do you lose to the Raiders at home? Ugh. Jets run the ball 35 times between Jones and Washington, gain 250 on the ground, and cover.
Steelers @ New England(-1)
OK, so the key to the Steelers vs. the spread is Willie Parker. They say he’s most likely going to play this week, so on that basis I’m taking the Stillers.
Chefs @ Oakland(-3)
KC allowed the Bills like a bajillion yards of offense last week, so maybe even the Raiders can score on ‘em. I’ll give the points.
Bears @ Minnesota(-3.5)
The winner of this game will have a clear lead for the division, thus, Vikings lose.
Jaguars @ Houston(-3.5)
This is three points for home field plus a half-point for how awful Jax looked last week. I think I’m going to go with the Texans here.
November 29th, 2008
OK, so I upgraded my AppleTV to firmware version 2.3 and… now most of my movies don’t have any audio. Yikes! What happened there?
Well, to save space, I had encoded all my movies with just the AC3 track (that is, the raw Dolby Digital) and no AAC track. Apple says that’s a no-no, and I guess with firmware 2.3 they finally actually mean it. Bummer. To solve this problem, there are two choices:
Manually add an AAC audio track. This actually isn’t that hard. Generate an AAC .mov file with about one tenth of a second of empty audio in it. Open it in QuickTime Pro, copy. Open the offending movie file, make sure the marker is at the beginning, paste in the moment of silence at the beginning, and save it. This may take a while if the file is large, because it has to re-write the entire file. This is a minor pain in the ass, but it’s doable.
Re-rip the movie. This is obviously a more time-consuming option, but since Handbrake 0.9.3 just came out, it’s not totally unreasonable to consider re-ripping anyway. And the new version is supposedly much better. The big win is that HB now handles input sources other than the DVD, which is really nice if you have video in some other format already, but most of what I have is on DVD anyway.
So, what does HB offer for that? Well, new H.264 encoding which is supposedly much better. The default “AppleTV” setting used to work with an average target bitrate of 2500kbps, but now it’s set for a constant quality encode of 59% quality. This is an improvement on two fronts: first, it produces much smaller files, and second, it takes much less time to encode because this is a constant, single-pass process.
The problem is that the results aren’t quite as good. I spent a day playing around with this—actually, I just re-encoded the same movie over and over again at different settings while I was doing other things—to figure out what I liked. 59% constant quality (the default) produces noticeably more compression artifacts, particularly banding in gradients. I found a really hard frame in The Fifth Element to use as a test case: scene six where the general steps into the blacklight. Half the scene is white and half of it is a purple color, and the wall to the right of the general is a purple gradient which is hard to get right. I tried 70% constant quality and the still frames right around there still showed banding, which my 0.9.2 rip did not. So I tried ripping with 2500kbps and I still got a little banding in the stills. This was a little disconcerting, since that’s more or less the old setting. Then my brother reminded me to watch the moving video, and sure enough, the banding shows up at 59% but not at the other settings. Classic reminder that moving video and still frames are not equivalent.
However, 70% doesn’t save file space and the old 2500kbps doesn’t save time. So I backed down to 65% constant quality. This produces files that are 10-20% smaller than the old 0.9.2 rips, but of course much faster since this is constant single-pass. And, the banding is gone at this level, so the video quality is acceptable.
So, for most of my movies I’m going with option one because it’s still faster than re-ripping. However, I am planning on re-ripping all my longer movies with the 65% constant quality setting to save a little space, since my half-T drive is almost full.
November 26th, 2008
OK, so I still have a 9-4 week in the bank (Week 10), which I’ll use somewhere along the line. Week 11 was a train wreck; I went 5-10 and Al went 7-8. Week 12 I went 8-8 and Al went 7-9. So, not counting my week in the bank, I’m 77-80-4 and Al is 75-82-4. OK, then. Still mighty close.
Also, I have to comment on the stupid Eagles-Bengals tie. Everyone is giving McNabb crap about this, but as far as I’m concerned, the person who should be taking all the heat is Any Reid. It’s his job to make sure the players know what to do; it’s his fault that McNabb didn’t know. You know, have the coach go over the points which matter before the overtime starts? Oh, never mind, pile on to McNabb… Anyway, on to the Turkey Day games:
Titans @ Detroit(+11)
Gee, Tennessee has just dropped a game—do you think they might take it out on the Lions? Is there anything the Lions can do which would even slow them down? I think not, so I’m going with the Titans here.
Seahawks @ Dallas(-13)
Yes, that’s a lot of points. But this is the Seahawks on the road, so I’m going to give the points.
