Why I can’t stand college football

It’s football season and I really hate football. Actually, that’s not entirely true. I hate college football. A large part of this hatred comes from the fact that I work for a company (and in a town) whose economy is almost entirely based on college football. So not only do I have to deal with the idiots on the streets, I have to deal with clients at work that can’t find anything better to do than give out football tickets and other Ohio State crap. Every year between August and January my angst for college football goes into overdrive. I see scarlet and grey in my dreams while Brutus Buckeye laughs all the way to the bank. For years I’ve pretty much just said, “I hate football,” but this year I’m giving pro football a bye.

A topic came up on sports talk last week that got me thinking about college versus pro football and why I can stand to watch the NFL but can’t stand college games. And it boils down to what professionals are allowed to do and what college athletes cannot do. In short, pro athletes can show off, college kids can’t.

When I watch the NFL I see players that are characters, personas. I see men that are larger than life and that, for lack of a better term, perform. I also see players that feed off the crowd and play for the crowd. You’ll find none of this in college football, and not because the players are void of excitement and character, but because they’re just not allowed. It’s against the rules. That’s not saying the players aren’t feeding off the crowd, it’s that they can’t show that they’re feeding off the crowd.I want to see the players having fun, expressing themselves, and playing for the fans. Which team ends up winning is of little consequence. NFL football is spectacle. College football is, well, boring.

The only redeeming value in college football are the fans, and that’s only because they are all nuts. Watching fans revel in their fandom is often more entertaining that the games themselves. I believe Columbus is a special place because 8 out of 10 people you meet on the street seemingly bleed scarlet and grey. This town lacks any sort of (good) professional sports team and the college is the reason. Pro teams just don’t have a chance here – just ask the Blue Jackets. Everyone seems to think being an OSU fan makes you part of some special club, but is it really that special if everyone is in the club?

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Maybe I’ve just been watching wrestling for too long, but competitions are far more interesting and exciting when you’re watching a show and not just a game. The “show” is created by the players and their actions, the fans and their reactions, and off-the-field stories. However, I do feel the off-court shinanigans of pro players are getting a bit out of hand, such as the Favre soap opera — but in the end it does make for great entertainment.

But to be fair, where mainstream pro sports fail is in the passion of the game. For all that they’re getting paid, pro players could stand to put a little more heart into what they’re doing. I’m not saying they don’t want to win every game, but their extra curricular activities distract them. Nonetheless, I’d rather be entertained by athletes that know what they’re doing than kids who ultimately don’t amount to much in the long run. The NFL is about business. College should be about the game and it’s not.

It’s unfortunate that college forbids personality in football because it would make for a much more entertaining time.

Winnie’s new digs

In the great menagerie we call our home lives a cat, a dog, a turtle, and a dog – in that order. Out of them all the turtle, Winnie, requires the least amount of attention. She probably doesn’t get enough attention, actually, but so it goes. She’s a turtle. It’s funny that most people probably think it’s easier to care a turtle than two dogs and cat. Simplicity of often deceiving.

When we got Winnie a couple years ago, the men at the turtle store told us she was a water turtle and needed water to feed and stuff. OK, so we got an aquarium and filled it with water for her to swim around and a little floating dock for her to lay on. And that’s the way it remained for a long time, with regular tank cleanings and the likes to keep things as clean as we could. But let me tell you, a turtle is a dirty, dirty, messy animal.

Emptying 15 gallons of water every two week sucked bears. Well, our thoughts of “easy” care for a turtle changed when we discovered Winnie’s shell had a few bad spots on it. We think it’s shell rot, which, from what we’ve read, is easily cared for with a little soap wash and less water time. And that’s where we goofed in the past – we had too much water and not enough “sun” for her – which led to her shell problems. So action had to be taken immediately.

That action was a new apartment for Winnie. A trip to the pet store had me coming home with a stone barrier that needed to be siliconed into the aquarium so one half could be set with rocks for basking and the other for her pool. And it’s pretty nice, although I’m not sure Winnie knows what to do with it all yet.

Now there’s 1/4 as much water in the tank, which should make cleaning much easier while still giving her plenty of water for her bodily needs. The project as a whole was a lot easier than I expected. I’m glad I found the little barrier thing. My first thoughts were buying rocks or something and piling them up to create a nice basking area but still having mostly water. The new setup should be nice for her and for us.

I just hope the dogs don’t ask for a new house too.

