NFL week 16

I’m in the land of double-prong outlets and no Internet access so I’m doing this all on my phone…

Sunday 1:00
Bills @ Atlanta(-9)
Lotta points, but I’ll give ’em.

Chefs @ Cicinnati(-13.5)
Even more points, and I’ll give again.

Raiders @ Cleveland(-3)
Vegas doesn’t know either. Browns?

Seahawks @ Green Bay(-14)
I knew I should have picked against the Seabags last week. I won’t miss the chance this week.

Texans @ Miami(-3)
Wow, with playoff implications and everything. Texans are 4-0 all time against Miami… so they’ll lose this one. Miami covers.

Panthers @ New Jersey Giants(-7.5)
Too many points; take Carolina.

Jaguars @ New England(-8)
Again, too many points.

Bucs @ New Orleans(-14)
NOT too many points, Saints cruise.

Ravens @ Pittsburgh(-3)
I like the Ravens here.

Sunday 4:00ish
Rams @ Arizona(-14)
Too many points.

Lions @ San Fran(-13)
I hate the Lions on the road; give the big number.

Broncos @ Philly(-7)

Jest @ Indy(-5.5)
Gang Green is done and the Colts showed that they want these games, so I’m giving the points.

Cowboys @ Washington(+7)
Too many points; the Skins D has some pride and will be looking to atone for last week.

Vikings @ Chicago(+7)
I don’t like the way the Vikes are infighting and Favre is looking poor but the Bears are awful so I’ll give the points.

Apple TV Love/Hate Relationship

So, @guzdial was asking about Apple TV on Twitter, and I cannot answer his last post in the length of a tweet, so I’m doing it here instead. He asked:

“can I easily share iTunes content from around the home network on it? I’d like share movies and TV on HD. What’s the downside?”

OK, so first: I didn’t really intend to buy an Apple TV. I needed a new A/V receiver, and the model I decided I wanted was a Denon, and for the warranty to be valid, you have to buy from an authorized Denon dealer, which means no discounts. The dealers work around this by throwing in free stuff, and the best “free stuff” offer at the time was a 40 Gb Apple TV. Since it’s just not possible for me to have too many Apple-branded gizmos, I figured “why not?” I’ve commented previously on a couple aspects of in this blog in the past, but I wanted to take on this question directly.

Now that I have one, I cannot for the life of me imagine not having one, or having something with the same kind of functionality. It’s like going from CDs to an iPod; it’s great to be able to have your whole music/movies/TV library all right there. It’s particularly fantastic with kids, since if they touch a disc it’ll never find its way back to a case later on, and they can choose a movie by the cover art even if they can’t read the movie title (not a problem anymore, though, as my 5-year-old is now reading really well). Anyway, once you get one, you simply cannot go back. I love having all the media on my computer available on my home theater in a fairly seamless way.

However, I also hate it. Why? Because it’s the redheaded stepchild of Apple’s lineup; Apple clearly doesn’t devote much attention to this product. It’s a great thing to have but it’s so frustrating because of what it can’t do and what it doesn’t do well—and it wouldn’t be that hard for it to do these things.

The first problem is that it has really weak HD capability. It doesn’t handle 1080p at all, and it only handles 720p up to 24 fps. This is a pain mostly because typical modern HD camcorders that shoot 720p generally shoot at 30 fps. This means you cannot watch your digital home movies directly on your Apple TV unless you either scale them down or downsample the frame rate. This is so mind-bogglingly stupid that it’s hard to imagine that a responsible adult made this decision. “Let’s sell a digital media product that can’t handle one of the major user-generated media formats.” OK, in fairness to Apple, the Apple TV predates the widespread availability of things like the Flip HD. However, Apple still hasn’t addressed the problem either. I believe this is a hardware limitation in the graphics chipset, but seriously, I would actually buy a new unit if it solved this problem. (For the record, ClipStart now handles this issue pretty well as it has an “Export to Apple TV” option. It’s still stupid that such a thing is necessary, though.)

The second problem is storage. 40 GB just isn’t very much. I know the new ones come with a minimum of 160 GB, but that’s not really very much, either. The most frustrating part is that there’s a USB port on the Apple TV. Why Apple won’t let customers attach their own USB drive to give the thing adequate storage is I simply cannot figure out. This means that my desktop computer has to be on all the time in order to serve media to the Apple TV. So, for instance, when I go out of town for work, I have to leave my computer on with me logged in while I’m away so that my iTunes library can be seen by the Apple TV. That’s stupid. If I could just attach an external USB drive, that would be so much more sensible.