Cardinals @ Philadelphia(-3)
Yes, I realize the Cards aren’t as good on the road, but has anyone involved in setting the line seen any recent Eagles games? They’re awful right now. Buckhalter is out completely, and even if Westbrook plays (he didn’t practice on Tuesday), he won’t be 100%. This is just bad news all around; I’m taking Arizona.
November 21st, 2008
Eagles @ Ravens(-1.5)
Westbrook is banged up and the Eagles just simply aren’t that good. I know the Ravens got roughed up last week by the Giants, but the Eagles aren’t in the same class. Baltimore covers.
Texans @ Cleveland(-3)
Houston is like 0-8 in their last 8 road games, and I see no reason to believe this will change anytime soon. Give the points.
Niners @ Dallas(-10)
You have to like the effort from San Fran lately, and while I think the Cowboys will win, I don’t see them putting up something huge. I’ll take the Niners and the points.
Buccaneers @ Detroit(+9)
The Lions are hopeless. I’m now actively rooting for 0-16. Oh, and the Bucs will cover this, probably 10-0 or 13-3.
Vikings @ Jacksonville(-2.5)
The Jaguars can’t seem to put it together—I’ll take the points.
Bills @ Kansas City(+3)
I dunno, there’s no reason to pick the Bills here, but I’m going to anyway.
Patriots @ Miami, pick
The best analysis I heard for this was that with the early game last Thursday, Belichick has 10 days to prepare for a team he’s facing the second time. I’ll gamble on the Pats here.
Bears @ St. Louis(+9)
The Rams will again be without Stephen Jackson, and while the Bears were humiliated last week, they should have little trouble smoking the hapless Lambs.
Jets @ Tennessee(-5.5)
OK, so both teams are great at stopping the run. However, I think the Titans have the better pass defense and there’s always the chance we get to see “bad Brett” force a few balls into double coverage. Tennessee to cover.
Raiders @ Denver(-9.5)
While the Broncos aren’t all that good, Oakland is simply awful. And there is no team Shanahan likes to run it up on like the Raiders. I’ll give the points.
Panthers @ Atlanta(-1)
I have absolutely no idea here. I like the idea of the Falcons winning because it makes the division race really interesting since the Bucs are pretty much a lock to win, and then Atlanta would be only one game back of both Carolina and Tampa. So, since that’s what I’d like to see happen, I’m going the other way and taking the point.
Giants @ Arizona(+3)
Three points? Man, Vegas really wants people to pick the Giants here—which they should. Look, the Cardinals are a nice story, but seriously, watch the Giants a little. They’re fantastic, and I only have to give a field goal.
Redskins @ Seattle(+3.5)
Is Portis healthy? I think he’s supposed to be OK this week. If so, then Washington covers.
Colts @ San Diego(-2.5)
I have no idea why the Chargers are favored here. The Colts are getting better by the week and San Diego, well, they still have Norv at the helm. I’ll take Indy.
Packers @ New Orleans(-2.5)
Seems like the wrong team is favored here. I know they have the same overall record and it’s in the Big Easy and everything, but still, the Packers just look better. I like getting points here.
November 20th, 2008
Bungles @ Pittsburgh(-11)
Phew, this game stinks. The Steelers are obviously the better team but that’s a truckload of points. So far this year Pittsburgh hasn’t really blown anybody out. Cinci is horrific but I think they’ll keep it just a smidge closer than this.
November 14th, 2008
I went 9-5 last week but Al didn’t make picks for entirely legit medical reasons. We’ll have to sort out what to do with my wonderful +4 week later on. So, without further ado, here are this week’s picks.
Broncos @ Atlanta(-6.5)
OK, so the Broncos managed to win on the road last week in what was an epic display of tackling ineptitude by both teams. And the Falcons are, I think, more than a bit better than the Browns. I’m giving the points here.
Lions @ Carolina(-14.5)
The scariest thing about the Lions is that their remaining schedule is tougher than what they’ve faced so far. I love that some people think that Culpepper will help them—too funny. Oh, yeah, Panthers cover.
Bears @ Green Bay(-3.5)
Amazing that the Packers are favored—this must mean that Vegas thinks Rex Grossman is starting. Ah, but Clayton just reported that Orton is starting. Thus, I’m taking the points.
Texans @ Indianapolis(-9)
The Colts are getting healthier and the Texans are going to start Sage Rosenfels again. Once again, I’m picking the favorite to cover.
Saints @ Kansas City(+5)
Brees should easily throw for 400 against the Chefs, and I’m giving the points yet again.
Raiders @ Miami(-10.5)
Oakland is hopelessly bad, but then the Dolphins haven’t been blowing teams out, either. But the Raiders might never get the ball past midfield. Again, the favorite covers.
