Clocked!

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Understand that it was my birthday, and I took a vacation day.  So far, so good, right?  Well, it was also the chosen day to take my son for a campus tour of the University of Georgia.  Being a Clemson grad, and with a daughter already at Ga Tech, it’s hard for me to have any type of soft spot for UGA.  So, rather than just writing off the day (other than quality time with my son), I did some research.

Best burgers in Athens, GA.  Why not?

And, so, after looking forward to a good burger through the interminable tour, we finally arrived at the restaurant.

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The restaurant is fairly small, with a brightly colored retro decor.

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I happen to like robots, so I was quickly won over by obscure movie posters… very obscure, in fact.  The below had an Italian title.

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We were quickly greeted with menus, which basically consisted of various burgers and hot dogs, but not so many that you would have difficulty in making a choice.

The reviews frequently mentioned a Peanut Butter and Bacon burger. I’ll have to say that the thought of this combination did not exactly appeal, but, when I have no plans to ever return to Athens (except possibly for a concert someday, or visit Terrapin brewery, or go to a football game… well, whatever), this might be considered a once in a lifetime “opportunity.”

The onion rings came out first… very hot and perfectly breaded.

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Following shortly was the 1/3 lb. burger.

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Yeah, that’s kind of dark and mysterious.  And really, you want to know what it looks like on the inside, right?  I did too.

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A gooey mess.  The burger was actually well cooked and as such things go, it was well assembled.  At this point, I’d like to say it was the most amazing burger experience I’ve ever had.  But, it wasn’t. 

So, I picked it up.  Kind of necessary, right?  And I couldn’t help but notice all the drainage.  Usually, this is grease.  But, in comparing the drippings from my son’s South Street burger, I couldn’t blame the drippings on the meat or the chef.  You heat peanut butter, and it drips.  Figures.  I don’t know that I’ve ever had an occasion to heat peanut butter, and I won’t have another.

The overriding flavor, beef-lettuce-tomato-peanut butter-bacon-bread all considered, was salty.  My advice would be to encourage an unknowing friend to try this singular option, and choose something closer to the beaten path for yourself.

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Bearing this grisly sight in mind, in either an unfortunate seat placement or information posting, this was just to the right of my seat.

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This wasn’t needed, of course.  A double helping of Cheerwine kept my throat clear.  I will say that the visit had two happy endings.  First was the inclusion of bubble gum with the check.

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As a slice of watermelon soothes the tongue after a spicy Thai dish, the bubblegum helped relieve the peanut butter flavor that may have remained for quite a while otherwise.

The other bonus was the neighboring record store, Low Yoyo Stuff Records.  Suddenly, it’s feeling like a birthday, and I walked away with a couple used discs from Porcupine Tree and Frank Zappa.  Very nice, mixed selection.

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Even without the record store, I’d probably make it a point to return to Clocked, but with a different burger selection.  Five Guys is consistent, but I like the variety offered here.

4 of 5 STARS

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Hipstamatic, Part 2

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There is reasonable speculation that the wide assortment of camera manufacturers who focus on mass market pocket cameras will face challenging business models as smart phones into into their optic space.  I’m hopeful about this.  Although I have a Canon G-11 that does reasonably well at concerts and a Nikon D-90 for higher resolution shots (regrettably, not allowed at concert venues because it has a detachable lens… go figure...), where I go, my iPhone goes with me.

There is much to be said of the truism: The best camera is the one that’s with you. 

That would be my iPhone 4.  I’m not overly impressed with its built in “camera,” but am suitably satisfied that it is miles beyond what was provided with the 3G.    It’s decent at some things (snapshots of anything in good lighting) and poor at others (any challenging lighting environment).  That said, as I once pointed out, I actually look forward to those occasions when I have time to take a few pictures using Hipstamatic, an iPhone App. 

Hipstamatic has a variation of “lenses,” “film,” and (rarely used) “flash effects” that regularly please or surprise me with the results.  But I never know what I’m going to get, so if I have time, I mix and match and take multiple shots to compare later.  Sadly, it does not have an option to save my preferred combinations for quick access, so it takes a little time.

Time is probably the more off-putting feature of this App to some.  Unlike most of the other photo Apps, you basically pre-process the picture by the choices you make, rather than applying defined effects after the photo is taken.  The inefficiency or uncertainty may not sit well with others, but for me, it’s like opening a present.  You can guess what’s in the box, but you don’t know until you open it.

Below are various photos I’ve taken with Hipstamatic.  Hover your cursor above each for comments, if interested. 