The Presidents and Amazon MP3

Despite my regular use of iTunes for playing and sometimes purchasing music, I’m not necessarily an iTunes-lover. I think iTunes is a nice music organizer/player. It certainly has its issues and I can’t say I’ve been 100% happy with it, but it does the trick. But then there’s the music, by far the biggest wrinkle in the sheet. Damn their DMA songs!

Even though I use iTunes as my main music player, I hate having my music locked down. My solution around it has been what most people have probably been doing too…burning the iTunes songs to a CD and then ripping them back as MP3s. Tedious and stupid, but it works.

When Amazon announced their MP3 service would be cheaper and offer standard MP3 files I told myself the next time I plan on getting a song or album I’d use it. Well, with money sitting in my iTunes account thanks to gift cards and redeeming, I hadn’t not followed through on that promise until today when I found a good reason to go elsewhere.

Much to my happiness I discovered that one of my favorite groups, The Presidents of the United States of America, did not disband as I had once thought. Actually, they did back in 1998 and then reformed a few years later to release a handful of albums.

“Peaches” – The Presidents of the United States of America
[audio:peaches.mp3]

I remember buying The President’s first album at Media Play. I thought the album cover was strange, and the music was pretty nutty too, but that’s why I like it so. It’s poppy, fast, it rocks, and has a heaping helping of fun and humor. That first record was really solid. The follow up album II was 50/50. A third release just before their break-up had even fewer singles. After I heard they broke up I had pretty much written them off and had just accepted I’d have 2.5 albums to enjoy for the rest of time.

I was at YouTube watching some Weird Al videos and that led me to The Presidents’ Wikipedia page where learned they regrouped and have been making new albums. It’s great to find out they’re still making music and still keeping it fun and light. I went the web site and listened to a few tracks from newer albums and decided to go ahead and download one of the “lost albums” I had missed. I decided on Love Everybody and headed over to iTunes to make the purchase.

Now most albums at iTunes are $10 regardless of the number of tracks. But low and behold this one album from an essentially nobody band was $12. Sucko. But wait! I have an alternative – Amazon MP3. A quick jump to Amazon found the album for $9, so I was ready to dive in.

Although a bummer, I was not surprised to have to install Amazon’s MP3 Downloader, a desktop client that does the downloading for you. After a very quick install I was faced with something I did not expect at all – something helpful – a free song to download. This is very smart because not only is it a great bonus for a new user, but Amazon presents as a way for you to learn how the downloader works before you pay any money. It told me, “Hey, watch the downloader in action by getting this free song.” I happily took their recommendation. Very smart on Amazon’s part and much appreciated as a customer.

So with the downloader installed I click the Buy button and after a quick authorization the downloads came in swiftly. And surprisingly enough, the Amazon Downloader even added the songs to iTunes for me. How considerate. And as advertised, the tracks are straight MP3s (high 256 bitrate too) and I can use them as I see fit and burn them as often as I’d like.

I can’t speak on the depth of Amazon’s MP3 catalog as I was looking for something specific and found it, but if you’re looking for an iTunes alternative for music then I will happily recommend Amazon MP3. It’s easy to use, good quality tracks, and even cheaper than iTunes. Even the single songs are $.89 instead of $.99 – I’ll certainly be back.

(Oh, and the President’s album I downloaded is pretty solid too. Nothing earth-shattering as far as they’re concerned, but it’s great to have some new songs to bust out on the way to work. They’ve stuck with their original formula and it’s very welcome in today’s vast pit of otherwise shotty music.)

A reason to keep your CDs

Our walls are pretty bare. Shy of a few of my old college paintings and a couple prints, we don’t have much hanging around. We don’t like cluttered, busy walls anyway, but you have to have something on the walls otherwise it looks too…well, too migrant. Bare walls work if you have some sort of Zen theme going with minimalist furniture and bamboo floors, but we don’t. We’re pretty average folks with an average house. So in an attempt to find something meaningful for our walls without having to go the large poster/print route, I looked at what we have to work with.

And we have a lot of CDs. Our generation has seen a lot of technology change when it comes to music and we’re not even halfway through life. I know you all still have a box somewhere with cassettes in it and needless to say there’s a few shelves of CDs somewhere too. It’s safe to say we have way more MP3s these days than we do CDs, and we do most of our music listening on the computer, so the CDs have just become clutter. Recently though I thought about hanging up CD covers as art. We both love our music and the CDs weren’t doing anything else.

I think album covers as wall art (CD or otherwise) is a good solution to get use out of something that otherwise has no purpose anymore. It’s easy, clean, and shows off your love and tastes for music. Not to mention some album covers are considered art in their own right, so it’s not that far fetched. The trick, it turned out, was finding frames for the little buggers.