Ravens @ New Jersey Giants(-7)
I see a lot of field goals here, and that’s good because I have the Giants’ kicker on my FF team. More to the point, I like Baltimore to keep it close; I’m thinking 12-9 or 12-6, so I will actually take the points.
Eagles @ Cincinnati(+9)
Philly is really not that good against good teams, but they light it up against bad teams, and the Bungles are a bad team. They’ll cover.
Rams @ San Francisco(-6.5)
Both of these teams are 2-7; this is sure to be a ratings winner. Seems like too many points in what should be a horrific game, so I’ll take ‘em.
Cardinals @ Seattle(+3)
The Seabags actually showed some life last week, and they’re much better at home. But the spread is only three, so I’m taking the Cards.
Titans @ Jacksonville(+3)
Not only is Tennessee 9-0, but they’re 8-1 against the spread. I don’t see the Jags breaking that trend, either.
Chargers @ Pittsburgh(-5)
Big Ben is vulnerable to being rushed, but San Diego has no pass rush. Really, though, the Steelers go as Willie Parker goes, and I think he’s actually supposed to go this week. Stillers.
Cowboys @ Washington(+1)
Portis is out, and it looks like Santana Moss is also out. I hate taking the Cowboys, but I’m not sure how the Redskins will move the ball. I have to go with Dallas here.
Browns @ Buffalo(-5)
I have no idea what to do with this game. The Bills appear to have imploded, Cleveland has no defense at all… it’s two sides of ugly. I guess that it’s too many points in a game where both teams are awful. Meh, I hate that pick. On the other hand, I’m not any happier picking the Bills. OK, take the points.
November 13th, 2008
Jets @ New England(-3.5)
Wow, big game. This is a lot better than the NFLN fare we got last year. Al, I’m going to let you pick your beloved Jets, so I’ll take the Pats just to riverside you.
November 8th, 2008
I have an Oppo DVD player which I like a lot, but it turns out I hardly ever use it anymore now that I have an AppleTV. I just rip the movies and watch them on that instead. Every once in a while, we’ll rent a hi-def movie from iTunes, which looks terrific. And, of course, I’ve been thinking about going hi-def in the home theater more seriously. First, I was waiting for the HD vs. Blu-ray war to shake out, and that’s done. I figured when that happened the price on Blu-ray players and discs would start to come down. Well, it mostly hasn’t. The players have come down a little, but not much. I got to thinking about it again a while back when Oppo showed off their upcoming Blu-ray player. I figured I’d just wait for that.
But now I’m not so sure. With player prices still not great and disc prices still double that of DVDs, some are now saying that Blu-ray is dead. There are some compelling points there. Really, if the cost of Blu-ray discs isn’t going to come down to being only a few dollars more than DVDs, how can Blu-ray succeed? Yes, Blu-ray looks better than even upscaled DVDs, but not enough better to justify that cost for most people. Based on the argument there, it doesn’t look like disc costs are coming down anytime soon.
So now I’m not so sure. I’m not really a big gamer, but a PS3 would give me Blu-ray and even if Blu-ray tanks, at least I can play games on it. Of course, I’m not much of a gamer, so I’m not sure about the appeal. Or do I just wait for the Oppo, which will at least be a fantastic upscaling DVD player as well? Or just wait six months and see what, if anything, is happening in the blu-ray market? (And if I do that, what do I ask for for xmas?)
It’s a quandary. An entirely insignificant one, to be sure, but hey, maybe someone with a PS3 can comment on how it performs as a blu-ray player. Is it comparable to a stand-alone player? I would ask how it performs as an upscaling DVD player, but I’m not sure I care anymore…
November 8th, 2008
Well, we had some real movement in the scores last week since I went a killer 9-5 and Al went a somewhat subpar 5-9, meaning, at long last, I’m in the lead! I’m 64-62-4 for the season and Al is 61-65-4, so not only am I in the lead, I’m over .500. Sweet.
OK, so Al and I did the Thursday game via AIM, and both of us picked the Broncos to cover, which they did. Good game, as long as you could ignore the fact neither team could tackle anyone.
Saints @ Atlanta(-1)
This is the toughest game on the board. I’m pretty sure I have a good sense of how good the Falcons are, a tick above average; can’t beat the actually good teams, but better than the mediocre teams. The problem here is the Saints. They have weeks where they look like a good team, and weeks where they’re awful. I think I have to pick consistency, so I’ll go with Atlanta.
Titans @ Chicago(+3)
There are pundits out there saying the Bears are the team that could beat them… Hunh? With Rex at QB? No way, I’m giving the points.
Jaguars @ Detroit(+6.5)
Something is very wrong with both of these teams, but the Lions are even more awful. Jax.
