Sunday, August 2, 2009

Podcast: My idea that might make you rich -- and Twitter clients, too

The JP Podcast kicks off with discussion of an idea that I'm giving away that could make someone very wealthy. Click here to listen in.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Steve McNair: He earned Nashville fans' respect

When people pass on, there's a natural inclination to glorify their achievements. So let me preface this by saying that I had thought about writing these comments about a year or two ago, well before today's terrible and shocking news.

The relationship between Nashville and Steve McNair is not just one of a town and a famous athlete. For those of you outside Nashville, let me explain a little bit about it.

I remember when the NFL's Houston Oilers first moved to Nashville to become the team that is now the Tennessee Titans. Back in those days, the team just wasn't very good. They had some potential, but they struggled constantly. This team we're getting from Texas, I thought to myself, they're not much to celebrate about.

I remember in particular that the team had two young men vying for the starting quarterback's job: Two guys named Neil O'Donnell and Steve McNair. They both had potential, but like their teams, they seemed to struggle constantly. I remember one particularly bad outing for McNair -- I can't remember whether this was in Memphis or at Vanderbilt Stadium -- but the home-field fans booed him for poor performance. I remember my friend and mentor Dwight Lewis wrote a column about it.

Today, it is hard for most of us to remember, or even believe, there was ever any doubt whether Steve should have been starting QB. And I don't recall the people of Nashville ever booing Steve McNair on the field ever again, as I recall.

Steve McNair earned the respect of the people of Nashville. And he didn't just do it by being part of a winning team. He worked his behind off for it.

Steve McNair wasn't one of those overpaid star quarterbacks who took off running for the first down and then slid toward it when a defensive player came within 20 yards of him. Steve would go running for that first down marker, and when those two defensive players grabbed him, he'd keep on running. He'd take those guys with him another 5 yards or so and just keep going. It'd take another defensive guy or two to pull him down. And even then, he didn't make it easy for them.

As a passer, Steve wouldn't ground the ball when the linebackers started to close in on him. I remember seeing linebackers grabbing him and hanging on to him as he looked around for a barely-open receiver downfield, and he'd still pull off some miracle completion.

Steve wasn't some athlete who made a zillion dollars a year and sat around on his behind and then whined about being disrespected. Steve worked. Steve earned his fans' respect by going out there and always giving his all, even when he was hurt and the odds were just unbelievable. Steve earned his pay every Sunday. Everybody knew who led that team on the field to all those just-barely and how-did-they-do-it victories.

Not only was he a really good quarterback, but Steve played hurt nearly every game in some of the Titans' best seasons, and I don't mean with some little small injury. Steve often played with serious injuries that would have sidelined most people. But he nearly always went out there, and if he went on the field, he played his heart out. It was as if you expected to read in the paper on Wednesday that he'd broken his back and was in traction but was expected to practice with the team Saturday for Sunday's game. Sometimes he was so hurt, as I recall, he wouldn't be well enough to practice with the team at all in the days before the next game -- but he'd still go out there on Sunday and pull off an incredible victory, usually at some great physical cost to himself.

And he'd go out there and he'd practically break his neck for the win. Just because he was hurt, he didn't give an inch. You'd see him limping sometimes, running back to the sidelines, and you knew he was in pain, but it never seemed to cause him to throw passes shorter, or to run slower, or to give it any less than he would physically than if he were healthy.

For all of that, Steve earned the Nashville fans' respect.

Now, Steve was not a saint. Very few people are, of course. As I recall, Steve got caught drinking and driving a few years ago. That's wrong. He shouldn't have done that. And when he was found to be drinking and driving, Steve may have gotten preferential treatment shown to him by local police officers because of his football hero status. That's also wrong. And, if what is being reported is true, it sounds like Steve was dating a woman while also still married to his wife. Also wrong.

But his achievements were still many. And that's why he's a huge sports hero to the people of Nashville.

We still don't know what happened. As of this writing, The Tennessean is saying that police say it appears to have been a murder-suicide -- Steve was shot several times, while the woman he was with was shot once.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Rino is still god -- and launch the Shawn-O-Meter

The power of television to make the world smaller cannot be understated. For one thing, it can make a girl from Warrenton, Ga., who not only had never been to Chicago but didn't know anyone from Chicago and didn't know anyone who had ever been to Chicago, into a Chicago Cubs fan.