Compact disc album covers are square. Most small frames are designed for standard photos, which are rectangles. Going to a craft store or even Target didn’t find us the frames we needed. No, we found just the right size frames at the Dollar Store…but of course! We didn’t go to the Dollar Store looking for frames, but while there noticed some that were just the right size. They’re glass front frames so there’s no “frame” around the album, and it looks pretty nice.

This is still a work in progress, but even with only four covers up the staircase it looks pretty good. About two to four more covers to complete the journey should be enough. Now the hard part is picking which albums to feature. But then again, it’s convenient enough that we can change them whenever we like.

So if you have some bare spots on your walls and need something small to fill the void, consider your favorite (or best looking) album covers. An easy afternoon project.

Don’t bust a Nutsie

I’ve been using FineTune.com for on-line music for a long time now. I’ve found it to be be all I need to get through my day. At FineTune you pick songs to add to your pool (playlist) and then it plays back those songs in random order. You never know what song is going to play next, but you know it’ll be a song you picked. Nutsie, on the other hand, takes a different approach and lets you bring your own music collection on-line.

I heard about Nutsie when drummer Duff McKagan was on a local radio show. He was pimping the service, which I believe he invested in (and also adorns the home page) so I figured I’d give it a try. Nutsie expects you to be using iTunes. Now one might see this is a narrow strategy, but these days iTunes is probably a safe bet. Unlike some other services, Nutsie doesn’t want you to upload your MP3s, it only wants your iTunes database. All you need to do with Nutside is export your iTunes library and upload it. Nutsie then does all the work to find the songs so you can listen on-line.

It’s actually a nifty concept but I’ve found it has one fatal flaw – it exposes you to all the crappy music you have in your library. If you’re like me, you’ve ripped just about every CD you have and also any CD that you might even only be remotely interested in. In my catalog there is a lot of classical, a lot of movie scores/sounndtracks, and a lot of country thanks to the wife – and most of that is not stuff I listen to all that often. Nutsie, unfortunately, reminds me that my library has about 70% of crap, 20% of good stuff, and 10% of, “when did I get that song?”

Another flaw in Nutsie is the lack of making playlists within Nutsie. Chances are you have playlists within iTunes. Well, when you upload your library Nutsie retains these playlists but doesn’t let you create new ones with your music. So if want to create your “Ultimate Death Metal” playlist in Nutsie using your collection of songs, you’re out of luck. You also can’t play any individual song with Nutsie. Much like all the other services, the site will play songs from your playlists randomly.

Another very annoying unfeature in Nutsie is the audio player itself. An embedded music player can be found on just about every page, including your personal playlist home page. This works great until you click a link on the page and takes you away, thus stopping your music and making you start all over again. One simple improvement Nutsie could add is to simply let you pop-out the player so you can navigate around Nutsie without disrupting your music. This even works against them because the always-present “Buy” button next to each song stops the music and just makes you mad. You’ll also find the music players start automagically, so just about every web page will start blaring out music when you arrive.

On the good side of Nutsie is the standard shared playlist abilities. Even if you don’t upload your own music library, you’ll find a good host of themed playlists that will keep you going for a while. They have a nice list of dated playlists so you can hear the Best Rock Songs of 1977 anytime you want (which I recommend). And assuming you’re a Nutsie member – which is free – you are allowed unlimited song skips. Where as places like FineTune and Pandora limit you to five skips per hour, Nutsie lets you skip forever if you want. Of course, you’ll need unlimited skips to get through all the crap in your personal library. For one session I actually did more skipping than listening.

And perhaps the most unique feature of Nutsie is the Nutsie Picks slider that appears above every music player. This lets you choose if you want Nutsie to recommend other songs and mix them while you’re listening. This doesn’t add songs to your playlist or library, it works on-the-fly. So if you have a playlist of 50 tunes and slide the Nutsie Picks to some percentage and it’ll toss in a few related artists and songs. Kind of nifty, but in my experience not all that “accurate” as you’ll find Barry Manilow and Rod Stewart dropped in the middle of your Glam Metal playlist.

I think Nutsie is working along the right path but has a long way to go. Design and user experience problems keep me from using the service, and its tendency to replay the same songs from my playlist over and over keeps me sitting at FineTune instead. I like the idea of just uploading my iTunes library and being able to listen anywhere I am, but until they give me more control over what is essentially my music, I’ll stick with my playlists at FineTune.