Seahawks @ Miami(-8.5)
I can see no reason to take Seattle on the road this season. Fish.
Packers @ Minnesota(-2.5)
The Vikings are the trendy pick here, but never underestimate the power of the Vikings’ ability to blow games they need to win. I’m taking the points here.
Bills @ New England(-4)
Well, the shine certainly has worn off the Bills. They need this game badly… and they won’t get it. Pats cover.
Rams @ New Jersey Jets(-9)
I can’t see the Jets losing this game, but that’s a lot of points. I’ll take ‘em.
Ravens @ Houston, pick
I’m looking forward to being in the stands for this one. With Sage at the helm for the Texans, though, I don’t see them winning it, so I’m going with Baltimore here.
Panthers @ Oakland(+9.5)
The Raiders are horrific, I’m giving the points.
Colts @ Pittsburgh, off
OK, so I have a question for the Vikings, Chiefs, Lions, Bears, and Niners: WTF were you thinking, not signing Byron Leftwich? Why is Leftwich a backup? In a league where Gus Frerotte is a starter, how is it possible that Leftwich is not starting? All right, end of rant. The spread is off for this game, I assume because the status of Big Ben and Willie Parker are uncertain. The Colts do seem to be putting it together, but they always look horrible against the Steelers and the off spread means I don’t have to give any points.
Chefs @ San Diego(-15.5)
Holy crap, that’s a lot of points—but then it is KC on the road. No, that’s still too many; I see KC losing by 14, not 17, so I’m going to take the points and hope the Bolts lay off the gas pedal and allow the Chefs a garbage-time TD to let them cover.
Giants @ Philadelphia(-3)
Hunh? How are the Eagles favored? The Giants are, despite not having the gaudy undefeated record of the Titans, the best team in football this year. They should be getting points from nobody, even in the opposition’s building. Giants and the points.
Niners @ Arizona(-9.5)
I sense “death spiral” from San Fran, and I like the way the Cards’ offense is playing, so I’m going to give the points.
November 1st, 2008
So, last week I went 7-6-1 and Al had another bad week, went 5-8-1. So for the season I’m now only one game back, 55-57-4 and Al is even at 56-56-4. The Pats missed covering by a half-point and really should have managed that as they really dominated that game. Ah, well, I’ll have to get that one game back this week and even it up…
Jest @ Buffalo(-5.5)
The Bills are going to be pissed after losing last week and will be tough at home, so I’ll give the points.
Lions @ Chicago(-13)
Wow, that’s a lot of points. I mean, yeah, it is the Lions, but that’s just too many points for me
Jaguars @ Cincinnati(+7.5)
Did you see how awful the Bungles were last week? That’s a team in a death spiral. Jax covers.
Ravens @ Cleveland(-1.5)
This is a really tough pick, because I have absolutely no idea what’s going to happen in this game. If the Brown won by 10, I’d shrug and say “OK.” And I’d do the same if the Ravens won by 10. So, I guess I like getting the points.
Buccaneers @ Kansas City(+9)
That’s a lot of points. The Bucs, like everyone else in that division, seems kind of up and down. I expect them to win this game, but not to blow KC out, particularly on the road. Take the nine.
Texans @ Minnesota(-4.5)
This is exactly the kind of game the Vikings should win… but won’t. I can’t believe I’m picking my Texans.
Cardinals @ St. Louis(+3)
I think the Rams are now coming back to earth after their brief moment in the sun, so I’ll take the Cards.
Packers @ Tennessee(-4.5)
Fisher has the Titans firing in all cylinders. I’m going to give the points.
Dolphins @ Denver(-3.5)
Something is seriously wrong with the Broncos. Gimme those points!
Cowboys @ New Jersey Giants(-9)
It was very nice for the ‘Boys that they won last week, but Brad Johnson is going to get killed in this game. I’m taking the G-Men.
Falcons @ Oakland(+3)
Beating the Jest in OT was a big deal for the Raiders (and that must have just killed Jets fans anywhere—you know any?), but I don’t think they can find a miracle two weeks in a row. I’ll take Atlanta.
Eagles @ Seattle(+7)
Is Westbrook going to play? Yes? Philly covers.
Patriots @ Indy(-6)
The Colts are getting Addai back and the Pats are banged up at RB, but the Colts really seem kind of out of sync this year. I think the spread should be more like 3, so I’m going to take the points on the assumption that the Pats will keep it close.
Steelers @ Washington(-2)
Looking forward to this game, it should be a good one. I think the ‘Skins are playing excellent football, and while the Steelers have also looked good, they aren’t quite up to the Redskins on the road.