Thursday, July 19, 2007

Bits and Pieces

The latest in an occasional series of short posts and thoughts with no particular emphasis in mind...

Well, the Pirates went into the All-Star Break winning 5 of 6 and 9 of their last 13 with series wins against the top two teams in the National League Comedy Central. The team awakened the fans hope of salvaging this season with a nice little burst of quality baseball, but after the break, the Bumbling Buccos reverted back to form with a putrid six game losing streak and are 14 games below .500, and with Steelers training camp only a week away, are on the virge of yet again having their 2006 campaign become officially irrelevant because here in the 'Burg, the four seasons of the year are: Steeler pre-season, Steeler regular season, Steeler post-season, and Steeler off-season. I personally hope the Pirates pull the tank job of all tank jobs, so I can see Pirates fans surround the business offices at PNC Park with pitchforks, torches, tar and feathers in hand demanding the head of Pirates owner Bob Nutting on a pike. Maybe it wasn't such a bad idea that Mark Cuban decided to try and buy the Cubs because I don't think that even he can undo the mess the McNuttings have made of the Bucs.

Me and The Denise are heading out to see CATS at the Benedum next Tuesday. Believe me it wasn't my idea. I'm not a big fan of musical theatre and CATS doesn't exactly ring my bell. And of course not only am I plunking down $87 for two seats in the upper balcony for a show that has little plot and is well past its prime, but I also have to spring for dinner. This is not gonna be a cheap date. Then again any date w/ The Denise is never a cheap one. She's all of a sudden decided to start dragging me to plays and musicals and ballets and other forms of performing arts in an effort to civilize me I guess. So far I've seen Phantom of the Opera, yet another old chestnut that Pittsburgh audiences absolutely loooove, but also we had seen the Pittsburgh Ballet's production of 'Peter Pan 'which satisfiesThe Denise's Disney jones. I will admit that I actually liked the ballet although Phantom, I could take or leave. CATS should be all right. But I do get to spend time with my girl, and she'll be dressed up nice for the occasion. which means that I have to actually look like a respectable human being which is something I don't do very often and pull off even less. At least I got her to waive the suit requirement.

David Beckham and his wife Victoria have touched down in LA and while Hollywood is all atwitter at the arrival of the celebs de jour,the rest of the country shrugged its shoulders and said "meh!!!" The usual broad minded sports talking heads in the media used Beck's and Posh's debut as another excuse to bash soccer. If these idiots really wanted to send a message about their disdain for the Beautiful Game, they should just not say anything about it at all. Indifference has a greater effect than outright opposition. I know soccer will never break into the territory of the Big Four in American sports, I'm perfectly fine to see it occupy a prominent role as a second tier sport. I'd frankly rather watch a good soccer game than a baseball game anyday because baseball to me is as interesting as watching paint dry. If i were in charge of baseball, I'd make a rule change that instead either three strikes for an out, or four balls for a walk, a batter should get three pitches to put the ball in play. If a batter can't put the ball in play after three pitches, he's out. At least the games won't drag on for three hours. An inning would only take five minutes. I love football (American) being an Unrepentant Stiller fan, The Penguins priced me out of the market years ago. I'm not going to kick $75-$125 to watch a hockey game, although I do like the game and am probably one of the few Black folks who appreciates hockey much less understands it. As much an aberration as a Black person who likes hockey, I'm also one of the few Black folks who can't stand basketball, especially the NBA. In that league, it's all slam dunks and three pointers and no one knows how to play team ball. No wonder the rest of the basketball playing world has caught up with the United States in international basketball. In this country, we still think that putting together 12 NBA superstars on the same team with their attendant egos, giving them red, white and blue jerseys, and trotting them out on the floor with a minimum of practice and expecting the rest of the world to roll over and concede will do the job. It worked with the Dream Teams of '92 and '96, but not anymore. More and more players from overseas are finding their way into the NBA, and are bringing more to the table than some hot-shot kid from New York who either skipped college altogether or went for one or two years and couldn't find his classroom if you parked him in front of it. The foreigners are playing at a higher level in their home countries than we play in the US, and they aren't weaned on SportsCenter, and coddled like high school and AAU studs. They actually are used to playing selflessly and put the emphasis on the name on the front of the jersey rather than the one on the back. So I can take or leave hoops . I do hope that the arrival of David Beckham does finally give soccer the push it needs to break into the major sports scene in this country, but I'll still follow it whether it does or not. Unfortunately Beck's may end up missing his first game with the LA Galaxy due to a bad left ankle. I want to give him at least a year in the States before I pass judgement on him.