Third is reliability and dealing with lack of same. I don’t get how this is such a problem; I run OS X as my primary OS on all my machines and I run all kinds of other weird things and they rarely crash. The Apple TV, on the other hand, crashes a lot. The problem is amplified by the fact that it’s such a pain to reset. There’s no power switch of any kind, so you have to get behind it and physically unplug it in order to reset it. This means you can’t really keep it in a cabinet or anything like that easily. (You probably wouldn’t want to anyway as the Apple TV also throws off a lot of heat.) Either the software reliability needs to be vastly improved, or they need to provide an easier way to reboot it.

Fourth is the UI. In many ways the UI is good—it’s very simple to set up and the kids can understand it and find what they want—but in other ways it’s not so great. Having thousands of songs and many moves doesn’t scale well to the very simple but very dumb Apple remote. Now, the “Remote” iPhone app is great, but I don’t always have my phone handy, whereas I always have a remote handy. Since it’s a Logitech Harmony remote, it could make use of many buttons, but of course the Apple TV software doesn’t support smarter remotes. Grr. The UI did improve some with the most recent software update, but it’s still not all it could be.

I cannot comment on how easy it is to connect multiple Macs to it, since we never do this. My understanding is that it’ll only sync with one iTunes library, but can stream from several. Streaming is fine, since we mostly stream since the internal storage on the thing is so tiny in the first place. I will note that we’re not streaming over wireless, however, as our house is relatively new and all wired with Cat5, so we stream over ethernet.

Would I get one again? Yes, we all love the functionality. If our current unit failed, we would replace it immediately. It’s definitely a nice thing to have. But it has so much more potential… and I don’t even care about being a DVR or playing blu-ray or anything, which many people seem to want. I have other devices for those things. I just want it to be better at what it does do, and that doesn’t seem to be too much to ask for.

NFL Week 15

We both took the Colts on Thursday and the Saints on Saturday… oops.

Sunday 1:00
Patriots at Buffalo(+7)
I don’t like the Pats on the road this season. I think they’ll probably win because they really need to, but that’s too many points.

Cardinals @ Detroit(+14)
I think that Arizona does have something to play for: erasing the memory of last week to build momentum for the playoffs. The Lions’ defense can’t stop anything, I like the Cards to light it up.

Browns @ Kansas City(-2)
Cleveland has shown signs of life lately, and I don’t like the idea of the Chefs giving points.

Falcons @ New Jersey Jets(-7)
Atlanta on the road in a game that means nothing to them and everything to the Jets? Give the points.

Texans @ St. Louis(-14)
How bad is the NFC West? I saw the Texans absolutely light up the Seahawks last week; that game was actually way worse than the score. However, the Texans still can’t stop the run, and the Rams will run, and… err, I have to try to catch up somewhere, so I’ll take the points and hope my boys only win by 10.

Dolphins @Tennessee(-5)
Miami needs this game, I’ll take the points.

Sunday ~4:10
Forty-Niners @ Philadelphia(-7.5)
If all you can do is pass, the Niners can defend that. Oh, look, it’s the Eagles. Yeah, take the points.

Raiders @ Denver(-14)
The Raiders lost Gradkowski, who was the source of their looking decent again. Broncos will stomp all over them.

Bengals @ San Diego(-7)
Tough week for Cinci. They don’t really need the game and I’m taking the Bolts all December until they give me reason to go otherwise.

Bears @ Baltimore(-11)
Is Ed Reed back yet? I’m not sure the Ravens are really that good (beating up on the Lions shows nothing) until Reed gets back. On the other hand, Chicago is plain awful. OK, give the points.

Packers @ Pittsburgh(-2)
Wrong team favored! The Packers are much better than Pittsburgh. Gotta love getting points here.

Buccaneers @ Seattle(-6.5)
The Seabags are really, really bad. I can only begin to tell you how awful their offense looked last week in person. But you know what? The Bucs are even worse, and are on the road. I’ll take Seattle.

Vikings @ Carolina(+9)
Now that the Saints have lost, the Vikings need to keep on the pressure to hope for home field. Give the points.

Giants @ Washington(+3)
The Giants have no defense, even the Redskins will be able to move the ball on them. Plus, the Redskins have a real defense. I like getting points here.