 

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Portugal The Man – In the Mountain in the Cloud

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When I was a Senior in High School, I had a lucid moment in which I understood the meaning of Jim Morrison’s “Celebration of the Lizard King.” Prompted by others who had written favorite lyrics or poems on the English class chalkboard, I spent lunch one day writing it all down. The result? My 60’s-hip teacher said, “I don’t get it.” Other students asked incredulously why I had taken the time to write it, taking up two full boards. I then re-read the prose… and had no clue what I had seen in it. (No drugs were involved).

So, now Portugal The Man.  I was intrigued enough with a first listen to purchase In the Mountain in the Cloud. Good harmonies, uplifting tones, musical diversity – it sounded good. I wasn’t familiar with their past work (5 albums the last 5 years), but the “genre” foisted upon them is psychedelic rock. I’m not going to disagree with that.

Still, beyond the initial pop sensabilities and the musicianship, the actual words eventually get more attention. Perhaps the band gave heed to Jim Morrison’s legacy, because they wisely opted not to include lyrics in the CD. Figure this one out:

There were two monkeys talking sounding like little dogs

They were barking and bitching about what was wrong

In the world we were just spacemen taking a ride

The gorilla’s in his human suit reciting his lines, singing

“we all, we all, we all turn on, we all, we all, we all turn off”

In time, if humans breed hate, love and lies would be traits of mine

But I was of the future, past and present time

Do you almost get what the point is? No? Well, okay. Let’s just say that psychedelic rock necessarily includes both musical and lyrical content to fit the genre. For those particularly slow on the uptake, they occasionally make it obvious: “I became a child of the universe, reborn into this galactic prism.”  I would call that a sophomoric introspection, but it’s not even worthy of that.

The lyrics do have spots of interest, and while they’re usually obtuse, the theme of “Enjoy life now, because the future probably isn’t that great” tends to surface.

From “Head is a Flame (Cool With it)”

Well we all get strange

And we know it

But we’re cool with it

And we all get a little bit older

In this day and age

But we deal with it

or from “Floating (Time isn’t working my side)”

We may not be hopeless

But we’re still helpless in the end

Just remember you’re floating

Remember the love that we were in

So inconsistently we swim

A time with family and our friends

I know I’m not hopeless

I’m only helpless in the end.

I know you love questions

But they go unanswered in the end

Did you forget you’re floating?

Did you forget that we were men?

It makes me wonder if this sort of underlying despondency isn’t at the bottom of what what erupted in the middle-class youth riots in England.

In any case, the words of the choruses, whatever they mean, fit the music wonderfully, to the point where I’d like to give a listen without the other verses and allow the music to have room to breathe. There’s a lot to appreciate buried beneath singer John Gourley’s falsettos, but he rarely gives his voice a rest and the music tends to get lost in the sameness of it all. In fact, it’s not until the 8th song, “All Your Light (Times Like These)” that a song takes on a distinctive character. The closer, “Sleep Forever,” actually builds musically during the course of the song – a very nicely constructed song despite the downer subject matter.

Recommended Songs:  “So American,” “You Carried Us (Share with Me the Sun),” “All Your Light (Times Like These)”

3 of 5 STARS

 


Kudos to the Beatles’ Revolver/Klaus Voorman inspired cover. Also, for those that disagree with my rating, keep in mind that my only chemical influence I would have is Coke Zero.  Yours may be something that allows better interpretation.

Album streaming can be heard HERE.

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College Athletic Conferences and Hypocrisy

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In terms of thinking of a State that would be synonymous with “big,” Texas comes to mind (other than California for big regulations and taxes).  The Lone Star State… Don’t mess with Texas (originally an anti-littering slogan)… Everything’s bigger in Texas… 

The University of Texas certainly qualifies as “big” in terms of Athletic Department revenue.  It ranks #1 in football revenues and profits year after year, taking in $87.5m in gross revenue for a tidy $65m profit in 2008-2009.  My favored Clemson Tigers, by comparison, “only” took in $35.2M in total football revenue, about half of what Texas pocketed after expenses.  In any case, Texas is big enough that “unknown sources” and/or journalist speculation points towards Texas leaving the Big 12 Conference to become an independent.  And why not?  They entered into a 20 year contract for their own TV deal, the Longhorn Network.  Not surprisingly, co-partnering this is ESPN with $15M per year to UT.

Without Texas, the Big 12 would more closely resemble the Medium 12.  Thus, Texas A&M has looked ahead and sought to join the Southeastern Conference and, with some delays, will soon get there.  ESPN happens to have a 15-year deal with the SEC worth more than $2 billion.

And therefore, the SEC needs to add another team to balance its divisions.  Will they settle for 14 schools?  Or step up to 16?  Suddenly, “four 16 team super-conferences” seems to be the buzz words circulating on talk radio, newspapers, blogs… and ESPN.