The Great Linux Experiment is still going strong, and with a few exceptions and workarounds, I've gotten Linux to replace Windows in all of my major computing activities. Ubuntu/ Kubuntu has worked to my expectations, and hasn't crashed or bogged down once. I'm still trying to get my apps to play nicely with my iPods and the minor problem with connecting to the Internet is more than an annoyance to be tolerated than something that would require major hacking of the OS. I'm not a Linux hobbyist, who's into tweaking and tuning. I'm more of a set it and forget it kind of user, and so far Ubuntu has accommodated me pretty well. There are some apps in Windows I'd love to see in Linux like an good iTunes clone and I would like to get a big flash or hard-drive music player that supports OGG Vorbis music files so I can rip my whole music collection into .ogg files and do away with mp3. But that's down the road aways. But while I have access to Windows machines at work, I don't need them at home, and it feels good knowing that I don't have to support Microsoft and their lunacy.

I finished the final book in the Harry Potter series on Sunday evening about 2:30 am after reading the 759 page beast in two eight hours sittings over two days, and all I can say is "Wow!!!" A very complex, deep, and well written work. J.K. Rowling succeeded in largely tying up most of the loose ends of the very long and complicated series. Spoiler Alert!!! if you haven't read the book yet and you don't want the experience spoiled, turn away now!!! A lot of questions were answered in this final installment of the HP saga. Was Snape good or evil? Well, we found out that not only did he turn out to be a good guy in his own snarky way, but that he was actually spied on Voldemort for Dumbledore, and that the killing of Dumbledore was actually pre-planned between the two wizards due to Dumbledore falling ill after wearing the ring Horcrux. Dumbledore turned out not to be the saintly old wizard that everyone thought he was. In his younger days he held ideas of the domination of Muggles by wizards and he treated his younger sister Ariana rather cruelly. That JKR decided to expose his human foibles makes him that much of a more likable character. In some ways Snape and Dumbledore were two halves of the same coin. Was Harry a Horcrux? Yes he was, he was the final Horcurx Voldemort made although unintentionally. The ongoing plot line about Harry's connection to Voldemort was explained in its fullest in Book 7 beginning with the killing of Harry's mother, Lily by Voldemort in Book 1 and the using of Harry's blood to reconstitute himself in Book 4. The book goes deeply into the complex world of wandcraft and how wands can change their allegiance to their master based on how they were taken, and wands that have the same core can't destroy each other. In no other book in the series do we see Harry's ability to enter Voldemort's mind more visible than in book 7. There are a few issues with Book 7. The final epilogue is very weak. The middle of the book where Harry, Ron, and Hermione are wandering all over England looking for Horcruxs and fighting amongst themselves over whether they should spend their time looking for Horcruxes or Deathly Hallows gets to be a little tedious and drags along for about a good 100-150 pages, but the last three chapters including the final battle on the grounds of Hogwarts more than makes up for the slow moving middle. JKR said that she was going to kill off two major characters, and it was assumed that at least one of them was going to be either Harry, Ron or Hermione. Well, surprise, surprise, all three of the main characters lived, although Snape does meet his end at the hand of Voldemort, the other characters: Remus Lupin; his wife Nymphadora Tonks; Fred Weasley, one half of the prankster Weasley twins; Dobby the house-elf; Hedwig, Harry's loyal owl and Mad-Eye Moody, personally, my favorite Hogwarts teacher. were important to the story but not what i would consider major characters. I was happy to see that JKR decided to give the long suffering Neville Longbottom more of a major role in the final book because I originally figured Neville to be a throwaway character that would either be killed off or not even matter in the end, but he ends up taking over for Harry as the leader of Dumbledore's Army at Hogwarts. And Neville ends up setting Harry up for the final victory over Voldemort by killing his pet snake which was also a Horcrux. Ron and Hermione solidified their romance with a lot less fighting and a lot more touching and kissing, while Harry and Ginny put their relationship on ice until after the war. All in all, a great ride through the world of magic and wizardry. I'm not sure if the Harry Potter saga will be listed amongst the great volumes of literature, but in a time when fewer kids are reading literature, it will be counted as a modern classic that will have a sizeable impact in years to come. I don't see anything that JKR puts out post-Harry Potter than can live up to that legacy, although she has proven herself to be a master storyteller. She has succeeded in creating a series that is readable and appreciable by all ages, which is something not easily done. On a scale of 1 to 10, I give Book 7 a 9 and the series as a whole a 9.5 of 10. A ripping yarn, one that will be revisited again and again.