Seeking FNM Advice: Pick a Pair

OK, so this is a little off the wall, but my brother Ben is going to be visiting for New Year’s and will be staying through the weekend (we’re going to the Texans-Patriots game that Sunday). Ben is a long-time Magic player (he’s played longer than me, in fact), but has always been a casual player. Small card pools, multiplayer at the kitchen table, that kind of thing. He’s never played a sanctioned tournament (or probably ever with a really tuned deck) before, but he wants to come with me to FNM while he’s here after we’ve gorged ourselves on bowl games on Jan 1st. I’ll obviously need to prep him a little on tournament play, but it’s FNM so nothing too serious there.

The real issue is with decks. What should we play? I don’t have cards for any two arbitrary Standard decks. Here are the decks I can build with the cards I have around:

4 Steppe Lynx
3 Kazandu Blademaster
4 White Knight
2 Baneslayer Angel
2 Knight of the White Orchid
3 Emeria Angel
2 Elspeth, Knight-Errant

2 Path to Exile
4 Lightning Bolt
2 Banefire
4 Honor of the Pure
3 Conqueror’s Pledge

2 Marsh Flats
1 Terramorphic Expanse
4 Arid Mesa
3 Teetering Peaks
1 Scalding Tarn
2 Mountain
11 Plains
1 Emeria, the Sky-Ruin

2 Path to Exile
3 Oblivion Ring
2 Devout Lightcaster
3 Celestial Purge
3 Goblin Ruinblaster
2 Ajani Vengeant

I might fiddle with the mana base a bit (dump the Scalding Tarn and the Terramorphic in favor of a pair of Naya Panorama), but it’d be basically this list. The advantages of this deck are that it’s pretty easy to play and that it’s actually a pretty good matchup against Jund.

There’s also a version based on blue as the splash instead of red:

Bolov0 Special
4 White Knight
4 Steppe Lynx
4 Knight of the White Orchid
4 Vedalken Outlander
3 Emeria Angel
2 Baneslayer Angel
2 Elspeth, Knight-Errant
3 Sphinx of Jwar Isle

4 Fieldmist Borderpost
3 Negate
4 Path to Exile
3 Flashfreeze

4 Glacial Fortress
3 Island
2 Marsh Flats
2 Scalding Tarn
7 Plains
2 Arid Mesa

3 Celestial Purge
3 Devout Lightcaster
2 Meddling Mage
2 Jace Beleren
1 Flashfreeze
4 to be determined, maybe Deft Duelist or Rite of Replication or some mix of the two.

Only slightly harder to play, but there’s almost nothing out there to handle pro-red guys and again, it’s straightforward in concept.

Austrian RWU Control
4 Wall of Denial
2 Sphinx of Jwar Isle

3 Double Negative
4 Flashfreeze
2 Path to Exile
4 Lightning Bolt
3 Earthquake
2 Jace Beleren
3 Ajani Vengeant
2 Day of Judgment
2 Mind Spring
3 Oblivion Ring

4 Scalding Tarn
4 Arid Mesa
4 Glacial Fortress
4 Island
2 Mountain
4 Plains
4 Serji Refuge

1 Sphinx of Jwar Isle
2 Baneslayer Angel
1 Day of Judgment
3 Essence Scatter
2 Felidar Sovereign
4 Spreading Seas
2 Pyroclasm

I’m sure the Austrians playtested this more than I have, but I really like a 4th Wall of Denial over the third Jace. Err, and I only own two Jace’s. (Note that today’s LSV column is based on this deck. He agrees that there should be 4 Wall of Denial; now I have to think about some of his other changes. I will not play Spreading Seas main deck, though.) Now, this is obviously harder to play, but there will be almost zero sideboard hate for it, I think, as I don’t think I’ve seen anything like this around FNM at our store.

Now, for something completely different:

Valakut Ramp
4 Goblin Ruinblaster
3 Oracle of Mul Daya
4 Siege-Gang Commander
2 Bogarden Hellkite
1 Chandra Naalar

4 Expedition Map
4 Lightning Bolt
3 Rampant Growth
4 Khalni Heart Expedition
4 Harrow
3 Lavaball Trap

4 Valakut, the Molten Pinnacle
4 Terramorphic Expanse
4 Forest
12 Mountain

3 Caldera Hellion
3 Grazing Gladeheart
3 Trace of Abundance
3 Burst Lightning
3 Magma Spray

I don’t think in the main deck that it’s quite as good against Jund as the earlier options, but the sideboard is helps a great deal and the deck has the advantage of being a total blast to play… this deck is just fun.