Yes, my Braves have always had my greatest loyalty. I was taught to pull for them by my grandfather, who despite his sheet-metal-plant worker's paycheck and his dislike of expense on himself, was one of the first people I knew in Warrenton to subscribe to cable television -- all so he could watch the Braves games without bad weather disrupting the signal from what used to be Channel 17 out of Atlanta.

But the coax cable that carried the Braves games to Warrenton also carried the Cubs games on WGN, and especially in those pre-lights days at Wrigley Field, the two teams' games rarely overlapped. In summertime, I could watch the Cubs on WGN in the afternoon and then watch the Braves that evening.

It's the mid-1980s from which my Cubs memories are strongest. While I got my Braves loyalty from my grandfather, but when I think of the Cubs, I remember watching with my dad. He was police chief then and, about four days a week, he reported for his shift very, very early in the morning and got off at 1 or 2 in the afternoon. "Ryno is God" was one regular Bleacher Bum sign we loved to chuckle at -- of course, that's in reference to Ryne Sandberg, the second baseman who was the Cubs' major star of that era; he's now in Cooperstown (.289 career batting average, 282 HRs). And there was another, the "Shawon-O-Meter," a frequently appearing sign that sought to keep track of the offensive exploits of a younger player, shortstop Shawon Dunston (.269 career batting average, 150 HRs).

The Cubs' manager of that time was Don Zimmer, who would later be one of Joe Torre's helper-coaches in the Yankee dugout, maybe most famous for his awkward attempt at fistcuffs with Pedro Martinez, which got him impersonated on the next broadcast of Saturday Night Live. (By Horatio Sanz, as I recall.)  I tend to think that's more public exposure than any bench coach had ever gotten in the history of all baseball.

I remember Mark Grace was the first baseman. And one of our favorite players was the catcher, Joe Girardi, who has since replaced Torre as skipper of the Yankees.

My memory may be fuzzy on this, but I remember watching Girardi perform a tremendous feat one day, one that -- sadly -- I never did see written about by the baseball press when Girardi was hired in New York.

Girardi started the game at his normal position, catcher. As the game progressed, some other Cubs players had to be stricken from the game, and Girardi was called on to fill in elsewhere on the field -- I want to say he subbed for one of the infielders, but he might have been in the outfield. Then, as innings passed, the Cubs confronted another staffing dilemma, and Girardi was dispatched to the mound to pitch. I remember Harry Caray saying Girardi had broken a major league record for most positions played in a single game.  I think he may actually have gotten a batter out as pitcher, but I'm not certain of that. (Any baseball savants out there remember this? Am I mis-remembering?)

Needless to say, Harry Caray was as much a part of watching a Cubs game as the players on the field. (An interesting, and sometimes funny, thing to do: When the Braves played the Cubs, sometimes my dad and  I would turn on two TVs, one tuned to the Cubs' broadcast on WGN, and the other tuned to the Braves' broadcast on TBS, where the play-by-play announcer was Harry's son, Skip Caray.) I also remember that the WGN broadcast team seemed as intent on finding attractive young women in the stands displaying their cleavage as they were interested in the progress of the game.

I bring all this up because I finally got to see the Cubs play, live and in person, last night -- in Houston, against the hapless Astros. Rino is a minor league manager now, and Minute Maid Park doesn't quite exude the vibe that I imagine comes fromf the bleachers at Wrigley Field, but it was good to finally see them play. They won, 7-1, on a night when the Astros, not the Cubs, looked like the doormat of the National League.

Wouldn't Steve Goodman be proud?

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Some thoughts on the Indy 500

To me, summer officially begins when I hear Jim Nabors singing "Back Home Again in Indiana" at the start of the Indianapolis 500.

Now that the race is ending, some thoughts:

The Indy 500 just does not have the iconic place in American culture that it did when I was a kid. Open-wheel racing folks have allowed themselves to be plowed over by NASCAR in the national popularity contest. How many people other than me were actually watching this broadcast?

When I was a kid, we always turned on the Indy 500 at my house -- though I remember it more often on my grandparents' TV in Emanuel County. Watching the race was a ritual. This was the late '70s and early '80s -- I remember names like Rick Mears and Al Unser Sr. and A.J. Foyt in his orange car. How many average people today could name one person, just one person, who raced in the Indy 500 today? OK, maybe some can name Danica Patrick, because she's on commercials everywhere. How many others could they name?

I went to an IRL race once, a few years ago, in Nashville. It was pretty cool -- Tony Kanaan won and did a burnout right in front of the grandstands where I was sitting before being presented with a customized Gibson guitar as a trophy (hey, I'd much rather have that than get a grandfather clock from winning at Martinsville). I tried to follow the IRL a bit more closely after that, but it just could not keep my interest the way NASCAR could.