That’s 64 teams of 126 colleges currently engaged in Football Championship Subdivision (FCS), formerly and still better known as Div. 1A, or, 64 teams who would have a widely marketed and negotiated edge towards competing in major bowl games and the BCS Championship.  Ah, interesting that.  ESPN has a contract for $125 million for the championship game.

The Texas A&M shift has caused rampant speculation on how the athletic conferences might adjust to “compete” with the SEC, generally recognized as being the best of the best.  The Big 12 would be fractured, absent Texas and A&M, with schools looking for new homes.  The Big East, with 9 teams, might look to take on several, as might the Big 10.  But there will be leftovers.  The Big East may also look to raiding the ACC for a school or two, or the ACC may raid (again) the Big East to inflate to 16.  It all depends on what school(s) the SEC chooses to round out its conference, as its doubtful anyone would say “no.”

There was a time not too long ago when Conferences maintained a geographical sense of self (Pacific, Atlantic Coast, Southeastern…).  This benefitted the schools in terms of nearby rivalries and less expensive transportation costs for competition.  The SEC, flush with cash, has decided that it’s not in their interest to add schools for television markets in which they already have members.  Teams like, oh, Clemson, who otherwise would be perfectly suited for the SEC, are reportedly off the table – as are Ga Tech and, possibly, Florida State.  Instead, they’re talking West Virginia.  When I think southeast, I think West Virginia… Not. But then, if Texas Christian can join the Big East…  Anyway, Va Tech is also of interest because the SEC doesn’t have a team in Virginia.  Or UNC or NC State for the NC market… etc.  Good for the SEC; bad for whomever loses a school(s).

The Conference alignments affect basketball and the non-revenue sports.  But the market pressures are entirely about football… or, more specifically, the money.  So, University Presidents are meeting with their Boards of Trustees, and Athletic Directors, and their boosters, and Conference Commissioners, because, if you’re not in one of the Super 16 conferences, and you’re not the Bank of Texas or the Bank of Notre Dame, you’ll have a very uncertain future. 

Think about it.  How many independent teams or teams “stuck” in lesser conferences are going to be invited to play “the big boys” in the Super 16s?  Those Super 16’s are already going to have 7 games within their divisions, plus likely 1-2 others due to traditional rivalries or fan interest.  That leaves 3 games for regional charity games – they have no need to schedule better teams from elsewhere because their path is already paved through difficult enough schools.

And if you’re not in a Super 16, why would you expect a star athlete to come to your school?  Why would pollsters rank your school knowing that, at best, you’ll likely finish outside the Top 10?  And why would ESPN show your games?  They only have so many channels.  Given a few years of the great divide, Fox will be there for you with chump change, which you’ll gladly accept so that you can afford Title IX obligations.

ESPN is driving this.  And they’re committed, as follows (contracts are for varying lengths):

ACC – $1.86B (billion)
Big 10 – $1B (+$ from Big Ten Network)
Big 12 – $480M (+ $B from Fox)
Pac 12 – $3B
SEC – $2B
Big East – $200M

Sucks to be in the Big East, but they’re about to renew their contract.

So, recognize it for what it is.  It’s a chase for money.  The same University Presidents who are offended at paying athletes because it may compromise the amateur integrity of college athletics, are literally selling out other University Presidents who happen not to be in the right TV markets. 

Or, the same University Presidents that abhor a playoff system because of the supposed impact on student-athlete life (uh-huh) or the impact on traditional bowl games ($ are found here, so more likely) have found a way to be true to what they say while at the same time setting up Super 16s that, in essence, give them a payoff playoff and the cash, and leave the little bowl games alone.

Does anyone hear University Presidents complaining about the potential impact?  Of course not.  They’re all rattling their Conference sabers… which is fine until SEC makes it's choice and the scramble begins.

Why doesn’t the NCAA step in and mandate some sanity to the evolution of Conferences?  Because 1) they’re apparently not chartered to do so and 2) the Presidents who measure themselves by their ESPN bank accounts hold sway over those with lesser funds, even though some may find that ESPN doesn’t love them as much as they would think.

My opinion #1: Change is good, but building Super Conferences is more deconstructive to the landscape of college athletics, for all sports, alumni, and fans… even for some of those in the Super 16s who sell their souls to stay financially viable.

Because my opinion doesn’t matter, my prediction is that the money will continue to manufacture the results.  The upcoming Big East contract should send a clear signal as to where ESPN wants things to go.  I’m thinking that the number will not be as large as the other conferences, because even though the conference covers desirable TV markets, there are no teams that are consistently great or compelling.  However, if it is a big number, then perhaps ESPN is thinking that the Big East will win out over the ACC as a Super Conference.