Now, there are two other decks that have some appeal. I don’t quite have the cards for but I’m pretty close and I’d be willing to get the rest of what’s needed to get there:

Barely Boros
4 Goblin Guide
4 Plated Geopede
4 Hellspark Elemental
4 Hell’s Thunder
3 Ajani Vengeant

4 Lightning Bolt
4 Burst Lightning
4 Zektar Shrine Expedition
2 Earthquake
2 Act of Treason
1 Quenchable Fire

4 Arid Mesa
7 Mountain
4 Naya Panorama
1 Plains
4 Scalding Tarn
4 Terramorphic Expanse

1 Ajani Vengeant
2 Act of Treason
2 Earthquake
4 Goblin Ruinblaster
3 Volcanic Fallout
3 Path to Exile

This should be pretty easy to play, I’d think. I could also generate a mono-Red RDW-style deck fairly easily.

Another mono-colored option would be something like this:

3 Bloodghast
4 Vampire Nighthawk
4 Gatekeeper of Malakir
4 Vampire Hexmage
4 Vampire Nocturnus
3 Malakir Bloodwitch
1 Ob Nixilis, the Fallen
1 Hypnotic Specter

3 Disfigure
4 Tendrils of Corruption
2 Marsh Casualties
1 Sorin Markov
1 Mind Sludge
2 Sign in Blood

1 Gargoyle Castle
22 Swamp (some replaced by however many Marsh Flats and Verdant Catacombs I can dig up)

2 Marsh Casualties
3 Desecrated Earth
2 Sadistic Sacrament
3 Black Knight
3 Duress
2 Deathmark

Again, this shouldn’t be too hard to play.

I know, it’s a goofy build, but in mono-black I just have to play one Hyppie just for nostaligia and I only have 3 Bloodghasts and 3 Bloodwitches. (I only have one Vampire Nocturnus, but I’d suck up the other three if my brother really wants to play this.) Now, the main deck Marsh Casualties may be a little odd but I think is actually the right thing; that’s a really good card.

Now, I could build some form of Boros Bushwhacker, too, except that I don’t have any Ranger of Eos. I guess those are cheaper than Vampire Nocturni, so that’s a viable option as well. No Jund, I have basically none of those cards. (Seriously, I just came back to the game right after Zendikar came out, and I hate playing what everyone else is playing so I haven’t been motivated to get any.) No G/W since I lack many of those cards (no Knight of the Reliquary or Noble Hierarch or Lotus Cobra.) No Grixis, I don’t have any Ultimatums.

The other consideration is that I only have one playset of Arid Mesa, Scalding Tarn, and only 3 Marsh Flats, plus only 2 Baneslayers and only 4 Paths. So we couldn’t both really play decks that are heavy white, but one of us could, and then the other could play the Valakut deck or Vampires, or something like that.

So, my question for anyone who can provide informed input: which pair of decks should we play? (Ben, your input is, of course, paramount. Anything look particularly appealing to you?)

NFL Week 14

Time for a standings update and frankly, it’s not pretty. I went 8-8 in weeks 11 and 12 while Al went 10-6 both of those weeks. Then there was last week, where I went 6-10 and Al went 10-6. It’s a merciless beating. Al had a correction some time back and probably should get credit for another game somewhere, but it completely doesn’t matter, I’m now a full 20 games behind with only three weeks left plus playoffs and bowls… I think it’s out of reach. 92-99-1 to 112-79-1. I’m really not doing all that badly overall, just a little below .500, but Al is just on fire this year.

But, for the sake of completeness…

Sunday 1:00
Saints @ Atlanta(+10)
Yeah, I don’t see the Falcons doing much better this week against the Saints than they did the week before against the Eagles.

Lions @ Baltimore(-14)
Man, the Lions’ injury list is… scary. In particular, Stafford is out, and it looks like Suggs might be back for the Ravens. I don’t like giving this many, but without Stafford I can’t see how the Lions will keep up.

Packers @ Chicago(+4)
Spread seems to small, since the Bears aren’t very good and the Packers have really improved of late. I think they’ll be good to cover this.

Seahawks @ Houston(-7)
The whole family is going to this game.You know, the Texans should cover this easily, but really I’m not even sure that they’ll even win. Take the points.

Broncos @ Indianapolis(-7)
I think that Denver has turned it back around and that they’ll make the playoffs… but they still aren’t a good bet on the road against the Colts.

Dolphins @ Jacksonville(-3)
So, the Jags have the better record, but I’ve watched their last couple games and I have no faith in them at all. I’ll take the points.

Bills @ Kansas City(+2)
Man, I have absolutely no idea. OK, so… logic. The Bills can’t stop the run but they’re pretty good against the pass, and the Chefs can’t run, so I guess that gives Buffalo an edge.