Some thoughts on why IndyCar is not as popular as NASCAR:
Not as many races. It's harder for me to tell the cars apart during the broadcast -- I don't know if that's the fault of the IRL or of ABC's broadcasting; part of it may be the racing teams' tendency to assign identical color schemes to all their cars, such as the orange-and-white scheme on the Penske team's cars. Many of the drivers are from other countries -- which I think is cool, but I have a feeling that it could bother some American fans. I mean, we live in a country where NBC felt it necessary to remake The Office with an all-American cast and setting. If we have to have The Office remade in our image, we ain't gonna cotton to pulling for a sport where the Brits and the Brazilians outnumber us.

Some thoughts on Danica.
I like Danica, and I want her to win -- her 3rd place finish just now is the highest ever for a woman at Indy, and I was pulling for her. But she's in danger of being deemed overrated. She won a race last year, the first ever by a woman in IndyCar, but it's just one race. The amount of media attention she gets is a little bit more than I think her record deserves. She's got to get up there and win another one, or, within a year or two, I predict the media is going to start saying she's seriously overrated.

Again, I want her to win, and I like her -- she's sharp, she's focused, and when you see her on the track or in interviews, she carries herself with seriousness. I like that about her. But I have my criticisms of her. I don't like the swimsuit pictures. I don't like the wink-wink, nudge-nudge commercials. I know she has said in past interviews that if her sex appeal helps her career, she's willing to use it. I really disagree with that approach, and I don't think it's positive for women in general. The message being sent is, "I'm a woman and I can get ahead if I'm hot-looking and I act in a sexually suggestive fashion." Call me an old fuddy-duddy, but I want a woman driver to be respected because she's a good driver, not because she's a hot babe.

Thing about it is, I think Danica is good enough to be respected for being a good driver alone. I wish she would let the other stuff go.

Helio: I can't help but like Helio. He's really the Roberto Begnini of motorsports -- and not just in his victory exuberances (substituting fence-climbing for seat-jumping). I often don't have sympathy for rich people accused of income tax evasion, but when Helio and his sister-business manager said they really didn't know what they were getting into, I found them actually pretty darn believable. I get the feeling he's a nice guy, and sometimes an inadvertently funny guy, and he can sure drive a race car, but he probably can't balance a checkbook.

Other thoughts:
Good Lord, didn't Vitor Meara have an awful race -- first he gets set on fire, then he's in a hellacious wreck.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Some great albums

Some favorite all-time albums of mine -- because I need to test the "bullets" function on my blog for something we're doing at work. (Criteria: No greatest-hits compilations allowed.) And keep in mind, this is not a complete list.

  • Born in the USA, Bruce Springsteen
  • Otis Redding Live in Europe, Otis Redding
  • Dancing in the Parlor, Stephen Wade
  • Jagged Little Pill, Alanis Morissette
  • Traveling Without Moving, Jamiroquai
  • The Band, The Band (the "brown" album)
  • Area Code 615, Area Code 615
  • Licensed to Ill, Beastie Boys
  • Solo Banjo Works, Tony Trischka and Bela Fleck
  • New Dimensions in Banjo and Bluegrass, Eric Weissberg and Marshall Brickman

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Transparency Camp '09 is awesome

I'm in Washington, D.C, for Transparency Camp, an "uncamp" being led by the Sunlight Foundation at the Center for Politics, Democracy and the Internet on the campus of George Washington University. (And the subject is government transparency -- no, friends on Facebook, I am not learning how to make myself invisible. But thanks for the laugh.)

This is my first uncamp, and it's really awesome. I've met a lot of really cool people doing really cool things -- and it reminds me how behind the times I am! Read more by searching Twitter for hashtag #tcamp09. I'm tweeting as Texas Watchdog.

I' just checking e-mail right now during the lunch break. More updates to come when I can.

ALSO: It's supposed to snow like crazy here starting ... Now.

Monday, January 19, 2009

ManyEyes and MLK's 'I Have a Dream' speech

I've been messing around a little bit over the past few weeks with the Web site ManyEyes, a project of IBM. It's intended to let people visualize data, and one of the things it lets you do is upload a piece of text (like a speech) and map it out.

I went over there, and someone had already uploaded the text of the "I Have a Dream" speech from 1963, which CNN just replayed a little while ago. Below is an interactive of how Many Eyes charts it out, using "dream" as the keyword.

ManyEyes is free to use. Go over there and have some fun.