My opinion #2: Where did the notion of 4 Super 16s come from?  ESPN? Why not 5? or 6?  6 x 16 = 96 teams, and, to be fair, any outside that number shouldn’t be in Div-1A anyway.  Why aren’t the media questioning this rather than just running with the idea of four?

My opinion #3: A forward thinking ACC Commissioner would be mindful of the SEC and likewise targeting teams in large media markets.  The current Commissioner, unfortunately, isn’t that person.

My opinion #4: Clemson really, really belongs in the SEC.

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DragonCon – Day 3

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Sunday began with a late start, which is something that just happens at DragonCons…  I’ve come to view Friday and Saturday as “Celebrity” days – when I’m more likely to go see TV/Movie panels, etc.  Sunday is for topics that pique my interest or that challenge me to see or learn something I wouldn’t otherwise encounter.

The first stop was at the microbot battle room.  Attendees had been building these, per rules over the previous two days, aIMG_5417nd I didn’t know what I expected to see, which is one reason I went.

Like any other panel, it was a conference room full of chairs with people sitting in them.  I had imagined something more open and in the round.  The bots were battling in a Plexiglas tank, with a camera observing so that all could see the battle on a (relatively poorly visible screen.  Still, the bots were fast, and the small angular one, with vertical spikes along its edges, finally upset/removed the larger big wheeled one from the arena.

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Right. On to the next thing.

The next thing was even further from the beaten path, interestingly titled “MakerBots and RepRaps and CNCs, Oh my!”  Despite the play on words, this wasn’t a prelude to a trip to an Oz, or even the wizard.  Neither was it subject matter that can be found on Main St.  The panel involved a group of hobbyists who put forth time, energy and expenses into the technology of 3D printing.  In short, using an inkjet type device that is properly calibrated and programmed, ink is emitted along with a binder, and solid objects are constructed a layer at a time.  The notion of an inkjet printer that prints on paper works, but then add a z-axis to allow it to travel upwards with additional “slices” provides a good visual approximation.  Or, you could look at the pictures below. 

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The gentleman at right is an intellectual property attorney, who also drew interesting comparisons to VHS and CD copyrighting laws, trademark infringements, etc. – things that will evolve into claims when people copy parts whose design/appearance etc. are legally protected.

This is a developing technology, well suited to engineering enthusiasts who enjoy assembling components, wiring, computer programing, and, by unanimous accounts, repairing their devices. Accordingly, those presenting were very technically minded and, to an uninformed attendee, very much enjoy their pursuits.   The below is a 3D printed keychain, Freeside being the name of the Atlanta hobbyist group that several of the presenters hang out.  Flat objects like this are interesting, but to hear how they can print unsupported structures, such as the crossbar in a “H” is where it gets really interesting.

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The final panel was a revisit of sorts, with artist Michael Whelan.  This being the third artist panel I attended, one might surmise that there was some compromise involved with my artistically minded spouse as to what to attend during the Con.  Very true, but it was all interesting, and this is one panel that I had selected before we compared interests.  Here’s the description:

Michael Whelan puts himself at the disposal of the audience, doing an impromptu visual presentation on whatever subject the audience desires.

To my reading, this sounded like Mr. Whelan might have an easel and demonstrate whatever subjects the audience had in mind.  Painters paint, right?

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Well, they do.  But not at this moment. Instead, Mr. Whelan had reflected upon other discussions at similar conventions in his past and used a slideshow of various illustrations to highlight his development as an artist, including techniques, barriers (a broken hand in karate), influences, personal influences that affected tone or symbolism, and the business of being an artist.  While the images speak for themselves, it was interesting to see how Mr. Whelan’s views, if not disappointment, regarding wars, suicide, Hendrix’ overdose, John Lennon’s murder, and other events impacted his work.

Regrettably, the IT support was late in arriving and ineffective, resulting in a flashing screen and an inaccurate screen prospective.  Nevertheless, Whelan remained in good humor, but ran short on time as a result.  Another hour would have been welcomed.

As Whelan ran late, I had intended to attend “Mobile Device Forensics,” a panel on what authorities can really determine from a person’s smart phone.  But to go from point K to point P… given the zillions of people…  and, hey, many of them wear costumes, and I had a camera.  So, I took pictures, and we eventually took our leave.  Other Con pix, including panels, junk for sale, costumes not seen in the parade, can be seen HERE.

DragonCon has a Day 4, but… it’s Labor Day, and a day of rest easily won out over the remaining sessions.

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