Bengals @ Minnesota(-6.5)
Awesome, I love getting almost a full TD here. The Bengals don’t have the offense that the Cardinals do, but they rock on defense and now that the blueprint has been supplied, this game could easily be 10-7.

Panthers @ New England(-13)
OK, so I know the Pats have been awful lately, but the problem they have is that they simply cannot cover people. But the Panthers can’t pass, so…. nope, I still can’t do it. Take the points.

Jets @ Tampa Bay(+3.5)
I keep taking the Bucs because of the points, and I keep getting shafted. No more. Jets.

Sunday ~4:10
Rams @ Tennessee(-13)
Well, the Rams are still awful. Maybe the Titans came back to earth a little last week, but they’re still a lot better than St. Louis. Give the points.

Redskins @ Oakland(+1)
You know… this might even be a game worth watching, but nobody will because everyone outside DC and the Bay Area will get the Chargers and Cowboys. Oh, well. I actually like the Redskins on the road; I think they have the defense to carry the day.

Chargers @ Dallas(-3)
Again, I’m thrilled to get points here. Anybody looked at the Cowboys’ record in December of late? How about the Chargers’ record in December? Yeah.

Eagles @ New Jersey Giants(+1)
So, the Giants are getting better, but the Eagles are kind of on cruise control. I think Philly is just better… I’ll give the point.

Cardinals @ San Francisco(+3.5)
Look out when Arizona gets on a roll. This is starting to look at lot like last year when things started to click for them. The Niners are done.

Thursday NFLN

I always forget about these games…

Steelers @ Cleveland(+9.5)
Ten? Really? Wow, well, that’s… too much, that’s what that is. I mean sure, the Stillers will probably get off the schnide and win this game, but right now they’re pointing fingers at each other and Hines Ward is out. That doesn’t have “blowout” written on it, and the Cleveland D is respectable. I’m taking the points.

NFL Week 13

OK, I’m recovering from surgery so I’ll save the record updates for next week.

Sunday 1:00
Eagles @ Atlanta(+5.5)
Is Ryan better? I don’t know for sure but I hear not. Given that, I don’t think the Falcons have enough, since they certainly don’t have the defense.

Buccaneers @ Carolina(-5)
I’m actually going to take the points here because the Panthers are banged up and the Bucs are playing a little better.

Rams @ Chicago(-9.5)
Stephen Jackson is the #2 runner in the league and the Bears are in a tailspin. I don’t think the Rams win, but I think they can at least be in this game… err, wait. Kyle Boller is still starting for St. Louis. Take Chicago.

Lions @ Cincinnati(-13)
Detroit is horrific, give two TDs no problem.

Titans @ Indianapolis(-6.5)
Toughest game on the board. The Colts have been able to pull it out every time but the Titans are playing good enough football to give the Colts s a real test, but I think the Colts will win in the end. However, will they win by a full TD? I think they’ll win by exactly the seven they need.

Texans @ Jacksonville(+2)
I’ll be astonished if Houston really still has the will after the heartbreak of the last two weeks. I think they’ll just play out the streak and won’t put up much of a fight against the Jags ground attack.

Broncos @ Kansas City(+6)
I think the Broncos have new life after winning convincingly last week and they have something to play for, so I’ll give the points.

Raiders @ Pittsburgh(-14.5)
That’s too many points. The Raiders won’t win this game but the Steelers are just not that good this season.

Saints @ Washington(+9.5)
Give the points. The Saints are on fire and need to keep pace with the Vikings and showed that they have everything they need to blow out good teams, much less bad teams like the Redskins.

Sunday ~4:10
Chargers @ Cleveland(+13.5)
Give the points, the Browns are a train wreck and the Chargers also need this game because the Broncos are back alive.

Cowboys @ New Jersey Giants(+1.5)
As much as I would love to see the Giants win this game, I can’t pick it that way.

Niners @ Seattle(+1)
San Francisco is a better team, but the Seabags are at home where they’re a tougher out. I don’t think it will be enough, though, so I’ll go with the Niners.

Vikings @ Arizona(+3.5)
So, what about Warner? Ach, it doesn’t matter, the Vikings will cover this.

Ravens @ Green Bay(-3.5)
I don’t like this game because it could go either way. The Packers have been getting slightly better outcomes of late despite their offensive line and I’m not sure what’s wrong with the Ravens. This is a big game for both teams, too, with playoff hopes on the line. I like the Ravens to step up, even if it is in Lambeau.